Night-time brilliance lights up political patronage

Jul 09, 2014

In some countries, a region that can lay claim to being the birthplace of a country's political leader is likely to get preferential treatment – bias that shines out when the intensity of night lights is compared with that in other regions.

This new approach to pinpointing regional favouritism has been developed by researchers from Monash University and the University of St Gallen. Using information on the birthplaces of political leaders in 126 countries, and satellite data on night-time from 38,427 subnational regions from 1992-2009, they established a strong relationship between light intensity and regional GDP.

Dr Paul Raschky from the Monash Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability said previous research had confirmed the connection between economic activity and light generated at night. But relating night-time light intensity to information about the birthplaces of politicians gave new insights into what determines regional favouritism.

"Our results suggest that being the leader's birthplace increases night-time light intensity and regional GDP by around four and one per cent respectively," Dr Raschky said.

Thelarge sample of countries in the study included both democracies and autocracies.

Zaire's former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko provided an extreme example of the phenomenon, Dr Raschky said. Mobutu had bank accounts and properties all over the world, but spent his money most lavishly in his remote hometown of Gbadolite.

"Mobutu built a huge palace complex costing millions of dollars, luxury guesthouses, an airport capable of handling Concords, and had the country's best supply of water, electricity and medical services," Dr Raschky said.

"The satellite imagery over the Gbadolite region clearly showed the rise of Mobutu, starting off with very little night-time light intensity through to extremely high levels during his reign, then easing off once he was no longer in power."

Similar effects were noted elsewhere, with any benefits gained by favoured regions unlikely to be sustained beyond a change in government. Inevitably, such favouritism was most common in countries with weak political institutions and poorly educated citizens.

"Sound political institutions and education are socially desirable and help keep political leaders accountable," Dr Raschky said.

"We demonstrate their importance in constraining regional favouritism. The enforcement of term limits also seems to be a crucial aspect."

The researchers also looked at the effect of regional favouritism on the distribution of and oil rents.

"Our findings suggest that donor agencies need to be very cautious when supporting countries with authoritarian leaders because such leaders mainly use foreign aid to the benefit of themselves, their family and clan members, and others living in their stronghold," Dr Raschky said.

He hopes his new approach will aid future research on regional favouritism and the political economy of regional development.

The research has been published in Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Explore further: Strong institutions reduce in-group favoritism

More information:

Related Stories

Strong institutions reduce in-group favoritism

May 05, 2014

Ineffective social and political institutions make people more likely to favour their family and own local social group, while good institutions make them more likely to follow impersonal rules that are fair to everyone, ...

Considerable variation in CT use in ischemic stroke

Apr 17, 2014

(HealthDay)—For patients with ischemic stroke there is considerable variation in the rates of high-intensity computed tomography (CT) use, according to a study published online April 8 in Circulation: Ca ...

Light at night, melatonin and bird behaviour

Oct 10, 2013

Low light levels, similar to those found in urban areas at night, can have a significant effect on melatonin production in birds at night. This suggests that melatonin could be mediating changes in bird behaviour at night. ...

Recommended for you

College rankings go under the microscope

9 hours ago

Parents, students and admissions officials have combed through college and university rankings for years. However, education researchers have largely ignored the controversial lists. That's about to change, according to a ...

A call to US educators: Learn from Canada

23 hours ago

As states and the federal government in the U.S. continue to clash on the best ways to improve American education, Canada's Province of Ontario manages successful education reform initiatives that are equal parts cooperation ...

Devices or divisive: Mobile technology in the classroom

Apr 17, 2015

Little is known about how new mobile technologies affect students' development of non-cognitive skills such as empathy, self-control, problem solving, and teamwork. Two Boston College researchers say it's ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jul 10, 2014
you would think Kenya would be doing better eh?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.