Does Air Pollution Exacerbate Covid-19 Symptoms? Evidence from France

Economics master project by Mattia Laudi, Hubert Massoni, and James Newland ’20

The Eiffel Tower under a dark red sky
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects. The project is a required component of all Master’s programs at the Barcelona GSE.

Abstract

For patients infected by Covid-19, underlying health conditions are often cited as a source of increased vulnerability, of which exposure to high levels of air pollution has proven to be an exacerbating cause. We investigate the effect of long-term pollution exposure on Covid-19 mortality, admissions to hospitals and admissions to intensive care units in France. Using cross-sectional count data at the local level, we fit mixed effect negative binomial models with the three Covid-19 measures as dependent variables and atmospheric PM2.5 concentration (µg/m3) as an explanatory variable, while adjusting for a large set of potential confounders. We find that a one-unit increase in PM2.5 concentration raised on average the mortality rate by 22%, the admission to ICU rate by 11% and the admission to hospital rate by 14% (rates with respect to population). These results are robust to a large set of sensitivity analyses. As a novel contribution, we estimate tangible marginal costs of pollution, and suggest that a marginal increase in pollution resulted on average in 61 deaths and created a 1 million euro surcharge in intensive care treatments over the investigated period (March 19th – May 25th).

A map of air pollution and a map of Covid deaths in France

Conclusions

The study is a strong indication that air pollution is a crucial environmental factor in mortality risks and vulnerability to Covid-19. The health risks associated with air pollution are well documented, but with Covid-19 in the spotlight we hope to increase awareness of the threat caused by pollution, not only through direct increased health risks, but also through external factors, such as pandemics.

We show the aggravating effect of long-term pollution exposure to three levels of severity of Covid-19 symptoms in France: admission to hospitals for acute Covid-19 cases, admission to intensive care units for the most severe vital organ failures, and fatalities (all expressed per 100,000 inhabitants). Using cross-sectional data at the départemental (sub-regional) level, we fit mixed effect negative binomial models with the three Covid-19 measures as dependent variables and the average level of atmospheric concentration of PM2.5 (µg/m3) as an explanatory variable. We adjust for a set of 18 potential confounders to isolate the role of pollution in the spread of the Covid-19 disease across départements. We find that a one-unit increase in average PM2.5 levels increases on average the mortality rate by 22%, the admission to ICU rate by 11% and the admission to hospital rate by 14%. These results are robust to a set of 24 secondary and sensitivity analyses per dependent variable, confirming the consistency of the findings across a wide range of specifications.

We further provide numerical – and hence more tangible – estimates of the marginal costs of pollution since March 19th. Adjusting for under-reporting of Covid-19 deaths, we estimate that long-term exposure to pollution marginally resulted in an average 61 deaths across French départements. Moreover, based on average daily costs of intensive care treatments, we estimate that pollution induced an average 1 million euros in costs borne by hospitals treating severe symptoms of Covid-19. These figures strongly suggest that areas with greater air pollution faced substantially higher casualties and costs in hospital services, and raise concerns about misallocation of resources to the healthcare system in more polluted areas.

Our paper provides precise estimates and a reproducible model for future work, but is limited by the novelty of the phenomenon at the centre of the study. Our empirical investigation is restricted to the scope of France alone due to cross-border inconsistencies in Covid-19 data collection and reporting. Once Covid-19 data reporting is complete and consistent, we hope future studies will examine the effects of air pollution at a greater scale, or in greater detail. On the other hand, more disaggregated data – at the individual or hospital level – would allow more precise estimates and a better understanding of key factors of Covid-19 health risks and would also allow the use of surface-measured air pollution. Measured pollution data is available for France, but is inherently biased when aggregated at the départemental level, due to lack of territorial coverage. If precise data tracking periodic Covid-19 deaths becomes available for a wider geographic region, we specifically recommend a MENB panel regression incorporating a PCFE for spatially correlated errors. This will produce the most accurate estimates.

Going forward, more accurate and granular data should motivate future research to uncover the exact financial costs attributable to air pollution during the pandemic. Precise estimation of costs of Covid-19 treatments and equipment (e.g. basic protective equipment for personnel or resuscitation equipment), should feature in a more accurate cost analysis. Hospital responses should be thoroughly analysed to understand the true cost of treatments across all units.

