My research applies behavioural models to topics in development economics, such as microfinance, education, and health. I am particularly interested in the impact of time preferences, self-control, and commitment on individuals' lives. My methodology of choice are randomized field experiments that are firmly grounded in economic theory.
Commitment products can remedy self-control problems. However, imperfect knowledge about their preferences may (discontinuously) lead individuals to select into incentive-incompatible commitments, which reduce their welfare. I conduct a field experiment in the Philippines, where low-income individuals were randomly offered a regular-instalment commitment savings product. Individuals chose a personalised savings plan and a default penalty themselves. A majority appears to choose a harmful contract: While the average effect on bank savings is large, 55 percent of clients default, and incur monetary losses. A possible explanation is that the chosen penalties were too low (the commitment was too weak) to overcome clients' self-control problems. Both take-up and default are negatively predicted by measures of sophisticated hyperbolic discounting - suggesting that partial sophisticates adopt weak commitments and then default, while full sophisticates are more cautious about committing, but better able to choose incentive-compatible contracts.
Empirical evidence from developing countries suggests that there is a high demand for informal savings mechanisms even though these often feature negative returns - such as deposit collectors, ROSCAs, microloans, and informal borrowing. Why do people not just save at home, instead of relying on such costly devices? In a savings model with hyperbolic discounting and uncertainty, I show why a commitment to fixed regular savings deposits can help individuals to achieve the welfare-maximising level of savings, when they would not be able to do so on their own. Such regular-instalment commitment products further increase welfare by smoothing savings contributions. The setting is enriched by endogenising take-up, and giving individuals the ability to choose their own commitment stakes. The results point to the possibility that the observed demand for costly informal savings devices may simply represent a demand for commitment savings products with fixed periodic contributions, as they are commonly offered by banks in rich countries.
In light of the United Nations' latest urbanization projections, particularly with respect to China and India, a good understanding is needed of what drives aggregate urbanization trends. Yet, previous literature has largely neglected the issue in favor of studying urban concentration. Taking advantage of the latest UN World Urbanization Prospects, we use an instrumental variables approach to identify and analyze key urbanization determinants. We estimate the impact of GDP growth on urbanization to be large and positive. In answer to Henderson's (2003) finding that urbanization does not seem to cause growth, we argue that the direction of causality runs from growth to urbanization. We also find positive and significant effects of industrialization and education on urbanization, consistent with the existence of localization economies and labor market pooling.
The paper argues that the incidence of moral hazard played a significant role in the 2007/2008 credit crunch. In particular, bank traders subjected to asymmetric compensation structures have an incentive to take excessive risks even when the bank's shareholders would prefer prudent investment. Traders' incentives are shown to be unaffected by capital regulations, with the associated financial burden falling upon the taxpayer through deposit insurance or government bail-outs. Selected case studies further indicate that the phenomenon of “gambling traders” was widespread during the credit crunch, when high bonuses tempted bank employees to invest in risky subprime-backed securities. The intransparency of structured products and the inaccuracy of credit ratings contributed to the employees' ability to conceal the underlying risk from the banks' shareholders. The analysis points to an urgent need to reform compensation practices in the financial sector.
with Gautam Rao and Nishith Prakash
with Frédéric Schneider
with Kristina Czura and Lisa Spantig
with Johannes Haushofer and Kate Orkin
with Uptake Chicago