Published Papers

Robinson, James A, Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and Pierre Yared. 2008. “Income and Democracy.” American Economic Review 98 (3): 808-842. Abstract
Existing studies establish a strong cross-country correlation between income and democracy but do not control for factors that simultaneously affect both variables. We show that controlling for such factors by including country fixed effects removes the statistical association between income per capita and various measures of democracy. We present instrumental-variables estimates that also show no causal effect of income on democracy. The cross-country correlation between income and democracy reflects a positive correlation between changes in income and democracy over the past 500 years. This pattern is consistent with the idea that societies embarked on divergent political-economic development paths at certain critical junctures.
Robinson, James A, and Daron Acemoglu. 2001. “Inefficient Redistribution.” American Political Science Review 95 (3): 649-661. Abstract
There are many well-developed theories that explain why governments redistribute income, but very few can explain why this often is done in a socially inefficient form. In the theory we develop, compared to efficient methods, inefficient redistribution makes it more attractive to stay in or enter a group that receives subsidies. When political institutions cannot credibly commit to future policy, and when the political influence of a group depends on its size, inefficient redistribution is a tool to sustain political power. Our model may account for the choice of inefficient redistributive policies in agriculture, trade, and the labor market. It also implies that when factors of production are less specific to a sector, inefficient redistribution may be more prevalent.
Robinson, James A, and Sripad Motiram. 2010. “Interlinking and Collusion.” Review of Development Economics 14 (2): 282–301. Abstract
In this paper, we suggest a new rationale for the existence of interlinked contracts in the agrarian economies of developing countries. Using the framework of an infinitely repeated game with discounting, we show that interlinked contracts can help the dominant parties to collude, in cases where collusion is not possible with noninterlinked contracts. This occurs because either interlinkage pools incentive constraints across markets, or it affects the incentives of agents to accept deviating contracts. We illustrate these mechanisms by considering the case of interlinkage between markets for credit and share tenancy. The model that is used to formalize the second mechanism is characterized by frictions in the tenancy market, which we model using the standard framework of search and matching.
Robinson, James A, and Jean-Marie Baland. 2000. “Is Child Labor Inefficient?” Journal of Political Economy 108 (4): 663-679. Abstract
We build a model of child labor and study its implications for welfare. We assume that there is a trade-off between child labor and the accumulation of human capital. Even if parents are altruistic and child labor is socially inefficient, it may arise in equilibrium because parents fail to fully internalize its negative effects. This occurs when bequests are zero or when capital markets are imperfect. We also study the effects of a simple ban on child labor and derive conditions under which it may be Pareto improving in general equilibrium. We show that the implications of child labor for fertility are ambiguous.
Robinson, James A, and Jean-Marie Baland. 2008. “Land and Power: Theory and Evidence from Chile.” American Economic Review 98 (5): 1737–1765. Abstract
Many employment relationships concede rents to workers. Depending on the political institutions, the presence of such rents allows employers to use the threat of withdrawing them to control their workers' political behavior, such as their votes in the absence of secret ballot. We examine the effects of the introduction of the secret ballot in Chile in 1958 on voting behavior. Before the reforms, localities with more pervasive patron-client relationships tended to exhibit a much stronger support for the right-wing parties, traditionally associated with the landed oligarchy. After the reform, however, this difference across localities completely disappeared.
Robinson, James A, and Daron Acemoglu. 2008. “The Persistence and Change of Institutions in the Americas.” Southern Economic Journal 75 (2): 282–299. Abstract
Though many empirical and theoretical approaches to comparative development assume that institutions persist for long periods of time, specific institutions vary a lot over periods as long as a century. Therefore, a convincing theory of institutional persistence must explain how persistence of institutional equilibria and accompanying incentive environment is consistent with changes in specific institutions. In this paper, we propose a simple explanation of how economic institutions may persist even when political institutions change and illustrate it with the economic history of the U.S. South and some examples from Latin American history.
