Uncertainty in learning, choice and visual fixation

Paper by Hrvoje Stojić (Economics ’11, GPEFM ’17)

source: Stojić et al

Hrvoje Stojić (Economics ’11 and GPEFM ’17) is co-author on a new paper, “Uncertainty in learning, choice and visual fixation,” now available in pre-print on PsyArXiv.

The authors on the paper illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of this research. Hrvoje and co-author Raymond Dolan are researchers at the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research; Jacob Orquin of Aarhus University specializes in the role of eye movements in decision making; Peter Dayan is at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics), and Maarten Speekenbrink is affiliated with the UCL Department of Experimental Psychology.

About the paper

Hrvoje shares an overview of the paper in this Twitter thread:

Get the pre-print

The paper can be downloaded from PsyArXiv.

alumni

Hrvoje Stojić (Economics ’11, GPEFM ’17) is a researcher at UCL. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics and PhD from GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE).

LinkedIn | Twitter | Github

City Design, Planning, Policy Innovations: The Case of Hermosillo

IDB publication co-authored by Miguel Angel Santos (ITFD ’11, Economics ’12)

credit: IDB

After a lengthy review process we are proud to announce that our book “City Design, Planning, Policy Innovations: The Case of Hermosillo” is published and available for download from the Inter-American Development Bank. Cutting edge research on cities featuring my work with Douglas Barrios, my colleague at the Center for International Development’s Growth Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School. Thanks to Andreina Seijas and Diego Arcia for the superb coordination and editing work.

About the book

This publication summarizes the outcomes and lessons learned from the Fall 2017 course titled “Emergent Urbanism: Planning and Design Visions for the City of Hermosillo, Mexico” (ADV-9146). Taught by professors Diane Davis and Felipe Vera, this course asked a group of 12 students to design a set of projects that could lay the groundwork for a sustainable future for the city of Hermosillo—an emerging city located in northwest Mexico and the capital of the state of Sonora. Part of a larger initiative funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and the North-American Development Bank in partnership with Harvard University, ideas developed for this class were the product of collaboration between faculty and students at the Graduate School of Design, the Kennedy School’s Center for International Development and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Miguel Angel Santos (ITFD ’11, Economics ’12) is Director of Applied Research at the Growth Lab at Harvard Kennedy School.

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The UK productivity puzzle

Speech by Gavin Jackson ’12 (Economics) to the Oxford Economics Society

Image: OES

This June, Gavin Jackson ’12 (Economics) returned to his undergrad alma mater, University of Oxford, and gave a talk to the Oxford Economics Society about the slowdown in productivity in the United Kingdom and where productivity in the UK might be headed.

He listed five contributing factors to the slowdown: “changes in financial regulation, the patent cliff, mismeasurement of telecommunications, attempts to cope with climate change, and the troubles with getting more oil out of the North Sea.”

Looking ahead, he remarked, “I don’t think we can or should go back to the past. We do not want to go back on environmental on financial regulation, as the US is doing right now. But what we can do as a society is try to be open to new opportunities and technologies that are coming along and that means investing in the basics of education, infrastructure and research to make sure that we are able to make the most of things like e-commerce and working out what to do about those who lose out from these transitions.”

Gavin Jackson ’12 is an Economics Reporter at the Financial Times. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

LinkedIn | FT Articles

The Zero Lower Bound was irrelevant

Blog post for AIER by Brian C. Albrecht ’14 (Economics of Public Policy)

empty building floor

Brian Albrecht is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota and a graduate of the Barcelona GSE Master’s Program in Economics of Public Policy, as well as a past editor of the Barcelona GSE Voice. He is also a contributor to the Sound Money Project, a blog from the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER).

In a recent post, Brian talks about a recent paper by Barcelona GSE professors Davide Debortoli, Jordi Galí, and Luca Gambetti, “On the Empirical (Ir)Relevance of the Zero Lower Bound Constraint.” He writes:

Many economics writers, including Ben BernankeNeil Irwin, and Justin Wolfers, worry that the Fed will not be able to combat the next recession. Current interest rates, the sad story goes, are already close to zero. Since a downturn will push the economy to the zero lower bound (ZLB), the Fed will not be able to lower rates further, thereby prolonging the recession.

Of course, for such a story to make sense, the ZLB must be a fundamental constraint that inhibits monetary policy. In a new NBER working paper, Davide Debortoli, Jordi Galí, and Luca Gambetti consider whether the ZLB was actually the problem during the last recession. They say the ZLB was irrelevant. The authors come to this conclusion by studying two types of evidence: measures of macro volatility, and the response of macro variables to aggregate shocks through a vector autoregression.

