By Sean Silverthorne

Executive Summary:

New research from Harvard Business School suggests that federal spending in states appears to cause local businesses to cut back rather than grow. A conversation with Joshua Coval. Key concepts include:

  • The average state experiences a 40 to 50 percent increase in earmark spending if its senator becomes chair of one of the top-three congressional committees. In the House, the average is around 20 percent.
  • For broader measures of spending, such as discretionary state-level federal transfers, the increase from being represented by a powerful senator is around 10 percent.
  • In the year that follows a congressman’s ascendancy, the average firm in his state cuts back capital expenditures by roughly 15 percent.
  • There is some evidence that firms scale back their employment and experience a decline in sales growth.

Recent research at Harvard Business School began with the premise that as a state’s congressional delegation grew in stature and power in Washington, D.C., local businesses would benefit from the increased federal spending sure to come their way.

It turned out quite the opposite. In fact, professors Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval, and Christopher Malloy discovered to their surprise that companies experienced lower sales and retrenched by cutting payroll, R&D, and other expenses. Indeed, in the years that followed a congressman’s ascendancy to the chairmanship of a powerful committee, the average firm in his state cut back capital expenditures by roughly 15 percent, according to their working paper, “Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?

“It was an enormous surprise, at least to us, to learn that the average firm in the chairman’s state did not benefit at all from the unanticipated increase in spending,” Coval reports.

Over a 40-year period, the study looked at increases in local earmarks and other federal spending that flowed to states after the senator or representative rose to the chairmanship of a powerful congressional committee.

We asked Coval about the relationship between the government and the private sector, and how policymakers should critically evaluate federal stimulus plans to help local companies.

See the full interview here: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/cgi-bin/print?id=6420

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Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top "Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters" and "Hawaii's new media thought leader" by http://www.thewebstersdictionary.com Reach her at Malia@hawaiireporter.com