I am supporting Nobel Laureate Michael Kremer in founding and leading both the Development Innovation Lab (DIL) and the larger Development Economics Center at the University of Chicago. I serve as Executive Director for both which also includes overseeing the Weiss Fund for Research in Development Economics. At DIL we are bringing researchers in different fields together with governments, firms and non-profits to use the tools of economics to identify, test, refine and scale interventions with the potential to benefits millions of people in low and middle income countries.
Prior to moving to the University of Chicago, I was at UC Berkeley pursuing my PhD studying development economics and political economy with a particular interest in institutional formation in weak states and ungoverned spaces. In my research, I combine my networks and years of experience working as a humanitarian and development professional with my broad educational background, knowledge of theory and training as a microeconomist to conceive of, design, fund and implement novel randomized controlled trials (RCTs). I similarly identify, access and employ relevant administrative data sets both in service of RCTs and to exploit quasi-random policy variations for causal identification. I work primarily in collaboration with and in support of local government and civil society partners, and I strive to conduct experiments at-scale while minimizing deviations from normal operations.
Tax Collection, Public Goods and Protests
JOB MARKET PAPER
Strengthening state capacity in low income countries requires raising tax revenue while maintaining political stability. The risk of inciting political unrest when attempting to increase taxes may trap governments in a low-tax equilibrium, but public goods provision may improve both tax compliance and political stability. To test these questions empirically, I partner with the national tax authority and a local mayor’s office in Haiti to cross-randomize both tax collection and public goods across one of the country’s largest cities. Effects are measured both via administrative data on tax revenue as well as through novel measures of political unrest. In the paper’s main result, I show that hand-delivering property tax invoices reduces individual tax compliance by 48\%, and increases independently observed measures of localized political violence by 192%. In contrast, providing a valuable and visible public good (namely municipal garbage removal) increases tax compliance by 27%, and reduces localized political violence by 85%. Importantly, public goods provision significantly mitigates the adverse effects of tax collection in neighborhoods receiving both treatments. A cost accounting exercise suggests that providing the public good in this setting could pay for itself within the first year. These findings suggest that it may be possible to peacefully shift to a new equilibrium of higher tax compliance with a sufficient initial investment perhaps financed through foreign aid or other transfers.
Working Papers, Interventions in Progress, and Policy Reports
Improving Welfare and Reducing Corruption in Haiti’s Universal Primary Education Program
Due to the acute challenges of governance in Least Developed Countries, donors are increasingly promoting Public–Private Partnerships to increase service provision. However, these hybrid arrangements create a different set of governance challenges as officials seek to hold private sector actors accountable for delivery. I examine one such effort in Haiti where the government attempted to achieve universal primary education by providing 200 million USD in subsidies directly to education entrepreneurs. I find evidence that the program’s roll–out coincided with a more than 30 percentage point increase in primary school enrollment and use a cohort study to identify causal evidence of both increased enrollment as well as household welfare improvements. Furthermore, I make use of multiple novel datasets with both difference-in-difference and event study specifications to find that audited participants reduced grant claims by nearly 20% – interpreted as a reduction in fraud – resulting in a directly observed savings of 875,000 USD per year for a conservative return of 11 USD for every dollar spent on auditing. I do not find any evidence of spillover effects. I discuss policy implications for seeking to effectively increase public goods provision through the private sector when facing limited oversight capacity.
The Effect of Cash Transfers and Village Savings Groups on Youth Violence, Conflict and Moral Formation
with J. Magruder and E. Wiseman
How does poverty affect a youth’s choice to join armed conflict? Can their propensity to violence be reduced by improving their economic fortunes? How do significant financial windfalls affect their moral decision making? With my co-authors, I am exploring these ideas through a pair of USAID-funded RCTs in the Democratic Republic of Congo evaluating approximately $20 million of programming aimed at reducing violence and participation in armed groups in both urban and rural settings. Both evaluations test the effects of the first cash transfers made by GiveDirectly in the country as well as the effects of expanded mobile financial products. In the rural areas, we are also testing the effects of savings groups and the associated financial literacy training provided by traditional development implementers.
