The zero-rent society: Evidence from hydropower and petroleum windfalls in Norwegian local governments
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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- Scientific articles 
Original versionJournal of Public Economics. 2022, 209 . 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2022.104650
Economic theory and evidence suggest that political leaders take advantage of government revenue windfalls – particularly from natural resource exploitation – to enrich themselves. We revisit this hypothesis by combining information on massive local government hydropower and petroleum revenues in Norway with five decades of registry data on individual mayors’ earnings and wealth. We find that, while the resource expansions massively boost local government revenues and spending, there is no evidence that mayors exploit the windfalls to enrich themselves. We attribute our precisely estimated zero-finding to characteristics of the Norwegian institutional and informational environment. First, we show that the revenue windfalls induce citizens to seek political information and raise their rates of electoral participation. Second, in the early sample period when local newspapers were more important, mayors’ wage responses were negatively related to newspaper coverage. In sum, our results suggest that voter information is a key disciplining accountability mechanism, potentially explaining our zero-rent result.