Does foreign aid harm political rights? Evidence from U.S. Aid

Faisal Z. Ahmed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The United States is the world's largest bilateral foreign aid donor. For many developing countries, this aid constitutes a nontrivial share of state revenue with the capacity to shape a recipient's governance. Whether such assistance has a causal effect on political liberalization, however, is plagued by concerns with endogeneity bias. To mitigate this concern, I exploit plausibly exogenous variation in the legislative fragmentation of the U.S. House of Representatives to construct a powerful instrumental variable for U.S. bilateral aid disbursements. For a sample of 150 countries from 1972 to 2008, U.S. aid harms political rights, fosters other forms of state repression (measured along multiple dimensions), and strengthens authoritarian governance. U.S. aid does so by weakening government accountability via the taxation channel. These findings counter the publicly stated objectives of the U.S. government to foster political liberalization abroad via bilateral economic assistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-217
Number of pages35
JournalQuarterly Journal of Political Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Foreign aid
  • Human rights
  • International relations
  • Political economy


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