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What is the political legacy of violent conflict? I present evidence for a link from past violence to increased political engagement among ex-combatants. The evidence comes from northern Uganda, where rebel recruitment generated quasi-experimental variation in who was conscripted by abduction. Survey data suggest that abduction leads to substantial increases in voting and community leadership, largely due to elevated levels of violence witnessed. Meanwhile, abduction and violence do not appear to affect non-political participation. These patterns are not easily explained by conventional theories of participation, including mobilization by elites, differential costs, and altruistic preferences. Qualitative interviews suggest that violence may lead to personal growth and political activation, a possibility supported by psychological research on the positive effects of traumatic events. While the generalizability of these results requires more evidence to judge, the findings challenge our...
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March 01, 2009
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This paper reports the results of a field experiment testing the effectiveness of different quality get-out-the-vote (GOTV) non-partisan phone calls. During the week preceding the November 2004 election, we randomly assigned registered voters in North Carolina and Missouri to one of three live phone calls with varying length and content. The scripts are (1) standard GOTV, (2) interactive GOTV, and (3) interactive GOTV with a request for mobilizing neighbors. We find that people assigned to the interactive GOTV treatment are more likely to turn out, while the effect of the “get your neighbors to vote” script is relatively as weak as that of the standard script. The findings suggest that interactive phone calls generally tend to increase voter turnout, but in order for a phone call to be effective, the message needs to be focused. The borderline statistical significance of the script that encourages neighbors’ participation invites replication of this experiment.
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March 01, 2009
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This paper presents the evaluation of the program Computers for Education. The program aims to integrate computers, donated by the private sector, into the teaching of language in public schools. The authors conduct a two-year randomized evaluation of the program  using a sample of 97 schools and 5,201 children. Overall, the program seems to have had little effect on students' test scores and other outcomes. These results are consistent across grade levels, subjects, and gender. The main reason for these results seems to be the failure to incorporate the computers into the educational process. Although the program increased the number of computers in the treatment schools and provided training to the teachers on how to use the computers in their classrooms, surveys of both teachers and students suggest that teachers did not incorporate the computers into their curriculum.
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March 01, 2009
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A randomized evaluation in rural Kenya !nds, contrary to the previous literature, that providing textbooks did not raise average test scores. Textbooks did increase the scores of the best students (those with high pretest scores) but had little effect on other students. Textbooks are written in English, most students’ third language, and many students could not use them effectively. More generally, the curriculum in Kenya, and in many other developing countries, tends to be oriented toward academically strong students, leaving many students behind in societies that combine a centralized educational system; the heterogeneity in student preparation associated with rapid educational expansion; and disproportionate elite power.
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January 01, 2009
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This paper tests the effects on the take-up of a preventative health product of two interventions based on behavioral models derived from psychology: varying the framing of the perceived benefits; and having people verbally commit to purchase the product. I find that none of these interventions had a significant effect (whether economically or statistically) on take-up, and that the gender of the household member targeted was also irrelevant. In contrast, I find that take-up is sensitive to price, as in Cohen and Dupas (2008), and is correlated with indicators of household’s wealth.
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January 01, 2009
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This paper evaluates an experiment in which individuals in rural Malawi were randomly assigned monetary incentives to learn their HIV results after being tested. Distance to the HIV results centers was also randomly assigned. Without any incentive, 34 percent of the participants learned their HIV results. However, even the smallest incentive doubled that share. Using the randomly assigned incentives and distance from results centers as instruments for the knowledge of HIV status, sexually active HIV-positive individuals who learned their results are three times more likely to purchase condoms two months later than sexually active HIV-positive individuals who did not learn their results; however, HIV-positive individuals who learned their results purchase only two additional condoms than those who did not. There is no significant effect of learning HIV-negative status on the purchase of condoms.
