From the Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization in 2005:
Edward L. Glaeser
Harvard University and NBER
Harvard University and NBER
James Michael Curley, a four-time mayor of Boston, used wasteful redistribution to his poor Irish constituents and incendiary rhetoric to encourage richer citizens to emigrate from Boston, thereby shaping the electorate in his favor. As a consequence, Boston stagnated, but Curley kept winning elections. We present a model of using redistributive politics to shape the electorate, and show that this model yields a number of predictions opposite from the more standard frameworks of political competition, yet consistent with empirical evidence.
Early in World War I, a wounded British officer arrived in Boston to recruit citizens of the then-neutral United States to fight in the British army. He politely asked the by then legendary Irish mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley, for permission. Curley replied, ‘‘Go ahead Colonel. Take every damn one of them.’’ This statement captures Curley’s lifelong hostility to the AngloSaxons of Boston, whom he described as ‘‘a strange and stupid race,’’ and his clear wish that they just leave. Throughout his four terms, using a combination of aggressive redistribution and incendiary rhetoric, Curley tried to transformBoston from an integrated city of poor Irish and rich protestants into a Gaelic
city on American shores.
Curley’s motivation is clear. In his six mayoral races between 1913 and 1951, he represented the poorest and most ethnically distinct of Boston’s Irish. The city’s Brahmins despised him because of his policies, his corruption, and his rhetoric, and always worked to block his victory. Curley’s expected share of Boston’s vote was, to a first approximation, strictly increasing in the share of poor Irish among the Bostonians. Unsurprisingly, he tried to turn Boston into a city that would elect him.
We call this strategy—increasing the relative size of one’s political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies—the Curley effect. But it is hardly unique to Curley. Other American mayors, but also politicians around the world, have pursued policies that encouraged emigration of their political enemies, raising poverty but gaining political advantage. In his 24 years as mayor, Detroit’s Coleman Young drove white residents and businesses out of the city. ‘‘Under Young, Detroit has become not merely an American city that happens to have a black majority, but a black metropolis, the first major Third World city in the United States. The trappings are all there—showcase projects, black-fisted symbols, an external enemy, and the cult of personality’’
A complement to the concept of the Curley Effect would be the Kennedy Effect honoring Ted Kennedy’s repeated efforts to import more Irishmen to vote for Kennedys in American elections.