Evading the Patronage Trap

Interest Representation in Mexico
Brian Palmer-Rubin
Patronage negatively affects economic opportunity for small farms and businesses


Why have Latin American democracies proven unable to confront the structural inequalities that cripple their economies and stymie social mobility? Brian Palmer-Rubin contends that we may lay the blame on these countries’ systems of interest representation, which exhibit “biased pluralism,” a system in which the demands of organizations representing economic elites—especially large corporations—predominate. A more inclusive model of representation would not only require a more encompassing and empowered set of institutions to represent workers, but would also feature spaces for non-elite producers—such as farmers and small-business owners to have a say in sectoral economic policies.

With analysis drawing on over 100 interviews, an original survey, and official government data, this book focuses on such organizations and develops an account of biased pluralism in developing countries typified by the centrality of patronage—discretionarily allocated state benefits. Rather than serving as conduits for demand-making about development models, political parties and interest organizations often broker state subsidies or social programs, augmenting the short-term income of beneficiaries, but doing little to improve their long-term economic prospects. When organizations become diverted into patronage politics, the economic demands of the masses go unheard in the policies that most affect their lives, and along the way, their economic interests go unrepresented.

Brian Palmer-Rubin is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marquette University.

Praise / Awards

  • “Interest associations are central to redistribution, but as this book brilliantly shows, the links between organizations representing lower-income groups and redistributive politics may be easily distorted. Evading the Patronage Trap helps us understand why contemporary Latin America democracies have had such difficulty combatting inequality—and offers new insights into how this challenge may be overcome.”

    —Steven Levitsky, Harvard University
  • “This is a fine contribution to our study of Mexican politics and essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the organization of interest representation in Latin America and beyond in the twenty-first century. It persuasively illuminates how non-elite interest associations can be effective, and yet why they so rarely are.”

    —Frances Hagopian, Harvard University

  • “By focusing on the demand side, Palmer-Rubin shifts the debate on clientelism towards the classic problem of interest representation and the intermediation role played by organizations. While the study crafts its argument through a careful analysis in democratic Mexico of the downward ties of organizations with citizens, and their upward ties with political parties, its implications go well beyond the specific case. A required reading for anyone interested in understanding what has happened with corporatism, patronage, social organizations, and the emergence of populism in Latin America. Activists, scholars, or policy makers participating in political processes that seek to promote inclusion around the world must also read Evading the Patronage Trap.”

    —Alberto Diaz-Cayeros, Stanford University
  • Evading the Patronage Trap effectively unpacks the big question of how economic interests can achieve political representation by analyzing both how politics shapes organizations and how organizations shape politics.”

    —Jonathan Fox, American University
  • “By analyzing the organizational dynamics that lead some citizen organizations away from advocating for the widespread structural reforms their people need, Evading the Patronage Trap offers a refreshingly unique and trenchant explanation for persistent inequality in Mexico. An important read for anyone concerned about rising inequality in our time.”

    —Hahrie Han, Johns Hopkins University
  • Evading the Patronage Trap retakes the classic question of how economic interest organizations affect the quality of democracy. Palmer-Rubin provides a fresh and compelling answer by showing how reliance on patronage undermines interest representation in developing democracies. Original surveys and case studies deftly illustrate the ‘patronage trap’ that both organizations and political parties face when they attempt to recruit followers. The findings shed light on much of the democratic malaise sweeping Latin America: organization by popular sectors has failed to result in representation in the policy process, generate alternative economic models, or challenge yawning inequalities.”

    —Alisha C. Holland, Harvard University

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 342pp.
  • 25 tables, 1 map, 14 charts.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2022
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07544-7

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  • $90.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2022
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05544-9

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  • $42.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2022
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90287-3

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