Brian C. Albrecht for Sound Money

Read Brian’s full post on this paper and find a list of all his recent posts over on the AIER website.

alumni

Brian C. Albrecht ’14 is a PhD candidate in Economics at the University of Minnesota. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics of Public Policy.

Twitter | Website

Women in Economics seminar

Master’s students Analía García ’19 (ITFD) and Lorena Franco ’19 (Economics) organized the seminar to highlight research by female PhD students and professors

Women in Economics seminar

This May, BGSE Master’s students Analía García ’19 (ITFD) and Lorena Franco ’19 (Economics) organized the Women in Economics two-day seminar, which meant to highlight female PhD students and faculty members’ research.

Three students and four Barcelona GSE Affiliated Professors presented their work, which varied from family economics to political economics and experimental economics. More information of the speakers and their topics below.

Organizers Analía García ’19 and Lorena Franco ’19

These efforts, nonetheless, started over two months ago when both students, who are from Latin America and the Caribbean, organized an open forum on International Women’s Day. Having prior work experience and noting the clear lack of female representation in economics and academia, they wanted to expand the conversations on the topic and discuss what we could do to potentially “make it better” within their parameters. The Women in Economics seminar was born from the conversations during the first and second open forums, and thanks to the ideas of Marta Morazzoni and Claudia Meza, both PhD students at GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE).

Putting this together was a challenge given this had not been done at BGSE before, but the organizers hope this was insightful for all those who attended.

More female and racial diversity in economics and academia, please!

The speakers and the titles of the work were the following (listed alphabetically):

PhD Students

  • Marta Morazzoni “Family Dynamics in Macroeconomics: when the representative household does not represent us anymore”
  • Marta Santamaría “The Gains from Reshaping Infrastructure: Evidence from the Division of Germany”
  • Alina Velias “When to Tie Odysseus to the Mast: Costly Commitment Under Biased Expactations”

Professors

  • Enriqueta Aragonés “Stability of a Multi-level Government: A Catalonia in Spain”
  • Rosa Ferrer “Consumers’ Costly Responses to Product-Harm Crises” and “Gender Gaps in Performance: Evidence from Young Lawyers”
  • Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell “Relative Deprivation in Tanzania”
  • Rosemarie Nagel “Regularities in the Lab, Brain, and Field: A Cognitive Reasoning Model”

Asymmetric Social Distance Effects in the Ultimatum Game

Publication by Orestis Vravosinos ’18 (Economics) with Kyriakos Konstantinou

The Ultimatum Game Comic
Comic author: Zach Weinersmith

A paper by Orestis Vravosinos (Economics ’18, UPF MRes in Economics ’19) and Kyriakos Konstantinou (LSE) has just been published in the Review of Behavioral Economics. Below is an overview of the paper.


The Ultimatum Game

Given that in experiments ultimatum game outcomes are often significantly different from Nash equilibrium predictions under standard assumptions on preferences, many studies have examined the impact of fairness on players’ considerations and how the effect of the sense of fairness on players’ actions may vary, while other factors change. It has been argued that increased stakes (larger sum of money distributed) can reduce sensitivity to fairness of player 2 making it more likely that she accepts lower shares of the total sum, thus, giving player 1 the opportunity to offer a lower share.

Social Distance

Social distance has also been found to affect fairness. In the existing literature, social distance commonly varies only from players being close relatives or friends to complete strangers, even though negatively-valenced relationships can be important from an economic point of view. Our study aims to fill this gap by introducing negatively-valenced relationships between the players. We argue that altruistic and empathetic behavior of the proposer towards the responder may not vary (increase) as significantly in the region of negative relationships compared to the region of positive relationships. Similarly, social distance effects stemming from reciprocity may vary less in the region of negative relationships. Thus, we hypothesize that in the ultimatum game social distance effects are asymmetric with their magnitude varying more in the spectrum of positively compared to negatively-valenced relationships.

Our experimental results support this hypothesis; in the region of positively-valenced relationships, the proposers increase the percentage they offer as relationship quality increases more drastically compared to when the relationship is negatively-valenced, in which case they appear more invariant to relationship effects. Also, by eliciting a minimum share which the responder is willing to accept out of the total sum, we provide clearer results on the social distance and stakes effects on the latter’s behavior. Last, we find a negative effect of relationship quality on the minimum acceptable share. This contradicts a strand of the literature which suggests that closer-“in-group” individuals may be punished more severely, so that cooperation in a group is maintained.

References

Orestis Vravosinos and Kyriakos Konstantinou (2019), “Asymmetric Social Distance Effects in the Ultimatum Game”, Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 6: No. 2, pp 159-192.

