Interesting academic articles for June 2020

Here’s what I’ve been looking forward to reading this month!

Ola Olsson, Maria Eriksson Baaz, and Peter Martinsson. 2020. “Fiscal capacity in ‘post’-conflict states: Evidence from trade on Congo river.Journal of Development Economics.

In many post-conflict states with a weak fiscal capacity, illicit domestic levies on trade remain a serious obstacle to economic development. In this paper, we explore the interplay between traders and authorities on Congo River – a key transport corridor in one of the world’s poorest and most conflict-ridden countries; DR Congo. We outline a general theoretical framework featuring transport operators who need to pass multiple taxing stations and negotiate over taxes with several authorities on their way to a central market place. We then examine empirically the organization, extent, and factors explaining the level of taxes charged by various authorities across stations, by collecting primary data from boat operators. Most of the de facto taxes charged on Congo River have no explicit support in laws or government regulations and have been characterized as a “fend for yourself”-system of funding. Our study shows that traders have to pass more than 10 stations downstream where about 20 different authorities charge taxes. In line with hold-up theory, we find that the average level of taxation tends to increase downstream closer to Kinshasa, but authorities that were explicitly prohibited from taxing in a recent decree instead extract more payments upstream. Our results illustrate a highly dysfunctional taxing regime that nonetheless is strikingly similar to anecdotal evidence of the situation on the Rhine before 1800. In the long run, a removal of domestic river taxation on Congo River should have the potential to raise trade substantially.

Diana Mitlin. 2020. “The politics of shelter: Understanding outcomes in three African cities.” ESID working paper no. 145.

This paper analyses the politics of shelter provision in three African cities, focusing on the needs of and provision for the low- and middle-income residents. Housing is a priority for low- and middle-income households. Governments influence multiple facets of land and shelter and affect the shelter options realisable for urban residents. The significance of housing to citizen wellbeing means that housing policy and programming is attractive to politicians seeking popular support. The framework of political settlements is used to structure the analysis. In all three cities, national political elites seek to influence housing outcomes. In the two capital cities, elites use clientelism (backed up by violence) to advantage themselves and secure rents for influential local groups (or factions). Territorial controls are used by elites to influence electoral outcomes, while approaches to housing help to gain legitimacy through strengthening paradigmatic ideas that encapsulate a vision for development. To date, the framework has primarily been applied to the national level. Hence, this application is both novel and a test of the framework’s relevance at this spatial scale and with this sectoral focus.

Nansozi K. Muwanga , Paul I. Mukwaya and Tom Goodfellow. 2020. “Carrot, stick and statute: Elite strategies and contested dominance in Kampala.” ESID working paper no. 146.

Although Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) has dominated Uganda’s political scene for over three decades, the capital Kampala refuses to submit to the NRM’s grip. As opposition activism in the city has become increasingly explosive, the ruling elite has developed a widening range of strategies to try and win urban support and constrain opposition. In this paper, we subject the NRM’s strategies over the decade 2010-2020 to close scrutiny. We explore elite strategies pursued both from the ‘top down’, through legal and administrative manoeuvres and a ramping up of violent coercion, and from the ‘bottom up’, through attempts to build support among urban youth and infiltrate organisations in the urban informal transport sector. Although this evolving suite of strategies and tactics has met with some success in specific places and times, opposition has constantly resurfaced. Overall, efforts to entrench political dominance of the capital have repeatedly failed; yet challenges to the regime’s dominance have also been unable to weaken it in any sustained way. We examine why each strategy for dominance has produced limited gains, arguing that together these strategies reproduced a situation of intensely contested control, in which no single group or elite can completely dominate the city.

Jose Cuesta, Stephen Devereux, Abdul‐Gafaru Abdulai, Jaideep Gupte, Luigi Peter Ragno, Keetie Roelen, Rachel Sabates–Wheeler, and Tayllor Spadafora. 2020. “Urban social assistance. Evidence, challenges, and the way forward, with application to Ghana.Development Policy Review.

