Abstract: This paper investigates the role of national institutions on the persistence of cultural norms and traditions. In particular, I examine why the harmful tradition of female genital mutilation (FGM) persists in certain African countries while in others it has been eradicated. I argue that people are more willing to abandon their institutions and traditions if they are sure that the government is durable enough to set up long-term replacements for them. Conversely, people living under weak regimes revert to their traditional cultural norms. I exploit the fact that ethnic groups in Africa were artificially partitioned by national borders and, using a country-ethnicity panel dataset, I show that one standard deviation in political regime durability explains 20% of the standard deviation of the share of circumcised women, conditional on the presence of an anti-FGM policy. The results are robust to an array of control variables and robustness checks. I confirm that the results are unlikely to be spurious by using within-nation variation in regime durability induced by leaders' deaths from natural causes.
Abstract: Why is civil conflict so costly for development? We argue that civil conflict undermines the legitimacy of the nation-state and empowers traditional sources of authority. In particular, we demonstrate, using recent instances of an insurgency in West Africa, that civil conflict erodes national identities, replacing them by ethnic identities. Based on the existing historical, anthropological, and ethnographic evidence, we model the choice of loyalty (national or ethnic) as a coordination game with strategic complementarities (``global game''). This model allows us to show how the instances of civil conflict can break up that coordination and impede nation-building. We perform several estimation strategies (including difference-in-difference and instrumental variables) to quantify the effect of civil conflict of national identity in Mali. The identification of the effect comes from using pre-independence data on the location of ethnic homelands of rebellious groups of Tuareg. Our key assumption is that the location of those groups in colonial times is independent of the ``potential outcome'': potential changes in national identity between years 2010 and 2012. We explore the plausibility of this assumption using pre-treatment trends, placebo tests, and robustness checks. We also find that our estimates are resilient to the violation of exclusion restrictions (even the violation is large as our most important individual-level predictor of national identity does not revert our findings). Our theory and evidence contribute to the study of state formation and state capacity by exploring the roots of people's self-identification with a state.
Abstract: What role do elections play in non-democracies? We propose a statistical test that can distinguish between two major theories of authoritarian elections: that elections can be used to maintain an image of invincibility of the regime (Signaling Theory), or that elections can be used to get information about the popularity of the regime (Information Acquisition Theory). While those theories might not be mutually exclusive, we show formally that they generate different prediction about the spatial allocation of electoral manipulation. Under Signaling Theory, electoral manipulation happens in the areas where the regime is not popular. Under Information Acquisition theory, electoral manipulation should happen only in the places where the regime is popular. Using the data from 2007 and 2011 Parliamentary elections in Russia, we find that electoral manipulation was more likely to happen in the regions where the level of support for the regime is lower. A decrease in one standard deviation of regime popularity is associated with the increase in the estimates of electoral manipulation by 0.2 standard deviation, thus corroborating Signaling Theory. Our estimations are robust to an array of proxies for electoral manipulation. We also confirm that the results are unlikely to be spurious using instrumental variables and placebo tests.
“US Convict Labor System and Racial Discrimination”, 2017 [Available upon request]
Abstract: I explore the institutions of forced labor in the United States of America. After the demise of the slavery and rise of crime after the end of the Civil War, convict labor system evolved in the United States in order to finance state penitentiary institutions. Black and other minorities became an easy target for a police that used a variety of minor crime laws to increase the supply of coerced labor. Using the geographical variation of convict labor camps in the United States in 1886 I show that counties exposed to a more severe exploitation of convict labor experienced higher rates of incarceration among minorities later in 1920. Moreover, after the abolishment of the old convict labor system in 1941, the racial discrimination in policing remained: the same variation of convict labor camps predicts excessive arrests of Black and Hispanic for non-violent crimes (drugs and vagrancy). To show that the results are indeed causal I employ IV analysis by instrumenting the usage of convict labor in 1886 by the distance to the National Prison Association congress in 1870 that promoted installment of agricultural or industrial departments within the prisons. I perform a series of sensitivity checks and placebo tests to ensure that results are indeed causal.
