Theses Doctoral

Political Economy of Ethnic Conflict

Garg, Naman

In this dissertation, I investigate the socioeconomic causes of consequences of ethnic conflict, and evaluate interventions that can reduce social animosity and misperceptions about outgroups. In particular, I focus on conflict between Hindus and Muslims in India.

In recent years, online misinformation has emerged as a major contributor to misperceptions and animosity towards Muslims in India. In Chapter 1, I investigate if we can inoculate people against misinformation and mitigate its impact on people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behavior? We conduct a large field experiment in India with an intervention providing weekly digests containing a compilation of fact-checks of viral misinformation. In these digests, we also incorporate narrative explainers to give details and context of issues that are politically salient and consistent target of false stories. Specifically, we address misperceptions about Muslims increasingly fuelled by online misinformation. We find that familiarity with fact-checks increases people’s ability to correctly identify misinformation by eleven percentage points.

However, belief in true news also decreases by four percentage points. We estimate a structural model to disentangle the two mechanisms of impact—truth discernment, which is the ability to correctly distinguish between false and true news; and skepticism, which changes the overall credulity for both false and true news. The impact is driven by an increase in both truth discernment and skepticism. Whereas skepticism increases immediately, it takes several weeks to become better at discerning truth. Finally, our intervention reduces misperceptions about Muslims, as well as leads to changes in policy attitudes and behavior. Treated individuals are less likely to support discriminatory policies and are more likely to pay for efforts to counter the harassment of inter-faith couples.

In Chapter 2, I investigate the economic impacts of conflict and social animus by estimating the causal impact of ethnic violence on economic growth in India. For causal identification, I use shift-share instruments to isolate exogenous national shocks to violence from endogenous local shocks. On average, a riot reduces state GDP growth rate by 0.14 percentage points. To investigate mechanism, I estimate the dynamics of impact using the synthetic control method and compare it to theoretical predictions from a shock to social capital versus physical capital. This shows that the negative impact of violence is likely driven by a negative shock to social capital from higher animosity and discrimination among communities exposed to violence. This impact of violence on growth creates a vicious cycle when one also considers the effect in the opposite direction – lower growth leading to more violence. The multiplier due to this vicious cycle magnifies the impact of external growth shocks by 40 percent in equilibrium. Overall, the results highlight the importance of strong institutions to manage conflict for the long-term prosperity of societies.

In Chapter 3, I investigate the historical origins of ethnic violence in India by comparing violence in regions that were directly ruled by British, versus those that were indirectly ruled through native kings who had significant autonomy. I find that regions that are directly ruled have more violence in post-independence period. I then use direct British rule as an instrument for ethnic violence to estimate the impact of violence and residential segregation.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2028-05-10.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Prat, Andrea
Best, Michael Carlos
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 31, 2023