Recent research

The Economic Origins of Conflict in Africa  with Marshall Burke. NBER WP w23056 [submitted]. [HiCN WP 242] [IGC blog post]


Abstract: We study the impact of plausibly exogenous shocks to world food prices on violence across the African continent using panel data at the level of a 0.5 degree grid cell. In food-producing cells, higher prices reduce conflict over the control of territory (what we call “factor conflict”) and increase conflict over the appropriation of surplus (“output conflict”). We argue that this difference arises because higher prices raise the opportunity cost of soldiering for producers, while simultaneously inducing net consumers to appropriate increasingly valuable surplus as their real wages fall. In food-consuming cells, higher prices increase both factor conflict and output conflict, as poor consumers turn to soldiering and appropriation in order to maintain a minimum consumption target. We validate the cell-level finding on output conflict using geocoded survey data on interpersonal theft and violence against commercial farmers and traders. Ignoring the distinction between producer and consumer effects leads to attenuated estimates. Our findings help reconcile a growing but ambiguous literature on the economic roots of conflict.

Public Goods and the Salience of Local Ethnic Diversity: The Case of Teacher Absenteeism in Africa [submitted]

Abstract: Scholars have identified ethnic diversity as a major impediment to the provision of public goods. Whether or not this depends on the salience of ethnic identification is unclear. I test this distinction in the context of primary education provision across districts in Africa, the most diverse continent in the world. Using several data sources and specifications, I find that local ethnic diversity is robustly associated with teacher absenteeism only where ethnic identification is salient. I investigate potential causal pathways using data from school visits in Uganda, finding important roles for the effectiveness of parent teacher associations and the strength of social networks between teachers. The results suggest that the deleterious effects of ethnic diversity on the provision of public goods could be mitigated by policies that reduce ethnic salience.

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Democratic Accountability, Regulation, and Inward Investment Policy, Economics & Politics (2014), 26(2), pp. 263–284 — with Fergal McCann and Michael Dorsch

Abstract: We examine the effect of domestic political accountability on leaders’ strategies for attracting Foreign Direct Investment to less developed countries. We consider two policy areas: the tax burden imposed on firms and the regulatory environment in which they operate. We find that democratic governments are more likely to offer relatively lower tax rates to foreign investors, while autocratic governments are more likely to offer relatively lax regulation. This result is driven by the greater elasticity of the political survival function to environmental and labor regulations in more democratic countries. Analyses of firm-level survey data confirm our main theoretical conclusions.

The Illusory Leader: Natural Resources, Taxation and Accountability. Public Choice (2013), 154(3-4), pp. 285-313

Abstract: This paper proposes and tests a mechanism through which natural resources can affect democracy. I posit that, in the presence of high natural resource rents, leaders lower the burden of taxation on citizens in order to reduce the demand for democratic accountability. The theory is corroborated using micro-level data from public opinion surveys across 15 sub-Saharan countries, in addition to country-level data on natural resource rents. Results are robust to a range of alternative specifications. A supplementary analysis reveals that, consistent with the two-period model proposed, the effects are more acute closer to national elections.

Working Papers

Working papers are available on request by emailing

By the People? Foreign Aid and Donor-Country Democracy  – with Pedro C. Vicente and Daniel Kaufmann

The Political Economy of Direct Dividend Transfers in Resource-Rich Countries: A Theoretical Consideration – with Marcelo Giugale and Anand Rajaram (World Bank). Forthcoming: World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series

Selected Works in Progress

No Kin in the Game? Moral Hazard and War in the U.S. Congress — with Nathanial Hilger and Nicholas Miller

On the Barriers to Education for Marginalized Girls in Sierra Leone (baseline data collected) — with coauthors from BRAC and GWU

Education and Nation-Building in Tanzania

Absolute Poverty, Relative Assets, and Subjective Living Standards in Africa — with Mark McGovern

Policy Papers

DFID Support to Education in East Africa: Lessons from the Research Literature, CEGA, UC Berkeley