State Capacity

Callen, Michael, Jean Imbs, and Paolo Mauro. 2015. “Pooling Risk Among Countries.” Journal of International Economics 96 (1): 88-99. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Suppose that international sharing risk—worldwide or with large numbers of countries—were costly. How much risk-sharing could be gained in small sets (or “pools”) of countries? To answer this question, we compute the means and variances of poolwide gross domestic product growth, for all possible pools of any size drawn from a sample of 74 countries, and compare them with the means and variances of consumption growth in each country individually. From the difference, we infer potential diversification and welfare gains. As much as two-thirds of the first best, full worldwide welfare gains can be obtained in groupings of as few as seven countries. The largest potential gains arise from pools consisting of countries in different regions and including countries with weak institutions. We argue that international risk-sharing fails to emerge because the largest potential gains are among countries that do not trust each other's willingness and ability to abide by international contractual obligations.

Callen, Michael, Mohammad Isaqzadeh, James Long, and Charles Sprenger. 2014. “Violence and Risk Preference: Experimental Evidence from Afghanistan.” American Economic Review 104 (1): 123-148.Abstract

We investigate the relationship between violence and economic risk preferences in Afghanistan combining: (i) a two-part experimental procedure identifying risk preferences, violations of Expected Utility, and specific preferences for certainty; (ii) controlled recollection of fear based on established methods from psychology; and (iii) administrative violence data from precisely geocoded military records. We document a specific preference for certainty in violation of Expected Utility. The preference for certainty, which we term a Certainty Premium, is exacerbated by the combination of violent exposure and controlled fearful recollections. The results have implications for risk taking and are potentially actionable for policymakers and marketers.

Callen, Michael, and Nils B. Weidmann. 2013. “Violence and Election Fraud: Evidence from Afghanistan.” British Journal of Political Science 43 (1): 53-75. Publisher's VersionAbstract
What explains local variation in electoral manipulation in countries with ongoing internal conflict? The theory of election fraud developed in this article relies on the candidates’ loyalty networks as the agents manipulating the electoral process. It predicts (i) that the relationship between violence and fraud follows an inverted U-shape and (ii) that loyalty networks of both incumbent and challenger react differently to the security situation on the ground. Disaggregated violence and election results data from the 2009 Afghanistan presidential election provide empirical results consistent with this theory. Fraud is measured both by a forensic measure, and by using results from a visual inspection of a random sample of the ballot boxes. The results align with the two predicted relationships, and are robust to other violence and fraud measures.
Hanna, Rema, Vivi Alatas, Abhijit Banerjee, Benjamin A Olken, Ririn Purnamasari, and Matthew Wai-Poi. 2013. “Does Elite Capture Matter? Local Elites and Targeted Welfare Programs in Indonesia”.Abstract

This paper investigates the impact of elite capture on the allocation of targeted government welfare programs in Indonesia, using both a high-stakes field experiment that varied the extent of elite influence and non-experimental data on a variety of existing government transfer programs. Conditional on their consumption level, there is little evidence that village elites and their relatives are more likely to receive aid programs than non-elites. Looking more closely, however, we find that this overall result masks a difference between different types of elites: those holding formal leadership positions are more likely to receive benefits, while informal leaders are actually less likely to. We show that capture by formal elites occurs during the distribution of benefits under the programs, and not during the processes when the beneficiary lists are determined by the central government. However, while elite capture exists, the welfare losses it creates appear quite small: since formal elites and their relatives are only 9 percent richer than non-elites, are at most about 8 percentage points more likely to receive benefits than non-elites, and represent at most 15 percent of the population, eliminating elite capture entirely would improve the welfare gains from these programs by less than one percent.

