Work in Progress

Palm oil investments and social conflict– experimental evidence from rural Liberia

with Lisa Hoffmann and Jann Lay

Under review

How do large-scale agricultural investments (LSAIs) influence the risk of social conflict in low-income countries? LSAIs create socio-economic costs and opportunities – for example, in terms of access to employment. The distribution of these gains and losses can reinforce inter-group inequality and produce frustration and aggression. We experimentally investigate these potential effects of LSAIs in Liberia. Our pre-registered analyses rely on a household survey, a village survey and “joy-of-destruction”-experiments with more than 1,800 inhabitants in 73 LSAI-affected and matched control villages near two palm oil investment areas. We use the results of these experiments as a proxy for the propensity of within-village social conflict. Participants each receive an endowment and decide on how much of another participant’s endowment to destroy. We randomly vary the ethnic identity of the interaction partner to test whether we observe more destructive behavior against ethnic outgroups in affected villages. Our results indicate that exposure to LSAIs increases the risk of social conflict. While 36 percent of participants in control villages destroy money of their interaction partners, the share rises to around 52 percent in villages close to the investment sites. However, contrary to our expectations, conflict does not seem to materialize along ethnic lines. Results are more in line with the assumption that socio-demographic as well as structural characteristics matter: Unmarried men seem to be particularly prone to destruction in the JDG. Furthermore, in villages without informal labor sharing arrangements, we observe higher levels of social conflicts.


World War I, Nationalism, and the Rise of the Nazi Party

with Felix Haaß, Carlo Koos, Sascha Riaz and Thomas Tichelbaecker


Did World War I facilitate the rise of the Nazi party in Weimar Germany? We revisit this question by shifting the focus on the localized effects of war casualties on nationalist attitudes. We argue that mass warfare can promote nationalist attitudes by amplifying in-group preferences. Our empirical analysis leverages a unique individual-level dataset of all 8.6 million German soldiers who died or were wounded during World War I. To causally identify the effect of community level exposure to WW1, we leverage plausibly exogenous variation in the death rate of soldiers across small geographic localities. We find that throughout the interwar period, electoral support for nationalist parties including the NSDAP was about 2 percentage points higher in regions highly affected by the war. Additional analyses drawing on data on NSDAP party entries, WW1 memorials, and Nazi autobiographies indicate that our results reflect a broad, community-level impact of the war driven by war losses and public memory rather than returning veterans. Our findings advance our understanding of the local impact of WW1 on the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and the longer-term legacies of indirect exposure to violence on preferences for nationalist ideologies.


Decentralized networks and bureaucratic careers in autocracies

with Felix Haaß and Jan Pierskalla

Previous research has demonstrated that ruling elites hand-pick top-level cadres from their personal networks to maximize loyalty. However, similar personal networks also exist among the hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats on lower levels of the administrative hierarchy. We undertake the first empirical analysis of such networks, focusing on a least-likely case: the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). The regime’s highly formalized socialist cadre policy should have left little room for a strong role of informal ties in bureaucratic careers. We draw on detailed biographical data on over 370,000 cadres to investigate if decentralized networks nonetheless shaped promotion practices in the GDR’s bureaucracy. We reconstruct the composition of local work collectives---a center of personal commitment, friendship, and mutual help in the GDR. We demonstrate a substantive role of decentralized career networks in  cadres’ career trajectories, highlighting a so-far underappreciated element of personalized networks in autocracies.