The causal impact of cesarean sections on neonatal health

Post by Ana Costa Ramón ’14 and Ana Rodríguez-González ’14 (Economics Program). Both are PhD candidates of GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE).

Update 29.01.2019: This research has been nominated for the “Vanguardia de la Ciencia” awards promoted by La Vanguardia newspaper and the Catalunya-La Pedrera Foundation!


In recent decades there has been an increasing concern about the rise of cesarean section births. Among OECD countries in 2013, on average more than 1 out of 4 births involved a c-section (OECD, 2013), being one of the most commonly performed surgeries. Cesarean sections, performed when needed and under standard quality measures, save lives. However, unnecessary c-sections not only impose significant costs for the health system but can also negatively impact infant health.  Previous literature has found cesarean sections to be associated with several adverse health outcomes for the newborn (Grivell & Dodd, 2011) and with worse later infant health(Keag, Norman, & Stock, 2018). However, most of the studies that came to these conclusions compared mothers who gave birth vaginally with those that had a cesarean section, and this may produce biased results: mothers who give birth by c-section are likely to have different characteristics from those who have vaginal births, and this may influence the health outcomes of the child and the mother after delivery.

In a recent paper, published in the Journal of Health Economics (Costa-Ramón, Rodríguez-González, Serra-Burriel, & Campillo-Artero, 2018), we contribute to fill this gap by providing causal evidence of the impact of avoidable cesarean birth on neonatal health. To do so, we exploit variation in the probability of having a c-section that is unrelated to maternal characteristics: variation by time of day.

In particular, using data from four public hospitals in Spain, we first document that the probability of having an unplanned c-section is higher in the early hours of the night (from 11 pm to 4 am) and that this is not driven by different characteristics of mothers giving birth during these times. Figure 1 shows the c-section rate at different times of day in our sample. We can observe that the distribution of unscheduled c-sections by time of birth is not uniform. Births that take place between 11 pm and 4 am are around 6 percentage points more likely to be by cesarean.

Csections

Notes: The figure represents the proportion of unplanned c-sections by time of day over the sample of unplanned c-sections and vaginal births. Sample is restricted to single births, unscheduled c-sections and vaginal births (excluding breech vaginal babies).

We argue that, given the medical shift structure in public hospitals and the larger time-cost of surveillance implied by vaginal deliveries, doctors’ incentives to perform c-sections in ambiguous cases may be higher during these times. In fact, we are not the first to document peaks in the unplanned c-section rate during the early night. Previous studies interpret this variation as evidence that convenience and doctors’ demand for leisure influence timing and mode of delivery (Brown, 1996; Fraser et al., 1987; Hueston, McClaflin, & Claire, 1996; Spetz, Smith, & Ennis, 2001).

We take advantage of this exogenous variation and use time of day as an instrument for the probability of having an unplanned c-section. This allows us to compare mothers that give birth in the same hospital and have similar observable characteristics, differing only in the time of delivery. Our results suggest that these non-medically indicated c-sections lead to a significant worsening of Apgar scores of approximately one standard deviation, but we do not find effects on more extreme outcomes such as needing reanimation, being admitted to the ICU or on neonatal death. This is an important finding, given that previous studies in the medical literature documented an association between c-sections and an increased risk of serious respiratory morbidity and subsequent admission to neonatal ICU (Grivell & Dodd, 2011). Their findings are consistent with the results of our OLS estimation, suggesting that former analysis might have been capturing the underlying health status of newborns who need a medically necessary cesarean.

A few words on the publication process and media coverage

Given that it was a health-oriented paper, we decided to target a top field journal in health economics. We were very lucky and all the publication process went very fast and smoothly.  We had to revise the paper once and get additional data in order to be able to address some of the reviewers’ comments.

When it was published, with the help of UPF’s communication unit we sent a press release and our paper got attention from the Spanish media.  We knew that it was a controversial topic (especially from the doctors’ perspective) so we chose our words carefully, but still we got some slightly sensationalist headlines.  We learnt the lesson: you have to choose a catchy punchline yourself, or they will pick their own (and you won’t always like it).

Overall, it has been an intense and fruitful experience!

