Does emigration enable or undermine political reform back home? I provide new theory and evidence on this relationship using evidence from Mexico. In the first section, I examine the impact of emigration on land redistribution. Mexico’s agrarian reform began during a period of high emigration, but migration flows were halted by the US Stock Market Crash in 1929. Using a fixed-effects approach, I compare the time path of agrarian redistribution in high- and low-migration areas before and after the exogenous shock provided by the Depression. I show that reform lagged in high-emigration areas prior to 1929 and that these patterns reversed after 1930. Drawing on an original formal model of migration and collective action and on archival research on the agrarian movement, I trace these outcomes to the role of emigration in relieving political pressure during the 1920s and to the importance of repatriates to the agrarian movement post-1930. I provide further evidence of the emigration “exit valve” effect using data from the US Bracero Program (1945-1964) and from El Salvador before and after the Soccer War of 1969.
In the second section, I investigate the relationship between emigration and local governance. I construct a simple formal model to highlight three mechanisms linking emigration with community cooperation: the wealth effects of remittances, the demographic effects of community absence, and the values effects of past migration experience. I test the implications of the model using multi-level data from the Mexican Family Life Survey and qualitative data collected through field research in 19 villages in three Mexican states. Using a research design to control for potential reverse causality between migration and governance, I find evidence that emigration reduces community cooperation but has varying impacts on local public service provision and use. I trace these differences to variation in how services are funded and provided and to whether private substitute services exist.
Labor Scarcity, Land Tenure and the Persistence of History: Evidence from Mexico
In a joint multi-paper project with Jennifer Alix-Garcia at the University of Wisconsin, we examine the long-run consequences of the sixteenth-century population collapse of colonial Mexico due to disease. While Mexico had been densely populated at the time of the Conquest, the indigenous population fell by between 70 and 90% during the first century of colonial rule. In the first paper, we link the collapse to the emergence of highly unequal land tenure patterns in Mexico. We posit that land concentration, enabled by depopulation in the early colonial period, gave the elite a powerful lever through which they could control both land and labor markets in the country through the early twentieth century. Using data on the number of individuals paying tribute to the Spanish Crown in the 16th and 17th centuries and measures of land concentration just before the Mexican Revolution, we show that higher proportions of the rural population lived on elite estates in 1900 in areas where the indigenous population declined more precipitously between 1570 and 1650. Our identification strategy exploits subnational variation in the climate shocks associated with a major disease outbreak in the late sixteenth century. These climate variables were constructed using data derived from tree-ring chronologies from the North American Drought Atlas (Cook and Krusic 2004). We illustrate the historical persistence of these effects by linking the collapse to the redistribution of land through Mexico’s twentieth-century Agrarian Reform, which determined the current land distribution of the country. This finding identifies an important channel through which the collapse continues to shape development outcomes today.