Papers in Progress
“A Signaling Theory of Human Rights NGOs”
This paper applies social signaling theory to human rights non-governmental organizations (HRNGOs). Extant research suggests that while some people are motivated to donate to charity for public benefits (NGO outcomes), another important motive is to obtain private benefits, particularly social status and prestige. Signaling occurs when individuals engage in altruistic behavior to signal their type: that they are wealthy, have low discount rates and a cooperative disposition, they are empathic and compassionate, and/or otherwise conform with group norms and expectations. According to the signaling theory of charity, donors receive status benefits, not for the consequences of their donation on welfare outcomes, but for what the donation says about their underlying socially desirable traits. This finding leads to several implications for the study of HRNGOs, which I develop and test in this paper. First, a de-emphasis on HRNGO outcomes between donor and NGO leads to the adoption of HRNGO evaluation policies that are designed to further enhance reputational benefits to the donor, rather than to further optimize the work of the HRNGO. Second, a de-emphasis on HRNGO outcomes between external charity evaluators and NGO leads to the adoption of NGO accountability standard-setting that is disconnected from HRNGO effectiveness. Third, status concerns among donors produce financial incentives for HRNGOs to report human rights violations already known to their donor base, rather than to generate interest in neglected causes. The empirical test supports the signaling theory of charity: donors pay for status benefits; in return, HRNGOs produce reputational benefits.
“Human Rights Treaty Obligations and State Commitment” with Wayne Sandholtz (under review)
Why do some human rights treaties receive rapid and near universal commitment from states while others take decades for the majority of states to ratify? Research on human rights treaty commitment analyzes the costs of ratifying treaties in terms of regime type and other state-level attributes. But little scholarship to date has analyzed the effects of treaty design, in particular, the substance of treaty obligations, on the likelihood of ratification. We analyze new data that code every provision of ten global human rights treaties for the strength and precision of the obligations they contain. We classify obligations that are strong, precise, and that require domestic action as “demanding.” We hypothesize that treaties containing more of these demanding obligations would be seen as more costly to ratify because they imply potentially greater policy adaptation or compliance costs. Event history analyses are consistent with that hypothesis.
"Productive Pacifists: The Rise of Production-Oriented States and Decline of Territorial Conquest" with Jonathan Markowitz, Benjamin A.T. Graham, and Christopher J. Fariss
Given that the gains from conquest have been falling why do some states still have a strong interest in seeking to capture these gains? We argue that regime type and land-rent dependence influence a regime’s preference for territory. The more autocratic the regime, and the more it depends on rents extracted from land (i.e. the more land-oriented the state’s economy), the greater a regime’s willingness to invest in territorial conquest. We develop a novel measure of land-orientation, with 200 years of data coverage, to evaluate the empirical linkages between land-orientation, regime type, and conquest. We evaluate a wide range of alternative specifications and find robust evidence that land-oriented states are more likely to project power to take territory (and to take economically valuable territory in particular). These results hold controlling for the level of economic development and a range of other factors. The global reduction in land-oriented economies offers a plausible explanation for the decline in the frequency of large-scale territorial conquest since the end of World War II, while also explaining why some states continue to use military force to seek territory in the 21st century.
"The Role of NGOs in Drafting Human Rights Treaties: Imprecision or Socialization?" with Barbara Koremenos
The Continent of International Law (Koremenos 2016) assumes a strategic bargaining model between states during treaty negotiation. One finding is that states use imprecise language to solve severe distribution problems when trying to codify and export norms. However, in the human rights context, NGOs are often closely involved in negotiations, sometimes even drafting the initial treaties. How does the introduction of non-state actors into the model influence or modify the rational design of human rights legal agreements? We probe three possible conjectures. (1) Treaty language becomes less precise given that states must accommodate yet another actor with more extreme preferences. (2) NGOs socialize states into adopting preferences closer to theirs, mitigating the distribution problem and resulting in more precise language. (3) Optional protocols accommodate the preferences of NGOs. We map the drafting process of human rights treaties, tracking the evolution of imprecise language and the addition of optional protocols as NGOs and other states work to both draft treaties as well as socialize the negotiating states. We aim to uncover whether NGOs socialize states and thereby help create precise human rights treaties or, if the introduction of NGOs works against their very aims and forces states to adopt imprecise language.
Popular Press Publications
"The Virtue Economy," Quillette, January 31, 2019