References:

Brown, H. S. (1996). Physician demand for leisure: Implications for cesarean section rates. Journal of Health Economics, 15(2), 233–242. https://doi.org/10.1016/0167-6296(95)00039-9

Costa-Ramón, A. M., Rodríguez-González, A., Serra-Burriel, M., & Campillo-Artero, C. (2018). It’s about time: Cesarean sections and neonatal health. Journal of Health Economics, 59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhealeco.2018.03.004

Fraser, W., Usher, R. H., McLean, F. H., Bossenberry, C., Thomson, M. E., Kramer, M. S., … Power, H. (1987). Temporal variation in rates of cesarean section for dystocia: Does “convenience” play a role? American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 156(2), 300–304. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0002-9378(87)90272-9

Grivell, R. M., & Dodd, J. M. (2011). Short- and long-term outcomes of cesarean section. Expert Review of Obsetrics and Gynecology, 6(2), 205–216.

Hueston, W. J., McClaflin, R. R., & Claire, E. (1996). {V}ariations in cesarean delivery for fetal distress. The Journal of Family Practice, 43(5), 461–467.

Keag, O. E., Norman, J. E., & Stock, S. J. (2018). Long-term risks and benefits associated with cesarean delivery for mother, baby, and subsequent pregnancies: Systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Medicine, 15(1), 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002494

OECD. (2013). Health at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Spetz, J., Smith, M. W., & Ennis, S. F. (2001). Physician Incentives and the Timing of Cesarean Sections: Evidence from California Physician Incentives and the Timing of Cesarean Sections Evidence From California. Source: Medical Care MEDICAL CARE, 39(6), 536–550. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005650-200106000-00003

Economics articles by BGSE alumni at CaixaBank Research

Ricard Murillo, Marta Guasch, and Mar Domènech in front of Caixabank. Photo by Marta Guasch.

We’ve just come across some articles written by several Barcelona GSE Alumni who are now Research Assistants and Economists at Caixabank Research in Barcelona. New articles are published each month on a range of topics.

Below is a list of all the alumni we found listed as article contributors, as well as their most recent publications in English (click each author to view his or her full list of articles in English, Catalan, and Spanish).

If you’re an alum and you’re also writing about Economics, let us know where we can find your stuff!

Gerard Arqué (Master’s in Macroeconomic Policy and Financial Markets ’09)

The (r)evolution in the regulatory and supervisory framework resulting from the crisis

Mar Domènech (Master’s in International Trade, Finance, and Development ’17)

Registered workers affiliated to Social Security: situation and outlook across sectors

Active labour market policies: a results-based evaluation

Equal opportunities: levelling the playing field for everyone

Cristina Farràs (Master’s in Macroeconomic Policy and Financial Markets ’17)

The financial situation of Millennial households in the US and Spain: will they catch up with previous generations?

Measures to improve equality of opportunities

Marta Guasch (Master’s in International Trade, Finance, and Development ’17)
and Adrià Morron (Master’s in Economics ’12)

Jay Gatsby’s American Dream: between inequality and social mobility

Ricard Murillo (Master’s in International Trade, Finance, and Development ’17)

Inflation will gradually recover in the euro area

Millenials and politics: mind the gap!

The sensitivity of inflation to the euro’s appreciation

Ariadna Vidal Martínez (Master’s in Finance ’12)

Situation and outlook for consumer financing


Source: Caixabank Research

May the 4th be with you: Economics of Star Wars


By Marco Albori (Economics ’18)


Cartoon by Marco Albori '18

Economics students, as all those students specializing in a particular field, love to share memes about their favorite subject, like jokes about strange convergence theorems, weird topological spaces, or absurd economic policy statements. However, it turns out that at least one day a year our nerdy preferences align, like planets would do, with those of the people outside the world of supply and demand, in name of the movie series that makes all nerd hearts beat: Star Wars! (If you thought it was Star Trek please leave this page!)

