Work in Progress

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

with Lisa Hoffmann and Jann Lay


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.


The partial effectiveness of indoctrination in autocracies: Evidence from a natural experiment in the German Democratic Republic

with Felix Haaß and Jan Pierskalla

Under review

Dictators depend on a committed bureaucracy to implement their policy preferences. But how do they induce loyalty and effort within their civil service? We study indoctrination through forced military service as a cost-effective strategy for achieving this goal. Conscription allows the regime to expose recruits, including future civil servants, to intense "political training" in a controlled environment, which should improve system engagement. To test this hypothesis, we analyze archival data on over 370,000 cadres from the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Exploiting a natural experiment generated by the introduction of mandatory service in the GDR in 1962, we find a positive effect of conscription on bureaucrats’ system engagement. Additional analyses indicate that this effect likely did not result from deep norm internalization. Findings are more compatible with the idea that political training familiarized recruits with the elite preferences, allowing them to behave strategically in accordance with the ``rules of the game.''