Applied Economics and Management PhD Dissertations

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    Xue, Zhe (2022-05)
    Innovation is essential to firm performance and economic growth. During each stage of the innovation process within firms, there is much valuable information that firms could choose to disclose to the public. This dissertation aims to empirically evaluate what impacts innovation disclosure and construct novel, text-based measures of innovation disclosure using Natural Language Processing techniques. Chapter 1 empirically examines the net impact of patent enforcement by different types of entities on the volume of patent filings disclosed publicly in the affected technology classes. The study finds that patent litigation in the United States reduces disclosed invention activities within the same technology class and that litigation by Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs) leads to a significantly larger reduction than litigation by product companies. The negative impact of PAEs is primarily driven by large patent aggregators, especially after the America Invents Act of 2012. Chapter 2 builds on the previous chapter and empirically examines how patent litigation impacts the direction of invention disclosure strategies at the firm level. Specifically, firms experiencing a competitive threat in the patent market might strategically disclose less similar patents. This study suggests that firms systematically increase differentiation (reduce similarity) both compared to the primary litigated patent and their own earlier patents. However, PAEs may have a weaker effect than product companies. The results imply that product market peers are more relevant than PAEs in determining firms' invention strategies. Chapter 3 constructs a conceptual framework to describe the decision-making process behind innovation disclosure and empirically examines the factors that impact the corporate innovation disclosure strategy in financial documents of publicly listed firms. This study finds that firms would like to disclose more innovation information directly to the shareholders to expand access to external financing or to drive the direction of innovation in the technology field and encourage other market players to imitate their innovation outcomes. Firms are more likely to disclose less innovation information to hide the adverse information or to avoid the costs of revealing proprietary information to competitors in a highly competitive market unless the cost is low.
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    Essays on Environmental and Urban Economics
    Rao, Deyu (2022-05)
    The thesis consists of three independent chapters on environmental and urban economics. A central theme explored in this thesis is individuals' responses to environmental challenges.The first chapter, "The Healthcare Cost of Air Pollution: Evidence from the World's Largest Payment Network", provides the first nationwide analysis of the healthcare cost of PM2.5 using the universe of credit- and debit-card transactions in China during 2013-2015. The second chapter, "Improved Transportation Networks Facilitate Adaptation to Pollution and Temperature Extremes", compiles daily travel flows based on transaction records from the world’s largest payment network and documents that China's rapid expansion of high-speed railways (HSR) facilitates the use of intercity travel as an effective adaptation strategy. In the third chapter, "The Role of Environmental Amenities in the Urban Economy: Evidence From a Spatial General Equilibrium Approach", I develop and estimate a spatial general equilibrium model to examine how environmental amenities affect the spatial distribution of urban economic activities and their welfare consequences.
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    Essays on Information Technology Adoption among Commercial Firms
    Chen, Ruyu (2021-12)
    The diffusion of information technologies (IT) in the business sector has the potential to transform industries and affect the performance of firms. My dissertation explores factors that influence business process innovation in IT, and analyze the implications of the use of IT for inventive activities. Chapter 1 provides a research overview. Chapter 2 investigates how worker mobility influences the adoption of a new general-purpose technology (GPT) that requires significant complementary investments. I use the state-level changes to the enforceability of noncompete agreements as a plausible exogenous shock to labor mobility, and observe the adoption of machine learning (ML) from over 153,000 establishments between 2010 and 2018; the results suggest that changes that facilitate worker movements are associated with a significant decline in the likelihood of the adoption of ML. Moreover, the magnitude of establishment response depends upon establishment size, number of large establishments in the same industry-location, and the level of experimentation with analytics technology. Chapter 3 examines how the Internet affects the likelihood that firms cite scientific publications in their patent inventions. I compiled a dataset that contains 541,568 patent citations to scientific papers from 3,651 public firm locations (firm sites in a given metropolitan statistical area) between 1992 and 2000, and identified the staggered adoption of basic Internet at these firms. I show that the Internet enables firms to discover “hidden gems”– commercializable yet under-recognized scientific findings published by early-career scientists, and/or in less prestigious journals, with fewer forward academic citations but with more forward patent citations.
