Microempirics of the Political Economy of Development

This week my graduate pro-seminar in Comparative Politics covers the political economy of development. We are reading a series of classics (see Week 8 on the syllabus [PDF]) and they are all essential, but in re-reading these all I have the distinct impression that this list is old-fashioned in one particular way. That is, the readings emphasize the macropolitical economy of development, when much of the new work being done these days is on the microempirics of the political economy of development.

I am left with a question. If you had to assign one and only one reading on the microempirics of the political economy of development, what would it be? I am looking for something like a “new classic”—Melissa Dell on the mita (PDF) is one example, but surely there are others. It is best if the reading is theoretically interesting as well as a well-crafted piece of empirical scholarship. I am looking for work that is more than just an exemplar of good empirical research, but rather work that is theoretically and conceptually generative as well. In fact, the ideal kind of work in this vein would connect the microempirics to the macropolitical economy of development.

Leave your suggestions in the comments. Any suggestions received before 1:45pm EDT will be relayed to the class this afternoon.

Comments 4

  1. Dario Sidhu October 11, 2017

    If you’re assigning only one reading in this vein, Melissa Dell’s mita paper is the closest thing there is to a modern classic. Given your focus on Southeast Asia, and the general lack of Asia in the political economy of development literature, her other paper, with Nathan Lane and Pablo Querubin, is also a worthy contender- “The Historical State, Local Collective Action, and
    Economic Development in Vietnam”. It tackles one of the big issues in the literature, the impact of historical state capacity, and does so with a great research design and investigates mechanisms carefully.

    The other paper that is sheer genius and already kind of a classic (without being published) is Raul Sanchez de la Sierra, “On the Origins of the State: Stationary Bandits and Taxation in Eastern Congo”, forthcoming in the JPE, which is phenomenal.

    Apart from that, the experimental literature on the political economy of development is getting better and better. Chris Udry and Markus Goldstein (2008) on land rights and agricultural investment in Ghana are a good choice, or recent experimental micro-empirical work by James Robinson and Nathan Nunn in the DRC.

  2. Rick Doner October 19, 2017

    I hesitate to write this – for obvious reasons, but what the heck: My 2009 book on the political economy of Thai economic growth (POLITICS OF UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT) is, I think, about as micro as you can get. Indeed, probably too much detail. But it is, I believe, fully informed by theory…

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