with B. Faber and R. Sanchez de la Sierra
With international awareness of child labor in the production of mobile phones, laptops, and electric vehicles increasing, this report presents additional findings to complement “Artisanal Mining, Livelihoods, and Child Labor in the Cobalt Supply Chain of the Democratic Republic of Congo” (Faber et al., 2017) to inform policy responses. Based on new data from the 1,575 children surveyed across the 150 mining communities in our representative sample. Our analysis provides additional evidence that households in these communities, and in particular those dependent on child labor, are on average poor and vulnerable to income shocks. Child labor, mostly from older teenagers, is a significant contributor to the mining sector making up 13% of the artisanal mining workforce. Age-based specialization leads to the oldest children performing the most risky tasks. We further discuss heterogeneity in gender and reported motivation to work in mining. The surveys indicate that the decision for a child to work outside the home is primarily made by the parents, but children mainly decide if they are going to work in mining. Our results highlight the precarity of mining-dependent families, the risks of blanket bans against ASM, and the importance of rigorous impact evaluation for identifying risk-minimizing ways to support mining-dependent families end their reliance on child labor in cobalt extraction.
Artisanal Mining, Livelihoods and Child Labor in the Cobalt Supply Chain of the Democratic Republic of Congo
with B. Faber and R. Sanchez de la Sierra
Cobalt is one of the most essential and ubiquitous elements of the modern information economy as it is critical for the rechargeable batteries that make mobile connectivity and electronic vehicles possible. However, its supply-chain, and in particular its extraction, has come under significant scrutiny by local and international advocacy groups concerned about child labor and other threats to the health and safety of miners and mining communities. To shed light on the prevalence, distribution, forms, and causes of these issues, we mapped and then conducted a series of representative surveys in the artisanal mining communities in the “copperbelt” of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - the location of the the majority of the world’s known cobalt reserves. Administered to a random sample of 150 mining communities from the 426 we identified in total, our survey contains information gathered from 2,635 households and information about 15,023 individuals. We find that households in these communities are on average poor, heavily reliant on mining and vulnerable to income shocks. 90% of all mining labor is in artisanal small-scale mining (ASM), there are no forms of collective labor organization in 65% of mining sites, and overall miners appear to capture a significantly smaller price for their output than traders capture. Furthermore, 11% of children in these communities work outside of the home, of which 23% (or an estimated 4,714 children) work in the mining sector. We find: (1) Disengaging from artisanal mining can have detrimental effects for a large number of households living in the DRC cop- per cobalt belt; (2) Maintained sourcing from ASM, coupled with providing support and incentives to miners can prevent unintended harm, while reducing the prevalence of child labor; (3) The impact of interventions targeted at reducing child labor should be rigorously evaluated prior to their implementation at scale.
The research featured here would not be possible without the generous participation of tens of thousands of survey respondents - it is to them that this work is dedicated.
Furthermore, I would like to thank the following people for their substantial contributions, creative solutions, tireless work, and (when dealing with me especially) saintly patience in the endeavor to translate research ideas into practical interventions.
Enumerators, Agents &
I would also like to recognize all who provide direct connections to the communities studied, who root this research in reality, carry out the difficult (often absurd) protocols and navigate all of the sensitivities necessary for success.
Multiple Equation Estimation (ARESEC 212)
Ethan Ligon &
Graduate Student Instructor
Introduction to the estimation and testing of economic models for the PhD students in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Includes analysis of the general linear model, asymptotic theory, instrumental variable, and the generalized method of moments. In addition, a survey of time series, analysis, limited dependent variables.
International Economic Development Policy (PP/ARESEC C253)
Alain de Janvry &
Graduate Student Instructor
Fall 2018 & Fall 2019
This cross-listed course for the Goldman School Masters of Public Policy and Berkeley's Masters of Development Practice emphasizes the development and application of policy solutions to developing-world problems related to poverty, macroeconomic policy, and environmental sustainability. Methods of statistical, economic, and policy analysis are applied to a series of case studies. The course is designed to develop practical professional skills for application in the international arena.
Interdisciplinary Development Seminar
This course provides an opportunity for Berkeley's Master of Development Practice students to interact with a diverse group of invited guest speakers, including academics and practitioners. It will also provide opportunities for group discussion of basic questions, and it will provide opportunities to present ideas and discuss research and internship plans and experiences.