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    Emerging Questions in Agricultural Finance
    Yang, Youwei (2021-08)
    Observing a fast-evolving world economy and agricultural financial system, this dissertation studies three emerging questions in agricultural finance: agricultural financial technology (FinTech), blockchain and cryptocurrencies; persistence and growth of religious farming communities that limit use of technology in the U.S.; and livestock insurance willingness to offer in China. These emerging questions and developments fit closely into the top priority of the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI), and the vital tools recognized to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. These emerging agricultural finance strategies are crucial to improve agricultural value chain, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth, especially for rural areas with intensive agricultural activities. These topics are sparsely studied empirically due to limited data, evolving policies, and rapidly changing technologies. In this thesis I take the initiative to understand these both qualitatively and quantitatively. The first chapter discusses the overall importance of these emerging areas of agricultural finance strategies to support the development of the agricultural economy. We provide background domain knowledge on Agricultural FinTech with an emphasis to blockchain and cryptocurrencies, elaborating the applications of blockchain in food and agriculture value chain and supply chain, that improves the transparency and efficiency of tracing and trading. Understanding the relationship between blockchain and cryptocurrencies is crucial to applications of this technology in agriculture, thus we relay quantitative research to the more practically operated cryptocurrencies to understand its market property. Chapter 2 examines the financial property of 3,351 cryptocurrency price series, particularly looking at the long or short memory within its price series and evaluate if they follow a fractional Brownian motion through Hurst estimators and Stepwise autoregression. We investigate the releasing mechanism of Bitcoin and use top 105 coins’ supply structure to explain the memory in their price series, for which we find the % of total coins issued is explanatory. Due to concerns of supply related built-in memory within the price series, we propose a de-mean method to decompose the price series with the time varying mean and the variations, and we found that some previously found long memory was actually spurious. The gradually increasing (time-varying) mean can explain this spuriousness, and we use the market structure such as the 4-year bull circle and the deflationary releasing mechanism to explain this time-varying phenomenon. The findings of this chapter confirm the fractionality of crypto markets generally, and provide clarity of true or spurious long memory using both traditional and advanced methods. This enhances our understanding of these emerging financial assets that could potentially be applied to agricultural value chains. One possibility is a blockchain token system that is linked to warehouse receipts and enables the holding and trading of grains electronically. The third chapter looks at Amish population growth and how that could affect farmland prices. The Amish culture promotes strong family ties and human-nature interactions; thus, they generally use less modern agricultural production technology. We conceptualize the co-existence of different farming styles between Amish farmers and conventional farmers, to explain how the less productive Amish farmers can stay competitive. The main rationale is that the effectively cheaper labor costs of Amish due to their larger families can compensate the disadvantage from less output due to their limited use of farming technologies. Simply speaking, Amish may have lower revenue, though their costs are low as well, so they could maintain the similar level of profits to their non-Amish neighbors. Because farmland is the most important farm asset class, we hypothesize that any differences in profitability of farming systems would be reflected in farmland prices and analyze whether farmland prices are influenced by Amish population growth. We use a standard hedonic approach and unique shift-share like instrumental variable in this empirical model and find no statistically significant relationship between Amish population growth and farmland prices. Therefore, we infer that Amish compete on the farmland markets similar as the conventional farmers, which aligns with our conceptual framework scenario of similar profitability. This chapter does not only offer insights into the coexistence of multiple farming systems in one market, represented in the farmland market; but also, methodologically showcases how an identification strategy from the labor literature can be applied to agriculture finance issues. The fourth chapter presents our work in investigating agricultural insurance agents’ willingness to offer (WTO) livestock insurance in China, through an in-the-field discrete choice experiment (DCE). We include eight main attributes of livestock insurance and contain various combinations of different levels of them on the choice cards. We implemented the analysis in 6 blocks, with 35 insurance agents in each block. We ask each of them to respond to 15 cards, on each card choose from one of the two hypothetically designed livestock insurance. The card choice combinations of various attributes and levels are designed using JMP software through a D-optimal approach, which use limited sets of choices to maximize the choice exposures to participants and reveal their utility changes when they decide the trade-offs between two choices on the cards based on the different attribute levels included. Premium subsidy and insurance types are two out of eight attributes we primarily study and also find strong clear evidence on. We find that a one level (10%) increase of subsidy lead agents’ probability to offer be 3.166 times higher. We also find the more traditional type, mortality insurance, is still strongly preferred than the newer introduced insurance, with weather-based index insurance being the least preferred, because of farmers’ difficulty in understanding and conflicts when basis risk occurs. Through using survey question to generate interaction term model, we also find knowledge to the newer type of the insurance products improves the WTO on that particular insurance type. This chapter is among the very first to study the supply side of agriculture insurance, and the DCE method we use is a recently popularized method in evaluating insurance products and participants preferences with designs of attributes variations. Our research provides important policy implications as the government and insurance companies work out the details in enlarging the take-up of insurance via interventions of subsidy, education, and innovative /diverse product offering.
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    Information Ownership, Valuation, and Exploitation in Digital Markets
    Wu, Joy (2021-08)
    This dissertation consists of empirical works examining individuals' information-sharing behavior, especially when that information is potentially valuable to the individuals' information recipient(s). I explore how rights assignments can influence one's perception of the value of an information commodity, such as an algorithm that can be exploited for profits. I also examine individuals' personal data-sharing behavior, and whether it is motivated the ability by of others to privately benefit in the usage of one's personal data. Finally, I also explore how stated beliefs about information-sharing---including its access and usage by others---compares to actual privacy-seeking behavior.
