Research

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players.

A Literary Theory of Games and Economic Behavior by William ShakespeareJournal of Political Economy, 122(4), back cover quote suggested by Kweku Opoku-Agyemang (2014).

Research Interests
  • Political Economy and Behavioral Economics
  • Economics of Technology
  • Industrial Organization
  • Econometrics
  • Economic History
  • Macroeconomics
Job Market Paper

Does Raising Police Salaries Lower Petty Corruption? A Policy Experiment on West African Highways (with Jeremy Foltz). [International Growth Centre Working Paper].  International Growth Centre Policy Solutions to Combat Corruption Twitter Chat Event, London School of Economics Connect Magazine, Seeker: A Discovery Digital Network, Seeker Daily, The EconomistCherokee Gothic: Development.Growth.Macro, World Bank Africa Can End Poverty Blog, African Development Bank Evaluation Matters: Impact Evaluation Insights from Practitioners 

In one of the most ambitious public sector reform experiments in Africa, the Ghana government doubled its police officer salaries in 2010 in part to mitigate petty corruption on its roads, while leaving salaries for other officials unchanged. Neighboring countries in the West African region left their police salaries unchanged. Using unique data on bribes paid from over 2,100 truck trips in West Africa and representing over 45,000 bribe opportunities, we evaluate impacts of higher police salaries on petty corruption using a difference-in-difference method that exploits the exogenous policy experiment. By following bribes paid by the same trucks in different countries as well as to different civil servants in Ghana we identify whether salaries affect the effort to seek bribes, their value and the total amount paid by truckers. Rather than decrease petty corruption, the salary policy significantly increased the police efforts to collect bribes, the value of bribes and the amounts given to truck drivers to policemen in total. Robustness checks show the higher bribe efforts and amounts are stable across alternative specifications.

Publications

Scaling Up Peer Education with Farmers in India (2017). [first author] (with Bhaumik Shah and Tapan S. Parikh). Proceedings of the Ninth IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information Technologies and Communication for Development (ICTD ’17), 15: 1-15. November 16-19, Lahore, Pakistan. Association of Computing Machinery/Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. 

Indian farmers are better at predicting other farmers’ listening habits on social media than data-driven message targeting.

Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World (2016). (with Ananya Roy, Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales, and Clare Talwalker). University of California Press.

In Modeling Poverty, development economists listen to economic models to change the world.

Mobilizing Impact Evaluations: Mobile Survey Micro-Experiments for Sustainable Development (2015). Evaluation Matters, (3rd Quarter), 24-29. in Emerging Solutions to Development Challenges, Volume 1. African Development Bank Group.

Mobile phone surveys can help policy makers in Africa understand their citizens.

Working Papers
Economics of Technology
  • Research Transparency
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Artificial Intelligence

Schadenfreude and Research Transparency: Identifying and Overcoming Petty Corruption in Failed Replications (2017).  An Urgency for Evidence and Transparency in Economic Analysis and Policy Conference 2017, Association for Integrity and Responsible Leadership in Economics and Associated Professions (AIRLEAP)  Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences Blog, Development Lunch Seminar, Department of Economics, December 12, 2017, UC Berkeley

A replication is a graph of data analytics that contain a rational graph and behavioral graph copies from schadenfreude impulses—impulsive utility derived from overturning a published result. I quantify corruption with statistical stress, a measure of how much pressure an econometric specification exerts on data. Cloud commitment devices can be offered by journals to limit schadenfreude from contaminating replication graphs. When the underlying stress distribution is known, as is the case when the original author comprehensively reports their underlying code, corruption can be identified when the distance between being free of behavioral graphs and a rational graph exceeds a threshold. Even when the underlying stress distribution is unknown, as in cases where the original author only selectively reported the code underlying the original study, replication corruption is identified using distribution-free testing, distinguishing corruption from robustness checks. The proposed cloud preregistration plan is a dynamic preanalysis plan.

Using Blockchain for Scientific Transparency  (2017). [Working Paper] [SocArXiv Preprint][SSRN Working Paper

Trusted timestamping can help make social science research more transparent.

Taking the “Art” out of Artificial Intelligence  (2017).  

Take the “con” out of econometrics, but for artificial intelligence. 

Behavioral Economists, Human-Computer Interactions and Research Transparency (2017).  [Working Paper][SocArXiv Preprint] [SSRN Working Paper

A commitment device for economists that place more weight on transparency in the present than they do in the future.