It is crucial that the healthcare costs of pollution are globally recognised so that future policy decisions take them into account. Ultimately, this paper stresses that failure to manage and improve ambient air quality in the long run only magnifies future burdens on healthcare resources, and cause more damage to human life. During a global pandemic, the costs of permitting further air pollution appears ever more salient.

Connect with the authors

About the Barcelona GSE Master’s Program in Economics

The importance of norms for development

Essay by Oguz Korkut Keles ’20 (Economics)

Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

The relationship between institutions and development is a long-standing topic in economic research. However, economists have tended to only evaluate formal institutions (such as laws and property rights), neglecting the informal (like conventions and norms). This overspecialisation precludes the analysis of ideas and ideologies. Without considering these abstract drivers of development, the space for ethically and politically dangerous explanations of success appears (such as for genetic reasons).

Contrary to recent literature, I argue that informal constraints are actually the basis of institutions and therefore the real generators of growth and development. I show this by examining revolutions – the cauldrons where new systems, ideas, and conventions begin, and old ones end.

The illusion of separation

Scholars of comparative development have noted the increasing divergence between developed and developing countries: the gap between Northern and Southern Europe and the underdevelopment of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa being major examples. Several theories attempt to explain this divergence, considering possible factors such as geographical characteristics and institutional differences. Notably, comparative development has even been attributed to levels of genetic diversity (Ashraf & Galor, 2013).

In particular, the crucial historical link between institutions and development is well known. Famous examples include the advantage of limited royal power (Acemoglu, 2005); reformed constitutional arrangements and strengthened property rights (North & Weingast, 1989); and the balance of power between merchants and princes (De Long, 1993). Yet, these studies put their emphasis on formal rules, neglecting the norms, ideas and ideologies that underwrite them.

The latter are fundamental elements of institutions as they influence formal rules. In a seminal contribution to institutional economics, North (1994) distinguishes between two forms of institutions: formal rules (constitutions, laws, property rights etc.) and informal constraints (norms of behaviour, conventions, self-imposed codes of conduct etc.). In a later work, he argued that institutions evolve incrementally and successively over time (North, 1991). When those two forms are approached as two separated sources of institutions, the role of informal constraints in institutional evolution will be missed, throwing a veil over a core aspect of institutions and leading us to fallacious conclusions about the key determinants of growth and development.

Similarly, Karl Popper (1945) distinguishes an open society from a closed society based on whether a distinction exists between normative laws and natural laws. Where there is none – what Popper calls a closed “tribal society”– taboos and conventions act as if they were natural law. This gives them a powerful role in society and a fundamental role in development. By creating formal laws, societies recognise the distinction between norms and natural laws, weakening the effect of conventions (although, as we will see, they still act through both formal and informal laws).

Both North and Popper agree on this chronological development of institutions meaning a better understanding of causation is needed. Myrdal (1978) convincingly argues that the mechanisms of social systems are determined by an endogenous cycle of causation that affects the distribution of power in a society and economic, social and political stratification). This means that a change in informal constraints will alter formal rules, which will then return to affect the former. Therefore the scaffolding of institutions consists of norms of behaviour, conventions and self-imposed codes of conduct.

The revolutionary crevasse

Just as a crevasse provides a glimpse deep into the ice, revolutions open a window to the creation and destruction of social systems. Revolutions are beloved by social scientists (especially in institutional economics) as they provide natural experiments to investigate causal effects. They can shed some light on the importance of norms and convention, as well as their relationship with ideas, ideologies and leaders.

In the literature, for example, Acemoglu et al. (2008) and North & Weingast (1989) have respectively examined the impact of the French Revolution on development and the Glorious Revolution on institutional structure. However, these types of studies have focused only on the secondary changes (in laws and property rights) instead of the initial causes of change (norms and conventions). In this regard, a re-evaluation of revolutions and their characteristics is necessary to observe the initial changes.

Let us first consider which elements prepare amenable conditions for the emergence of revolutions. Gottschalk (1944) identifies three broad factors:

  1. demand for change stemming from (a) personal discontent and (b) social dissatisfaction
  2. hopefulness derived from (a) popular programs of reform and (b) a leader
  3. weakness of the conservative forces – perhaps the most important.