Urbanisation is accelerating, and urban poverty is increasing worldwide, yet few countries have developed comprehensive urban social assistance programmes, and those that do exist are often extensions or duplicates of rural programmes. Urban social protection needs, however, to reflect the distinct characteristics and vulnerabilities of the urban poor, especially working in informal activities and their higher living costs. This article addresses two questions: what is the current evidence on effective social assistance programmes in urban contexts around the world? And, how can such programmes be designed and implemented in practice? We pay special attention to social assistance as it is specifically designed to benefit the poor. The article surveys the challenges of designing social assistance programmes for urban contexts, focusing on specific urban vulnerabilities, targeting the urban poor, and setting appropriate payment levels. It reviews existing evidence of such programmes, including seven brief country case studies. These issues are examined in detail for Ghana, a rapidly urbanising country. Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), the predominantly rural flagship assistance program in Ghana, can be adjusted to the urban context in several respects. Advertising, (social) media, direct text messaging, and local NGOs should prove more effective at promoting registration than using community figures. An urban-specific proxy means test should be developed to improve targeting. The cash benefit should be increased and adjusted regularly, and possibly accompanied by subsidised utilities and services.

Sandra García and Jorge Cuartas. 2020. “Can poverty alleviation programs crowd-in private support? Short- and Middle-Run Effects of a Conditional Cash Transfer Program on Inter-Household Transfers.Journal of Social Policy.

Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs have become an important component of social assistance in developing countries. CCTs, as well as other cash subsidies, have been criticized for allegedly crowding out private transfers. Whether social programs crowd out private transfers is an important question with worrisome implications, as private support represents an important fraction of households’ income and works as a risk sharing mechanism in developing countries. Furthermore, empirical evidence on the effect of public transfers on private transfers is mixed. This paper contributes to the literature by using a unique dataset from the quasi-experimental evaluation of a CCT in Colombia and an empirical strategy that allows us to correct for pre-existing differences between treated and control groups. Our results suggest that the public transfer did not crowd out private transfers, neither in the short-run nor in the middle-run. Instead, it increased the probability of receiving support in cash, in kind, and in non-paid labor from different private sources by approximately 10 percentage points. Moreover, we find that the monetary value of private transfers increased by 32 – 38% for treated households.

Alan Zarychta. 2020. “Making social services work better for the poor: Evidence from a natural experiment with health sector decentralization in Honduras.World Development.

Governments in many less developed countries have decentralized their social support systems over the last several decades. However, despite enthusiasm for these reforms, evidence remains limited and mixed as to whether they improve the delivery of basic social services. I take advantage of an unexpected pause in reform implementation in Honduras due to the country’s 2009 coup to investigate the effects of decentralization on local health services. Drawing on administrative data, an original survey of health workers, and qualitative interviews, my analysis shows that decentralization is credibly associated with increases in preventive care for women and that improved accountability and greater resilience to shocks are important mechanisms for this change. Moreover, my analysis highlights how regional organizations use decentralization to assert their own influence and deflect negative political consequences while pressuring for improvements in service delivery. These findings shed light both on the possibilities for improving local social services through governance reform and how national-level reforms can be leveraged by powerful actors at lower rungs of the governmental hierarchy.

Richard Clark and Lindsay R. Dolan. 2020. “Pleasing the Principal: U.S. Influence in World Bank Policymaking.American Journal of Political Science.

How do policies in international organizations reflect the preferences of powerful institutional stakeholders? Using an underutilized data set on the conditions associated with World Bank loans, we find that borrower countries that vote with the United States at the United Nations are required to enact fewer domestic policy reforms, and on fewer and softer issue areas. Though U.S. preferences permeate World Bank decision making, we do not find evidence that borrower countries trade favors in exchange for active U.S. intervention on their behalf. Instead, we propose that U.S. influence operates indirectly when World Bank staff—consciously or unconsciously—design programs that are compatible with U.S. preferences. Our study provides novel evidence of World Bank conditionality and shows that politicized policies can result even from autonomous bureaucracies.

