Working Papers

"State Capacity, Local Governance, and Economic Development in Vietnam(with Melissa Dell and Nathan Lane) [Download PDF]

There has been a large divergence in economic prosperity between Northeast and Southeast Asia since the mid-20th century, and the governance organizations and norms of Asian societies plausibly help explain this divergence. This study examines the impacts of different historical governance norms on development using Vietnam as a laboratory. Northern Vietnam (Dai Viet) was ruled by a bureaucratic state inherited from China. It governed through a centralized, competitively selected bureaucracy, and the village was the fundamental administrative unit. Southern Vietnam was a peripheral tributary of the Khmer (Cambodian) Empire. It followed a patron-client model with weaker, more  personalized power relations and no village intermediation. The Khmer region was not brought under Vietnam's control until just prior to French colonization. We use a regression discontinuity design across the Dai Viet-Khmer boundary to compare villages that had a bureaucratic state to nearby areas that had a patron-client state. We find that areas historically under the bureaucratic state have higher living standards today. Using rich data from South Vietnam and the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam, we document that in villages with a bureaucratic historical state, citizens have been better able to organize for public goods and redistribution through stronger local governments and civil society.  However, today foreign companies are less likely to invest in historically bureaucratic areas, which have a long history of being relatively closed towards outsiders. Overall the study suggests that the bureaucratic state in East Asia - deeply embedded in civil society - played a central role in this region's growth.

"You Can Vote but You Can’t Run: Suffrage Extension, Eligibility Restrictions and Democracy(with Alejandro Corvalán and Sergio Vicente) [Download PDF]

This paper describes a mechanism commonly used by traditional economic elites to extend suffrage without redistributing political power: candidate eligibility restrictions. These often take the form of minimum property or wealth requirements for those who want to access political office. We construct a citizen-candidate model that relates suffrage and eligibility restrictions to implemented policies, and show that an extension of suffrage may be completely offset, in terms of policy outcomes, by a simultaneous increase in eligibility requirements --a change we dub a 'seesaw reform'-- or may be inconsequential when there is a stricter requirement for office holding. We provide historical evidence of the first implication, showing that elites in the Americas --both in the United States and Latin America-- in effect used seesaw reforms in the earlier stages of democratization. As for the second implication, we estimate panel fixed effects regressions to test the effects of removing property qualifications for both suffrage and office in the sample of the 13 original colonies of the United States during the period 1776-1900. We find that the extension of the franchise did not affect government spending or the composition of the political class. Yet the subsequent elimination of economic qualifications for political office increased government spending, enriched the class heterogeneity of the legislature and increased political competition..

"Political Dynasties, Term Limits and Female Political Empowerment: Evidence from the Philippines" (with Julien Labonne and Sahar Parsa) [Download PDF] (Under Review)

We provide evidence that political dynasties account for a large share of female mayors elected since 1988 in the Philippines. Following binding term-limits, female dynastic candidates related to the incumbent were more likely to win elected office. Moreover, the gender of incumbent’s relatives does not depend on municipal characteristics or on various characteristics of the previous incumbent and his family. We then compare outcomes in municipalities where term-limited incumbents are replaced by a female relative with outcomes in municipalities where they are replaced by a male relative. We find no evidence that dynastic female mayors have had any impact on policy, economic or electoral outcomes.

"Politician Family Networks and Electoral Outcomes: Evidence from the Philippines(with Cesi Cruz and Julien Labonne) [Download PDF]  (Revise and Resubmit, American Economic Review)

We demonstrate the electoral importance of politician family networks and provide evidence of the mechanisms behind the relationship. We use a 20 million person dataset, allowing us to reconstruct intermarriage networks for over 15,000 villages in 709 municipalities in the Philippines. We show that politicians are disproportionately drawn from more central families and that, controlling for candidate fixed effects, candidates receive a higher vote share in villages where their families are more central. We present evidence that centrality confers organizational and logistical advantages that facilitate clientelistic transactions such as vote buying and do not operate through popularity, name recognition or through the choice of policies more aligned with their constituents' preferences.

"Union Members as Political Brokers: Partisans or Agents?(with Horacio Larreguy and Cesar Montiel) [Download PDF] (Under Review)

Union members often serve as political brokers who mobilize voters across the developed and developing world, yet little is known about what motivates them to do so. This paper identifies two common drivers of union members’ efforts as brokers: (1) partisan attachment to the party they deliver votes for and (2) monetary incentives and monitoring by the union’s leadership. We bring our theory to the data and study the electoral impact of Latin America’s largest union, the Mexican National Educational Workers Union (SNTE). Exploiting variation in the allocation of polling stations to schools (and thus teachers’ ability to operate as political brokers) and in the political alliances of the SNTE’s leaders, we identify a sizable effect of the union’s political machine on electoral outcomes. Additional empirical exercises indicate that teachers’ partisan attachment is the main driver of effectiveness for the SNTE’s machine.

"Political Reform and Elite Persistence: Term Limits and Political Dynasties in the Philippines" [Download PDF] (Under Review)

Research in political economy emphasizes the tendency of elites to persist and reproduce their power over time, potentially undermining the effectiveness of institutional reforms. One particular form of elite persistence is illustrated by the existence of political dynasties. A natural question is whether certain political reforms can break dynastic patterns and open up the political system. In this paper I study the extent to which the introduction of term limits by the 1987 Philippine Constitution effectively broke the hold of incumbent families on power. The ability of term limits to dismantle political dynasties is not obvious, as term-limited incumbents may be replaced by relatives or may run for a different elected office. Whether these strategies undermine the direct effects of term-limits in reducing the time an individual can hold office is an empirical question. I find no evidence of a statistically significant impact of term limits on curbing families' persistence in power. Moreover, term limits deter high-quality challengers from running prior to the expiration of an incumbent's term. Challengers prefer to wait for the incumbent to be termed-out and run in an open-seat race. As a consequence, incumbents are safer in their early terms prior to the limit. These results suggest that political reforms that do not modify the underlying sources of dynastic power may be ineffective in changing the political equilibrium.

Media Coverage: The Guardian

Recent Publications

"Family and Politics: Dynastic Persistence in the Philippines" [Download PDF]  forthcoming, Quarterly Journal of Political Science.

"When do Parties Buy Turnout? How Monitoring Capacity Facilitates Voter Mobilization in Mexico(with Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall) [Download PDF] forthcoming, American Political Science Review.                                                                                                                                                                                                

"The Control of Politicians in Normal Times and Times of Crisis: Wealth Accumulation by U.S. Congressmen, 1850-1880" (with James M. Snyder, Jr.) Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2013 (8), p.409-450. [Download PDF] [Download Appendix PDF]

“The Desire to Return during Civil War: Evidence for Internally Displaced Populations in Colombia” (with Ma. Alejandra Arias and Ana María Ibáñez), Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy, 2014, Volume 20, Issue 1, p. 209-233.

“The Returns to U.S. Congressional Seats in the mid-19th Century” (with James M. Snyder, Jr.) in Aragones, E., Bevia, C., Llavador, H., Schofield, N., Eds. The Political Economy of Democracy, BBVA, Barcelona, 2009. [Download PDF]

“When Does Policy Reform Work? The case of Central Bank Independence” (with Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson and James A. Robinson), Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (Spring 2008): 351-421 [Download PDF] [Data]

“Economic and Political Inequality in Development: the case of Cundinamarca, Colombia” (with Daron Acemoglu, Maria Angelica Bautista and James A. Robinson) in Elhanan Helpman, ed Institutions and Economic Performance, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008 [Download PDF]