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Religion, Politics, and Development - Essays in Development Economics and Political Economics

by Erik Meyersson, Doctoral Thesis in Economics at the Stockholm University, Sweden

This thesis consists of three essays in development and political economics.

1. Islamic Rule and the Emancipation of the Poor and Pious

I estimate the impact of Islamic rule on secular education and labor market outcomes with a new and unique dataset of Turkish municipalities. Using a regression discontinuity design, I compare elections where an Islamic party barely won or lost municipal mayor seats. The results show that Islamic rule has had a large positive effect on education, predominantly for women. This impact is not only larger when the opposing candidate is from a secular left-wing, instead of a right-wing party; it is also larger in poorer and more pious areas. The participation result extends to the labor market, with fewer women classified as housewives, a larger share of employed women receiving wages, and a shift in female employment towards higher-paying sectors. Part of the increased participation, especially in education, may come through investment from religious foundations, by providing facilities more tailored toward religious conservatives. Altogether, my findings stand in contrast to the stylized view that more Islamic in‡uence is invariably associated with adverse development outcomes, especially for women. One interpretation is that limits on religious expression, such as the headscarf ban in public institutions, raise barriers to entry for the poor and pious. In such environments, Islamic movements may have an advantage over secular alternatives.

2. Islam and Long-Run Development

I show new evidence on the long-run impact of Islam on economic development. Using the proximity to Mecca as an instrument for the Muslim share of a country's population, while holding geographic factors fixed, I show that Islam has had a negative long-run impact on income per capita. This result is robust to a host of geographic, demographic and historical factors, and the impact magnitude is around three times that of basic cross-sectional estimates. I also show evidence of the impact of Islam on religious influence in legal institutions and women's rights, two outcomes seen as closely associated with the presence of Islam. A larger Islamic influence has led to a larger religious influence in legal institutions and lower female participation in public institutions. But it has also had a positive impact on several measures of female health outcomes relative to men. These results stand in contrast to the view that Islam has invariably adverse consequences for all forms of women's living standards, and instead emphasizes the link between lower incomes and lower female participation in public institutions.

3. The Rise of China and the Natural Resource Curse in Africa

The rapid emergence of China as one of the largest buyers of African oil has raised numerous concerns regarding not just the economic consequences, but also those related to the development of democratic institutions and respect for human rights. We produce a new empirical strategy to estimate the causal impact of selling oil to China on economic and political development, using an instrumental variables design based on China's economic rise and consequent demand for oil in interaction with the pre-existence of oil in Sub-Saharan Africa. We find that selling oil to China is unique in having large positive growth e¤ects, improvements in the terms of trade, while not lowering the manufacturing share of GDP or the labor for participation rate in any meaningful way. In contrast to what simple cross-sectional comparisons reveal, we also find either no, or negligible, negative impacts on the development of democratic institutions, and in the latter case, the impacts are similar to those of selling oil to the rest of the World. Furthermore, the consequences for human rights is surprisingly, if anything, marginally positive. In short, we provide strong new evidence that the characteristics of the trading partner matters. In the case of Africa, the Chinese oil trade has served as a crucial injection in a region where growth has been chronically low, without causing meaningful detrimental consequences for political development.

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