Kevin Lewis

January 26, 2022

COVID-19 increased censorship circumvention and access to sensitive topics in China
Keng-Chi Chang et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 January 2022

Crisis motivates people to track news closely, and this increased engagement can expose individuals to politically sensitive information unrelated to the initial crisis. We use the case of the COVID-19 outbreak in China to examine how crisis affects information seeking in countries that normally exert significant control over access to media. The crisis spurred censorship circumvention and access to international news and political content on websites blocked in China. Once individuals circumvented censorship, they not only received more information about the crisis itself but also accessed unrelated information that the regime has long censored. Using comparisons to democratic and other authoritarian countries also affected by early outbreaks, the findings suggest that people blocked from accessing information most of the time might disproportionately and collectively access that long-hidden information during a crisis. Evaluations resulting from this access, negative or positive for a government, might draw on both current events and censored history. 

Social Media and Press Freedom
Korhan Kocak & Özgür Kıbrıs
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

As internet penetration rapidly expanded throughout the world, press freedom and government accountability improved in some countries but backslid in others. We propose a formal model that provides a mechanism that explains the observed divergent paths of countries. We argue that increased access to social media makes partial capture, where governments allow limited freedom of the press, an untenable strategy. By amplifying the influence of small traditional media outlets, higher internet access increases both the costs of capture and the risk that a critical mass of citizens will become informed and overturn the incumbent. Depending on the incentives to retain office, greater internet access thus either forces an incumbent to extend capture to small outlets, further undermining press freedom; or relieve pressure from others. We relate our findings to the cases of Turkey and Tunisia.

Understanding the Resurgence of the SOEs in China: Evidence from the Real Estate Sector
Hanming Fang et al.
NBER Working Paper, January 2022

We advance a novel hypothesis that China's recent anti-corruption campaign may have contributed to the recent resurgence of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in China as an unintended consequence. We explore the nexus between the anti-corruption campaign and the SOE resurgence by presenting supporting evidence from the Chinese real estate sector, which is notorious for pervasive rent-seeking and corruption. We use a unique data set of land parcel transactions merged with firm-level registration information and a difference-in-differences empirical design to show that, relative to the industrial land parcels which serve as the control, the fraction of residential land parcels purchased by SOEs increased significantly relative to that purchased by private developers after the anti-corruption campaign. This finding is robust to a set of alternative specifications. We interpret the findings through the lens of a model where we show, since selling land to private developers carries the stereotype that the city official may have received bribes, even the "clean" local officials will become more willing to award land to SOEs despite the presence of more efficient competing private developers. We find evidence consistent with the model predictions. 

Courts as Monitoring Agents: The Case of China
Xiaoge Dong & Stefan Voigt
International Review of Law and Economics, forthcoming

This paper shows that courts are not only a crucial part of the rule of law in the conventional sense, but that they can also serve an important function in revealing information to the central government about the performance of lower level governments. When courts function in this informative way, the central government is able to improve the performance of lower level governments. After developing a general argument in that vein, the recent reforms to the Chinese court system are partially interpreted as an attempt to make the courts monitoring agents for the central government. Based on primary data from more than 1,000 Chinese local courts, the argument is tested empirically and its hypotheses are largely confirmed. 

Emigration and Political Contestation
Margaret Peters & Michael Miller
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming

How does migration affect global patterns of political violence and protest? While political scientists have examined the links between trade and conflict, less attention has been paid to the links between migration and conflict. In this paper, we show that greater emigration reduces domestic political violence by providing exit opportunities for aggrieved citizens and economic benefits to those who remain. Emigration also reduces non-violent forms of political contestation, including protests and strikes, implying that high emigration rates can produce relatively quiescent populations. However, larger flows of emigrants to democracies can increase non-violent protest in autocracies, as exposure to freer countries spreads democratic norms and the tools of peaceful opposition. We use instrumental variables analysis to account for the endogeneity of migration flows and find robust results for a range of indicators of civil violence and protest from 1960 to 2010. 

The medium-run effects of a foreign election intervention: Haiti's presidential elections, 2010-2015
Craig Palsson
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming

The US and other foreign actors often intervene in elections in countries transitioning to democracy. I examine the effects of such interventions on voter behavior. In 2010, the United States intervened in Haiti's presidential election, advancing Michel Martelly over Jude Célestin. I look at the relationship between the intervention and voter behavior in the next election using Célestin's 2010 vote share as a measure of the intervention's intensity in a modified difference-in-differences analysis. Areas with greater Célestin support in 2010 had lower turnout in 2015. The relationship is robust to many sensitivity tests that account for possible confounding effects from fraud. 

