My research concentrates on applied economics, with a particular focus on economic history, international economics, and political economy.



Breaking the Unbreakable Union: Nationalism, Disintegration and the Soviet Economic Collapse (2018) Economic Journal, 128(615), p. 2933-2967

This paper investigates the effect of prospective secessions on economic integration and growth by examining the break-up of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Firstly, I show theoretically how regional elites had an incentive to restrict domestic trade once secession from the Union became possible. Secondly, I show empirically that the increased likelihood of secessions by the Union’s member republics strongly cut domestic trade. Thirdly, I show how this explains the severity of the Soviet output fall. These patterns persist once I instrument for prospective secessions with nationalist agendas that are exogenous to trade or growth.

Published version

Working paper version

VoxEU blog entry

Adjusting the Size of Nations: Empirical Determinants of Separatism and the Soviet Breakup (2019) Journal of Comparative Economics, 47(1), p. 50-64

This paper exploits large variation in separatist protests across the 183 provinces of the Soviet Union between 1987 and 1992 to measure the demand for autonomy and secession. This enables an investigation into the theoretical prediction that the incentive to separate should be influenced by the trade-off between the size of the potentially separating jurisdiction and preference heterogeneity. I find evidence consistent with the existence of this trade-off: Regions that are more different from the center along some dimension of heterogeneity see a higher incidence of separatist protests per capita. Likewise, proposals to grant autonomy to large jurisdictions attract disproportionately more popular support. These results persist after controlling for various factors influencing general protest turnout, including repression by the authorities.

Published version

Discussion Paper version


Rural Transformation, Inequality, and the Origins of Microfinance (with Nikolaus Wolf, 2020) Journal of Development Economics, 143

What determines the development of rural financial markets? Starting from a simple theoretical framework, we derive the factors shaping the market entry of rural microfinance institutions across time and space. We provide empirical evidence for these determinants using the expansion of credit cooperatives in the 236 eastern counties of Prussia between 1852 and 1913. This setting is attractive as it provides a free market benchmark scenario without public ownership, subsidization, or direct regulatory intervention. Furthermore, we exploit features of our historical set-up to identify causal effects. The results show that declining agricultural staple prices, as a feature of structural transformation, leads to the emergence of credit cooperatives. Similarly, declining bank lending rates contribute to their rise. Low asset sizes and land inequality inhibit the regional spread of cooperatives, while ethnic heterogeneity has ambiguous effects. We also offer empirical evidence suggesting that credit cooperatives accelerated rural transformation by diversifying farm outputs.

Published version

CESifo Working Paper

CEPR Working Paper


Did an oil Shock Cause the Collapse of the Soviet Economy? in Disrupted Economic Relationships: Disasters, Sanctions, Dissolutions (edited by Tibor Besedeš and Volker Nitsch, 2019) MIT Press, p. 249-272

Revisionist interpretations of the end of the Soviet Union argue that oil played a decisive role. This chapter presents an attempt to examine the role of oil in the Soviet collapse  conceptually and empirically. Conceptually, it argues that substantial links between the world economy and the domestic Soviet economy are difficult to establish. Empirically, it finds that the oil hypothesis cannot explain the behavior of key macroeconomic aggregates from 1965 to 1992. Moreover, evidence shows that the purchasing power of Soviet oil exports did not change radically between 1980 and 1991. The oil hypothesis is subsequently contrasted with two other explanations of the Soviet collapse: policy and territorial disintegration. It is suggested that these explanations carry substantially greater explanatory power than oil for understanding the Soviet collapse.

Published book

Chapter preprint


The Fiscal State in Africa: Evidence from one century of growth (with Thilo Albers and Morten Jerven, 2022) International Organization, pp.1-35

What is the level of state capacity in developing countries today, and what have been its drivers over the past century? We construct a comprehensive new dataset of tax and revenue collection for 46 African polities from 1900 to 2015. Our data show that polities in Africa have been characterized by strong growth in fiscal capacity on average, but that substantial heterogeneity exists. The empirical analysis reveals that canonical state-building factors such as democratic institutions and interstate warfare have limited power to explain these divergent growth paths. On the other hand, accounting for the relationship between African polities and the international environment – through the availability of external finance and the legacy of colonialism – is key to understanding their differing investments in fiscal capacity. These insights add important nuances to established theories of state building. Not only can the availability of external finance deter investment into fiscal capacity, but it also moderates the efficacy of canonical state-building factors.

Published version (open access)

AEHN Working Paper

Replication files

Fiscal Capacity Data access



Financing Late Industrialization: Evidence from the State Bank of the Russian Empire (with Theocharis N. Grigoriadis) submitted to journal

Can state-owned banks spur development? Gerschenkron (1962) identified the State Bank of the Russian Empire as the main institutional driver of the country’s catch-up industrialization. In this paper, we test this assertion by evaluating the outcome of a policy experiment (1892-1903) under the reformist Finance Minister Sergei Witte. The policy utilized the established branch network of the state banking system to extend cheap credit directly to industrial plants. We exploit variation in geographical access to State Bank branches between plants within the same province using a uniquely geocoded data set of factories. This permits us to circumvent the endogeneity of bank location to regional economic conditions. Our results show that improved access to public banking led to faster growth in factory-level output, mechanization, and labor productivity. In line with theories of late industrialization, we also find evidence that the effect of public credit was larger in regions where private sources of finance were scarcer and markets were smaller. However, our results also indicate that the effectiveness of the State Bank was limited by varying levels of state capacity within Russia, and more pertinently by low levels of human capital.

Working Paper (November 2021)


The Nationalist Dilemma: A Global History of Economic Nationalism (monograph forthcoming with Cambridge University Press) – Coming to bookstores in June 2023 (United Kingdom) and August 2023 (United States)

Online ISBN: 9781108917087

Book website


The Political Economy of Brain Drain  (with Theocharis N. Grigoriadis and Dimitry Veselov)


The Seeds of Trade: Agriculture, Market Integration and Malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa (with Andrea Guariso)

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