How do economists study morality? What are the origins of secure and prosperous societies? Are political dynasties good or bad? Tune in to the latest episode of the Governance Podcast featuring Gabriel Leon (King’s College London) and Ernesto Dal Bo (Berkeley).
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Ernesto Dal Bo is the Phillips Girgich Professor of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a political economist interested in governance broadly understood. His research focuses on a range of topics: political influence, social conflict, corruption, morality and social norms, state formation, the development of state capabilities, and the qualities and behavior of politicians and public servants. Most of his teaching takes place in the MBA program at Haas, where he teaches ethics, and at the doctoral level where he teaches courses on political economy.
0:50: What made you get interested in economics and specifically political economy?
3:16: In your earlier work, you argued that elites can influence political outcomes, partly by threatening politicians or public servants or by accusing them of corruption even if there is no merit for that. What motivated you to start looking at that particular issue?
5:34: There’s this view by a lot of people in academia but also a lot of people on the ground, that all politicians are bad and are trying to enrich themselves, and one of the points that you make is that that’s not necessarily true—some politicians are good. It raises the question, how do we go about designing institutions that can deliver those good politicians?
8:02: There does seem to be a lot of cross-country variation in the attractiveness of working for the bureaucracy. In France, the view is that you want to work for the public sector. In the UK, there are some nice public sector jobs, and then there’s other parts of the world like Latin America, where that’s what you do if you can’t find anything else.
9:57: You’ve done some work on political dynasties: you’ve got the Bushes in America and Justin Trudeau and his father, and Mitt Romney and his father. There are many examples. What does your research find about them? Are they generally a bad thing or not?
13:34: That seems to go against the idea of a fully democratic system. Is there anything we can do to try and change hereditary power transmission?
15:28: You’ve done some recent work on morals, a topic that economics doesn’t really deal with, and political economy does to some extent, but not terribly much. What motivated you to start thinking about that issue in the economic framework?
18:25: This work is very interesting because it combines the idea that individuals can either be good or bad, or corruptible and non-corruptible depending on the context in which they operate, and that motivates my next question, which is—a lot of your work focuses on individuals while a lot of the political economy literature focuses on institutions, and individuals to some extent play a very little role. Do you see your approach as complementary to the institutional view, or is it more of a substitute?
20:24: Your work has recently turned to issues of state development, and you’ve made reference to what you call the ‘puzzle of civilization’ – what is that argument about?
23:58: Let’s talk a bit more about Latin America. There’s a lot that’s been happening recently. The continent seems to be experiencing a resurgence of authoritarianism and the re-emergence of charismatic leadership. What can explain the rise of politicians like Chavez on the left and Bolsonaro on the right?
27:32: Would you agree that democracy is under threat in the US, Latin America and parts of Eastern Europe?
29:43: What’s the next stage in your research agenda?