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.

Why gender-sensitive social protection is essential for pandemic response

IFPRI has a useful new blog post out on gender considerations for pandemic response. Some key points include the following.

Men and women don’t benefit equally from social protection schemes:

Cash benefits (via e-payments) are widely recommended; cash can also improve household economic security and emotional well-being, which directly benefit women and can contribute to reducing intimate partner violence. However, the feasibility of safely providing additional in-kind transfers (including food or soap) should be considered as well, as women and children are often the first to reduce food consumption in response to food insecurity, and women may be responsible for daily shopping, exposing them to potential infection… When social distancing restrictions are relaxed, implementers of public works programs should ensure dignified work with fair wages where women can safely participate, with exemptions for lactating and pregnant women.

Naming women as the primary household beneficiaries of social protection programs can improve their intrahousehold negotiating positions, but also comes with risks:

Although broader evidence is mixed, a few studies from LMICs indicate that naming female recipients may improve women’s empowerment. We believe the evidence supports considering women as named recipients—while recognizing that particularly acute periods of the crisis (e.g., lockdowns) may intensify household tensions.

Therefore, in settings where existing analysis shows the feasibility and acceptability of targeting women, we see gains in continuing during the COVID-19 crisis. But in settings where targeting women was previously deemed infeasible, we do not recommend starting during the crisis and explicitly challenging norms during a time when tensions are high.

Digital payments can reduce the risk of crowding at banks or cash transfer agents, but can also disadvantage women:

Responses should consider that in many settings women are less likely to have access to mobile phones; existing programs have sometimes provided them for this reason. While mobile phones are a promising platform for providing information, it is important to keep in mind that improving access alone may not be sufficient; women also have lower literacy, lower ability to pay for services, and multiple constraints on their time

Finally, don’t forget the data!

Because these are complex issues and unintended consequences of programming are possible, more research is needed on intersections of social protection, gender and pandemics, where ethically feasible. At a minimum, monitoring statistics should be sex- and age-disaggregated and, where possible, data should be collected to ensure risks to beneficiaries do not increase

Interesting academic articles for April 2020

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

Eric Edmonds and Caroline Theoharides. 2020.  “The short term impact of a productive asset transfer in families with child labor: Experimental evidence from the Philippines.”  Journal of Development Economics.

Productive asset grants have become an important tool in efforts to push the very poor out of poverty, but they require labor to convert the asset into income. Using a clustered randomized trial, we evaluate the impact of a key component of the Government of Philippines’ child labor elimination program, a $518 productive asset grant directed at families with child laborers. We find that households rely upon family members for the labor to work the asset. Adolescent labor is the most available labor in the household, and we observe increases in employment among adolescents not engaged in child labor at baseline. Households with a family firm or business prior to treatment especially lack available adult labor to work with the asset, leading to increases in child labor, including hazardous work, amongst children who were not in child labor at baseline.

Cesi Cruz, Julian Labonne and Pablo Querubin.  2020.  “Social Network Structures and the Politics of Public Goods Provision: Evidence from the Philippines.”  American Political Science Review.

We study the relationship between social structure and political incentives for public goods provision. We argue that when politicians—rather than communities—are responsible for the provision of public goods, social fractionalization may decrease the risk of elite capture and lead to increased public goods provision and electoral competition. We test this using large-scale data on family networks from over 20 million individuals in 15,000 villages of the Philippines. We take advantage of naming conventions to assess intermarriage links between families and use community detection algorithms to identify the relevant clans in those villages. We show that there is more public goods provision and political competition in villages with more fragmented social networks, a result that is robust to controlling for a large number of village characteristics and to alternative estimation techniques.

Soundarya Chidambaram.  2020.  “How do institutions and infrastructure affect mobilization around public toilets vs. piped water? Examining intra-slum patterns of collective action in Delhi, India.”  World Development.

Why does a slum community mobilize differently around different public services? I use qualitative data derived from ethnographic fieldwork in four urban slum communities in Delhi, India, to examine the strategies they employ for countering everyday problems of access to water and toilets. … Caste, gender, religion, class, and influential slum leaders no doubt mediate everyday social relations in Indian slums, but communities that surmount these obstacles may still not be able to mobilize in a way that improves everyday service delivery. I argue that communities are able to coordinate when they think their efforts will yield success – both locally in terms of inducing reciprocity and reducing free riding as well as when they get appropriate institutional support for their initiatives. Infrastructural characteristics unique to a service determine whether reciprocity and cooperation can be sustained within the built environment of the slum. Bureaucratic complexity determines whether communities will be able to negotiate successfully. In the case of water, easy adaptability within the neighborhood and ease of bureaucratic access allow for sustained coordination within communities. The infrastructural nature of toilets makes it harder to find arrangements that will work within the slum ecology and induce cooperation. The complicated institutional dynamics create obstacles on top of that deter sustained mobilization. What communities experience instead is a sporadic pattern of collective action around poorly functioning public toilets.

