Power Tools

Kevin Lewis

September 20, 2021

Eclipses and the Memory of Revolutions: Evidence from China
Meng Miao, Jacopo Ponticelli & Yi Shao
NBER Working Paper, August 2021

Why are certain communities more prone to anti-government protests than others? Do past rebellions lead to more protests today? We study the historical roots of social unrest using the experience of China. We document that counties with higher incidence of peasant uprisings against local government officials during the Qing dynasty period (1644-1912) also have higher incidence of anti-government protests in present-day China. To generate plausibly exogenous variation in the incidence of past protests, we exploit differences in the visibility and magnitude of solar eclipses during the Qing dynasty period. In the Confucian tradition, solar eclipses are considered a negative divine signal on the legitimacy of the ruler, facilitating the coordination of protest actions. We test this mechanism using detailed data on the timing and location of anti-government rebellions extracted from local chronicles. Counties within the totality zone of a solar eclipse were significantly more likely to experience a rebellion in the eclipse year. Leaders of early anti-Qing rebellions were recorded in popular culture and celebrated in temples, favoring the transmission of the memory of their actions across generations. The persistent effect of past protests is stronger in counties with such temples and memorials, consistent with a long-term memory of revolutions.

Why Non-Democracy Engages with Western Democracy-Promotion Programs: The China Model
Sungmin Cho
World Politics, October 2021, Pages 774-817 

Between the mid-1990s and the mid-2010s, the Chinese government was distinctly open to the Western offer of democracy-assistance programs. It cooperated with a number of Western organizations to improve the rule of law, village elections, administrative capacity, and civil society in China. Why did the Chinese government engage with democracy promoters who tried to develop these democratic attributes within China? The author argues that the government intended to use Western aid to its advantage. The Chinese Communist Party had launched governance reforms to strengthen its regime legitimacy, and Chinese officials found that Western democracy assistance could be used to facilitate their own governance-reform programs. The article traces the process of how the government’s strategic intention translated into policies of selective openness, and includes evidence from firsthand interviews, propaganda materials, and research by Chinese experts. The findings show how democracy promoters and authoritarian leaders have different expectations of the effects of limited democratic reform within nondemocratic systems. Empirically, reflecting on the so-called golden years of China’s engagement with the West sheds new light on the Chinese Communist Party’s survival strategy through authoritarian legitimation. 

Early Statehood and Support for Autocratic Rule in Africa
Vladimir Chlouba, Daniel Smith & Seamus Wagner
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming

Recent work highlights the importance of pre-modern political practices for explaining persistent institutional features, including representative democracy. Typically, this argument is institutional in nature — pre-industrial practices are hypothesized to either bolster or retard the transmission of democratic institutions. This article proposes a separate channel through which legacies of early statehood continue to impact the prospects of democratic governance. Using survey data from Africa, we document a positive relationship between early statehood development and support for autocratic rule among ordinary Africans. This finding is robust to a wide range of pre- and post-treatment covariates, country and survey round fixed effects, as well as an instrumental-variable design. The identified relationship is particularly prominent in respondents from precolonially centralized ethnic groups in former British colonies, suggesting the importance of locally surviving traditional institutions for propagation of norms that owe their origins to precolonial autocratic socialization. 

(Successful) Democracies Breed Their Own Support
Daron Acemoglu et al.
NBER Working Paper, August 2021

Using large-scale survey data covering more than 110 countries and exploiting within-country variation across cohorts and surveys, we show that individuals with longer exposure to democracy display stronger support for democratic institutions. We bolster these baseline findings using an instrumental-variables strategy exploiting regional democratization waves and focusing on immigrants’ exposure to democracy before migration. In all cases, the timing and nature of the effects are consistent with a causal interpretation. We also establish that democracies breed their own support only when they are successful: all of the effects we estimate work through exposure to democracies that are successful in providing economic growth, peace and political stability, and public goods. 

Censorship and the Impact of Repression on Dissent
Grigore Pop-Eleches & Lucan Way
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

What is the impact of repression on opposition to authoritarian rule? Studies of repression and dissent have yielded contradictory results. Some research suggests that repression reduces popular resistance while others show that it creates backlash and more dissent. In this article, we present an informational theory of repression to account for such divergent findings. We argue that the impact of repression hinges on the degree of censorship. Where alternative media is present, violence is more likely to increase support for opposition. By contrast, where alternative sources of information are limited, repression may reduce support for opposition and actually increase support for incumbents. We test and confirm these expectations with an original dataset that combines the results of a panel survey that spanned the authoritarian repression of electoral protests in Moldova in 2009 and geocoded data on the subnational variation in repression and alternative information availability. The hypothesized interaction between repression and censorship is corroborated in cross-national analysis of repression, censorship, and government support (2005–16).

