The Unintended Consequences of Decentralization in Colombia

Dr. Mario Chacón, NYU Abu Dhabi

Decentralization, widely defined as the increase in political, fiscal, and administrative autonomy of regional governments, is often proposed as an effective conflict resolution strategy. This paper explores a particular threat to the effectiveness of decentralizing reforms in war-torn countries, namely the incentives of illegal armed actors to capture local governments as they become independent. I argue that these incentives are influenced by the reliance on local rents by different armed organizations. In particular, non-state groups which main interest is to not combat the central government but other insurgencies may be boosted by the increase in local resources associated with decentralization. This relationship between political autonomy and conflict is explored using micro-level data on violence targeted toward local authorities in Colombia during the 1990s, decade in which fiscal and administrative autonomy was greatly increased. I exploit a change in the assignment mechanism employed to transfer tax revenues across regions to identify the effect of fiscal decentralization on the pattern of violence during the period. Although the evidence suggests a negative association between decentralization and violence against civilians, it also shows that the increase in public resources is associated with higher murder rates of local authorities and politicians. These effects are stronger in municipalities with more electoral competition, higher urbanization and potentially higher state capacity. The positive relationship between political violence and fiscal resources is consistent with the rent-seeking strategy of paramilitaries and guerrillas during the period. The Colombian experience calls attention to theories placing decentralization a simple, one-dimensional strategy, against insurgencies and terrorist organizations.

About the speaker
Mario Chacón, Assistant Professor of Political Science, NYU Abu Dhabi. He holds a B.A. and a M.A. in Economics from the Universidad de Los Andes Colombia, as well as a Ph.D. from Yale University. His main research interests are comparative political economy and political development, particularly in Latin American nations. He is currently conducting research on the relationship between political decentralization and armed conflict, on the institutional determinants of secession, and on the long-run impact of political violence in Colombia.

Venue: Conference Room

Date: 14 November 2013

Time: 12:30 - 13:30