I'm a Research Fellow at SoDa Laboratories, Monash University, Australia.
My research is on the broad areas of political economy, network empirics, institutions, conflict and development.
I'm passionate about using innovative data and tools to explore the world around us.

Here are some topics I'm working on.

Diverting Domestic Turmoil  (R&R Journal of Public Economics)
When faced with intense domestic turmoil, governments may strategically engage in foreign interactions to divert the public's attention away from pressing do- mestic issues. I test this hypothesis for a globally representative sample of 190 countries, at the monthly level, over the years 1997-2014. Using textual data on media-reported events retrieved from the GDELT database, I find robust evidence that governments resort to diversionary tactics in times of domestic turmoil and that such diversion takes the form of verbally aggressive foreign interactions, typically targeted at `weak' countries and countries closely linked along religious, linguistic and geographic dimensions. Strategically important trade partners are unlikely to be victimized. These findings suggest that diversionary foreign policy is, in fact, systematically practised by governments as a strategic tool, and that such diversion is exercised in a manner that may not lead to large scale costs or risks of retaliation.
Keywords: Diversionary foreign policy, domestic turmoil, football, connectivity.
(with Hodler, R., Raschky, P.A., and Zenou, Y. )

The aggregate economic impact of any project depends on its effects within the chosen administrative region as well as its economic spillovers into other regions. However, little is known about how these spillovers propagate through geographic, ethnic and road networks. In this paper, we analyze both theoretically and empirically the role of these networks in the spatial diffusion of local economic shocks. We develop a network model that shows how a district’s level of prosperity is related to its position in the network. The network model’s first-order conditions are used to derive an econometric model of spatial spillovers that we estimate using a panel of 5,944 districts from 53 African countries over the period 1997–2013. To identify the causal effect of spatial diffusion, we exploit cross-sectional variation in the location of mineral mines and exogenous time variation in world mineral prices. Our results show that road and ethnic connectivity are particularly important factors for diffusing economic spillovers over longer distances. We then use the estimated parameters from the econometric model to calculate the key player centralities, which determine which districts are key in propagating local economic shocks across Africa. We further show how counterfactual exercises based on these estimates and the underlying network structure can inform us about the potential gains from policies that increase economic activity in specific districts or improve road connectivity between districts.
Keywords: Economic development, networks, spatial spillovers, key player centrality, natural resources, transportation, Africa.
(with Raschky, P.A., Zenou, Y., and Zhou, J. )

We develop a network model of conflict in which players are involved in different battles. A negative shock in one locality affects the conflict in this locality but may also increase battles in path-connected localities depending on the location of the battle in the network and the strength of each locality involved in each battle. We then empirically test this model by analyzing the effect of local natural disasters on battles in Africa. We construct a novel panel-dataset that combines geo-referenced information about battle events and natural disasters at the monthly level for 5,944 districts in 53 African countries over the period from 1989 to 2015. At this fine temporal and spatial resolution, natural disasters are formidable exogenous shocks that affect the costs and benefits of fighting in a locality. We find that natural disasters decrease battle incidence in the affected locality and that this effect persists over time and space. This mitigating effect appears to be more pronounced in more developed localities. As highlighted by the model, these results can be explained by the fact that natural disasters divert fighting activity to surrounding localities, particularly those that are connected via geographic and road networks.
Keywords: Natural disasters, battle, Africa, spatial spillovers, temporal spillovers.
Selected work-in-progress

- Public sentiment in times of terror

- Quantifying government behaviour through text analysis

- Perceived racism and labour supply decisions, with Martin Gassebner, David Kreitmeir and Paul Raschky

- Radio and political polarization, with Paul Raschky

- Geography, history and the persistence of political attitudes, with Paul Raschky and Miethy Zaman

- Learning from disasters: Evidence from economic growth effects of tropical cyclones, with Paul Raschky and Melvin Wong

Here is my CV

Applied Young Economist Webinar

I am the founder and co-organizer of the Applied Young Economist Webinar series, which provides a virtual platform for PhD students and PostDocs to share their work, receive feedback and connect with peers.

Contact me on

Email: ashani.amarasinghe@monash.edu
Office: N502 Monash University, Caulfield VIC 3162, Australia

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