In Plain Sight: The Neglected Linkage between Brideprice and Violent Conflict
Valerie Hudson & Hilary Matfess
International Security, Summer 2017, Pages 7-40
Approximately seventy-five percent of the world's population lives in countries where asset exchange upon marriage is obligatory. Rising brideprice — money or gifts provided to a woman's family by the groom and his family as part of marriage arrangements — is a common if overlooked catalyst of violent conflict. In patrilineal (and some matrilineal) societies where brideprice is practiced, a man's social status is directly connected to his marital status. Brideprice acts as a flat tax that is prone to sudden and swift increases. As a result, rising brideprice can create serious marriage market distortions that prevent young men, especially those who are poor or otherwise marginalized, from marrying. This phenomenon is especially evident in polygamous societies, where wealthy men can afford more than one bride. These distortions incentivize extra-legal asset accumulation, whether through ad hoc raiding or organized violence. In such situations, rebel and terror groups may offer to pay brideprice — or even provide brides — to recruit new members. Descriptive case studies of Boko Haram in Nigeria and various armed groups in South Sudan demonstrate these linkages, while an examination of Saudi Arabia's cap on brideprice and its efforts to arrange low-cost mass weddings illustrates the ways in which governments can intervene in marriage markets to help prevent brideprice-related instability. The trajectory of brideprice is an important but neglected early indicator of societal instability and violent conflict, underscoring that the situation and security of women tangibly affect national security.
The Robust Relationship Between US Food Aid and Civil Conflict
Chi-Yang Chu, Daniel Henderson & Le Wang
Journal of Applied Econometrics, August 2017, Pages 1027–1032
Humanitarian aid has long been considered an important means to reduce hunger and suffering in developing countries. A recent finding by Nunn and Qian (US food aid and civil conflict, American Economic Review 2014; 104: 1630–1666) that such aid from the US increases the incidence and duration of civil conflict in recipient countries, however, questions the effectiveness of this policy and poses a serious policy concern for the US government. We revisit this issue by conducting a successful replication study of the results in their paper. In order to further scrutinize their claims that a heterogeneous effect of food aid on conflict is not present, we employ a semiparametric endogenous estimation procedure. We show that their parametric models cannot be rejected and argue that their findings are robust.
How Sudden Censorship Can Increase Access to Information
William Hobbs & Margaret Roberts
University of California Working Paper, January 2017
Conventional wisdom assumes that increased censorship will strictly decrease access to information. We delineate circumstances when increases in censorship will expand access to information. When governments suddenly impose censorship on previously uncensored information, citizens accustomed to acquiring this information will be incentivized to learn methods of censorship evasion. These tools provide continued access to the newly blocked information and also extend users’ ability to access information that has long been censored. We illustrate this phenomenon using millions of individual-level actions of social media users in China before and after the block of Instagram. We show that the block inspired millions of Chinese users to acquire virtual private networks (VPNs) and join censored websites like Twitter and Facebook. Despite initially being apolitical, these new users began browsing blocked political pages on Wikipedia, following Chinese political activists on Twitter, and discussing highly politicized topics such as opposition protests in Hong Kong.
Why Do Authoritarian Regimes Allow Citizens to Voice Opinions Publicly?
Jidong Chen & Yiqing Xu
Journal of Politics, July 2017, Pages 792-803
Why would an authoritarian regime allow citizens to voice opinions publicly if the exchange of information among citizens spurs social instability as has been often alleged? We show that an authoritarian regime can strengthen its rule by allowing citizens to communicate with one another publicly. From the government’s perspective, such communication serves two interrelated functions. First, if public communication reveals a shared feeling of dissatisfaction toward the government among citizens, the government will detect the danger and improve policies accordingly. Second, public communication disorganizes citizens if they find themselves split over policies. We show that the government allows public communication if and only if it perceives sufficient preference heterogeneity among citizens. The model also illustrates that public communication can serve as a commitment device ensuring government responsiveness when it faces high dissatisfaction, which in turn makes the government better off than with private polling.