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    Si, Shuyang (2021-08)
    This dissertation consists of empirical analyses of three important issues related to food and energy economics and policy in China. The first issue – food safety – is a major global public health issue. In Food Safety and Restaurant Food (Chapter 1), we analyze the effects of a media and policy event regarding food safety on the supply and demand for restaurant food. The food safety-related event we examine is a media and policy event regarding the discovery by China’s customs of “Zombie meat” – meat that has been frozen for decades and is therefore beyond its expiration date – being smuggled into China in June 2015. We apply a regression discontinuity approach to a unique daily spatially-disaggregated order-level restaurant dataset of 1.6 million dining orders of 1,215 different dishes placed in 58 restaurants across multiple cities in China. Results suggest that customers who ordered meat dishes following the Zombie meat event tended to order more expensive meat dishes, perhaps because they viewed these more expensive dishes as having higher quality and more fresh meat. We supplement our analysis with an empirical model of consumer demand, and similarly find that after the Zombie meat event, consumers in Beijing and Tianjin were more likely to buy more expensive pork dishes. Our results suggest that a possible means by which restaurants can weather food safety crises is to offer high quality dishes and to establish and maintain a reputation for quality.The second important issue is the effect of environmental policies on productivity and profits. Critics of environmental policies often claim that such policies decrease productivity and profits. The effects of environmental policies on productivity, GDP, output, and profits is in part an empirical question, however, and may vary by firm, industry, sector, and type of policy. The Effects of Environmental Policies in China on GDP, Output, and Profits (Chapter 2) examines the effects of environmental policies in China on GDP, industrial output, and new energy sector profits using province-level panel data over the period 2002 to 2013. Our econometric method employs instruments to address the potential endogeneity of the policies. We find that policies involving financial incentives or monetary awards have the potential of increasing the output and/or profits in some energy-related industries or sectors, but potentially at the cost of GDP in non-energy industries or sectors. In contrast, command and control policies and non-monetary awards appear to decrease GDP, output, and/or profits. The third important issue is the effect of energy-related policies on energy consumption. The effects of energy-related policies on energy consumption in China (Chapter 3) examines the effects of different types of energy-related policies on different types of energy consumption in China. We collect and construct a novel, comprehensive, and detailed data set on province-level energy-related policies that includes specific types of energy-related command and control policies; financial incentives; awards; intellectual property rights; and education and information policies. Our econometric method employs instruments to address the potential endogeneity of the policies. According to our results, some types of energy-related policies have been effective in reducing energy consumption. However, many other policies have the possibly unintended or even perverse consequence of increasing rather than decreasing energy consumption. Our results on the mixed effectiveness of energy-related policies in China in reducing energy consumption have important implications for the design of energy-related policies in China and elsewhere.
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    Essays on Public Finance and Development
    Abbas, Ali (2021-08)
    This dissertation studies fiscal policy, specifically the efficiency and electoral constraints on tax policy, and the measurement of public sector health to increase the effectiveness of government spending. Chapter 1 studies high-income taxpayer responses through the tax base channel to changes in marginal income tax rates in the United States. Prior research that has used bunching methods to estimate the taxable income response of high earners has presented no evidence of bunching at the top kink in the regular, federal income tax schedule. I argue that at the federal level, a combination of the regular and Alternative Minimum Tax schedules identifies the actual tax-related incentives that apply to high earners. I use annual income tax codes and publicly available samples of Internal Revenue Service individual income tax return data from 1993-2011 to characterize the combined schedule for each taxpayer. I discover previously undetected bunching at the top kink in this schedule and use it to estimate the elasticity of taxable income with respect to the net-of-tax rate for high earners to be between 0.15 to 0.28. This implies an upper bound on the efficiency cost of income taxation of 45 cents to a dollar, and a lower bound on the optimal top marginal tax rate of 70 percent, suggesting an optimal rate that is higher than prevailing top rates. I also mitigate an emerging endogeneity concern with bunching estimators that use kink points fixed in taxable income. By using effective top kinks that vary across taxable income for each taxpayer, I separate variation in marginal tax rates from variation in taxable income, making my bunching estimates more methodologically robust than earlier estimates. Chapter 2 estimates the impact of tax reforms on citizens’ voting behavior. We examine the effect of changing income tax burdens on voting behavior in presidential and House elections across the United States. To do so, we use a novel simulated instrumental variable approach in conjunction with survey, administrative, and voting data for the years 2010 to 2020 to isolate changes in tax burdens that arise purely due to variation in tax policy from changes caused by demographic shifts. We estimate that an increase in tax burdens by about half a standard deviation increases the vote share for the Republican party by one to six percentage points. This relationship is strongest, both statistically and in terms of magnitude, for presidential elections. For House elections, we find suggestive, but not definitive evidence that this relationship holds. Our analysis shows that contrary to popular belief, taxpayers continue to vote in their economic self-interest. In Chapter 3, I develop a tool for measuring the multidimensional performance of the public sector in the spirit of multidimensional measures of poverty. The framework allows fiscally constrained policymakers to measure a sector’s resource base, assess it over time, and optimize spending. The measure's decompositional properties provide for easy identification of the sources of deprivation along various dimensions and across subgroups, such as geographical areas and subsectors. In an application to the public education sector in Sindh province, Pakistan, I show that 27 percent of public schools are multidimensionally deprived and the weakest dimensions are physical infrastructure and facilities. Single-sex, rural schools, where instruction is in the native Sindhi language contribute the most to the overall measurement of sectoral weakness.
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    Essays on Environmental Challenges and Regulations in China
    Yang, Lin (2021-05)
    As one of the most rapidly growing economies, China has been experiencing pressing environmental and urban challenges due to a dramatic increase in fossil fuel consumption, and a lack of stringent and well-enforced environmental regulations. To address problems such as air pollution, traffic congestion, and weak enforcement, China has issued extensive environmental and transportation regulations. My dissertation aims to empirically estimate the causal effects of environmental policies and public infrastructures on environmental outcomes. The dissertation is comprised of three chapters. Chapter 1, joint with Shanjun Li, Yanyan Liu, and Avralt Od-Purejav, estimates the impact of subway expansions on air quality by leveraging fine-scale air quality data and the rapid build-out of 14 new subway lines in Beijing from 2008 to 2016. Chapter 2 is a review article, joint with Shanjun Li, Jianwei Xing, and Fan Zhang, which reviews findings in the recent literature on the impacts of a host of urban transportation policies used in developed- and developing-country settings. Finally, Chapter 3 studies the role of accurate measurements in effective regulations. Using high-resolution satellite-based pollution measures, this chapter examines local governments' strategic pollution control behavior and its implications on dynamic representativeness based on the staggered roll-out of the air pollution monitoring system in China.
