The diminishing marginal impact of veto players on the rule of law

The diminishing marginal impact of veto players on the rule of law

Abstract: This proposal suggests a means of drawing together the

divergent streams of thought on the impact of veto players on the rule of

law in developing nations. Madisonian theory suggests veto players will

act as a check on each other’s power, preventing rent seeking behaviour.

However, another school of thought contends that the coordination

problems inherent in large coalitions will prevent meaningful efforts to

establish the institutions necessary to fight corruption. This paper

suggests that both effects operate simultaneously and in opposite


“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands,

whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may

justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny” (Madison, 1788)

1. Introduction

Since the Enlightenment, the separation of powers has been a watchword of good

governance. Writing in 1748, Montesquieu argued that “every man invested with power

is apt to abuse it” and therefore “[t]o prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the very

nature of things that power should be a check to power” (Montesquieu 1748). This

thinking was influential in the establishment of the constitution of the United States,

which implemented a strict separation of powers between the legislative, executive and

judicial branches of government. This has, in turn, influenced the structure of the

constitutions of scores of newly independent nations. However, despite the numerous

checks and balances implemented in such countries, corruption has flourished.

The impact of checks and balances on corruption has therefore been a topic of intense

debate amongst economists and social scientists, from which two distinct—and

somewhat contradictory—lines of thought have arisen. This literature focuses on the

concept of veto players. Veto players are the actors, individual actors or political parties,

who can block a move away from current policies (Stasavage and Keefer 2003). A brief

overview of the literature is provided in section 2.

On the one hand, a number of authors such as Andrews & Montinola (2004) have pointed

to the positive impact that veto players have in fighting corruption. In line with the

Madisonian proposition, they find that the existence of other veto players constrains them

from acting in a corrupt way and fosters the rule of law.


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