Current Projects

Information, Transparency, and Credit Claiming in Aid Targeting and Support: A Field Experiment among Elected Officials in Malawi (with Brigitte Zimmerman). Experiment ongoing.
Working Paper   Pre-Analysis Plan
Development interventions rely on aid being targeted to those that need it most; however in practice such decisions are biased by the personal or political strategies of implementing officials. How do politicians trade off distributional strategies when allocating development aid? We present the results of a unique experiment in which we allow 310 elected officials to make real decisions about the allocation of NGO-provided development goods in their constituencies under randomly assigned decision environments. Building upon theories of distributional accountability under incomplete information, we evaluate, first, whether exposing politicians to top-down oversight from appointed development committees improves distributional decisions, or whether such exposure creates additional opportunities for capture. Second, we evaluate whether credit claiming opportunities make decisions more valuable or politically motivated. The results show that top-down oversight can improve targeting and reduce political biases. The results also suggest that information about community characteristics may improve targeting efficiency under some conditions. Our findings imply several low-cost policy solutions for improving donor-led development interventions.

This project is supported by the AidData Research Consortium, The Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines and the LSE Research Infrastructure and Investment Fund.


Electoral Accountability in Inhibited Information Environments: Disclosing Budget Performance by Mobile Phone in Uganda (with Daniel Nielson, Sarah Bush, Paula Pickering and Mark Buntaine).
Working Paper   Pre-Analysis Plan
Politicians often enjoy information advantages over voters, allowing them to undermine accountability. New information technologies, including mobile text-messaging, offer advantages to civil society and citizens in gaining access to information that elected politicians can counter only at significant cost. Demonstrating the implications for electoral accountability, we report results from a large (n=16,083) randomized control trial conducted during the 2016 Ugandan district elections. We compiled information on irregularities in district budgets and shared it with citizens privately via mobile text-messages prior to the elections. Messages reporting greater budget discrepancies than expected decreased support for incumbent district councillors and disclosures of fewer budget discrepancies than expected increased support for incumbent councillors. The messages had no discernible effects on support for district chairs, perhaps due to a more saturated information environment. Our results suggest that open budget data, disseminated privately, can enhance local electoral accountability in competitive authoritarian systems.

This project is part of the Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) Metaketa Initiative.

The Tortuga Disease: The Perverse Distributional Effects of Illicit Foreign Capital (with Justin Hastings and Steven Oliver).
Transnational crime brings substantial foreign capital into a number of fragile and developing states. Yet the economic and political impacts of such capital have rarely been studied. We construct data on illicit capital flows into Somalia and evaluate their effects on the Somali economy using an original dataset on the amount and disbursement dates of ransoms payments made by ship owners and insurers to Somali pirates from 2005 to 2012, as well as data on sub-national commodity prices and trade flows. Using a difference-in-differences strategy, we hypothesize and find that ransoms have effects similar to those associated with the Dutch Disease. These effects include appreciating the local currency, decreasing export competitiveness, and increasing import dependence. The results illuminate a new channel through which illicit capital can undermine long-term economic development. Resulting economic dependency on the illicit sector may also help explain popular political support for criminal organizations, and the failure of interdiction efforts.
Discussion in LSE Africa Blog.


How Foreign Aid Affects Election Outcomes. Email for the latest draft.
Foreign aid often appears to contribute to leader survival, corruption, patronage, and poor governance; yet we know little about when and why these effects occur. I propose a formal model to explain when governments are successful at using aid for political ends. The model illustrates the strategic interaction between governments interested in winning an upcoming election, and a donor interested in maximizing the effectiveness of an aid project. I show that the ability of donors to prevent the political capture of aid depends upon the policy objectives of the donor and the level of political competition in the recipient state. I confirm these propositions by evaluating the effect of aid spending on the outcome of all developing country elections from 1960 to 2011. To assess causation, I instrument for aid spending using regional aid shocks. The results confirm that aid has a positive effect on the probability an incumbent is re-elected, especially when donors have political interests in the recipient state.