Work in progress
The Political Economy of Lockdown: Does Free Media Make a Difference? - With Tim Besley
This paper explores the role of the media in how governments are reporting on and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In countries with free media, more deaths increase the probability of imposing a lockdown and are associated with greater reductions in mobility during lockdowns. This pattern is confirmed using predicted deaths from an epidemiological SIR model as an instrument for reported deaths. The findings can be explained by a simple model of policy-making where citizens with access to free media are better informed about the severity of the pandemic which in turn affects compliance and the decision to lock down.
We study changes in Americans' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Compliance with social distancing differs substantially between U.S. counties and has declined over time. We measure responsiveness as changes in social distancing in response to new COVID-19 infections or deaths using movement data from approximately 20 million smartphones. Responsiveness peaked at the onset of the pandemic but has declined since. Consistent with a simple model of responsiveness, we find that citizens take more precautionary measures in response to deaths in the presence of (i) stay-at-home orders, (ii) a large population without health insurance, and (iii) higher trust in government.
Emperors without Scepters: Early Colonial Leaders’ Personality and Civil Conflicts - With Quoc-Anh Do, Elise Huillery and Jean-Louis Keene
We investigate the role of colonial leaders in shaping contemporary civil conflicts in former French colonies in Western Africa. We argue that the earliest leaders of the colonial era made key decisions in building local government that shaped local perceptions of, and interactions with, the state that led to variation in the local populations’ hostility towards the colonial government. Using the arguably arbitrary assignment of early colonial district leaders, we show that the personality of the first district leaders affected colonial hostility, and that such hostility has led to more modern civil conflicts.