Working Papers

Dasgupta, Aditya. "Explaining Rural Conservatism: Technological and Political Change in the Great Plains".

Abstract: Rural areas are conservative electoral strongholds in the United States and other advanced capitalist economies. But this was not the case historically. What explains the rise of rural conservatism? This paper explores the role of technological and economic change in political change. It studies a historical natural experiment: the post-war introduction of petroleum-powered groundwater pumps and center-pivot irrigation, which enabled farmers to profitably irrigate otherwise arid land in the Great Plains. Difference-in-differences analyses – exploiting the timing of the new technology together with cross-sectional variation in aquifer coverage in a spatially matched sample of counties along the boundary of the Ogallala aquifer – indicate that technological change played a large role in the region’s long-term conservative electoral shift. This was plausibly due to the emergence of upwardly mobile farmers and agribusiness interests with preferences for conservative economic policies. The findings highlight how technological change can shape political development: by generating rent-seeking economic interests which exert influence on elections.


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. "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.


Agnihotri, Anustubh, Aditya Dasgupta and Devesh Kapur. "The Matching Market for Public Office: Evidence from Land Administration in India".

Abstract: Bureaucrats in many countries are rotated between geographical postings – a system resembling a matching market for public office. How does the market function and what are the consequences? With a nationwide survey, we elicit the preferences of Indian officials who administer land (a lucrative asset) over real-world postings and in survey experiments to infer their motives. Officials are not rent-seekers: they do not prefer postings with corruption potential (value of land transactions estimated from satellite imagery). Instead, they prefer postings where they can live comfortably and work effectively. The salary-equivalent intensity of these preferences is large. This inadvertently provides leverage for politicians to extract rents from land deals through control of bureaucratic transfers, a practice that is widespread according to a list experiment. Consistent with a model, politicians maximize rents by allocating posts with corruption potential to bureaucrats with high valuation of those locations. The findings show how, despite benign micromotives, bureaucrats may succumb to corrupt pressure without autonomy of careers from political interference.


Dasgupta, Aditya. "Why Are Some Villages Better Served? Distributive Politics in a Government Hierarchy".

Abstract: Why do government programs perform better in some localities than in others? Top-down theories emphasize the role of patronage networks in targeting resources and bureaucratic attention at favored localities. Bottom-up theories emphasize the role of civically engaged communities in holding government accountable. This paper weighs these competing theories, and proposes a framework for thinking about how top-down and bottom-up factors may interactively shape government performance across localities in an institutional hierarchy. Drawing on a survey of access to a public works program across 2,250 households in 90 villages sampled from constituencies barely won or lost by the ruling party in an Indian state, this paper finds evidence that party-based connections between ruling parties, legislators, and village presidents are an important determinant of program performance. However, village civic engagement (measured through attendance at village assemblies) also exerts an impact, but only in ruling-party constituencies. This is plausibly because the efficacy of bottom-up pressure depends on top-down channels of political influence


Dasgupta, Aditya. "Who is Responsible? A Natural Experiment on Voter Attribution of Credit and Blame".

Abstract: Voter attribution lies at the heart of government accountability, yet to date we have mixed evidence about whether voters are capable of rewarding and sanctioning the correct parties for government performance. Utilizing two natural experiments, the phased rolled-out of India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Act as well as the phased roll-back of the program several years later, this paper finds tentative evidence that the rural poor in India are surprisingly sophisticated voters who not only respond electorally to social programs but assign credit and blame to the responsible party accurately. However, voters are more electorally responsive to the rollout than the rollback of social programs, an asymmetry which may account for the the pattern of social program proliferation and weak implementation over time found in India and other settings.