Job Market Paper

"Complements or Substitutes: State Presence and the Power of Traditional Leaders" (Job Market Paper)
When considering the importance of domestic institutions for economic development, the focus has typically been on national institutions (e.g., the nation state). However, within sub-Saharan Africa, traditional leaders (namely, village chiefs) also play an extremely important role. This paper studies how local leaders and the national state interact. Using geocoded data from 5,500 administrative units in 25 countries, I estimate the effect that the presence of the national state has on the power, legitimacy, and effectiveness of village chiefs. I use a regression-discontinuity design to compare villages close to district borders, where one set of villages is far from the district headquarters of the national state and the other set is close. I find that the effect of the nation state on village chiefs hinges critically on whether or not a country's constitution formally integrates village chiefs into the country's institutional structure. In countries in which village chiefs are integrated into national institutions, stronger presence of the state causes village chiefs to be more influential and to provide more public goods. By contrast, in countries in which village chiefs are not institutionalized, more state presence actually causes chiefs to be less influential and to provide fewer public goods. That is, if village chiefs are not integrated nationally, then national institutions and local institutions actually works as substitutes rather than complements.
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