Seminar Series – Fall 2023

A weekly seminar featuring guest speakers presenting cutting-edge research in development economics.

Please note that the series this semester will be in person. All seminars will take place from 12:30-1:45 on Thursdays in ICC 550. 


Adam Osman, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

August 31, 2023

Big Loans to Small Businesses: Predicting Winners and Losers in an Entrepreneurial Lending Experiment

We experimentally study the impact of relatively large enterprise loans in Egypt. Larger loans generate small average impacts, but machine learning using psychometric data reveals that “top-performers” (those with the highest predicted treatment effects) substantially increase profits, while profits drop for poor-performers. The large differences imply that lender credit allocation decisions matter for aggregate income, yet we find that existing practice leads to substantial misallocation. We argue that some entrepreneurs are over-optimistic and squander the opportunities presented by larger loans by taking on too much risk, and show the promise of allocations based on entrepreneurial type relative to firm characteristics.


Reshmaan Hussam, Harvard University

September 7, 2023

The Household at Work: Evidence from a refugee camp

Why does employment generate psychosocial value beyond income alone? Is engaging in productive activity enough, or does one need to be paid for it? And how is this mediated by one’s social identity in the household – namely one’s role as a husband or a wife? We study this question in the Rohingya refugee camps, the largest refugee camps in the world, and a setting in which pervasive unemployment and strong gender norms characterize daily refugee experience. We involve 2520 married couples in a field experiment, randomly assigning either the husband or wife to one of three interventions relative to a control: cash, volunteering, or gainful employment, and estimate how each intervention affects both own and partner’s wellbeing. We find that gainful employment delivers psychosocial benefits above and beyond both cash alone and volunteering alone. This broadly holds for women and men; however, households in which men are treated appear to fare better on net as measured by domestic violence and psychosocial wellbeing for both partners. We find no systematic evidence of a retrenchment of male power in these households, nor do we find evidence that treating females improves their bargaining power.


Ricardo Dahis, Monash University

September 14, 2023

Decentralizing Development: Evidence from Government Splits

Changes in political boundaries aimed at devolving power to local governments are common in many countries. We examine the economic consequences of redistricting through the creation of smaller government units. Exploiting reforms that led to sharp variations in the number of government units in Brazil, we show that voluntary redistricting increases the size of the public sector, public services delivery, and economic activity in new local governments over the long-term. These benefits are not offset by losses elsewhere and are stronger in peripheral and remote backward areas that are neglected by their parent governments. We provide evidence that the decentralization of decision-making power boosts local development in disadvantaged areas beyond simply gains in fiscal revenues.


Natalia Garbiras-Diaz, Harvard Business School

September 21, 2023

The Limits of Decentralized Administrative Data Collection: Evidence from Colombia (coauthored with Tara Slough, NYU)

States collect vast amounts of data for use in policymaking and public administration. To do so, central governments frequently solicit data from decentralized bureaucrats. Because central governments use these data in policymaking, decentralized bureaucrats may face incentives to selectively report or misreport, limiting the quality of administrative data. We study the production of a transparency index by measuring the reporting behavior of bureaucrats in the near-universe of Colombian public sector entities. Using an original audit, we show that failure to report and misreporting vary systematically in actual transparency practices, revealing limits to the use of these data. Further, in partnership with a Colombian government watchdog agency, we implement a large-scale experiment that varies the salience of central government oversight. Increased salience changed the data bureaucrats reported to the central government. Similar dynamics across policy areas and regime types are apt to limit the quality of state information in multiple contexts.


Lauren Bergquist, Yale University

September 28, 2023

Search Costs, Intermediation, and Trade: Experimental Evidence from Ugandan Agricultural Markets (with Craig McIntosh and Meredith Startz)

Search costs may be a barrier to market integration in developing countries, harming both producers and consumers. We present evidence from the large-scale experimental rollout of a mobile phone-based marketplace intended to reduce buyer-seller search and matching costs for agricultural commodities in Uganda. We find that market integration improves substantially: trade increases and price dispersion falls. This reflects price convergence across relative surplus and deficit markets, with no change in average prices. Interpreting our experimental variation through the lens of a trade model, we correct our reduced form estimates to account for equilibrium effects on control markets via trade connections. Our results suggest that the intervention reduced fixed trade costs between treated markets by 28% and increased average trade flows across all markets by 2%. Contrary to the stated goals of the marketplace, but consistent with the existence of economies of scale in search or other trade costs, almost all activity on the platform is among larger traders, with very little use by smallholder farmers. Nevertheless, the benefits of improved arbitrage by traders appears to pass through to farmers in the form of higher revenues in surplus markets, as trader entry increases and measured trader profits decrease in response to falling search costs.


Rohini Somanathan, University of Delhi

October 5, 2023


Laura Boudreau, Columbia University

October 12, 2023


Kelsey Jack, University of California, Santa Barbara

October 19, 2023


Sarah Deschênes, Northwestern University

October 26, 2023


Sandra Rozo, The World Bank Group

November 2, 2023


Augustin Bergeron, University of Southern California

November 9, 2023


Donghyun Danny Choi, Brown University

November 16, 2023


Pascaline Dupas, Princeton University

November 30, 2023