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December 01, 2008
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Information asymmetries complicate financial relationships. They give rise to problems that force lenders, for example, to rely on contracts that are secondbest solutions both from their own and from borrowers’ perspectives. But while these problems, namely adverse selection and moral hazard, are important in theory, they are difficult to identify and disentangle in practice. Researchers Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman take up the challenge with an innovative research methodology. Using an experimental design that randomizes along three dimensions and working with a South African lender, the study isolates the effects of adverse selection and moral hazard, finding strong evidence of moral hazard and weaker evidence of adverse selection on hidden information.
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December 01, 2008
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If smokers are well aware of the negative impacts of smoking, why don’t they quit? While nicotine substitutes and counseling have been dominant in smoking cessation programs in developed countries, these programs are costly and often not accessible for the rural poor in developing countries. Researchers Xavier Giné, Dean Karlan, and Jonathan Zinman designed an alternative approach: a commitment contract that provides financial incentives for smokers to quit. The CARES product (Committed Action to Reduce and End Smoking) was introduced and evaluated in the Philippines. The researchers find evidence supporting its effectiveness, offer suggestions on future research and recommendations on how to improve smoking cessation programs.   Full published paper is available here.
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December 01, 2008
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In the developing world, access to small, individual loans has been variously hailed as a povertyalleviation tool – in the context of “microcredit” – but has also been criticized as “usury” and harmful to vulnerable borrowers. Prior studies have assessed effects of access to credit on traditional economic outcomes for poor borrowers, but effects on mental health have been largely ignored.
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December 01, 2008
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We use randomized grants to generate shocks to capital stock for a set of Sri Lankan microenterprises. We find the average real return to capital in these enterprises is 4.6%–5.3% per month (55%–63% per year), substantially higher than market interest rates. We then examine the heterogeneity of treatment effects. Returns are found to vary with entrepreneurial ability and with household wealth, but not to vary with measures of risk aversion or uncertainty. Treatment impacts are also significantly larger for enterprises owned by males; indeed, we find no positive return in enterprises owned by females.
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November 01, 2008
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We present new evidence on the randomization methods used in existing experiments, and new simulations comparing these methods. We find that many papers do not describe the randomization in detail, implying that better reporting is needed. Our simulations suggest that in samples of 300 or more, the different methods perform similarly. However, for very persistent outcome variables, and in smaller samples, pair-wise matching and stratification perform best and appear to dominate the rerandomization methods commonly used in practice. The simulations also point to specific recommendations for which variables to balance on, and for which controls to include in the ex post analysis.
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October 01, 2008
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This paper builds a theory of trust based on informal contract enforcement in social networks. In our model, network connections between individuals can be used as social collateral to secure informal borrowing. We define networkbased trust as the largest amount one agent can borrow from another agent and derive a reduced-form expression for this quantity, which we then use in three applications. (1) We predict that dense networks generate bonding social capital that allows transacting valuable assets, whereas loose networks create bridging social capital that improves access to cheap favors such as information. (2) For job recommendation networks, we show that strong ties between employers and trusted recommenders reduce asymmetric information about the quality of job candidates. (3) Using data from Peru, we show empirically that network-based trust predicts informal borrowing, and we structurally estimate and test our model.
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October 01, 2008
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Experimental economists believe (and enforce the idea) that researchers should not employ deception in the design of experiments. This rule exists in order to protect a public good: the ability of other researchers to conduct experiments and to have participants trust their instructions to be an accurate representation of the game being played. Yet other social sciences, particularly psychology, do not maintain such a rule. We examine whether such a public goods problem exists by purposefully deceiving some participants in one study, informing them of this fact, and then examining whether the deceived participants behave differently in a subsequent study. We find significant differences in the selection of individuals who return to play after being deceived as well as (to a lesser extent) the behavior in the subsequent games, thus providing qualified support for the proscription of deception. We discuss policy implications for the maintenance of separate participant pools.