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    Three Essays on Economic Issues Confronting the Fresh Produce Sector
    Yeh, Dourong Adeline (2021-05)
    This dissertation consists of three chapters investigating economic issues confronting the fresh produce sector in the U.S., focusing on alternative production practices and technologies that have sustainability implications for the sector. The first chapter investigates the signaling effects of genetically modified (GM) related food labels on consumer demand for other competing fresh produce in the market. Using a choice experiment with over 1,300 subjects, results show significant impacts from GM labels on demands for conventional unlabeled products. The second and third chapters assess pre- and post-harvest pest controls to manage spotted wing drosophila (SWD) for the lowbush blueberry production in Maine and highbush blueberry production in North Carolina, respectively. Specifically, the second chapter develops a novel dynamic bioeconomic analytical framework to assess the optimal pre-harvest pest control and incorporates structural econometrics to estimate growers’ perceptions. Results suggest that it is optimal to include early harvest, the focal sustainable pest control alternative, as part of the pest management. The third chapter focuses on a post-harvest pest control strategy consisting of putting blueberries in cold storage after harvest to minimize the risk of SWD infestation. The study proposes a game theory framework to model the strategic behaviors that affect a grower’s decision of using post-harvest cold storage and a buyer’s decision of testing fruit infestation. The analysis highlights that incorporating post-harvest cooling is optimal under Nash equilibrium. This dissertation contributes to the food and agricultural economics literature and provides empirical contributions to stakeholders on pressing issues facing fresh produce value chains today.
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    Essays on Carbon and Water Pricing
    Soares Cardoso, Diego (2021-05)
    This dissertation consists of three chapters that are tied together by their study of pricing mechanisms in the context of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics. The first chapter investigates the efficient pricing of carbon emissions under two non-environmental market distortions: market power and distortionary taxes. Also concerning carbon emissions, the second chapter examines how optimal carbon prices change in response to uncertainty about climate tipping consequences. Lastly, the third chapter switches the focus from efficiency to equity; it provides a quantification of water affordability concerns in the United States and studies policy options to alleviate the burden of unaffordable water services on low-income households.
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    Rajkumar, Vidya Bharathi (2021-05)
    This dissertation focuses on the effects of migration and remittances on the welfare of families left-behind, in the context of farming households in rural India. Labor migration is heavily male dominant in India, and women and children are often left behind. Though internal migration has been substantive in the country for several decades, its true scale has come to prominence in light of the current pandemic. However, available evidence on the effects of migration on the left-behind households is sparse, owing to data limitations. My doctoral work seeks to fill this gap, and I examine the following questions in three separate chapters of this dissertation: (1) effects of male outmigration on changing the roles of women in agriculture, (2) effects of father’s migration on children’s education and labor outcomes, and (3) effects of remittance receipts on children’s health and wellbeing.Male outmigration from India’s rural areas has resulted in women being left-behind to tend to agriculture. These women in migrant households may increase their farm labor to compensate for the labor lost to migration, particularly in traditionally male-oriented farming tasks, but lack the adequate skill, stamina and time needed to undertake the extra work. They may also take over new roles as farm managers, but often face constraints in terms of limited exposure to handling and managing different tasks, and disparate access to inputs and markets. In Chapter 1, I examine how male migration in rural India affects women’s roles in agriculture, in terms of their participation in farm labor and farm decision-making. Using household-level panel data, I use a Difference-in-Difference strategy (DID) to examine migration’s effects on women’s farming roles. To circumvent the self-selection bias associated with migration, I combine DID with Matching techniques. I adopt a kernel-based Propensity Score Matching approach after verifying that it results in the creation of a matched sample that is balanced on the selected observed variables. I find a modest 4 percentage point increase in the share of female family labor on the farm. However, I find a significant 13 percentage point increase in the likelihood of having a female farm manager. This is a novel result, indicating that male migration is a key driver behind women farmers taking up new responsibilities of farm management in addition to providing labor. I find that this change appears to be concentrated among women in geographical regions that have stricter social norms, and among women living in nuclear households and hence lacking support from extended families to perform productive activities as well as domestic chores. I observe that female farm managers have lower access to farm inputs and credit, compared to their male counterparts. Therefore, to examine if migration-induced female farm management affects farm profits, I employ a Causal Mediation analysis (CMA). I decompose the total effects of migration into indirect effects due to female farm management, and direct effects through other channels. I find that having a female farm manager mediates almost 30% of the reduction in profits. This study touches on the linkages underlying migration, women farmers, and gender differentials in farm productivity, and emphasizes the need to collect better data to enable further research on understanding these complex relationships. The results present useful insights for policies aimed at improving farm productivity, to be cognizant of women’s entry into farm management, and to be sensitive to the challenges faced by women farmers and farm-managers. In chapters 2 and 3, I examine the effects of migration and remittances on changes in human capital – particularly on child education, labor and health. Migration affects child education & child labor through several channels. The migrant’s departure could push the children into compensating for the loss of migrant’s labor by engaging in home and/or external work; older children may be tasked with handling household chores and sibling/elder care. These engagements can reduce the time available for children to spend on schooling. On the other hand, remittances could alleviate the households’ financial constraints and stimulate investments in child schooling and reduce child labor. In Chapter 2, I use cross-sectional data and matching techniques to study the effects of father’s migration on the left-behind children’s education and labor in rural India. I find that father’s migration leads to an improvement in enrollment rates, educational expenditure and time spent on studying. The positive effects are stronger among girls and older children (11-16 years), who are at higher risk of dropping out of school and entering labor markets. Focusing on child labor, I find a positive and significant effect in household farm work suggesting labor substitution, and a modest negative effect on external wage/salary work. These results appear to be driven by the receipt of remittances, as well as a shift towards female headship. While paternal migration does increase the labor participation of children in own farm work, the positive income effects from remittances stimulate greater investments in education and increase time spent on studying. In Chapter 3, I examine the relationship between remittances and child health in rural India. Malnutrition is a pervasive problem and a leading cause of under-5 child mortality in India. Remittances can have positive effects on child health by helping ease budget constraints and increasing spending on health inputs, better diets, sanitation facilities, better housing, and so on. Using lagged district-level share of households receiving remittances as an Instrumental Variable to account for the endogeneity of receiving remittances, I find that young children in remittance receiving households are likely to weigh more relative to children in non-recipient households; remittances also have a positive bearing on reducing diarrhea prevalence, suggesting a reduction in child morbidity and improvement in home-disease environment. These findings emphasize the need for policies on migration to better understand the beneficial role that migration and remittances play in improving the welfare of children left-behind.
