Leander Heldring

Current affiliations
Data Scientist, Kensho Technologies
Fellow, Department of Economics, Tilburg University



Revise and Resubmit Review of Economic Studies
Leander Heldring
December 2016

     This paper shows that contemporary patterns of violence can be traced back to the establishment of the precolonial state. Rwandan villages that were brought under centralized rule one century earlier experience a doubling of violence during the state-organized 1994 genocide. Instrumental variable estimates exploiting differences in proximity to Nyanza -- an early capital -- suggest these effects are causal. In other periods, when the state pursued peace and rebuilding, with longer state presence, violence is lower. Using data from several sources, including a lab-in-the-field experiment, I show that exposure to state institutions impacted civil society, and in particular culturally transmitted norms of obedience to political authority. In a lab setting today, individuals close to an abandoned border of the historical state are more likely to follow an unenforced rule than individuals just across the border. The state's impact on rule following led to more violence when the Rwandan government mobilized for mass killing and to less violence when the government pursued peace and rebuilding. These results suggest that the interaction of government policy with deep-rooted aspects of civil society has the potential to reconcile long-run persistence with rapid economic change.

Leander Heldring
James A. Robinson
Sebastian Vollmer
August 2017
[Media Coverage: VOXeu.org]

     We examine the long-run economic impact of the Dissolution of the English monasteries in 1535, which is plausibly linked to the commercialization of agriculture and the location of the Industrial Revolution. Using monastic income at the parish level as our explanatory variable, we show that parishes which the Dissolution impacted more had more textile mills and employed a greater share of population outside agriculture, had more gentry and agricultural patent holders, and were more likely to be enclosed. Our results extend Tawney’s famous ‘rise of the gentry’ thesis by linking social change to the Industrial Revolution.


Leander Heldring
James A. Robinson
in Carol Lancaster and Nicolas Van de Walle eds. Handbook on the Politics of Development, Oxford University Press. 
[Media Coverage: VOXeu.org]

     In this paper we evaluate the impact of colonialism on development in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the world context, colonialism had very heterogeneous effects, operating through many mechanisms, sometimes encouraging development sometimes retarding it. In the African case, however, this heterogeneity is muted, making an assessment of the average effect more interesting. We emphasize that to draw conclusions it is necessary not just to know what actually happened to development during the colonial period, but also to take a view on what might have happened without colonialism and also to take into account the legacy of colonialism. We argue that in the light of plausible counter-factuals, colonialism probably had a uniformly negative effect on development in Africa. To develop this claim we distinguish between three sorts of colonies: (1) those which coincided with a pre-colonial centralized state, (2) those of white settlement, (3) the rest. Each have distinct performance within the colonial period, different counter-factuals and varied legacies.