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The Need for Enemies

  • Leopoldo Fergusson
  • James A. Robinson
  • Ragnar Torvik
  • Juan F. Vargas

We develop a political economy model where some politicians have a comparative advantage in undertaking a task and this gives them an electoral advantage. This creates an incentive to underperform in the task in order to maintain their advantage. We interpret the model in the context of fighting against insurgents in a civil war and derive two main empirical implications which we test using Colombian data during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe. First, as long as rents from power are sufficiently important, large defeats for the insurgents should reduce the probability that politicians with comparative advantage, President Uribe, will fight the insurgents. Second, this effect should be larger in electorally salient municipalities. We find that after the three largest victories against the FARC rebel group, the government reduced its efforts to eliminate the group and did so differentially in politically salient municipalities. Our results therefore support the notion that such politicians need enemies to maintain their political advantage and act so as to keep the enemy alive.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18313.

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Date of creation: Aug 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as The Need for Enemies Leopoldo Fergusson1, James A. Robinson2, Ragnar Torvik3,* andJuan F. Vargas4 Article first published online: 14 OCT 2014 DOI: 10.1111/ecoj.12174
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18313
Note: POL
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  1. Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, 1995. "Do Good Or Do Well? Public Debt Management In A Two-Party Economy," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 7(1), pages 59-78, 03.
  2. Cukierman, A. & Tommasi, M., 1997. "When does it take a Nixon to go to China?," Discussion Paper 1997-91, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  3. Jorge Restrepo, Michael Spagat and Juan Vargas, 2003. "The Dynamics of the Colombian Civil Conflict: A New Data Set," Royal Holloway, University of London: Discussion Papers in Economics 03/12, Department of Economics, Royal Holloway University of London, revised Dec 2003.
  4. David Stromberg, 2008. "How the Electoral College Influences Campaigns and Policy: The Probability of Being Florida," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 769-807, June.
  5. James A. Robinson & Ragnar Torvik, 2006. "A Political Economy Theory of the Soft Budget Constraint," NBER Working Papers 12133, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1998. "Sources of Inefficiency in a Representative Democracy: A Dynamic Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 139-56, March.
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