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    Essays in Environmental, Transportation, and Urban Economics
    Liang, Yuanning (2021-05)
    This dissertation consists of three chapters studying environmental, transportation and urban challenges in both domestic and international settings. The first chapter “Do Safety Inspections Improve Safety? Evidence from the Roadside Inspection Program for Commercial Motor Vehicles” provides new insights to the study of regulatory enforcement and compliance by evaluating a key, long-standing national road safety regulation. I find that regulatory efforts to reduce public hazards are undermined when agents respond strategically to enforcement. I compile the most comprehensive database on inspections and accidents involving all 23 million trucks inspected nationwide from 1996 to 2018. Linking inspection and crash history using each truck’s unique vehicle identification number, I implement an event study that tracks a given truck’s accidents shortly before and after inspection. I find a sharp, 44.6% increase in the accident rate immediately following an inspection; the effect lasts for at least 14 days. Further analysis points to an explanation consistent with the Becker (1968) model: because inspectors rarely conduct repeat inspections of recently checked trucks, the drivers of these trucks then drive more carelessly and undertake fewer safety checks, leading to more frequent accidents following an inspection. These compensating behaviors lead to an estimated 1,803 additional accidents per year, costing roughly $1.6 billion. A comparison of different regulatory designs across states shows that alternative policy designs that randomize inspection practices and schedules could reduce accidents. In addition to evaluating regulatory impacts on human lives, in the second chapter, I find that environmental regulations nominally aimed at humans can also provide substantial benefits to other species. In my co-authored article, we provide the first large-scale evidence that air pollution, specifically ozone, is associated with declines in bird abundance in the United States. We analyze bird observations derived from over 11 million eBird checklists. The empirical challenge which I contribute to solving is to model the change in relative bird abundance after adjusting for observer efforts and bird detectability. I then combine the bird observations with data on air pollution and weather. We show that the US Environmental Protection Agency NOx Budget Trading Program, an air quality regulation which limits ozone precursors, delivered substantial benefits to bird conservation. Our estimates suggest that air quality improvements over the past four decades have stemmed the decline in bird populations, averting the loss of 1.5 billion birds, approximately 20 percent of current totals. This suggests that further improvements in air quality could meaningfully contribute to efforts to halt or reverse widespread declines in wildlife populations. The third chapter focuses on the role of financial market frictions in limiting consumption amid fast-rising housing prices in urban China. My co-authors and I use the universe of bank card transaction data in China to measure the impact of housing price changes on household consumption during the most recent housing boom. We show that there is a negative consumption response to housing price increases. The result is driven by the combination of a strong investment incentive in housing and heavy borrowing constraints faced by households. This finding is corroborated by the fact that households increase their savings as housing prices increase. I wrote a theoretical model to explain the channels at work, and proposed the use of lagged land sales as an instrumental variable for housing price. Our paper documents patterns that are in sharp contrast to those in the existing literature focused predominantly on the US; and we highlight the importance of taking into consideration capital market imperfections faced by households in developing countries and emerging markets.
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    Consumer use of food bank services: questions of timing and value
    Byrne, Anne Teresa (2021-05)
    Food banks and their affiliate pantries are an important part of the food assistance patchwork in the United States, feeding millions of individuals including many who are hungry and food insecure. This dissertation contains three essays which explore how consumers value food banks and pantries. The first essay detects a monthly cycle in food pantry use using administrative data from a food bank network in Colorado. It shows that food bank use increases at the end of the month, after SNAP (formerly “food stamps”) benefits have run out. The second essay uses revealed preference approaches to determine the value food banks offer to their communities and the people they serve, estimating that a single food bank network offers its clients approximately $300 in value each year. The third and final essay tests for negative perceptions of food pantry food, finding that particularly among nonusers there is a stigma associated with food from a pantry. It further finds that this stigma is mitigated through the use of images of food. Collectively these essays demonstrate how people use and value food banks and their pantries. This body of research shows that while this form of assistance appears to be a second (or even third) best option for many users, it is still important and valuable assistance.
