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My draft paper,

"Privatization and the Law and Economics of Political Advocacy," was recently listed on the list of Top Ten recently listed papers in labor law, as well as Top Ten recently listed papers in labor economics (public policy and regulation subsection). (I know what you're thinking: Labor??? But the paper is heavily about public-sector unions, so it has a substantial overlap with labor policy.) Here's the abstract:

A common argument against privatization is that private providers, motivated by self-interest, will advocate changes in substantive policy. In this Article, Professor Volokh evaluates this argument, using, as a case study, the argument against prison privatization based on the possibility that the private prison industry will distort the criminal law by advocating incarceration.

This "political influence" argument applies at least as well to public provision: Government agencies, too, lobby for changes in substantive law. In the prison industry, for instance, it is unclear whether private firms advocate incarceration to any significant extent, but public guard unions are known to do so actively.

Moreover, adding the "extra voice" of the private sector will not necessarily increase either the amount of pro-incarceration advocacy or its effectiveness. Prison privatization may well reduce the political power of the pro-incarceration forces: Because advocacy is a "public good" for the industry, as the number of independent actors increases, the largest actor's advocacy decreases (since it no longer captures the full benefit of its advocacy) and the smaller actors free-ride off the largest actor's contribution. Under some plausible assumptions, privatization decreases advocacy, and under different plausible assumptions, the net effect of privatization on advocacy is ambiguous.

The argument that prison privatization distorts criminal law by fostering pro-incarceration advocacy is thus unconvincing without a fuller explanation of the mechanics of advocacy. The use of the political influence argument in other privatization contexts may also be theoretically unsound, to the extent it does not consider whether privatization reduces preexisting levels of public sector advocacy.

Download it while it's hot! And, if you're so inclined, please give me feedback for later drafts.

UPDATE: In all, I'm on the Top Ten papers in:

as well as the Top Ten recently listed papers in:

tefta (mail):
Mazel tov.
12.12.2006 4:35pm
plad0005:

Moreover, adding the "extra voice" of the private sector will not necessarily increase either the amount of pro-incarceration advocacy or its effectiveness. Prison privatization may well reduce the political power of the pro-incarceration forces: Because advocacy is a "public good" for the industry, as the number of independent actors increases, the largest actor's advocacy decreases (since it no longer captures the full benefit of its advocacy) and the smaller actors free-ride off the largest actor's contribution. Under some plausible assumptions, privatization decreases advocacy, and under different plausible assumptions, the net effect of privatization on advocacy is ambiguous.



I would tend to guess that the latter outcome seems more plausible. It seems that given the substantial industry that has arisen for "political advocacy" i.e. lobbyists; there would be no shortage of new groups working on behalf of privatized prisons.

Additionally there would seem to be a similar likelihood that an umbrella trade association would form to represent the many smaller 'voices' in a collectively larger voice.

I'm not saying your wrong or right, but its an interesting discussion.
12.12.2006 5:06pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
A related claim:
People who oppose allowing private medical care in Canada (it is illegal for the most part) assert that if it were to be made legal, there would be less support for having a public system.

The same argument, of course, should oppose allowing even advocacy of private medical care, or of anything else that is bad or can lead to the advocacy of something bad.

Even if all the claims of the form "X will lead to the advocacy of Y and Y is bad" are true, is this a good reason not to do X?
12.12.2006 5:06pm