Research Papers

Working Papers

  • Lierl, M. (2016). Cooperation Under the Risk of Capture: Why Citizens Pay Taxes That Can Be Embezzled. .
    Abstract ▼     Full Text (PDF) [PDF]    

    Why do citizens pay hard-to-enforce local taxes, if local governments are known to embezzle public funds? Evidence from behavioral experiments with village residents in Tanzania suggests that voluntary contributions to public goods are facilitated by local norms of moderation in embezzlement. In villages where greater moderation in embezzlement can be expected, citizens’ contribution preferences are less sensitive to the possibility that their contributions can be embezzled. Voluntary moderation in embezzlement can be explained by several behavioral mechanisms, including in-group solidarity, reciprocity, and norms of trusteeship. The findings have important implications for our understanding of tax compliance and public goods provision in situations where limited enforcement capacity coincides with weak public accountability.

    @article{Lierl2015a,
    title={Cooperation Under the Risk of Capture: Why Citizens Pay Taxes That Can Be Embezzled},
    author={Lierl, Malte},
    journal={},
    volume={},
    number={},
    pages={},
    year={2016},
    publisher={},
    abstract={Why do citizens pay hard-to-enforce local taxes, if local governments are known to embezzle public funds? Evidence from behavioral experiments with village residents in Tanzania suggests that voluntary contributions to public goods are facilitated by local norms of moderation in embezzlement. In villages where greater moderation in embezzlement can be expected, citizens' contribution preferences are less sensitive to the possibility that their contributions can be embezzled. Voluntary moderation in embezzlement can be explained by several behavioral mechanisms, including in-group solidarity, reciprocity, and norms of trusteeship.
    The findings have important implications for our understanding of tax compliance and public goods provision in situations where limited enforcement capacity coincides with weak public accountability. },
    doi={},
    url={http://www.maltelierl.info/files/Lierl2015a.pdf},
    status={working paper},
    group={Working Papers},
    display_order={2}
    }

  • Lierl, M. (2017). Elections and Embezzlement. .
    Abstract ▼     Full Text (PDF) [PDF]     Design Registration 🔗     Pre-Analysis Plan 🔗    

    Can democratic elections reduce rent extraction by public decision makers? Existing research suggests that reelection incentives can reduce the embezzlement of public funds. This paper examines three additional mechanisms through which democratic elections could have an impact on embezzlement, even in the absence of reelection incentives: (1) electoral selection effects, (2) social norms and norm enforcement, and (3) citizens’ trust in decision makers. Evidence from an experiment with 472 groups of citizens in rural Burkina Faso suggests that electoral selection favors benevolent candidates. Furthermore, elections increase citizens’ \emph{willingness} to punish corrupt decision makers, even if their \emph{ability} to do so remains unchanged. However, these beneficial effects of elections are offset by an unexpected adverse effect: Elections cause citizens to trust decision makers more than they should be trusted. These findings have important implications for the role of information in electoral democracy.

    @article{Lierl2016a,
    title={Elections and Embezzlement},
    author={Lierl, Malte},
    journal={},
    volume={},
    number={},
    pages={},
    year={2017},
    publisher={},
    abstract={Can democratic elections reduce rent extraction by public decision makers? Existing research suggests that reelection incentives can reduce the embezzlement of public funds. This paper examines three additional mechanisms through which democratic elections could have an impact on embezzlement, even in the absence of reelection incentives: (1) electoral selection effects, (2) social norms and norm enforcement, and (3) citizens' trust in decision makers. Evidence from an experiment with 472 groups of citizens in rural Burkina Faso suggests that electoral selection favors benevolent candidates. Furthermore, elections increase citizens' \emph{willingness} to punish corrupt decision makers, even if their \emph{ability} to do so remains unchanged. However, these beneficial effects of elections are offset by an unexpected adverse effect: Elections cause citizens to trust decision makers more than they should be trusted. These findings have important implications for the role of information in electoral democracy. },
    doi={},
    url={http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2817417},
    supplement={},
    registration={http://egap.org/registration/1246},
    pap={http://egap.org/file/522/download?token=3Ehhrw3q7yn1GN0yHBHmD3cIG0AhiFnQqBbs5EZuaX0},
    status={Working Paper},
    group={Working Papers},
    groupkey={Working Papers},
    display_order={3}
    }

