Leander Heldring

Current affiliation
Donald P. Jacobs Scholar and Assistant Professor, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University



Research Interests 
Political Economy, Economic Development, Economic History

Robert C. Allen
Mattia C. Bertazzini
Leander Heldring
December 2020

    We estimate the effect of six river shifts in southern Iraq in a new archeological panel dataset. A shift creates a demand for government because private river irrigation needs to be replaced with public canals. We show three main results. First, where rivers shift states form, and existing states expand their capacity. Second, these states raise taxes and build canals to replace river irrigation. Third, where canals are built, population stays constant or even increases. Absent canals, the population migrates away. Our results are inconsistent with theories of public good provision that emphasize private negotiation as a substitute for government.

ForthcomingReview of Economic Studies
Leander Heldring
February 2018

This paper shows that the intensity of violence in Rwanda's recent past can be traced back to the initial establishment of its precolonial state. Villages that were brought under centralized rule one century earlier experience a doubling of violence during the state-organized 1994 genocide. Instrumental variable estimates exploiting differences in proximity to Nyanza -- an early capital -- suggest these effects are causal. In other periods, when the state faced rebel attacks, with longer state presence, violence is lower. Using data from several sources, including a lab-in-the-field experiment across an abandoned historical boundary, I show that the effect of the historical state is primarily sustained by culturally transmitted norms of obedience. The persistent effect of the precolonial state interacts with government policy: Where the state developed earlier, there is more violence when the Rwandan government mobilized for mass killing and less violence when the government pursued peace.

Leander Heldring
August 2020

This paper asks whether an effective bureaucracy acts as a break on or a catalyst for repression. I compare former Prussian to non-Prussian municipalities within unified Germany in a regression discontinuity framework during the Weimar republic and the Nazi regime. During the Weimar republic, when Jews were legally protected, violence against Jews is lower in former Prussian areas. During the Nazi period, Prussian areas implemented deportations of Jews more efficiently. In both periods, Prussian areas raised taxes more effectively and spent more on public goods. These results are driven by a dual effect of the organization of local bureaucracy: Prussian areas had more specialized bureaucracies, which increased efficiency. I argue that specialization diffused responsibility, and created the moral wiggle room to implement repugnant directives. Specialization motivated the famous `cog in the wheel' defense for Nazi crimes.

Revision RequestedQuarterly Journal of Economics
Leander Heldring
James A. Robinson
Sebastian Vollmer
August 2017
[Media Coverage: VOXeu.org]

     We examine the long-run economic impact of the Dissolution of the English monasteries in 1535, which is plausibly linked to the commercialization of agriculture and the location of the Industrial Revolution. Using monastic income at the parish level as our explanatory variable, we show that parishes which the Dissolution impacted more had more textile mills and employed a greater share of population outside agriculture, had more gentry and agricultural patent holders, and were more likely to be enclosed. Our results extend Tawney’s famous ‘rise of the gentry’ thesis by linking social change to the Industrial Revolution.

Robert C. Allen
Leander Heldring
October 2018

     The rise of the West involved a reversal of fortune between Europe and the Middle East. The latter was ascendant during the 7th-9th centuries when the economy, science, and learning flourished in Baghdad during the Golden Age of Islam. This efflorescence ended in the late 9th century as state capacity, rural settlement, agriculture, and urbanization all collapsed. This paper develops a model of hydraulic society to provide an integrated account of this collapse and calibrates it to assess the magnitudes. Cross sections of tax collection data for 28 districts in southern Mesopotamia in 812, 846, and 918 are analysed to empirically verify the connections among key variables. The proximate cause of the crisis was the collapse in state capacity which meant that the state no longer maintained the irrigation system. A particularly destructive succession struggle determined the timing of the crisis.

Leander Heldring
Luis Calderon
May 2020

    We present the asymptotic variance-covariance matrix for M-estimators, and show how it can be used to compute spatial standard errors for a large number of commonly used (non-linear) estimators. We consider OLS, Logit, Probit estimators, Poisson and Negative Binomial regressions, and the special STATA estimators areg and regdhfe. We provide STATA and Python software to implement our findings. 


Leander Heldring
James A. Robinson
in Carol Lancaster and Nicolas Van de Walle eds. Handbook on the Politics of Development, Oxford University Press. 
[Media Coverage: VOXeu.org]

     In this paper we evaluate the impact of colonialism on development in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the world context, colonialism had very heterogeneous effects, operating through many mechanisms, sometimes encouraging development sometimes retarding it. In the African case, however, this heterogeneity is muted, making an assessment of the average effect more interesting. We emphasize that to draw conclusions it is necessary not just to know what actually happened to development during the colonial period, but also to take a view on what might have happened without colonialism and also to take into account the legacy of colonialism. We argue that in the light of plausible counterfactuals, colonialism probably had a uniformly negative effect on development in Africa. To develop this claim we distinguish between three sorts of colonies: (1) those which coincided with a pre-colonial centralized state, (2) those of white settlement, (3) the rest. Each have distinct performance within the colonial period, different counterfactuals and varied legacies.