Working Papers

Dasgupta, Aditya and Elena Ruiz Ramirez. "Explaining Rural Conservatism: Political Consequences of Technological Change in the Great Plains". 2021 Franklin Burdette / Pi Sigma Alpha Prize for Best Paper Presented at the APSA Annual Meeting. Revise and Resubmit, American Political Science Review.

Presentations: [USC PIPE workshop]

Abstract: Rural areas are conservative electoral strongholds in the United States and other advanced capitalist economies. But this was not always the case. What explains the historical rise of rural conservatism? This paper examines how technological change transformed not only agriculture but rural political preferences during the twentieth century. It studies a historical natural experiment: the post-war introduction of improved groundwater pumps and center-pivot irrigation, which enabled farmers to irrigate otherwise arid land in the Great Plains. Difference-in-differences analyses – exploiting the timing of the technological shock together with cross-sectional variation in groundwater availability in a spatially matched sample of counties along the Ogallala aquifer boundary – indicate that technological change played a large role in the region’s long-term conservative electoral transformation. Additional tests, including comparison of the contemporary policy preferences of individuals residing inside and outside of the Ogallala aquifer, support the hypothesis that this was due to the spread of capital-intensive agriculture and the growing economic and political power of agribusiness interests which benefit from conservative economic policies. The findings demonstrate how new technologies made new politics in rural America.

Dasgupta, Aditya. "Weapons of the Weak: The Violent Consequences of Biased Technological Change".

Presentations: [UPenn CASI][Brown-Harvard-MIT South Asian Politics]

Abstract: Technological change is typically biased, producing wealth that is distributed unequally across groups in society. When the relative losers of technological change lack the political power needed to pursue redistribution through the political system, they may turn to informal tactics of protest and redistribution, include violence. The argument is applied to the green revolution in India. The spread of a new crop technology, high-yielding variety (HYV) crops, improved agricultural productivity, but also generated rising inequality between landowners and the rural poor. Drawing on a panel dataset linking district-level estimates of HYV crop adoption to digitized crime records, this paper provides evidence that the spread of the new crop technology contributed to an epidemic of dacoity (banditry), an economic crime with elements of social protest against inequality. However, the spread of the new crop technology did not benefit left-wing parties electorally, suggesting that violence was not a precursor to but substitute for redistribution at the ballot box.

Dasgupta, Aditya and Ada Johnson-Kanu. "Pre-colonial States and Development: Evidence from African Agriculture".

Abstract: Low agricultural productivity is a major source of poverty in Africa, where much of the population works in agriculture, yet subsistence production and food insecurity are widespread. However, some pockets of agriculture in Africa are highly productive. In this paper, we assemble a geospatial dataset of all pre-colonial African states in existence between 1500 and 1850, and utilize remote-sensing data based on satellite imagery to show that areas (pixels) in proximity to the location of pre-colonial state capitals display higher levels of contemporary agricultural output. This relationship exists across and within countries, agro-ecological zones, and river basins. We rule out spurious correlation with spatial randomization tests. We argue that via path-dependence and spatial agglomeration effects, pre-colonial states transmitted the territorial reach that was critical for state-led agricultural modernization in the twentieth century. The findings support a growing literature linking contemporary economic development to state capacity transmitted from pre-colonial political institutions.

Agnihotri, Anustubh, Aditya Dasgupta and Devesh Kapur. "The Political Economy of Capture: Micromotives and Macrobehavior in India's Land Bureaucracy".

Abstract: Autonomous and professional bureaucracies play an important role in the administration of markets and long-term economic development. However, bureaucracies can be “captured” by rent-seeking special interests, an outcome typically attributed to the venal micromotives of bureaucrats. We develop an alternative framework in which corrupt macrobehavior flows from benign micromotives – which politicians, like mechanism designers, leverage in incentive schemes designed to induce public-spirited officials to comply with rent-seeking. With a nationwide survey of Indian administrators of land (a quintessentially lucrative asset in urbanizing societies), we elicit officials’ preferences over real-world posts and in survey experiments to infer their motives. Officials prefer posts with greater resources, amenities, and proximity to home district but not those with greater corruption potential. These preferences are benign but strong in salary-equivalent terms. This gives politicians leverage to extract rents from land deals through pressure exerted via the threat of transfers, a practice we show to be widespread with a list experiment and analysis of strategic posting patterns. The findings demonstrate how political influence over the mechanism that assigns bureaucrats to jobs -- a virtually universal feature of bureaucracies -- represents a powerful instrument of political control and capture by special interests.

Dasgupta, Aditya. "Why Are Some Villages Better Served? Top-down and Bottom-up Determinants of Government Performance in Rural India".

Abstract: Why do government programs work well in some localities but poorly in others? This paper develops a theory of how the combination of top-down political connections together with bottom-up community civic engagement plays an important role in shaping the implementation of government programs across localities. The argument is developed with a simple model and applied to variation in the performance of a rural employment guarantee program across villages in India and tested with a survey of 2,250 households across 90 villages, nested within a close elections natural experiment. The data show that electing a ruling-party legislator improves household access to public works employment. However, these benefits primarily accrue to civically engaged villages, where residents subject local leaders, and by proxy the higher-level politicians to which they are connected, to broad-based pressure for service delivery. Disengaged villages are crowded out. The findings highlight the neglected but crucial role of bottom-up factors as a determinant of success in distributive politics.

Dasgupta, Aditya. "The Social Origins of Democracy: An Empirical Investigation of Seventeenth-century England".

Abstract: The defeat of the monarchy by parliament in seventeenth-century England is a critical case in the study of the historical origins of democracy. This paper investigates an influential hypothesis: that democracy emerged because of changes in social structure – the rise of a commercial middle class – resulting from long-term technical and economic change. Beginning in the 1500s, an agricultural revolution transformed society, enriching a new class of commercial farmers, traders, and merchants and weakening the traditional feudal aristocracy. In response to taxes and restrictions on commerce, this upwardly mobile class supported a civil war against the old social and political order. The argument is tested with county-level data on the social composition of local wealth-holders – extracted from 200,000 geo-coded wills from the 16th and 17th centuries – linked to measures of support for parliamentary forces in the English Civil War. The findings support a nuanced interpretation of Barrington Moore’s well-known dictum: “no bourgeoisie, no democracy”.