Work in progress:
“Does US Private Prison Industry have an Effect on Incarceration Rates? Evidence from the Elections of Judges”, co-authored with C. Dippel
Abstract: The emergence of the private prison system in the U.S. in the mid-1980s was followed by an unprecedented increase in incarceration rates. In this paper, we investigate to what extent the latter was caused by the former. Combining a novel geo-located panel-set of private prisons with circuit-court panel data on sentencing behavior, we ask whether the construction of a new private prison (or the privatization of a public one) changes the sentencing behavior of neighboring courts. We use rich auxiliary cross-sectional variation in how judges are appointed or elected and time-series variation in judges' electoral and appointment cycles to pin down likely mechanisms by which the private prison industry influences sentencing behavior.
“The Proper Scope of Government: Reevaluating Benefits of Private Prisons”, co-authored with A. W. Davidson
Abstract: We explore incomplete contracts and the choice between and public and private management when the principal is budget constrained, with private prisons as our motivating example. We construct a model which seeks to explain why a principal may accept a drastically lower level of quality for a project in the event of budget shortfalls. Furthermore, we show that it is possible that that the principal may optimally choose to not enforce its own contract in order to control costs if it is legally obligated to maintain a higher quality level itself. We provide evidence from private prison contracts and state budgets which support our conclusions.
“Who Reaps Gains From Trade? Trade and Inequality in Diverse Societies: Evidence from Africa”, co-authored with M. Ananyev
Abstract: This paper investigates the determinants of income inequality between different ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa. We make two contributions: first, we offer a Bayesian latent variable approach of estimating income inequality from survey data where the direct data on personal incomes are either lacking or unreliable. Secondly, we demonstrate statistically, that countries that export more manufacturing goods and natural resources have larger disparities in incomes between ethnic groups, but have no systematic differences in incomes within ethnic groups. Using panel data, we find that one standard deviation of reduction in an average tariff is associated with 0.43 standard deviation in the increase of between-ethnic inequality. In an attempt to investigate the mechanism of this statistical association, we use enterprise survey data to test if exporting firms face fewer regulatory restrictions (both formal and informal) and preferential tax treatment. Our study offers new evidence on the effect of international trade on income inequality in developing world.
“Estimating Socioeconomic Status from Survey Data Using Models of Hierarchical Consumption”, co-authored with M. Ananyev
Abstract: Estimating material well-being of households in developing countries is as difficult as it is important for many questions in economics and political science -- especially, for the theories of voting, redistribution, public opinion, “greed and grievance” in political action, and many others. This paper offers a simple two-step procedure for estimating consumption from survey data: on the first step, a researcher should estimate prices using an item-response model that we develop, and in the second step, calculate a weighted average of assets for every household using estimated prices as weights. We show with Monte Carlo simulations that this procedure yields relatively precise estimates. Our method opens a way to innovative use of survey data for answering many substantive questions.
Book Chapters and Policy Papers:
“Media in Russia: Between Modernization and Monopoly”, co-authored with Maria Lipman and Anna Kachkaeva, book chapter, “Arrested Development: Rethinking Politics in Putin’s Russia", in Daniel Treisman ed., “The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin's Russia”, Brookings Institution Press, 2017 [Available upon request
Abstract: In this chapter, we explain the amazing efficiency of the "TV mobilization" of the past two or three years. We will not focus, however, on the linguistic, psychological or other effects of the government propaganda; we will instead look into various aspects and mechanisms of the government media policy; its development over time; the broad range of methods the government has used to achieve control over the media operation. We will examine concrete cases illustrating various stages, events and phenomena; we will cite journalists, editors and media organizers who have been (or were) part of this process. We will provide rigorous analysis of the quantitative data illustrating the effect of media controls on shaping the public opinion. Finally, we will look at how the Russian TV industry adjusts to the new, “network” audiences and the rapid progress of communications technologies.