Hanna, Rema, Vivi Alatas, Abhijit Banerjee, Arun G. Chandrasekhar, and Benjamin A. Olken. 2012. “Network Structure and the Aggregation of Information: Theory and Evidence from Indonesia”.Abstract

We use a unique data-set from Indonesia on what individuals know about the income distribution in their village to test theories such as Jackson and Rogers (2007) that link information aggregation in networks to the structure of the network. The observed patterns are consistent with a basic diffusion model: more central individuals are better informed and individuals are able to better evaluate the poverty status of those to whom they are more socially proximate. To understand what the theory predicts for cross-village patterns, we estimate a simple diffusion model using within-village variation, simulate network-level diffusion under this model for the over 600 different networks in our data, and use this simulated data to gauge what the simple diffusion model predicts for the cross-village relationship between information diffusion and network characteristics (e.g. clustering, density). The coefficients in these simulated regressions are generally consistent with relationships suggested in previous theoretical work, even though in our setting formal analytical predictions have not been derived. We then show that the qualitative predictions from the simulated model largely match the actual data in the sense that we obtain similar results both when the dependent variable is an empirical measure of the accuracy of a village’s aggregate information and when it is the simulation outcome. Finally, we consider a real-world application to community based targeting, where villagers chose which households should receive an anti-poverty program, and show that networks with better diffusive properties (as predicted by our model) differentially benefit from community based targeting policies.

Alatas, Vivi, Abhijit Banerjee, Rema Hanna, Benjamin A. Olken, and Julia Tobias. 2012. “Targeting the Poor: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia.” American Economic Review 102 (4): 1206-1240. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This paper reports an experiment in 640 Indonesian villages on three approaches to target the poor: proxy-means tests (PMT), where assets are used to predict consumption; community targeting, where villagers rank everyone from richest to poorest; and a hybrid. Defining poverty based on PPP$2 per-capita consumption, community targeting and the hybrid perform somewhat worse in identifying the poor than PMT, though not by enough to significantly affect poverty outcomes for a typical program. Elite capture does not explain these results. Instead, communities appear to apply a different concept of poverty. Consistent with this finding, community targeting results in higher satisfaction.

Callen, Michael, Eli Berman, Joseph H Felter, and Jacob N Shapiro. 2011. “Do Working Men Rebel: Insurgency and Unemployment in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Philippines.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 55 (4): 496-528. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Most aid spending by governments seeking to rebuild social and political order is based on an opportunity-cost theory of distracting potential recruits. The logic is that gainfully employed young men are less likely to participate in political violence, implying a positive correlation between unemployment and violence in locations with active insurgencies. The authors test that prediction in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Philippines, using survey data on unemployment and two newly available measures of insurgency: (1) attacks against government and allied forces and (2) violence that kill civilians. Contrary to the opportunity-cost theory, the data emphatically reject a positive correlation between unemployment and attacks against government and allied forces (p< .05 percent). There is no significant relationship between unemployment and the rate of insurgent attacks that kill civilians. The authors identify several potential explanations, introducing the notion of insurgent precision to adjudicate between the possibilities that predation on one hand, and security measures and information costs on the other, account for the negative correlation between unemployment and violence in these three conflicts.

Singhal, Monica, and Benjamin A Olken. 2011. “Informal taxation.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3 (4): 1-28. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Informal payments are a frequently overlooked source of local public finance in developing countries. We use microdata from ten countries to establish stylized facts on the magnitude, form, and distributional implications of this "informal taxation." Informal taxation is widespread, particularly in rural areas, with substantial in-kind labor payments. The wealthy pay more, but pay less in percentage terms, and informal taxes are more regressive than formal taxes. Failing to include informal taxation underestimates household tax burdens and revenue decentralization in developing countries. We discuss various explanations for and implications of these observed stylized facts.

Khwaja, Asim Ijaz, Atif R. Mian, and Abid Qamar. 2011. “Bank Credit and Business Networks”. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We construct the topology of business networks across the population of firms in an emerging economy, Pakistan, and estimate the value that membership in large yet diffuse networks brings in terms of access to bank credit and improving financial viability. We link two firms if they have a common director. The resulting topology includes a "giant network" that is order of magnitudes larger than the second largest network. While it displays "small world" properties and comprises 5 percent of all firms, it accesses two-thirds of all bank credit. We estimate the value of joining this giant network by exploiting "incidental" entry and exit of firms over time. Membership increases total external financing by 16.6 percent, reduces the propensity to enter financial distress by 9.5 percent, and better insures firms against industry and location shocks. Firms that join improve financial access by borrowing more from new lenders, particularly those already lending to their (new) giant-network neighbors. Network benefits also depend critically on where a firm connects to in the network and on the firm's pre-existing strength.

