Ben Depoorter


This Article discusses the dynamics of shared political accountability and provides a supply- and demand-side analysis of disaster management. Because multiple levels of government share political accountability in national scale disasters, disaster management is subject to a collective action problem. Introducing the concept of horizontal political externalities, this Article explains the shortcomings of disaster management in terms of asymmetric political accountability costs for ex ante preparedness and ex post relief. In the presence of shared accountability, investments in prevention and relief by one government actor confer positive externalities upon other government actors by reducing the overall chance of being held responsible in ensuing disasters. In contrast, ex post disaster relief involves negative externalities when action by one agency makes other agencies or representatives look worse. Because positive externalities are undersupplied and negative externalities are oversupplied, political externalities distort disaster management policy. When political accountability is shared, no single actor bears the full brunt of accountability. In addition, uncertainty and finger-pointing reduce the total sum of political accountability. The different effects of ex ante and ex post disaster management on political accountability may shed light on events before and after Hurricane Katrina. I provide suggestions for further avenues of empirical and theoretical research on this new positive political theory of horizontal political externalities and political accountability losses.

Included in

Law Commons