Interesting academic articles for March 2019

Here are some recent papers which I’m looking forward to reading!

Justin Esarey and Leslie Schwindt-Bayer. 2019. “Estimating Causal Relationships Between Women’s Representation in Government and Corruption.” Comparative Political Studies.

Does increasing the representation of women in government lead to less corruption, or does corruption prevent the election of women? Are these effects large enough to be substantively meaningful? Some research suggests that having women in legislatures reduces corruption levels, with a variety of theoretical rationales offered to explain the finding. Other research suggests that corruption is a deterrent to women’s representation because it reinforces clientelistic networks that privilege men. Using instrumental variables, we find strong evidence that women’s representation decreases corruption and that corruption decreases women’s participation in government; both effects are substantively significant.

Jesse Cunha, Giacomo De Giorgi, and Seema Jayachandran. 2019. “The Price Effects of Cash Versus In-Kind Transfers.” The Review of Economic Studies.

This article examines the effect of cash versus in-kind transfers on local prices. Both types of transfers increase the demand for normal goods; in-kind transfers also increase supply in recipient communities, which could lead to lower prices than under cash transfers. We test and confirm this prediction using a programme in Mexico that randomly assigned villages to receive boxes of food (trucked into the village), equivalently-valued cash transfers, or no transfers. We find that prices are significantly lower under in-kind transfers compared to cash transfers; relative to the control group, in-kind transfers cause a 4% fall in prices while cash transfers cause a positive but negligible increase in prices. In the more economically developed villages in the sample, households’ purchasing power is only modestly affected by these price effects. In the less developed villages, the price effects are much larger in magnitude, which we show is due to these villages being less tied to the outside economy and having less competition among local suppliers.

Brian Palmer-Rubin. 2019. “Evading the Patronage Trap: Organizational Capacity and Demand Making in Mexico.Comparative Political Studies.

When do organizations broadly represent the interests of their economic sectors and when do they narrowly represent the interests of members? This article investigates how agricultural and small-business organizations in Mexico make demands for programmatic policies or patronage benefits. Contrary to explanations based on the class of members, I show that the source of organizational capacity shapes demand-making strategies. Organizations that generate selective benefits internally are able to engage in programmatic policies that shape sectoral competitiveness, whereas organizations that fail to solve membership challenges internally are vulnerable to the patronage trap, a self-reproducing cycle wherein they become specialized in demand making for discretionary private goods. I generate this argument through process tracing of two agricultural organizations in Mexico. Analysis of an original survey of economic interest organizations provides broader evidence that organizational capacity is a better predictor of policy demands than social class.

Christopher Blattman, Donald Green, Daniel Ortega, and Santiago Tobón. 2019. “Place-based interventions at scale: The direct and spillover effects of policing and city services on crime.” Innovations for Poverty Action working paper.

In 2016 the city of Bogotá doubled police patrols and intensified city services on high-crime streets. They did so based on a policy and criminological consensus that such place-based programs not only decrease crime, but also have positive spillovers to nearby streets. To test this, we worked with Bogotá to experiment on an unprecedented scale. They randomly assigned 1,919 streets to either 8 months of doubled police patrols, greater municipal services, both, or neither. Such scale brings econometric challenges. Spatial spillovers in dense networks introduce bias and complicate variance estimation through “fuzzy clustering.” But a design-based approach and randomization inference produce valid hypothesis tests in such settings. In contrast to the consensus, we find intensifying state presence in Bogotá had modest but imprecise direct effects and that such crime displaced nearby, especially property crimes. Confidence intervals suggest we can rule out total reductions in crime of more than 2–3% from the two policies. More promising, however, is suggestive evidence that more state presence led to an 5% fall in homicides and rape citywide. One interpretation is that state presence may more easily deter crimes of passion than calculation, and place-based interventions could be targeted against these incredibly costly and violent crimes.

