When trying to understand how to help countries escape poverty, economists initially focused on macro topics like inflation, government deficits, trade balances, and capital inflows. Later there was a shift in focus to institutions, looking at whether and how competitive elections, strong legal systems, and other features facilitated investment and growth. More recently micro policy has become a new focus, with experimentalists conducting randomized trials to figure out whether or how much specific policies like de-worming, malaria bednets, or clean cooking stoves helped or why they might fail.
But regardless of whether a country is a democracy or dictatorship and regardless of whether the policies have been evaluated by a randomized controlled trial, someone has to carry them out. How are government personnel selected, assigned, and incentivized? How does this affect policy implementation? In her book, Regime Threats and State Solutions: Bureaucratic Loyalty and Embeddedness in Kenya (U Cambridge Press, 2020), Professor Mai Hassan explores these issues. She shows how bureaucratic assignments to different areas balance competing political and policy concerns, with a focus as much on maintaining power as on achieving development.
In our conversation, Professor Hassan mentioned a new working paper on the grudging and gradual formalization of property rights in Kenya, with my colleague at the University of San Francisco, Kathleen Klaus. She has also co-authored an article setting out a new agenda for the study of public administration in developing countries. Recently, she has begun studying Sudan, the country of her birth. One early product of this research is here.
Mai Hassan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on the state, autocracy, and regime change. She received her PhD from Harvard University.
Host Peter Lorentzen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of San Francisco. His research examines the political economy of governance and development in China.
Peter Lorentzen is economics professor at the University of San Francisco. He heads USF's Applied Economics Master's program, which focuses on the digital economy. His research is mainly on China's political economy.