October 2008 Vol. 107 No. 1 THE REVIEW

Optimal Political Control of the Bureaucracy

Matthew C. Stephenson

It is widely believed that insulating an administrative agency from the influence of elected officials, whatever its other benefits or justifications, reduces the agency’s responsiveness to the preferences of political majorities. This Article argues, to the contrary, that a moderate degree of bureaucratic insulation from political control alleviates rather than exacerbates the countermajoritarian problems inherent in bureaucratic policymaking. An elected politician, though responsive to majoritarian preferences, will almost always deviate from the majority in one direction or the other. Therefore, even if the average policy position of a given elected official tends to track the policy views of the median voter in the electorate, the average divergence between the preferences of that official and the median voter in the electorate is generally greater than zero. Forcing the politically responsive official to share power with a partially insulated bureaucracy can reduce the variance in policy outcomes, because bureaucratic insulation creates a kind of compensatory inertia that mutes the significance of variation in the elected official’s policy preferences. Up to a point, the median voter’s benefit from this reduction in outcome variance outweighs the costs associated with biasing the expected outcome away from the median voter’s ideal policy.

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