Heather A. Knauer, Pamela Jakiela, Owen Ozier, Frances Aboud, and Lia C.H. Fernald. 2019. “Enhancing Young Children’s Language Acquisition through Parent-Child Book-Sharing: A Randomized Trial in Rural Kenya.” Center for Global Development working paper.

Worldwide, 250 million children under five (43 percent) are not meeting their developmental potential because they lack adequate nutrition and cognitive stimulation in early childhood. Several parent support programs have shown significant benefits for children’s development, but the programs are often expensive and resource intensive. The objective of this study was to test several variants of a potentially scalable, cost-effective intervention to increase cognitive stimulation by parents and improve emergent literacy skills in children. The intervention was a modified dialogic reading training program that used culturally and linguistically appropriate books adapted for a low-literacy population. We used a cluster randomized controlled trial with four intervention arms and one control arm in a sample of caregivers (n = 357) and their 24- to 83-month-old children (n = 510) in rural Kenya. The first treatment group received storybooks, while the other treatment arms received storybooks paired with varying quantities of modified dialogic reading training for parents. Main effects of each arm of the trial were examined, and tests of heterogeneity were conducted to examine differential effects among children of illiterate vs. literate caregivers. Parent training paired with the provision of culturally appropriate children’s books increased reading frequency and improved the quality of caregiver-child reading interactions among preschool-aged children. Treatments involving training improved storybook-specific expressive vocabulary. The children of illiterate caregivers benefited at least as much as the children of literate caregivers. For some outcomes, effects were comparable; for other outcomes, there were differentially larger effects for children of illiterate caregivers.

Chris Mahony, Eduardo Albrecht, and Murat Sensoy. 2019. “The relationship between influential actors’ language and violence: A Kenyan case study using artificial intelligence.” International Growth Centre working paper.

Scholarly work addressing the drivers of violent conflict predominantly focus on macro-level factors, often surrounding social group-specific grievances relating to access to power, justice, security, services, land, and resources. Recent work identifies these factors of risk and their heightened risk during shocks, such as a natural disaster or significant economic adjustment. What we know little about is the role played by influential actors in mobilising people towards or away from violence during such episodes. We hypothesise that influential actors’ language indicates their intent towards or away from violence. Much work has been done to identify what constitutes hostile vernacular in political systems prone to violence, however, it has not considered the language of specific influential actors. Our methodology targeting this knowledge gap employs a suite of third party software tools to collect and analyse 6,100 Kenyan social media (Twitter) utterances from January 2012 to December 2017. This software reads and understands words’ meaning in multiple languages to allocate sentiment scores using a technology called Natural Language Processing (NLP). The proprietary NLP software, which incorporates the latest artificial intelligence advances, including deep learning, transforms unstructured textual data (i.e. a tweet or blog post) into structured data (i.e. a number) to gauge the authors’ changing emotional tone over time. Our model predicts both increases and decreases in average fatalities 50 to 150 days in advance, with overall accuracy approaching 85%. This finding suggests a role for influential actors in determining increases or decreases in violence and the method’s potential for advancing understandings of violence and language. Further, the findings demonstrate the utility of local political and sociological theoretical knowledge for calibrating algorithmic analysis. This approach may enable identification of specific speech configurations associated with an increased or decreased risk of violence. We propose further exploration of this methodology.

Vincent Hardy and Jostein Hauge. 2019. “Labour challenges in Ethiopia’s textile and leather industries: no voice, no loyalty, no exit?” African Affairs.

