Ricart-Huguet, Joan. 2019. “The Origins of Colonial Investments in Former British and French Africa” (under review)
Colonial investments impacted long-run political and economic development, but we have little systematic evidence about their spatial distribution and origins. By combining novel data sources, I show that colonial investments were very unequally distributed within 16 British and French African colonies. What led colonial states to invest much more in some districts than others? I argue that natural harbors and capes led some places to become centers of pre-colonial coastal trade, which in turn increased later colonial investments not only in infrastructure but also in health and education. Furthermore, distance from pre-colonial trading posts helps explain the diffusion of investments within each colony. I find limited support for alternative explanations such as natural resources and pre-colonial ethnic characteristics, including pre-colonial political centralization. These two findings suggest an economic origin for the regional and ethnic disparities we observe in the colonial and contemporary periods.
Ricart-Huguet, Joan. 2019. “Who Governs? Colonial Education and Regional Political Inequality”
The regional composition of a government affects conflict, clientelism and public goods provision in developing countries. But what explains how power is distributed across the regions of a country to begin with? Extant explanations of cabinet formation focus on bargaining - leaders allocate portfolios strategically, often to minimize unrest - but fail to consider long-term factors. Using novel data on the political elites of 16 former British and French African colonies, I find that some districts are represented in post-colonial governments much more than others, even after adjusting for population. By combining historical records and geospatial data, I show that this regional political inequality derives from colonial investments in public (missionary) education in French (British) colonies rather than from other investments, levels of development during colonialism or pre-colonial factors. I argue that post-colonial ministers are largely a byproduct of civil service recruitment practices among European administrators, which focused on levels of literacy. In contrast to recent work that examines the economic legacies of colonialism, these findings improve our understanding of its political legacies.
Ricart-Huguet, Joan and Betsy Levy Paluck. 2019. “When the Sorting Hat Sorts Randomly: A Natural Experiment on Culture” (under review)
Culture is a central but elusive concept in the social sciences, and so are its effects. We leverage a natural experiment in the oldest university in East Africa---a cradle of economic and political elites---where students are randomly assigned to live in halls of residence that have maintained distinct student cultures since the 1970s. A broad consensus at the university characterizes certain halls as sociable and activist, and others as academically-minded and respectful. Using an original survey of current students and behavioral games, we find that hall cultures influence a mixture of individual and interpersonal outcomes, specifically students' time preferences, identity, and interpersonal trust and generosity. However, they do not influence students' academic performance, social habits, or political preferences. An alumni survey suggests that some cultural effects endure, notably participation in activism. Our results provide novel evidence that cultural influence extends to several social domains.
Culture has important consequences for socioeconomic and political attitudes and behavior. However, the formation and evolution of culture remains poorly understood and is often conflated with institutions (rules). I study the oldest university in East Africa and a cradle of elites, Makerere University, where halls of residence developed distinct cultures in the 1970s such that some hall cultures are sociable and activist, while others are academically-minded and respectful to authorities even today. Why did different hall cultures and identities emerge and persist given random allocation of students to halls since 1970 and given that all halls are subject to the same hall and campus institutions? I leverage this unique setting to understand the role of culture in the formation of sociopolitical values and behavior among young elites living in a shared institutional environment. I document cultural formation and persistence through in-depth alumni interviews, archival materials, and an alumni survey. I argue that cultural formation arises from contingent events that biased the composition of the halls before 1970 and from intergroup (interhall) competition, consistent with optimal distinctiveness theory in social psychology. Hall student governments are central to cultural persistance by promoting the intergenerational transmission of cultural norms and practices to the new population (freshmen), highlighting the role of the political hierarchy in reproducing culture. I also observe cultural death resulting from the brief closure of a hall.