The costs of public sector patronage: lessons from the British Empire

Civil servants constitute a key element of state capacity, with the responsibility for raising government revenues, providing public services and implementing reforms. But what happens to their performance when they are appointed to office less on the basis of their talents than on their social connections to powerful patrons? This research examines the costs of patronage through the lens of a historical bureaucracy that spanned the globe: Britain’s Colonial Office. The research combines newly digitized personnel and public finance data from the administration of the British Empire over the period 1854-1966 to show how patronage influenced the promotion and performance of colonial governors.

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