Friday, November 30, 2007

What this blog is about

This blog has been created to provide a forum for members of the Columbia poli sci community working in comparative political economy to discuss issues related to their research.

The general intention is to create a place for PhD students to discuss, but faculty are also very welcome to contribute as a way to communicate to grad students about issues in CPE and to initiate discussion associated with their own research.

By focusing on "comparative political economy" the blog privileges discussion of a certain subset of topics in the broader comparative politics research domain:

  • Perhaps the least restrictive are the substantive parameters: pretty much any subject within comparative politics is in, including social policy, voting, political violence, regime transitions and regime stability, economic development, political development, electoral systems, social movements, etc.
  • But more restrictive are the methodological commitments, which include discussion of statistical methods, writing and interpreting formal theories, causality and inference, research design, social science measurement/data, and concept development for social-scientific research.
So let's make this a place to post and discuss ideas about research projects (both those in the works and ones that we wish we could do if we had time), musings on things that you have read or heard, links to interesting papers or webpostings, thoughts carried over from conversations, questions about methods, links to information on new data, etc. There are a couple of posts below that give some flavor.


"Elective Feudalism"

I was trying to get a little context on things in Pakistan these days, and I found an interesting post by William Dalrymple here. He uses the term "elective feudalism" to describe what he calls "Pakistan’s strange variety of democracy." It's an interesting term to add to the repertoire. This is actually a common way that those who follow Pakistan's history and politics tend to interpret the political style and support base of Pakistan's civilian leaders. It helps to clarify the unsavoriness of the choices that citizens of Pakistan face in helping to decide the political trajectory of their country---a choice that may be just as much about issues of exclusion and social mobility as they are about debates over Islamism.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Instrumental Variables in Reverse

Here's a proposition about using instrumental variables for causal effects that Kelly makes based on 1998 and 2000 papers by Robert Erikson and Thomas Palfrey on campaign spending and electoral success (find the papers in Google Scholar here):

Suppose that A causes B and B causes A. We want to estimate the effect of A on B. Typically, we are told that we need an instrument for A to isolate these effects. The challenge of finding an instrument for A is often insurmountable. But the Erikson/Palfrey paper proposes that if certain restrictions are met, we can identify the effect of A on B by first finding an instrument for B, then identifying B's effect on A, and then using that to identify the effect of A on B. If it is possible to find an instrument for B, then we have solved our problem.

So this will be a running post. I haven't read the papers yet, but it would be good to know more about the restrictions of such an approach.

Development of Domestic Trade Infrastructure

The World Bank recently released a Trade Logistics Performance Index. In the index, countries are ranked according to their trade logistics "friendliness." The rankings, which are online here, are interesting, with Singapore and the Netherlands ranking at the top and Timor-Leste and Afghanistan at the bottom. (Given my own research, I noted that Burundi was somehow ranked considerably higher than Rwanda, which struck me as a bit odd. But weird things always happen in composite rankings.)

Perhaps more interesting are the considerations that the index inspires for comparative political economy folks. To the extent that developing countries' best shot at improving their lots is via trade, one is led to ask a series of questions:
  • To what extent are choices---rather than fixed conditions like land-lockedness, terrain, or natural resource availability---responsible for such variation in domestic friendliness to trade?
  • What kinds of choices matter most---private choices in the market or choices of governments? How are market and government choices interrelated in determining trade friendliness?
The index provides one outcome measure for a study on the variation in the trade infrastructure of a country. And it seems to me that the issue of whether market forces or governments are largely responsible for such differences is the question.

Thus, an interesting research program would be to explain what combinations of market and government forces result in more or less "trade friendly" environments. This fits in neatly with studies of public goods provision, but with a slightly different emphasis than many existing studies.

One way to start on such a study would be to choose a set of countries from different strata on the list, and examine their domestic trade infrastructure. Looking within country, one could randomly select elements from different strata of the trade infrastructure---e.g., elements of the transport infrastructure. From there, one could study whether such elements were the results of private provision, public provision, or some combination. Thinking about some instances in the U.S., for example, early railroad was the result of private provision, but the U.S. mail system was established by the government at the time of the U.S. republic's founding as a way to boost interstate trade. My home town, Chadds Ford, is named after a private ferry service operating across the Brandywine River in the pre-Revolutionary period. These are all contributions to the trade logistics environment of the country. A mapping exercise of this sort in a few countries would illuminate ways that new trading opportunities are created or seized, with important implications for the study of economic development. For us political scientists, there can be no doubt that distributional concerns and collective action problems have played their fair role in determining levels of provision.