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Huber and Lupia: Cabinet instability and delegation in parliamentary democracies

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Huber and Lupia. 2001. Cabinet instability and delegation in parliamentary democracies. AJPS 45:18-32.

In Brief

In parliamentary democracies, cabinet ministers delegate to bureaucrats but coalition governments replace cabinet ministers with little advance notice. The authors would like to evaluate the claim that cabinet instability (uncertainty about the timing of ministerial replacements) allows bureaucrats to ignore ministerial orders.

Theoretical Argument

Huber and Lupia present a delegation model that introduces cabinet instability as a variable. They discover that often instability has no effect on bureaucratic behavior. They observe the bureaucrats' dilemma (the fear that a bureaucrat's efforts will be unrewarded or even punished if the incumbent minister is replaced unexpectedly), which makes bureaucrats choose policies that would make both them and their ministers better off.

Three Insights (see Figure 1)

  1. Uncertainty about ministerial continuity can, but need not reduce the extent to which ministers benefit from delegation. In many cases, however, instability does not affect delegation.
  2. Cabinet instability can cause agents who would otherwise implement a policy desired by the incumbent not to do so. (Bureaucrats' dilemma)
  3. It is not the case that the consequences of instability will be the same across nations. Several substantive variables affect these consequences in systematic ways.

Three Hypotheses


Based on their formal model, the authors present the following findings.

A given level of instability becomes more problematic for incumbent ministers as:

A given level of instability becomes less problematic for incumbent ministers as:

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Huber, John (author)Lupia, Arthur (author)Comparative PoliticsPrincipal-AgentInformationCabinetsBureaucracy

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