Holding On? Ethnic Divisions, Political Institutions and the Duration of Economic Declines

Richard Bluhm (Leibniz University Hanover)
Kaj Thomsson (Maastricht University)

Abstract: We analyze the duration of large economic declines and provide a theory of delayed recovery. We show theoretically that uncertain post-recovery incomes lead to a commitment problem which limits the possibility of cooperation in ethnically heterogeneous countries. Strong constraints on the executive solve this problem by reducing the uncertainty associated with cooperative behavior. We test the model using standard data on linguistic heterogeneity and detailed data on ethnic power configurations. Our findings support the key theoretical prediction: stronger constraints on the political executive shorten economic declines. The effect is large in ethnically heterogeneous countries but virtually non-existent in homogeneous societies. Our main results are robust to a variety of perturbations regarding the estimation method, measures of heterogeneity, measures of institutions and the estimation sample.

Download the paper