Author(s): Volha Charnysh, Brendan McElroy 

Status/Format: In Progress

Date: 2021

Explaining Outgroup Bias in Weak States: Religion and Legibility in the 1891-92 Russian Famine



Two dominant explanations for ethnic bias in distributional outcomes are electoral incentives and prejudice against outgroups. The paper proposes a novel, complementary explanation for this phenomenon: variation in legibility across ethnic groups. We argue that states will allocate less to groups from which they cannot gather accurate information and collect taxes. We support this argument using original data on state aid during the 1891-92 famine in the Russian Empire. Qualitative and quantitative analyses show that districts with larger Muslim population, ruled via religious intermediaries, received less generous public assistance and experienced higher famine mortality because they were less legible and generated lower fiscal revenues. Officials withheld aid because they could not verify the needs of the Muslim communities and guarantee the repayment of loans and overdue taxes. State relief did not vary with the presence of other minorities, which were subject to similar prejudices but more legible to the state.