Academy of Science, Vienna 2015

“Why are some countries poorer than others?”

As a former development worker this question fascinates me. There are many factors. Most scholars agree that institutions, i.e. bodies of national law and social norms, are fundamental determinants of growth.

“How can a country obtain the institutions necessary for sustainable economic development?”

Today, reforms in developing countries often involve copying what works best in developed countries.
We still do not know why such institutional transfers often fail.


I investigate how institutions can be been copied into countries lacking them. My current research project investigates the role of individual actors involved in such transfers. The ongoing project looks in the identities of colonial officers towards the end of colonialism, when colonies prepared for independence.

I approach the issue from two angles. First, I have collected the biographical data of over 14,000 British colonial officers as a visitor at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton from 2014 to 2015. Preliminary findings, which were presented at Harvard Law School in June 2015, indicate a robust relationship between the composition of the colonial administration in the 1950s and 1960s and modern-day institutional quality. I have also started as series of interviews with surviving colonial officers. Project VOICES systematically archives and publish the personal histories of over 100 British colonial officers. The combined research program has been submitted for financing to the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant) in October 2018. 

Ongoing work

Institutional copying in the 20th century: The role of 14,000 British colonial officers
Did individual British officers determine the institutional development of former colonies? The article presents a new research program into institutional reform and economic development based on a newly established dataset of over 14,000 biographical entries of senior colonial officers in 54 British colonies between 1939 and 1966. The rich data permit a new methodological approach towards the question of how institutions are copied into countries with a radical focus on the individual actors involved in the institutional reforms before independence. The article discusses fundamental background information on the British colonial service in the 20th century and presents first preliminary analyses from within the new research agenda.
Forthcoming: Schmollers Jahrbuch (Journal of Contextual Economics).

Skills needed in state-building: Lawyers and economists
Successful institutional reforms require specific skills and training of those who implement them. In a dataset of 14,000 colonial officers, who were involved in the reforms preceding independence, officers with a legal or an economic training built more effective modern institutions.
Co-author: Claudia Williamson, Mississippi State University

Do extractive regimes employ more police officers?
Acemoglu et al. (2001) argue that initial conditions for first European settlers determined the nature of institutions established in the colonies. We test this hypothesis in a dataset of 14,000 British colonial officers in 45 colonies.
Co-author: Jesus Crespo, Vienna University of Economics and Business.

Peer-reviewed Articles

2017: “Institutional copying in the 20th century: The role of 14,000 British colonial officers”, Schmollers Jahrbuch – Journal of Contextual Economics, forthcoming.

2017: “Copying informal institutions: the role of British colonial officers during the decolonization of British Africa“, Journal of Institutional Economics, First View article.
Accepted manuscript / Data used in the article / Interviews used in the article.

2016: “Colonial Bureaucrats, Institutional Transplants, and Development in the 20th Century“, in: Becker P. and Nellen. S. (eds), Administory. Zeitschrift für Verwaltungsgeschichte, 1 (2016): 155-172.

2015: The effect of shareholders’ agreement binding provisions on firm value: Evidence from Brazil (with Luiz Ricardo Kabbach de Castro and Marina Gelman), RAE-Revista de Administração de Empresas55(3): 345-358 [in Portuguese].

2014: “When do institutional transfers work? The relation between institutions, culture and the transplant effect: the case of Borno in north-eastern Nigeria,” Journal of Institutional Economics 10(3): 371-397. The paper was shortlisted for the 2015 Elinor Ostrom Award.

Monograph (PhD Thesis)

2011: “Colonial Legacy and Institutional Development – The Cases of Botswana and Nigeria“, ÖFSE Forum Series No 52, Austrian Research Foundation for International  Development (ÖFSE): Vienna.

Other Publications

2017: “Project VOICES – a status report“, The Overseas Pensioner, 114: 20-21.

2016: “Overseas officers and development today. How your personal account makes a difference,” The Overseas Pensioner, 112: 27-31.

Working Papers

2012: “When do institutional transplant work“, working paper presented at the 2012 EAEPE in Krakow.

2011: “The role of informal institutions in building the institutional framework of an African state: The case of the Kanuri in Nigeria“, working paper presented at ISNIE 2011, Stanford.

2010: “Why did Botswana end up with good institutions: The role of culture and colonial rule“, working paper presented at ISNIE 2010, Stirling UK.

All publications from 2011 to 2014 have been financed with the support of the Austrian Science Found (Project AP23424-G11). Publications from 2016 to 2018 are financed by an Erwin Schrödinger Grant (FWF J3848-G28).