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    Three essays on the economics of poverty, nutrition, and development
    Blom, Sylvia Annette (2021-05)
    Climate change and urbanization pose new challenges and opportunities to the effort to alleviate poverty in developing countries. This dissertation is comprised of three chapters that examine questions relating to the microeconomics of poverty, nutrition, and development in light of these ongoing trends. The first chapter, joint with Ariel Ortiz-Bobea and John Hoddinott, is motivated by the recent literature showing that extreme heat shocks can lead to poor economic and health outcomes. We construct hourly bins of temperature exposure to estimate the effects of extreme heat on early child nutrition, a health outcome correlated with educational attainment and income in adulthood. Linking 15 rounds of repeated cross-section data from five West African countries to geo-coded weather data, we find that extreme heat increases the prevalence of both chronic and acute malnutrition. We find that a 2 degree Celsuis rise in temperature will increase the prevalence of stunting by 3.9 percentage points, reversing more than half of the progress made on improving nutrition during our study period. In the second chapter, I re-examine the historical urban nutrition advantage in Bangladesh. Despite rapid and widespread rural-to-urban migration, I find that higher levels of wealth and education in urban areas continue to drive the urban nutrition advantage in Bangladesh. Among the youngest children, however, the gap is not significantly different from zero, consistent with the strong breastfeeding practices observed among rural mothers. Yet, by 24 months, rural children from low-income households are worse off compared with the average child, suggesting a need for more research on the determinants of other (non-breastfeeding) intermediate outcomes and nutrition-related behaviors in rural households. The third chapter examines the effects of financial stress on decision-making among the urban poor, a large and growing population in the developing world. I conduct a lab-in-the-field experiment with market vendors in Addis Ababa where I use mystery shoppers to exogenously increase vendors' earnings. I then measure deviations from utility-maximizing choices and uptake of a budget-expanding opportunity. I find that there is no impact of a single-day revenue increase on decision-making among the poorest vendors. However, I find descriptive evidence that economically beneficial decisions are more common among those with lower than expected monthly wages, suggesting that in the medium term, the income channel dominates the cognitive channel.
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    Labor Unions, Corruption, and Electric Vehicles: Three Essays on Applied Microeconomics
    Qian, Jing (2019-08-30)
    Government intervention can lead to second-best economic outcomes when market failures occur. However, too much government intervention may result in lower social welfare. The first essay evaluates the welfare consequences of the regulation of labor markets. In the past five decades, there has been a trend of production base moving to the south instead of clustering in the union-heavy Midwest. Many foreign automakers operated their assembly plants in the southern right to work (RTW) states allowing them to hire non-union workers. However, due to the historical relationship between unions and the Big Three (Ford, General Motors, Chrysler), the Big Three have to pay higher labor costs wherever they produce. Through a hedonic analysis, we first demonstrate that unions increase automakers’ manufacturing costs. We then set up and estimate a market equilibrium model to quantify the impacts of unions on prices, costs, and market shares. Counterfactual analysis shows that labor unions led to a $0.83 billion loss in consumer surplus, a $0.21 billion loss in firm profits, and a $0.2 billion gain in union workers, resulting in a $0.84 billion loss in social welfare. The second essay examines the welfare consequences of policies aimed at reducing environmental damage and energy consumption. China has become the world's largest market for electric vehicles (EVs) since 2015 and the government promotes the technology aggressively by providing large subsidies for EV buyers. The amount of subsidy is based on the driving range instead of the battery capacity as in the U.S. This paper evaluates the impacts of the subsidy program using detailed vehicle registration data in China from 2010 to 2015 and a household survey of vehicle ownership. I develop and estimate a market equilibrium model for China’s automobile market in which the demand side consists of a random coefficient discrete choice model and the supply side characterizes automakers’ pricing decisions under the government subsidy program. The estimation suggests that while the subsidy program in 2015 contributed to 94 percent of EV sales in large cities, the program favored small and low-quality EV models that consumers do not value and led to a $2.88 billion loss in social welfare. The hypothetical subsidy program based on the battery capacity would have led to a $0.62 billion increase in consumer surplus and a $0.2 billion increase in social welfare compared with the subsidy program. The third essay uses the recent anti-corruption campaign as a natural experiment to examine the effect of anti-corruption campaigns on economic activities. First, we propose a novel measure of anti-corruption intensity at the city level based on the percentage reductions in the city's revenue share of expensive restaurants after the issuance of Eight-Point Regulations on December 4, 2012. Second, using the city-level anti-corruption intensity measures, we investigate its relationship with economic activities, particularly, city-level GDP growth, number and size (measured by registered capital) of new firms registered in different industries, the exit rate of existing firms, existing firm revenue, and industry revenue. We find that the anti-corruption intensity index in a city is not correlated with the city's GDP growth rate, and is primarily negatively related to economic activities only in directly targeted industries, “Retail”, “ Hotel and Catering”, and “ Culture, Sports, and Entertainment”.
