CPS Researcher Profile: Ugo Troiano – How can policies improve life of the people?

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Ugo Troiano.

This post is part of a researcher profile series that explores how Center for Political Studies (CPS) researchers came to their work. Today we profile Ugo Troiano, Faculty Associate in CPS and Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics.

troianoGrowing up in Taranto, Italy, Ugo Troiano became fascinated with debate over the local steel factory. He followed discussions of how dormant policies could influence economics. This opened Troiano to a bigger question: How can policies improve the life of the people?

Troiano already loved the social sciences and math. In economics, he found a fusion of the two and a toolbox to tackle this big question. He studied economics at Bocconi University. During his junior year, Troiano studied abroad at the University of Pennsylvania. This experience opened his eyes to the fruitful research environment of U.S. universities. After graduating from Bocconi, he enrolled in Harvard University’s Department of Economics to pursue a Ph.D.

For his dissertation, Troiano continued to explore the question of how policies can improve lives. In particular he looked at (1) how fiscal restrains can reduce government debt, (2) how a government program to combat tax evasion impacted vote choice, and (3) how maternity leave policies reflect gender equality.

Troiano continues to explore the central question of his research, studying how political incentives shape the implementation and consequences of public policies, using both traditional economic tools and tools from other social sciences, especially psychology, linguistics, sociology and political science. He joined the Department of Economics at the University of Michigan in 2013.  He joined the Center for Political Studies, which he sees as reflecting the political science underpinnings of his work, in the fall of 2014.

Q&A on Ukraine: Troop movements, sanctions, and Russia’s plans

Written by William Foreman for Global Michigan. Reblogged here with permission.

Pro-Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine. (Credit: VOA)

Pro-Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine. (Credit: VOA)

As the conflict grinds on in Ukraine, there are more questions about Russia’s intentions, the effectiveness of sanctions and what the West can do to end the fighting. These issues were discussed in a Global Michigan interview with Yuri Zhukov.

Zhukov is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan and a faculty associate at the Center for Political Studies. His expertise is in international and civil conflicts.

Yuri Zhukov

Yuri Zhukov

The scholar has several projects ongoing on the fighting in East Ukraine. He’s interested in rebel movements in the region, the economics behind the conflict, military operations and the “information war” in the Russian and Ukrainian media. He recently wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs.

What is Russia up to now?

Zhukov: Last week, NATO accused Russia of sending tanks and artillery into Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported seeing a column of unmarked military trucks heading toward Donetsk. Russia denies these claims, and accuses Ukraine of concentrating its own forces near the front line. In fact, both sides of the conflict have been steadily ratcheting up tensions since elections this fall, in government and separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine. The outcome in each election simply reinforced the status quo, but both sides may now feel they have a stronger mandate to take bold steps.

Are the reported troop movements into Ukraine part of a plan to create a land bridge with Crimea or annex more of the country?

Zhukov: These troop movements are not large enough to take significant territory outside rebel-held areas in Donetsk and Luhansk. They are more likely reinforcements for rebel units fighting in Donetsk airport and other contested areas and a deterrent against sudden moves by Ukraine.

Are the sanctions helping or hurting Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Zhukov: In the short term, the sanctions may have created a “rally-around-the-flag” effect, which boosts Putin’s domestic popularity. But historically, Putin has owed much of his popularity to perceptions of sound economic management. Russian consumers are seeing higher food prices, and the ruble has lost over a third of its value since the crisis began. Putin’s poll numbers are still high, but beginning to fall.

If the fighting escalates, should the U.S. and EU provide arms to Ukraine?

Zhukov: Some countries have already provided military aid, on a bilateral basis, most of it nonlethal. The larger question is whether Western military aid can actually change the military balance of power on the ground. Russia will surely see such a policy as a major provocation and will respond in kind. This could trigger an arms race along the lines we have seen in Syria, with increasing flows of weapons and fighters to both sides. This is also a commitment that the West would need to sustain for some time. Major military aid may deter rebels from taking more ground but is unlikely to reverse existing rebel gains in the near future.

Should there be more sanctions?

Zhukov: It depends. Some types of sanctions—like freezing the assets of wealthy Russians in Europe—actually align with Putin’s policy goal of “de-offshorization.” Anything that makes it more difficult for powerful Russians to park their money abroad is a win for Putin. Some of the new measures currently on the table—like blocking Russian banks and businesses from the SWIFT financial transaction system—will have bigger impact.

