The Revolving Door Theory

The Revolving Door Theory

The term “revolving door” refers to private-sector employees moving into high-level, public-sector roles and vice versa. This theory allows legislators and regulators to move into lobbyist positions while consultants and lobbyists move into government appointments that might be related to their previous private roles.

In recent years, revolving door occurrences have increased in democracies, which sparked debates over the extent to which former public-sector officials are allowed to use their connections and insider knowledge to enrich themselves or become overly influential in shaping legislation essentially.


How Do Revolving Doors Work?

We know that it’s inevitable that employees can switch between public and private sector roles. Still, the revolving door phenomenon has been placed in the spotlight due to the growing influence of money in politics.

It is estimated that up to $3.5 billion was spent on lobbying in the United States between 1998 and 2020. These figures raised concerns that special interest groups can now leverage their money to buy influence and access to politicians. There is also the concern of conflict of interests since politicians can make decisions that will benefit them once they leave the public sector to work in the private sector.

Lobbyists agree that it’s a matter of cashing in on expertise instead of connections. Participants in this system state that “what you know” is far more important than “who you know”. According to the argument for the case, it is beneficial to have specialists within private lobby groups to ensure the quality used to make new regulatory decisions is of the highest standards.


Are There Any Policies to Stop Revolving Doors?

There are very few policies in place to prevent or limit revolving door practices. The United States, for example, has a set of rules that governs when ex-government employees can work in the private sector. But the rule, however, doesn’t apply to policymakers that wish to join the public sector.

France, on the other hand, has a three-year waiting period for public sector employees wanting to join the private sector. Japan calls their ex-government employees that move to the private sector amakudari, which translates to “descent from heaven”.

The biggest problem with revolving door systems is the fact that it makes corruption all too easy. Let’s imagine, hypothetically, that a politician makes a decision that immediately benefits him or her. That would be seen as a breach of the code of conduct. Perhaps even a violation of the law.

But a delayed benefit, on the other hand, has a much higher chance of escaping legal restrictions and scrutiny once the code of conduct no longer binds an official.

Even though all former officials can accept private sector roles or lobbyist positions, these scenarios always bring about the idea of conflict of interest. Take, for example, Peter Reith, the former Australian defense minister who joined Tenix (a defense and logistics firm) after retiring in 2002. When Reith was still in the public sector, Tenix won a supply contract. When Reith became a lobbyist for the firm, Tenix went on to secure numerous other defense contracts.


Closing the Revolving Door

Lobbyists fill an essential role in a representative system. But their ability to gain access to decision-makers means nonprofits are not given the same ability to converse with their governments. And the revolving door system compounds this problem.

The proliferation of lobbying and the lack of rigorous regulations make it impossible to determine when and at what cost officials put their self-interest ahead of duty. Radical as it may sound, the revolving door may need to be closed to certain public servants.