My current research agenda can be organized along three main lines
I – Organized Crime and Politics
A central topic of my research concerns organized crime, and specifically its effects on the political arena. In a first study (Journal of Economic Behavior and Organizations), I show how political selection is affected by the mafia-murder of a politician in Italian municipalities. The level of schooling of the local politicians is substantially reduced after a political murder. This is in line with a drop in the expected payoffs from politics, which drives out the most educated candidates. However, in another study (Economic Journal), we show how law enforcement can fight back such detrimental effect of organized crime on political selection, testing the effects of municipal government dissolutions imposed by the national government for mafia infiltration.
In a related paper, (Journal of Public Economics), we test how - and why - criminal organizations attack politicians, exploiting a novel dataset of attacks and threats towards Italian local politicians allowing for causal inferences. This paper was presented in a dedicated session of the ASSA 2017 conference. My last current work on this topic investigates a screening mechanism to detect mafia-connected firms and exclude them from public subsidies when they apply for more than 150,000 Euros. We exploit this discontinuity to test whether firms self-select below the threshold to avoid the screening. We find a large increase in subsidies just below the threshold and after the approval of the law, suggesting that about 3.8% of firms applying for subsidies reduce rent-seeking to avoid police screening.
Overall, such studies have received Media attention inside and outside Italy (e.g. TheGuardian, ChicagoTribune, TheConversation). In Italy, I occasionally write for the blog LaVoce.info on such topics. I am also active on Twitter, on which I often discuss research related topics (I was ranked among the top-300 economists on Twitter). Moreover, I have been working with the Italian NGO Avviso Pubblico, which monitors the influence of organized crime in Italian politics, and I presented my papers to the Parliamentary Commission, “Commissione sulle intimidazioni agli amministratori locali”, aimed at investigating the phenomenon of political violence undertaken by criminal organizations. In October 2018, I was invited at the first Harvard Workshop on “Violence against Politicians: Theories, Data, and Implications” to provide an overview of my research on this topic.
II – Corruption, Political Accountability and Political Preferences
This second line of research includes four papers: i) a study on the role of political dynasties in modern democracies, in which we show how dynastic leaders rule differently from non-dynastic ones (submitted); ii) two papers on the effects of corruption scandals on political selection. A first, published on the Journal of Public Economics, shows how political parties change their political selection after different types of popularity shocks. A second (currently submitted) studies how politicians reoptimize their strategies after a big corruption scandal in Italy; iii) a last paper focuses on the effects of fiscal rules on corruption, finding that fiscal rules might deter corruption, but only in context with high quality institutions (work in progress).
Finally, two survey based studies explore how attitudes (social trust) and shocks (economic recessions) affect political preferences in terms of redistribution (European Journal of Political Economy) and European integration (Journal of European Public Policy).
III – Populism and Political Extremism
My most recent line of research includes three papers on populism. In a first one, we provide a theoretical framework and empirical analysis rationalizing fiscal policies and voting within federations. One of the central predictions of the paper is that voters select federal representatives with more extreme positions than the median voter, as long as federal co-funding schemes imply some degree of interregional redistribution. In a second paper (under review), we causally show how a big corruption scandal can lead to persistent change in institutional trust and voting behaviour, partially explaining the current populist rise in Italy. In a third paper, we study how public finance mismanagement could be a determinant of the supply of extreme candidates among French municipalities. This paper was presented at the last NBER workshop in Political Economy (October, 2018).