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September 17, 2008
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Randomized experiments have become a popular tool in development economics research and have been the subject of a number of criticisms. This paper reviews the recent literature and discusses the strengths and limitations of this approach in theory and in practice. We argue that the main virtue of randomized experiments is that, owing to the close collaboration between researchers and implementers, they allow the estimation of parameters that would not otherwise be possible to evaluate. We discuss the concerns that have been raised regarding experiments and generally conclude that, although real, they are often not specific to experiments. We conclude by discussing the relationship between theory and experiments.
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September 01, 2008
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Does production risk suppress the demand for credit? We implemented a randomized field experiment to ask whether provision of insurance against a major source of production risk induces farmers to take out loans to adopt a new crop technology. The study sample was composed of roughly 800 maize and groundnut farmers in Malawi, where by far the dominant source of production risk is the level of rainfall. We randomly selected half of the farmers to be offered credit to purchase high-yielding hybrid maize and groundnut seeds for planting in the November 2006 crop season. The other half of farmers were offered a similar credit package, but were also required to purchase (at actuarially fair rates) a weather insurance policy that partially or fully forgave the loan in the event of poor rainfall. Surprisingly, take up was lower by 13 percentage points among farmers offered insurance with the loan. Take-up was 33.0% for farmers who were offered the uninsured loan. There is suggestive evidence...
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September 01, 2008
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This paper surveys evidence from recent randomized evaluations in developing countries on the impact of price on access to health and education. Debate on user fees has been contentious, but until recently much of the evidence was anecdotal. Randomized evaluations across a variety of settings suggest prices have a large impact on take-up of education and health products and services. While the sign of this effect is consistent with standard theories of human capital investment, a more detailed examination of the data suggests that it may be important to go beyond these models. There is some evidence for peer effects, which imply that for some goods the aggregate response to price will exceed the individual response. Time inconsistent preferences could potentially help explain the apparently disproportionate effect of small short-run costs and benefits on decisions with long-run consequences.
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Working Paper
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August 01, 2008
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Participation of beneficiaries in the monitoring of public services is increasingly seen as a key to improving their efficiency. In India, the current government flagship program on universal primary education organizes both locally elected leaders and parents of children enrolled in public schools into committees and gives these groups powers over resource allocation, and monitoring and management of school performance. However, in a baseline survey we found that people were not aware of the existence of these committees and their potential for improving education. This paper evaluates three different interventions to encourage beneficiaries' participation through these committees: providing information, training community members in a new testing tool, and training and organizing volunteers to hold remedial reading camps for illiterate children. We find that these interventions had no impact on community involvement in public schools, and no impact on teacher effort or learning outco...
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August 01, 2008
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July 01, 2008
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We exploit random assignment of gender quotas across Indian village councils to investigate whether having a female chief councillor affects public opinion towards female leaders. Villagers who have never been required to have a female leader prefer male leaders and perceive hypothetical female leaders as less effective than their male counterparts, when stated performance is identical. Exposure to a female leader does not alter villagers' taste preference for male leaders. However, it weakens stereotypes about gender roles in the public and domestic spheres and eliminates the negative bias in how female leaders' effectiveness is perceived among male villagers. Female villagers exhibit less prior bias, but are also less likely to know about or participate in local politics; as a result, their attitudes are largely unaffected. Consistent with our experimental findings, villagers rate their women leaders as less effective when exposed to them for the first, but not second, time. These ch...
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June 01, 2008
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The current trend in antipoverty policy emphasizes mandated empowerment: the poor are being handed the responsibility for making things better for themselves, largely without being asked whether this is what they want. Beneficiary control is now being built into public service delivery, while microcredit and small business promotion are seen as better ways to help the poor. The clear presumption is that the poor are both able and happy to exercise these new powers. This essay uses two examples to raise questions about these strategies. The first example is about entrepreneurship among the poor. Using data from a number of countries, we argue that there is no evidence that the median poor entrepreneur is trying his best to expand his existing businesses, even if we take into account the many constraints he faces. While many poor people own businesses, this seems to be more a survival strategy than something they want to do. The second example comes from an evaluation of a program in Ind...
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June 01, 2008

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