  • Lierl, M. (2016). Preferences or Incentives: What Motivates Village Leaders to Refrain From Embezzlement?. .
    Abstract ▼     Full Text (PDF) [PDF]    

    This paper examines potential causal mechanisms through which democratic elections can affect local-level corruption. It compares the motives of elected and appointed village leaders to refrain from misappropriating public resources, considering both their intrinsic preferences and the extent to which their choices are constrained by concerns for their social reputations and future interactions in the village. Based on a behavioral experiment with local leaders in 48 Tanzanian villages, the paper shows that elected village leaders are intrinsically more motivated to refrain from rent extraction than externally appointed village leaders or ordinary citizens. However, the benefits of electoral selection can be undermined if elected leaders face incentives that discourage voluntary restraint.

    @article{Lierl2014a,
    title={Preferences or Incentives: What Motivates Village Leaders to Refrain From Embezzlement?},
    author={Lierl, Malte},
    journal={},
    volume={},
    number={},
    pages={},
    year={2016},
    publisher={},
    abstract={This paper examines potential causal mechanisms through which democratic elections can affect local-level corruption. It compares the motives of elected and appointed village leaders to refrain from misappropriating public resources, considering both their intrinsic preferences and the extent to which their choices are constrained by concerns for their social reputations and future interactions in the village. Based on a behavioral experiment with local leaders in 48 Tanzanian villages, the paper shows that elected village leaders are intrinsically more motivated to refrain from rent extraction than externally appointed village leaders or ordinary citizens. However, the benefits of electoral selection can be undermined if elected leaders face incentives that discourage voluntary restraint. },
    doi={},
    url={http://www.maltelierl.info/files/Lierl2014a.pdf},
    supplement={},
    status={Working Paper},
    group={Working Papers},
    display_order={4}
    }

  • Lierl, M. (2016). Social Incentives and Free Riding: Experimental Evidence from 48 Villages in Tanzania. .
    Abstract ▼    

    While peer sanctioning can effectively sustain cooperation in laboratory public goods dilem- mas, this may not always be the case in natural settings. In an experiment with ran- domly sampled residents of 48 villages in Tanzania, I show that the personal attributability of voluntary contributions reduced free riding only in a stranger setting, where individuals were unlikely to ever meet in person, but not among co-villagers, where repeated social inter- action outside the experiment is possible. Instead, the need to anticipate the consequences of free riding for their future social interactions and reputations outside the experiment caused some individuals to free ride more. I propose that egalitarian norms and redistributive prac- tices in village communities propagate selective tolerance for free riding and create social incentives for individuals to free ride, because they do not want to be perceived as wealthy, exploitable, or suspiciously generous. Across villages, a more negative effect of such in- centives in the experiment is associated with lower actual revenue mobilization and greater prevalence of centralized enforcement structures.

    @article{Lierl2014b,
    title={Social Incentives and Free Riding: Experimental Evidence from 48 Villages in Tanzania},
    author={Lierl, Malte},
    journal={},
    volume={},
    number={},
    pages={},
    year={2016},
    publisher={},
    abstract={While peer sanctioning can effectively sustain cooperation in laboratory public goods dilem-
    mas, this may not always be the case in natural settings. In an experiment with ran-
    domly sampled residents of 48 villages in Tanzania, I show that the personal attributability
    of voluntary contributions reduced free riding only in a stranger setting, where individuals
    were unlikely to ever meet in person, but not among co-villagers, where repeated social inter-
    action outside the experiment is possible. Instead, the need to anticipate the consequences of
    free riding for their future social interactions and reputations outside the experiment caused
    some individuals to free ride more. I propose that egalitarian norms and redistributive prac-
    tices in village communities propagate selective tolerance for free riding and create social
    incentives for individuals to free ride, because they do not want to be perceived as wealthy,
    exploitable, or suspiciously generous. Across villages, a more negative effect of such in-
    centives in the experiment is associated with lower actual revenue mobilization and greater
    prevalence of centralized enforcement structures. },
    doi={},
    url={},
    status={Working Paper},
    group={Working Papers},
    display_order={5}
    }