Sanctions can and are already hurting Russia’s economy. Whether they can also change the course of the Ukrainian conflict is a different matter. There is no “magic switch” that Putin can press to stop the fighting. The rebel high command has been replaced by a cadre of more professional, manageable leaders, but the rebellion as a whole is still a diverse, fractious lot. Many rival militias are looking to carve a place for themselves in the new “Peoples’ Republics,” and quite a few locals feel betrayed that Russia did not intervene more forcefully. Sanctions are unlikely to change the decision calculus of these actors.

What more can the West do?

Zhukov: The West has limited options, and many of them—like military aid, alliance commitments to Ukraine, even sanctions—are more likely to escalate the conflict than stop it. Russia has made clear that it is ready to intervene if the tide of the war turns decisively against the rebels—as it did, temporarily, in August this year. Any future steps—in Kyiv or the West—will take place against the background of this latent threat of force. What’s worse, the terms of the current ceasefire agreement are suboptimal for all parties. Rebel leaders want to eliminate pockets of government forces and create a more contiguous, governable territory. The Ukrainian president is under pressure from hard line elements in the government to take bolder action. The best course of action for the U.S. is to tread carefully, and do everything possible to restrain both sides.

 

What can statebuilding tell us about ISIL?

Post developed by Katie Brown and David A. Lake.

ISIL (a.k.a. ISIS, a.k.a. Da’ish) in Syria and Iraq. Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Boko Haram in Nigeria. Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. All of these insurgent groups have risen to power in failed states, or “ungoverned spaces.” Can we fix these failed spaces?

DSC_0013David A. Lake, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California San Diego and Director of the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research, addressed this question in a talk titled “The Statebuilder’s Dilemma: Legitimacy, Loyalty, and the Limits of External Intervention” at the annual Harold Jacobson Lecture in International Law which was held on October 23rd, 2014.

Statebuilding seeks to bring stability to unstable regions. Typically, an outside political power, e.g., the United States, will create a new government in a volatile region. In doing so, they attempt to bring a monopoly to legitimate violence. Usually this means supporting a political leader who can build a political coalition to overcome the conflicts. Often, the statebuilder marches in, plants a stake in the ground, and declares a new order. They guarantee this order as long as the different factions honor the new regime.

Statebuilding presents challenges. First, it is very expensive, with the bulk of the cost falling on the failed state. The key to success is balancing legitimacy and loyalty, which proves to be a delicate balance. That is, the new leader must remain loyal to the statebuilder but also seem legitimate to the local population. The more interest the statebuilder has in the region, the more they will require loyalty. Statebuilding fails when the new leader balks at the loyalty. Instead, money meant to be invested in building infrastructure is diverted into building his political coalition.

With the exception of Japan and Germany post-World War II, statebuilding tends to fail. The opening examples exemplify this. So Lake poses the important question: What can be done?

Lake facetiously suggests not engaging in statebuilding as the best solution. Recognizing abstention to be unlikely, he offers a few other guidelines. First, better strategy and implementation is needed, especially around election timing and monitoring. Second, an international coalition should monitor statebuilding and the process of transferring power completely to the new state.

Measuring and Catalyzing Change from Within: the Arab Democracy Index

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Khalil Shikaki.

Can measurement promote democratization in the Arab world? Khalil Shikaki, visiting scholar at the Center for Political Studies (CPS), believes the answer is “yes.” In 2006, he set out to create an instrument to measure both the direction and sustainability of the transitional process. The resulting Arab Democracy Index is a joint project between the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), the Arab Reform Initiative, and the Arab Barometer.

The Arab Democracy Index is unique in that it comes from within the Arab world to reflect local experiences. It also pulls from three main sources: data on government actions, reviews of legal and constitutional text, and public opinion data. Local teams in nine to twelve countries collect this data, tailoring the standardized process based on their local expertise. Together, these sources offer insight into 40 indicators of democracy.

