Many basic economic theories with perfectly functioning markets do not predict the existence of the vast number of microenterprises readily observed across the world. We put forward a model that illuminates why financial and managerial capital constraints may impede experimentation, and thus limit learning about the profitability of alternative firm sizes. The model shows how lack of information about one’s own type, but willingness to experiment to learn one’s type, may lead to short-run negative expected returns to investments on average, with some outliers succeeding. To test the model we put forward first a motivating experiment from Ghana, and second a small meta-analysis of other experiments. In the Ghana experiment, we provide inputs to microenterprises, specifically financial capital (a cash grant) and managerial capital (consulting services), to catalyze adoption of investments and practices aimed towards enterprise growth. We find that entrepreneurs invest the cash, and take the advice, but both lead to lower profits on average. In the long run, they revert back to their prior scale of operations. The small meta analysis includes results from 18 other experiments in which either capital or managerial capital were relaxed, and find mixed support for this theory.
We utilize the Becker-DeGroot-Marschak (1964) mechanism to estimate the willingness to pay for clean drinking water technology in northern Ghana. The BDM mechanism has attractive properties for empirical research, allowing us to directly estimate demand, compute heterogeneous treatment effects, and study the screening and causal effects of prices with minor modifications to a standard field experiment setting. We demonstrate the implementation of BDM along these three dimensions, compare it to the standard take-it-or-leave it method for eliciting willingness to pay, and discuss practical issues for implementing the mechanism in true field settings.
This study provides experimental evidence about the barriers to adoption of formal savings in Africa. In collaboration with a large commercial bank, I conduct an experiment designed to measure the relative importance of convenience and information on the adoption of formal savings. When individuals can open an account at their place of business they are much more likely to open an account. Novel information about the benefits of savings has a slight but insignificant negative effect on account opening. While over half (55%) of individuals report an interest in opening an account when initially approached, only 2% of individuals are using the accounts 2 months later. I explore several potential explanations between individuals’ selfreports of interest in the accounts and their later behavior. I argue that individuals’ behavior in the experiment is consistent with social pressure to conform to the encouragement to open an account and some projection bias in predicting their future behavior. The results illustrate that for individuals struggling to save, encouraging enrollment in formal finance may be less effective than tools which help individuals follow-through with self-reported savings intentions.
Standard models of investment predict that credit-constrained firms should grow rapidly when given additional capital, and that how this capital is provided should not affect decisions to invest in the business or consume the capital. We randomly gave cash and in kind grants to male- and female-owned microenterprises in urban Ghana. Our findings cast doubt on the ability of capital alone to stimulate the growth of female microenterprises. First, while the average treatment effects of the in-kind grants are large and positive for both males and females, the gain in profits is almost zero for women with initial profits below the median, suggesting that capital alone is not enough to grow subsistence enterprises owned by women. Second, for women we strongly reject equality of the cash and in-kind grants; only in-kind grants lead to growth in business profits. The results for men also suggest a lower impact of cash, but differences between cash and in kind grants are less robust. The difference in the effects of cash and in-kind grants is associated more with a lack of self-control than with external pressure. As a result, the manner in which funding is provided affects microenterprise growth.
Farmers face a particular set of risks that complicate the decision to borrow. We use a randomized experiment to investigate (1) the role of crop-price risk in reducing demand for credit among farmers and (2) how risk mitigation changes farmers’ investment decisions. In Ghana, we offer farmers loans with an indemnity component that forgives 50 percent of the loan if crop prices drop below a threshold price. A control group is offered a standard loan product at the same interest rate. Loan uptake is high among all farmers and the indemnity component has little impact on uptake or other outcomes of interest.