May the 4th, which is pronounced as “May the Force” if you studied English with Jar Jar Binks or if you are drunk enough after a night out in a disreputable bar of Tatooine with Han Solo, is the day chosen by Star Wars fans to celebrate the saga. Actually, it seems that this word pun was used for the first time not by a geeky guy brandishing a Made-in-Taiwan lightsaber but by the Conservative Party to wish good luck to the new elected Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979, “May the Fourth Be with You, Maggie. Congratulations.” [1] Too much culture already, let’s go back to the point.

Fun apart, we like the plot of Star Wars because it could be used to explain many of the real world past and current issues in political economy and international trade. Consider for instance the beginning of the story: Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi have to negotiate with the Trade Federation, which blockaded the planet Naboo as a protest against the Galactic Republic taxation of commercial routes. Sound realistic, doesn’t it?

The storyline continues with political conspiracies, taking us across the galaxy from highly developed planets where the production process is made mainly by droids to poor constellations where aliens harvest or starve, from growing free trade zones to stagnating stars. This also reminds us the issues our fellows from the Barcelona GSE International Trade, Finance, and Development (ITFD) Program are studying day after day. Investopedia [2] tells you all need to know about the “economics” of Star Wars galaxy, while Mark Thorton wrote a couple of interesting blog posts [3] for the Mises Institute discussing it from a political economy point of view, which, drawing from the Austrian tradition, is a liberal one. Indeed he defines The Phantom Menace as “one of the finest allegories on classical liberal political economy to ever appear on screen.”

Sometimes we just want to quote the saga to paint a little our mathematically intensive works: it is the case of Brodeur et al. (2016) who titled their paper on econometrics and the worry of every researcher (getting as many stars as possible on his regression coefficients) “Star Wars: The Empirics Strike Back.

Some other times we definitely go wild with creativity, as Zachary Feinstein, a financial engineer who estimated the cost of building the two Death Stars and the loss caused by their destruction due to the Rebels. His paper “It’s a Trap: Emperor Palpatine’s Poison Pill” [4] not only does an accurate accounting of the aforementioned costs in terms of Gross Galactic Product, but also analyses the systemic risk implication of such a disruption on the galactic banking and financial system. According to the author: “this would have been worse than the Great Depression. It would have been beyond anything that we’ve ever seen on Earth.” [5]

At this point it seems legit to ask ourselves: among the famous people named Lucas, are economists more like Robert or George?

No matter whether you are a galactic empiricist or a interstellar growth theorist, as an economist you have a lot of reasons to love Star Wars and watch the whole saga again or do it for the first time if you haven’t done it yet (shame!). And, let’s confess it, we would all like Yoda’s wisdom helping us during our homework nights at the library, of course keeping him away from Latex (imagine the mess caused by convoluted his talking way). Or even better, Chewbacca as a partner in crime when we have to go to an exam revision at the professor’s office.

Lego Chewbacca and economics paper
Photo by Marco Albori ’18

May the 4th be with you!


[1] Wikipedia

[2] Investopedia

[3] Mises Institute

[4] Feinstein

[5] CBC

Friedman’s Presidential Address in the Evolution of Macroeconomic Thought


 By Marco Albori (Economics ’18)

Summary of Gregory Mankiw and Ricardo Reis:                                                                      “Friedman’s Presidential Address in the Evolution of Macroeconomic Thought”

Fifty years ago Milton Friedman delivered his presidential address [1] to the American Economic Association. His speech is the third most-cited presidential address, preceded only by those of Kuznets [2] and Schultz [3], with more than 7500 citations. Why has it been so influential? Friedman stressed his opinion, built over years of study of monetary theory and history, distinguishing what monetary policy could and could not do. In less than 17 pages, with a simple writing not common to most of economic papers, without any equation or complicated model, he challenged the mainstream thought, opening a new era in macroeconomic research.

In occasion of this anniversary, Gregor Mankiw and Ricardo Reis explore the state of the art at that time, the main points of the address and the consequences it had not only on the field but most importantly on policy in a recent paper, “Friedman’s Presidential Address in the Evolution of Macroeconomic Though”, published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Looking back at the beginning of the 60s, the mainstream thought in macroeconomics was the Keynesian one, based on Hicks and Hansen’s simplification of the general theory: the IS-LM model as a building block, accompanied by the belief that the Phillips curve was an actual instrument in the toolkit of policymakers and finally that the long-run behaviour of the economy was the results of the sum of Keynesian short runs. The Keynesian approach to the short and medium run, corrected with the advance made by theorists, is still the starting point of any introductory course on macro, while most of students are initiated to long-run theory through the Solow growth model.