Demand comes from widespread provocations (corruption, taxation, poor infrastructure etc.) which generate social dissatisfaction. Yet, demand by itself is not sufficient for the revolution. Some hope of success is also needed. This comes from programs of reform, as provided by the Voltaires and Rousseaus, the Lockes and Ademses, and the Marxes and Kropotkins (Gottschalk, 1994). However, tuneless emphasis on widespread provocations that are based on the formal rules underestimates the phycological mechanisms that are mainly based on informal constraints.

Personal discontent (arising for idiosyncratic reasons) only appears at the individual level yet plays an essential role in generating the leaders of revolutions. These leaders then support the new-born ideas and ideologies based on the program of reform which has a multiplier effect by coherently spreading revolutionary sentiment. This is crucial once we think of revolutions as risky events over which individuals have varying valuations of the possible outcomes.  Gneezy et al. (2006) show that individuals, faced with a complex choice, may choose to stay in the old system if they value the risky benefits of revolution less than the worst outcomes of rebelling. However, once the revolutionary “lottery” is based on intellectuals’ programs of reforms and explained by leaders it becomes easier to code.

In this way, agents facing complex task (in this case revolution), might act following the leader through many of the channels identified by behavioural economics such as Tversky and Kahneman’s simple heuristics, Walker and Wooldridge’s conventions and Shiller’s narratives. These share common features which affect the majority’s decision-making processes – especially when tasks are complex.

This process is essential to notice the importance of informal constraints and how they become formal rules since leaders are the symbol of ideologies and ideas. As Axelrod indicates norms precede laws and laws strengthen norms. After the success of the revolution laws strengthen the norms through formalization. And after social conventions are entrenched, they become thoughtlessly accepted by individuals (Epstein, 2001).

As with the example of revolutions, before a change in the formal rules, an ideological revolution has occurred when intellectuals provide the programs of reforms. The ideas become conventions during the revolution, changing societal expectations. Notions of equality and liberty – in the case of the French Revolution – became the convention as the system was upended. The relationships between ideas, ideologies, norms and leaders encourage us to take them into account when evaluating growth and development.  

Conclusion

I have argued that ideas, norms and ideologies are the initial drivers of development and have had an immense effect on our civilizations. However, traditional political economy’s overemphasis of formal rules fails to capture this. The insularity of this approach is highlighted by examining Revolutions, which provide evidence in favour of more inclusive definitions of institutions and the importance of ideas, ideologies and leaders in creating social systems. Therefore, I contend that a more holistic approach to analysing development is required otherwise alternative and ill-founded explanations of growth with remain.

References

Acemoglu, D., Cantoni, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J. A. (2008). From ancien regime to capitalism: the French Revolution as a natural experiment. Natural Experiments…, op. cit, 221-256.

Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J. A. (2005). The rise of Europe: Atlantic trade, institutional change, and economic growth. American Economic Review95(3), 546-579.

Ashraf, Q., & Galor, O. (2013). The ‘Out of Africa’ hypothesis, human genetic diversity, and comparative economic development. American Economic Review, 103(1), 1-46.

Axelrod, R. (1986). An evolutionary approach to norms. The American Political Science Review, 1095-1111.

De Long, J. B., & Shleifer, A. (1993). Princes and merchants: European city growth before the industrial revolution. The Journal of Law and Economics36(2), 671-702.

Epstein, J. M. (2001). Learning to be thoughtless: Social norms and individual computation. Computational economics18(1), 9-24.

North, D. C. (1991). Institutions. Journal of Economic Perspectives5(1), 97-112.

North, D. C. (1994). Economic performance through time. The American Economic Review84(3), 359-368.

North, D. C., & Weingast, B. R. (1989). Constitutions and commitment: the evolution of institutions governing public choice in seventeenth-century England. The Journal of Economic History, 49(4), 803-832.

Popper, K. R. (1945). The open society and its enemies. Routledge, London.

Myrdal, G. (1978). Institutional economics. Journal of Economic Issues12(4), 771-783.

Gottschalk, L. (1944). Causes of revolution. American Journal of Sociology50(1), 1-8.

Connect with the author

Oguz Kortut Keles ’20 is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

This post was edited by Ashok Manandhar ’21 (Economics).

Can adjustment costs of intangible capital explain the decline in the labor share?