A state-led industrialization push inspired by the East Asian ‘developmental state’ model is at the centre of Ethiopia’s recent economic success. This model has historically proved potent for achieving rapid industrialization, but the business-state alliance at the heart of the model generally aimed to curb the power of labour. Focusing on textile and leather manufacturing in Ethiopia, this article addresses two questions: are workers capable of extracting gains from the process of industrialization, and have the actions of workers affected global value chain integration in the two industries? Our data show that opportunities for collective voice among workers are limited. However, workers have expressed their discontent by leaving employers when working conditions fail to meet their expectations. The resulting turnover has generated significant obstacles for local and foreign firms attempting to participate in global value chains. In response, the Ethiopian state and employers implemented a number of measures, including restrictions on emigration and more generous non-wage benefits. Recent research on global value chains and labour highlights how workers are able to influence work practices through individual action. The present article builds on these ideas, but shows that firms and governments have the ability to respond and limit this power.

Nicki Kindersley.  2019.  “Rule of whose law? The geography of authority in Juba, South Sudan.” The Journal of Modern African Studies.

This study asks: in the general absence of a functioning and effective civil administration in Juba’s huge suburbs, how have people negotiated personal disputes and neighbourhood management since conflict began in 2013? Who arbitrates in Juba, and on what terms? This study challenges top-down analyses that see political-military elites managing their ethnic enclaves of followers and fighters through nepotism and gifts. Such patronage requires the complex negotiation of responsibilities and rights, including over community safety and order. In Juba, the local authorities who mediate this have been built by men and women with extensive expertise and connections in South Sudan’s long history of ‘civil-military’ governance systems. These local authorities have established lasting institutions by negotiating rights to residence in, arbitrating over, and knowing the human geography of their neighbourhoods. Their authority is rooted in this deep politics, drawing on their detailed knowledge of topographies of power in these multi-ethnic, highly military neighbourhood spaces.

Peer Schouten. 2019. “Roadblock politics in Central Africa.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.

A frequent sight along many roads, roadblocks form a banal yet persistent element across the margins of contemporary global logistical landscapes. How, this article asks, can we come to terms with roadblocks as a logistical form of power? Based on an ongoing mapping of roadblocks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, it sketches a political geography of “roadblock politics”: a spatial pattern of control concentrated around trade routes, where the capacity to disrupt logistical aspirations is translated into other forms of power, financial and political. While today’s roadblocks are tied up with the ongoing conflict in both countries, the article shows, roadblock politics has a much deeper history. Before colonization, African rulers manufactured powerful polities out of control over points of passage along long-distance trade routes crisscrossing the continent. The article traces how since precolonial times control over long-distance trade routes was turned into a source of political power, how these routes were forcefully appropriated through colonial occupation, how after the crumbling of the colonial order new connections were engineered between political power and the circulation of goods in Central Africa, and how control over these flows ultimately became a key stake in ongoing civil wars in the region.

Louisa Lombard and Enrica Picco. 2019. “Distributive Justice at War: Displacement and Its Afterlives in the Central African Republic.Journal of Refugee Studies.

One of the defining features of the crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) since 2013 has been massive displacement. Currently, about a quarter of the country’s population is displaced. People who have been forcibly displaced, whether internally or abroad, and people who stayed behind this time (but frequently have their own memories of displacement) provide particular kinds of information about war and its not particularly peaceful aftermath. In this article, based on interviews with a broad range of people affected by displacement, we show that Central African views about the prospects for peace are deeply affected by how displacement has shaped tensions over the political senses of distribution (who has a right to what, and on what basis). Who should pay for war, in senses both material and otherwise, and who should be compensated? However, distribution and belonging are not the issues prioritized in the aftermath of war, when elite deals, punitive justice and technocratic recovery plans crowd out treatment of the material justice and belonging questions that dominate neighbourhoods. The political dimensions of material justice in the aftermath of war require more thorough treatment, as listening to people who have experienced displacement makes abundantly clear.

