Working Papers

Agnihotri, Anustubh, Aditya Dasgupta and Devesh Kapur. "Bureaucrat Assignments as Instruments of Political Control: Evidence from Land Administration Officials in India"

Abstract: Bureaucrats face considerable political pressure from special interests to bias their decision-making. For this reason, bureaucratic autonomy is often protected by civil service laws governing hiring-and-firing. This paper investigates an alternative instrument of political control—the assignment of officials to geographical posts, a personnel system found in many countries. With a matching model, we theorize when and how politicians may use assignments to control/corrupt officials. We test implications with a nationwide survey of officials who administer land, a lucrative asset and target of rent-seeking in urbanizing India.  Using a cross-referenced design, we estimate officials' preferences over posts, finding that attributes like hometown proximity are worth a large salary premium. Observed assignment patterns are consistent with politicians leveraging these preferences to pressure officials into distorting land regulation, especially in areas with greater corruption potential (measured with remote-sensing data on urban expansion). The findings illuminate the political economy and personnel dynamics driving bureaucratic control/corruption.

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

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. 

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”.