Working Paper 55
Follow your Neighbor? Regional Emulation and the Design of Transparency Policies
How do countries make policy in an uncertain world? Do policymakers look inward, rationally designing policies to fit domestic interests, ideas, and institutions? Or do they look outward, imitating policy elements from other countries? And if the latter, where do they look? Focusing on the specific policy area of Freedom of Information laws, I argue that regional emulation plays an important role in shaping policy design. Policymakers face substantial uncertainty over the consequences of different design choices, and so emulate other countries as policy models. I further argue that, due to availability bias, countries in the same region serve as the most important such models. After reviewing numerous examples of such emulation, I model the policy similarity between 4,096 pairs of countries, and find that countries in the same region, or more geographically proximate, tend to have more similar laws than other country-pairs. These results are robust to different categorizations of region, fixed effects capturing country-specific features, and testing against alternative forms of emulation as well as alternative diffusion mechanisms of competition, coercion, conditionality, and learning. This approach also highlights the diffusion of policy design, as opposed to adoption, as an important future direction for policy diffusion research.