Essays in the Political Economy of Development Open Access

Grasse, Donald (Summer 2022)

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This dissertation studies the relationship between economic development and violent conflict in three separate essays studying different cases: Cambodia, Indonesia, and Brazil. 


  The first asks: does mass repression have a long-term economic legacy, and if so, what explains persistence? I argue repression can undermine development by delimiting human capital. I study the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I exploit an arbitrary border that allocated villages to either the loyalist Mok or the relatively moderate Sy in Kampong Speu province, which shaped the intensity of repression. Using a regression discontinuity design, I find villages in the more extremist Southwest zone are poorer today compared to villages in the adjacent West zone, and had lower human capital immediately after the regime. Exposure to more intense repression shapes labor markets and child health, explaining intergenerational persistence. I find no conclusive evidence for other persistence channels. 


  The second asks when do agricultural transformations impact social stability? I argue agricultural booms may spur violent conflict over resource allocation by pitting would-be producers against incumbent landowners when the gains from production are concentrated and the negative externalities are diffuse. I study the rapid expansion of oil palm in Indonesia. I find when oil palm grows more valuable and expands within producing districts, violent resource conflicts increase. 

  The third asks: does public insecurity have deep historical roots? I argue colonization led to a path dependent alliance between the state's security sector and economic elites, spurring high crime rates and social polarization. I leverage a geographic discontinuity in colonial state presence in Brazil, which was determined by the Treaty of Tordesillas, for identification. Municipalities east of the Tordesillas line had more slavery in 1872, and are more proximate to historical revolts and run-away slave communities (quilombos). Today, municipalities east of the line have higher homicide rates, more police killings of civilians, higher expenditure on security, and a higher probability of having an auxiliary police force. They are also more economically segregated and more likely to have informal housing settlements.

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