UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Essays on the political economy of equality, development, and influence in Indonesia and Singapore Peng, Nathan


This dissertation consists of three chapters investigating different questions under the themes of politics, inequality, and development. Chapter 1 explores whether aid given to regions with greater political accountability is more effective at fostering development. Proposing a novel way to measure political accountability—the distribution of public infrastructure—I account for contextual factors like topography and initial development levels to examine how equitably roads, schools, and health facilities are distributed in Indonesia. I then test if aid generates more economic growth when provided to regions with more equal infrastructure distributions. I find aid has generally inconsequential effects on subsequent development, but greater public infrastructure inequality is associated with higher, not lower, aid efficacy. Chapter 2 explores a new source of soft power that I call the domestic halo effect, which reflects the perceived developmental success of a given country. Using an online survey experiment in Indonesia, I explore if the domestic success of China and the US increases the desire to emulate their institutional styles. They do. Reminders of China’s economic success enhanced preferences for centralized institutions, while respondents prompted on the US’s cultural achievements leaned most towards decentralization. Causal mediation analysis confirmed that this effect acts independently of previously theorized channels. I also find that whether respondents “like” a foreign power —a ubiquitous measure of soft power— does not correlate with institutional preferences, suggesting that concerns over China’s charm offensive shifting public opinion on foreign policies in their favor are potentially overblown. Chapter 3 then examines why those who qualify for social assistance choose not to take it up. Leveraging a comprehensive dataset in Singapore, I find there are potentially 4.5 times as many elderly households who qualify for help but do not receive it as those who do. In other words, a significant proportion of potentially eligible recipients in Singapore are not receiving aid. Further analysis of Singapore’s social assistance history and potential reasons driving this behavior suggest that past public narratives linger on through perceived social rules even after official positions change, pointing to the efficacy of community- and social network-based solutions in increasing take-up.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International