Economics master project by Pierre Coster, Pia Ennuschat, Raquel Lorenzo, Giacomo Stazi, and Robert Wojciechowski ’20

Two tiny figurines of construction workers stand on an asphalt road

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects. The project is a required component of all Master’s programs at the Barcelona GSE.

Abstract

Labor share, once thought to be a constant, has experienced a secular decline in many developed economies. We investigate whether adjustment costs to intangible capital can be used to explain this trend. We develop a simple partial equilibrium model with a profit maximizing firm that produces using a three factor CES production function and faces convex adjustment costs to intangible capital. We find an intuitive expression for the steady state labor share as a function of parameters and the steady state level of investment in intangible capital.

We then run simulations to better understand the behaviour of the labor share in our model. Somewhat surprisingly, we find that adjustment costs do not affect the steady state labor share for any given elasticity of substitution. However, their presence creates a strong relationship between the labor share and the elasticity of substitution. We also find a number of short-run dynamics that are affected by the level of adjustment costs.

chart
Labor share trends over the last 60 years in the United States. Source: AMECO

Conclusions

We find that our model with adjustment costs leads to a very clear relationship between the elasticity of substitution and the labor share. Therefore, one could use it to explain the secular decline in the labor share as a result of a falling elasticity of substitution in presence of convex adjustment costs to intangible capital. However, in our simple model there does not appear to be a meaningful relationship between the level of convex adjustment and the steady state labor share. Moreover, adjustment costs affect a number of interesting short-run dynamics. The level of adjustment costs changes the responsiveness of the labor share to variations in the price of inputs. Lastly in our simple model the volatility of the price process does not alter the steady state labor share, even though it does matter for short-run dynamics.

We see room for further research in the following directions. Our analysis assumes perfectly competitive markets. A model of monopolistic competition in the goods market could lead to long-run effects of the level of adjustment costs on the labor share. Karabarbounis and Neiman, 2013 showed that in such a model price decreases can explain part of the decrease in the labor share. Therefore, analysing the effect of adjustment costs in the context of monopolistic competition seems promising. Another potential avenue is the generalization of the analysis to a general equilibrium setting.

Understanding endogenous changes in wages that were set to be fixed throughout our analysis, could be important in explaining the changes in the labor share.

Connect with the authors

About the Barcelona GSE Master’s Program in Economics

Broadstreet: a blog for inter-disciplinary conversation about Historical Political Economy

Vicky Fouka ’10 (Economics) is an editor of this new meeting point for HPE researchers

A map shows the original location of the Broad Street Pump

About the project

Broadstreet is a blog dedicated to the study of historical political economy (HPE). Its goal is to foster conversations across disciplines in the social sciences, namely economics and political science, but also history, sociology, quantitative methods, and public policy. Correspondingly, its editors (and guest contributors) are drawn from these respective disciplines. 

Given the boundaries that typically exist across academic disciplines, scholars who work on similar subjects – like HPE – rarely talk to one another or read each other’s work. Our hope in starting Broadstreet is to break down some of these artificial boundaries, generate true cross-disciplinary dialogues, and produce better and more wide-ranging HPE research.

The blog’s name, Broadstreet, is a nod to the legendary John Snow and his study of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London. Snow found convincing evidence for a previously unproven water-born theory of cholera transmission, with a rigorous yet interdisciplinary approach — using detailed socio-economic data, ethnography, historical patterns of disease transmission, and early techniques of causal inference. The Broad Street water pump in London’s Soho district was not only a meeting place for the diverse residents of the neighborhood, but served as the focal point for Snow’s interdisciplinary breakthrough. While the Broad Street pump is no more, the legacy of this innovative research lives on. We hope that Broadstreet will be go-to location for all those with interests in HPE.

Connect with the author

Vicky Fouka ’10 (Economics) is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. She is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics and earned her PhD in Economics at GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE).

Check out her most recent post on Broadstreet, “The Great Northward Migration and Social Transformation, Part I” which looks at the mass exodus of more than 5 million Black Americans from the Southern United States between 1915 and 1970.

