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.
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.
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.
How Do Bureaucrats Enforce Trade Policy? Explaining Exemptions from Tariffs in the Trump Administration. [e-mail for draft]
Bureaucrats are often responsible for making policy into reality, but we are rarely able to observe their practices and understand their motivations. This paper focuses on the steel and aluminum tariff exemption process and shows that bureaucrats appear to be politically independent and somewhat insulated from lobbying but either unwilling or unable to deploy their technical expertise. Using data on over 50,000 requests for exemption from the 2018 tariffs, I consider three possible models for how bureaucrats may award relief to firms — policy-minded, lobby-minded, and electorally-minded. [Disclaimer: This is a working paper that uses continually updated data. All findings are preliminary.]
Informal Influence over World Bank Conditionality. With Richard Clark. [paper]
To what extent do powerful states shape policy in international organizations? Using a newly available data set on the conditions associated with World Bank loans, we find that borrower countries important to the U.S. (and, to a lesser extent, Europe) are required to enact fewer domestic policy reforms, and on fewer and softer issue areas. We propose that this influence operates informally when World Bank staff design softer programs for countries that receive more U.S. aid and vote with the U.S. at the UN, underscoring how deeply U.S. interests penetrate even disaggregated policies. In contrast, we do not find evidence that borrower countries use their formal leadership positions to bargain down their conditions at the World Bank, perhaps because they apply this leverage to more stringent IMF conditions. While IMF conditions have been studied extensively, our study is the first to directly examine World Bank conditions, and we provide novel descriptive analysis comparing the two.
Works in Progress
Deciding Development: How International Organizations Classify and Create Developing Countries. Book manuscript.
Financing Development at Home: A Survey Experiment on Diaspora Members. With Alexandra Zeitz.
Political Blame Attribution for Climate Change. With Quynh Nguyen.
Global Patterns of Renewable Energy Innovation, 1990 to 2009. With Patrick Bayer and Johannes Urpelainen. Energy for Sustainable Development, 17(3), 2013. [paper]
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]