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Political Competition and State Capacity: Evidence from a Land Allocation Program in Mexico

with Horacio Larreguy and Juan F. Riaño. Conditionally Accepted, The Economic Journal, Cede Working Paper, 2020-16

We propose a theory in which incumbents that have a comparative advantage in clientelism may oppose investing in state capacity when challenged by opponents. We provide empirical support exploiting a national shock that threatened the Mexican Institutional Revolutionary Party’s hegemony in the early 1960s.

The Weak State Trap

with Carlos Molina and James Robinson, Economica, 2022, 89(354): 293--331. NBER Working Paper No. 26848 and Documento CEDE 2020-25.

Development outcomes come in ‘clusters’ that seem difficult to exit. Using original data from Colombia, we present evidence of the interconnection between two critical political components: state weakness and clientelism.

Population and Conflict

with Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson. Review of Economic Studies, 2020,87(4): 1565-1604 . (Earlier version as "Population and Civil War" NBER Working Paper No. 23322)

Countries with initially higher mortality from infectious diseases experienced greater increases in life expectancy, population, and - over the following 40 years - social conflict. A similar effect is present within Mexico. This effect is more pronounced during times of economic hardship.

The Real Winner's Curse

with Pablo Querubín, Juan F. Vargas and Nelson Ruiz. American Journal of Political Science, 2021, 65(1): 52-68.

We study the unintended consequences of political inclusion in a context of weak institutions. We show that the narrow election of previously excluded left-wing parties to local executive office in Colombia results in an almost one-standard-deviation increase in violent attacks by right-wing paramilitaries, more than tripling the sample mean.

The Perils of High-Powered incentives: Evidence from Colombia's False Positives

with Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson, Darío Romero, and Juan F. Vargas. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 2020, 12(3): 1-43 

High-powered incentives for the military and security services have become a common counterinsurgency strategy over the last several decades. We investigate the use of such incentives for members of the Colombian army in the long-running civil war against left-wing guerillas, and show that it produced several perverse side effects.

Online Appendix

Replication files soon


Conflict, Educational Attainment and Structural Transformation: La Violencia in Colombia

with Ana María Ibáñez and Juan F. Riaño. Economic Development and Cultural Change. 2020, 69(1):335-371

We examine the long-term impact of violence on educational attainment, with evidence from Colombia's La Violencia.

The press helped erode partisan dominance and efforts to manipulate electoral results after the introduction of the secret ballot in the US in en era of machine politics.
We evaluate a new homicide investigation procedure emphasizing team work in Bogota, Colombia, and find important improvements in conviction rates and formal accusations before a court.
Using Facebook's release in a given language as an exogenous source of variation in access to social media where the language is spoken and exploiting country, subnational, and individual-level data, we show that Facebook had a signi cant and sizable positive impact on citizen protests.
Remote sensing data on deforestation may be misleading, as we illustrate for the case of Colombia where failure to account for plantations may mislead researchers.

The Need for Enemies

with James Robinson, Ragnar Torvik, and Juan F. Vargas, The Economic Journal, 2016, 126 (593): 1018-1054. 

We develop a model where some politicians have an edge in undertaking a task and this gives them electoral advantage, creating an incentive to underperform in the task. We test the empirical implications in the context of fighting against insurgents, using Colombian data.

Media Markets, Special Interests, and Voters

Journal of Public Economics, 2014, 109(C): 13-26

This paper examines the role of mass media in countering special interest group influence.

The Political Economy of Rural Property Rights and the Persistence of the Dual Economy

Journal of Development Economics2013, 103 (July): 167-181.

Rural areas often have more than one regime of property rights and production. I put forward a theory according to which politically powerful landowners choose weak property rights to impoverish peasants and force them to work for low wages. The incentives to establish poor property rights are especially salient when urban wages increase with industrialization.


He Who Counts Elects: Economic Elites, Political Elites, and Electoral Fraud

with Isaías Chaves and James Robinson, Economics and Politics, 2015, 27(1): 124-159. 

What determines the extent of electoral fraud? This paper predicts that fraud will be lower and public good provision higher when land inequality is higher, the overlap between elites lower, and the strength of the state higher. We test these predictions using a unique, municipal- level dataset from Colombia’s 1922 Presidential elections.

I Sell My Vote, and So What? Incidence, Social Bias and Correlates of Clientelism in Colombia

with Carlos A. Molina and Juan F. Riaño. Economia, 2018, 19(1): 181-218.

We conduct list experiments on a large sample of households to estimate the incidence of clientelistic vote buying, as well as the extent to which respondents refrain from openly recognizing this behavior.

Consumers as VAT "Evaders": Incidence, Social Bias, and Correlates in Colombia

with Carlos A. Molina and Juan F. Riaño, Economia2019, 19(2):21-67.

We conduct list experiments on a large sample of households to estimate the incidence of value added tax (VAT) evasion, as well as the extent of social desirability bias in respondent answers.
Enduring violent conflict is the flip side of the coin of a weak state. In this article, I propose some political economy underpinnings for the persistence of conflict (and the weak state).

