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Power of the masses group size, attribution, and the politics of export bans in Africa

Schulz, Nicolai (2020) Power of the masses group size, attribution, and the politics of export bans in Africa. World Development. ISSN 0305-750X (In Press)

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This paper sets out to answer the question why African governments aiming to industrialize their economies introduce export bans on some processable commodities and not on others. It forwards the hypothesis that governments fear restricting the export of commodities produced by a larger share of the population, as their producers tend to possess significant potential to endanger the political survival of rulers. Importantly, the paper argues that large producer groups can unleash this potential because export bans are clearly attributable to the government, the harshness and universality of its impact unite them, and equally affected (yet wealthier and better-organized) traders can help them overcome their usual Olsonian collective action problems. Yet, while the same holds for high export taxes, it does not for low export taxes. Low export taxes are less severe and visible in their impact, and traders are less agitated given that it is easier for them to pass on price distortions to producers. Producer mobilization is thus less likely and imposing low export taxes even on larger groups poses no significant risk to policy-makers. To test the argument against competing explanations, I conduct a large-N analysis based on an original dataset covering all export bans and taxes employed in 36 African states in the last three decades and find robust support for the core hypothesis: the larger the share of the population producing a commodity, the less likely governments will impose export bans on them. As expected, this also holds for high but not for low export taxes. Overall, these findings provide new insights into the critical role politics plays in industrial policy-making in Africa and shows that African mass producer groups can overcome collective action problems to oppose policies adverse to their interests in certain circumstances.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Divisions: International Development
Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2020 17:45
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2020 00:15

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