I happen to be a life member of the Royal Economic Society (RES) of England. The RES’s journal which I have received for the month of October 2017 is one of the most interesting I have received in the past two years. It has several articles which will whet my appetite for debate.
In this article, I want to reference to three related feature articles. The first, titled ‘Self-Perpetuation of Political Power’, deals with the manner politicians in Argentina get succeeded by relatives. The second, titled ‘Political Dynasties, Electoral Institutions and Politicians. Human Capital’, discusses the consequences of political dynasties in Italy. The third, titled ‘Dynastic Political Rents: Economic benefits. To Relatives of Top Politicians’, deals with the situation in Sweden.
Apart from these countries, political dynasties have been known to exist in other democratic countries. In India, family members of the first Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru virtually own the Indian Congress party. When Nehru died a compromise outsider succeeded him as Prime Minister but died soon after. He was succeeded by Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, who was succeeded by her son Rajiv. When Rajiv was assassinated, his widow took control of the Indian Congress and could have been prime minister of India had she not been of Italian or foreign origin. It is still the hope of many members of the Indian Congress that Rajiv’s son or daughter might be the next Prime Minister of India.
In the United States, the Kennedy family, whose most famous member was John F. Kennedy, is treated like royalty. George Bush senior, a one-term President of the United States, was followed to office by his son George W. Bush, who served two terms. Not many Americans cherish political dynasties as they think they frustrate democratic ideals. This explains why Donald Trump, who was far less impressive in debates and manifestos than Hilary Clinton, won the presidential vote. Most Americans did not want the wife of a former president to become president.
What have been the results of political dynasties? Have they made democracies imperfect? Not necessarily, says Martin A. Rossi, who writes on the situation in Argentina. Traits such as ability, connections good genes or political vacation may ramify within family generations and yield good results.
Rossi’s study revealed that, if you arrogate a lot of power to a president, he or she will try to perpetuate himself in office and ensure that members of his family take over from him so that political power remains within the family. Other results on the same subject revealed that dynastic politicians spend more resources without a correlate or improvement in the quality of public services. In other words, the priorities of political dynasties may not be the same as those of the public at large.
Writing on the situation in Italy, Benny Geys says that family connections, or being related to influential politicians, can be an asset in the labour market. The relatives of the bigwigs easily get jobs and promotion. However, Rossi observes that:
“Those favoured by their network might be less skilled and talented than those who fail to get a position or promotion due to a lack of network ties.”
He hypothesises that family-based nepotism induces a misallocation of resources in Italian municipal affairs via the election of dynastic politicians with lower education levels compared to non-dynastic politicians with lower education levels compared to non-dynastic political peers. A very familiar situation in Malawi.
Of the least corrupt countries of the world, Sweden is one. There, it is very difficult to connect a person’s fortunes to his or her being related to an influential politician. Economic benefits can trickle down through channels in legal grey zones, which are not illegal, apparently. Usually, relatives of mayors know in advance the sort of contracts that are coming.
These points are noteworthy because we, in Malawi, are faced with incipient political dynasties. Party leaders make sure they are succeeded by family members. Under such a system, a nation is served by mediocrities and not the best of the elite.