Nation-State or Nation-Family? Nationalism in Marginalized African Societies (with Lisa Mueller). Forthcoming, Journal of Modern African Studies.

Why is nationalism so strong in areas where the state is virtually absent? We leverage a contemporary border change in the neglected Niger-Burkina Faso border area to illuminate a theory of familial nationalism. To test this theory, we conducted a survey of citizens, chiefs, and state officials in the borderlands, as well as focus groups in the capital cities of the two countries. Contrary to the extant literature, we find that sentiments of nationalism are a function of hereditary ties and local familial power structures, rather than an instrument to access state goods. [Download paper]

Working papers

The Political Determinants of Economic Exchange: Evidence from a Business Experiment in Senegal.

Economic growth requires confidence in the secure exchange of goods. But when states selectively enforce rule of law, political considerations can moderate the trust that buyers have in sellers. This paper proposes a theory of seller moral hazard in exchange and tests it in an environment with real economic stakes: I created and operated a legal business in Senegal and hired employees to conduct door-to-door sales. In a field experiment, I randomized whether my employees signaled their political connections and/or offered formal contracts as part of the deal. Results show that unequal political connections impede trade and that formal contracts are only useful for powerful buyers. Exchange under these conditions can result in distinct trading networks that intensify inequalities. [Download paper]

Covered in: [World Bank Development Impact Blog] [An Africanist Perspective]

Able and Mostly Willing: An Empirical Anatomy of Information's Effect on Voter Efforts to Hold Politicians to Account in Senegal (with Horacio Larreguy and John Marshall).

Political accountability may be constrained by the reach and relevance of information campaigns in developing democracies and—upon receiving information—voters’ ability and will to hold politicians to account. To illuminate voter-level constraints in the absence of dissemination problems, we conducted a field experiment around Senegal’s 2017 parliamentary elections to examine the core theoretical steps linking the personal delivery and explanation of different types of incumbent performance information to electoral and non-electoral accountability. We provide evidence that voters are able and mostly willing to use relevant information to support political accountability. [Download paper]

An Unintentional Substitute for Democracy: Bilateral Investment Treaties and U.S. Firms' Investment in Developing Countries (with Joonseok Yang).

Bilateral investment treaties (BITs) can encourage foreign investment in developing countries, but may also have unintentional political consequences. We argue that by enabling investment in weak institutional contexts, BITs substitute for democratic institutions in attracting foreign investment. We test the interactive effect of BITs and institutional strength in developing countries, and find strong supporting evidence that BITs substitute for democratic institutions in attracting investment—but solely on the intensive margin of investment.

Social, Formal, and Political Determinants of Trade Under Weak Rule of Law: Experimental Evidence from Senegalese Firms.

In environments where contracting is often insecure and dependent on political influence, how do firms decide with whom to do business? To test the relative importance of both formal and informal political motivations of trade, I conducted a survey with an embedded conjoint and survey experiment among approximately 2,400 firms in both the formal and informal sector in Senegal. The results show that firm owners avoid deals with partners that have low- or mid-tier political connections, but seek deals with partners possessing the highest level of political connections—despite believing they are most likely to defect. [Download pre-analysis plan]

Research in progress

Who Enforces Off the Books? How Contract Choice and Firm Formality Drive the Protection of Property Rights.

How do firms in developing countries resolve contract problems when they emerge, particularly when many transactions are conducted informally? I conducted a survey experiment with firm owners in Senegal in which respondents stated how likely they were to use various social and legal enforcement tactics to resolve a dispute based on a randomized formal or informal contract. The results show that when deals are based on informal contracts, firms are more likely to resort to social methods of dispute resolution because state methods of enforcement are less effective. Overall, these findings clarify how political considerations can drive enforcement patterns when rule of law is unreliable.

Political Connections and Access to the State: Evidence from an Audit Experiment in Senegal.

An implicit assumption in research on the role of personal and political connections is that such connections actually result in better access to state institutions. This claim is at the heart of theories of personalistic rule, clientelism, and corruption that argue that connections to those in power can increase personal benefit while exacerbating an inefficient institutional system. In a field experiment that uses a business I created in Senegal, I hire confederates to apply for business permits at various levels of bureaucratic institutions, randomizing whether confederates signal various types of personal and/or political connections to bureaucrats. Results will highlight the important question of who gets access to the state.

Economics, Politics, and the Rule of Law: An Experiment in Formalization (with Jessica Gottlieb).

We argue that the limited findings of interventions that push informal firms to register with the state are due to a lack of consideration of the political constraints to formalization, not just economic constraints. Informal firm owners believe they would lack political and legal recourse were they to formalize, and also lack capacity to coordinate recourse as a bloc with other once-informal businesses. In partnership with the primary business registration authority in Senegal and a prominent local NGO, we will implement a field experiment with novel interventions to overcome the political constraints to formalization.