The Social Bureaucrat: How Social Proximity Among Bureaucrats Affects Local Governance

Tuğba Bozçağa (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Abstract : Most studies that examine subnational variations in public services associate low government performance with a lack of accountability. As distinct from these approaches, I offer a capacity-based explanation in which transaction costs associated with the production process of public services play the key role. Specifically, I argue that transaction costs within bureaucracy decrease with social proximity among bureaucrats –bureaucrats’ informal ties with other bureaucrats in their jurisdiction– because informal ties not only serve communication or socialization purposes but also provide channels for informal information exchange and cooperation. Testing the observable implications of this theory, I find that social proximity, as proxied by geographic proximity, increases bureaucratic efficiency. However, in line with theoretical expectations, geographic proximity is less likely to lead to high bureaucratic efficiency in socially fragmented community structures. Empirically, I show that the effect of geographic proximity is heterogeneous across provinces with different levels of social fragmentation as measured by network indicators. Six months of fieldwork in regions of Turkey with different political and ethnic geographies inform the descriptive inferences underlying the theory and its observable implications. I leverage a geographical regression discontinuity design to test my theory. My empirical tests employ novel administrative data from 30,000 villages and 970 districts in Turkey, geospatial indicators constructed using spatial analysis tools and satellite images, and antenna-level mobile call detail records. This study advances research on public goods provision by studying local public services outside of citizen-centered accountability explanations, instead revealing capacity-driven sources of government performance. By demonstrating that state capacity can vary systematically by the local social context, it also extends the literature on state capacity.

Autonomy in Autocracy: Explaining the Creation of Ethnic Autonomous Territories in Post-1949 China

Chao-yo Cheng (Tsinghua)

Abstract : While ethnic local autonomy has been considered as an institution of conflict management, why political leaders decide to introduce it in the first place, and how their presence leads to political stability both remain unclear. Drawing from the case of post-1949 China, I consider the granting of ethnic local autonomy in the context of authoritarian delegation. Drawing from a novel index of elite connectedness and a unique historical dataset of local jurisdictional divisions, I conclude that ethnic local autonomy, as an endeavor of local decentralization, allows the central leader to establish his supremacy over subnational political elites while countering his inner-circle rivals. To explore the scope conditions, I analyze the creation of district-level municipalities after the 1980s, as well as other institutional changes in Imperial and Republican China. I also assemble an original cross-national dataset to study the presence of ethnic local autonomy in post-WWII authoritarian regimes.

Property Formation in Weak States: Theory and Evidence from Imperial Brazil

Jorge Mangonnet (Columbia University)

Abstract : Local elites are assumed to resist state attempts at reforming property regimes out of fear of disempowerment. I propose a theory to explain why traditional authorities might support, and comply with, state-backed land tenure systems in contexts of limited administrative capacity. In the absence of restrictions on the customary use of land, I argue that a disruption to forced-labor arrangements encourages elites to promote an exclusionary property order that invalidates workers' claims, reduces mobility, and facilitates the transition to cheap wage labor. I test this theory in Imperial Brazil, where the end of the Atlantic slave trade led southeastern planters to support the Land Law of 1850. Using a novel hand-collected geocoded data set, I show that planters in parishes with more slaves voluntarily shifted their landholdings to freehold tenure to subsidize the arrival of poor immigrant workers. I also show that individual parliamentarians who were slaveowners voted favorably for the Land Law as it denied the possession claims of the rural poor. These findings reveal that property formation in weak states is the result of a co-production effort between local and central interests and not of unilateral state action.