The perils of high-powered incentives: Evidence from Colombia's false positives

Daron Acemoglu, Leopoldo Fergusson, James Robinson, Dario Romero, Juan F. Vargas

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch Articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


We investigate the use of high-powered incentives for the Colombian military and show that this practice produced perverse side effects. Innocent civilians were killed and misrepresented as guerillas (a phenomenon known in Colombia as "false positives"). There were significantly more false positives during the period of high-powered incentives in municipalities with weaker judicial institutions and where a higher share of brigades were commanded by colonels, who have stronger career concerns than generals. In municipalities with a higher share of colonels, the high-powered incentives period also coincided with a worsening of local judicial institutions and no discernible improvement in overall security.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number0168
JournalAmerican Economic Journal: Economic Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


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