Research

Job Market Paper
Can Good Politicians Compensate for Bad Institutions? Evidence from an Original Survey of Italian Mayors – 2017
Abstract: Can competent political leaders bring significant policy changes to communities otherwise doomed by “bad” informal institutions? This question has remained unanswered because of the lack of a convincing measure of politicians’ competence. I use a novel survey technique to overcome this challenge and apply it in interviews to 309 Italian mayors. I study the impact of mayors’ competence on the policies they enact using a difference-in-differences approach. Results show that more competent mayors are associated with better policies but the association is only present in cases where the quality of informal municipal institutions is low. In these municipalities, the election of more competent mayors translates into a more effective use of funds, an increase in long-term investments, and better service provision without an increase in taxes. Results hold across different measures of institutional quality.

Economic Recessions and Congressional Preferences for Redistribution (with Edoardo Teso) – 2017, Under Review
– Press Coverage: Boston Globe
Abstract: We analyze the roots of politicians’ preferences for redistribution by exploring whether early life experiences have persistent, long-run effects on U.S. Members of Congress’ voting records. We study whether having experienced an economic recession during early adulthood affected their positions on redistribution-specific bills during the period 1957–2012. We find that politicians who experienced a recession hold more conservative positions on redistribution, even compared to members of the same party in the same legislature. We rule out alternative accounts and show that experiencing a recession directly affects future politicians’ personal preferences. In light of recent empirical evidence showing that voters become more supportive of redistribution following a recession, our findings suggest that macroeconomic shocks have a polarizing effect: recessions can create an ideological wedge between voters and their future representatives. We present two pieces of evidence suggesting that this wedge can be explained by politicians’ more privileged background.

Do Natural Resources Influence Who Comes to Power and How? (with Oeindrila Dube) – 2017, Journal of Politics
Online Appendix
Replication Materials
Abstract: Do natural resources impair institutional outcomes? Existing work studies how natural resources influence the behavior of leaders in power. We study how they influence leaders’ rise to power. Our analysis focuses on oil price shocks and local democracy in Colombia, a country mired in civil conflict. We find that when the price of oil rises, legislators affiliated with right-wing paramilitary groups win office more in oil-producing municipalities. Consistent with the use of force to gain power, positive price shocks also induce an increase in paramilitary violence and reduce electoral competition: fewer candidates run for office, and winners are elected with a wider vote margin. Ultimately, fewer centrist legislators are elected to office, and there is diminished representation at the center. Our findings highlight how natural resources undermine democracy by distorting elections and suggest that conflict leaves the political sector vulnerable to the resource curse.