Politics and economics

Giuseppe De Feo, 15 June 2018

The presence of a local criminal organisation can be linked to slower economic and social growth, and this holds true of the Sicilian Mafia. Giuseppe De Feo discusses his recent research on how the Mafia came to be, and its impact on Sicilian growth since its inception. The threat of Peasant Fasci organisations in the 1890s led landholders and politicians to turn to the Mafia to combat pressure from the peasant class. Since then, the Mafia's existence seems to have reduced literacy and health outcomes, and limited the provision of a variety of local public goods.

Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Tho Pham, Oleksandr Talavera, 02 June 2018

The rise of social media has profoundly affected how people acquire and process information. Using Twitter data on the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election, this column studies how social media bots shape public opinion and voting outcomes. Bots have a tangible effect on the tweeting activity of humans, but the degree of their influence depends on whether they provide information consistent with humans’ priors. The findings suggest that effect of bots was likely marginal, but possibly large enough to affect voting outcomes in the two elections.

Nuno Palma, Jaime Reis, 02 June 2018

Can less democratic forms of government lead to higher literacy rates? This column uses a sample of over 4,000 individuals from military archives in Portugal to show that an autocracy can have greater educational success than a democracy if it has closer cultural alignment with the preferences of the masses. This understanding has implications for development policy in poor countries today. 

Bei Qin, David Strömberg, Yanhui Wu, 25 May 2018

The Chinese government has invested heavily in surveillance systems that exploit information on social media. This column shows that these systems are very effective, even in their simplest form. From the government’s point of view, social media, although unattractive as a potential outlet for organised social protest, is useful as a method to surveil protests, monitor local officials, and disseminate propaganda.

Victoire Girard, 19 May 2018

Affirmative action policies are widely used to tackle the underrepresentation of certain groups. However, the efficiency of these policies is fiercely debated. This column uses novel data from India to explore how affirmative action quotas affect everyday discrimination. Local political council quotas for marginalised castes are found to reduce caste-based discrimination by around one fifth, but the effect disappears when the quotas are removed.

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