Eliciting preferences for truth-telling in a survey of politicians

Publication in PNAS by Katharina Janezic ’16 (Economics) and Aina Gallego (IBEI and IPEG)

logo

Honesty is one of the most valued traits in politicians. Yet, because lies often remain undiscovered, it is difficult to study if some politicians are more honest than others. This paper examines which individual characteristics are correlated with truth-telling in a controlled setting in a large sample of politicians. We designed and embedded a game that incentivizes lying with a non-monetary method in a survey answered by 816 Spanish mayors. Mayors were first asked how interested they were in obtaining a detailed report about the survey results, and at the end of the survey, they had to flip a coin to find out whether they would be sent the report. Because the probability of heads is known, we can estimate the proportion of mayors who lied to obtain the report.

We find that a large and statistically significant proportion of mayors lied. Mayors that are members of the two major political parties lied significantly more. We further find that women and men were equally likely to lie. Finally, we find a negative relationship between truth-telling and reelection in the next municipal elections, which suggests that dishonesty might help politicians survive in office.

Connect with the authors

6 Real Policy Solutions to the U.S. Mental Health Crisis

Article by Patricia Paskov ’18 (Economics) on Medium

image: piranka / Getty Images

In a post on Medium’s Elemental, Patricia Paskov outlines six mental health policy recommendations for the United States during Covid-19 and beyond:

  • Destigmatize mental health
  • Widen accessibility of mental health care
  • Break down barriers to telehealth care
  • Strengthen labor policies for low-skilled workers
  • Build a body of rigorous data and research
  • Harness artificial intelligence and predictive analytics

Connect with the author

Patricia Paskov ’18 is an Impact Evaluation Analyst at The World Bank. She is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

The Impact of the Sharing Economy on Housing Rental Prices: The Case of Airbnb in Barcelona

Economics master project by Marc Agustí, Magnus Asmundsson, Christof Bischofberger, Pablo de Llanos, Alberto Font, and Lucía Kazarian ’20

Source: Airbnb

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects. The project is a required component of all Master’s programs at the Barcelona GSE.

Peer-to-peer home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb are a new phenomenon which many researchers consider to be responsible for significant disruptions in the housing market. Prior to the introduction of these platforms into the rental market, hotels were the primary supplier of short-term rentals, while residential properties almost exclusively operated on the long-term rental market. The introduction of short-term rental platforms like Airbnb, allows homeowners to choose either to supply on the short-term or the long-term rental markets. As a result, when residential properties are moved to the short-term rental market, the quantity of housing supplied on the long-term rental market decreases, inducing an upward pressure on long-term rents.

In our paper, we offer a novel approach to investigate the extent to which the expansion of the sharing economy is responsible for increases in long-term rents and prices on the housing market. To this end, we construct a theoretical framework for the housing market that allows for spillover effects between neighborhoods, and other local externalities caused by tourism. The model allows for the short-term housing market devoted to tourism to impact both long-term rental rates and housing prices. Using a panel of quarterly data on newly signed rental contracts and transaction prices in Barcelona from 2015-Q2 to 2018-Q4, we implement a fixed-effects spatial 2SLS method allowing for endogeneity in the variable which measures the presence of Airbnb.

figure
Airbnb listings in Barcelona (2018-Q2)

Barcelona, which hosts the sixth largest concentration of Airbnb listings in the world, serves as a prime case study to investigate these effects because our dataset covers growth rates in contractual rental rates, transaction prices and the number of active Airbnb listings of 27.42%, 27.41% and 29.38%, respectively.

Key results

The theoretical model predicts that a change in the level of Airbnb activity might affect both long-term rents and housing prices. In fact, if negative externalities generated by tourists are sufficiently small, Airbnb leads to increases in long-term rental prices. Yet, these effects ultimately depend on the values of parameters such as the size of the stock of housing units and the level of externalities emerging from tourism. In addition, the model bears upon the effects of Airbnb on gentrification and displacement: we find that for a positive increase in the negative externalities generated by tourism, the proportion of homeowners renting in the short-term market will increase. As the degree to which residents are harmed by negative externalities increases, more of them will decide to abandon their neighborhood, reducing the local demand for long-term housing. As a result, rents will suffer a downward pressure, increasing the relative profitability of the short-term rental market for homeowners. Besides, this effect will be aggravated if the degree of inter-neighborhood dependence generated by externalities is high. Residents will be prone to move to other neighborhoods in which not only the presence of Airbnb is low, but also in which the penetration of this marketplace is low in the surrounding areas.

We refer to this process as Airbnb-induced gentrification. Similarly, if the profitability of renting a property on Airbnb increases, a similar process as the one we have just described above would arise, which would also lead to gentrification.

