Skip to content Skip to navigation

Simone Dietrich - Foreign Aid and Judicial Autonomy

Simone Dietrich - Foreign Aid and Judicial Autonomy

April 21, 2017 -
11:30am to 1:00pm
Encina Hall CENTRAL, Room C321

Over the past two decades, donor governments have increasingly embraced judicial autonomy as an important component of advancing democracy and promoting investment abroad. We argue that recipient governments, too, recognize the importance of judiciary reform for improving the investment climate at home. Because judicial independence carries political costs for the incumbent government, however, it is difficult for recipient governments to credibly signal commitment to judicial reform. External assistance to promote judicial autonomy and democracy serves as one mechanism of commitment. Donors promote judicial autonomy primarily through the channel of technical assistance which involves experts from donor governments who assist in and supervise the implementation of judiciary-strengthening projects. All else equal, we expect democracy aid to increase judicial autonomy. During contested election periods, however, when judicial autonomy can directly influence the outcome of elections incumbents have incentives to undermine aid efforts to promote judicial autonomy. Thus we expect the relationship between aid and judicial autonomy to weaken around election time. We employ an instrumental variable model to test this argument with a global sample of aid-eligible countries.


What makes foreign aid effective at helping countries develop? Under what conditions does foreign aid shape democratic change abroad? These are the substantive questions that motivate my research in international and comparative political economy, democratization, and development.

I am Senior Lecturer of Government at the University of Essex. I am also Director of ESSEXLab, the University's social science experimental lab. Prior to joining Essex, I was Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri, Columbia. At Mizzou, I also held an Appointment at the Truman School of Public Affairs. From 2011 to 2012 I was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University. I received my Ph.D. in Political Science at Penn StateUniversity in 2011. My research is published or forthcoming in International Organization, Journal of Politics, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Experimental Political Science, Review of International OrganizationsWorld Development, European Journal of Development Research, and Oxford University Press.

My approach to studying research questions is based on a multi-methods approach. I employ cross-country time series analysis, individual-level survey data, field and survey experiments, as well as text analysis methods. I also rely on insights generated by case study analysis and extensive, open-ended interviews with foreign aid elites and aid beneficiaries. I believe it is important to leverage different types of data to test substantively interesting research questions. A multi-methods approach not only strengthens confidence in the claims we make but also opens my research to a wider audience of quantitative and qualitative scholars as well as policy-makers.

My work directly builds on insights gained through field work in international development, while working for non-governmental and international organizations. My field journey took me through the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia over a period of three years. Prior to that, I studied political science as a graduate student, receiving a M.A. from Wayne State (Detroit). The University of Munich and the University of Padova are the universities I attended as an undergraduate.