On the contrary of Keynes, Friedman was  convinced that the long-run is the realm of classical economics and thus monetary policy, being neutral, cannot do anything to change real variable like the natural rate of unemployment which is pinned down by the characteristics of the market structure. Moreover, according to his view, the trade-off between inflation and unemployment is always necessarily temporary, as expectations evolve through time, frustrating central bank’s attempts. Milton Friedman’s definition of long-run was indeed the time horizon over which people become informed and align their expectations to the reality. The ground for the rational expectations revolution (and later the development of the RBC model) had been put in place, even though Friedman thought expectations were slow to adapt, sluggish rather than rational.

Following Friedman’s reasoning, central banks cannot take advantage of the Phillips curve infinitely to control real variables in the long run, as it will eventually disappear as expectations adjusts (it should be stressed that he did not consider feedbacks between inflation and unemployment in a fashion like the modern Taylor rule). Notwithstanding this view, and the fact that monetary policy is not timely but takes time to exert its effects, he was not a complete advocate of passive policy, as he believed that monetary policy and credit policy could be used to offset disturbances caused by other sources like fiscal policy (yes, he considered fiscal policy a disturbance, didn’t you know?). He finally proposed to use the rate of growth of some monetary aggregate as the baseline instrument of monetary policy, ruling out the exchange rate and the interest rate instead.

But decades have passed, and nowadays monetary policy could not be more different than that simple rule, with balance sheet policy, fine tuning operations and unconventional “weapons” used by central banks all around the world to cope with the crisis and impaired transmission mechanisms. Monetary policy today is mostly based on the interest rate instead, given its central role in asset pricing and as a driver of investment and saving decisions, and the paper explains the role of monetary policy today, digging into the current ideas which Friedman would have agreed with as well as those he would have opposed. Just to cite one, Galí and Gertler [4] point out the “significant role of expectations” in the transmission mechanism of monetary policy (which Friedman would be totally fine with), as opposed to “the importance for the central bank of tracking the flexible price equilibrium values of the natural levels of output and the real interest rate” which fosters the monetary policy activism criticized by the Nobel prize laureate.

The final section of the paper illustrates the “road ahead” and current research themes (and associated real world problems) which relate to Friedman’s theories. First, the natural rate hypothesis clashes against the stagnation affecting our economies, with the latter opening both to the competing views of hysteresis and shortage of aggregate demand. Second, the Philipps curve is still alive as a synonym of nominal rigidities and investigation of price and wage setting flourishes as that on expectations, recently driven by progresses in surveys and experimental/behavioural economics.

On the policy side, the effects of massive central banks interventions on the potential of fiscal authorities and their constraint and vice versa ask for a compelling understanding, as well as the role of liquidity in financial markets, the potential of macroprudential policy and finally the effectiveness of macroeconomic policy at the zero lower bound. As a matter of fact Friedman did not discuss the last two, which are today central issues in macroeconomic policy: the view that monetary policy could be ineffective and different instruments are needed as the interest rate approaches zero was Keynesian, and he did not reserved a role in macroprudential regulation to central banks. On the contrary, today it is recognized that monetary authorities should pay attention to credit variables as they are related to potential risks for financial stability and crises and ultimately to the potential functioning of the transmission mechanisms of monetary policy, in good and bad times.

Concluding, Mankiw and Reis article on the Journal is accompanied by two other related essays  “Should we reject the natural rate hypothesis?” by Blanchard and “Short-Run and Long-Run effects of Milton Friedman’s Presidential Address” by Hall and Sargent, which further contribute to the discussion surrounding Milton Friedman’s inheritance.