  • Lierl, M. (2014). Altruism, not reciprocity, explains cooperation between spouses in poverty-afflicted households. .
    Abstract ▼    

    A lack of cooperation between spouses can cause households to forgo opportunities to improve their economic situation. Studies of household welfare in low-income countries have documented patterns of inefficient intra-household decision-making, especially with respect to allocative decisions among married couples. However, not all couples make equally inefficient decisions. Why are some married couples able to maintain higher levels of internal cooperation than others? Is cooperation between spouses driven by the anticipation of reciprocity, or is it altruistically motivated? Through a field experiment in rural Tanzania, I show that the observable heterogeneity in spousal cooperation behavior can overwhelmingly be explained by other-regarding preferences, such as altruism. Anticipated reciprocity has, on average, only a negligible causal effect on cooperation between spouses.

    @article{Lierl2014d,
    title={Altruism, not reciprocity, explains cooperation between spouses in poverty-afflicted households},
    author={Lierl, Malte},
    journal={},
    volume={},
    number={},
    pages={},
    year={2014},
    publisher={},
    abstract={A lack of cooperation between spouses can cause households to forgo opportunities to improve their economic situation. Studies of household welfare in low-income countries have documented patterns of inefficient intra-household decision-making, especially with respect to allocative decisions among married couples. However, not all couples make equally inefficient decisions. Why are some married couples able to maintain higher levels of internal cooperation than others? Is cooperation between spouses driven by the anticipation of reciprocity, or is it altruistically motivated? Through a field experiment in rural Tanzania, I show that the observable heterogeneity in spousal cooperation behavior can overwhelmingly be explained by other-regarding preferences, such as altruism. Anticipated reciprocity has, on average, only a negligible causal effect on cooperation between spouses. },
    doi={},
    status={Working Paper},
    group={Working Papers},
    display_order={6}
    }

  • Lierl, M. (2013). Alternative Identification Strategies for Causal Mediation Effects. .
    Abstract ▼    

    The paper proposes a nonparametric identification strategy for causal mediation effects via a generalized control function approach akin to Newey and Imbens (2009). It contrasts the necessary identification assumptions with alternative sets of identification assumptions that have previously been proposed in the literature.

    @article{Lierl2013c,
    title={Alternative Identification Strategies for Causal Mediation Effects},
    author={Lierl, Malte},
    journal={},
    volume={},
    number={},
    pages={},
    year={2013},
    publisher={},
    abstract={The paper proposes a nonparametric identification strategy for causal mediation effects via a generalized control function approach akin to Newey and Imbens (2009). It contrasts the necessary identification assumptions with alternative sets of identification assumptions that have previously been proposed in the literature. },
    doi={},
    status={Working Paper},
    group={Working Papers},
    display_order={7}
    }

Published & Forthcoming

  • Lierl, M. (2016). Social Sanctions and Informal Accountability: Evidence from a Laboratory Experiment. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 28(1), 74-104. doi:10.1177/0951629815586885
    Abstract ▼     Full Text (PDF) [PDF]     Online Appendix 🔗     Replication Materials 🔗    

    When public goods are co-produced by citizens and public authorities, problems of free riding and problems of provider accountability frequently coincide. How are voluntary contributions to a public good sustained when they are vulnerable to rent extraction by a third party? In a laboratory experiment, I test whether contributions in a public goods dilemma can be decentrally enforced through costly, mutual sanctioning capacity, even if the contributions can be misappropriated by a third party. I find that costly sanctioning capacity among the beneficiaries of a public good can substantially reduce free riding, without increasing the rate at which contributions are misappropriated by the provider. However, this effect can be undermined if mutual sanctioning capacity exists between the third-party provider and the beneficiaries. Contrary to existing predictions, social sanctioning relationships which both embed the provider and encompass the beneficiaries of a public good are not associated with greater, but partly with lower public goods provision than sanctioning relationships which are only embedding or encompassing.

