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Design of reforms with time‐inconsistent voters


Journal of Public Economic Theory

Published online on


Widespread agreement that a political reform is necessary is no guarantee that it is actually undertaken in a timely manner. There is often a delay before action is taken and reform packages that would be most efficient to implement all at once are often done only gradually. We propose a theoretical model explaining this behavior and show that when voters have present‐biased, time‐inconsistent preferences, gradualism can arise in equilibrium and be welfare‐enhancing. This is because without the possibility for gradualism, time‐inconsistent voters would delay implementing the reform even more. Using a citizen candidate model, we allow the agenda setter, who decides which reform schedule to put to vote, to be endogenously determined. We show that voters who are aware of their own time inconsistency can use the election of the agenda setter as a commitment device and appoint an agent who is more patient than the median voter in order to avoid full procrastination and to achieve efficiency‐maximizing gradualism.