 


[1] https://www.andrew.cmu.edu/course/88-301/phillips/friedman.pdf

[2] “Economic Growth and Income Inequality”, The American Economic Review, 1955

[3] “Investment in Human Capital”, The American Economic Review, 1961

[4] “Macroeconomic Modelling for Monetary Policy Evaluation.”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2007

On the determinants of bitcoin returns: a LASSO approach


 By Orestis Vravosinos (Economics ’18)

 

Orestis shares his recent work on bitcoin, joint with professors Theodore Panagiotidis (Univeristy of Macedonia) and Thanasis Stengos (University of Guelph).

The paper is in press and currently available online at Finance Research Letters. It first appeared as a working paper of the Rimini Centre for Economic Analysis (RCEA).

Extended abstract: Bitcoin has recently received increased attention by both investors and researchers. The consumer base, transaction frequency in the digital currencies market and the number of businesses and organizations accepting payments in bitcoin have been rapidly expanding.

In this paper, within a Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator (LASSO) framework, we examine the significance of factors such as stock market indices, exchange rates, gold and oil, central bank rates, internet trends and policy uncertainty as drivers of bitcoin returns for alternate time (sub)periods within 2010-2017. The advantage of LASSO is that it performs coefficient shrinkage (even setting some coefficients to zero) and in this way automates model selection. Search intensity and gold returns emerge as the most important factors for bitcoin returns.

 

References

Panagiotidis, T., Stengos, T. and Vravosinos, O. (2018). On the determinants of bitcoin returns: a LASSO approach. Finance Research Letters, doi: 10.1016/j.frl.2018.03.016

In Praise of Imperfection

Rita Levi Montalcini on her 100th birthday.

By Roberta Sgariglia (International Trade, Finance, and Development ’18)


Ideally, in the best of possible worlds, we would not need a day when we are reminded of exceptional women in science and statistics on gender quotas in American research departments. However, such is the current state of things, and in this relatively brief article I will report the results of a hectic, imperfect and rather personalized attempt I made to address some of the myths, common ideas and stereotypes regarding the role of women in science. The main insights have been drawn from Halpern, Benbow et al (2007), a reading I highly recommend.  I will also briefly share some highlights from the story of Rita Levi Montalcini, who is a source of great inspiration for me, and whose book In Praise of Imperfection this article is named after. As I hope will become clear, I chose this title because of the complex and troubled relationship women generally have with imperfection as well as, obviously, the great consideration I have of Levi Montalcini’s work.

 

The question of whether women can contribute meaningfully to science, how they compare to men in terms of “ability”, whether or not they are underrepresented in STEM academic environments was of little interest to me until fairly recently. As a matter of fact, I have been raised in a country where the greatest strength of the public educational system lies in humanities, classics and history. This particular feature of the Italian “liceo classico” is incredibly enriching in many respects, and it provides students with a unique, though slightly outdated, understanding of the world. Later in life there is always time to gain hard skills that are more in demand, but what does acquire shape in these crucial years for personality formation is a general tendency to see the world through non-scientific “lenses”. Piero Angela, perhaps Italy’s most famous science journalist (who was awarded 10 degrees ad honorem  in a broad range of disciplines), indeed notes that Italian culture is still heavily humanities-centered, and this significantly hampers Italian productivity and growth prospects. Very few children in general see themselves as scientists, let alone girls. Therefore, part of the reason why we need a “Women in Science” day is the fact that some countries and societies do not invest enough in scientific research, and do not understand its value in modern economies.

 

To start with, we need to address a question that I find rather fascinating: can observed differences in female and male behavior and skills be traced back to structural differences in the brain? If that were the case, perhaps our scope for action would be limited. Contrasting evidence has been found on this matter. Male brain size seems to be higher,  which however tells us little about brain functions, the amygdala seems to be larger for men on average as well, and recent studies find that women tend to have thicker prefrontal cortices, which translates into higher general intelligence and cognitive ability, a result that is obviously sensitive to how such a characteristic is defined, measured and sample size used.

