Ernesto Dal Bó

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Berkeley Center for Political Economy


Political Economy Seminar


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Research papers


In The Paradox of Civilization. Pre-Institutional Sources of Security and Prosperity (2015, NBER Working Paper 21829; with Pablo Hernández and Sebastián Mazzuca), we analyze the puzzle of civilization – prosperity attracts predation and undermines the investments that deliver prosperity – in relation to aspects of the geographic and strategic environment that affect productive and defense capabilities. We apply the model to explain the rise of civilization in Sumeria and Egypt and the civilizational collapse at the end of the Bronze Age. PDF here.  Related Vox article here.


In Who Becomes a Politician? (2015; forthcoming Quarterly Journal of Economics, with Fred Finan, Olle Folke, Torsten Persson and Johanna Rickne), we describe fundamental patterns of political selection in an advanced democracy (Sweden) and document various new facts. These imply that representative democracy can simultaneously deliver leadership that is highly competent relative to the population, as well as representative of the various socioeconomic backgrounds in society. PDF here. Related Vox article here.


In The Demand for Bad Policy When Voters Underappreciate Equilibrium Effects (2013; forthcoming Review of Economic Studies, with Pedro Dal Bó and Erik Eyster), we show experimentally that groups can fail to resolve social dilemmas through democratic means due to their inability to anticipate the equilibrium effects of new policies or institutions. PDF here PDF Online Appendix


In The Economics of Faith: Using an Apocalyptic Prophecy to Elicit Religious Beliefs in the Field (Journal of Public Economics 141, 2016, with Ned Augenblick, Jesse Cunha, and Justin Rao), we overcome important difficulties in the identification of religious beliefs -  we offer a model of faith as a “demand for beliefs,” and measure it through a field experiment on time preference with a group holding apocalyptic beliefs. PDF here.


In “Do the Right Thing:” The Effects of Moral Suasion on Cooperation, Journal of Public Economics 117, 2014 (with Pedro Dal Bó), we study experimentally whether and how moral appeals can help sustain cooperation. Moral appeals cause a transitory increase in cooperation in basic public good games, but in the presence of punishment instruments moral appeals have persistent effects. We find that moral suasion works both through expectation and preference-shifting effects. Expectation effects imply the presence of a “social moral amplifier.” PDF here


In Strengthening State Capabilities: The Role of Financial Incentives in the Call to Public Service, Quarterly Journal of Economics 128(3), August 2013, (with Fred Finan and Martín Rossi) we report on a recruitment drive in Mexico’s federal government which included exogenous variation of wage postings and job characteristics. We document the anatomy of the applicant pool along many dimensions including previous earnings, cognitive skills, personality traits, and motivation, we estimate the impact of higher wages on the quality and size of the applicant pool and the ability of the recruiter to fill vacancies, yielding the first experimental estimate of the elasticity of the labor supply facing the firm. We also estimate the effect of distance to job and characteristics of the job environment on job acceptance rates. PDF of the paper. PDF of Online Appendix


In Self-Esteem, Moral Capital, and Wrongdoing, Journal of the European Economic Association 11(3), June 2013, (with Marko Terviö), we develop an infinite horizon, single-self, model of endogenous moral standards featuring self-reinforcing patterns of virtue and corruption. We develop applications to study why morally weaker types may self-select into high temptation activities (e.g., politics), and how optimal extrinsic deterrence schemes may change once endogenous intrinsic motivation is considered. We also use the model to study the dynamics of beliefs about self (“moral capital”) and wrongdoing in a population in demographic steady state. PDF version


In Conflict and Policy in General Equilibrium: Insights from a Standard Trade Model (2012, Chapter 25 in the Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Peace and Conflict, with Pedro Dal Bó) we revisit the “Workers, Warriors and Criminals” framework of conflict in a small open economy to derive further results and rank policy responses. PDF version.


