Does Political Affirmative Action Work, and for Whom? Theory and Evidence on India’s Scheduled Areas
Does political affirmative action undermine or promote development, and for whom? We examine Scheduled Areas in India, which reserve political office for the historically disadvantaged Scheduled Tribes. We apply a new theoretical framework and dataset of 217,000 villages to evaluate the overall impact of affirmative action on development, as well as its distributional consequences for minorities and non-minorities. Examining effects on the world’s largest employment program, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, we find that reservations deliver no worse overall outcomes, that there are large gains for targeted minorities, and that these gains come at the cost of the relatively privileged, not other minorities. We also find broader improvements in other pro-poor policies, including a rural roads program and general public goods. Contrary to the expectations of affirmative action skeptics, our results indicate that affirmative action can redistribute both political and economic power without hindering overall development.