Debin Ma, Kaixiang Peng, 21 May 2022

A pessimistic view of Chinese agriculture development is based on a Malthusian trap, characterised by diminishing returns to agriculture and a declining land-labour ratio. This column presents stylised empirical facts of 19th and 20th century Chinese agriculture, focusing on the seasonality of labour demand and the resulting rise of sideline employment, to challenge the implications of this view. The reallocation of labour across idle seasons facilitated commercialisation and higher population densities, yet it was industrialisation, occurring outside the agriculture sector, which enabled modernisation. 

Massimiliano Calì, Giorgio Presidente, 13 March 2022

Do automation technologies constitute an opportunity or a threat for developing countries? This column uses data on Indonesian manufacturing firms to document a positive impact on employment of adopting robots. This finding contrasts with the existing evidence of negative impacts in economies at relatively advanced stages of automation, and could be explained by diminishing returns to robots, given the relatively low robot adoption in Indonesia. 

Cédric Chambru, Emeric Henry, Benjamin Marx, 11 February 2022

One of the most remarkable achievements of the French Revolution for ordinary people was the reorganisation of local government. Cédric Chambru, Emeric Henry and Benjamin Marx tell Tim Phillips how local state capitals emerged as a result, and what this tells us about how state capacity develops.

Read the VoxColumn about this research: Chambru, C, Henry, E and Marx, B. (2022), Building a state one step at a time: Evidence from France,, 03 February.

Download the free DP: Chambru, C, Henry, E and Marx, B. 2021. 'The Dynamic Consequences of State-Building: Evidence from the French Revolution'. CEPR

Cédric Chambru, Emeric Henry, Benjamin Marx, 03 February 2022

Effective states can raise taxes and armies, enforce laws, and produce public goods, but how these functions are built over time is not well understood. This column studies the administrative reform initiated by the French Revolution, one of history’s most ambitious state-building experiments, to shed light on the sequence of steps needed to build effective states. Cities chosen as local administrative centres initially invested in the state’s capacity to extract resources from citizens. These cities may not have grown in the short run, but the investments eventually delivered payoffs in terms of public goods, which stimulated long-run growth. 

Enrico Nano, Victor Stolzenburg, 05 January 2022

The role of global value chains for development is often told from a manufacturing or agriculture perspective. This column discusses how the rise of global services value chains offers developing countries with new opportunities by providing jobs, revenue, and productivity growth. In addition, they do so in a more inclusive way than manufacturing. Policymakers need to invest in human capital and address regulatory barriers to services trade to make the most of this development.

Tim Besley, Robin Burgess, Adnan Khan, Jonathan Old, Guo Xu, 08 November 2021

How does bureaucracy matter for development? Over the last years, an enormous interest in this question has created a large body of research, mostly focused around evidence from field experiments and micro-level administrative data. This column reviews this recent literature and embeds it in the broader discussion on how bureaucracies contribute to economic development. The authors argue that this recent evidence matters, but also encourage future research to study bureaucracies as systems, and to analyse their systemic relations to politics, citizens, firms, and NGOs.

Ana Paula Franco, Sebastian Galiani, Pablo Lavado, 29 July 2021

Historical institutions can have long-lasting effects on societies and economies. The Inca Road has been a linchpin of the colonial economy in the New World, but its impact on current development has not been studied in great depth. This column examines the impact of the road on today’s educational, development, and labour outcomes. Proximity to the Inca Road increased the average level of educational attainment and decreased stunting among children by 5%. It boosted average hourly wages by 20% and reduced informality by six percentage points. Moreover, these effects were around 40% greater among women.

Tim Besley, Chris Dann, Torsten Persson, 18 June 2021

The determinants of economic development have been debated for many years. However, some of these determinants have been hard to measure internationally. This column reviews evidence from 25 years of data to argue that countries form persistent ‘development clusters’ according to their levels of internal peace and state capacity.

Niklas Engbom, Gustavo Gonzaga, Christian Moser, Roberta Olivieri, 07 June 2021

Relatively little is known about the patterns of inequality in developing countries, despite their importance for designing social and economic policies. This column analyses administrative and household data to describe the trends in earnings inequality and dynamics in Brazil since late 1980s. The findings suggest that the observed fall in earnings inequality and volatility may have been driven by the process of formalisation and other changes within the informal sector. 

Noam Angrist, Simeon Djankov, Pinelopi Goldberg, Harry Patrinos, 09 April 2021

Human capital is a critical component of economic development. But the links between growth and human capital – when measured by years of schooling – are weak. This column introduces a better measurement, using a database that directly measures learning and represents 98% of the global population. The authors find that the link between economic development and human capital is strong when measured in this way. They also show that global progress in learning has been limited over the past two decades, even as enrolment in primary and secondary education has increased.

Hâle Utar, 28 March 2021

The Mexican Drug War, including the ostentatious killings and the targeting of civillians, has been amply covered in the media. What is less known are the economic impacts of the violence, particularly at the firm level. This column presents evidence from Mexican firms, focusing on the differing experiences of ‘blue-collar’ and ‘white-collar’ organisations. The results suggest that violence can cause a negative labour supply shock, particularly in sectors that more frequently employ lower-skilled female workers.

