Faculty Research Profiles


Professor Steven Block is an economist studying food and agricultural policy, productivity, household nutrition, and the political economy of both macroeconomic and agricultural policy. He has published in diverse research areas.  One series of his papers addresses the effects of elections on macroeconomic policy in developing countries, demonstrating for Africa in particular that the growing frequency of competitive elections has motivated cycles in both fiscal and monetary policy.  Another series of papers addresses the determinants of child nutritional status in rural Indonesia, focusing on the role of maternal nutrition knowledge.  With co-author Patrick Webb, Block has also demonstrated the negative effects on child nutrition of expenditures on tobacco.  More recently, Block has published research on agricultural productivity in Africa, finding that an encouraging recovery since the mid-1980s followed a prolonged decline in the first two decades of independence.

Along with co-author Robert Bates (Harvard University), Block draws on a new World Bank data set of trade interventions to provide political economy explanations for African governments' persistent discrimination against agriculture. The explanation lies largely in the fact that Africa's farmers, though a majority in every country, are widely dispersed, making organization costly and undermining their political influence. Thus the larger the rural population share, the greater the policy bias against agriculture. Yet, Block and Bates find that in countries with competitive electoral systems, rural majorities fare much better—an outcome reflected in substantially more supportive agricultural trade policies.  This effect, they find in further research, also results in higher rates of productivity growth in African agriculture.

Professor Block is also a co-author of a leading textbook, Economics of Development, with D.H. Perkins, S. Radelet, and D. Lindauer.