Research

(Google Scholar Profile)

Publications

  • “Technology Adoption Under Uncertainty: Take-Up and Subsequent Investment in Zambia” (pre-print) with Paulina Oliva, Kelsey Jack, Samuel Bell, and Elizabeth Mettetal. Accepted at the Review of Economics and Statistics.
    • Technology adoption often requires multiple stages of investment. As new information emerges, agents may abandon a technology that was profitable in expectation. We use a field experiment to vary the payoffs at two stages of investment in a new technology: a tree species that provides on-farm fertilizer benefits. Farmer decisions identify the information about profitability that arrives between the take-up and follow-through stages. Results show that this form of uncertainty increases take-up but lowers average tree survival, decreasing the cost-effectiveness of take-up subsidies. Thus, uncertainty offers another explanation for why even costly technologies may go unused or be abandoned.
    • (older NBER Working Paper)
  • Land-Use Regulations, Property Values, and Rents: Decomposing the Effects of the California Coastal Act” with Andrew Plantinga. Journal of Urban Economics 107 (2018): 65-78.
    • Land-use regulations can lower real estate prices by imposing costs on property owners, but may raise prices by restricting supply and generating amenities. We study the effects of the California Coastal Act, one of the nation’s most stringent land-use regulations, on the price and rental income of multifamily housing. The Coastal Act applies to a narrow section of the California coast, allowing us to compare properties just on either side of the jurisdictional boundary. The setting is advantageous for the study of land-use regulation: boundary location is plausibly exogenous, which we confirm with historical data on boundary placement, and orthogonal to other jurisdictional divisions. We decompose the effects of the regulation into (i) a neighbor effect, the value of restrictions on adjacent properties, (ii) a local effect, which reflects the net effect of own-lot restrictions and the neighbor effect, and (iii) an external effect, the value of amenities generated by restrictions on all properties within the regulated area. Our analysis of multifamily housing prices reveals local and external effects of approximately +6% and +13%, respectively. We use data on rental income to estimate a zero neighbor effect. Together with evidence on building ages and assessed building and land values, this suggests that property owners anticipate that the Coastal Act will provide protection from undesirable development on adjacent properties, even though material differences have not yet appeared.
    • [UCSB press coverage].
  • A forward-looking Ricardian approach: Do land markets capitalize climate change forecasts?” with Chris Costello, and Olivier Deschênes. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 89 (2018): 235-254.
    • The hedonic pricing method is one of the main approaches used to estimate the economic value of attributes that affect the market price of an asset. This method is routinely used in environmental economics to derive the economic valuation of environmental attributes such as air pollution and water quality. For example, the “Ricardian approach” is based on a hedonic regression of land values on historical climate variables. Forecasts of future climate can then be employed to estimate the future costs of climate change. We show that this approach is only valid if current land markets ignore climate forecasts. While this assumption was defensible decades ago (when this literature first emerged), it is reasonable to hypothe- size that information on climate change is so pervasive today that markets may already price in expectations of future climate change. Indeed, we show empirically that agricultural land markets in the United States now capitalize expectations about future climate change. We derive a straightforward empirical correction to the standard Ricardian approach (called the “Forward-Looking Ricardian Approach”) that can be implemented with readily available data. Accounting for market beliefs decreases the estimated magnitude of climate change damages by 50%–62%.

Working Papers

  • Commuting, Labor, and Housing Market Effects of Mass Transportation: Welfare and Identification.
    • I estimate that a large investment in rail transit in Los Angeles between 1990 and 2000 has a positive effect on commuting using panel data on bilateral flows. Commuting between location pairs that both contain stations increases by 15%. I use a spatial general equilibrium model to isolate non-commuting effects of transit and measure welfare. Local innovations interacted with intraurban geography identify key model parameters; estimates suggest inelastic labor mobility and housing supply. Metro Rail increases welfare $146 million annually by 2000, less than operational subsidies and annualized capital costs. More recent data show some additional commuting growth.
    • NEW October 2019: draft and slides.
    • Revisions requested at the Review of Economics and Statistics.
  • Formative Experiences and the Price of Gasoline” (with Arthur van Benthem); (slides).
    • Formative experiences can shape people’s behavior for decades. We document a striking feature about those who came of driving age during the oil crises of the 1970s: they drive to work less in the year 2000. We then study many cohorts to show that gasoline price changes experienced between ages 15 and 18 shift several margins of later-life travel behavior. Effects are not explained by recessions, income, or costly skill acquisition. Instead, they likely reflect early formation of preferences for driving or persistent changes in its perceived cost. These findings are inconsistent with recency bias, habit formation, and mental plasticity.
    • Media coverage: Washington Post, NBER Digest.
    • Slightly older NBER WP 26091. *

Selected Works in Progress