Avinash Persaud, 17 March 2021

For the countries on the frontline in the war against climate change, there is a nasty nexus between climate change and debt. The cost of environmental damage, the loss of revenues from a natural disaster, and the high price of building back better all contribute to higher debt. This column proposes three ways to break this climate–debt nexus: (1) redistribute special drawing rights using a new classification of vulnerability; (2) incorporate natural disaster clauses into multilateral development banks’ lending arrangements; and (3) use the unused special drawing rights of the world’s strongest countries to recapitalise regional development banks to finance resilience in the vulnerable countries without adding to their debt.

Xinshen Diao, Mia Ellis, Margaret McMillan, Dani Rodrik, 01 March 2021

Before Covid-19 struck, many economies in sub-Saharan Africa were expanding rapidly – faster than at any time since independence. Yet African growth accelerations were anomalous when viewed from the perspective of comparative development patterns; structural changes were accompanied by declining within-sector productivity growth in modern sectors. This column explores this anomaly in the context of African manufacturing using newly created firm-level panel data for Tanzania and Ethiopia. In both countries, there is a sharp dichotomy between larger firms that exhibit superior productivity performance but do not expand employment much, and small firms that absorb employment but do not experience any productivity growth. These patterns appear to be related to technological advances in global manufacturing which are making it more capital intensive.

Pierre Dubois, Yassine Lefouili, Stephane Straub, 30 January 2021

Patients in the developing world often face prices for essential medicines far in excess of international reference levels, even if those drugs have lost patent protection. This column presents evidence from seven low- and middle-income countries with diverse drug procurement systems to assess the effect of centralised procurement on drug prices. The results of the study highlight that centralised procurement of drugs by the public sector leads to lower prices, but that the induced price reduction is smaller when the supply side is more concentrated.

Christine Binzel, Andreas Link, Rajesh Ramachandran, 24 December 2020

The use of a language in written and formal contexts that is distinct from the languages used in everyday communication – such as Latin in early modern Europe and Standard Arabic in the Arabic-speaking world, both past and present – comes with benefits, but also with costs. Drawing on publishing data from early modern Europe, this column shows that the Protestant Reformation led to a sudden and sharp rise in vernacular printing, such that by the end of the 16th century, the majority of works were printed in spoken tongues rather than in Latin. This transformation allowed broader segments of society to access knowledge. It also diversified the composition of authors and book content and had long-term consequences for economic development.

Jie Bai, Maggie Chen, Jin Liu, Daniel Yi Xu, 15 December 2020

Global e-commerce platforms present new export opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries by significantly lowering the entry barriers of exporting. This column shows, however, that the lack of market selection can lead to severe congestion in consumers' search process and, when firms' intrinsic quality is not perfectly observed, hinder market allocation towards better firms. Policies aimed at alleviating information frictions and reducing the number of firms can help to improve allocative efficiency and raise consumer welfare.

Isabela Manelici, Smaranda Pantea, 08 November 2020

Industrial policies can be an effective tool for governments to shape the development of different sectors to achieve productivity growth. But there is little evidence of their effectiveness or efficiency. This column examines the impact of an income tax break for IT workers in Romania. The findings suggest that targeted policies of this kind can boost key sectors. This finding is encouraging in terms of the ability of governments to design and implement effective industrial policies. 


We invite submissions from junior faculty and PhD students for the Political Economy of International Organization seminar series. The seminar will bring together economists and political scientists to address political economy issues related to international organizations such as the World Trade Organization, United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Union, and others. We also consider submissions on topics more broadly related to international organization, such as foreign aid, international agreements, and international law.
Submission of Papers

The seminar series is open to all who are interested and will feature papers selected based on their quality and fit. Both empirical and theoretical papers will be considered. Presenters should be junior faculty or PhD students, but we do not discount senior co-authors. Please submit full papers via our online submission form at The deadline for submission is December 15, 2020.

The format will be PEIO-style: short paper presentations (10 minutes), two discussion openers (2-3 minutes each), and 20 minutes for general discussion (where we expect participants to read papers before the session). The seminar series will run for 10 weeks, with two presentations each session. Participants will have the chance to talk to presenters before and after the sessions.  

Emmanuelle Auriol, Julie Lassébie, Amma Panin, Eva Raiber, Paul Seabright, 19 September 2020

The Pentecostal church is one of the fastest-growing segments of Christianity, including in sub-Saharan Africa. The church makes a strong and explicit link between ‘giving to God’ and future wellbeing; donations can be seen as a form of insurance for the future. This column tests how formal market-based insurance affects the demand for informal church-based insurance in Accra, Ghana. People enrolled in a formal insurance policy give less money to their church and to other charitable organisations.

Daniel Gallardo Albarrán, Robert Inklaar, 31 July 2020

Modern economic growth has improved the lives of millions in an unprecedented way, but its unequal progression across the globe has resulted in high income inequality. Most of the cross-country differences in income levels are typically attributed to differences in productivity rather than to physical or human capital accumulation. This column argues that this has not always been the case: physical capital accounted for a much larger fraction of income variation at the beginning of the 20th century. More generally, the results of the study call for a reevaluation of the long-term determinants of relative economic performance over time.



CEPR Policy Research