Kevin Lewis

September 13, 2023

Domino Secessions: Evidence from the U.S.
Jean Lacroix, Kris James Mitchener & Kim Oosterlinck
NBER Working Paper, August 2023 


We analyze how secession movements unfold and the interdependence of regions' decisions to secede. We first model and then empirically examine how secessions can occur sequentially because the costs of secession decrease with the number of seceders and because regions update their decisions based on whether other regions decide to secede. We verify the existence of these "domino secessions" using the canonical case of the secession of southern U.S. states in the 1860s. We establish that financial markets priced in the costs of secession to geographically-specific assets (state bonds) after Lincoln's election in the fall of 1860 -- long before war broke out. We then show that state bond yields reflect the decreasing costs of secession in two ways. First, as the number of states seceding increased, yields on the bonds of states that had already seceded fell. Second, seceding states with more heterogeneous voters had higher risk premia, reflecting investors beliefs that further sub-secession was more likely in these locations.

The Digital Dictator's Dilemma
Eddie Yang
University of California Working Paper, August 2023 


An emerging literature suggests that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can greatly enhance autocrats' repressive capability and strengthen authoritarian control. This paper argues that AI's ability to do so may be hampered by existing repressive institutions. In particular, I suggest that autocrats suffer from a "Digital Dictator's Dilemma," a repression-information trade-off in which citizens' strategic behavior in the face of repression diminishes the amount of useful information in the data for training AI. This trade-off poses a fundamental limitation in AI's usefulness for serving as a tool of authoritarian control - the more repression there is, the less information there will be in AI's training data, and the worse AI will perform. I illustrate this argument using an AI experiment and a unique dataset on censorship in China. I show that AI's accuracy in censorship decreases with more pre-existing censorship and repression. The drop in AI's performance is larger during times of crisis, when people reveal their true preferences. I further show that this problem cannot be easily fixed with more data. Ironically, however, the existence of the free world can help boost AI's ability to censor.

Davide Cantoni et al.
NBER Working Paper, August 2023 


Citizens have long taken to the streets to demand change, expressing political views that may otherwise be suppressed. Protests have produced change at local, national, and international scales, including spectacular moments of political and social transformation. We document five new empirical patterns describing 1.2 million protest events across 218 countries between 1980 and 2020. First, autocracies and weak democracies experienced a trend break in protests during the Arab Spring. Second, protest movements also rose in importance following the Arab Spring. Third, protest movements geographically diffuse over time, spiking to their peak, before falling off. Fourth, a country's year-to-year economic performance is not strongly correlated with protests; individual values are predictive of protest participation. Fifth, the US, China, and Russia are the most over-represented countries by their share of academic studies. We discuss each pattern's connections to the existing literature and anticipate paths for future work.

Bloody Pasts and Current Politics: The Political Legacies of Violent Resettlement
Amiad Haran Diman & Dan Miodownik
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming


How does living on property taken from others affect voting behavior? Recent studies have argued that benefiting from historical violence leads to support for the far right. We extend this fledgling literature with new theoretical insights and original data from Israel, using case-specific variation in the nature of displacement to uncover heterogeneous treatment effects. Exploiting the coercion during the settlement of Jewish migrants on rural lands following the 1948 war, we show that living on lands taken from Palestinians consistently led to hawkish right-wing voting -- even 70 years after the violence occurred and despite the widespread rejection of guilt over that violence. We also show that exposure to the ruins of the displaced villages increased right-wing voting and that the impact of intergroup contact is divergent: it decreased intolerant voting in most villages but increased it among Jewish communities that reside on violently taken land. Our results are robust when matching is used to account for several controls and spatiotemporal dependencies.

Legacies of Survival: Historical Violence and Ethnic Minority Behavior
Amiad Haran Diman & Dan Miodownik
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming 


How is the electoral behavior of minorities shaped by past violence? Recent studies found that displacement increases hostility between perpetrators and displaced individuals, but there has been paltry research on members of surviving communities. We argue that the latter exhibit the opposite pattern because of their different condition. Violence will cause cross-generational vulnerability, fear and risk-aversion -- leading the surviving communities to seek protection and avoid conflict by signalling loyalty and rejecting nationalist movements. In their situation as an excluded minority in the perpetrators' state, they will be more likely to vote for out-group parties. Exploiting exogenous battlefield dynamics that created inter-regional variation in the Palestinian exodus (1947-1949), microlevel measurements that capture the damage of violence, and an original longitudinal data set, we show that Palestinian villages in Israel more severely impacted by the 1948 war have a much higher vote share to Jewish parties even 70 years later. Survey evidence further supports our theory, revealing that this pattern exists only for members of the surviving communities, and not among displaced individuals. The findings shed new light on the complex social relations that guide political decision-making in post-war settings and divided societies that suffer from protracted conflicts.

