Media Briefings

MOONLIGHTING POLITICIANS: Evidence from Italy on how the opportunity for outside work affects MPs’ commitment

  • Published Date: April 2014

Politicians who continue to have considerable earnings from their outside work after they have been elected to parliament have higher absentee rates than their more publicly motivated colleagues. That is one of the findings of research by Alessandro Fedele and Paolo Naticchioni, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2014 annual conference.

 

Their study analyses data on members of the Italian Parliament for the period 1996-2006, defining ‘public-fit parliamentarians’ as those citizens who, before entering parliament, had at least some political experience, and ‘market-fit parliamentarians’ as those citizens with no previous political experience, who enter the parliament directly from their market activity. Among the findings:

 

·          Both market-fit and public-fit high-ability citizens enter the Italian Parliament. But the drop in outside income after entering parliament is higher for public-fit than for market-fit politicians.

 

·          The average absenteeism rate is higher for market-fit politicians than for public-fit ones, 35% versus 28%.

 

·          Outside income has a negative effect on the commitment of market-fit politicians. For public-fit politicians, there is no relationship between commitment and outside income.

 

The authors comment:

 

‘Our analysis suggests that declaring outside jobs as incompatible with a political mandate especially affects the entry decision of citizens with poor public service motivation.

 

‘Without the moonlighting option, high-ability market-fit individuals are likely to shun politics.’

 

More…

 

In many OECD countries, politicians can keep on working in the private sector as lawyers, consultants, physicians, etc., during their mandate. This practice is called moonlighting and it occurs, for example, in the British House of Commons, the German Bundestag, the Italian Camera dei Deputati, the European Parliament, among others.

 

Previous literature demonstrated that high-ability individuals are more likely to run for office thanks to the possibility of moonlighting; for the same reason, they also make less effort once in office. This study shows that this is not a general result: politicians’ motivation matters.

 

The researchers investigate Italian parliamentarians’ choices of selection into politics and commitment once in office. They consider citizens characterised by different levels of ability and two different types of motivation: public-fit citizens, who are particularly motivated when working in politics; and market-fit citizens, who are more motivated when working in the market.

 

The model shows that both market-fit and public-fit high-ability citizens enter the Italian Parliament, but that public-fit parliamentarians are more committed to parliamentary activity than their market-fit colleagues. In other words, public-fit motivations make politicians committed to parliamentary activity.

 

The study tests these predictions using a dataset on members of the Italian Parliament for the period 1996-2006. The researchers measure commitment while in office through absenteeism in floor voting sessions.

 

The pre-election income of parliamentarians is considered a proxy for individual ability, while the outside income during the mandate is a proxy for the moonlighting activity. ‘Public-fit parliamentarians’ are defined as the citizens that, before entering the parliament, had at least some political experience, for example, as a town councillor or mayor, or as the president/councillor of a province/region, or had shown party affiliation at local and/or national level.

 

The intuition is that members of parliament with previous political experiences have already shown their ‘public motivations’, their interest in politics and their willingness to dedicate time and effort to political activities. On the other hand, citizens with no previous political experience, who enter the parliament directly from their market activity, are defined as ‘market-fit parliamentarians’.

 

Descriptive statistics show that the average absenteeism rate is higher for market-fit politicians than for public-fit ones – 35% versus 28% – and that the drop in income after entering parliament is higher for public-fit than for market-fit politicians.

 

The study also finds that outside income has a negative effect only on the commitment of market-fit politicians: an increase of one standard deviation of outside income (136,000 euros) entails a not negligible 3.53% increase in the absenteeism rate of market-fit politicians. But for public-fit politicians, there is no statistical relation between commitment and outside income, confirming that public-fit politicians are more committed to their mandate.

 

As for selection into parliament, both public-fit and market-fit parliamentarians display a higher pre-election income compared with that of the Italian population. This provides some evidence of the advantageous selection of Italian parliamentarians, which, in the case of market-fit politicians, depends on the possibility of moonlighting.

 

High-ability market-fit politicians do in fact enter parliament to prove their skills to a wider audience and to enhance their network of acquaintances. By contrast, public-fit politicians do not exploit their political position to enhance their outside income: their strong motivation outdoes the costs they have to bear to be committed to parliamentary activity.

 

This study contributes to the longstanding debate on the regulation of politicians' moonlighting. The analysis suggests that declaring outside jobs as incompatible with the political mandate especially affects the entry decision of citizens with poor public service motivation. Without the moonlighting option, high-ability market-fit individuals are indeed likely to shun politics.

 

ENDS

 

 

Notes for editors:

‘Moonlighting Politicians: Motivation Matters!’ by Alessandro Fedele and Paolo Naticchioni

 

For further information, contact:

Alessandro Fedele, alessandro.fedele@unibz.it

Paolo Naticchioni, p.naticchioni@gmail.com

Romesh Vaitilingam: romesh@vaitilingam.com, +44 7768 661095