Olken, Benjamin A, and Rohini Pande. 2011. “Corruption in Developing Countries.” Annual Review of Economics 4: 479-509. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Recent years have seen a remarkable expansion in economists’ ability to measure corruption. This, in turn, has led to a new generation of well-identified, microeconomic studies. We review the evidence on corruption in developing countries in light of these recent advances, focusing on three questions: how much corruption is there, what are the efficiency consequences of corruption, and what determines the level of corruption. We find robust evidence that corruption responds to standard economic incentive theory, but also that effects of anti-corruption policies often attenuate as officials find alternate strategies to pursue rents.

Singhal, Monica, Katherine Baicker, and Jeffery Clemens. 2011. “The Rise of the States: U.S. Fiscal Decentralization in the Postwar Period.” Journal of Public Economics 96 (11-12): 1079-1091. Publisher's VersionAbstract

One of the most dramatic changes in the fiscal federalism landscape during the postwar period has been the rapid growth in state budgets, which almost tripled as a share of GDP and doubled as a share of government spending between 1952 and 2006. We argue that the greater role of states cannot be easily explained by changes in Tiebout forces of fiscal competition, such as mobility and voting patterns, and are not accounted for by demographic or income trends. Rather, we demonstrate that much of the growth in state budgets has been driven by changes in intergovernmental interactions. Restricted federal grants to states have increased, and federal policy and legal constraints have also mandated or heavily incentivized state own-source spending, particularly in the areas of education, health and public welfare. These outside pressures moderate the forces of fiscal competition and must be taken into account when assessing the implications of observed revenue and spending patterns.

Blair, Randall, Larissa Campuzano, Dan Levy, and Lorenzo Moreno. 2009. “Toward closing the evaluation gap: lessons from three recent impact evaluations of social programs in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Well Being and Social Policy 5 (2): 1-23. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Despite recent growing demand from funders and governments, rigorous impact evaluations in Latin America and the Caribbean remain the exception rather than the rule. Many commissioned impact evaluations are methodologically weak, and thus only marginally useful in assessing the impact of social interventions. Other impact evaluations feature strong research methodologies at their conception, but face considerable institutional challenges during key points in the design and implementation phases. This paper identifies some of the barriers that limit the design and implementation of rigorous impact evaluations in this region, as well as several enablers to the successful design and implementation of such evaluations. The paper also outlines some key practices for designing and implementing high-quality impact evaluations in Latin America and the Caribbean. We use a case study methodology that combines our experience designing and implementing impact evaluations in three ongoing or recent social programs in El Salvador, Jamaica, and Mexico.

Djankov, Simeon, Rema Hanna, Marianne Bertrand, and Sendhil Mullainathan. 2007. “Obtaining a Driver's License in India: An Experimental Approach to Studying Corruption.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 122 (4): 1639-1676. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We study the allocation of driver's licenses in India by randomly assigning applicants to one of three groups: bonus (offered a bonus for obtaining a license quickly), lesson (offered free driving lessons), or comparison. Both the bonus and lesson groups are more likely to obtain licenses. However, bonus group members are more likely to make extralegal payments and to obtain licenses without knowing how to drive. All extralegal payments happen through private intermediaries (“agents”). An audit study of agents reveals that they can circumvent procedures such as the driving test. Overall, our results support the view that corruption does not merely reflect transfers from citizens to bureaucrats but distorts allocation.

Pande, Rohini. 2006. “Profits and Politics: Coordinating Technology Adoption in Agriculture.” Journal of Development Economics, December 2006 81 (2): 299-315.Abstract

This paper examines the political economy of coordination in a simple two-sector model in which individuals' choice of agricultural technology aspects industrialization. We demonstrate the existence of multiple equilibria; the economy is either characterized by the use of a traditional agricultural technology and a low level of industrialization or the use of a mechanized technology and a high level of industrialization. Relative to the traditional technology, the mechanized technology increases output but leaves some population groups worse off. We show that the distributional implications of choosing the mechanized technology restrict the possibility of Pareto-improving coordination by an elected policymaker, even when we allow for income redistribution.