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

Working Papers

The Effect of Parental and Sibling Incarceration: Evidence from Ohio (with Sam Norris and Matt Pecenco) revise and resubmit at the American Economic Review

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. Contrary to conventional wisdom, parental incarceration has relatively beneficial effects on children, reducing their likelihood of incarceration by 3.2 percentage points and improving their adult socioeconomic status. We also reject policy-relevant effects of parental incarceration on academic performance and teen parenthood. Sibling incarceration has similar effects, reducing incarceration likelihood by 6.7 percentage points.

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 medical causes of death. However, there is no detectable effect on post-release mortality risk, meaning that incarceration increases overall longevity. We estimate that incarceration averts nearly two thousand deaths annually in the US, comparable to the 2014 Medicaid expansion.

Abstract: Theoretical models provide ambiguous predictions on the effects of bureaucratic corruption. This paper studies one type of corruption, the payment of bribes to receive public sector jobs, to understand the factors underlying whether corruption leads to efficient or inefficient outcomes. I collect original data on hiring in a developing country health bureaucracy and find that hiring decisions are primarily based on bribes, with hires paying bribes averaging 17 months of salary. Using data from the universe of potential applicants for these jobs, I find that the quality of hires is high, and that hires compare favorably to counterfactual hires under merit-based systems. However, there is significant heterogeneity, and corruption leads to poor quality hires in around a quarter of jobs. Exploiting variation in the eligibility criterion for each job, I demonstrate that the extent of misallocation depends on the correlation of quality with wealth and valuation of the job among those eligible to apply. When these correlations are positive, allocations are close to efficient. These findings demonstrate how the economic impact of corruption depends on market characteristics, and that in some markets the costs of corruption will be less than conventional wisdom would suggest.

Coverage: VoxDev

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