Robinson, James A, and Daron Acemoglu. 2008. “Persistence of Power, Elites and Institutions.” American Economic Review 98 (1): 267-293. Abstract
We construct a model to study the implications of changes in political institutions for economic institutions. A change in political institutions alters the distribution of de jure political power, but creates incentives for investments in de facto political power to partially or even fully offset change in de jure power. The model can imply a pattern of captured democracy, whereby a democratic regime may survive but choose economic institutions favoring an elite. The model provides conditions under which economic or policy outcomes will be invariant to changes in political institutions, and economic institutions themselves will persist over time.
Robinson, James A, and Ragnar Torvik. 2009. “A political economy theory of the soft budget constraint.” European Economic Review 53: 786–798. Abstract
Why do soft budget constraints exist and persist? In this paper we argue that the prevalence of soft budget constraints can be best explained by the political desirability of softness. We develop an infinite horizon political economy model where neither democratic nor autocratic politicians can commit to policies that are not ex post optimal. We show that because of the dynamic commitment problem inherent in the soft budget constraint, politicians can in essence commit to make transfers to entrepreneurs which otherwise they would not be able to do. This encourages such entrepreneurs to support them politically. Though the soft budget constraint may induce economic inefficiency, it may be politically rational because it influences the probability of political survival. In consequence, even when information is complete, politicians may fund bad projects which they anticipate they will have to bail out in the future. We show that, maybe somewhat surprisingly, dictators who are less likely to lose power, are more likely to use the soft budget constraint as a strategy to gain political support.
Robinson, James A, Ragnar Torvik, and Thierry Verdier. 2006. “Political foundations of the resource curse.” Journal of Development Economics 79: 447-468. Abstract
In this paper we argue that the political incentives that resource endowments generate are the key to understanding whether or not they are a curse. We show: (1) politicians tend to over-extract natural resources relative to the efficient extraction path because they discount the future too much, and (2) resource booms improve the efficiency of the extraction path. However, (3) resource booms, by raising the value of being in power and by providing politicians with more resources which they can use to influence the outcome of elections, increase resource misallocation in the rest of the economy. (4) The overall impact of resource booms on the economy depends critically on institutions since these determine the extent to which political incentives map into policy outcomes. Countries with institutions that promote accountability and state competence will tend to benefit from resource booms since these institutions ameliorate the perverse political incentives that such booms create. Countries without such institutions however may suffer from a resource curse.
Robinson, James A. 2005. “Politician-Proof Policy?” Desarrollo y Sociedad 55: 1-56. Abstract
In this paper I discuss the nature of the political constraints that the World Bank faces in delivering basic services to the poor. The main problem arises because the Bank has to work through domestic governments which have political aims different from helping the poor. The conceptual approach attractive to economists and central to much recent thinking in the World Bank, particularly the 2004 World Development Report, is the notion of "politician proofing". Given that political incentives derail good policies, how can those policies be politician- proofed? I argue that evidence and theory suggests that such an approach is ultimately futile, basically because we simply do not understand the relevant political incentives. I discuss alternative policy strategies and conclude that what is required is a much more fundamental assessment of what type of political equilibria deliver services to the poor. As I illustrate with the case of Botswana: once the political equilibrium is right, everything goes right and politician proofing is redundant.
Robinson, James A, and Jonathan H Conning. 2007. “Property Rights and the Political Organization of Agriculture.” Journal of Development Economics 82: 416–447. Abstract
We propose a general equilibrium model where the economic organization of agriculture and the political equilibrium determining the security of property rights are jointly determined. In particular, because the form of organization may affect the probability and distribution of benefits from future property challenges, it may be shaped in anticipation of this impact. Property rights security may then be secured at the expense of economic efficiency. The model provides a framework for understanding why in some contexts land is redistributed primarily via land sales and tenancy markets but via politics and conflict in others. We test some implications of the theory using a five-decade panel dataset that traces changes in the extent of tenancy and tenancy reform across 15 Indian states.