 

However, most researchers point out that there are effectively more similarities than differences, and an interesting study of 1400 individuals by the University of Tel Aviv finds that brains are “patchworks of forms” that do not fit into male or female categories, as defined by an index of “maleness” and “femaleness”. Researchers involved in this project argue that the majority of brains observed could be described as a “mosaic” of female and male structures, and therefore it does not make sense to speak about female or male “nature” ex ante. A significant portion of heterogeneity can be accounted for by environmental factors affecting the biological development of the brain. However, no consensus has been reached on these matters. What is worth mentioning though is an idea that is thoroughly explained in Halpern et al (2000): it is extremely difficult to separate biological and environmental factors in brain development and consequently other outcomes deriving from it. As a matter of fact, prenatal hormones as well as other hormones released later in life can develop differently depending on the experiences of the individual in question, as hormonal secretion is altered by the environment. This statement is reassuring: it tells us that there is no reason why women should, a priori, be less competent scientists.

 

Having spent some time on a somewhat biological excursus, let me address the common perception that women may lack or have less “cognitive abilities”, especially those necessary to thrive in science and mathematics. This statement was also made in 2005 by no less than Lawrence Summers. As explained in Halpern et al (2007), evidence has been found that there are differences in some psychological variables between men and women (see Hyde, 2005). However, these discrepancies are generally measured based on the following broad categories of core cognitive skills: verbal, visuospatial, quantitative skills, general reasoning as well as measures of working memory, perceptual speed and mechanical reasoning. First and foremost, these categories are not unitary constructs, they comprise a wide range of skills and activities, for which men and women may have different predispositions. For instance, the two sexes may naturally excel in different components of language use, or different aspects of image processing in the range of visuospatial abilities. In general, women seem to fare better in verbal, memory and general reasoning, while men in quantitative and visuospatial skills. However, as discussed above, we have reason to be skeptical of these generalizations.

 

This brings me to the most important point I want to make. There is consensus that girls generally receive higher grades in school, and that, even when lacking the initial foundations in a specific subject, they tend to perform better in the long run (see Dwyer, Johnson, 1997). They also fare worse in admission and standardized tests than their counterparts, but it has been proven that the latter underpredict academic performance. Bearing this in mind, we should also note that there are no “science abilities” per se: success in STEM research requires a wide range of skills, capabilities, approaches that complement one another and are used simultaneously. Given the evidence on girls’ and women’s ability to learn, and learn effectively, a strong case can be made for higher female involvement in science, a field where thinking differently and rigorously is an asset rather than a restraint.

 

To conclude, I have provided substantive evidence to back the idea that women can not only contribute to science, but can in fact thrive in all sciences. A complex set of factors is holding them back, and this would be a great subject for another article, but in this one I will mention three in particular, and explain how they are connected: perfectionism, low self-esteem and interiorized societal expectations. As a matter of fact, it is understood that women generally have lower self-esteem than their male counterparts, and take action when they are sure they will succeed, basing perception of their own capabilities (and often also self worth) on exterior feedback and reinforcement mechanisms.  This often results in girls and women setting higher standards for themselves than necessary, and striving for an unattainable perfection which they believe is out of their reach. This was one of the main issues Rita Levi Montalcini strived to address in her book In Praise of Imperfection and in her personal life. A Jewish woman, political refugee and Nobel laureate in neurobiology, Rita argued that just like the human brain, an incredibly sophisticated creation, is inherently flawed, we should not strive too hard for perfection, as it is not the essence of nature nor life . Moreover, she encouraged young people, men and women, to “think of the future”, “think of what you can do and do not fear anything”, to build one’s own path and follow one’s own aspirations. Rita is one of the many exceptional women that set the example and took revolutionary stances on controversial matters.  I look forward to a time when great female minds become the norm rather than the exception.

 

References

Dwyer, C.A., & Johnson, L.M. (1997). Grades, accomplishment, and correlates. In W.W. Willingham & N.S. Cole (Eds.), Gender and fair assessment (pp. 127–156). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum

Halpern, Benbow et al (2007). The Science of Sex Differences in Science and Mathematics, Association for Psychological Science, Volume 8

Halpern, D.F. (2000). Sex differences in cognitive abilities (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Halpern, D.F. (2004). A cognitive taxonomy for sex differences in cognitive abilities. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 135–139

Hyde, J.S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60, 581–592.

