Working Papers

"The Historical State, Local Collective Action and Economic Development in Vietnam(with Melissa Dell and Nathan Lane) [Download PDF] [Online Appendix] (Conditionally Accepted, EconometricaFeatured in VoxDev.

This study examines how the historical state conditions long-run development, using Vietnam as a laboratory. Northern Vietnam (Dai Viet) was ruled by a strong centralized state in which the village was the fundamental administrative unit. Southern Vietnam was a peripheral tributary of the Khmer (Cambodian) Empire, which followed a patron-client model with weaker, more personalized power relations and no village intermediation. Using a regression discontinuity design across the Dai Viet-Khmer boundary, the study shows that areas historically under a strong state have higher living standards today and better economic outcomes over the past 150 years. Rich historical data document that in villages with a strong historical state, citizens have been better able to organize for public goods and redistribution through civil society and local government. This suggests that the strong historical state crowded in village-level collective action and that these norms persisted long after the original state disappeared.

"The Political Class and Redistributive Policies(with Alejandro Corvalán and Sergio Vicente) [Download PDF] (Revise and Resubmit, Journal of the European Economic Association)

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.

"Prior's Rule: When Do Malfeasance Revelations Help or Hurt Incumbent Parties?(with Eric Arias, Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall) [Download PDF[Online Appendix] (Under Review)

Effective policy-making requires that voters avoid electing malfeasant politicians. We rationalize the mixed evidence of incumbent sanctioning in developing contexts in a simple Bayesian model that emphasizes voters' prior beliefs. Specifically, electoral punishment of incumbents revealed to be malfeasant is rare where voters already believed them to be malfeasant, while the effect of information on electoral turnout is non-linear in the magnitude of the malfeasance revealed. Our theory is supported by a field experiment in Mexico, where treated voters were informed about malfeasant municipal spending. Reflecting voters' unfavorable prior beliefs, information revealing relatively high levels of malfeasance increased the incumbent party's vote share on average. However, rewards were lower among voters with lower malfeasance priors and stronger prior beliefs, and when audits revealed more severe malfeasance and caused voters to unfavorably update their posterior beliefs about the incumbent's malfeasance. Consistent with our theory, surprising information increased turnout, while relatively unsurprising information reduced turnout. Finally, we document the reactions of incumbent and challenger parties to the information provided. 

"Does the Content and Mode of Delivery of Information Matter for Political Accountability? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Mexico(with Eric Arias, Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall) [Download PDF]

Information pertaining to incumbent performance can play a central role in electoral accountability. In light of mixed findings, we examine the extent to which performance benchmarks and common knowledge moderate the effects of information dissemination. These theoretical mechanisms are tested in the context of a field experiment providing voters with audit reports documenting mayoral malfeasance before the 2015 Mexican municipal elections. We find that neither benchmarking against the performance of mayors from other parties within the state nor accompanying leaflet delivery with loudspeakers announcing the leaflets' delivery within the community significantly altered the effect of information on incumbent party vote share. The ineffectiveness of benchmarking reflects voters not updating their beliefs from the benchmark, while the loudspeaker created common knowledge without facilitating coordination.

"How Social Networks Help Voters Coordinate around Information Provision to Improve Electoral Accountability: Evidence from Mexico(with Eric Arias, Pablo Balán, Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall) [Download PDF]

How do social networks moderate the way political information influences electoral accountability? We propose a simple model in which voters update their beliefs about incumbents based on malfeasance revelations, which can also facilitate coordination around less malfeasant candidates when voters are embedded in highly-connected networks. We separate these mechanisms by leveraging a field experiment in a context where the provision of incumbent malfeasance information increased support for incumbent parties, despite voters continuing to believe that challengers were less malfeasant than incumbents. Combining this experiment with detailed family network data, we show that--consistent with the model--the increase in incumbent party vote share due to information provision was counteracted by coordination around less malfeasant challengers in precincts with greater network connectedness. Individual-level data further demonstrate that networks facilitated tacit and explicit coordination among voters. These findings suggest that networks can help voters coordinate around information to help remove poorly-performing politicians.

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

Traditional theories of democracy suggest that political representation of excluded groups can reduce their incentives to engage in conflict. We consider the response of elites whose power is threatened by new political actors and study the 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. 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 violence by left-wing guerrillas and other actors is unaffected, and that levels of violence are not influenced by the victory of right-wing or other new parties in close elections.

"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.

"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

"Nation Building Through Foreign Intervention: Evidence from Discontinuities in Military Strategies(with Melissa Dell) [Download PDF]  [Online Appendix] (forthcoming, Quarterly Journal of Economics).  Featured in VoxEU and Nature.

"Political Brokers: Partisans or Agents? Evidence from the Mexican Teacher's Union(with Horacio Larreguy and Cesar Montiel), American Journal of Political Science, 61(4), pp. 877-891 [Download PDF].

"Politician Family Networks and Electoral Outcomes: Evidence from the Philippines(with Cesi Cruz and Julien Labonne), American Economic Review, 107(10), pp. 3006-3037. [Download PDF] [Online Appendix]

“When Does Information Increase Electoral Accountability? Lessons from a Field Experiment In Mexico" (with Eric Arias, Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall) iDunning, T., G. Grossman, M. Humphreys, S. Hyde, and C. McIntosh, Eds. Metaketa I: The Limits of Electoral Accountability. (Under contract with Cambridge University Press)

"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]