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Is Participatory Democracy the Answer? : : Participatory Budgeting and Development in Brazilian Municipalities


This dissertation uses the case of Participatory Budgeting (PB) in Brazilian municipalities from 1989-2008 to evaluate the motivations for and effects of citizen participation in local budgetary decisions. Policies permitting citizen participation in local politics are being promoted around the world as a wholesale solution to a variety of problems, ranging from corruption, to voter apathy, to inequality. In the Brazilian case, the specific purposes of PB are improving public services and increasing citizen involvement in decision-making, and the policy is generally popular among citizens. In light of these dual demands, I argue that there are two potential theories derived from literature on voting, and democratic theory more broadly, that can explain the widespread popularity of participatory budgeting: (1) PB is popular because it provides instrumental material benefits, such as improved public services to citizens; and (2) PB is popular because it provides intrinsic benefits: the act of participating (or having the option to participate) is itself valuable to citizens. I begin by testing these competing theories of intrinsic and instrumental motivation for participation using subjective survey data from Porto Alegre--the flagship case of PB both in Brazil and around the world. I find that participants are fairly evenly divided between these two motivations, however the distribution is dependent on demographics: those with high socioeconomic status are much more likely to participate for intrinsic purposes than instrumental ones. In the second part of the dissertation, I use objective quantitative measures to systematically test the instrumental effects of Participatory Budgeting on spending patterns, public service provision, and human welfare in all 562 Brazilian municipalities over 50,000 residents, 25 percent of which implemented Participatory Budgeting at some point between 1992 and 2008. After correcting for endogeneity, I find that while PB does produce a change in spending patterns, it does not produce a corresponding change in service provision or welfare. Together, these findings suggest that while instrumental benefits may be lacking, PB should not be summarily dismissed as a result. It was adopted to address to two related demands from citizens : (1) improved public services, particularly for poor citizens; and (2) opportunities for citizens to be involved in municipal decision-making. It could be that success in one of these areas is sufficient to justify its popularity

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