High bureaucratic transaction costs can make it impossible for individuals to claim welfare benefits. Instead, these costs make individuals dependent on intermediaries who facilitate access to welfare. Especially in contexts of weak and corrupt policy implementation, politically motivated intermediaries demand political loyalty in return for their assistance, a practice known as clientelism. Although intermediaries may be efficient and even compensate for deficiencies in state capacity, they can also have long-run consequences for individuals' political autonomy and capacity to hold governments accountable. As a result, instead of promoting autonomous political participation, the pursuit of social welfare benefits through intermediaries can intensify ties of dependency. Worryingly, this research suggests that studying distributive outcomes without understanding mediating institutions may produce misleading conclusions. However, an important implication of this theory is that vicious markets of mediation can be weakened by reducing the costs that citizens face in obtaining welfare benefits directly from the state.
Tesalia is a Post Postdoctoral Scholar at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University. Starting fall 2020, she will be joining the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Merced as Assistant Professor. She completed her PhD in Political Science at MIT. Tesalia is also a research affiliate at the MIT Governance Lab.
Her research is in comparative political behavior, with a particular focus on how citizens make demands on the state. Her book-project, titled “Intermediaries of the State: Bureaucratic Transaction Costs of Claiming Welfare in Mexico” explores how bureaucratic transaction costs prevent individuals from directly claiming welfare benefits. Instead, these costs make citizens dependent on clientelist brokers and intermediaries, who demand political favors in return for access.