Working Papers

  • Development via Administrative Redistricting: Evidence from Brazil. (Job Market Paper) April 2021 [PDF] (with Christiane Szerman)

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

    Coverage: BBC Brasil

    We exploit a large redistricting episode in Brazil to examine if, and how, administrative unit splits impact local development. Using a rich panel of administrative and spatial data, we first document that requests to split are more likely to be initiated by poor and rural districts. Employing a difference-in-differences strategy with areas whose requests to split were never approved serving as a control group, we find that splitting leads to an expansion of the public sector, some improvements in public service delivery and children's education attainment, but no impacts on the private sector. Meanwhile, outcomes are unaffected in parent municipalities. Results are consistent with adaptations of policy to local preferences. Our results inform the equity-efficiency trade-off embedded in decentralization reforms worldwide.


  • Selecting Top Bureaucrats: Admission Exams and Performance in Brazil. April 2020 [PDF] [SSRN] (with Laura Schiavon and Thiago Scot) Under review

    In the absence of strong incentive schemes, public service delivery depends crucially on bureaucrat selection. Despite being widely adopted by governments to screen candidates, it is unclear whether civil service examinations can predict performance on the job. This paper investigates this question focusing on a highly prestigious and influential set of bureaucrats in Brazil: state judges. We first explore rich data on judges’ monthly output and cross-court movement to separately identify what share of observed performance is explained by judges and courts. We estimate that judges account for at least 23% of the observed variation in the number of cases disposed. Using a novel data set on examinations, we then show that, within cohorts of candidates taking the same exam, those with higher grades perform better than their lower-ranked peers. Our results suggest that competitive examinations can be an effective way to screen candidates, even among highly qualified contenders.


  • Changing Racial Identity in the United States, 1880-1940. June 2020 [PDF] [NBER Working Paper w26465] (with Emily Nix and Nancy Qian) Under review

    Coverage: The Weeds (40:45), Kellogg Insight

    This paper documents that a large number of African American men experienced a change in racial identity to white during 1880 to 1940, while analogous changes were negligible for other races. We provide descriptive evidence that is consistent with the conventional wisdom that “passing” for white was a response to severe discrimination, and came at great personal cost. The findings suggest that contrary to traditional economic thinking, racial identity is neither entirely exogenous nor fixed over the lifetime, and responds to incentives.


  • Cutting Special Interests by the Roots: Evidence from the Brazilian Amazon. May 2021 [PDF] (with Arthur Bragança)

    Government policies may impact economic outcomes directly but also indirectly through effects on political equilibria. This paper examines the effects of the PPCDAm - a centralized environmental policy that synced real-time satellite deforestation data with enforcement on the ground - on the behavior and electoral outcomes of a powerful special-interest group operating in the Amazon: farmers. Exploring close elections, we document that municipalities governed by farmer mayors had higher deforestation rates and CO2e emissions, earmarked more resources to agriculture, and experienced more land-related conflict before, but not after, the PPCDAm was implemented. Any electoral advantage these mayors had before the policy also disappear with the introduction of the PPCDAm. Our findings are consistent with a political agency model where candidates use their occupation to signal commitment to pro-deforestation policies.


  • Value of a Statistical Life Under Large Mortality Risk Change: Theory and an Application to COVID-19. August 2020 [PDF] [SSRN] (with Diego S. Cardoso) Submitted

    Coverage: CNN Brasil, Instituto Mercado Popular

    Benefit analyses of mortality reduction policies typically use multiples of the value of a statistical life (VSL). This approach approximates risk premia for small changes in mortality, but inaccurately characterizes premia for large risk changes because it implies increasing marginal utility and a risk-loving attitude. We propose a method to calculate the benefits of large mortality reductions adjusting for risk aversion. We apply this method to calculate the benefits of social distancing and other mitigation strategies to combat COVID-19 in the US and 42 other countries. Our findings show that the typical approach underestimates the benefits of social distancing in the US by a factor of 4.1 and in other countries by a factor of 2.2 on average.


  • The Impact of 3G Mobile Internet on Educational Outcomes in Brazil. April 2021 [PDF] (with Pedro Bessone and Lisa Ho)

    What is the impact of mobile broadband internet on children's test scores? We compare standardized test scores before and after the staggered entry of 3G into Brazil's 5,570 municipalities using a heterogeneity-robust event-study design. We find no effects of mobile internet on test scores for 5th or 9th grade students, and can reject effect sizes of 0.04 standard deviations in both math and Portuguese. Taken together, our results indicate that the arrival of high-speed mobile internet is not suf- ficient to improve educational outcomes either through direct take-up by individuals or through broader changes to the economy.


Work in Progress


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

    The Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime is remembered as one of the worst human tragedies of the 20th century. This paper examines the social and institutional legacies of this violent episode. We document that spatially more intense violence committed by the Khmer Rouge, proxied by exogenous adverse rainfall shocks during 1975–1977, is associated with a higher fraction of land covered by government-backed land titles in Cambodia today. We provide micro-level empirical evidence that social capital may play a role in explaining this result: Communities that experienced more violence had more of their social capital destroyed, increasing the demand for formal titles. We conclude that social capital may serve as a substitute for formal institutions in a context of weak state capacity. We complement our analysis by discussing several alternative mechanisms.