Peer Reviewed

McPherson-Smith, 2021. Leveraging Low State Capacity for Economic Development: A Case Study of Tajik-Afghan Cross-Border Markets. Central Asian Survey.
doi: 10.1080/02634937.2021.1958750


Discussions about state capacity and special economic zones (SEZs) arise in disparate academic circles, despite the fact that they both often address the relative level of state intervention in economic activity. Can the economic limitations of low state capacity be mitigated by the benefits of an SEZ? Drawing from interviews with NGO workers, bureaucrats, and traders in the GBAO region of Tajikistan, this paper presents the case of the Tajik-Afghan cross-border free trade markets as an example of a popular SEZs in a region marked by enduring diminished administrative state capacity. Highlighting the use of the administrative capacity of non-state actors, and its periodically contentious intersection with state coercive capacity, this paper illustrates the novel creation of SEZs to facilitate economic growth in contexts of enduring low administrative state capacity.

McPherson-Smith, 2021. Better Off Alone: Somaliland, Institutional Legacy, and Prosperity. The Journal of the Middle East and Africa.
doi: 10.1080/21520844.2021.1915649.


Somalia is a country of two realities: the internationally recognized Federal Republic of Somalia and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland. While the Federal Republic endures chronic instability and unrest, Somaliland has established security, economic growth, and a functioning government. This article argues that a significant contributing factor to this divergence is the radically different colonial regimes that ruled the two regions before their unification and independence in 1960. British rule in Somaliland sought primarily to deny other empires control of Somaliland and to trade livestock with the indigenous communities. Italy, however, engaged in a protracted and violent effort to establish a plantation colony in Somalia. Drawing from colonial-era sources, and with a focus on the earliest years of imperial and Somali engagement, this article situates the long-run divergent trajectories of British Somaliland and Italian Somalia within the broader literature on colonial institutions and long-run economic development.

McPherson-Smith, 2021. Diversification, Khashoggi, and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Global Policy. doi: 10.1111/1758-5899.12917.


Despite the sizeable economic clout of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the academic literature on the PIF is relatively nascent. How do domestic and international political considerations shape the PIF’s investment policies? This article contends that the PIF’s current domestic investments constitute the latest incarnation of an historic pattern of development policies in Saudi Arabia. This pattern challenges the PIF with balancing market-driven development and satiating the preferences of political leaders. Meanwhile, the PIF’s international investments are subject to a novel form of political risk. While international political risk has previously emanated from public regulation and oversight, the Khashoggi incident has given rise to unparalleled private sector-led, non-regulatory political risk. For other sovereign wealth funds, the PIF’s experience is indicative of potential future non-regulatory political risk in western markets. By using the PIF as a case study to explore how domestic and international factors influence the behavior of a sovereign wealth fund (SWF), this article contributes to a growing literature on the non-economic drivers of SWF investments.

Book Chapters

McPherson-Smith, 2021. Incentivized Migration in Colonial Contexts: The Challenge of Asymmetric Information. In Nudging Public Policy: Examining the Benefits and Limitations of Paternalistic Public Policies. Eds. Rosemarie Fike, Stefanie Haeffele, and Arielle John. Available online.


This chapter explores the role of asymmetric information in state-led efforts to facilitate voluntary colonial migration. By considering two cases of incentivized migration in the 19th century—to French Algeria and to once-Native American territories—it draws attention to policymakers’ convenient omissions about the detriment and cost of colonization upon third party indigenous communities. In cases of choice architecture, this paper argues that the state has an historically-unmet duty both to quantify the third-party effects of its ‘nudges,’ and to rectify potential informational asymmetries.