The Arab Democracy Index indicators break down into two types. First, there are Means, e.g., legislation, which speak to democracy de jure. Second, there are Practices, e.g., elections, which speak to democracy de facto. Data in each category tally to a total. Scores below 400 constitute an undemocratic state, 400 to 699 indicate early signs of transition, 700 to 1,000 highlight visible progress toward democracy, and scores above 1,000 pertain to already democratic nations. The graph below displays the results for all Arab countries. Overall, Means remain relatively constant while Practices show signs of improvement.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 4.25.24 PM

The data can also be broken down by country, as in the graph below. As we can see, some nations are driving this positive trend while others are moving away from democracy during this period.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 4.27.53 PM

The results led to reports, issued in 2008, 2009, and 2010, that not only document opinion but offer policy recommendations for policy change tailored to each country. Shikaki notes that while political and civil rights have improved, more must be done. Specifically, he recommends a focus on reforming education, social justice, and socio-economic reforms. The Arab Democracy Index also underscores an important larger point: external pressure from the U.S. Department of State can help change democracy in theory, but change in practice must come from within.

How childhood in Japan led Nahomi Ichino to the study of Africa

Post developed by Katie Brown and Nahomi Ichino.

This post is a special edition of our researcher profile series. We’re very pleased to welcome Nahomi Ichino to the Center for Political Studies (CPS)!

Ethnic politics and voter behavior in developing countries have long fascinated Nahomi Ichino. She partly attributes this to the relative homogeneity of Japan. The idea that people could be divided across many different ethnic groups and that this could be a major impediment for people to work together to make decisions for society as a whole seemed foreign and therefore intriguing to Ichino. News coverage of the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia sparked her interest in developing countries and Africa in particular.

WorldMap-01

As an undergraduate at Yale University, Ichino took a class on economic development in Africa with Christopher Udry. The course focused on how individuals in poor societies coped with risk and the lack of information as they made economic decisions like saving, borrowing, and lending money, or investing in the education of male and female children. Even as Ichino went onto study more macro-level political topics like political parties, she kept an interest in how individuals made political decisions in these environments.

After graduation with a degree in political science, Ichino continued to study this topic through graduate school, earning a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University in 2008. She then joined the faculty at Harvard University’s Department of Government. Ichino continued to focus on sub-Saharan Africa during her time at Harvard, where she considered ethnic politics and voter behavior in developing democracies. With support from the National Science Foundation, she conducted research in Ghana, and produced a number of articles. Ichino has also conducted fieldwork in Uganda, Nigeria, Benin, Malawi, and Zambia. She also writes on methodological issues. Her work has been featured in the American Political Science Review and the American Journal of Political Science, among others.

How the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict Changed Palestinian Views 

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Khalil Shikaki and Mark Tessler.

Photo credit: ThinkStock

Photo credit: ThinkStock

This summer witnessed intense fighting between Israel and Gaza. With tens of thousands of rockets fired, the conflict killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 80 Israelis, mostly soldiers. How has the most recent conflict affected Palestinian attitudes?

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Research (PCPSR) conducted a survey to gauge this impact. PCPSR is run by Khalil Shikaki. This year, Shikaki is a visiting scholar at the Center for Political Studies (CPS), working closely with CPS Research Professor and expert on the Middle East Mark Tessler. In this post, we offer results from PCPSR’s study along with insight from Tessler to understand the impact of the conflict on Palestinian public opinion.

PCPSR surveyed 1,270 adults in 127 locations across the West Bank and Gaza Strip between August 26 and August 30, 2014, coinciding with the first lasting ceasefire of the conflict. Results suggest that a significant majority (79%) of the Palestinian public views Hamas as the conflict’s winner. Just 3% believe Israel emerged victorious, while 17% believe both sides lost. Likewise, 79% blame Israel for starting this wave of fighting, while 86% support launching rockets at Israel from Gaza when under attack. As for the ceasefire agreement: 63% think it satisfies Palestinian interests.

Photo credit: ThinkStock

Photo credit: ThinkStock

In addition to these conflict-specific findings, the PCPSR study also finds increasing support for Hamas among Palestinians to levels not seen since 2006. If elections occurred today, current Hamas deputy political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh would easily win a presidential race against current president Mahoud Abbas. This is a massive shift in public opinion. Tessler notes that before the most recent conflict, support for Hamas was fading. Shikaki attributes this gain to the conflict, while predicting the Hamas support may wane as time passes. Tessler likewise cautions, “If things do settle down for a reasonable period and there is a new and stable status quo, any spike in Hamas popularity will probably drift back toward its ‘normal’ level based on what people favor and perceive with respect to political Islam, compromise with Israel, corruption and other issues that drive Palestinian politics in normal times.” Thus, the lingering effects of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict will depend on whether or not the ceasefire continues.

Khalil Shikaki will give a talk at the CPS Interdisciplinary Workshop on Politics and Policy on September 17, 2014 in Room 6006 of the Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

 

 

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