Lukas Hammer 22.12.23
Let time tailor institutions
What if 70 years, the duration of Queen Elizabeth II's reign, was the perfect duration for a
political term? What if we could shape more efficient institutions by giving politicians a
policy-tailored term duration? Nation-state institutions are built under the preoccupation of
power concentration, modern democracies respond to this issue with Montesquieu’s
“separation des pouvoirs” and terms turnover. But if term durations are defined to limit
power, they may as well limit efficiency. For example, the literature has shown that dictators
with endless terms may be more efficient in implementing long-term policies for the public
good (1) than democratic leaders with limited time frames. Let’s imagine a government
where useful time frames from any regime are used. Let’s imagine a chimeric state whose
term durations are efficiency-dependent.
Our chimeric state could function like this: to form the government and choose state leaders
an assembly would make job offers specifying goals and the according “tailored” term
duration. The system could regularly and dynamically adjust the length of the mandates if
objectives were reached or if the initial time frame wasn’t realistic. New job offers will be
made according to the needs and the progressive ending of the different terms.
The right term duration has to take into account the characteristics of roving bandits” and
“stationary bandits” (2). Roving bandits are driven by short-termism, visible political
outcomes, and rapid self-maximizing actions. On the other hand, stationary bandits expect
earnings in the long term; they have more incentives for long-term policies and common
well-being in the future. This means that mandates are more likely to maximize efficiency if
they are as long as the moment of expected results and returns. According to the literature
we mentioned before, AIDS long-term policies should be led by stationary bandits, and short-
term goals such as local reforestation by roving bandits with short mandates and high
turnover. In other words, mandate durations are policy-dependent and consider leader’s
incentives to maximize efficiency.
The alignment of mandates with specific policies and durations may attract specialized actors
who can focus on the policy rather than on the political battle. Especially in the case of long-
term mandates, leaders could focus on their tasks and use policy-dependent expertise, rather
than on the next election and their campaign skills.
Policy-tailored term durations may reinforce accountability. Politicians would be held
responsible for the policies they were in charge of. Accountability becomes more meaningful
when term lengths are adjusted to match the natural life cycle of policies, preventing
premature evaluations that may happen when limits are disconnected from policies.
We believe this system could also strength political stability and continuity. Indeed, the
turnover would be gradual and sectorial instead of simultaneous and without distinction of
policy. This promotes a smooth political transition and avoids generational clashes by gradual
The risk of despotism is high, especially for very long mandates where stationary bandits may
accumulate power and influence. The range of action of long-term mandates may have to be
very restrictive, as, for example, symbolic and representative tasks of Queen Elisabeth II.
However, the risk of power accumulation is limited by the fragmentation of power in different
policies and multiple time frames. The misalignment of political terms and, therefore,
objectives between leaders can be understood as an advantage for power limitation and an
issue regarding political coherence.
Political incoherence may arise between leaders but also between them and a new political
demand that could be disconnected from the policy goals decided a long time ago. Indeed, it
seems difficult to marry long-term with political change. A related issue is the one of
evaluation. How can we evaluate the efficiency of a policy before its expected end? For long-
term ones, there is a risk of having leaders escape all kinds of evaluation. Indeed, evaluating
policies before the expected end would break all the logic and advantages of long-duration
Our chimeric political system uses the advantages of the specific time frames of different
political regimes, dictatorships, the British monarchy, and democracies. It challenges the
traditional fixed-term system, and by adapting mandate duration to policy goals, it aims to
increase efficiency. Nonetheless, regarding long-duration mandates, our system will face a
great challenge. It will have to ensure that incentives can compensate for the lack of
accountability to ensure good implementation. However, these self-maximizing incentives
may be a risk for despotism. In addition, it is necessary to maintain leaders until the end of
the term to use the efficiency of long-term mandates. Challenges are great, but surely the
four-year “fit-all” size mandate is not optimal, and as we showed, long-term mandates are
manageable in democracies. Ask Prince Charles.
Wordcount: 772
Eaton, Sarah, & Kostka, Genia (2014). “Authoritarian Environmentalism Undermined? Local
Leaders’ Time Horizons and Environmental Policy Implementation in China”. The China
Quarterly, 218, 359380, p.367
(2) idem, p.366