Elite Competition and State Capacity Development:
Theory and Evidence from Post-Revolutionary Mexico
American Political Science Review,
Vol. 112, No. 2, 2018, pp. 339-357.
Fiona McGillivray Best Paper Award, APSA Political Economy Section.
Abstract: International wars and inter-state rivalry have been at the center of our understanding of the origin and expansion of state capacity. This paper describes an alternative path to the development of state capacity rooted in domestic political conflict. Under conditions of intra-elite conflict, political rulers seize upon the temporary weakness of their rivals, expropriate their assets, and consolidate authority. Because this political consolidation increases rulers' chances of surviving an economic elite's challenge, it enhances their incentives to develop state capacity. These ideas are tested in post-revolutionary Mexico, where commodity price shocks induced by the Great Depression affected the local economic elite differentially. Negative shocks lead to increased asset expropriation and substantially higher investments in state capacity, which persist to the present.
Elite Coalitions, Limited Government, and Fiscal Capacity Development: Evidence from Bourbon Mexico
The Journal of Politics,
Vol. 81, No. 1, 2019, pp. 94-111
Abstract: Limited government supported by elite coalitions can facilitate the development of fiscal capacity by tying rulers’ hands and enhancing their credibility. This paper presents evidence of the effect of the Mining Tribunal, an institution for the mining elite in late colonial Mexico that credibly constrained the Spanish Crown, on the development of fiscal capacity. The mining elite resisted the development of a strong fiscal state that was controlled by unconstrained Crown authorities. However, when mine owners were granted the ability to organize and protect their economic interests through a corporation, they ceased resisting. This enabled the Crown to invest in strengthening its fiscal capacity and raise more taxes from sectors other than mining. Difference-in-differences estimates using detailed fiscal data from regional royal treasuries indicate that this institution led to a substantial increase in the resources assigned to civil administration, as well as in revenues from nonmining production and trade.
Can You Hear Me Now?: How Communication Technology Affects Protest and Repression
(with Darin Christensen) Quarterly Journal of Political Science,
Vol. 13, No. 1, 2018, pp. 89-117.
Abstract: Commentators covering recent social movements, such as the Arab Spring, commonly claim that cell phones enable protests. Yet, existing empirical work does not conclusively support this contention: some studies find that these technologies actually reduce collective action; many others struggle to overcome the selection problems that dog observational research. We propose two mechanisms through which cell phones affect protests: (1) by enabling communication among would-be protesters, cell phones lower coordination costs; and (2) these technologies broadcast information about whether a protest is repressed. Knowing that a larger audience now witnesses and may be angered by repression, governments refrain from squashing demonstrations, further lowering the cost of protesting. We evaluate these mechanisms using high-resolution global data on the expansion of cell phone coverage and incidence of protest from 2007 to 2014. Our difference-in-differences estimates indicate that cell phone coverage increases the probability of protest by over half the mean. Consistent with our second mechanism, we also find that gaining coverage has a larger effect when it connects a locality to a large proportion of other citizens.
Revealed Corruption, Taxation, and Fiscal Accountability: Evidence from Brazil
(with Jeffrey F. Timmons
) World Development,
Vol. 70, June 2015, pp. 13-27.
Abstract: Fiscal contract theories hypothesize that government performance affects tax collection and that institutions that foster representation and accountability link taxes and services. We use randomly generated municipal audit reports with objective measures of corruption from Brazil to assess whether new information about corruption affects municipal property tax collection and the structure of fiscal institutions. We find short-run effects consistent with this theory: property tax revenue rises with clean audit reports and falls as revealed corruption increases; furthermore revealed corruption increases the probability that a municipality adopts participatory budgeting. Our results indicate modest demand-side constraints on taxation and budgetary institutions.
WORKING PAPERS AND WORK IN PROGRESS
From Conquest to Centralization: Domestic Conflict and the Transition to Direct Rule
(Working paper, with Emily A. Sellars
Abstract: Why do governments centralize control over regions? We develop a theory of the transition from indirect to direct rule, focusing on the strategic interaction between a ruler and local potentates who provide civil order in exchange a share of tax revenue. When the threat of rebellion from below falls and elites become less willing and able to resist centralization, the ruler can replace local potentates with direct agents of the state and invest in a fiscal bureaucracy, with implications for state development. We assess our theory using subnational data from 16th- and 17th-century Mexico around the time of a dramatic demographic collapse, which undermined the threat of domestic conflict. Using difference-in-differences and instrumental-variables empirical strategies, we show that state centralization occurred faster in areas experiencing a more dramatic decline in population. Our instrumental-variables strategy leverages variation in the climate shocks associated with a virulent series of epidemics during this period.
The Politics of Property Taxation: Fiscal Infrastructure and Electoral Incentives in Brazil
(Working paper, with Darin Christensen
Abstract: Land titling encourages private investment and can increase tax revenue. Yet, governments across the developing world often fail to invest in property registration systems, such as cadastral maps that record land ownership and values. Using Brazilian municipalities as a laboratory, we enumerate and estimate the fiscal benefits and political costs that local elected officials face when deciding whether to invest in this critical fiscal infrastructure. We show that property tax revenue increases by around 15 percent in municipalities that update their cadasters. While officials covet this revenue, they simultaneously want to bolster their reelection prospects, and investing in the cadaster can work against this goal by angering tax-averse voters or undermining clientelism. When these political costs are large, we expect to see greater investment in the cadaster when officials do not face reelection pressures. Using a close-election regression discontinuity (RD), we find exactly that: term-limited incumbents are around 15 percentage points more likely to update the cadaster, an increase of almost 40 percent over the mean in control municipalities. Supplementary findings suggest that undermining clientelism rather than a tax revolt is incumbents' primary political concern.
Taking to the Streets: Theory and Evidence on Protests under Repressive Regimes
(Working paper, with Ruth Kricheli, Yair Livne, and Beatriz Magaloni)
Abstract: In recent decades, citizens all over the world took to the streets to oppose predatory autocracies. We examine the conditions that facilitate civil uprisings against autocratic regimes and the determinants of their success. We develop a signaling model of protest where citizens face the critical challenge of knowing their fellow citizens' preferences and, hence, the size of the potential opposition. In this setting, citizens use costly protest to overcome the information problems they face regarding other citizens' preferences. This suggests a model of endogenous information revelation in authoritarian regimes. We generate two testable hypotheses from our theory: more repressive autocratic regimes are, in principle, more stable since they are better able to deter civil opposition. When protest does take place in a repressive regime, however, more ''valuable'' information is revealed, facilitating a cascade of successful protest. We provide evidence in support of these two hypotheses using data from contemporary regimes from 1950-2011.
When State Building Backfires: Elite Divisions and Collective Action in Rebellion
(In progress, with Emily A. Sellars)
Property Rights and Violent Crime: Evidence from Mexico
(In progress, with Dorothy Kronick)