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Speaker: Massimo Morelli (Bocconi University)

Title of the talk: The Shift to Commitment Politics and Populism” [working paper version –  slides & recording of the public lecture]

Date, Time and Venue: Thursday, 17 August 2023, 5.15pm – 6pm, Registration, drinks & canapés, Level 1 Foyer, Sir OGGB, 6pm – 7.30pm, Lecture and Audience Q&A, Sir OGGB, Room OGGB 5, Level 0

Abstract: The decline in voters’ trust in government and the rise of populism are two concerning features of contemporary politics in Europe and United States. In the lecture I plan to introduce a model of commitment politics that elucidates the interplay between distrust and populism. Candidates supply policy commitments to mitigate voters’ distrust in government, shrinking politicians’ levels of discretion typical of representative democracies. Alongside commitments, candidates rationally choose the main strategies associated with populism, namely anti-elite and pro-people rhetoric. With novel data on voters’ distrust towards the U.S. federal government, which we match with the Twitter activity of more than 2,000 candidates over five congressional elections, we show that distrust is strongly associated with candidates’ supply of commitments and populist rhetoric, which are also effective strategies at mobilizing distrustful voters. I also plan to show that the shift to commitment politics determines greater aversion to checks and balances, and hence even illiberal populism can emerge. Free media, judiciary independence, and professional bureaucrats, are all “agencies of restraint’’ of an executive, and hence the voters who prefer the policy commitments of their chosen candidate to executive power prefer the reduction of strength of all such agencies.

Bio: Massimo Morelli has been elected Fellow of the Econometric Society – and Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory – mostly for his contributions to bargaining, political economy and economics of conflict, while his current work also deals with causes and consequences of populism and law and economics in general. He obtained a PhD in economics from Harvard in 1996 and went back to Italy (Bocconi) in 2014, after having taught at multiple universities in the US, including Columbia University. He has been an active member of the Council of the European Economic Association and is now chairing the Minorities in Economics (MinE) committee, with a growing passion for all diversity and inclusion concerns.

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