Working Papers

  • Voluntary Secessions and Development: Evidence from Brazilian Municipalities [SSRN] (with Christiane Szerman)

    Recipient of the Susan Schmidt Bies Prize for Doctoral Student Research on Economics and Public Policy, 2018

    We exploit a period of proliferation of new administrative units in Brazil between 1988 and 2010, in which 1,146 municipalities were created (an increase of 35%), to investigate the short- and medium-term effects of secessions on socio-economic outcomes. We first argue that elite capture and fiscal incentives play an important role in secessions. Because the decision to secede is not random, we collect data on municipalities that had secession requests denied due to a Constitutional Amendment that curbed the formation of new municipalities after 1996 to create a control group for municipalities that seceded. Using past tract-level Census data to reconstruct outcomes for new boundaries, we find that secession is associated with better education, health, wealth, and public service outcomes. We document that the positive effects are mostly driven by new municipalities, while old municipalities present negligible changes. We show that increases in revenues do not fully explain our findings and we discuss further mechanisms, such as changes in state capacity, infrastructure, and migration.

  • Changing Racial Identity in the United States, 1880-1940 [pdf] (with Emily Nix and Nancy Qian), NBER Working Paper 20828

    This paper investigates the extent to which racial identity can change within a person’s lifetime and to which it is associated with socio-economic incentives. In the context of pre-Civil Rights United States, 1880-1940, we document that at least 300,000 black males experienced a change in racial classification to become white. In contrast, white men rarely re-classified as black. Black men who were childless and living in places with more discrimination and fewer opportunities for higher education were more likely to change racial classification. After changing race, these men were more likely to be married to a white woman, move to a community with more white residents, obtain higher income and have more opportunities for higher education.

  • Choosing Institutions Locally: Determinants of Legislative Size in Brazil (available upon request)

    How are institutions determined? This paper studies how legislators locally choose an important dimension of local electoral systems, namely legislative size. To achieve this end, I construct a novel data set comprised of seat proposals and individual legislators’ votes to increase or not legislative size during the pre-2012 election period for a sample of municipalities in Brazil. I then outline and estimate a structural discrete choice model of legislative vote, in which legislators play a strategic game and also decide whether to run for reelection or not. I find that legislators weigh on average approximately 34% reelection payoffs and 66% social welfare when choosing seats. With these results, I run some counterfactual analyses varying the population caps’ function that federal government chooses.

Work in Progress

  • Local Politics Under Centralized Enforcement: Evidence from the Brazilian Amazon (with Arthur Bragança)

  • Selection and Productivity of Judges in Brazil (with Laura Schiavon and Thiago Scot)

  • Genocide and the Demand for Formal Institutions: Evidence from the Legacy of the Khmer Rouge (with Joris Mueller)


  • Is Economics a Science? Not Yet. [SSRN]

    Is economics a science? Answering this question is not only necessary for philosophical clarity, but also crucial for knowing how seriously to take economists’ claims and advice about public policy. Nevertheless, even among practitioners and academics, consensus is nonexistent. This paper resolves the conundrum in two steps. First I discuss some epistemology of science, defining clearly various concepts necessary to the debate. Several fallacies are clarified, such as "a theory may never be proved true, but only not falsified", "a model is useful because it simplifies reality" or "data mining is bad". In light of solid philosophical ground, I then discuss the practice and methodology of modern economics. The answer to the title question is a perhaps disappointing, but realistic, not yet. I conclude with prescriptions for a path towards a more scientific discipline.

  • On Randomness and Probability [pdf]

    This essay provides coherent definitions of two bedrock concepts in philosophy and statistics: randomness and probability. When constructing the first, I define repeatability, the measurement set, and distinguish between frequency vs. value prediction. The definition of randomness proposed, namely of a random variable not being perfectly value-predictable for any given information set, is stronger than those commonly used in the literature. Second, after defining probability as a theory about a variable's potential frequency distribution, I argue that the dichotomy between frequentist and bayesian interpretations is illusory. I conclude with remarks about knowledge and determinism.