My work is characterized by interests in economic and political development, and by a concern with causal identification. I have research agendas on the political economy of development, the political economy of migration, and on inequalities in political representation. I am also currently working on a book project on the conditions under which mass, nonviolent mobilization occurs. In this statement, I draw on select works to provide an overview of my research.
In this research agenda, I leverage natural experiments to study variation in the political economy of development. The agenda has three clusters:
On public goods provisioning: A paper in this cluster (“Local Embeddedness and Bureaucratic Performance: Evidence from India,” joint with Alexander Lee, published in the Journal of Politics) reconciles the views that while locally embedded bureaucrats may be more willing and able to enhance public goods provisioning in the places that they serve, they are also more likely to be captured by elite interests. We argue that embedded bureaucrats enhance public goods provisioning when they can be held accountable by the public, and use a natural experiment due to the quasi-random assignment of “local” or embedded bureaucrats to India’s administrative districts early in their careers to test and confirm this theory.
In follow-on work (“Does Affirmative Action Worsen Bureaucratic Performance? Evidence from the Indian Administrative Service,” published in the American Journal of Political Science), Alexander Lee and I examine whether affirmative action comes at the cost of bureaucratic efficiency. Critics of affirmative action worry that this is the case since affirmative action recruits are, by definition, of worse formal quality than others. In the Indian context, affirmative action recruits perform worse on the exams used to recruit them. Using data on the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), the world’s largest welfare program, we find that affirmative action recruits perform no worse than others. Improved descriptive representation does not come at the cost of efficiency.
In a joint paper with Francesca Jensenius (“Voting for Development? Ruling Coalitions and Literacy in India,” published in Electoral Studies), we use a close-election instrumental variable design and new data to examine whether areas represented by members of state ruling coalitions experienced greater increases in literacy over 30 years. They did not. This finding is surprising, insofar as it suggests that patterns of clientelism do not influence subnational variation in development in the long run.
On the resource curse: In joint work with Noam Lupu (“Oil Windfalls and the Political Resource Curse: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Brazil”), we argue that natural resource revenues likely boost incumbent reelection rates when pre-existing institutions are weak. To test this theory, we exploit a natural experiment in Brazil wherein municipalities are allocated a share of offshore oil royalties as-if randomly. We confirm that oil resources boost incumbent reelection rates in municipalities with poor institutions. We argue that they do so since politicians in municipalities with weak institutions are able to redirect resources rents for clientelistic purposes, to boost public employment and voter turnout. Our argument provides a possible principled way in which to reconcile the divergent findings of the political resource curse literature.
On the efficacy of foreign aid: Lastly, a cluster of papers—joint with Michael Clemens, Steve Radelet and Samuel Bazzi—examines the efficacy of foreign aid in boosting economic growth. In an article published in The Economic Journal (“Counting Chickens When They Hatch: Timing and the Effects of Aid on Growth,” winner of the Royal Economic Society prize for the best paper published in the journal in 2012), we re-analyze data from the three most influential published aid–growth studies, conserving their regression specifications, with sensible assumptions about the timing of aid effects and without questionable instruments. All three research designs show that increases in aid have been followed on average by increases in investment and growth. The most plausible explanation is that aid causes some degree of growth in recipient countries, although the magnitude of this relationship is modest, varies greatly across recipients and diminishes at high levels of aid. The findings of our paper were alleged to have been overturned by a published replication exercise, although our published response (“Response to Roodman: “A Replication of ’Counting Chickens When They Hatch,”” in Public Finance Review) showed the replication to be underpowered.
In Nativism and Economic Integration Across the Developing World: Collision and Accommodation (published by Cambridge University Press), Bethany Lacina and I examine the nativist or “sons-of-the-soil” reaction to internal or within-country migration. In politically decentralized developing countries, reactions to internal migration include the rise of anti-migrant parties, the direction of increased material resources to natives, and anti-migrant violence. The book examines whether and the conditions under which these effects obtain, using new cross- and sub-national data. At a time when people are focused on the nativist backlash to international migration to rich countries, we draw attention to the fact that the free movement of people within developing countries also has its challenges.
