Work in Progress

"Do you have COVID-19? How to increase the use of diagnostic and contact tracing apps" (w/D. Martínez V., C. Parilli, AM Rojas M., and A. Simpser) (under submission)

Abstract: Diagnostic and contact tracing apps are an important weapon against contagion during a pandemic. We study how the content of the messages used to promote the apps influences adoption by conducting a survey experiment on approximately 23,000 Mexican adults. Respondents were randomly assigned to one of three different prompts, or a control condition, before stating their willingness to adopt a diagnostic app and contact tracing app. The prompt emphasizing government efforts to ensure data privacy, which has been one of the most common strategies, reduced willingness to adopt the diagnostic app by about 4 percentage points and the contact tracing app by 3 percentage points. An effective app promotion policy must understand individuals' reservations and be wary of unintended reactions to naïve reassurances.


"On the Demand for Telemedicine: Evidence from the COVID-19 Pandemic" (w/M. Busso and M.P Gonzalez) (under submission)

Abstract: Telemedicine can expand access to health care at relatively low cost. Historically, however, demand for telemedicine has remained low. Using administrative records and a difference-in-differences methodology, we estimate the change in demand for telemedicine experienced after the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic and the imposition of mobility restrictions. We find a 233 percent increase in the number of telemedicine calls and a 342 percent increase in calls resulting in a medication being prescribed. The effects were mostly driven by older individuals with pre-existing conditions who used the service for internal medicine consultations. The demand for telemedicine remains high even after mobility restrictions were relaxed, which is consistent with telemedicine being an experience good. These results are a proof of concept for policymakers willing to expand access to healthcare using technology.


"Disaster and Political Trust: A Natural Experiment from the 2017 Mexico City Earthquake" (w/M. Frost, S. Kim, P. Zamora, and E. J. Zechmeister) (under submission)

Abstract: Political trust undergirds democratic legitimacy, representative government, and the provision of effective public policy. We argue that natural disasters can affect citizens' trust in government by undermining their confidence in the beneficence and competence of public servants. However, disaster relief could countervail these effects. We test the relationship among disaster, trust, and aid using novel data gathered immediately before and after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City in September 2017. Our results demonstrate that the earthquake negatively affected several measures of political trust. Further, we find that disaster relief could offset this decrease in trust. The results add to the scholarship on the politics of disaster and are important for policy, shedding light on the potential for disaster assistance to restore political trust following a disaster.


"A Heavy Hand or a Helping Hand? Information Provision and Citizen Preferences for Anti-Crime Policies" (w/D. Gingerich) (revise and resubmit)

Abstract: Anti-crime policy is often unresponsive to reductions in crime. To address why, we provide a model and empirical test of how citizens' anti-crime policy preferences respond to information. Our model shows that preferences for anti-crime policy hinge on expectations about the crime rate: punitive policies are preferred in high crime contexts, whereas social policies are preferred in low crime contexts. We evaluate these expectations through an information experiment embedded in the 2017 LAPOP survey conducted in Panama. As expected by our theory, a high crime message induced stronger preferences in favor of punitive policies. Unanticipated by our theory, but in line with cursory evidence and survey results, we find that a low crime message did not induce stronger preferences in favor of social policies. These findings are consistent with policy ratcheting: punitive policies increase during periods of high crime and remain in place during periods of low crime.


"Tempering the Taste for Vengeance: Information about Prisoners and Policy Choices in Chile" (w/F. Cafferata and D. Gingerich) (under submission)

Abstract: Punitive anti-crime policies in the Americas have contributed to steadily increasing rates of incarceration. This creates prison overcrowding and can lead to recidivism. Harsh penalties are often demanded by citizens, making them politically attractive for politicians. Yet the contextual determinants of participation in crime are rarely understood by the public. In this paper, we employ a survey experiment conducted in Chile in order to examine how the provision of information about the prison population shapes tastes for punitive anti-crime policies. Respondents in the treatment group received information about the low educational attainment of prisoners. This information led to substantial changes in policy preferences. Tasked with allocating resources to anti-crime policies using a fixed budget, treated respondents assigned between 20\% to 50\% more to socially oriented anti-crime policies (relative to punitive policies) than respondents in the control group, and they reduced their support for ``\textit{iron fist}'' policing. This indicates that providing information to citizens might change the policy equilibrium in the Americas.


"Trustful voters, trustworthy politicians: A Survey Experiment on the influence of Social Media in Politics" (w/N. Aruguete, E. Calvo, and T. Ventura) (under submission)

Abstract: The increase of uncivil dialogue, polarization, and the proliferation of fake news in social media raise questions about the relationship between online negative messages and the decline in political trust. We implement a Trust Game in a survey experiment with 4,800 respondents in Brazil and Mexico. Our design models the effect of social media on trust and trustworthiness. Survey respondents alternate as agents (politicians) and principals (voters), with rewards contingent on their preferred "candidate'' winning the election. We measure the extent to which voters deposit their trust in others and the extent to which they are trustworthy, honoring requests that run counter to their benefit. Results provide robust support for a negative effect of uncivil partisan discourse on trust behavior and null results on trustworthiness.


