Research

Historical Archive of Secretaría de Educación Pública, Mexico City

Dissertation

Elite Conflict and Developmental Public Goods in Revolutionary Mexico

My dissertation addresses the troubled relationship between authoritarianism and public goods. Political scientists have mixed expectations about the incentives of dictators to provide public goods that foster economic development. I argue that authoritarianism is not the main obstacle in the pursuit of prosperity, but neither are authoritarian institutions a reliable advantage. The cohesiveness and infrastructural capacity of the state apparatus are more important than the political regime. In turn, to understand ‘state capacity,’ we must look at the historical origins of state institutions and their persistence over time.

My dissertation contributes in this direction by studying a path of institutional development: the aftermath of a social revolution. Specifically, I study the state-building dynamics after the Mexican Revolution (1920-1940) and their impact on the public education system in the short and long terms. I show that elite-level conflict, specifically, the rivalry between the national leaders and their subnational allies, was the driver of the massive expansion of primary education access. Through the expansion of schools and the centralization of authority, the national leaders of the revolution redistributive in their favor a key political resource: the institutionalized links to rural workers and communities.

In turn, I show that the geographic patterns of schooling supply are a function of the political strength of the subnational elites. These regionally-based elites, encroached on the subnational levels of governors, resisted the presence of the national bureaucracy to defend the dominance of their regions. The subnational elites were in a better position to hinder the progress of national schooling when they were united in a common front against the center and counted on independent popular bases of support.

Articles

Regionalism against Centralization: Resistance to Federal Education after the Mexican Revolution (Accepted at Publius: The Journal of Federalism)

Why are states in the developing world able to centralize policy regulation and implementation in some places inside their territory but not in others? I argue that uneven state capacity in periods of centralization is a function of the political resources that regional actors have to resist the advancement of central institutions. Specifically, these resources are: (a) whether the regional actors manage to unite in a common front, and (b) whether the regional actors count on bases of popular support independent of the center. My theory derives from the study of Mexico’s post-revolutionary years, particularly, the expansion of federal primary education. I analyze four subnational cases representing different scenarios of regional resistance to centralization and compare my theory to alternative explanations.

Teachers as State-Builders: Public Education and Land Reform in Post-Revolutionary Mexico (Working paper)

Large-scale land redistribution is more likely to happen under autocracy, as constitutional checks and balances seldom work in non-democratic regimes. Specifically, the autocrat expropriates agricultural property when the landed elites split from the ruling coalition and become a threat to the autocrat in the early years of tenure. In this article, I problematize this conventional wisdom. I argue that autocratic elite splits do not automatically produce large-scale redistributions of property; often, the autocrat must create the institutional capacity to penetrate society and mobilize communities for land reform. The elite split hypothesis assumes that there is a segment of the population demanding to redistribute land and that the autocrat allies with this group by expropriating the wealthy. However, the existence of demand for land cannot be taken for granted. I support this claim with the case of Chiapas, a peripheral region of Mexico where the 1910 revolution did not happen. Chiapas lacked significant grassroots agrarian mobilization despite its extreme concentration of land. Moreover, the agricultural workers were allied with the estate owners to defend their livelihood and the indigenous communities of the hills were deeply distrustful of Mexican society. To incorporate Chiapas into the post-revolutionary regime, the leaders in Mexico City send primary teachers to mobilize agricultural workers and indigenous communities to request land. The teachers helped rural dwellers to navigate the complicated legal process of land petitioning and communicated that the authorities supported them against the intimidation of estate owners. In this article, I achieve two things. First, I present the case of Chiapas, explaining how the post-revolutionary state turned primary school teachers into political agitators. Second, I test a key empirical implication of my argument, the relationship of school presence with land petitions, using original microdata at the municipality level. This article not only contributes to clarifying the conditions under which the large-scale redistribution of property is politically possible but also contributes to understanding the policy-making process of autocracies and the relationship of public services to regime durability.

From Resistance to Cooperation: The Effect of Land Reform on Literacy in twentieth-century Mexico (Working paper)

It has often been observed that land redistribution in rural societies harms the expansion of basic education, especially because family farms utilize child labor. I argue that this is not necessarily the case; it may depend on the way in which land reform is implemented. I study the early expansion of public primary education in rural Mexico and propose that peasant communities responded with more enthusiasm to the presence of schools when they received land grants from the hands of teachers. Specifically, I compare two Southern Mexican states, Chiapas and Oaxaca, and the different ways in which land redistribution was implemented. Where teachers participated in property redistribution, land grants had a positive effect on literacy in the following decade; where teachers did not participate, land grants had a negative effect.