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.

Rethinking Foreign Aid and Legitimacy: Views from Aid Recipients in Kenya. [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 is based on incorrect assumptions about individuals’ expectations of government, and second, that scholars may not be measuring legitimacy accurately. 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 improve the rigor of future studies by furnishing detailed and descriptive evidence on how individuals from a remote and 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]

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.

While IPE scholars are increasingly skeptical of whether canonical models explain public support for the free movement of goods and people, this paper presents new evidence from Africa that is consistent with the expectations of these models. Using Afrobarometer survey data, I show that low-skilled individuals are more likely to support free trade and migration than high-skilled individuals in these skill-scarce countries, consistent with the predictions of the Stolper-Samuelson theorem. The strongest and most robust negative effects of skill occur for the most skill-scarce countries in the sample. These findings suggest that evidence against factor endowment models may have resulted, in part, from inadequate data from the developing world. These results are especially relevant considering the 2018 signing of Africa’s free trade area, which appears to reflect the preferences of low-skilled individuals.

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.

Works in Progress

Deciding Development: How International Organizations Classify and Create Developing CountriesBook manuscript.

When Are Diaspora Communities Willing to Finance Development at Home? A Survey Experiment on Diaspora Bonds. With Alexandra Zeitz.

The Political Economy of World Bank Conditionality. With Richard T. Clark.

Political Blame Attribution for Climate Change. With Quynh Nguyen.

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]