Book Project

Deciding Development: How International Organizations Classify and Create Developing Countries

International organizations change the world not only through money or laws but also through seemingly trivial activities. Using both observational and experimental approaches, this book shows that how international bureaucrats formally classify “developing countries” profoundly shapes how those countries are perceived and treated by influential actors in the global economy. As countries transition out of these categories, they are punished with less aid but rewarded with improved ratings and investment. Increasingly, these consequences are felt even by domestic actors, who regularly interact directly with international elites. Focusing on the World Bank’s income classification system and the UN’s Least Developed Country category, this book explains why elite global actors rely on these classifications and who wins and loses as a result. Deliberately or inadvertently, for better or for worse, bureaucrats in international organizations exert considerable influence through their day-to-day activities. These findings will be of interest to development practitioners and students of international organizations in an age of measurement and metrics.


Working Papers

Labeling Laggards and Leaders: International Organizations and the Politics of Defining Development [paper] [appendix]

Many scholars view international organizations primarily as vehicles through which powerful states distribute resources. But they also influence the world through the ideas embedded in their day-to-day operations. This paper argues that bureaucratic classification systems change how classified countries are treated by elites in the global economy. Arbitrary changes in a country’s classification significantly affect high-stakes decisions such as aid, investment, and democracy ratings. After proposing two mechanisms — cognitive and strategic — by which classifications influence elite behavior, I show with cross-national data from 1987 to 2015 that a country’s World Bank income classification corresponds to the rewards it receives from actors who are susceptible to one or both of these mechanisms. These dynamics even lead classified countries to manipulate their income data around these thresholds. The paper identifies and explains a relatively unexamined power of international organizations in a context where its deployment matters profoundly for developing countries.


Pleasing the Principal: U.S. Influence in World Bank Policymaking with Richard Clark (revise and resubmit at American Journal of Political Science) [paper]

To what extent do powerful stakeholders shape policy in international organizations? Using an under-utilized data set on the conditions associated with World Bank development policy loans, we find that borrower countries that vote with the U.S. at the UN are required to enact fewer domestic policy reforms, and on fewer and softer issue areas. Though American preferences permeate World Bank decisionmaking, we do not find evidence that borrower countries trade favors and get the U.S. to actively intervene on their behalf, perhaps because they apply their limited political leverage to more stringent IMF conditions. Instead, we propose that U.S. influence operates indirectly when World Bank staff design programs that reflect the interests of its largest shareholder. While IMF conditions have been studied extensively, our study provides a direct quantitative examination of World Bank conditions as well as novel descriptive analysis comparing the substance of conditionality at the two leading international financial institutions.


Rethinking Foreign Aid and Government Legitimacy: Views from Aid Recipients in Kenya (under review) [paper] [appendix]

Contrary to scholarly predictions, foreign aid does not appear to undermine individuals’ beliefs in the legitimacy of their governments. Rather than testing a theory of foreign aid and legitimacy, this paper aims to understand why this prediction has failed to materialize in mounting evidence. I develop explanations inductively based on original descriptive evidence from a survey and in-depth interviews in western Kenya. I propose, first, that the prediction itself incorrectly assumes individuals expect their governments to be self-sufficient, and second, tax-based measurements of legitimacy are ill-suited to developing country contexts. I offer specific suggestions for how future studies can overcome these limitations in their theories and research designs. The contribution of this project is to facilitate future research by furnishing detailed and descriptive evidence on how individuals from a relevant sample think about politics and aid.


The Effects of Rejecting Aid on Recipients Reputations: Evidence from Natural Disasters with Allison Carnegie (under review) [paper] [appendix]

How do states improve their international status and prestige short of war? We argue that rejecting international assistance can boost a government’s image by making it appear self-sufficient and able to provide for its citizens, leading many states to decline foreign aid. However, potential recipients only do so when they have the ability to send a credible signal and when they value status highly. We derive these hypotheses from a formal model and then use a survey experiment to demonstrate that international observers alter their opinions about potential recipients when they learn that they rejected international aid. Finally, we gather new data to empirically verify that the more resources and greater military capabilities states possess, the more likely they are to reject aid, even when they require the aid. Our results help to explain why states sometimes refuse needed assistance and suggest that many states cultivate images of self-sufficiency.


Low-Skilled Liberalizers: Support for Globalization in Africa with Helen V. Milner (e-mail for draft)

Despite populist backlash to globalization in advanced industrial countries, developing countries have recently made several efforts to promote the free movement of people and goods. To shed light on this phenomenon, we investigate mass attitudes toward free trade and immigration in 35 African countries. Using Afrobarometer data as well as original survey data from Ghana and Uganda, we find that individuals hold views that are consistent with their economic self-interest. As factor endowment models predict for a sample of skill-scarce countries, low-skilled individuals are more likely to support free trade and immigration than high-skilled individuals. Moreover, the strongest and most robust negative effects of skill occur for the most skill-scarce countries in the sample. In two countries, we field original surveys containing more detailed measurements of trade attitudes, skill, and industry. These data from Ghana and Uganda 1) replicate the patterns observed in these countries in Afrobarometer and 2) allow us to adjudicate between factor endowment and specific factor models. With all data, we control for cultural and other factors commonly thought to shape attitudes, finding that economic self-interest remains significant. The findings suggest that evidence against economic models of trade and immigration opinions may have resulted, in part, from inadequate data from the developing world.


Borderless Blame: Climate Change and Political Responsibility Attribution with Quynh Nguyen (e-mail for draft)

A growing literature concludes that changes in the global climate have far-reaching consequences on natural and human systems. However, we do not know how changes in the global climate affect how and to whom citizens attribute political responsibility to address these changes and their societal impact. Leveraging a wealth of survey data from more than 160 countries, we measure whether citizens are less likely to approve of national and international political actors under climatic distress. Because the effects of climate change are endogenous to factors that would influence political attitudes, we compare political attitudes measured in El Nino years relative to La Nina years for countries affected by the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) system. In so doing, we compare countries in years of climatic stress to themselves in more placid years and can causally identify the effect of climate change. We show that individuals hold their national governments and international actors responsible for these outcomes. To gain traction at the mechanism underlying voter assignment of responsibility for climatic conditions to national and international political actors, we complement our country-level analysis with individual-level data from the Latinobarómetro. We find that citizens who perceive climate change to have a negative impact on their lives and on the country are more likely to disapprove of politicians for failing to address the cause and effect of climate change. Thus, our results suggest that chains of democratic accountability remain uninterrupted even when political problems transcend borders.

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Global Patterns of Renewable Energy Innovation, 1990 to 2009 with Patrick Bayer and Johannes Urpelainen, Energy for Sustainable Development, 17(3), 2013.

Financing Development at Home: A Survey Experiment on Diaspora Members with Alexandra O. Zeitz

How Do Bureaucrats Enforce Trade Policy? Explaining Exemptions from Tariffs in the Trump Administration

The Princeton Trade Study

Works in Progress