Levi Boxell, 01 October 2017

The internet has received a substantial amount of blame for the recent increase in political polarisation. Using US data, this column argues that, in fact, the internet has played no significant role in a generally increasing trend of political polarisation that goes back at least to the 1970s. The results highlight the importance of looking beyond convenient narrative explanations, and the need for a deeper understanding of the drivers of political sentiment.

Hannes Mueller, Dominic Rohner, David Schönholzer, 12 July 2017

The nature of military and social conflict has changed in the last three decades, particularly in the way it impacts civilians locally. This column presents new research that models localised conflict based on the spatial configuration of groups, using evidence from conflict in Northern Ireland. The model can help target policies at the origin of attacks and with attempts to change the interaction between local groups, reducing conflict in the short-to-medium term.

Danny Leipziger, 08 December 2016

Despite lifting millions out of poverty, globalisation is facing growing political opposition. This column surveys the successes and failures of globalisation, and some of the critical policy implications. Globalisation has reached a stage where its benefits have been captured but its costs have been largely ignored. Going forward, governments need to address inequality and social inclusion, boost global investment, and restore confidence.

Axel Dreher, Shu Yu, 25 November 2016

The belief that educating future leaders of other countries helps spread the values of the country of study has inspired many foreign-education programmes. This column uses data on the education and UN voting patterns of 831 world leaders to show that foreign-educated leaders tend to be less friendly with former hosts, but more friendly with countries that share the host’s culture and politics. This appears to reflect a tension between ‘affinity’ with former hosts and ‘allegiance’ to domestic voters.

Mitchell Hoffman, Gianmarco León, María Lombardi, 30 October 2016

Electoral participation has declined in advanced democracies in recent years. This column examines the impact of compulsory voting on government policy, assessing whether increasing voter turnout would translate into changes in public policies. Using evidence from Austria, it finds that compulsory voting does not significantly affect government spending, but that the case may be different for countries with historically low turnout.

Sebastian Galiani, Nadya Hajj, Pablo Ibarraran, Nandita Krishnaswamy, Patrick McEwan, 22 October 2016

Conditional cash transfers are a form of programmatic redistribution that can yield electoral benefits for incumbent parties. This column assesses the electoral impact of conditional cash transfers targeting poor areas in Honduras. Voters responded to the net amount of cash transfers and their timing, but the conditional elements of the transfers were not commonly enforced and the distribution of payments did not always conform to schedule. Electoral incentives to improve implementation do not appear to be strong.

Julia Ruiz Pozuelo, Amy Slipowitz, Guillermo Vuletin, 30 September 2016

The debate over whether democracy causes economic prosperity and growth dates back millennia. Recent empirical results suggest that democratisation has a sizable positive effect on economic growth, but endogeneity and reverse causality may be driving these results. This column uses new data from surveys of democracy experts to solve the endogeneity puzzle. The positive association between democracy and economic growth is a reflection of economic turmoil causing the emergence of democratic rule, rather than democracy causing more economic growth.

Alex Edmans, 23 September 2016

During political campaigns, candidates often set their sights on CEO compensation as a target for potential regulation. This column considers the various arguments for regulating CEO pay and questions whether it is a legitimate target for political intervention. Some arguments for regulation are shown to be erroneous, and some previous interventions are shown to have failed. While regulation can address the symptoms, only independent boards and large shareholders can solve the underlying problems.

Ernesto Dal Bó, Pablo Hernandez-Lagos, Sebastián Mazzuca, 26 July 2016

While cases of state failure have risen in the last decade, most notably in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, they are not a new phenomenon. Historical evidence from the early modern period, and even the Bronze Age, shows that the majority of formed states have failed rather than thrived. This column introduces the ‘paradox of civilisation’ to characterise the obstacles settlements face in establishing civilisations. The paradox defines the success of a civilisation as a trade-off between the ability to produce economic surplus and to protect it. It is therefore important to correctly balance military and economic support when providing aid.

Giacomo De Luca, Roland Holder, Paul Raschky, Michele Valsecchi, 21 July 2016

Ethnic favouritism is widely regarded as an African phenomenon, or at most a problem of poor and weakly institutionalised countries. This column uses data on night-time light intensity to challenge these preconceptions. Ethnic favouritism is found to be as prevalent outside of Africa as it is within, and not restricted to poor or autocratic nations either. Rather, re-election concerns appear to be an important driver of the practice.