Cash Crops, Print Technologies, and the Politicization of Ethnicity in Africa
Yannick Pengl, Philip Roessler & Valeria Rueda
American Political Science Review, forthcoming

What are the origins of the ethnic landscapes in contemporary states? Drawing on a preregistered research design, we test the influence of dual socioeconomic revolutions that spread throughout Africa during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — export agriculture and print technologies. We argue these changes transformed ethnicity via their effects on politicization and boundary-making. Print technologies strengthened imagined communities, leading to more salient — yet porous — ethnic identities. Cash crop endowments increased groups’ mobilizational potential but with more exclusionary boundaries to control agricultural rents. Using historical data on cash crops and African language publications, we find that groups exposed to these historical forces are more likely to be politically relevant in the postindependence period, and their members report more salient ethnic identities. We observe heterogenous effects on boundary-making as measured by interethnic marriage; relative to cash crops, printing fostered greater openness to assimilate linguistically related outsiders. Our findings illuminate not only the historical sources of ethnic politicization but also mechanisms shaping boundary formation. 

De-politicization and Corporate Transformation: Evidence from China
Daniel Berkowitz, Chen Lin & Sibo Liu
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming

It is well understood that when firms receive favorable treatment from the government because of their political connections and not necessarily their economic merits, they may operate inefficiently while enjoying market advantages over their unconnected peers. However, just how firms respond to the sustained removal of their political connections has not been carefully studied. This article evaluates an unanticipated reform in China that removed government-related personnel from independent directorships of publicly listed companies. Our evidence indicates that treated firms experienced a temporary increase in their cost of debt, but invested more in R&D, imported more machinery, and became more productive and transparent. These adjustments counterbalanced the negative value effect from the financial markets when the regulation was first announced. 

A Time to Plot, A Time to Reap: Coups, Regime Changes, and Inequality
Christian Bjørnskov, Bodo Knoll & Martin Rode
Defence and Peace Economics, forthcoming 

A vast economic literature examines the welfare gains and distributional consequences of economic reforms, while much less is generally known on the relationship of inequality and forced regime changes. Some studies analyze how economic inequality impacts the likelihood of coups, but the distributional outcomes of such events have been largely ignored to date. Employing novel data, we find that successful coups have a significant positive impact on the consumption shares of the lowest quintile and a strong negative impact on the highest quintile, as compared to the inexistent redistribution that results from failed coups. In addition, the redistributive effect is stronger for military coups, as compared to civilian coups, and effects seem to be substantially driven by coups against democratic regimes. Despite their negative impact on overall growth and per capita income, our results show that forced regime changes, as compared to non-successful attempts, reduce inequality at a short notice. This may partially explain their continued popularity in highly unequal developing countries. 

Economic elites and the constitutional design of sharing political power
Victoria Paniagua & Jan Vogler
Constitutional Political Economy, forthcoming

What explains the emergence and persistence of institutions aimed at preventing any ruling group from using the state apparatus to advance particularistic interests? To answer this recurring question, a burgeoning literature examines the establishment of power-sharing institutions in societies divided by ethnic or religious cleavages. Going beyond existing scholarly work focused on these specific settings, we argue that political power-sharing institutions can also be the result of common disputes within the economic elite. We propose that these institutions are likely to emerge and persist when competition between elite factions with dissimilar economic interests is balanced. To address the possibility of endogeneity between elite configurations and public institutions, we leverage natural resource diversity as an instrument for elite configurations. We show that, where geological resources are more diverse, competition between similarly powerful economic groups is more likely to emerge, leading ultimately to the establishment of power-sharing mechanisms that allow elite groups to protect their diverging economic interests. 

Do Truth Commissions Really Improve Democracy?
Geoff Dancy & Oskar Timo Thoms
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming

This article presents and tests an original theory that truth commissions (TCs) inspire democratic behaviors, but have little discernible impact on democratic institutions. Using quantitative analyses of countries undergoing transitions between 1970 and 2015, and accounting for endogeneity of TCs, we find that these temporary bodies are associated with greater democratic participation and state agent observance of physical integrity rights. However, they have no measurable effect on institutions like fair elections, rules regulating political association, liberal checks on the executive, or judicial independence. This contradicts a key argument in the transitional justice literature that TCs catalyze institutional reform through investigation and extensive recommendations. This article’s findings might encourage those who intend to use these bodies as a tool to promote citizen activism or police restraint. However, the findings might discourage those who hope TCs could jump-start judicial reforms or create a firewall against executive overreach.


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