Political Economy and Behavioral Economics

Empathy as a Topological Data Experiment  [Working Paper][SSRN Working Paper]

Original version: October 2016 (previous title: “Perspective Coordination: Empathy and Information Asymmetries) [SocArXiv Preprint]

 I introduce and solve a class of information asymmetries problems in which agents have uncoordinated perspectives of objective information. I first present a primitive of literal perspective frames: coordinate systems through which agents view phenomena based on their individualized and unique experiences. In the model, the transformation of coordinate systems from one perspective to another represents empathy. Changing perspective frames as described resembles conducting experiments, but on topological data. I extend topological data analysis to randomized controlled trials by introducing the existence and estimation of average treatment effects in topological data environments. The settings imply that being embedded in significantly varying topology is a unique reason why different individuals might update beliefs differently when faced with an identical statistical experiment. For similar topological reasons, the provided average treatment effects may not be externally valid when other metrics and computational topological environments are analyzed. Collectively, the findings have implications for behavioral aspects of experimentation and research transparency issues. 

Effects of Opening Complaints Data on Firm and Consumer Behavior [SSRN Working Paper] [SocArXiv Preprint]

Original version: January 2014.

I analyze a technological change which improved the public monitoring of financial customer treatment. This major assessment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is based on its exposing all US credit card complaints online while keeping mortgage-related complaints concealed. Exposed companies were more likely to close complaint files while providing explanations and relief to aggrieved consumers and in a timely manner. The transparency policy seems uncompromised by economic inequality. Consumers procrastinate in reporting exposed banks while rewarding exposed banks for their improved behavior with new accounts. Debt remained relatively stable. Surprisingly, both consumers and banks benefit when offending banks are exposed online.

Behavioral International Policy: The Psychological Gravity of Economic Development [SSRN Working Paper] [PsyArXiv Preprint] [SocArXiv Preprint]  UC Berkeley News Media Blum Center for Developing EconomiesCALIFORNIA MagazineBORGEN Magazine

How can people be encouraged to discuss controversial but worthwhile subjects? Randomized controlled trials based on human-computer interactions provide a novel mechanism for quantifying how attracted people feel to their localized preferences for governance, sanitation, health and related international development issues.

Narcissism over Ideology: Revealed versus Stated Terrorist Preferences [SSRN Working Paper] [SocArXiv Preprint]

Original submitted version: November 2016

What preferences motivate the severity of terrorist attacks? I investigate how Boko Haram terrorists adjust their fatalities when unexpectedly deprived of public attention, relative to Al Shabaab terrorists, that were not deprived of public attention. Losing public attention raises the severity of terrorism: Boko Haram terrorist fatalities surged following the rebasing of Nigeria’s economy, which catapulted the country into Africa’s largest and the top twenty-five worldwide. The largest spike in Boko Haram terrorist fatalities occurred in the wake of the Nigerian Ebola health crisis. Although Boko Haram claims an anti-education sentiment, their fatalities do not actually differ significantly from Al Shabaab fatalities during the Nigerian national basic education examination or during Ramadan. Given extremists’ vulnerable self-concepts, emphasizing revealed relative preferences may undermine terrorist credibility and recruitment.

Social Science Can Develop Startups for Development [SocArXiv Preprint

Like the mobile phone revolution before it, startups in developing economies are taking scholarship by surprise. Social science can help unpack the next-generation of economic development in Africa.

Econometrics, Statistics and Data Science

Time-Inconsistency and Randomized Controlled Trials 

I introduce a general randomized controlled trial approach where study participants have time-inconsistent preferences that significantly affect selection into randomized treatment groups. I show how preferences are manipulated to become more consistent over time, so that an agent places increasing weights on the present relative to the future. By acknowledging and correcting for time-inconsistency and related self-control problems, the proposed trials generate clearer information than standard randomized and selective trials. The laws of large numbers are compromised by significantly time-inconsistent environments. To minimize this issue, I introduce behavioral laws of large numbers.  I close with various policy implications.

Real-Time Causal Inference [SSRN Working Paper][SocArXiv Preprint][PsyArXiv Preprint][EngrXiv Preprint]

Original version: March 2014. 

The paper highlights several areas on statistical measurement and causal inference in common real-time data environments. Treatment effects under real-time randomization within data streams are found estimable using controlled and natural experiments motivated by real-time regression analyses. A bias occurs as a result of ignoring concept drift when classical regression statistics are naïvely applied to real-time experimental data. An algorithm performs difference-in-difference estimation for real-time program evaluations. A new Problem of Causal Inference is introduced for real-time data environments. The paper closes with brief implications.

Industrial Organization

Economies of Score [SSRN Working Paper]

Original version: March 2016. (Preliminary, do not cite: Updated version coming soon).