    @article{Lierl2013a,
    title={Social Sanctions and Informal Accountability: Evidence from a Laboratory Experiment},
    author={Lierl, Malte},
    journal={Journal of Theoretical Politics},
    volume={28},
    number={1},
    pages={74-104},
    year={2016},
    publisher={},
    abstract={When public goods are co-produced by citizens and public authorities, problems of free riding and problems of provider accountability frequently coincide. How are voluntary contributions to a public good sustained when they are vulnerable to rent extraction by a third party? In a laboratory experiment, I test whether contributions in a public goods dilemma can be decentrally enforced through costly, mutual sanctioning capacity, even if the contributions can be misappropriated by a third party. I find that costly sanctioning capacity among the beneficiaries of a public good can substantially reduce free riding, without increasing the rate at which contributions are misappropriated by the provider. However, this effect can be undermined if mutual sanctioning capacity exists between the third-party provider and the beneficiaries. Contrary to existing predictions, social sanctioning relationships which both embed the provider and encompass the beneficiaries of a public good are not associated with greater, but partly with lower public goods provision than sanctioning relationships which are only embedding or encompassing. },
    doi={10.1177/0951629815586885},
    url={http://jtp.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/06/24/0951629815586885.full.pdf+html},
    supplement={http://www.maltelierl.info/files/Lierl2013-appendix.pdf},
    replication={http://maltelierl.info/?page_id=433},
    status={Published},
    group={Published \& Forthcoming},
    display_order={1}
    }

  • Lierl, M., & Holmlund, M. (forthcoming). Performance Information and Voting Behavior in Burkina Faso’s Municipal Elections: Separating the Effects of Information Content and Information Delivery. In Dunning, T., Grossman, G., Humphreys, M., Hyde, S., & McIntosh, C. (Eds.), Information and Accountability: A New Method for Cumulative Learning Cambridge University Press.
    Abstract ▼     Full Text (PDF) [PDF]    

    Much of the scholarly and policy debate on information access and electoral accountability rests on the assumption that voters are more likely to support a particular candidate if they have reason to expect that this candidate will perform well in office. In this chapter, we disaggregate the causal chain by which access to information about incumbent performance could affect election outcomes. We carried out a field experiment in 38 rural municipalities in Burkina Faso that had been controlled by the same party since the 2006 elections. The varied study participants’ access to information about municipal government performance in local service delivery, while holding their knowledge of service delivery targets constant. This allows us to evaluate the effects of information content on each element of the causal chain that connects information access to voting behavior: Voters’ prior beliefs, their processing of information and expectation formation, the relationship between their beliefs and electoral preferences, and their decision to vote or abstain.

    @incollection{MetaketaChapter,
    title={Performance Information and Voting Behavior in Burkina Faso's
    Municipal Elections: Separating the Effects of Information Content
    and Information Delivery},
    author={Lierl, Malte and Marcus Holmlund},
    pages={},
    year={forthcoming},
    editor = {Dunning, Thad and Grossman, Guy and Humphreys, Macartan and Hyde, Susan and Craig McIntosh},
    booktitle={Information and Accountability: A New Method for Cumulative Learning},
    publisher = {Cambridge University Press},
    abstract={Much of the scholarly and policy debate on information access and electoral accountability rests on the assumption that voters are more likely to support a particular candidate if they have reason to expect that this candidate will perform well in office. In this chapter, we disaggregate the causal chain by which access to information about incumbent performance could affect election outcomes. We carried out a field experiment in 38 rural municipalities in Burkina Faso that had been controlled by the same party since the 2006 elections. The varied study participants' access to information about municipal government performance in local service delivery, while holding their knowledge of service delivery targets constant. This allows us to evaluate the effects of information content on each element of the causal chain that connects information access to voting behavior: Voters' prior beliefs, their processing of information and expectation formation, the relationship between their beliefs and electoral preferences, and their decision to vote or abstain. },
    doi={},
    url={http://www.maltelierl.info/files/MetaketaChapter.pdf},
    supplement={},
    replication={},
    status={Published},
    group={Published \& Forthcoming},
    display_order={2}
    }

