Research

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.

"Politician Family Networks and Electoral Outcomes: Evidence from the Philippines(with Cesi Cruz and Julien Labonne) [Download PDF] (Under 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.

"The Role of Labor Unions as Political Machines: Evidence from the Case of the Mexican Teachers' Union(with Horacio Larreguy and Cesar Montiel) [Download PDF

In this paper we analyze the electoral role of the Mexican teacher's union as a political machine.  To study its effect on electoral outcomes, we exploit variation across time in its political alliances, whether polling stations are located in schools which facilitates the machine's operation and its strength across Mexican states. Our findings suggest that the candidates supported by the machine of the teacher's union experience a significant increase in their vote share when a polling station is located in a school.However, such an effect is only present in the areas where the leadership of the teacher's union exerts influence over its affiliates.  We also show evidence that is consistent with the fact that SNTE uses electoral results at a low level of aggregation to monitor school directors and teachers.

"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

"Family and Politics: Dynastic Incumbency Advantage in the Philippines" [Download PDF]  (Revise and Resubmit, Quarterly Journal of Political Science)

In many democracies a small subset of individuals enjoy, de facto, an electoral advantage. The existence of political dynasties, where individuals from a narrow set of families obtain larger vote shares and are more likely to access office illustrates this phenomenon. In this paper, I study political dynasties in the Philippines and provide evidence of what I define as dynastic incumbency advantage. More precisely I provide evidence of a causal effect of incumbency on the probability of having future relatives in office. Using a regression discontinuity design based on close elections, I find that candidates who barely win their first election by a small margin are around 5 times more likely to have a relative in office in the future, than individuals who barely lose and do not serve.


Recent Publications

"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]