Sacha Dray

Welcome! I am a PhD candidate in Economics at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Fields: Public economics, Political economy, Development.


If you wish to present at the STICERD Work in Progress seminar, feel free to contact me.


Institutions, Trust and Responsiveness: Patterns of Government and Private Action During the COVID-19 Pandemic - With Tim Besley

LSE Public Policy Review (forthcoming)

Why have countries responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic? We explore the role of institutions in shaping the response of governments and citizens to the progression of the disease, both conceptually and empirically. We document a puzzling fact: countries with “good institutions” – strong executive constraints, the holding of free and fair elections and more freedom – tend to have performed worse during the initial phase of the pandemic. They have been slower to implement a lockdown and experienced a larger death toll. On the other hand, countries with higher interpersonal trust and higher confidence in government appear to have fared better. We find limited evidence of differences in mobility reduction by citizens based on institutions in their country.

Working papers

Pandemic Responsiveness: Evidence from Social Distancing and Lockdown Policy during COVID-19 - With Tim Besley
Media coverage: [ProMarket]

We study changes in social distancing and government policy in response to local outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic using U.S. county-level data from approximately 20 million smartphones. We show that social distancing has been responsive to local outbreaks, finding that a 1% increase in new cases (deaths) is associated with a 3% (11%) increase in social distancing. Responsiveness is higher in high-income, more educated, or Democrat-leaning counties, but is not explained by social capital or vulnerability. We also show that state-level policy responds to the evolution of the pandemic. States are 5% more likely to impose a lockdown or close non-essential shops after a 1% increase in cumulative deaths. We find evidence that policies restricting mobility further increase individual responsiveness to outbreaks, highlighting the complementary nature of public and private response to health risks.

The Political Economy of Lockdown: Does Free Media Make a Difference? - With Tim Besley
Media coverage: [LSE blog]

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.

Emperors Without Sceptres: 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.

Work in progress

Local Fiscal Capacity and the Provision of Public Good: Evidence from U.S. cities

The capacity of local governments to collect revenue is fundamental to the provision of public good and economic development. In this project, I estimate the returns of local fiscal capacity investments on local government spending and economic activity in U.S. cities 1900-1940. I employ a shift-share research design to provide causal estimates exploiting fine-grained information on revenue decomposition, the relative stability of municipal revenue sources and the presence of national trends towards increased reliance on property tax and federal subventions. I report three main findings. First, increases in city revenues led to sustained increases in spending concentrated in education, health and welfare programs. This effect is driven by fiscal revenue increases, lending support to the fiscal capacity interpretation. Second, increased revenues are the driver of local government activity, while I find no evidence that increased spending spurred greater revenue collection. Third, I provide evidence that greater municipal revenue is associated with increased economic activity as proxied by higher property value, higher output value and more patents up to 10 years after the initial revenue increase. My results are robust to employing an alternative IV estimation using the allocation of New Deal relief as performed by Fishback, Haines and Kantor (2007) and Gruber and Hungerman (2008).

How Much Do You Think About Taxes? Estimating Attention Using Salience of the Tax Schedule

This paper measures the role of attention in the behavioral response to taxation. I use variation in salience of the income tax schedule in the UK to identify the fraction of attentive taxpayers. Phase-out of tax deductions and tax credits create non-salient marginal tax rates compared to the income tax bands. Building on Saez (2010), I develop a framework to account for inattention when estimating the elasticity of taxable income and develop four testable predictions. Analysis of the Survey of Personal Incomes (SPI) gives an estimation that about 39% of taxpayers did not pay attention to the deduction of their tax-free personal allowance.

Wealth and inequality in the United States - with Camille Landais and Stefanie Stantcheva

Estimating the efficiency of wealth taxation: Evidence for the U.S. property tax - with Camille Landais and Stefanie Stantcheva