Sacha Dray

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

I am on the 2021-2022 academic job market, and will be available for interviews at the ASSA and EEA meetings.

Fields: Public economics, Development, Economic History, Political economy.


Sources of Revenue and Public Spending: Historical Evidence from U.S. Cities (Job Market Paper)

This paper explores the importance of collecting revenue through taxes on public finances and services provided by cities. Using newly collected financial data of more than 300 U.S. cities over 1899-2000, I leverage source-specific variation in revenue through a shift-share research design. I report three main results. First, additional tax revenue causes greater spending on services than same-sized non-tax revenue, despite partial earmarking of non-tax revenue for this purpose. Second, tax revenue generates persistence in revenue. An initial increase in tax revenue has a 81\% persistence on total revenue 10 years later, while similar non-tax revenue increase has dissipated after 3 years. This persistence can be explained by fiscal capacity improvements through higher effective tax rates, better enforcement and increased spending on revenue collection. Third, reliance on taxes has long-run effects on municipal finances and growth. Cities with initially higher tax revenue per capita in 1910-1936 have greater revenue and expenditure per capita throughout the next 60 years, as well as a higher median household income, larger population and migration.


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

LSE Public Policy Review, May 2021

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
March 2021
Media coverage: [

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
September 2020
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

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