I am an associate professor (non-tenured) at the Department of Statistics, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich.
My research focuses on the political economy of less-developed countries using modern and historical data. I have worked on the assigning of property rights in the United States, ethnic partitioning in Africa, the political legacy of mass killings in Cambodia and the impact of school reforms in Cambodia.
I work with historical and high resolution spatial data, some digitized for the first time specifically for the projects you find below.
State Repression, Exit, and Voice: Living in the shadow of Cambodia's Killing Fields
What is the political legacy of state repression? Using local variation in state repression during the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, we investigate the effects of repression on political beliefs and behavior. We find that past state repression decreases votes for an authoritarian incumbent while enhancing electoral competition and support for democratic values four decades later. At the same time, individuals become more cautious in their interactions with the local community: they exhibit less trust, participate less in community organizations, and engage less with local government. Our theoretical model suggests that these opposing forces arise because experiencing repression bolsters preferences for pluralism while also heightening the perceived cost of dissent. Consequently, citizens are more likely to support the opposition in elections (voice) but engage less in civil society (exit) to avoid publicly revealing their political views. Exploring channels of persistence, we demonstrate that repression cultivates a lasting fear of violence as a societal threat, and that genocide memorials and remembrance ceremonies maintain the collective memory of the atrocities.
Who benefits from Free Trade?
How is wealth distributed when the economy grows? I study this question in the context of African countries and ethnic groups. If wealth is distributed proportional to population, larger ethnic groups should benefit more when economic activity increases. Using nighttime light and individual level data to geographically locate wealth, I find the exact opposite: Smaller ethnic groups, particularly those in political power, benefit more from increased economic activity than larger ones. The results indicate that political elites in power redistribute wealth from larger ethnic groups. As a result, people's satisfaction with democracy and trust in institutions reduces, casting a shadow on the implementation of trade liberalization policies in developing countries. Instrumental variables estimating exploiting exogenous variation in trading activity confirm initial results.
From Couch to Poll: Media Content and the Value of Local Information
We document the importance of local information in mass media for the political engagement of citizens and accountability of politicians. We study this in the context of Canada, where until 1958, competition in television markets was suppressed—Canadians received either public or private television content, but never both. While public television provided national-level informational content, private television content was distinctly local and more politically relevant to voters. We find that the introduction of television reduced voter turnout, but that this effect is exclusive to public television districts. Our findings qualify existing knowledge about the political effects of the rollout of new media, by allowing the informational content to vary while holding the media type constant. We support our argument with evidence from parliamentary debates: politicians from districts with private television are more likely to speak and act on behalf of their constituents in Parliament. Our findings thus suggest that politicians are held accountable by relevant media content.
On the other side of the fence: Property rights and productivity in the United States
Can well-defined access rights to publicly owned land be as effective as privatization in increasing productivity and wealth? In this paper, I evaluate the impact of public property rights using the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, which determined secure access rights for ranchers to newly created, large grazing districts in the Western US. Using satellite-based vegetation data, I exploit spatial discontinuities across grazing district boundaries and find that public lands with well-defined access rights for ranchers are at least 10% more productive than lands without. Immediately after establishing grazing districts, ranchers inside these districts held more cattle, reported higher income and farm values than their counterparts outside. Despite ranchers being unable to invest in publicly-owned lands, these magnitudes are similar to outright privatization. Instead, I argue that secure access rights resolve uncertainty around future usage and align the incentives of ranchers and regulators, thus incentivizing sustainable and profitable usage. I provide two results supporting this hypothesis: Areas with stronger pre-reform state capacity show larger increases in vegetation. Monthly patterns on vegetation are consistent with the adoption of productivity-increasing fallowing practices. I investigate alternative explanations, and find no empirical support for differential initial productivity; negative spillovers; or systematic local manipulation of boundaries.
Female Education and Social Change
Does access to education facilitate the emergence of a human capital elite from which social activists, and thus, social change can emerge? Assembling a city-level panel of the political, intellectual, and economic elite throughout German history, we find that the opening of secondary schools for women increased their representation among the human capital elite. Women became recognized for living independently, for becoming authors, and for actively fighting for women's rights, gradually bringing about social change. Several other city-specific indicators of economic and gender-specific cultural change are unrelated to the increasing representation of women among the human capital elite.
Work in Progress
Who Benefits from Free Education? Long-Term Evidence from a Policy Experiment in Cambodia
Free primary education is considered an important public policy to promote poor children's schooling. We explore a nationwide policy experiment in Cambodia in 2000 that abolished primary school fees to assess this claim. The paper investigates the effects of the program by combining differences in fee exposure across province, time, and cohort. One additional year of free education had no impact on children living in households below the consumption poverty line, but increased the likelihood of completing primary school, led to more years of schooling completed, and raised literacy for children in households above the poverty line. To ensure a causal interpretation of the heterogeneous effects, we exploit weather-induced agricultural volatility to estimate the difference across the consumption poverty line. Though poor and non-poor children attended school to same extent after the reform, poor children were less likely to progress and complete the higher grades. The findings are consistent with the idea that poor children and their parents are affected by the local community's educational norm, where income segregation may explain why poor students fail to take advantage of the policy change.
A Chicken in Every Pot? The Political Consequences of a Large Wealth Shock in the Western United States
with Jerome Schäfer