Abstract: Improving "last mile" public-service delivery is a recurring challenge in developing countries. Could the rapid adoption of mobile phones provide a simple, cost-effective means to do so? We evaluate the impact of a phone-based monitoring system on improving the delivery of a program that transferred nearly a billion dollars to farmers in the Indian state of Telangana, using an at-scale experiment randomized across 5.7 million farmers. A randomly selected sample of officials were told that a representative sample of beneficiaries in their jurisdiction would be called to measure the quality of program implementation. This simple announcement led to a 1.5% increase in the number of farmers receiving their benefits, with a 3.3% increase among farmers in the bottom quartile of landholdings. The program was highly cost-effective, with a cost of 3.6 cents for each additional dollar delivered.

Coverage: Hindustan Times Op-ed, Financial Express

Jobs for Sale: Corruption and Misallocation in Hiring, forthcoming at the American Economic Review [Ungated draft]

Abstract: Corrupt government hiring is common in developing countries. This paper uses original data to document the operation and consequences of corrupt hiring in a health bureaucracy. Hires pay bribes averaging 17 months of salary, but contrary to conventional wisdom, their observable quality is comparable to counterfactual merit-based hires. Exploiting variation across jobs, I show that the consequences of corrupt allocations depend on the correlation between wealth and quality among applicants: service delivery outcomes are good for jobs where this was positive and poor when negative. In this setting, the parameter was typically positive, leading to relatively good performance of hires.

Coverage: VoxDev

Abstract: Every year, millions of Americans experience the incarceration of a family member. Using 30 years of administrative data from Ohio and exploiting differing incarceration propensities of randomly assigned judges, this paper provides the first quasi-experimental estimates of the effects of parental and sibling incarceration in the US. Parental incarceration has a net positive effect on some important outcomes for children, reducing their likelihood of incarceration by 4.9 percentage points and increasing their adult neighborhood socioeconomic status. While estimates on academic performance and teen parenthood are imprecise, we reject large positive or negative effects. Sibling incarceration leads to similar reductions in criminal activity. [Non-technical 2-page summary]

Working Papers

The Effect of Incarceration on Mortality (with Sam Norris and Matt Pecenco), June 2021, revise and resubmit at the Review of Economics and Statistics

Abstract: This paper analyzes the effect of incarceration on mortality using administrative data from Ohio between 1992 and 2017. Using event study and difference-in-differences approaches, we compare mortality risk across incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals before and after pre-scheduled releases from prison. Mortality risk halves during the period of incarceration, with large declines in murders, overdoses, and natural causes of death. However, there is no detectable effect on post-release mortality risk, meaning that incarceration increases longevity. These estimates reflect the high-risk environment faced by criminal justice-involved individuals when not incarcerated and suggest other potential policies that could reduce these risks.

Abstract: Dowry payments are nearly universal in contemporary Indian marriages and typically exceed a year of earnings. This paper uses data on over 70,000 historical marriages to document and explain the emergence of dowry in India. We find that between 1930 and 1975, the proportion of marriages with dowry increased from less than 40% to over 85%, while the average size of dowry payments tripled. Since 1975, the proportion of marriages with dowry has remained steady, and the average size of dowry payments has declined. We test five prominent theories of dowry to determine which, if any, can explain these patterns. The data support only one of the theories -- that increased differentiation in groom quality during economic modernization led to the rise of dowry. Finally, we provide evidence that the post-1975 decline in dowry payments can be explained by marriage market competition, where the size of dowries paid to higher quality grooms decreased as the number of high quality grooms increased.

Coverage: Live Mint , Ideas For India