Minifying Government: The Unintended Consequences of the Bergman Secondary Road Act of 1929*
Objective. In 1929, Iowa adopted the Bergman Secondary Road Act, which transferred control of the state's rural roads from the townships to the counties. This study examines the interesting and potentially important unintended consequences of the law.
Method. We gathered the minutes from 2,275 Iowa township meetings in 20 townships from 1917 to 1950 to investigate the effect of the Bergman Act.
Results. Multiple regression analysis shows that this apparently innocuous Act turned out to have dramatic and unintended consequences on Iowa's township governments. Without responsibility for the roads, township government activity plunged dramatically—the annual number of meetings and the length of those meetings fell by half from 1929 to 1930. The effect of the law on township activity remains substantial even after controlling for competing explanations, such as the onset of the Depression.
Conclusions. The Bergman Act unintentionally caused a sharp drop in township activity and it may have initiated the gradual marginalization of Iowa township governments that continues today. It is even possible that it had a depressing effect on voter turnout in rural Iowa.
Peter J. Beck and Tom W. Rice. "Minifying Government: The Unintended Consequences of the Bergman Secondary Road Act of 1929*" Social Science Quarterly 85.4 (2004): 1012-1029.
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