This is the fifth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
How should democratic governments interact with their authoritarian counterparts? The options include initiating a trade war or facilitating access to foreign media. Throughout history, a number of democratic governments have focused on engagement policies, specifically on promoting more interactions between citizens that live in democratic and authoritarian societies. However, the effects of such policies are largely unexplored: It is unclear whether attitudes of individuals living in non-democratic societies change when they meet with individuals that are socialized in democratic societies. Moreover, it is unclear whether these engagement policies strengthen the support for democracy during democratic transitions. These questions are important: a recent theoretical literature in political economy suggests that the degree of support for democracy within a society is critical in determining whether countries transition to democracy or experience autocratic reversals (Besley and Persson, 2018).
Natural Experiment & Empirical Strategy
In my job market paper, I study a policy that was implemented during the Communist dictatorship in East Germany to address these questions. In 1972, the East German regime agreed to reduce restrictions for private visits, specifically for West Germans travelling to East Germany to visit family and friends.
This is the fifth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
Last weekend, the North East Universities Development Consortium held its annual conference, with more than 160 papers on a wide range of development topics and from a broad array of low- and middle-income countries. We’ve provided bite-sized, accessible (we hope!) summaries of every one of those papers that we could find on-line. Check out this collection of exciting new development economics research!
The papers are sorted by topic, but obviously many papers fit with multiple topics. There are agriculture papers in the behavioral section and trade papers in the conflict section. You should probably just read the whole post.
If you want to jump to a topic of interest, here they are: agriculture, behavioral, climate change, conflict, early child development, education, energy, finance, firms and taxes, food security, gender, health and nutrition, households, institutions and political economy, labor and migration, macroeconomics, poverty and inequality, risk management, social networks, trade, urban, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
In Gaile Parkin's novel Baking Cakes in Kigali, two women living in Kigali, Rwanda – Angel and Sophie – argue over the salary paid to a development worker: "Perhaps these big organisations needed to pay big salaries if they wanted to attract the right kind of people; but Sophie had said that they were the wrong kind of people if they would not do the work for less. Ultimately they had concluded that the desire to make the world a better place was not something that belonged in a person's pocket. No, it belonged in a person's heart."
It's not a leap to believe – like Angel and Sophie – that teachers should want to help students learn, health workers who want help people heal, and other workers in service delivery should want to deliver that service. But how do you attract and motivate those passionate public servants? Here is some recent research that sheds light on the topic.
Cash transfers seem to be everywhere. A recent statistic suggests that 130 low- and middle-income countries have an unconditional cash transfer program, and 63 have a conditional cash transfer program. We know that cash transfers do good things: the children of beneficiaries have better access to health and education services (and in some cases, better outcomes), and there is some evidence of positive longer run impacts. (There is also some evidence that long-term impacts are quite modest, and even mixed evidence within one study, so the jury’s still out on that one.)
In our conversations with government about cash transfers, one of the concerns that arose was how they would affect the social fabric. Might cash transfers negatively affect how citizens interact with each other, or with their government? In our new paper, “Cash Transfers Increase Trust in Local Government” (can you guess the finding from the title?) – which we authored together with Brian Holtemeyer – we provide evidence from Tanzania that cash transfers increase the trust that citizens have in government. They may even help governments work a little bit better.
This is the third in this year’s series of posts by PhD students on the job market. The title of this post was updated on 4/30/2018.
Globally, civil liberties and political rights have been declining for eleven consecutive years (Freedom House, 2017). The erosion of these measures runs counter to a priori expectations that circumstances would improve: the number of democracies had doubled within the past five decades and information is increasingly available to voters due to a growing and diverse set of media sources. The presence of more accessible information has been linked to improved political accountability, a fundamental factor of development (Drèze and Sen, 1989; Besley and Burgess, 2002). On the other hand, increased access to information is also believed to polarize voters, offering a possible explanation for the backsliding of democratic norms (Downs, 1957; Gentzkow and Shapiro, 2011). In my job market paper, I show that experimentally varied exposure to the same information in a partisan campaign polarized vote choice on weakening the system of checks and balances in Turkey.
Did you miss this year’s Northeast Universities Development Consortium conference, or NEUDC? I did, unfortunately!
NEUDC is a large development economics conference, with more than 160 papers on the program, so it’s a nice way to get a sense of new research in the field.
Thankfully, since NEUDC posts submitted papers, I was able to mostly catch up. I went through 147 of the papers and summarized them below, by topic. If a paper you loved or presented isn’t in the rundown, feel free to add a brief summary in the comments. (Why 147 instead of 160? I skipped a few macro papers and the papers that weren’t posted.)
These links should take you to your topic of interest: Agriculture, cash transfers and asset transfers, credit and insurance, crime, conflict, violence, and war, culture, norms, and corruption, education, elections and political economy, firms, governance, bureaucracy, and social capital, health (including WASH), jobs (including public works), marriage, methodology, migration, mobile phones and mobile money, poverty, inequality, and shocks, psychology, taxes, and traffic.
A “meta” problem facing not only impact evaluation work but all development policy dialogue is perverse behavior in the public sector to not pursue evidence-based, technically sound policies. Politics and governance come between statistically significant research results and real impact in the world. We confront these problems in a policy research report that has been described as having transformational implications for the business of international development assistance. And we derive implications for a research agenda that involves atypical impact evaluations that would complement work on how to fix the pipes with work on how to fix the institutions that would fix the pipes.
This is the ninth in our series of posts by students on the job market this year.
In developing countries a large fraction of public and financial services are provided by NGOs and mediated by community groups. These organizations are typically external rather than native to the communities where they operate and it is believed that increasing local ownership can improve legitimacy and sustainability of development programs. For this reason development organizations are increasingly turning to participatory decision-making practices. A notable example is the World Bank’s focus on ”Community Driven Development”-projects in the last decade (See Mansuri and Rao (2013) for a review). Previous studies that evaluate Community Driven Development projects point to several advantages of direct local participation compared to central decision making by an NGO or by representatives (see e.g. Olken (2010), Beath et al. (2012), Madajewicz et al. (2014)). Yet, so far we know very little about the relative benefits of different types of direct participation. For example: can we expect a secret ballot vote to be comparable to an open discussion in a village meeting?