This is the twentieth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
When we study how institutions affect development, we often focus on the characteristics of national institutions, such as whether a country is democratic, protects property rights, or has inclusive institutions. Yet villages in many developing countries contain almost no trace of these national institutions. Instead, life in rural villages is typically shaped by local leaders. In Sub-Saharan Africa, traditional leaders (namely village chiefs) are an important local institution. They control resources – most notably land – collect informal taxes, influence voting, and implement local development projects. The local importance of traditional leaders also concerns the nation-state. As national institutions attempt to increase their presence in the countryside, traditional leaders could act as complements or substitutes to state presence. They could either cooperate or compete with the public good provision by the state and thus enhance or weaken it.
In my job market paper, I study how local leaders and the national state interact. Specifically, I estimate the effect of state presence on the power, legitimacy, and effectiveness of village chiefs. In other words, do village chiefs become more or less influential when the national state is absent (or present) and how does this affect their public good provision? A key institutional feature in this context is that African states have used different strategies of dealing with traditional leaders that primarily vary on one dimension: whether chiefs are formally integrated into the state apparatus. I investigate how this institutional choice shapes the relationship between state presence and chiefs.
This is the twentieth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
This is the eighteenth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
In 2012, 700 million people in India suddenly found themselves without power for over 10 hours. At the time of the incident, political parties blamed each other for mismanagement and failing infrastructure. Such incidents reflect the extensive dysfunction in the sector, with technical problems and billing leakages that are among the worst in the world, amounting to 20% of electricity generated. The poor quality of electricity supply imposes major costs on the Indian economy; electricity shortages, for example, reduce manufacturing plant revenues by 5-10%. Why do these problems persist despite exponentially growing power generation? My job market paper shows that political corruption is one of the root causes behind unreliable electricity supply.
What is the link between political corruption and poor electricity supply? In democracies, incumbent politicians may consolidate power by favoring their voters with better access or lower prices. In India’s electricity sector, where politicians do not have direct control over electricity pricing, they may resort to illicit means in order to do this. Lower prices may actually benefit targeted consumers. But such patronage is costly: it hurts the revenues of electricity providers, inhibiting their ability to invest in infrastructure, and lowering electricity reliability for all consumers. While subsidies and increased access benefit consumers in targeted constituencies, the resulting underinvestment by providers may lead to unreliable supply.
Estimating the often-ambiguous welfare implications of corruption is, therefore, a challenge. Especially since detecting corruption is hard: corruption is frequently concealed, complicating the task of making causal inferences and identifying mechanisms of corruption. In this research, I develop novel methods to address these challenges, and find that political corruption in the electricity sector leads to large revenue losses for electricity providers, worsening their ability to reliably provide electricity.
This is the seventeenth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
Aquinos, Bhuttos, Trudeaus, Yudhoyonos, Gandhis, Lees, Fujimoris: political dynasties remain ubiquitous in democratic countries. Though many societies democratised to end hereditary rule, nearly half of democratic countries have elected multiple heads of state from a single family. Politics is significantly more dynastic than other occupations in democratic societies. Individuals are, on average, five times more likely to enter an occupation their father was in. But having a politician father raises one's odds of entering politics by 110 times, more than double the dynastic bias of other elite occupations like medicine and law. Despite their prevalence and influence, we know little about the economic effects of political dynasties.
Effects of dynastic politics are theoretically ambiguous
Economic theory makes ambiguous predictions about how dynastic politics affects development. On the one hand, bequest motives might lengthen politicians’ time horizons and encourage them to make long-term investments. These founder effects could be good for economic development. However, if some political capital is heritable (e.g., a prominent name or a powerful network), dynastic politics may render elections less effective at selecting good leaders and disciplining them in office. These descendant effects are likely bad for development. The overall impact of dynastic politics is ambiguous, because it is the net result of founder and descendant effects.
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.
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.
Update (January 22, 2019): The paper discussed in this post has subsequently been published in the journal World Development.
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.