by Gabriele Gratton, Luigi Guiso, Claudio Michelacci and Massimo Morelli
A well functioning bureaucracy can promote prosperity, as advocated by Max Weber. But when bureaucracy gets jammed, it causes stagnation, as described by Franz Kafka. We propose a dynamic theory of the interaction between the production of laws and the efficiency of bureaucracy. When bureaucracy is inefficient the effects of politicians legislative acts are hard to assess. Therefore, incompetent politicians have strong incentives to pass laws to acquire the reputation of skill-full reformers. But too many, often contradictory reforms can in turn lead to a collapse in bureaucratic fficiency. This interaction leads to the existence of both Weberian and Kafkian steady states. A temporary surge in political instability, a strong pressure for reforms by the public, and the appointment of short-lived technocratic governments can determine a permanent shift towards the Kafkian nightmare steady state. Using micro-data for Italy, we provide evidence consistent with one key prediction of the theory: the relative supply of laws by incompetent politicians increases when legislatures are expected to be short.