Wenjie Hu, Jay Harshadbhai Patel, Zoe-Alanah Robert, Paul Novosad, Samuel Asher, Zhongyi Tang, Marshall Burke, David Lobell, and Stefano Ermon. 2019. “Mapping Missing Population in Rural India: A Deep Learning Approach with Satellite Imagery.” AAAI / ACM Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Ethics and Society working paper.

Millions of people worldwide are absent from their country’s census. Accurate, current, and granular population metrics are critical to improving government allocation of resources, to measuring disease control, to responding to natural disasters, and to studying any aspect of human life in these communities. Satellite imagery can provide sufficient information to build a population map without the cost and time of a government census. We present two Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) architectures which efficiently and effectively combine satellite imagery inputs from multiple sources to accurately predict the population density of a region. In this paper, we use satellite imagery from rural villages in India and population labels from the 2011 SECC census. Our best model achieves better performance than previous papers as well as LandScan, a community standard for global population distribution.

Links I liked

 tumblr_nk923azevv1rb4yfjo1_1280Thought for the day (via Tumblr)

  • I’ve been paying more attention to North Korea ever since I picked up a copy of Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy a few years ago and found myself reading the entire thing in one sitting.  Daniel Tudor & James Pearson’s North Korea Confidential picks up where Demick’s book ended and provides a fascinating update on the country.  Here’s a representative section of the index.

north korea confidential

Recent work on the contentious politics of development

If you’re interested in the politics of public service reform or the creation of stable elite settlements in low income countries, do have a look at the Developmental Leadership Program.  They’re the only research initiative I know of which takes the contentious politics of development as the main focus of their work.  Here are the six propositions which underpin their research:

  1. The forms and processes of leadership directly influence the nature and quality of institutions and the patterns of state-building.
  2. Developmental ‘leadership’ is a political process, involving the legitimacy, authority and capacity to mobilise people and resources, and to forge coalitions, in pursuit of developmental goals.
  3. Coalitions (formal and informal) are groups of leaders and organisations that come together to achieve objectives they could not achieve on their own.
  4. Coalitions are the key political mechanisms that can resolve collective action problems, and are often based on prior networks.
  5. Institutions matter, but more attention needs to be given to issues of politics, power and agency, and therefore to the role of leaders, organisations and coalitions in shaping effective institutions.
  6. Domestic leaders, elites and coalitions are the agents required to contest, negotiate and devise legitimate, effective and durable institutions.

Their publications all seem like essential reading.  Some of the papers I’m especially excited to get to:

Are there other great research initiatives on the politics of development that I haven’t heard about? (Update: Sarah O’Connor has since pointed me to the Effective States and Inclusive Development program, and ODI’s Politics and Governance centre.)

How to behave around rebels

I just came across a thought provoking article in the March 2011 edition of Forced Migration Review called “How to Behave: Advice from IDPs.”  The author, Stine Finne Jakobsen, summarizes advice from internally displaced Colombians living around Cartagena into four “modes of behavior” intended to lower the risk of living in a war zone.  To quote her summaries of them:

  • Passivity: In a situation where an illegal armed actor is controlling the local population and imposing order through terror, not to talk, not to know and not to see may be essential coping strategies.
  • Invisibility: [This] implies to duck and hide, to melt into the rest of the population and avoid actions that can draw attention to you. Certain daily activities should be restricted or abandoned but total invisibility is never possible since everyday life has to go on.
  • Obedience: [This] implies following the rules and orders of the [non-state armed groups] – a first step towards securing survival. However, obeying the orders of one group is inevitably perceived by their adversaries as supporting that group. And in obeying, the principle of passivity is violated.
  • Mobility: In wartime, mobility is restricted and regarded as suspicious by armed actors and groups.  Unnecessary movement should be avoided – but moving away can be the ultimate solution to secure survival through anonymity in an urban setting.

I found this a very moving depiction of the impossible choices people make during conflict, and would like to revisit some of the other academic literature focusing on civilian life in wartime (such as Zachariah Mampilly’s Rebel Rulers) with these precepts in mind.