Who would mourn democracy? Liberals might, but it depends on who's in charge
Rachele Benjamin, Kristin Laurin & Mindy Chiang
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Despite widespread support for the principles of democracy, democratic norms have been eroding globally for over a decade. We ask whether and how political ideology factors into people's reactions to democratic decline. We offer hypotheses derived from two theoretical lenses, one considering ideologically relevant dispositions and another considering ideologically relevant situations. Preregistered laboratory experiments combined with analyses of World Values Survey (WVS) data indicate that there is a dispositional trend: Overall, liberals are more distressed than conservatives by low democracy. At the same time, situational factors also matter: This pattern emerges most strongly when the ruling party is conservative and disappears (though it does not flip into its mirror image) when the ruling party is liberal. Our results contribute to ongoing debates over ideological symmetry and asymmetry; they also suggest that, if democracy is worth protecting, not everyone, everywhere will feel the urgency. 

The Brides of Boko Haram: Economic Shocks, Marriage Practices, and Insurgency in Nigeria
Jonah Rexer
Economic Journal, forthcoming

Marriage markets in rural Nigeria are characterised by bride price and polygamy. These customs may diminish marriage prospects for young men, causing them to join militant groups. Using an instrumental variables strategy, I find that marriage inequality increases civil conflict in the Boko Haram insurgency. To generate exogenous shocks to the marriage market, I exploit the fact that young women delay marriage in response to favourable pre-marital economic conditions, which increases marriage inequality primarily in polygamous villages. The same shocks that increase marriage inequality and extremist violence also lead women to marry fewer and richer husbands, generate higher average marriage expenditures, and increase insurgent abductions. The results shed light on the marriage market as an important driver of violent extremism. 

Oil discoveries, civil war, and preventive state repressio
Peter Carey et al.
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming

Anticipated shifts in power favoring one side can lead to preventive war today. When power is poised to shift towards the state, potential rebels may launch a civil war while they retain a relative advantage, consistent with the commitment problem. We argue that a government expecting a group to rebel has an incentive to prevent that challenge by repressing the population. Repression is a government attempt to undermine and prevent dissent that would turn into rebellion-dissent and rebellion that is more likely in expectation of power shifting in the government's favor. Empirical models using data on newly proved oil reserves show that states expecting an increase in oil wealth demonstrably increase repression in the years between discovery and access. The findings imply a new connection between natural resources and political violence: Oil wealth can encourage repression not only by reducing its costs, but also by creating windows of opportunity that rebels hope to exploit and governments hope to close. Not only civil war but also rising expectations of rebellion are associated with a marked increase in state-directed violence against civilians. 

Rainfall, Agricultural Output and Persistent Democratization
Antonio Ciccone & Adilzhan Ismailov
Economica, forthcoming

We examine the effect of rainfall on agricultural output and democratization in the world's most agricultural countries. As in the agricultural economics literature, we find that the relationship between rainfall and agricultural output has an inverted U-shape, as agriculture is harmed by both droughts and very wet conditions. We also find the effect of rainfall on agricultural output to be transitory. The relationship between rainfall and democratization is U-shaped in the short run, and this effect persists in the long run. Hence democratic transitions outlast the (transitory) rainfall shocks that started the democratization process. The U-shaped relationship between rainfall and democratization is consistent with rainfall affecting democratization through its (inverted-U-shaped) effect on agricultural output.

Collusion, Co-Optation, or Evasion: The Politics of Drug Trafficking Violence in Central America
Laura Blume
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming

Why do drug traffickers sometimes decide to use violence, but other times demonstrate restraint? Building on recent work on the politics of drug violence, this article explores how Central American drug trafficking organizations' strategies impact their use of violence. I argue that three inter-related political factors - corruption, electoral competition, and the politicization of the security apparatus - collectively determine the type of relationship between traffickers and the state that will emerge. That relationship, in turn, determines the primary strategy used by traffickers in that country. Drawing on over two years of comparative ethnographic fieldwork in key transshipment points along the Caribbean coast of Central America, I show how co-optation strategies in Honduras have resulted in high levels of violence, evasion strategies in Costa Rica have produced moderate levels of violence, and collusion strategies in Nicaragua have generated the lowest levels of drug-related violence. 

To Purge or Not to Purge? An Individual-Level Quantitative Analysis of Elite Purges in Dictatorships
Edward Goldring & Austin Matthews
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

Why do dictators purge specific elites but not others? And why do dictators purge these elites in certain ways? Examining these related questions helps us understand not only how dictators retain sufficient competence in their regimes to alleviate popular and foreign threats, but also how dictators nullify elite threats. Dictators are more likely to purge first-generation elites, who are more powerful because they can negotiate their role from a position of strength and possess valuable vertical and horizontal linkages with other elites. Further, dictators tend to imprison purged first-generation elites - rather than execute, exile or simply remove them - to avoid retaliation from other elites or the purged elite continuing to sow discord. We find empirical support for our predictions from novel data on autocratic elites in 16 regimes from 1922 to 2020.


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