I am an assistant professor at the Department of Economics, Ludwigs-Maximilians-University Munich.
My research focuses on the political economy of less-developed countries using modern and historical data. I have worked on the assigning of property rights in the United States, ethnic partitioning in Africa, the political legacy of mass killings in Cambodia and the impact of school reforms in Cambodia.
I work with historical and high resolution spatial data, some digitized for the first time specifically for the projects you find below.
On the other side of the fence: Property rights and productivity in the United States
Can well-defined access rights to publicly owned land be as effective as privatization in increasing productivity and wealth? In this paper, I evaluate the impact of public property rights using the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, which determined secure access rights for ranchers to newly created, large grazing districts in the Western US. Using satellite-based vegetation data, I exploit spatial discontinuities across grazing district boundaries and find that public lands with well-defined access rights for ranchers are at least 10% more productive than lands without. Immediately after establishing grazing districts, ranchers inside these districts held more cattle, reported higher income and farm values than their counterparts outside. Despite ranchers being unable to invest in publicly-owned lands, these magnitudes are similar to outright privatization. Instead, I argue that secure access rights resolve uncertainty around future usage and align the incentives of ranchers and regulators, thus incentivizing sustainable and profitable usage. I provide two results supporting this hypothesis: Areas with stronger pre-reform state capacity show larger increases in vegetation. Monthly patterns on vegetation are consistent with the adoption of productivity-increasing fallowing practices. I investigate alternative explanations, and find no empirical support for differential initial productivity; negative spillovers; or systematic local manipulation of boundaries.
State Repression, Exit, and Voice: Living in the shadow of Cambodia's Killing Fields
How does state repression change political beliefs and behavior? We address this question using evidence from the genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Exploring local variation in state coercion during the genocide, we find that repression leads to more votes in favor of the opposition over the authoritarian incumbent, stiffer electoral competition, and increased support for democratic values four decades later. At the same time, people become more cautious in their interactions with the local community as captured by less trust in others and lower participation in community organizations. The results are consistent with a theoretical model in which the experience of repression increases people's preferences for pluralism but also raises the perceived cost of dissent. These opposing forces imply that citizens are more likely to support the opposition in elections (voice), while they engage less in civil society (exit) to avoid publicly revealing their political views. In line with the prediction that increased political competition reduces elected officials' ability to extract rent, we show that the changes in political beliefs and behavior also affect policy outcomes. Together, our results indicate that the legacy of state violence can have a persistent effect on society, leading to a more competitive but less personal political environment.
The Effects of Migration and Ethnicity on African Economic Development
International migration has a considerable impact on trade between nations. While supported by evidence from developed countries, the effects of migration on trade are less clear cut for developing countries. Given the evidence on ethnic identity in Africa, standard estimates based on the nationality of migrants are likely biased in developing countries. In this paper, I expand the standard approach to explicitly account for heterogeneous ethnicities migrating between countries. Using the precolonial distribution of ethnicities as an instrument for modern day migration in Africa, I estimate a considerably larger effect on bilateral exports and economic development than previously found. I provide evidence that ethnic identification shapes bilateral trade by facilitating the flow of information, especially for ethnicities who are not part of a government coalition. I discuss potential concerns of precolonial ethnic linkages and find no evidence of omitted variable biases caused by similar languages, preferences, or conflict. The results are consistent with a model of international trade where cross border connections decrease the fixed costs of exporting by shared information.
Education and the Women's Rights Movement
Does education facilitate the emergence of social activists, and thus, social movements? We study the impact of the opening of secondary schools for women (finishing schools) in Germany starting in the 1600s. We assemble a city-level panel of the political, intellectual, and economic elite throughout history, and find that finishing schools double the share of women among this human capital elite. In cities with finishing schools, women later started to organize in women’s rights associations, demanding suffrage and equal access to education. We conclude that educational institutions function as catalysts for social movements, distinct from economic and cultural change.
Work in Progress
Who Benefits from Free Education? Long-Term Evidence from a Policy Experiment in Cambodia
Free primary education is considered an important public policy to promote poor children's schooling. We explore a nationwide policy experiment in Cambodia in 2000 that abolished primary school fees to assess this claim. The paper investigates the effects of the program by combining differences in fee exposure across province, time, and cohort. One additional year of free education had no impact on children living in households below the consumption poverty line, but increased the likelihood of completing primary school, led to more years of schooling completed, and raised literacy for children in households above the poverty line. To ensure a causal interpretation of the heterogeneous effects, we exploit weather-induced agricultural volatility to estimate the difference across the consumption poverty line. Though poor and non-poor children attended school to same extent after the reform, poor children were less likely to progress and complete the higher grades. The findings are consistent with the idea that poor children and their parents are affected by the local community's educational norm, where income segregation may explain why poor students fail to take advantage of the policy change.
Couch Potato or Social Butterfly? The Impact of Television Content on Social Capital
with Andrew Dickens
Eroding the incumbency advantage: Evidence from a wealth shock in the western United States
I study the effect of a large wealth transfer to the rural population on their political preferences. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 placed 142 million acres under public ownership and documented the rights to access these lands for nearby farmers. These property rights on public land increased the wealth almost immediately since they were an accepted collateral and influenced the pricing of a farm. I focus on close elections and show that counties affected by this policy were initially more likely to elect a democratic congressman at a magnitude similar to the incumbency advantage. This preference for redistributive policy is completely eroded almost immediately after the policy took place. Focusing on congressional elections during the great depression, I show that the most likely explanation is a change in preferences away from redistribution.
|SITE Stockholm, LMU Munich, CREI, Kellogg Northwestern, Rochester, Copenhagen Business School, Oslo, CERGE-EI, Passau|
|UC Santa Barbara, IPWSD Columbia, ULB Brussels, OXDEV Oxford, Goethe University Frankfurt|
|MIT, Brown, Goethe University Frankfurt|
|Harvard, MIT, Brown, University of Bergen|
|NEUDC, OXDEV Oxford, UCL, Nordic International Trade Seminar|
|Spatial Data in Economics (Master)|
|ArcGIS course for graduate students in economics|
|Teaching Assistant for 'Management and Analysis of Big Data' for David Strömberg|
|ArcGIS course for graduate students in economics, jointly lectured with Shuhei Kitamura|
|Teaching Assistant for 'Macroeconomics II, PhD course' for John Hassler|