Persistent effects of historical shocks

A vibrant research program in political economy today studies the persistent effects of historical “shocks,” such as colonial era institutional interventions like forced labor or missionary education. Many of these studies are great, showing careful attention to both historical detail and nuances of causal identification. A great example is a paper that Felipe Valencia Caicedo presented in our department seminar this week of the persistent effects of colonial era missionary education in the Guarani regions of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [link]. (The bibliography to that paper lists many other really good examples.) That said, I am often left wanting more in terms of an explanation for such persistence. Such papers sometimes reference cultural transmission models [link], but in these cases, the papers often leave unclear why culture is not transmitted “horizontally,” for example through mimicry of success. Why doesn’t this happen? Evolutionary models of persistence typically reference “increasing returns” (and the mirror image, “traps”) [link]. In that spirit, what is the role of processes of agglomeration or more political in spirit, the accumulation of resources that can be used to defend privilege?


DRC project manager

The Institute for Development Studies Study of Total Fiscal Burden in Democratic Republic of the Congo is recruiting a project manager to be based in Kinshasa starting immediately and through Fall 2015 for a DFID-sponsored study on the political economy of taxation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tasks will include managing logistical affairs for a large-scale, quantitative data collection effort, including sample surveys and other data collection. The position is paid and provides access to necessary logistical resources to conduct the work in Kinshasa.

Qualifications: native or professional-proficiency French speaker; master’s degree or compensating experience in economic development or related areas; management and budget tracking experience.

If interested, please submit a CV to the following email address:


How does the rate of return affect amounts returned in a trust game?

[I]ncreasing the multiplier on amount sent by the “trustor” from two to three decreases the amount of money returned by the receiver by a little over one standard deviation. This means that, at least in part, second movers take into account the ‘‘size of the pie’’ by adjusting downwards what they return to the senders.

From a meta-analysis of trust game results by Johnson and Mislin (2011): ungated link.


Leadership disruption, windows of opportunity, and war escalation

Haykal Bafana in the NYT on the Houthi takeover in Yemen:

After anti-government protests in 2011, Ali Abdullah Saleh, then the president, came under pressure from the United Nations and agreed to step down. Elections were held and Mr. Saleh’s vice president, Mr. Hadi, the only candidate on the ballot, was elected president…

As the political transition meandered along, violence became dreadfully routine. The Yemeni state disintegrated in slow motion…

[N]orthern Yemen fell into a widespread state of war between the Houthis and the Yemeni military. Throughout a six-month Houthi onslaught last year, Mr. Hadi refused to send army reinforcements to fight the Houthi militia in the north…Mr. Hadi’s repeated failure to punish Houthi aggression and his tepid calls for peace were read as weakness…

Within six months, the Yemeni state had lost control of huge amounts of their military hardware, as well as four northern provinces, to the Houthis.

Army leadership resented Mr. Hadi for his refusal to punish the Houthis, despite the deaths of hundreds of soldiers. That’s why, in September, it was hardly a surprise when the Houthi militia entered Sana and established control. Military units refused to fight the Houthi advance, while others, perhaps sympathetic to the Houthi cause, were quietly supportive. The capital fell as Yemen’s army gave Mr. Hadi a taste of his own policy of appeasement.

Article link


Commitment problems and military effectiveness

The New York Times on concerns about the Nigerian military’s inability to defeat Boko Haram, which is generating support for a Buhari bid for the presidency:

“The resources meant for the military don’t go to the military; the bullets and boots don’t go to the soldiers,” Ms. Usman said. “And what is happening to security, you see it in all the sectors.”
“The support we’re giving” to Mr. Buhari “is for ending the insurgency,” she added. “And so no more children are abducted.”
A retired general in the crowd of supporters, Alhassan Usman, who is not related to Ms. Usman, agreed, expressing anger that Boko Haram had gained the upper hand over Nigeria’s soldiers.
“The issue is lack of discipline; the commander has eaten his money,” he said, arguing that officers take money meant for soldiers, who then see little reason to obey orders.

Article link.