The Crime Kuznets Curve

with Paolo Buonanno and Juan F. Vargas. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 2017, 33(4): 753-782

We document the existence of a Crime Kuznets Curve in US states since the 1970s. As income levels have risen, crime has followed an inverted U-shaped pattern, first increasing and then dropping.
This paper reviews the theoretical and empirical research on this issue and shows that one of the channels whereby better institutions may have an effect on economic development is through the consolidation of larger and better financial markets.

‘Dollar’ Debt in Colombian Firms: Are Sinners Punished During Devaluations?

with Juan Carlos Echeverry, Roberto Steiner and Camila Aguilar. Emerging Markets Review, 2003, 4(4): 417-449

We rely on information for a large sample of firms during 1995–2001 and examine the determinants of foreign indebtedness and the effects on firm performance of holding dollar debt amid real depreciations (i.e. the so-called ‘balance sheet effect’).

Política y Reconciliación: Una coyuntura crítica para la construcción de Estado

con Francisco Eslava y Andrés Moya. Castaño, Lina (comp), Colombia en Movimiento 2010 - 2013 - 2016, Bogotá, Ediciones Uniandes

Describimos algunas características del ambiente político en Colombia, a partir de una base de datos panel única con cerca de 10,000 hogares. Comparando respuestas en 2013 y 2016, documentamos una persistente falta de interés en política y un clientelismo prevaleciente, con vínculos personales dominando a las afinidades partidistas.

Politics and Reconciliation: A Critical Juncture for State Building

with Francisco Eslava and Andrés Moya. Castaño, Lina (comp), Colombia en Movimiento 2010 - 2013 - 2016, Bogotá, Ediciones Uniandes

We describe some features of the political environment in Colombia, drawing from a unique panel dataset of about 10,000 households. Contrasting responses in 2013 and 2016, we document a persistent lack of interest in politics and prevailing clientelism, with personalistic links dominating partisan affinity.

La política colombiana a la luz de la Elca: entre el desinterés y el clientelismo

con Juan F. Riaño. Cadena, Ximena (comp), Colombia en Movimiento 2010 - 2013, Bogotá, Ediciones Uniandes

Este artículo presenta algunas características de la forma como los colombianos se relacionan con la política, a partir de información recopilada en la ELCA por primera vez en el año 2013.
En este trabajo se calculan las tasas efectivas promedio de tributación sobre el consumo y sobre el ingreso de los factores de producción en Colombia, en el período 1970-1999, utilizando la metodología propuesta por Mendoza, Razin y Tesar (1994). Además, esas tasas se utilizan para cuantificar los costos en bienestar y crecimiento de la tributación.

Actitudes de exintegrantes de las Farc–EP frente a la reincorporación

con A. Arjona, N. Garbiras, J. García, T. Hiller, L. Polo y M.  Weintraub. Documento CEDE 2020-24

Examinamos las actitudes de los exintegrantes de las Farc sobre su proceso de reincorporación.
We describe the patterns of economic growth and social progress in Colombian “functional territories". Larger and more urbanized agglomerations exhibit visible advantages in inputs that might help boost these outcomes. Moreover, long-run institutional determinants best help differentiate territories.
En una muestra de 4.497 hogares, representativa de los municipios más afectados por el conflicto, analizamos las actitudes de la población colombiana hacia las interacciones cotidianas con los excombatientes de las FARC y sus percepciones sobre la importancia y viabilidad del proceso de reconciliación.
Free media may not favor political accountability when other democratic institutions are weak, and may even bring undesirable unintended consequences.
We study the nature of regional inequality in Colombia over the past 200 years. The main empirical fact is that regional inequality has been highly persistent despite the large changes that have taken place and the modernization of the society.

Encuesta Longitudinal Colombiana de la Universidad de los Andes- ELCA 2013

con Raquel Bernal, Adriana Camacho, Ximena Cadena, Juan Camilo Cárdenas, Ana María Ibáñez, Ximena Peña y Catherine Rodríguez

Cede Working Paper No. 2014-42

La Encuesta Longitudinal Colombiana de la Universidad de los Andes tiene por objetivo seguir a lo largo de una década a más de 10 mil hogares en zonas urbanas y rurales en Colombia.
The overall effect of conflict on the environment is an empirical question. We study this relationship in the case of Colombia.
This paper studies the effect of strengthening democracy, as captured by an increase in voting rights, on the incidence of violent civil conflict in nineteenth-century Colombia.

Budget Inflexibility

with Juan Carlos Echeverry and Pablo Querubín

Cede Working Paper No. 2005-52

In this paper we show that budget inflexibility can take several forms and argue that it is likely to be closely related to various types of political conflict present in the budget process.
Este ensayo destaca grandes líneas de investigación sobre el ciclo económico emprendidas a lo largo del siglo XX, se cita la controversia acerca de los eventuales cambios del ciclo en la segunda parte de la centuria anterior, y se introduce la discusión de los vínculos entre ciclos de diferentes economías.
El gobierno colombiano tiene un escaso margen de maniobra al preparar el Presupuesto General de la Nación ya que un alto porcentaje de los gastos que debe hacer cada año está predeterminado por un numeroso conjunto de leyes y de artículos constitucionales.
During the nineties the performance of many emerging economies was linked to their access to foreign capital and its impact on the real exchange rate. Colombia was not an exception, as it experienced a sharp boom and bust cycle during the period.