"How Can We Improve Air Pollution? Try Increasing Trust First" (w/F. Cafferata and B. Hoffman) (revise and resubmit)

Abstract: Air pollution is one of the most severe environmental challenges facing governments of developing countries. Designing policies that effectively reduce air pollution without impacting development goals is difficult and the challenge is further complicated by the political economy of environmental policies. Environmental policies tend to have very salient and certain short-term costs and less visible and more uncertain long-term benefits. These characteristics imply that citizens' support for environmental policies is highly dependent on their trust in the government's willingness and capability to implement solutions. Using novel survey data from Mexico City, we show that trust in the government is positively correlated with citizens' willingness to support additional taxes to improve air quality and greater preference for government retention of revenues from fines imposed on polluting firms. We find similar correlations using more objective measures of perceived quality of public goods as a measure of government competence.


"Overconfidence and Gun Preferences. How Behavioral Biases Affect Your Safety" (w/F. Cafferata and P. Domínguez) (under submission)

Abstract: Overconfidence leads to risky behavior, including when people are around guns. Does overconfidence also shape attitudes about gun ownership and use? We evaluate this possibility by conducting nationally representative surveys in six countries in the Americas, including the United States. Results show that overconfident individuals are more willing to accept the use of guns and are more likely to say that they would be willing to use guns. These results show that overconfidence is a significant behavioral trait correlated with attitudes toward weapon handling, ownership, carrying, and use. As such, public policy decisions about guns may be affected by overconfidence.


"Can task compliance be increased in the public sector? Results from an experiment using behavioral insights" (w/P. Zamora) (under submission)

Abstract: Introducing financial incentives to increase productivity in the public sector tends to be politically and bureaucratically cumbersome, particularly in developing countries. Although there is scarce evidence on nudges' effectiveness, they could be a low-cost alternative, both politically and financially. We evaluate the effect of introducing a personalized and clear notice sent to civil servants who have to comply with citizens' requests in the context of the freedom of information act in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The redesigned notice attempts to exploit salience, personalization, social norms, and loss aversion to increase responses' timeliness. The results show that the behavioral intervention increased the share of requests answered exactly on the second deadline. We also exploit a civil service training program that took place while our behavioral intervention was occurring. Participation in the training sessions did not improve performance and it affected the effects of the behavioral intervention.%However, participation in training sessions increased the percentage of late responses. These results have ample consequences for policy design. First, they indicate that behavioral interventions could affect task compliance and productivity in the public sector. Second, they provide evidence that workshops may not always have the intended consequences. These results provide novel evidence to the literature on on-the-job incentives and training.


"Property taxation and noncompliance: Evidence from high-frequency panel data" (w/C. Traxler)

Abstract: This project studies property tax noncompliance in a large city in Argentina. We exploit a complex tax reform. The reform implied a series of quarterly or bi- annually nominal tax increases (or decreases) over a period of more than three years. We measure the behavioral responses to within-variation in property taxes using high-frequency panel data on the timing of the payment (and non- payment) of the monthly tax bills for all households and property owners in the city. Preliminary results from two-way fixed effects estimates indicate that higher (real) taxes lead to more delayed tax-payments and an increase in the rate of non-payment. Quantitatively, however, these effects are small on average. Studying heterogeneity of responses according to property values, we find much stronger responses for smaller and less valuable properties. In a second step, we analyze social-interaction effects. Using within-variation in a district’s minimum-tax level, we find that “unaffected” property owners respond to (minimum-tax induced) increases in non-compliance rates in their block. Using an updated wave of data we will substantiate this observation and translate our estimates into a social multiplier of non-compliance.


"Do Tax Amnesties Work? Results from a Field Experiment" (w/E. Castro) Download

Abstract: Limited attention affects our ability to make good choices, but governments can improve decision-making by providing simpler and more salient information. We evaluate the role of inattention in decision-making in the context of a field experiment implemented during a tax amnesty in the city of Santa Fe (Argentina). Tax amnesties are advertised to delinquent taxpayers through direct communication. In the intervention, we redesign the communication notices sent to the taxpayers to evaluate whether increasing salience and reducing cognitive costs increase the probability that taxpayers put attention to the message and understand better the benefits of tax amnesty. We randomize more than 54,000 taxpayers. A group of taxpayers receives the traditional messages. The treatment groups receive redesigned communications. Our results show that messages that reduce the cognitive costs increase the probability that taxpayers will enter the tax amnesty. The amount collected in the treatment groups is up to 8 percent higher than in the control group. We also exploit the exogenous variation in attention to evaluate the convenience of the tax amnesty program for the city given that some people may stop paying the regular bills (creates moral hazard). We find that while people are more willing to cancel their past debt, they are also more likely to reduce their compliance with the current tax bills. Moreover, there is a negative spillover effect in the compliant population (those who had no debts). When the tax amnesty becomes more noticeable, their incentive to comply falls substantially. Making public policy more salient, easier to understand, and less cognitive intensive facilitates decision-making. However, doing it during a tax amnesty may increase collection of past debt, but it could also generate negative incentives for tax compliance in the overall population.



ONGOING PROJECTS

Field Experiment with Aguas de Quito (water service provider) in Quito, Ecuador: Transparency, Payments, and Water Consumption (w/P. Carrillo)

What Policies do Latin Americans Demand for Fighting Crime? (w/F. Cafferata)

Age Eligibility, Elections, and Information Gathering (w/R. Vlaicu)

"Threat, credibility and tax collection: evidence for urban property taxes" (w/Daniel Ortega and Mónica Mogollón)

Effect of Mexico's 2017 earthquake on demand for public policies (w/Paula Zamora R.)

Incentives for Civil Servants. The Role of Nudges and Training (w/Paula Zamora R.)