Theses Doctoral

Essays on the Effects of Political Institutions on Development Policies

Cohen, Jordan Kyle

This dissertation examines the relationship between political institutions and development policies across a wide array of policy arenas. It consists of three essays. In the first essay, I examine how corruption in political institutions affects citizens’ attitudes towards proposed policy reforms that should yield long-run benefits. I argue that where corruption in political institutions reduces citizens’ benefits from existing programs, governmental promises to deliver benefits via reforms are less credible. Thus, citizens will cling to inefficient policies not because they are unable to recognize the benefits of reform but because they do not trust political institutions to implement reforms in ways that will benefit them in practice. I use this logic to explain why citizens frequently resist attempts to reform the economically and environmentally costly practice of setting domestic gasoline prices below market prices. To reveal these patterns, I rely on original survey and administrative data from Indonesia. The second essay maintains the focuses on the quality of political institutions and natural resource governance but from a more macro perspective. In this essay, I argue that political regimes and political time horizons shape financial arrangements between governments and multinational oil companies. This essentially asks the reverse of a central question in comparative politics. Rather than asking how oil income affects political institutions, I ask how political institutions motivate politicians to make policy choices that increase or decrease the government’s access to oil income over time. To do so, I utilize an original dataset on financial arrangements between host countries and multinational oil companies, as reflected in historically confidential oil contracts. The final essay travels to a different substantive area of development policy, yet allows for a critical role for political institutions. This essay argues that the relationship between developing country governments and foreign aid donors should be conditional on the quality of political institutions, with aid donors giving countries with institutions better able to commit to selecting policies that promote development wider latitude to direct foreign aid resources towards local priorities. Instead, I find that political and security alliances shape whether donors give developing country governments more “ownership” over aid flows. Overall, the dissertation deepens understanding of the relationship between the quality of political institutions and policies within developing countries, while offering insights into contemporary policy debates about natural resource governance, environmental politics, and development aid.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Humphreys, Macartan N.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 26, 2015