NBER Working Papers by Juan F. Vargas

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September 2016The Perils of Top-down State Building: Evidence from Colombia's False Positives
with Daron Acemoglu, Leopoldo Fergusson, James A. Robinson, Dario Romero: w22617
How should a state which lacks the monopoly of violence go about acquiring it? We investigate the use of high-powered incentives for members of the Colombian army as part of a strategy to combat left-wing guerillas and build the state's monopoly of violence. We show that this top-down state-building effort produced several perverse side effects. Innocent civilians were killed and misrepresented as guerillas (a phenomenon known in Colombia as 'false positives'). Exploiting the fact that Colombian colonels have stronger career concerns and should be more responsive to such incentives, we show that there were significantly more false positives during the period of high-powered incentives in municipalities where a higher share of brigades were commanded by colonels and in those where checks co...
August 2012The Need for Enemies
with Leopoldo Fergusson, James A. Robinson, Ragnar Torvik: w18313
We develop a political economy model where some politicians have a comparative advantage in undertaking a task and this gives them an electoral advantage. This creates an incentive to underperform in the task in order to maintain their advantage. We interpret the model in the context of fighting against insurgents in a civil war and derive two main empirical implications which we test using Colombian data during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe. First, as long as rents from power are sufficiently important, large defeats for the insurgents should reduce the probability that politicians with comparative advantage, President Uribe, will fight the insurgents. Second, this effect should be larger in electorally salient municipalities. We find that after the three largest victories against the FA...

Published: Leopoldo Fergusson & James A. Robinson & Ragnar Torvik & Juan F. Vargas, 2016. "The Need for Enemies," The Economic Journal, vol 126(593), pages 1018-1054. citation courtesy of

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