Research

Working Papers

"The Real Winner's Curse(with Leopoldo Fergusson, Nelson Ruiz and Juan F. Vargas) [Download PDF] [Online Appendix] (Under Review)

We study the unintended consequences of political inclusion in a context of weak institutions. Using a regression discontinuity approach, we show that the narrow election of previously excluded left-wing parties to local executive office in Colombia results in an almost one-standard-deviation increase in violent attacks by right-wing paramilitaries, more than tripling the sample mean. We interpret this surge in violence as a de facto reaction of traditional political and economic elites, who seek to offset the increase in outsiders’ de jure political power. Consistent with this interpretation, we find that other types of violence are unaffected, and that levels of violence are not influenced by the victory of right-wing parties in close elections. Moreover, we show that the surge in paramilitary violence is concentrated in the year of the next election, which gives left-wing parties a large incumbency disadvantage in Colombia. Our findings highlight the dangers of broadening political inclusion in the absence of efforts to strengthen other institutional dimensions. Open elections that are not complemented by checks and balances to prevent the disproportional accumulation of political power by some groups in society may have unintended negative consequences.


"Nation Building Through Foreign Intervention: Evidence from Discontinuities in Military Strategies(with Melissa Dell) [Download PDF]  [Online Appendix] (Under Review)

This study uses discontinuities in U.S. strategies employed during the Vietnam War to estimate their causal impacts. It identifies the effects of bombing by exploiting rounding thresholds in an algorithm used to target air strikes. Bombing increased the military and political activities of the communist insurgency, weakened local governance, and reduced non-communist civic engagement. The study also exploits a spatial discontinuity across neighboring military regions, which pursued different counterinsurgency strategies. A strategy emphasizing overwhelming firepower plausibly increased insurgent attacks and worsened attitudes towards the U.S. and South Vietnamese government, relative to a hearts and minds oriented approach.


"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.

"The Political Class and Redistributive Policies(with Alejandro Corvalán and Sergio Vicente) [Download PDF] (Under Review)

We study the effect of the composition of the political class on the size of government. First, we use a citizen-candidate model to show that the extension of suffrage may be inconsequential for government spending when there are pre-existing stricter requirements for holding office. We then test this prediction empirically using data from the 13 U.S. original colonies. We find that the extension of the franchise did not affect government spending or the composition of the political class. However, the subsequent elimination of economic qualifications to hold office increased government spending and enriched the class heterogeneity of state legislatures.


"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] [Technical Appendix]  (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] (Revise and Resubmit, American Journal of Political Science)

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]

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"Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 11(2), pp. 151-181. [Download PDF[Download Appendix PDF]

"When do Parties Buy Turnout? How Monitoring Capacity Facilitates Voter Mobilization in Mexico(with Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall) American Political Science Review, 110(1), pp. 160-179, 2016. [Download PDF] [Download Appendix PDF]

"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]