To introduce a novel generalization of economies of scope, the paper develops a theory of average cost reductions based on enabling products to have multiple features or functions. The process is labelled economies of score. Focusing production costs on the finer detail of product features can lead to more significant average cost reductions relative to standard economies of scope and scale. The embedding of secondary features into a product with a primary feature is a network graph represented with a binary decision diagram to model product feature integration for each product within a firm. A feature equilibrium is defined. Some evidence suggests that the approach is relevant for describing smartphone-app industrial organization.

Matching Markets, Self-Control and the Firm

Original version: January 2013. (Preliminary, do not cite: Updated version coming soon).

Economic History

Coming to America

Tracing post-independence African migration to the United States as well as economic and political impacts.

Peace in Africa: International Migration and the Phenomenon of Ghana 

Ghana is one of the most peaceful countries in the world and has not experienced a civil conflict in its modern history. This occurred in spite of consistent and significant military and economic instability in the post-independence era. Ghana experienced these political developments with the aid of institutional dynamism and an experimental policy mindset exemplified in formal-informal hybrid chieftancy and queen-mother political systems, however, these are only part of the model discussed in this article. In this paper, I suggest that the absence of political conflict in Ghana is, somewhat ironically, traceable to migration trends from African countries that did experience conflict–such migrations have had subtle but significant linguistic and sociocultural impacts on Ghanaians themselves as evidenced by spillover effects in various sectors. I contextualize standard economic and political policy factors led by various Ghanaian governments into migration waves that predate and, I argue, are even more salient and resonant than the Pan-African policy initiatives of Presidents Nkrumah and Rawlings. Mobile telephony has only heightened migrations and the international interactions that paradoxically breed tolerance among Ghanaians of different ethnicities. Simple natural experiments corroborate the presented evidence while raising uncomfortable policy dilemmas.

Black Wall Street

The origins and consequences of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Macroeconomics

Wagon-Wheel Effects 

Ocular illusions can create behavioral biases in macroeconomic analyses.

Do Experiments Give the Economy Butterflies? Randomized Controlled Microfoundations

Everyday human interactions within and across sectors generate small-scale experiments that scale up in a Keynesian framework.

Research In Progress

The Behavioral Economics of Product Design for Users in  Developing Countries

Using behavioral economics to improve product design for new technology users

Central Validity and Feasibility Inference

Development Impact Lab 2016 State of the Science Conference, UC Berkeley.

The paper focuses on external validity in practice: anticipating the degree to which consequent related treatments would be feasible in new contexts.

A Filtering Approach for Experimenting with Remote Sensing: Evidence from Satellite Data

Economic Vegetarianism

The Computer Science of Kente: Cloth Weaving as Programming Language

Information Technology and the Global Fight Against Health Poverty

Mobile Money Spillovers: Evidence from Kenya 

State Capacity Adoption: Experimental Evidence from Mobile Innovation in Ghana 

(A)moral Hazard: Experimental Evidence from Mobile Health 

Policy makers are hopeful that mobile health  can improve health outcomes in developing countries. I find evidence of a unique form of moral hazard with respect to mobile health technologies.

Pipe Dreams? Dilemmas from Ghana’s Oil

Trade Impacts in China 

Information Asymmetries, Savings and Credit (with Jeremy Foltz).

Gender Bias in Informal Financial Institutions: Evidence from Susu Collection in Ghana (with Jeremy Foltz).

Empowering women can lessen gender bias in deposit collection.

Low-Intensity Conflict and Schooling Outcomes: Evidence from Uganda (with Jeremy Foltz)

A Self-Control Agency Conflict

Diet and Behavior in Northern Ghana (in progress)

Bandwagons: Theory and Evidence (in progress)

Case Studies and Policy Projects

CellScope: A Development Engineering Case Study (2014) (with Syed Imran Ali, Frankie Myers, Clay Ruben and Daniel Fletcher) 

The Rural Electric Power Project: A Development Engineering Case Study (2014) (with Matt Podolsky, Temina Madon, Carson Christiano, Ken Lee, Javier Rosa, Syed Imran Ali, Eric Brewer, Catherine Wolfram, and Edward Miguel)

A Human-Computer Interactions Approach for Research Transparency [SocArXiv Preprint]

Smartphones for Smart Policy: Mobilizing the Social Sciences to Fight Global Poverty [Authorea]

Rebuilding Trust in the Social Sciences with Empathy. Profile in Fall 2014 Blum Center for Developing Economies Newsletter

Original Version: September 2014

Exposing the engaging and non-superficial discussions of scholarship currently limited to departmental workshop presentations or academic conferences to the public would promote transparency, as well as engagement, trust and even respect for academic professions.