In Progress

  • Holmlund, M., Ifkovits, D., & Lierl, M. (2016). Candidate Differentiation and Voters’ Demand for Information. .
    Abstract ▼     Design Registration 🔗     Pre-Analysis Plan 🔗    

    Do certain dimensions of candidate differentiation — such as ethnicity, religion, or national-level party politics — cause voters to ignore any other information about candidates in local-level elections? Taking advantage of the national-level regime change in Burkina Faso, the paper illuminates how voters form preferences over local-level candidates when long-standing patterns of political competition have suddenly been disrupted.

    @article{Lierl2016c,
    title={Candidate Differentiation and Voters' Demand for Information},
    author={Holmlund, Marcus and Ifkovits, David and Malte Lierl},
    journal={},
    volume={},
    number={},
    pages={},
    year={2016},
    publisher={},
    abstract={Do certain dimensions of candidate differentiation -- such as ethnicity, religion, or national-level party politics -- cause voters to ignore any other information about candidates in local-level elections? Taking advantage of the national-level regime change in Burkina Faso, the paper illuminates how voters form preferences over local-level candidates when long-standing patterns of political competition have suddenly been disrupted.
    },
    doi={},
    url={},
    supplement={},
    registration={http://egap.org/registration/1279},
    pap={http://egap.org/file/807/download?token=9TBrDl1b-hxcUk9_KVfam2rxxrSuQP7FsEHHETGlzp0},
    status={in progress},
    group={In Progress},
    groupkey={In Progress},
    display_order={10}
    }

  • Lierl, M., & Holmlund, M. (2016). Citizens at the Council: A Field Experiment on Citizen Observers in Burkina Faso. research in progress.
    Abstract ▼     Design Registration 🔗    

    We investigate (1) how the presence of ordinary citizens at municipal council meetings affects the behavior of municipal decision makers, and (2) how personalized invitations to attend a municipal council meeting as "citizen observers" influence citizens’ voluntary civic participation, as well as their attitudes towards municipal governance. In a first phase, from November 2015 through May 2016, the experiment is carried out on centrally appointed local councils (special delegations), which were established in the aftermath of the popular insurrection in 2014. In a second phase, following the 2016 municipal elections, the experiment will be continued on the newly elected municipal councils that will replace the special delegations.

    @article{Lierl2016b,
    title={Citizens at the Council: A Field Experiment on Citizen Observers in Burkina Faso},
    author={Lierl, Malte and Marcus Holmlund},
    journal={research in progress},
    volume={},
    number={},
    pages={},
    year={2016},
    publisher={},
    abstract={We investigate (1) how the presence of ordinary citizens at municipal council meetings affects the behavior of municipal decision makers, and (2) how personalized invitations to attend a municipal council meeting as "citizen observers" influence citizens' voluntary civic participation, as well as their attitudes towards municipal governance. In a first phase, from November 2015 through May 2016, the experiment is carried out on centrally appointed local councils (special delegations), which were established in the aftermath of the popular insurrection in 2014. In a second phase, following the 2016 municipal elections, the experiment will be continued on the newly elected municipal councils that will replace the special delegations.
    },
    doi={},
    url={},
    supplement={},
    registration={https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/1283},
    pap={},
    status={in progress},
    group={In Progress},
    groupkey={In Progress},
    display_order={9}
    }

Dissertation/Book Project

  • Lierl, M. (ongoing). Informal Governance: Enforcement and Accountability Under Weak Institutions.
    @book{InformalGovernance,
    title={Informal Governance: Enforcement and Accountability Under Weak Institutions},
    author={Lierl, Malte},
    year={ongoing},
    publisher={},
    abstract={},
    doi={},
    status={book project},
    group={Dissertation/Book Project},
    display_order={1}
    }

Please contact me directly for papers that are currently not posted publicly.