Delegation and rewards

May 6, 2008

In a previous comment I discussed the possible types of rewards that may collected by a re-elected delegate. These are the possible rewards that, according to the rewards-based theory of electoral delegation, may be motivating a delegate to be responsive to the interests of the electorate, by having the prospect of re-election available to those delegates whom the public perceives as having acted according to its wishes.

The notion that rewards are an effective way to motivate delegate responsiveness (of which, the rewards-based theory of electoral delegation is a special case) rests on the assumption that citizens can make accurate assessments of the quality of service rendered by delegates. This assumption is unrealistic in many cases – in particular, relying solely on reports in mass media seems like a very shaky foundation for forming an informed opinion on the performance of delegates. Nevertheless, it is interesting to examine what rewards-based mechanisms would be effective motivating factors in those cases where adequate assessment of performance of delegates is achievable.

The rewards re-elected delegates may enjoy fall into three categories:

  1. Honor and appreciation by others, either (a) for the good works done as a re-elected official, or (b) for the achievement of being re-elected
  2. The ability to use the political power of the re-elected to further their own interests
  3. Material rewards granted by law to the re-elected officials

Rewards of type 1(a) are sought by virtuous delegates. These enjoy the knowledge that they have the opportunity to act in the benefit of the public, and being re-elected gives such people more opportunity to benefit the public and enjoy doing so. Such a reward is clearly superfluous as a means for motivating good service: virtuous delegates who enjoy benefiting the public would do their best to use their capacity as delegates to benefit the public whether or not the prospect for re-election exists.

Rewards of Type 1(b) appeal to the honor-seeking delegate who enjoys celebration by others. This, to some extent, is a commendable sentiment – especially for a delegate. While, of course, enjoying the adoration of others can be a fault, when practiced in moderation it can be sanctioned by society. In such societies, rewards of type 1(b) play a positive role, and can be incorporated into the system of incentives that is used to motivate delegates.

Rewards of type 2 constitute legal, or illegal, corruption. It seems clear that such rewards should not be part of a well-functioning government. This idea is reflected in the fact most delegate actions that clearly benefit the delegate personally are illegal.

Finally, rewards of type 3 are the standard objectives of wealth and comfort often seen as being of universal appeal. Whether such rewards have such a wide appeal can be disputed – it is arguable that the relatively wide appeal in Western societies of such rewards is an artifact of the conditions and ideology of Western societies. It is also unclear how wide is the appeal of material rewards even in Western societies. Those issues aside, however, it is clear that such rewards do appeal to many people and also that they are widely seen as a legitimate form of reward.

Thus, honorific rewards and material rewards which are officially and explicitly conferred by society can be seen as the two types of rewards that are legitimate and potentially useful incentives to motivate delegates toward diligent work in the public service. Both those types of rewards, however, are not directly connected with re-election. They can be conferred by society upon deserving delegates directly, without allowing the problematic possibility of having long-term or career delegates which is associated with re-election. A popular vote or by a vote by a representative committee can be used to decide which delegates deserve rewards for their service and what rewards – material, honorific or both – they should receive. The citizens of Ancient Athens had exactly such a device: since magistrates were selected at random, they had no prospect of re-election or filling public functions for an extended period. The assembly, however, would regularly grant crowns – carrying both honor and substantial material value – to magistrates who excelled in performing their duties.

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One Response to “Delegation and rewards”


  1. […] Rewarding and punishing officials: Oppressing the rich and powerful, Delegation and rewards […]

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