In two published papers, Lacina and I theorize that the partisan alignment of state and national governments is likely to condition state responses to migration. In “The Effects of Weather-Induced Migration on Sons of the Soil Violence in India,” published in World Politics, we argue that migration is likely to be met with riots when India’s state and national governments are not copartisans. Under these conditions, “native” state populations are politically marginalized and resort to violence to disincentivize migration. The theory is tested and confirmed using a natural experiment due to unplanned, natural disaster-induced migration in India. The paper challenges the conventional wisdom that migration is met with riots under conditions of economic stress.
In “Fiscal Federalism at Work? Central Responses to Internal Migration in India,” published in World Development, we argue that a central tenet of the mostly normative fiscal federalism literature—that migration should prompt national governments to increase transfers to migrant receiving areas—is unlikely to obtain in practice. Adopting a political economy perspective, we instead argue that migration is likely to prompt fiscal transfers when state and national governments are copartisans. This theory is also tested and confirmed using a natural experiment due to unplanned, natural disaster-induced migration in India. The political bias in the fiscal response to migration is normatively unattractive, economically inefficient and is a barrier to greater migration.
In this research agenda, I examine the effects of, and remedies for, inequalities in political representation. This agenda has two clusters:
On the knock-on effects of quotas: In two papers, I leverage different natural experiments to examine whether electoral quotas—an institution used to improve descriptive inequalities in representation in over 100 countries—continue to improve the representation of women (“Do Electoral Quotas Work After They Are Withdrawn? Evidence from a Natural Experiment in India,” published in the American Political Science Review and winner of the Marjorie Lozoff Essay Prize, awarded by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research) and ethnic groups (“Do the Effects of Temporary Ethnic Group Quotas Persist? Evidence from India,” in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics) once quotas are removed. This question is important because electoral quotas are frequently justified as temporary measures to improve representation until they are no longer needed. I use data from India to find that while past quotas for women increase the chances that they will subsequently be elected, quotas for lower castes have no such effect. These two papers have spurred many others to examine the downstream effects of quotas in India and elsewhere.
In joint work with Kate Baldwin (“Ancillary Studies of Experiments: Opportunities and Challenges” in the Journal of Globalization and Development), the APSR paper led me to argue that scholars can use pre-existing randomizations to study the effects of interventions on a wide variety of outcomes. The paper delineates the promise and challenges of this lost-cost method with which to study causal effects.
On the effects of malapportionment: Another paper in this agenda (“The Effects of Malapportionment on Cabinet Inclusion: Subnational Evidence from India,” published in the British Journal of Political Science) theorizes and demonstrates, using data from India, that unequal formal political representation or malapportionment in parliamentary systems leads to the double exclusion of people in the legislature and in the executive. The latter effect has not been studied and is likely to be more consequential in parliamentary systems—due to the dominance of the executive—than under-representation in the legislature.
In follow-on work (“The Effects of Malapportionment on Economic Development: Evidence from India’s 2008 Redistricting,” published in PLoS ONE), I argue that malapportionment affects economic development as the desire for reelection incentivizes legislators to foster the development of their constituencies, and as voters hold politicians to account for doing so. The theory is tested and confirmed using a natural experiment due to the redistricting of India’s state legislative boundaries in 2008.
My current research agenda (joint with Saumitra Jha), which we intend to publish as articles and a book, examines the conditions under which mass, nonviolent movements emerge. We do so by considering subnational and temporal variation in successful nonviolent mobilization during India’s movement for independence from Great Britain. India was a particularly surprising context for mass, nonviolent mobilization, both due to Indian farmers’ reliance on world export markets, access to which was ensured by Britain, and due to the country’s many divisions, which made violence more likely. Using novel data, we show that residents of exports-producing districts that were negatively impacted by inter-war trade shocks, including the Depression, were more likely to support the Independence movement in 1937 and 1946 and were more likely to engage in violent insurrection in 1942. Further, we show how the nature of mobilization changed dramatically from non-violent to violent immediately after the movement’s leadership was arrested, particularly in districts endowed with a smaller grassroots organizational presence. We interpret these results as reflecting the role of two factors in mobilizing the masses peacefully: trade shocks in reconciling large numbers of agricultural exporters with the movement’s offer of protectionism, and an innovative organizational structure that selected leaders based upon public sacrifice and commitment to nonviolence rather than wealth. An overview of this research agenda has been published in the Economics of Peace and Security Journal (“Gandhi’s Gift: Lessons for peaceful reform from India’s struggle for democracy”).