For another thing, our main empirical results show that Airbnb positively and significantly affects rents, even when accounting for spatial dependence and inter-neighborhood spillovers. In a given neighborhood (as classified in this paper), for every additional 100 Airbnb listings, rents increase by an average of 2.1% when indirect spillovers coming from adjacent neighborhoods are included. In particular, the direct effect of Airbnb within a given neighborhood accounts for much of this effect: the own-neighborhood effect is to induce a 1.7% increase in rents. The maximum average indirect effect found in the sample data accounts for 35% of the total effect. The implications of these findings are far reaching and suggest that spillover effects can indeed explain a large portion of rent increases. Likewise, we identify a potential bias in the previous literature in that the total effect is falsely interpreted as the direct effect, thereby misinterpreting the direct effect of Airbnb on long-term rents.

table
Empirical Results: Main Impact Measures

In contrast, our empirical results show that Airbnb has had no significant effect on transaction prices. The most plausible explanation for the non-significant results for prices is that homeowners do not believe that Airbnb is sustainable in the long-run, and therefore they do not adjust their predicted future cash flows when valuing their properties.

Finally, we believe that future research could delve into more detailed theoretical models, especially with respect to the price setting by homeowners in light of the establishment of Airbnb. Additionally, we think that making a distinction between direct and indirect neighborhood effects is vital in order to truly understand the dynamics of the housing markets, especially in the growing metropoles. Accordingly, we encourage scholars to further apply and develop spatial econometric methods that measure indirect spillover effects in studies related to housing markets.

Connect with the authors

About the Barcelona GSE Master’s Program in Economics

Industrial Robots and Where to Find Them: Evidence and Theory on Derobotization

Economics master project by Amil Camilo, Doruk Gökalp, Julian Klix, Daniil Iurchenko, and Jeremy Rubinoff ’20

An abandoned factory robot
Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects. The project is a required component of all Master’s programs at the Barcelona GSE.

Around the world, and especially in high-tech economies, the demand and adoption of industrial robots have increased dramatically. The abandonment of robots (referred to as derobotization or, more broadly, deautomation) has, on the other hand, been less discussed. It would seem that the discussion on industrial robots has rarely been about their abandonment because, presumably, the abandonment of industrial robots would be rare. Our investigation, however, shows that the opposite is true: not only do a substantial number of manufacturing firms deautomate, a fact which has been overlooked by the literature, but the reasons for which they deautomate are highly multi-dimensional, suggesting that they depend critically on the productivity of firms and those firms’ beliefs about robotization.

Extending the analysis of Koch et al. (2019), we use data from SEPI Foundation’s Encuesta sobre Estrategias Empresariales (ESEE), which annually surveys over 2000 Spanish manufacturing firms on business strategies, including on whether they adopt robots in their production lines. We document three major facts on derobotization. First, firms that derobotize tend to do so quickly, with over half derobotizing in the first four years after adoption of robots. Second, derobotizing firms tend to be relatively smaller than firms which stay automated for longer periods of time. Third, firms that abandon robots demand less labor and increase their capital-to-labor ratios. The prompt abandonment of robots, we believe, is indicative of a learning process in which firms robotize production with expectations of higher earnings, but later learn information which causes them to derobotize and adjust their production accordingly.

With this in mind, we propose a dynamic model of automation that allows firms to both adopt robots and later derobotize their production. In our setup, firms face a sequence of optimal stopping problems where they consider whether to robotize, then whether to derobotize, then whether to robotize again, and so on. The production technology in our model is micro-founded by the task-based approach from Acemoglu and Autor (2011). In this approach, firms assign tasks to workers of different occupations as well as to robots in order to produce output. For simplicity, we assume two occupations, that of low-skilled and high-skilled workers, where the latter workers are naturally more productive than the former. When firms adopt robots, the firm’s overall productivity (and the relative productivity of high-skilled workers) increases, but the relative productivity of low-skilled workers decreases. At the same time, once firms robotize they learn the total cost of maintaining robots in production, which may exceed their initial expectations. At any point in time, firms can derobotize production with the newfound knowledge of the cost. Likewise, firms can reautomate at a lower cost with the added assumption that firms retain the infrastructure of operating robots in production.