Randall Akee, William Copeland, John Holbein, and Emilia Simeonova.  2020.  “Human Capital and Voting Behavior across Generations: Evidence from an Income Intervention.”  American Political Science Review.

Despite clear evidence of a sharp income gradient in voting participation, it remains unclear whether income truly causes voting. In this article, we investigate how exogenous increases in unearned income affect voting in U.S. elections for two generations (parents and children) from the same household. In contrast to predictions made by current models of voting, we find the income shock had no effect on parentsvoting behaviors. However, we also find that increasing household income has heterogeneous effects on the civic participation of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. It increases childrens voting propensity among those raised in initially poorer familiesresulting in substantially narrowed participatory gaps. Our results are consistent with a more nuanced view of how individual resources affect patterns of voting than the dominant theoretical framework of votingthe resource modelallows. Voting is fundamentally shaped by the human capital accrued long before citizens are eligible to vote.

Kate Baldwin, Dean Karlan, Christopher Udry, and Ernest Appiah.  2020.  “How Political Insiders Lose Out When International Aid Underperforms: Evidence from a Participatory Development Experiment in Ghana.”  Working paper.

Participatory development is designed to mitigate problems of political bias in pre-existing local government but also interacts with it in complex ways. Using a five-year randomized controlled study in 97 clusters of villages (194 villages) in Ghana, we analyze the effects of a major participatory development program on participation in, leadership of and investment by preexisting political institutions, and on households’ overall socioeconomic well-being. Applying theoretical insights on political participation and redistributive politics, we consider the possibility of both cross-institutional mobilization and displacement, and heterogeneous effects by partisanship. We find the government and its political supporters acted with high expectations for the participatory approach: treatment led to increased participation in local governance and reallocation of resources. But the results did not meet expectations, resulting in a worsening of socioeconomic wellbeing in treatment versus control villages for government supporters. This demonstrates international aid’s complex distributional consequences.

Donald P. Green, Anna M. Wilke, and Jasper Cooper.  2020.  “Countering violence against women by encouraging disclosure: A mass media experiment in rural Uganda.”  Comparative Political Studies.

Violence against women (VAW) is widespread in East Africa, with almost half of married women experiencing physical abuse. Those seeking to address this issue confront two challenges: some forms of domestic violence are widely condoned, and it is the norm for witnesses to not report incidents. Building on a growing literature showing that education-entertainment can change norms and behaviors, we present experimental evidence from a media campaign attended by over 10,000 Ugandans in 112 rural villages. In randomly assigned villages, video dramatizations discouraged VAW and encouraged reporting. Results from interviews conducted several months after the intervention show no change in attitudes condoning VAW yet a substantial increase in willingness to report to authorities, especially among women, and a decline in the share of women who experienced violence. The theoretical implication is that interventions that affect disclosure norms may reduce socially harmful behavior even if they do not reduce its acceptability.

Gemma Dipoppa.  2020.  “How Criminal Organizations Expand to Strong States: Migrants’ Exploitation and Vote Buying in Northern Italy.”  Job market paper.  

Criminal organizations are widely believed to emerge in weak states unable to protect the property rights and safety of their citizens. Yet, criminal groups often expand to states with strong capacity and well-functioning institutions. This paper proposes a theory accounting for this phenomenon. I focus on one distinctive feature of strong states: their capacity to enforce competition. I argue that criminal organizations expand by striking agreements with political and economic actors facing competition and to which they can offer critical resources to gain an edge over competitors. I test this theory in the context of Northern Italy, a region with high social capital and well-functioning democratic institutions, but which has suffered increasing levels of mafia infiltration since the 1960s. I construct a new measure of mafia presence at the municipality level, by scraping mafia-related news from historic newspapers and validating them with present time mafias indicators from judicial sources and NGOs. I test two predictions of the theory. First, using an instrumental variable approach, I show that increases in market competition (due to a construction boom) and in mafias’ capacity to offer cheap illegal labor (by exploiting migrants from mafia-controlled areas in the south) allowed criminal groups to expand to the north. Second, I show that parties that entered in agreements with criminal groups gained a persistent electoral advantage in mafia-infiltrated cities and only after infiltration. This evidence suggests that mafias’ expansion leveraged deals with economic and political actors in strong states, pointing to the need to re-conceptualize criminal organizations not only as substitutes for weak states, but also as complements to states with strong institutions.

