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

Many scholars view international organizations primarily as vehicles through which powerful states distribute resources. However, this view overlooks the ability of bureaucracies in international organizations to affect perceptions of countries. This paper argues that international organizations use classifications to shape how states are treated by international economic elites. Arbitrary changes in a country’s classification have major effects on high-stakes decisions such as aid, investment, and credit 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 correlates with the rewards it receives from actors who are susceptible to cognitive biases or accountable to less informed actors. Drawing on 50 interviews with various stakeholders, I illustrate these patterns in the “graduations” of Nepal, Botswana, and others from different classifications produced by the World Bank and the United Nations. Finally, qualitative and quantitative evidence shows that countries try to exploit these dynamics by attempting to change their classifications. The paper identifies a relatively unexamined power of international organizations in a context where its deployment significantly affects outcomes for developing countries.

Rethinking Foreign Aid and 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. Drawing on an original survey and in-depth interviews in western Kenya, I investigate whether these results could be explained by either (or both) measurement error or invalid assumptions. Despite imperfect measurements, I find that assumptions more likely account for the gap between theory and evidence. Whereas the legitimacy prediction assumes that individuals expect their governments to provide public goods independently, I show that citizens in western Kenya actually expect their government to receive assistance from other actors. Consequently, foreign aid does not create the impression that the government reneged on its contract with citizens, although it does exacerbate politicians ability to claim undeserved credit. Using this case as an example, I conclude by discussing the broader importance of adapting measurements and assumptions to developing countries and offer suggestions for future research.

The Effects of Rejecting Aid on Recipients’ Reputations: Evidence from Natural Disasters. With Allison Carnegie. Under Review. [paper]

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.

Divine Punishment or Bad Politics? The Effects of Religion on Investment in Public Goods. With Allison Carnegie and Alicia Cooperman.

An extensive literature in political science investigates the conditions under which politicians invest in public goods benefiting their citizens, finding rampant instances of under-investment. In this paper, we focus on the domain of natural disaster preparedness to argue that this literature has overlooked an important moderator of accountability processes: citizens’ religious beliefs. Motivated by evidence that non-trivial portions of the population imbue natural disasters with religious significance, we propose a formal model of political accountability and demonstrate how the predictions regarding politicians’ investments in public goods change when these religious beliefs are introduced. In particular, we argue that when citizens attribute disasters to random acts of God – absolving leaders of blame – leaders underinvest in disaster prevention. However, when citizens believe that disasters signal God’s disfavor – placing full blame on the leader – over- investment can occur. We support our claims about how religious and non-religious populations process information regarding government performance differently through the use of a unique survey experiment. We then test the model using both case study evidence along with data on religious beliefs from the United States and find strong evidence for our key predictions.

Feeling Under the Weather: The Effect of Rainfall Shocks on Political Attitudes.

Scholars increasingly believe that weather shocks have measurable effects on violent conflict and political behavior. As climate change causes these shocks to become more frequent, it is crucial that we understand through what mechanisms these effects are transmitted. Few, however, have furnished evidence to support any of the many mechanisms that could link weather events to political outcomes. In this paper, I note that several suggested mechanisms should leave clues that they are at work, and that these clues will be seen in the political opinions and experiences reported by individuals. The objective of this paper is to pit mechanisms that have been proposed in the literature against each other and to see which ones I find evidence for. I focus on five mechanisms–income, ethnic grievance, state capacity, distributive politics, and psychology. For each mechanism I derive what effects we should see on individuals’ opinions and subsequently examine the effect of rainfall shocks on the opinions expressed by individuals in the Afrobarometer Round 4 surveys of 2008. The results suggest that droughts improve individuals’ opinions of their governments, each other, and democracy, and they have a negligible impact on individuals’ perceived ethnic grievance and on their assessment of their economic security. These findings provide support for only the psychological mechanism.

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. [paper]

Other Publications

What’s in a World Bank Income Classification? Center for Global Development Blog, July 11, 2016. [post]

Natural Resources in the Indian Ocean. With David Michel and Halae Fuller. In Indian Ocean Rising: Maritime Security and Policy Challenges, Chapter 7, The Stimson Center, July 2012. [chapter]

Development and Aid in Sub-Saharan Africa. With Stephen A. O’Connell. Journal of Catholic Social Thought 9(2), 2012. [paper]

A ‘New Colonialism’? Spotlight Series, The Stimson Center, July 8, 2011. [post]