A master student’s experience delivering a TEDx talk on the value of European integration

A year ago, master’s student in the Barcelona GSE Finance Program, Patrick Altmeyer gave a talk at TEDx University of Edinburgh on how positive impact European integration has had and should continue to have on our lives contrary. It provides us with greater freedom to choose, learn, exchange ideas, experience, develop. Here he describes his experience as a TEDx speaker and expands on the subject of the talk based on his experience as a student in Barcelona:

“TEDx at the University of Edinburgh was a very challenging and rewarding experience. I loved the thrill of speaking in front of hundreds of people and would definitely enjoy doing something similar again. It also provided my fellow speakers and me with a unique platform to speak out and actually reach people. I was at the time and still am bothered by growing pessimism about the idea of European integration. With my speech I intended to remind people of what’s at stake if in face of undeniable difficulties we simply give up on Europe and return to nationalist agendas.

Experiencing at first hand the recent political developments here in Barcelona has been a true reality check for me. The call for secession is by its very nature anti-unionist. But somehow the many peaceful independence supporters I have seen in the streets – among them many of my Catalan friends – have nothing in common with what we would generally think of as nationalists. Their opponents love to portray the Catalan separatists as anti-European (and themselves as saviours of the union), but personally I don’t buy that. I have realised during my time here that a strive for regional identity can go hand in hand with an open mind for Europe. One of today’s biggest challenges for supporters of integration is therefore to promote a sense of European unity while at the same time recognising that we are a very diverse group of people.”

 

You can watch his TEDx talk from January 2017 here, as well as discover what triggered the idea for this TEDx talk here.

The Implications of Declining Firm-Level Uncertainty for Consumption Variety and Cities (Unicredit & Universities Job Market Best Paper Award)

alumni

Editor’s note: In this post, Federica Daniele (Economics ’13 and PhD candidate at UPF-GPEFM) shares a summary of her paper, “The Implications of Declining Firm-Level Uncertainty for Consumption Variety and Cities,” which has won the 2017 UniCredit & Universities Economics Job Market Best Paper Award. She also offers some advice to aspiring PhD students in the Barcelona GSE Master’s programs.


Paper summary

There is something alarming about the direction in which firm dynamics have been changing over the course of the last decades. Today it’s much rarer to encounter firms that undergo large up/downsizings than it used to be in the past: in other words, firms have become more tied to their rank in the firm size distribution. This has been of concern for many economists, who see this happening jointly with a slowdown in aggregate productivity growth and competitiveness. Being aware that the question on the drivers behind this trend and its consequences was still open to debate, coupled with an interest for entrepreneurship, is what pushed me to dive into this topic to better our understanding of the issue in my paper, “The Implications of Declining Firm-Level Uncertainty for Consumption Variety and Cities.”

An explanation for the decline in business dynamism consistent with the data is that technological change has caused the degree of idiosyncratic uncertainty that firms routinely face about their chances to grow to go down. This implies that today most of the return from starting a firm is determined by its initial (in)success as opposed to luck in the development of the business over its life-cycle. Based on evidence drawn from data on the universe of German establishments, in the paper I argue that a reduction in firm-level uncertainty is consistent with lower incentives for potential entrepreneurs to start a new business. My paper offers a new insight into the literature on the role of uncertainty for economic activity: some degree of uncertainty is beneficial, because – by unlocking the opportunity for a given firm to grow large out of fortuitous events (such as a favourable demand turn) – it encourages entrepreneurship. In this sense, my paper provides a defence of the classical argument by Frank Knight according to which risk-taking is a characterising feature of entrepreneurship.

A deficit in the growth rate of the stock of establishments triggered by a decline in firm-level uncertainty is cause of concern for multiple reasons. In my paper, I investigate the importance of two dimensions: first of all, the fact that consumers get to consume a less wide variety of goods than otherwise; and secondly, the fact that, being the loss in entrepreneurship larger in big cities, fewer consumers find appealing to move to large cities than otherwise, thus diminishing the extent of positive spillovers due to higher urban density. Another outcome of interest would have been, for example, the process of innovation within an industry.

All in all, the contribution of this paper consists of assessing both empirically and theoretically novel long-run consequences on economic activity of declining firm-level uncertainty.