Rob Blair and Nicholas Sambanis.  2020.  “Forecasting Civil Wars: Theory and Structure in an Age of “Big Data” and Machine Learning.”  Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Does theory contribute to forecasting accuracy? We use event data to show that a parsimonious model grounded in prominent theories of conflict escalation can forecast civil war onset with high accuracy and over shorter temporal windows than has generally been possible. Our forecasting model draws on “procedural” variables, building on insights from the contentious politics literature. We show that a procedural model outperforms more inductive, atheoretical alternatives and also outperforms models based on countries’ structural characteristics, which previously dominated models of civil war onset. We find that process can substitute for structure over short forecasting windows. We also find a more direct connection between theory and forecasting than is sometimes assumed, though we suggest that future researchers treat the value-added of theory for prediction not as an assumption but rather as a hypothesis to test.

Adam Lichtenheld.  2020.  “Explaining Population Displacement Strategies in Civil Wars: A Cross-National Analysis.”  International Organization.

Why do combatants uproot civilians in wartime? In this paper I identify cross-national variation in three population-displacement strategies—cleansing, depopulation, and forced relocation—and test different explanations for their use by state actors. I advance a new “assortative” theory to explain forced relocation, the most common type. I argue that combatants displace not only to expel undesirable populations, but also to identify the undesirables in the first place by forcing people to send signals of loyalty and affiliation based on whether, and to where, they flee. This makes communities more “legible” and facilitates the extraction of rents and recruits. I test these arguments using a novel Strategic Displacement in Civil Conflict data set (1945–2008). Consistent with my expectations, different displacement strategies occur in different contexts and appear to follow different logics. Cleansing is more likely in conventional wars, where territorial conquest takes primacy, while forced relocation is more likely in irregular wars, where identification problems are most acute. The evidence indicates that cleansing follows a logic of punishment. The results for relocation, however, are consistent with the implications of my assortative logic: it is more likely to be employed by resource-constrained incumbents fighting insurgencies in “illegible” areas—rural, peripheral territories. A case study from Uganda based on in-depth fieldwork provides evidence for the assortative mechanism. As the most comprehensive analysis of wartime displacement strategies to date, this paper challenges some core assumptions about a devastating form of contemporary political violence.

Facilitating safe rural migration for coronavirus response

A busy busy stop
Kampala’s crowded main bus terminus, 2012

Astrid Haas and I have a new piece out at The Conversation discussing the role that rural migration can play in pandemic response in African countries.  Rural areas often serve as a type of informal safety net in times of crisis, as people leave the cities to return to farming, but many African countries have blocked this avenue because of the risk of spreading the virus.  However, there’s a trade-off here with the risk of hunger, since they also can’t rapidly scale up urban safety nets to provide food to jobless people in cities.

One possible solution is facilitating safe rural migration programs.  What would that look like?

The basic idea is straightforward: help urban residents cover the costs of returning to stay with their extended families in the countryside, provide sanitary supplies to reduce the risk of infection in transit, and scale up health system surveillance to catch and contain potential rural outbreaks early.

Do read the rest of the piece for further reflections on how this might work.

Cash transfers for coronavirus relief in Kenya

If you’re looking to support coronavirus relief efforts in Kenya, you already know that I feel cash transfers are the best way to help people.  I wanted to highlight three organizations that are doing great work on this front.

GiveDirectly has teamed up with Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco) and Ghetto Foundation to provide cash transfers in Kibera and Mathare, respectively.  These are two of the poorest neighborhoods in Nairobi.  In each neighborhood, families are receiving monthly transfers of Ksh 2000 – 2500 / US$ 20 – 25 for several months while the crisis is ongoing.  It’s not a huge amount, but it helps people meet at least some of their basic needs.  Shofco is also providing community sanitation stations in Kibera.

If you’d like to support any of these organizations, here are the links to their donation pages.  I’ve already donated to GiveDirectly and Ghetto Foundation (whose staff I know via the Mathare Social Justice Centre), and I’d encourage you to do the same!

University of Zurich lecture on coronavirus relief

Slide deck titled "using markets and money to respond to coronavirus in African countries," with a photo of a woman at Ghana's Makola market on it

Dina Pomeranz kindly invited me to give a guest lecture to her “Global Poverty Analysis” undergraduate course at the University of Zurich earlier this month.  I summarized the points I made in my African Arguments piece about the need for “smart lockdowns” in African countries, which involve safely re-opening markets and providing income support to vulnerable people.  The slides are here, and you can watch a video of the lecture here.  (Photo on the title slide is via Wikipedia.)