Leopoldo Fergusson

Universidad de los Andes
Department of Economics
Cra 1 No 18A - 12
Bogotá, Colombia


NBER Working Papers and Publications

April 2017Population and Civil War
with Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson: w23322
Medical and public health innovations in the 1940s quickly resulted in significant health improvements around the world. Countries with initially higher mortality from infectious diseases experienced greater increases in life expectancy, population, and - over the following 40 years - social conflict. This result is robust across alternative measures of conflict and is not driven by differential trends between countries with varying baseline characteristics. At least during this time period, a faster increase in population made social conflict more likely, probably because it increased competition for scarce resources in low income countries.
September 2016The Perils of High-Powered Incentives: Evidence from Colombia's False Positives
with Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson, Dario Romero, Juan F. Vargas: w22617
High-powered incentives for the military and security services have become a common counterinsurgency strategy over the last several decades. We investigate the use of such incentives for members of the Colombian army in the long-running civil war against left-wing guerillas, and show that it 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 coming from civi...
August 2012The Need for Enemies
with James A. Robinson, Ragnar Torvik, Juan F. Vargas: 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

July 2009He Who Counts Elects: Determinants of Fraud in the 1922 Colombian Presidential Election
with Isaías N. Chaves, James A. Robinson: w15127
This paper constructs measures of the extent of ballot stuffing (fraudulent votes) and electoral coercion at the municipal level using data from Colombia's 1922 Presidential elections. Our main findings are that the presence of the state reduced the extent of ballot stuffing, but that of the clergy, which was closely imbricated in partisan politics, increased coercion. We also show that landed elites to some extent substituted for the absence of the state and managed to reduce the extent of fraud where they were strong. At the same time, in places which were completely out of the sphere of the state, and thus partisan politics, both ballot stuffing and coercion were relatively low. Thus the relationship between state presence and fraud is not monotonic.
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