Peer-reviewed publications

Shelby Grossman. “The Politics of Order in Informal Markets: Evidence from Lagos.” pdfappendix Winner of African Politics Conference Group - African Affairs Best Graduate Student Paper 2015/16 (forthcoming in World Politics)
Property rights are important for economic exchange, but in much of the world they are not publicly guaranteed. Private market associations can fill this gap by providing an institutional structure to enforce agreements, but with this power comes the ability to extort from group members. Under what circumstances do private associations provide a stable environment for economic activity? Using survey data collected from 1,179 randomly sampled traders across 199 markets in Lagos, I find that markets maintain institutions to support trade not in the absence of government, but rather in response to active government interference. I argue that associations develop pro-trade institutions when threatened by politicians they perceive to be predatory, and when the organization can respond with threats of its own; the latter is easier when traders are not competing with each other. In order to maintain this balance of power, the association will not extort because it needs trader support to maintain the credibility of its threats to mobilize against predatory politicians.

Hannah Baron, Robert A. Blair, and Shelby Grossman. “Teaching Trump: Why Comparative Politics Makes Students More Optimistic About US Democracy.” pdfappendixInside Higher Ed write up (PS: Political Science and Politics)
How does learning about democratic erosion in other countries shape opinions about the state of democracy in the US today? We describe lessons learned from a collaborative course on democratic erosion taught at nearly two dozen universities over the 2017-18 academic year. We use survey data, student-written blog posts, exit questionnaires, and interviews with students who did and did not take the course to explore the effects of studying democratic erosion from a comparative perspective. Do comparisons foster optimism about the relative resilience of democracy in the US, or pessimism about its vulnerability to the same risk factors that have damaged other democracies around the world? Somewhat to our surprise, we find that the course increased optimism about US democracy, instilling greater confidence in the relative strength and longevity of American democratic norms and institutions. We also find, however, that the course did not increase civic engagement, and, if anything, appears to have exacerbated skepticism towards activities such as protest. Students who took the course became increasingly sensitive to the possibility that some forms of civic engagement reflect and intensify the same threats to democracy that the course emphasized—especially polarization.

Shelby Grossman, Jonathan Phillips, and Leah Rosenzweig. “Opportunistic Accountability: State-Society Bargaining Over Shared Interests” pdf; appendixreplication dataMonkey Cage/Washington Post write up (Comparative Political Studies)
Conflicting preferences between the state and society underpin most accountability mechanisms by providing a credible way for society to impose costs on the state. Adapting a classic bargaining framework, we argue that broader conditions can support state-society bargaining. Policies that both the state and society value can also enhance society’s negotiating power provided society has a lower valuation and is more patient than the state. By threatening to sabotage their own interests but hurt the impatient state even more, citizens can compel the state to deliver broader policy benefits. We illustrate this logic with the case of polio vaccination in northern Nigeria, where entire communities have resisted the vaccine as a strategy to bargain for more desired services. To resolve and preempt non-compliance, the Nigerian government has enhanced service delivery in other areas, demonstrating the opportunity for improved accountability in the presence of shared-interest policies. 

Shelby Grossman and Dan Honig. "Evidence from Lagos on Discrimination across Ethnic and Class Identities in Informal Trade." pdfreplication data (World Development)
This paper investigates the determinants of price discrimination in the rice market in one neighborhood of Lagos, Nigeria. There has been little empirical study of how ethnicity and class shape economic outcomes in informal market interactions. We conduct an audit experiment – one of the first audit experiments in Africa – seeking to address this gap. We experimentally manipulate class, with confederates presenting as different classes; this may be the first audit study to take this approach. This is also one of the first in-person audits to have multiple transactions for each buyer and seller, thus allowing for the use of buyer and seller fixed effects. We find little evidence that, all else equal, sharing an ethnicity on its own influences market treatment. Class, however, does have substantial effects, at least for non-coethnics. High class non-coethnics receive higher prices per unit than low class non-coethnics. Our findings suggest that the boundaries of group identity appear to be at least partially defined by class in the informal economy.

Working papers

Shelby Grossman and Alisha Holland. “The Collusion Dilemma: Theory with Evidence from Informal Markets in Lagos, Nigeria.” (under review)
Informal actors often compete with formal or regulated ones. Regulated actors therefore should be natural allies in government attempts to enforce laws and regulations. Surprisingly, they often are not. We argue that the lack of cooperation stems from a collusion dilemma. Collectively, formal actors are better off if informal actors are removed; individually, they can benefit from their presence. We demonstrate these dynamics in the context of Lagos, Nigeria, where millions of informal street vendors compete with traders in licensed markets. We draw on original survey data from 1,179 market traders across 199 associations and qualitative interviews with organization leaders, market traders, street vendors, and government officials in two markets with varying organizational capacity. We show how a negative equilibrium emerges in which limited state enforcement makes it difficult for societal partners to pursue their collective interests. The lack of societal collaboration in turn further erodes state enforcement capacity.

Nathaniel Leff, Jeffry Frieden, and Shelby Grossman. “Trust and Envy: The Political Economy of Business Groups in Developing Countries.” pdf (under review)
Diversified business groups play a major role in the economies of many developing countries. Business group members, often from the same communal, ethnic, or tribal group, have or develop inter-personal relations that make it easier to obtain information and monitor compliance related to transactions that require a strong measure of trust. This in-group cohesion facilitates profitable and productive economic activity. However, it can create resentment among other members of society who are barred from membership in a group that is, of necessity, exclusive. This envy can fuel a self-reinforcing cycle of societal hostility and group protectiveness that can deprive society of the economic benefits the groups can provide. There are several possible reactions such as “affirmative action” programs that can slow or stop the cycle of envy and group vulnerability.