Advice for future PhD students

I think Barcelona GSE masters students who are considering going the PhD / academic career route should be strategic. There is no harm in taking one year to do some exploratory work, working as RA, for example, for some good professor, if that buys the time to figure out what kind of research best matches your interests, in which institution you would feel better fulfilled, or whether academia suits you at all.

In the end, if you choose to pursue the academic route, you will have most certainly achieved a better match with the institution/supervisor, and spared a lot of time later on during the course of the PhD, which you can instead dedicate to producing research of good quality.

But even if you decide that academia is not for you, the value of the investment will still be positive, as experimenting early during one’s working career is much less costly than doing it later.

Some thoughts by Prof. Hogarth on Prof. Thaler’s award of the Nobel Prize in economics

llustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2017

By Orestis Vravosinos (Economics ’18)


Universitat Pompeu Fabra and BGSE Emeritus Research Professor Robin M. Hogarth shares some thoughts in the light of Prof. Thaler’s award of the Nobel Prize in economics.

 

  1. What would you deem to be the most significant contributions of Prof. Thaler?

Prof. Hogarth: “I’m very glad that Thaler got the Nobel Prize, because it’s a recognition that the field of behavioral economics has to be taken seriously. He has made the field more popular and two of his books are quite interesting. Even though from an academic point of view ‘Nudge’ may not be so strong, in both ‘Nudge’ and ‘Misbehaving’ Thaler has done a very good job in explaining things and making behavioral economics accessible to the wider public. ‘Nudge’ has spurred the creation of nudge initiatives in the UK and the US.”

Prof. Thaler has greatly contributed in popularizing behavioral economics and manifesting the insight it can offer in practice and policy, especially though the use of nudges bringing nudge theory to prominence. However, as is most times the case with influential research, Prof. Thaler’s work has also been a matter of controversy, as criticism of what is called ‘libertarian paternalism’ has developed. Concerns have been raised both in regards to freedom of choice (e.g. Mitchell, 2005; Veetil, 2011) and the efficiency or optimality of paternalistic policies (e.g. Rachlinski, 2003; Mitchell, 2005; Glaeser, 2006).

  1. How do you think concerns regarding the use of nudges can be alleviated? Do you think there needs to be any form of regulation on it?

Prof. Hogarth: “Thaler and his co-authors have supported nudge coining the term ‘libertarian paternalism’. Although I don’t think the term makes much sense, I don’t see what is wrong with governments saying that some things are better for people than others; advertisers do it all the time.

In some EU countries there is a total rejection of organ donation after death, while in others almost total acceptance and the reason is the difference in the default option on the driving license among countries. I don’t see why this is wrong; since a default has to be chosen, why not choose the one that is on average better for everybody? Provided that people can still go against the default, if they want to. Governments should be able to use as much social science knowledge as they want. As long as there is “good knowledge”, why should we ignore it? Whether it comes from sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics or whatever, we should use it, as long as it is good for the society.

I don’t think there is any need for regulation of nudge. One should not regulate how advertisers advertise the products, as long as they say the truth. Similarly, governments or agencies should be allowed to design choice; they just need to be honest and clear about it.”

 

  1. Are there any other thoughts you would like to share in the light of this year’s awarding of the Nobel Prize in Economics?

Prof. Hogarth: “Another interesting aspect of Thaler’s work is that it has managed to make an impact without being heavily mathematical. The other point I would like to make is that Thaler owes a tremendous debt to Tversky and Kahneman. Prospect theory provided a framework for explaining things Thaler thought of.”

 

We kindly thank Prof. Hogarth for sharing these thoughts with us.

References

Glaeser, E. L. (2006). Paternalism and Psychology. The University of Chicago Law Review, 73(1):133-156

Mitchell, G. (2005). Libertarian Paternalism Is an Oxymoron. Northwestern University Law Review, 99(3):1245-1277.

Rachlinski, Jeffrey J. (2003). The Uncertain Psychological Case for Paternalism. Northwestern University Law Review, 93(3):1165-1225.

Veetil, V.P. (2011). Libertarian paternalism is an oxymoron: an essay in defence of liberty. European Journal of Law and Economics, 31: 321-334.