Existing arguments across political science posit that parties in government use domestic and international institutions to lock in their own policy preferences by tying the hands of successors. I demonstrate that these arguments contrast with the assumption of office-seeking parties and therefore portray an incomplete picture of the incentives of governments. The paper emphasizes the trade-off between implementing policy preferences, on the one hand, and exploiting partisan differences for electoral success, on the other hand: locking in a policy takes an issue off the table, but it also undermines a party’s ability to leverage differences to the opposition in elections. Because office-seeking parties need to take into account these electoral consequences, they have a disincentive to tie their successors’ hands. I advance this argument in the context of the establishment of independent central banks, provide empirical evidence, and suggest implications for the literature on international institutions.
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