Critical Junctures: Independence Movements and Democracy in Africa
Omar García-Ponce & Leonard Wantchekon
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming 


We show that current levels of democracy in Africa are linked to the nature of its independence movements. Using different measures of political regimes and historical data on anticolonial movements, we find that countries that experienced rural insurgencies tend to have autocratic regimes, while those that faced urban protests tend to have more democratic institutions. The association between the type of independence movement and democracy is statistically significant for the post-Cold War period and robust to a number of potential confounding factors and sensitivity checks. We provide evidence for causality in this relationship by using an instrumental variables approach and a difference-in-differences design with fixed effects. Furthermore, we adjudicate between two potential mechanisms and find support for a behavioral path dependence hypothesis. Urban protests enabled participants to develop norms of peaceful political behavior, which provided cultural bases for liberal democracy. In contrast, armed rebellions generated behavioral patterns that perpetuated political exclusion and the use of violence as a form of political dissent.

Revolutionary Contagion
Saumitra Jha & Steven Wilkinson
Stanford Working Paper, March 2023 


We compare political mobilization and support for democratic values during the French Revolution among the home bailliages and among individual members of French regiments sent with the Comte de Rochambeau to fight alongside American revolutionaries (1781-83), to others also assigned there who failed to arrive due to logistical failures and British blockade. We provide evidence for revolutionary contagion: bailliages with 10% more Rochambeau veterans were 6.4% more likely to submit grievances to the King that were "Most Strongly Democratic" in 1789. They mobilize political clubs earlier, are more likely to engage in revolt and as individuals were more likely to show loyalty to moderate democratic revolutionary reforms both within the army and the National Assembly. Other veterans mobilize too, but less so and not for democratic principles. Similarly, exposure to Enlightenment ideas has limited effects absent American veterans. We interpret these results as reflecting the complementarity between exposure to democratic ideas and organizational skills of veterans in generating contagion between two of the world's great revolutions.

Bounded Rule and Regional Stability in Fragile States
Michael Harsch & Kevin Troy
Journal of Politics, forthcoming 


Even in the weakest, most war-torn states, remarkably peaceful regions exist. We posit that the emergence of regions with comparatively high levels of security depends on the presence of bounded rulers (BR). BR hail from a dominant local group that is a minority at the national level, which bounds their political careers within a given region. Due to their limited upward mobility, they govern with a long time horizon and can guarantee protection to their population in return for information and support for the regional government. To test this theory, we leverage interviews with local elites in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, an original dataset on governors in these countries and a difference-in-differences estimation. The evidence supports our theory: BR significantly reduce local violence during their tenures. The findings suggest that donors could use targeted aid to support regional solutions to insecurity in fragile states.

Does Democracy Reduce Ethnic Inequality?
Lasse Egendal Leipziger
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming 


To what extent and under what conditions do democratic institutions reduce socioeconomic ethnic inequality? I argue that democratization reduces ethnic inequality by introducing electoral accountability, which facilitates a series of egalitarian policies. However, the effect of democratization is conditional on the distribution of resources under the previous, nondemocratic regime. Countries that were more ethnically unequal prior to democratization experience greater egalitarian effects following democratization. To examine the argument, I leverage multiple country- and group-level measures of ethnic inequality. Using fixed effects regressions, instrumental variable analyses, and event studies, I demonstrate that democratization substantively reduces ethnic inequality, but mainly for countries with high predemocratic levels of inequality.

The Glorious Revolution and Access to Parliament
Kara Dimitruk
Journal of Economic History, September 2023, Pages 676-708 


This paper shows that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 broadened access to Parliament for families needing rights to sell land in so-called estate bills. Bills were on average 14-27 percentage points more likely to be for gentry families and not aristocratic families in legislative sessions after the Revolution compared to sessions before. Regression and archival evidence suggest that parliamentary certainty was primarily responsible for improved access by altering families' entry calculus and brokers' recruitment of new business. More broadly, the paper provides insight into the ways in which political institutions affect access to and the provision of property rights.

Bourbon Reforms and State Capacity in the Spanish Empire
Giorgio Chiovelli et al.
University of Chicago Working Paper, August 2023 


We study state modernization and its fiscal and political consequences in the Spanish empire in the Americas in the 18th century. We focus on the intendancy system, which introduced a new corps of provincial governors to address misgovernance by local colonial officers. Our empirical strategy leverages the staggered implementation of this reform across the empire, extending from present-day USA to Argentina. Using administrative data from the royal treasuries, we show that the intendancy system led to a sizable increase in Crown revenue, driven by a strengthening of state presence far from the traditional centers of power and the disruption of local elite capture. The reform also caused a reduction in the incidence of rebellions by indigenous peoples, who were harshly exploited under the status quo. However, the intendancy system also heightened tensions with the local creole elites, as reflected by naming patterns, and plausibly contributed to the nascent independence movement.

Preexisting social ties among Auschwitz prisoners support Holocaust survival
Matěj Bělín, Tomáš Jelínek & Štěpán Jurajda
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 July 2023 


Survivor testimonies link survival in deadly POW camps, Gulags, and Nazi concentration camps to the formation of close friendships with other prisoners. To provide evidence free of survival bias on the importance of social ties for surviving the Holocaust, we study individual histories of 30 thousand Jewish prisoners who entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on transports from the Theresienstadt ghetto. We ask whether the availability of potential friends among fellow prisoners on a transport influenced the chances of surviving the Holocaust. Relying on multiple proxies of preexisting social networks and varying social-linkage composition of transports, we uncover a significant survival advantage to entering Auschwitz with a larger group of potential friends.


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