by Sean Silverthorne, Harvard Business School Working Knowledge
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?" …
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….
Q: Although you didn't intend to answer this question with the research, what does your team suspect are some of the causes that could explain why companies retrench when federal dollars come into their neighborhoods?
A: Some of the dollars directly supplant private-sector activity—they literally undertake projects the private sector was planning to do on its own. The Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 is perhaps the most famous example of this.
Other dollars appear to indirectly crowd out private firms by hiring away employees and the like. For instance, our effects are strongest when unemployment is low and capacity utilization is high. But we suspect that a third and potentially quite strong effect is the uncertainty that is created by government involvement.
LINK: Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?