A (very) short introduction to the dissertation:
During the past two decades, the welfare state has expanded rapidly in Latin America and other developing regions of the world. A large literature on clientelism reveals, however, that social welfare programs are often subverted by politicians who provide access to benefits to the rural and urban poor only in exchange for political loyalty and votes. As a result, welfare state policies provide citizens with economic benefits, but the clientelistic ties through which these benefits are distributed weaken citizenship.
An often neglected, yet fundamental, cost of clientelistic distribution of welfare goods is reflected in an individual’s ability to learn about the state and its processes. For citizens, clientelistic ties are an avenue available for solving problems or immediate needs (Auyero 1999a; Singerman 1995), especially when accessing the state bureaucracy is too difficult or costly (Krishna 2011). Although potentially an effective avenue for obtaining goods, the brokered nature of a clientelistic bargain also denies citizens the opportunity to directly experience and learn about their rights, eligibility to welfare programs and, more generally, denies them the opportunity of obtaining valuable experience navigating the bureaucracy. Forgoing the experience of political learning hinders the citizens’ future ability to exercise their rights and effectively voice their demands to those they elect (Pierson 1993).
I develop a theory of a “clientelistic policy feedback cycle”, which argues that clientelistic forms of distribution disrupt the formation of citizenship because they prevent citizens from learning about the workings of state and its bureaucracy, discouraging feelings of entitlement over social welfare benefits. Yet citizens depend upon clientelistic intermediaries to gain access to the state because obtaining benefits directly is informationally, transactionally, and psychologically costly. This pattern can be broken if the barriers to directly claiming benefits are lessened, allowing citizens to opt out of the clientelistic bargain.
To test my theory, I designed and implemented a large-scale randomized control trial administered across 150 villages in the Mexican state of Yucatán in the fall of 2016. The experiment is specifically designed to measure how lowering the costs of directly applying for social welfare affects individuals’ claim making behavior, sense of self-efficacy, and attitudes toward clientelism. Practically, treatment consisted of hiring a non-clientelistic broker trained to facilitate direct access to welfare programs by providing information about welfare eligibility and assisting in the process of applying to welfare programs —at no cost— to any interested citizen in 75 randomly selected localities. This allowed citizens in treated communities to apply independently to a range of benefits that would be otherwise distributed by politicians and brokers with political agendas. Informal clientelistic relationships overwhelm how citizens (particularly the rural poor) experience the state. In places where the state’s presence is scant and the full menu of welfare programs is unknown, citizens depend on clientelistic relationships to obtain state benefits (Auyero, 2001; Krishna, 2011; Zarazaga, 2014). These clientelistic relationships develop through a series of personal exchanges of goods and services between two individuals.
I find that when citizens are provided with the opportunity to request welfare benefits through non-clientelistic channels, they are more likely to independently make requests, both currently and in the future. I also find that citizens gain knowledge about bureaucratic procedures and find the procedure less difficult as a result of independent claim-making. Most strikingly, even before receiving any benefit, the experience of independent claim-making significantly and substantially reduces feelings of indebtedness to clientelistic brokers and increases citizen disapproval of the trading of welfare benefits for political loyalty, two key norms that sustain clientelism.