Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 3 > Issue 3

Reform Reconsidered: The Effects of Form of Government

Alexander Sahn, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA,
Suggested Citation
Alexander Sahn (2023), "Reform Reconsidered: The Effects of Form of Government", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 3: No. 3, pp 337-362.

Publication Date: 01 Nov 2023
© 2023 A. Sahn
Legislatures,  Political economy,  Public administration,  Electoral institutions
City managersfiscal policymunicipal governmentpolitical developmentpublic administration


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In this article:
Perspectives on Form of Government 
Data and Estimation 


American municipalities have a wide variety of representative institutions, but do these differences drive policy outcomes? In this article, I investigate whether the relationship between the executive and legislative branches and their control over the bureaucracy affects fiscal outcomes. To do so, I construct a new panel of cities' form of government from 1900 to 1934, a time when two new types — the commission and council-manager forms — arose and were widely adopted. I find limited evidence that changes to the legislative branch's composition and relationship to the bureaucracy impacted cities' fiscal policy, as both expenses and revenues remain unchanged. However, I do find evidence insulating the bureaucracy from electoral control increased capital outlays. I further document that the fragmented control of the bureaucracy did not promote inefficiency, with little difference in spending between policy areas with and without a commissioner. These results highlight the muted effects of form of government institutions on policy.



Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 3, Issue 3 Special Issue: The Political Economy of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era: Articles Overview
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.