Theses Doctoral

Essays on the Politics of Maintaining Order

Wilke, Anna M.

Maintaining order is a core function of the state. Yet, in many contexts, actors other than the state are involved in combating crime and violence. Such actors range from private security companies who sell protection to vigilante mobs who brutally punish criminal suspects. This dissertation explores how states maintain order when they are faced with private crime prevention efforts. Taken together, the three chapters of the dissertation provide insights into the determinants of law enforcement policy, the sources of citizens' willingness to cooperate with the state, and the social drivers of crime and violence.

Chapter 1 presents a formal model that sheds light on the incentives of political parties to invest in law enforcement when citizens can purchase private protection. Private security measures like burglar alarms, camera systems, and security guards are pervasive in high income communities around the world. I model the supply of crime and the demand for private protection together with a political process that determines public spending on the police. The model provides conditions under which parties may over- and underspend on law enforcement relative to other government services. In relatively poor societies, left parties are prone to spend less and right parties are prone to spend more than the socially optimal amount on policing. The reverse is true in relatively rich societies, where the base of the right party can afford private protection. The results call into question the conventional wisdom that tough-on-crime policies are the domain of parties on the right, and provide an explanation for why such policies in various contexts have been implemented by left-wing politicians.

Throughout the developing world, criminal suspects are often assaulted or even killed at the hands of their community. Chapter 2 considers the micro-dynamics of how state capacity affects citizens’ choice between the state and mob vigilantism. I present results from a field experiment in South Africa that creates variation in the capacity of police to locate households. Findings from mid- and endline surveys suggest households exposed to an increase in police capacity became more willing to rely on police and less willing to resort to vigilantism. Results from a mechanism experiment point towards increased fear of state punishment for vigilante violence rather than improved perceptions of police service quality as the link between state capacity and vigilantism. The broader implication is that citizens’ cooperation with capable state institutions may not necessarily reflect citizens’ satisfaction with state services. Instead, citizens may draw on state institutions because states limit citizens’ choices by sanctioning those who participate in informal practices that the state deems illegal.

Chapter 3 draws on original surveys with more than 10,000 respondents from hundreds of communities in Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa to show that women are more likely than men to support mob vigilantism. This result runs counter to a large literature in public opinion that finds women are less supportive of violence than men across a variety of domains throughout industrialized contexts. Drawing on qualitative evidence, a vignette experiment in Uganda, and additional survey measures from Tanzania, the chapter shows that men and women differ in their beliefs about the downsides of mob vigilantism. Men are more likely to think mob vigilantism creates risks of false accusation for those who do not commit crime. The chapter traces this divergence in beliefs to differences in the extent to which men and women are at personal risk of being accused of a crime that they did not commit. The results highlight the role that beliefs play in the link between gender and views about violence.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Humphreys, Macartan N.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 20, 2021