The Medieval Roots of Inclusive Institutions: From the Norman Conquest of England to the Great Reform Act
Charles Angelucci, Simone Meraglia & Nico Voigtländer
NBER Working Paper, July 2017
The representation of merchant interests in parliaments played a crucial role in constraining monarchs’ power and expanding the protection of property rights. We study the process that led to the inclusion of merchant representatives in the English Parliament, using a novel comprehensive dataset for 550 medieval English towns (boroughs). Our analysis begins with the Norman Conquest in 1066 – an event of enormous political change that resulted in largely homogeneous formal institutions across England. From this starting point, we document a two-step process: First, monitoring issues and asymmetric information led to inefficiencies in the king’s tax collection, especially with the onset of the Commercial Revolution in the 12th century. This gave rise to mutually beneficial agreements (Farm Grants), whereby medieval merchant towns obtained the right of self-administered tax collection and law enforcement. Second, we show that Farm Grants were stepping stones towards representation in the English Parliament after its creation in 1295: local autonomy meant that subsequently, extra-ordinary taxation (e.g., to finance wars) had to be negotiated with towns – and the efficient institution to do so was Parliament. We show that royal boroughs with trade-favoring geography were much more likely to be represented in Parliament, and that this relationship worked through Farm Grants. We also show that medieval self-governance had important long-term consequences and interacted with nationwide institutional changes. Boroughs with medieval Farm Grants had persistently more inclusive local elections of public officials and MPs, they raised troops to support the parliamentarians during the Civil War in 1642, and they supported the Great Reform Act of 1832, which resulted in the extension of the franchise.
The Election Monitor's Curse
Zhaotian Luo & Arturas Rozenas
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming
Election monitoring has become a key instrument of democracy promotion. Election monitors routinely expect to deter fraud and prevent post-election violence, but in reality, post-election violence often increases when monitors do expose fraud. We argue that monitors can make all elections less fraudulent and more peaceful on average, but only by causing more violence in fraudulent elections. Due to this curse, strategic election monitors can make a positive impact on elections only if their objectives are aligned in a very specific fashion. Monitors who do not aim to prevent violence can be effective only if they are unbiased, whereas monitors who do aim to prevent violence can be effective only if they are moderately biased against the government. Consequently, election monitors with misaligned objectives will fail to prevent violence, whereas monitors with well-aligned objectives will be blamed for causing violence.
Social Mobility and Political Instability
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming
Does social mobility foster political stability? While there is a vibrant literature on the effect of economic inequality on political unrest, the recent literature has remained silent about the effect of social mobility on instability. Yet, inequality and social mobility, although related, are fundamentally distinct, and immobility is likely to be perceived as even more unfair than inequality, meaning that it may generate at least as much grievances. In this article, I argue that social immobility fuels political instability. To test this hypothesis, I develop an indicator of social mobility covering more than 100 countries worldwide. I then conduct the first large-N cross-national test of the effect of social mobility on political instability to date. Consistent with my argument, I find that countries with low social mobility levels are more likely to experience riots, general strikes, antigovernment demonstrations, political assassinations, guerillas, revolutions, and civil wars.
The Emergence of Weak, Despotic and Inclusive States
Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson
NBER Working Paper, August 2017
Societies under similar geographic and economic conditions and subject to similar external influences nonetheless develop very different types of states. At one extreme are weak states with little capacity and ability to regulate economic or social relations. At the other are despotic states which dominate civil society. Yet there are others which are locked into an ongoing competition with civil society and it is these, not the despotic ones, that develop the greatest capacity. We develop a dynamic contest model of the potential competition between state (controlled by a ruler or a group of elites) and civil society (representing non-elite citizens), where both players can invest to increase their power. The model leads to different types of steady states depending on initial conditions. One type of steady state, corresponding to a weak state, emerges when civil society is strong relative to the state (e.g., having developed social norms limiting political hierarchy). Another type of steady state, corresponding to a despotic state, originates from initial conditions where the state is powerful and civil society is weak. A third type of steady state, which we refer to as an inclusive state, emerges when state and civil society are more evenly matched. In this case, each party has greater incentives to invest to keep up with the other, and this leads to the most powerful and capable type of state, while simultaneously incentivizing civil society to be equally powerful as well. Our framework highlights that comparative statics with respect to structural factors such as geography, economic conditions or external threats, are conditional — in the sense that depending on initial conditions they can shift a society into or out of the basin of attraction of the inclusive state.
