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Theses Doctoral

Three Essays on Development and the Political Economy of South Asia

Blakeslee, David S.

This dissertation consists of three essays on various aspects of development and the political economy of developing countries. The first two chapters share a focus on issues of political economy in South Asia, the first examining the influence of politics over public goods allocations, and the second the effects of ethno-religious politics on voter behavior, violence, and policy outcomes. The third chapter shares with the first two its geographic setting, being located in South Asia, but focuses on education, employing an RCT design to evaluate the efficacy of public-private partnerships in delivering high-quality primary education to remote communities. The first chapter examines the role of political parties in India's national government in shaping public goods allocations. Party preference is often regarded as important for shaping policy outcomes, but the empirical literature has yielded mixed results, with some research finding substantial party effects, and other research little to none. The discrepancies in estimated party effects are likely due to a combination of heterogeneous party characteristics and institutional context, as well as the the nature of political competition itself, with parties facing a trade-off in the promotion of their most preferred policies against the electoral incentive to cater to the median voter. To generate random random variation in party identity, I make use of the assassination of the Congress party leader, Rajiv Gandhi, in the midst of India's 1991 national elections, which had the effect of dramatically increasing the probability of Congress victory for a subset of constituencies. Using this variation, I find that representation by the ruling Congress party leads to a substantial increase in the provision of public goods favored by the poor, consistent with the party's expressed populist agenda. Among the salient changes are increases in the availability of drinking water and declines in infrastructure such as productive electrification and paved roads. I also estimate party effects using a regression discontinuity identification strategy, which generates variation in party identity for closely contested elections. Here I find little effect of Congress representation on public goods allocations. I argue that the reason for the differences between the results estimated with the two identification strategies is the importance of both the identity of the winning party, as well as the margin of victory. The second chapter examines the role of ethno-religious propaganda in generating support for political parties espousing ideologies of ethno-religious nationalism. A significant literature has shown the effects of political campaigns and media bias in influencing voter behavior. Ethnic identity often figures prominently in campaigns of voter mobilization, particularly in developing countries, where ethnic identities tend to be more salient, and state resources more subject to capture through power over the state. A large body of research has shown the ways in which, not only does ethnic diversity create an environment conducive to the ethnicization of political competition, but political competition itself contributes to the increased salience of ethnic identity.Prior to India's 1991 national elections, the leader of the Hindu-nationalist BJP political party toured northern India on a "pilgrimage" to the city of Ayodhya, holding numerous rallies along the way to promote the construction of a Hindu temple there. Causal identification of the campaign's effects comes through the incidental exposure of localities due to their lying along the road joining the cities which were the ultimate destinations of the campaign. The main result is that the campaign increased the BJP's vote share by 5-9 percentage points in visited constituencies, which translated to a 10-20 percentage points increase in the probability of victory. I also find that the campaign significantly increased the probability of riots, which were 9 percentage points more likely to occur in constituencies through which the campaign passed; and that the riots associated with the campaign increased the party's vote share by 3.5 percentage points. There is also evidence that the campaign increased the availability of local public goods, with the sub-district through which the campaign directly passed showing a 3-6 percentage points increase in a variety of public goods, such as electrification, drinking water, and primary schools. The third chapter, which is jointly authored with Leigh Linden, Felipe Barrera-Osorio, Dhushyanth Raju, and Matthew Hoover, examines the efficacy of public-private partnerships for delivering high-quality primary education to remote, and underserved, communities. Private entrepreneurs were enlisted to establish and operate primary schools throughout rural Sindh province in Pakistan, for which they were paid a per-child subsidy, with all local children between the ages of 5 and 9 allowed tuition-free enrollment. To address potential sources of endogeneity, the intervention was designed as a randomized control trial (RCT): 263 villages were identified as qualifying for the program, of which 200 were randomly assigned a school. In addition, half of the treatment villages were assigned a subsidy scheme whereby entrepreneurs were paid slightly more for girls than boys. The program proved remarkably effective, with enrollment increasing by 30-50 percentage points. Child test scores also improved considerably, with children in treatment villages scoring 0.67 standard deviations higher on administered exams. Interestingly, there was no differential effect on female enrollment for either subsidy scheme, which we attribute to the lack of a pre-existing gender gap in enrollment.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Naidu, Suresh
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 19, 2013