Undoing insulation: Politicization and revolving doors in a closed Weberian bureaucracy

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Abstract: Academic and policy narratives about the bureaucracy often prescribe strong civil service systems (combining competitive entrance exams, high salaries, and life tenure) to limit political influence over the bureaucracy and enhance good governance. Using a novel, administrative dataset on the selection and careers of the universe of an elite civil service corps in Spain over a 70-year period, we show that the formal insulation of Weberian civil service systems can co-exist with de facto integration of bureaucratic, political, and corporate careers. We first show that a significant share of these civil servants take leave to work for the private sector, to take senior level positions in government through political appointment, or to run for office. Next, we show that there are systematic differences within the corps in civil servants’ propensity to go to the private sector, take a political appointment, or run for office. These preliminary results suggest that there can be a large and politically significant gap between the de jure, macro-level features of civil service systems and the reality of individual-level careers at the intersection of the bureaucracy, the private sector, and politics.