Ruben Enikolopov, Maria Petrova, Konstantin Sonin, 20 June 2016

In addition to the traditional mass media, social media has become a channel through which citizens can hold public officials and corporate leaders to account. But social media commentators can be vulnerable to manipulation and reputational damage. This column uses data on a popular blogger in Russia to show that blogs are critical of corruption in state-controlled companies can lead to decreased profit diversion and corruption by the targeted companies. Social media appears to play an important role in improving accountability, particularly when traditional media is censored or political competition is limited.

Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln, Paolo Masella, 05 June 2016

There are strong links between the nature of education in a country and its political institutions, and an individual’s education can impact their lifetime labour market choices. This column examines how being educated under a socialist regime impacts individuals in a free labour market. Using data on students from East and West Germany in the 1970s, it finds that a socialist regime education led to a larger spread in labour market outcomes – more of these individuals were not employed, but conditional on being employed, had higher wages and a higher probability of achieving a professional status in the East.

Marcel Fafchamps, Julien Labonne, 31 May 2016

Politicians may have the opportunity to interfere with the allocation of public services to help to achieve their electoral objectives. This column argues that politicians share rents with central players to build and sustain coalitions. Using detailed data from the Philippines, it examines social networks and the allocation of municipal services. Households with greater potential to broker political coalitions do indeed appear to receive more services from their municipal government. 

Marco Manacorda, Andrea Tesei, 22 May 2016

Digital technologies have been widely used for political activism in recent years, including during the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Indignados movement in Spain. This column reports research showing that the growing use of mobile phones in Africa leads to more political protests during recessions and periods of national crisis. The mobilising potential of digital technologies is more pronounced in autocratic countries and those where the raditional media are under state control, suggesting that this technology may play a key role in fostering political freedom.

Brian Knight, Ana Tribin, 06 May 2016

The media plays a significant role in politics, but households can choose not to consume political propaganda delivered through the media. This column uses evidence from Venezuela to show that households that support opposition parties are more inclined to switch away from, or tune out of, government propaganda delivered via the television. Higher-income households, which tend to have access to alternative channels via cable, are also less likely to consume propaganda. These findings have significant implications for politically polarised societies.

Hans Gersbach, 27 February 2016

Current office-holders often seem to be re-elected quite easily, irrespective of their performance. This ‘incumbency advantage’ make it harder for first-time candidates and undermines democratic competition. This column proposes a new rule for re-election – the score-replication rule. In its simplest form, such a rule would require incumbents to obtain a percentage of votes at least as high as their highest historical election performance. This would restrain the negative incumbency advantage and potentially reduce policy polarisation.

Daniel Gros, 12 February 2016

The Eurozone’s ‘Banking Union’ created a system of banking supervision and a common institution to restructure troubled banks. There remain two issues, however, that need to be addressed:  banks are holding too much debt of their own sovereign, and deposit insurance is only backstopped at the national level. This column argues that these issues need to be addressed simultaneously for economic and political reasons. Specifically, periphery and core countries hold opposing positions on remedies to the respective problems. A combination of the two makes economic sense and could represent an acceptable political compromise.

Alessandro Gavazza, Mattia Nardotto, Tommaso Valletti, 31 January 2016

The internet is lauded for increasing access to information, but it is unclear whether this translates into a better-informed and more engaged voting populace. This column uses UK data to determine how the internet has changed voting patterns and aggregate policy choices. Internet penetration is found to be associated with a decrease in voter turnout, mainly among the lower socioeconomic demographic. Internet diffusion is also found to reduce local government expenditure, in particular on policies targeting less-educated voters. These findings point to a trade-off between the ‘digital divide’ and the ‘political divide’.

Alessandra Bonfiglioli, Gino Gancia, 19 December 2015

The Great Recession highlighted the prominent role that economic uncertainty plays in hindering investment and growth. This column provides new evidence that economic uncertainty can actually play a positive role by promoting the implementation of structural reforms with long-run benefits. The effect appears to be strongest for countries with poorly informed voters. These findings suggest that times of uncertainty may present an opportunity to implement reforms that would otherwise not be passed.