DP12182 The Rise of New Corruption: British MPs during the Railway Mania of 1845

Author(s): Rui Esteves, Gabriel Geisler Mesevage
Publication Date: July 2017
Keyword(s): networks, railways, rent-seeking, voting
JEL(s): D72, N44, N73
Programme Areas: Public Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=12182

In the 1840s, speculation in railway shares in the UK prompted the creation of hundreds of new railway companies. Each company needed to petition Parliament for the approval of new railway routes. In this paper, we investigate whether parliamentary regulation of the new railway network was distorted by politicians' vested interests. Drawing on methods from peer-effects analysis, we identify situations where MPs could have traded votes with specific colleagues in order to get their preferred projects approved (logrolling). We confirm that logrolling was both prevalent and significant. Our estimates suggest that at least a quarter of approved lines received their bills because of logrolling. Companies approved through logrolling also underperformed in the stock market during the railway bubble and after its final crash in 1847.