On the heterogeneous consequences of civil war
Vincenzo Bove, Leandro Elia & Ron Smith
Oxford Economic Papers, July 2017, Pages 550-568
We show how the occurrence of a civil war has heterogeneous effects on the level of GDP, using case-study, synthetic control and large-N panel-data approaches. We first discuss the relation between these methods and then provide lower and upper estimates of the economic effect of civil war. Although, on average, the incidence of internal conflicts has a negative effect on the GDP level, it is very often insignificant. More importantly, however, both methods display a wide variety of individual effects, and in a large number of countries civil war has either no effect or a positive and significant impact on the prospect for economic growth.
The Changing Standard of Accountability and the Positive Relationship between Human Rights Treaty Ratification and Compliance
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming
Researchers have puzzled over the finding that countries that ratify UN human rights treaties such as the Convention Against Torture are more likely to abuse human rights than non-ratifiers over time. This article presents evidence that the changing standard of accountability – the set of expectations that monitoring agencies use to hold states responsible for repressive actions – conceals real improvements to the level of respect for human rights in data derived from monitoring reports. Using a novel dataset that accounts for systematic changes to human rights reports, it is demonstrated that the ratification of human rights treaties is associated with higher levels of respect for human rights. This positive relationship is robust to a variety of measurement strategies and model specifications.
The Virtues of Nonviolent Struggle
MIT Working Paper, May 2017
There is an emerging consensus in the study of mass-based political resistance that successful nonviolent campaigns leave in their wake political conditions suitable for democracy and stability. The following paper subjects this claim to closer scrutiny. Using theory grounded in the study of conflict, revolution, and democratic transition, we make the case that a resistance campaign’s duration is an important driver of its downstream effects. Sudden victory is likely to leave important questions about the balance of capabilities between and within interest groups unanswered. It may also create a destabilizing legitimacy deficit for the entity endowed with the status of incumbency once calm is restored. Further complicating matters, we argue, is the fact that the benefits of struggling en route to victory are not distributed equally across violent and nonviolent movements. To test our precise hypotheses on these points, we examine four post-campaign outcome variables in a large-N framework: levels of democracy, electoral manipulation, coup d'état attempts, and violent conflict. With the aid of flexible modeling and sensitivity analysis, we make the case that campaign duration significantly moderates the long-term political effects of mass-based nonviolent resistance, with harder-fought victories yielding more positive outcomes.
Blue blood or true blood: Why are levels of intrastate armed conflict so low in Middle Eastern monarchies?
Fenja Søndergaard Møller
Conflict Management and Peace Science, forthcoming
In the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, the difference between monarchies and republics appears more profound than ever. Aside from Bahrain, all of the Middle Eastern monarchies avoided major anti-governmental protests, and no armed conflict has occurred in any of them since 1979. Inspired by Middle Eastern case studies, this article argues that traditional legitimacy contributes to peace in Middle Eastern monarchies. The article explores the argument with time-series cross-sectional data covering 19 Middle Eastern countries from 1947 (or independence) to 2009. Traditional legitimacy is not measured directly but assumed to be embedded in the monarchical regime type, and the results show that alternative covariates are unable to fully explain the monarchical peace. Moreover, the study finds that horizontal discrimination increases the risk of intrastate conflict in authoritarian republics but that discrimination has no effect in monarchies. Future conflict studies should therefore consider legitimacy connected to authoritarian regime types.