In Term Length and The Effort of Politicians, Review of Economic Studies 78(4), October 2011, (with Martín Rossi) we exploit two natural experiments in the Argentine legislature to assess the causal effect of term length on various measures of politicians’ legislative effort. PDF version


In Workers, Warriors and Criminals: Social Conflict in General Equilibrium, Journal of the European Economic Association 9(4), August 2011, (with Pedro Dal Bó) we study social conflict in its connection to the appropriation of resources. We show that not every wealth-increasing shock (or policy) will reduce conflict. What is critical is the factor intensity of the industry initially affected. The model integrates the effects of income shocks on the opportunity costs and predatory incentives involved in conflict, to explain empirical patterns of crime and civil war. The model accounts for various populist and redistributive policies, and for resistance to reform. PDF version


In A Model of Spoils Politics, American Journal of Political Science 53(1), January 2009, (with Robert Powell), we study spoils politics as a coercive signaling game where an informed party seeks to co-opt a challenger and study conditions leading to inefficient conflict and to the endogenous resolution of the asymmetric information that causes conflict. PDF version


In Political Dynasties, Review of Economic Studies 76(1), January 2009, (with Pedro Dal Bó and Jason Snyder), we study political dynasties in the US Congress since 1789. We document various facts in connection with the historical evolution of dynasties and the profile of dynastic politicians. We also study the self-perpetuation of political elites and analyze the connection between political competition and the prevalence of dynastic politicians. PDF version


In Reputation When Threats and Transfers Are Available,  Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, 16(3), Fall 2007, (with Pedro Dal Bó and Rafael Di Tella), we study how pressure groups and extorters may combine threats and payments (offers or requests) to influence targets, while threats become endogenously credible. Transfers allow the long-lived player to benefit from reputation even in arbitrarily short repeated games and under low priors on his being tough. PDF version


(This and the following article are an electronic version of articles published in the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy.  Complete citation information for the final version of each paper, as published in the print edition, is available on the Blackwell Synergy online delivery service, accessible via the journals website at


In Bribing Voters, American Journal of Political Science 51(4), October 2007, I study the optimal ways to influence voting decisions. I derive implications for influence over legislatures and boards, and analyze when voting should be made secret. PDF version Extension with expressive voters under uncertainty  


In Bribes, Punishment, and Judicial Immunity (2007, in Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report, with Pedro Dal Bó and Rafael Di Tella) we revisit the theoretical links between violence, corruption, and the quality of public officials established in our “Plata o Plomo?” framework, and document the cross-country empirical association between conflict, law and order, corruption, and bureaucratic quality. PDF here.


In Corruption and Inefficiency: Theory and Evidence from Electric Utilities, Journal of Public Economics 91(5-6), June 2007, (with Martín Rossi) we find that corruption in the country is strongly associated with higher inefficiency of firms, even when controlling by regulatory regime, ownership type, and other important forces varying by country and time. PDF version


In Regulatory Capture: A Review, Oxford Review of Economic Policy 22, August 2006, I provide an overview of theories and evidence of regulatory capture. PDF version

(© 2006 by Oxford University Press)


In Committees With Supermajority Voting Yield Commitment With Flexibility, Journal of Public Economics 90(4), May 2006, I show that in the presence of dynamic inconsistency a committee deciding under a supermajority voting rule will optimally balance commitment and flexibility. PDF version


In “Plata o Plomo?”: Bribe and Punishment in a Theory of Political Influence, American Political Science Review 100(1), February 2006, (with Pedro Dal Bó and Rafael Di Tella) we show that factors causing more state capture tend to worsen the quality of politicians, and we show how legal immunity can decrease official corruption and increase the quality of politicians. PDF version (© 2006 by Cambridge University Press)


In Capture by Threat, Journal of Political Economy 111(5), October 2003, (with Rafael Di Tella) we study coercive influence by a special interest. The coercive nature of influence makes the efforts of a defending agent (the political party) only mitigating. Thus, under otherwise symmetric pressures and even when having a strict preference for doing the right thing, a political authority yields to socially suboptimal interest group influence with positive probability. In addition, factors that enhance capture by threat worsen the quality of politicians.

PDF version (© 2003 by The University of Chicago)



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