Ethnic Favoritism: An Axiom of Politics?
We investigate the prevalence and determinants of ethnic favoritism, i.e., preferential public policies targeted at the political leader's ethnic group. We are the first to study ethnic favoritism in a global sample and to use a broad measure - nighttime light intensity -- that allows capturing the distributive effects of a wide range of policies. We construct two panel datasets with several thousand ethnographic regions from around 140 multi-ethnic countries and annual observations from 1992 to 2013. We find robust evidence for ethnic favoritism: ethnographic regions enjoy 7%-10% more intense nighttime light and 2%-3% higher GDP when being the current political leader's ethnic homeland. We further document that ethnic favoritism is a global phenomenon prevalent both within and outside of Africa; that economic development and better political institutions have at best weak effects on ethnic favoritism; that ethnic favoritism is partly motivated by electoral concerns and extends to linguistically close groups; and that ethnic favoritism does not contribute to sustainable development.
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