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MPs For Sale? Estimating Returns to Office in Post-War British Politics
Unformatted Document Text:  With the death records we were then able to find probate values for 561 candidates in the probate calendar stored at First Avenue House in London. 5 Probate values allow us to measure the total value of a candidate’s estate at death. 6 We are confident that probate values give a good indication of the true wealth of the individuals in our sample. Probate values are widely used in the economic history literature to measure wealth, for example in studies of economic mobility during the industrial revolution. 7 Probates also provide the basis for official data on the current distribution of wealth. In a recent review comparing methods of estimating the wealth distribution, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) concluded that the approach based on probate values remains “the best available means,” surpassing alternate approaches based on investment income and direct household surveys (HMRC 2007, pg. 3). Finally, we exclude from our estimation sample 67 candidates who were from minor parties (36 Liberals and 31 from regional parties) and a further 60 candidates who were found to have served before 1950, which leaves us with 434 candidates overall. Of these, 186 candidates are “competitive winners” in the sense that they entered Parliament in a race they won by fewer than 10,000 votes; the remaining 248 candidates are “competitive losers” in the sense that at some point they came within 10,000 votes of winnning. 8 The candidates in our estimation sample are spread quite evenly geographically across Britain (with candidates appearing in 432 out of 658 possible constituencies between 1950 and 5 The few missing probates were mostly due to common names. Probates are listed under the quarter in which they are registered, which might be as much as a year after the date when the death was registered,and entries in the probate calendar do not list birth dates (unlike death records). As a result, there mightbe several possible probate records listed in the year or so following the death of a candidate with a commonname, making it impossible to tell which one is the correct estate. These cases were left missing. 6 In the UK, a probate is needed in order for a deceased person’s representative to administer the assets of the estate. A probate is normally filed for all estates containing real property and/or a single class ofasset worth GBP 5,000 or more. By law, the estate includes the value of all assets and monies at the timeof death, after debts and expenses have been deducted, plus any gifts exceeding GBP 3000 that have beenmade within the previous seven years and the value of any trust from which the deceased has receivedan income. Jointly held property is also exempt, with certain restrictions. At the time of writing, a 40%inheritance tax is applied to the estate, with the first 300,000 GBP exempt. Tax avoidance may affect thereported wealth but this effect is mitigated by the fact that gifts given within seven years of death aretaxable. 7 See Owens et al. (2006) for an application, discussion, and many citations. 8 We also discarded the very few “losing” candidates who eventually won a seat post 1970. Including them as winners or losers does not change the results (available upon request). 6

Authors: Eggers, Andy. and Hainmueller, Jens.
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With the death records we were then able to find probate values for 561 candidates in
the probate calendar stored at First Avenue House in London.
5
Probate values allow us to
measure the total value of a candidate’s estate at death.
6
We are confident that probate
values give a good indication of the true wealth of the individuals in our sample. Probate
values are widely used in the economic history literature to measure wealth, for example in
studies of economic mobility during the industrial revolution.
7
Probates also provide the
basis for official data on the current distribution of wealth. In a recent review comparing
methods of estimating the wealth distribution, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) concluded
that the approach based on probate values remains “the best available means,” surpassing
alternate approaches based on investment income and direct household surveys (HMRC
2007, pg. 3).
Finally, we exclude from our estimation sample 67 candidates who were from minor
parties (36 Liberals and 31 from regional parties) and a further 60 candidates who were
found to have served before 1950, which leaves us with 434 candidates overall. Of these,
186 candidates are “competitive winners” in the sense that they entered Parliament in a
race they won by fewer than 10,000 votes; the remaining 248 candidates are “competitive
losers” in the sense that at some point they came within 10,000 votes of winnning.
8
The
candidates in our estimation sample are spread quite evenly geographically across Britain
(with candidates appearing in 432 out of 658 possible constituencies between 1950 and
5
The few missing probates were mostly due to common names. Probates are listed under the quarter in
which they are registered, which might be as much as a year after the date when the death was registered,
and entries in the probate calendar do not list birth dates (unlike death records). As a result, there might
be several possible probate records listed in the year or so following the death of a candidate with a common
name, making it impossible to tell which one is the correct estate. These cases were left missing.
6
In the UK, a probate is needed in order for a deceased person’s representative to administer the assets
of the estate. A probate is normally filed for all estates containing real property and/or a single class of
asset worth GBP 5,000 or more. By law, the estate includes the value of all assets and monies at the time
of death, after debts and expenses have been deducted, plus any gifts exceeding GBP 3000 that have been
made within the previous seven years and the value of any trust from which the deceased has received
an income. Jointly held property is also exempt, with certain restrictions. At the time of writing, a 40%
inheritance tax is applied to the estate, with the first 300,000 GBP exempt. Tax avoidance may affect the
reported wealth but this effect is mitigated by the fact that gifts given within seven years of death are
taxable.
7
See Owens et al. (2006) for an application, discussion, and many citations.
8
We also discarded the very few “losing” candidates who eventually won a seat post 1970. Including
them as winners or losers does not change the results (available upon request).
6


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