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    Essays on the Economics of Policy and Regulation in Agricultural and Food Markets
    Ho, Shuay-Tsyr (2019-08-30)
    This dissertation analyzes the empirical implications of selected policies and regulations applied to agricultural and food markets in the United States. It focuses on the policies at the regional level where the role of government influences the dynamics of agricultural markets and consumer behavior. In the first essay, in Chapter 2, I examine how regulation affects household diversity-seeking behavior for alcohol. Here I hypothesize that different state-level regulatory regimes in alcohol retail sales impact shopping convenience. I use a consumer panel dataset to examine household purchases of alcohol between 2004 and 2016. By focusing on a subset of households that moved between regulatory regimes in the pooled cross-sectional dataset, I am able to treat the time-invariant regulatory rules as a natural experiment to identify the causal impact of grocery store sales of alcohol on consumer choice diversification. The key finding suggests consumers further diversify their product selections in states that allow alcohol sales in grocery stores which reduces consumer's shopping costs and increases convenience. In the second essay, in Chapter 3, I focus on the effects of crop insurance on the supply of specialty crops in the United States. I use a nationally-representative farm-level dataset to evaluate the impacts of crop insurance on the acreage and crop value of fruits and vegetables. The empirical strategy addresses the potential endogeneity between the provision of crop insurance and the economic significance of the crops. In assessing how the availability of crop insurance affects supply, I use a number of variables to instrument insurance availability for fruits and vegetables. Instruments include i) the number of policies sold and premium subsidies for field crops within the same county, ii) the number of policies sold and premium subsidies for fruits and vegetable crops in the neighboring counties, which characterize various degrees of insurance demand. The two-stage findings suggest that crop insurance has increased both the harvested acreage and production value of fruits and vegetables. In the final essay, presented in Chapter 4, I worked with a team to evaluate several risk management strategies for cherry growers facing crop losses due to spring frost and excessive summer rain. Here we developed a framework to model stochastic prices, yields, and revenue for sweet cherries in New York and Michigan in a Monte Carlo simulation framework. This research constructed a novel dataset comprised of state-level market information for sweet cherries, station-level weather data, and the monitored performance of high tunnel at horticultural trials from research farms. Our results show that when there are significant price premiums for early season fruit, a high tunnel system could be the optimal strategy as it has the capacity to generate higher net profits compared to a variety of alternative strategies using insurance products.
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    Essays in Development and Nutrition Economics
    Park, Seollee (2019-05-30)
    This dissertation contains three essays in development and nutrition. These essays focus on a prevalent health problem in the developing world, undernutrition, which is one of the leading causes of child mortality and leads to poorer health, education, and labor outcomes in adulthood (Ahmed, et al., 2012; Avula, et al., 2013; Black, et al., 2008; Hoddinott, et al., 2013; World Bank, 2017). The first chapter provides an introduction to this dissertation. The second chapter, coauthored with Derek Headey and John Hoddinott, identifies the long-term drivers of nutritional change over the past two decades in 47 developing countries, applying consistent methods on a common database, from which we extracted a common set of nutrition-sensitive factors for all countries. We find that, while the magnitudes vary across countries, wealth accumulation and gains in parental education are the two largest drivers of reductions in undernutrition in the developing world. The variations in the child nutritional returns to parental education can be explained by the availability of public, rather than private, resources—i.e., child nutritional returns to parental education are greater when public resources are more abundant. The third chapter is joint work with Yaeeun Han and Hyuncheol Bryant Kim. This chapter is motivated by the strikingly low dietary diversity among young children in Ethiopia, which increases the risk of chronic undernutrition. This monotonous diet is a consequence of many factors, including poor maternal knowledge of good diets, limited resources, or both. We implemented a clustered randomized control trial that randomly provides nutrition education for mothers (behavior change communication, BCC), food vouchers, or both. We find a reduction in chronic child undernutrition only when both BCC and vouchers are provided, even though BCC alone improves mothers’ nutritional knowledge and child-feeding behaviors to some extent. Food vouchers alone did not have any effect on mothers’ nutritional knowledge or child-feeding behaviors. Our results suggest that, when both knowledge and income are intertwined challenges for improved child-feeding practices, addressing both constraints simultaneously may augment the positive impacts. Using a lab-in-the-field and field experiment settings in the context of a floriculture plant in Ethiopia, the fourth chapter investigates the effects of nutrition on labor productivity and economic decision-making by randomly providing nutritious filling breakfasts to workers. As intermediate outcomes, I also examine to what extent hunger alleviation affects individual’s social preference, attention, and physical ability. I find that farm breakfasts did not improve productivity or economic decision-making. On behavioral outcomes, farm breakfasts decreased stress and increased self-interest and trustworthiness. These effects exhibited a pattern of hedonic adaptation in which effects are pronounced in the first several weeks but dissipate over time. By examining behavioral outcomes related to productivity and economic decision-making, this study shifts the focus from how nutrition affects the physical aspects to the psychological and the behavioral aspects.