The simulations of our model can accurately explain and reproduce the behavioral distribution of automation across firms in the data (see Figure 1). Indeed, we are able to show that larger and more productive firms are more likely to robotize and, in turn, the firms which derobotize tend to be less productive (referred to as the productivity effect). However, the learning process which reveals the true cost of robotized production (referred to as the revelation effect) also highlights the role of incomplete information as a plausible explanation for prompt abandonment.  Most importantly, our simulations suggest that analyses which ignore abandonment can overestimate the effects of automation and, therefore, must be incomplete. 

Our project is the first, to our knowledge, to document the pertinent facts on deautomation as well as the productivity effect and the revelation effect. It is apparent to us, based on our investigation, that any research seeking to model automation would benefit from modeling deautomation. From that starting point, there remains plenty of fertile ground for new questions and, consequently, new insights.

Connect with the authors

About the Barcelona GSE Master’s Program in Economics

Cross-border effects of regulatory spillovers: Evidence from Mexico

Forthcoming JIE publication by Jagdish Tripathy ’11 (Economics)

Economics alum Jagdish Tripathy ’11 has a paper forthcoming in the Journal of International Economics on “Cross-border effects of regulatory spillovers: Evidence from Mexico.”

Paper abstract

This paper studies the spillover of a macroprudential regulation in Spain to the Mexican financial system via Mexican subsidiaries of Spanish banks. The spillover caused a drop in the supply of household credit in Mexico. Municipalities with a higher exposure to Spanish subsidiaries experienced a larger contraction in household credit. These localized contractions caused a drop in macroeconomic activity in the local non-tradable sector. Estimates of the elasticity of loan demand by the non-tradable sector to changes in household credit supply range from 1.2–1.8. These results emphasize cross-border effects of regulations in the presence of global banks.

Key takeaways

Loan-loss provisions introduced in Spain in 2012 imposed a significant burden on the balanced sheet of Spanish banks. This regulation was unrelated to the Mexican financial system or the credit conditions of Mexican households. However, Mexican subsidiaries of two large Spanish banks, BBVA and Santander, reduced lending to Mexican households in response to the regulation (Fig. 1).

figure
Fig. 1. Growth in credit lending by Spanish and non-Spanish banks in Mexico.

Mexican municipalities with a higher exposure to Spanish banks (Fig. 2) experienced a larger contraction in lending to households. This drop in lending to households (i.e. a drop in credit supply) was associated with a reduction in lending to the local non-tradable sector driven by a drop in local demand. This shows (1) cross-border effects of a macroprudential regulation on lending and economic activity, and (2) the macroeconomic effects of shocks in lending to households in an emerging economy.

map
Fig. 2. Share of Spanish banks in the household credit market across Mexican municipalities.

About the author

Jagdish Tripathy ’11 is an Advisor at Bank of England. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics and has his PhD from GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE).

LinkedIn | Twitter | Website

Markets, Politics, and the Political: Can economics solve today’s most pressing problems?

by Pablo Hubacher Haerle ’20 (Economics)

Can economics be trusted in taking care of the most pressing questions of today in a neutral and un-ideological way? That is the topic of an essay written by Economics alum Pablo Hubacher Haerle ’20 for Chasmotics, an online publishing platform which seeks to question and problematize contemporary times through philosophical thought.

Painting: "The Bablyonian Marriage Market." Artist: Edwin Long. Year: 1875.
“The Babylonian Marriage Market.” Edwin Long (1875).

Exploring the link between politics and economics

Economics has long been perceived as an unattractively technocratic discipline. Recently, this trend seems to reverse, as economics becomes more popular among young people devoted to change the world for the better. Effective altruists, who seek to do the most good in the most efficient way, recommend that students acquire a PhD in economics, because “you have a high chance of landing an impactful research job” and it is “one of the most promising graduate study options for people who want to make a difference” (Duda 2015).

It is argued that tackling some of today’s pressing political problems such as climate change, income inequality or racism within the economical framework has the advantage of, unlike in less quantitative subjects such as history or sociology, dealing with such political issues with evidence, instead of ideology. But what exactly is the link between politics and economics? How do these two fields interact? And, can economics be trusted in taking care of the most pressing questions of today in a neutral and unideological way?

Looking at the relationship between economic thinking and politics, this essay suggests an answer.


About the author

Pablo Hubacher Haerle ’20 is a recent graduate from the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.