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Students in Economics and Political Science collaborate on research examining the effects of opportunity cost on candidate supply in Uganda


Columbia University Ph.D. candidates Walker Hanlon (Economics) and Guy Grossman (Political Science) traveled to Uganda to examine the effects of opportunity cost on candidate supply in local community empowerment groups.

The effectiveness of community empowerment groups, such as farmers associations and women’s cooperatives, often depends on the quality of their managers or leaders. Previous theories have suggested that the most capable potential managers may run for such leadership positions because they face higher opportunity costs. Through this research, Hanlon and Grossman expect to find that in small groups, managers often benefit significantly from the public good they produce, indicating that when an individual’s opportunity costs are related to their stake in the group, such costs may actually lead more capable members to become candidates for manager positions.

Their hypothesis is that the key factor determining an individual’s candidacy decions may be the source of opportunity costs, rather than their size. A formal model will be generated to examine variations in manager effort and consider how members use information about candidates’ opportunity costs and take in the organization to analyze the expected levels of effort by prospective candidates. This model will draw on elements from both Economics and Political Science, to incorporate topics such as opportunity costs, candidacy choice, and elections.

Hanlon and Grossman will then test the implications of the model using data collected from a sample of Uganda farmer associations. Through a multi-level and multi-method research design, data has been collected at the farmer, village, and sub-county levels. Using local research assistants, extensive information was gathered on a sample of 50 farmer associations through group interviews with farmers and group leaders. They found that the success of these farmer associations varied tremendously. While their model is still being tested, Hanlon and Grossman expect to find a rough inverted U-shaped relationship between the amount of effort required from the manager and the value of the public good that is ultimately produced.

Address Goals

This research reflects NSF’s strategic goal of Discovery in that it represents an unique and uncommon collaboration between students in Economics and Political Science. Hanlon and Grossman met through the IGERT-International Development and Globalization (IDG) seminar, where they both came to appreciate the values and benefits that one another’s academic discipline offered. Through their discussions in seminar they learned of their shared interests and later decided to collaborate on their research.

Their work also reflects NSF’s strategic goal of Learning, as both students need to learn the methodology of the other’s discipline in order to conduct this research.