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    Essays on the Value of Local Public Goods
    Jerch, Rhiannon Leigh (2019-05-30)
    This dissertation consists of three chapters studying the effects of public goods and public infrastructure investments on urban growth and local government finances. The first chapter estimates, first, how local governments finance federal mandates and, second, how much value local residents place on mandated local spending using a change in federal rules on municipal infrastructure following the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA). I leverage the role of river networks in distributing pollutants across cities, combined with pre-CWA state regulatory intensity, to account for the endogeneity of municipal infrastructure adoption decisions, and to predict ex ante compliance with the CWA infrastructure mandate. Cities that were under the burden of compliance experienced substantial improvements to local ambient water quality as well as a three-fold increase in resident fees. Public spending on non-mandated items did not change, indicating that mandates are unlikely to displace local funding of other goods and services. The simultaneous increases to water quality and local costs resulted in taste-based sorting. However, I find that resident value of the mandated infrastructure depends upon the complementarity of surface water quality to pre-existing local features, as well as exposure to upstream polluters. These results imply that mandates may reduce inefficiencies to local public goods provision and provide positive benefits that are valued no less than their costs to local residents. The second chapter, joint with Matthew E. Kahn and Shanjun Li, considers the efficiency of local public service provision. A key challenge in quantifying the efficiency of the public sector stems from limited “apples to apples” comparisons of service functions offered by both public and private sectors, as well as the high correlation between local demand, demographic composition, and the local government’s ability to deliver quality services. This paper posits a solution to this empirical challenge in two ways. First, we focus on public bus transit which is a relatively undifferentiated service across US municipalities. Second, we apply a regression discontinuity design using local mayoral elections as a source of random variation that predicts privatization levels in order to estimate causal effects of privatization on service efficiency. We find that privately operated firms provide bus transit at significantly lower costs per mile, largely due to their ability to circumvent public sector unions. We estimate that privatizing bus transit - a service used disproportionately by lower income groups - would lower the average bus fare by $1 per trip and create over 26,000 bus operator jobs nationally. However, these cost savings do not necessarily outweigh benefits of providing high-paying public sector employment opportunities. The third chapter, joint with Panle Barwick, Shanjun Li, and Jing Wu, applies predictions of the Alonso-Muth-Mills model of urban land use to the context of Beijing’s 2008 road rationing policy to identify how such policy instruments impact the spatial distribution of wealth within cities. We find that Beijing's rationing policy significantly increased the demand for housing near subway stations as well as central business districts. Further, we find the composition of individuals living proximate to subway stations as well as proximate to Beijing's central business districts shifted toward wealthier households. Our findings are consistent with theoretical predictions of the monocentric city model with income-stratified transit modes. These results provide suggestive evidence that city-wide road rationing policies can have the unintended consequence of limiting access to public transit for lower income individuals.
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    Choices and Preferences at the Individual, Household, and Community Levels
    Gao, Xin (2019-05-30)
    This dissertation consists of three essays that examine choices and preferences at the individual, household and community levels. The first chapter, "Labor Market Outcomes with Heterogeneous Preferences and Search Frictions: The Case of Chinese Migrant and Urban Workers", examines decision-making at the individual level. Neither Rosen's classical compensating differential model nor newly developed search models could explain the particular pattern of wage and job characteristics distributions in China, where migrant and urban workers coexist and dominate different sectors. In the theoretical part of this paper, I expand the model by Lang and Majumdar (2003) to show that wages need not be compensating when preferences are heterogeneous, and that the group more averse to undesirable working conditions need not earn less when reservation utilities differ and/or when employers practice taste-based discrimination. In the empirical part, I substantiate the assumption in my theoretical modeling that urban workers are more averse to undesirable working conditions using a discrete choice experiment, where 225 workers in China made hypothetical choices between jobs characterized by different wage levels and working conditions. I backed out preference parameters and willingness to accept measures for job attributes. I find that consistent with my assumption, urban workers need to be compensated more to accept outdoor jobs and jobs in second line cities. I also find that migrant workers have more dispersed preferences that vary with personal characteristics such as gender and education. The second chapter, "Where Did the Money and Time go? De-mystifying the Negative impact of Remittances on Human Capital Investment in the Kyrgyz Republic", examines how households’ allocation of financial and labor resources affects human capital formation in the Kyrgyz Republic. International migration and remittances from overseas may encourage human capital investment and improve educational outcomes in developing countries. Empirical studies, however, have shown mixed evidence. In our study, we focus on the case of Kyrgyz Republic, one of the largest remittances-receiving countries in Asia. I used a 5-year panel dataset that tracks the same 3,000 households and 8,000 individuals in the country to examine the impact of remittances on both household educational expenditure and attendance rate of school age children. I used instrumental variables and fixed-effects regressions to correct for potential selection bias. I find that remittances have a negative impact on human capital formation -- namely both educational expenditure and school attendance rate are lower for households that receive a higher amount of remittances. To explore the possible channels of the negative effects, I further regressed itemized household expenditures and the time use pattern of school-age children on remittances. I find that the negative effects can at least be partly attributed to increased expenditure on durable goods and increased hours of child labor on farm work as a compensation for adult labor insufficiency induced by out-migration. My finding calls for the monitoring of farm labor hours of school-age children. Moreover, implementation and scaling up of financial literacy programs that help parents balance short-term expenditures (durable goods) and long-term investments (education, health) can be beneficial. In addition, targeted investment to improve the quality of education services in the country may help increase perceived return to schooling and may therefore improve human capital investment. The final chapter, "Kinship, Social Preferences and Voting in Rural China: A Lab-in-the-Field Experiment", goes beyond individuals and households to examine communities and how social preferences and social network can affect collective decision-making. Economists have come to understand that human choices are not only driven by self-interest but also “social preferences” -- a person's concern over resources allocated to other people. Moreover, such preferences may be affected by the environment in which such choices are made, especially social networks and social pressure. I performed a lab-in-the-field experiment in rural China, where I recruited 162 Chinese farmers to vote in 7 variants of allocation games in randomly assigned groups and with real-world social contacts, with and without pressure. I find that social network and social pressure combined have significant yet heterogeneous effects on social preferences. The source of heterogeneity includes the assignment with in-group or out-group members, membership in dominant lineages, individual characteristics as defined by age and gender, and the degree of kinship between individuals within a social group. My study not only provides empirical evidence for the social preference theories but also urges policy makers to be careful in choosing an appropriate voting method. In addition, constraining the power of dominant lineage and having better educated villagers more involved in village affairs could be welfare improving.
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    Essays on Human Capital, Environment, and Development
    Jagnani, Maulik (2019-05-30)
    This dissertation examines how government policies and natural environment, independently and interactively, influence education outcomes as well as if and how households or individuals adapt to fixed or changing features of the natural environment.