Rags to Riches

Kevin Lewis

December 31, 2011

Individualism, innovation, and long-run growth

Yuriy Gorodnichenko & Gerard Roland
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 27 December 2011, Pages 21316-21319

Countries having a more individualist culture have enjoyed higher long-run growth than countries with a more collectivist culture. Individualist culture attaches social status rewards to personal achievements and thus, provides not only monetary incentives for innovation but also social status rewards, leading to higher rates of innovation and economic growth.


Ruggedness: The Blessing of Bad Geography in Africa

Nathan Nunn & Diego Puga
Review of Economics and Statistics, forthcoming

We show that geography, through its impact on history, can have important effects on economic development today. The analysis focuses on the historic interaction between ruggedness and Africa's slave trades. Although rugged terrain hinders trade and most productive activities, negatively affecting income globally, rugged terrain within Africa afforded protection to those being raided during the slave trades. Since the slave trades retarded subsequent economic development, ruggedness within Africa has also had a historic indirect positive effect on income. Studying all countries worldwide, we estimate the differential effect of ruggedness on income for Africa. We show that the differential effect of ruggedness is statistically significant and economically meaningful, it is found in Africa only, it cannot be explained by other factors like Africa's unique geographic environment, and it is fully accounted for by the history of the slave trades.


What Lessons for Economic Development Can We Draw from the Champagne Fairs?

Jeremy Edwards & Sheilagh Ogilvie
Explorations in Economic History, forthcoming

The medieval Champagne fairs are widely used to draw lessons about the institutional basis for long-distance impersonal exchange. This paper re-examines the causes of the outstanding success of the Champagne fairs in mediating international trade, the timing and causes of the fairs' decline, and the institutions for securing property rights and enforcing contracts at the fairs. It finds that contract enforcement at the fairs did not take the form of private-order or corporative mechanisms, but was provided by public institutions. More generally, the success and decline of the Champagne fairs depended on the policies adopted by the public authorities - for good or ill.


The Geographic Concentration of Enterprise in Developing Countries

John Felkner & Robert Townsend
Quarterly Journal of Economics, November 2011, Pages 2005-2061

A nation's economic geography can have an enormous impact on its development. In Thailand, we show that a high concentration of enterprise in an area predicts high subsequent growth in and around that area. We also find spatially contiguous convergence of enterprise with stagnant areas left behind. Exogenous physiographic conditions are correlated with enterprise location and growth. We fit a structural, micro-founded model of occupation transitions with fine-tuned geographic capabilities to village data and replicate these salient facts. Key elements of the model include costs, credit constraints on occupation choice, and spatially varying expansion of financial service providers.


Political Aid Cycles

Michael Faye & Paul Niehaus
American Economic Review, forthcoming

Researchers have scrutinized foreign aid's effects on poverty and growth, but anecdotal evidence suggests that donors often use aid for other ends. We test whether donors use bilateral aid to influence elections in developing countries. We find that recipient country administrations closely aligned with a donor receive more aid during election years, while those less aligned receive less. Consist with our interpretation, this effect holds only in competitive elections, is absent in U.S. aid flows to non-government entities, and is driven by bilateral alignment rather than incumbent characteristics.


The Costs of Political Influence: Firm-Level Evidence From Developing Countries

Raj Desai & Anders Olofsgård
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, September 2011, Pages 137-178

Arrangements by which politically connected firms receive economic favors are a common feature around the world, but little is known of the form or effects of influence in business-government relationships. We present a simple model in which influence requires firms to provide goods of political value in exchange for economic privileges. We argue that political influence improves the business environment for selected firms, but restricts their ability to fire workers. Under these conditions, if political influence primarily lowers fixed costs over variable costs, then favored firms will be less likely to invest and their productivity will suffer, even if they earn higher profits than non-influential firms. We rely on the World Bank's Enterprise Surveys of approximately 8000 firms in 40 developing countries, and control for a number of biases present in the data. We find that influential firms benefit from lower administrative and regulatory barriers (including bribe taxes), greater pricing power, and easier access to credit. But these firms also provide politically valuable benefits to incumbents through bloated payrolls and greater tax payments. Finally, these firms are worse-performing than their non-influential counterparts. Our results highlight a potential channel by which cronyism leads to persistent underdevelopment.


Does conditionality work? A test for an innovative US aid scheme

Hannes Öhler, Peter Nunnenkamp & Axel Dreher
European Economic Review, January 2012, Pages 138-153

Performance-based aid has been proposed as an alternative to the failed traditional approach whereby donors make aid conditional on the reform promises of recipient countries. However, hardly any empirical evidence exists on whether ex post rewards are effective in inducing reforms. We attempt to fill this gap by investigating whether the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was successful in promoting better control of corruption. We employ a difference-in-difference-in-differences (DDD) approach, considering different ways of defining the treatment group as well as different time periods during which incentive effects could have materialized. We find evidence of strong anticipation effects immediately after the announcement of the MCC, while increasing uncertainty about the timing and amount of MCC aid appears to have weakened the incentive to fight corruption over time.


The effect of foreign aid on corruption: A quantile regression approach

Keisuke Okada & Sovannroeun Samreth
Economics Letters, forthcoming

This paper investigates the effect of foreign aid on corruption using a quantile regression method. We show that foreign aid generally reduces corruption, and its reduction effect is greater in less corrupt countries.
Moreover, this effect is different by donors.


Are optimistic expectations keeping the Chinese happy?

Paul Frijters, Amy Liu & Xin Meng
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, January 2012, Pages 159-171

In this paper we study the effect of optimistic income expectations on life satisfaction amongst the Chinese population. Using a large scale household survey conducted in 2002 we find that the level of optimism about the future is particularly strong in the countryside and amongst rural-to-urban migrants. The importance of these expectations for life satisfaction is particularly pronounced in the urban areas, though also highly significant for the rural area. If expectations were to reverse from positive to negative, we calculate that this would have doubled the proportion of unhappy people and reduced proportion of very happy people by 48%. We perform several robustness checks to see if the results are driven by variations in precautionary savings or reverse causality.


Is Economic Volatility Detrimental to Global Sustainability?

Yongfu Huang
World Bank Economic Review, forthcoming

In a dynamic panel data model allowing for error cross-section dependence, output volatility is found to impede sustainable development. Through a financial development channel (liquidity liability ratio), output volatility exerts a significant effect on depletion of natural resources, a key component of sustainability. Low-income countries, low energy-intensity countries, and low trade-share countries tend to be especially vulnerable to macroeconomic volatility and shocks. The findings highlight the interaction between global financial markets and the wider economy as a key factor influencing sustainable development, with important implications for macroeconomic and environmental policies in an integrated global green economy.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.