Orestis Vravosinos

Orestis Vravosinos ’18 is an MRes student at GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE). He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

LinkedIn | Website

Setting an example? Spillover effects of Peruvian Magnet Schools

Economics ’18 master project turned working paper by alumni Mariel Bedoya, Karen Espinoza, Bruno Gonzaga, and Alejandro Herrera Jiménez

What started out as a Barcelona GSE master project has developed into a full-fledged working paper by four alumni of the Master’s in Economics Class of 2018: Mariel Bedoya, Karen Espinoza, Bruno Gonzaga, and Alejandro Herrera Jiménez.

The team after submitting their Economics master project, June 2018

The paper, “Setting an example? Spillover effects of Peruvian Magnet Schools,” is now part of the Development Research Working Paper Series of the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD), a research center in La Paz, Bolivia.

Mariel explains that the idea to research this topic occurred to her because before doing the master in BGSE, she worked in the Ministry of Education of Peru, in the Impact Evaluation Division.

“The topic was interesting for us because although there is plenty of literature studying these selective schools’ first order effects (that is, effects on the students who directly benefited from the creation of these schools), we found scarce evidence about second-order effects (effects on students who shared environments with the high achieving student previously). Even more, analyzing externalities seemed of importance for a program such as COAR in Peru since the expenditure per student for the program is relatively high,” Mariel says.

The team has presented their research in three seminars so far, two in Peru and one in Bolivia.

“We aim to continue this research project in the near future. We got the opportunity of presenting findings of our research for public servants within the Ministry of Education last year, including the Director of the Division of Specialized Education Services, who is in charge of the COAR Program. This research complements ongoing efforts of the Ministry of Education of evaluating COAR’s first order effects. They seemed keen on helping us, especially because we do not have yet the necessary data to conclude on the mechanisms that may be driving the results we find, and they would like us to tell them more about this point in particular. We hope to have a new version of this paper by the end of the year.”

About the authors

Mariel Bedoya ’18 is a Policy and Research Associate with Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) in Peru. LinkedIn | Twitter

Bruno Gonzaga ’18 is a Senior Analyst in the Juncture Analysis Department of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru. LinkedIn | Twitter

Alejandro Herrera Jiménez ’18 is an Associate Researcher at INESAD in Bolivia. LinkedIn | Twitter

Karen Espinoza ’18 is Coordinator of the Innovation Lab of the Ministry of Education in Peru (MineduLAB). LinkedIn

The Transition to the Knowledge Economy, Labor Market Institutions, and Income Inequality in Advanced Democracies

Publication by Angelo Martelli ’11 (Economics)

Angelo Martelli '11

Hot off the press! My publication “The Transition to the Knowledge Economy, Labor Market Institutions, and Income Inequality in Advanced Democracies” with David Hope (King’s College) is finally out in World Politics.

A good read for all those interested in understanding the extent to which the relationship between the changing nature of work and income inequality is influenced by national labor market institutions.


Paper abstract

Recent work in comparative political economy has found that labour market institutions can mitigate the inequality-enhancing effects of the transition to the knowledge economy (Hope and Martelli 2019). While this work enhances our understanding of the role and importance of labour market institutions in the post-industrial era, it cannot tell us much about the underlying mechanisms. This paper aims to fill that gap in the literature by undertaking a micro-level econometric study on Denmark using a unique longitudinal dataset with linked employer-employee data, the Integrated Database for Labour Market Research (IDA). The central analysis in the paper will explore the influence of union membership and collective bargaining on within and between firm inequality in knowledge-intensive sectors. It will also test competing hypotheses as to why labour market institutions have been able to damp down the effects of the transition to the knowledge economy on income inequality.

A couple of takeaways

The transition to the knowledge economy began in earnest after the crisis of Fordism in the 1970s. Figure 1 (below) shows the employment expansion in knowledge-intensive service sectors, such as finance, insurance, business services, and telecommunications, between 1970 and 2006. Growth of knowledge employment was ubiquitous in the advanced democracies over this period; the average employment expansion was close to nine percentage points. The rise of the knowledge economy is clearly demonstrated by this substantial shift in economic structure away from traditional industries and toward ICT-intensive service sectors.

figure 1

Figure 2 (below) shows that for the income share of the top 1 percent, an increase in knowledge employment is associated with an increase in inequality when wage coordination and collective bargaining coverage are very weak, but has little or no effect when they’re at their highest levels.

figure 2

You can read more about this research in a blog post I wrote with my coauthor based on a previous version of the paper on LSE’s European Politics and Policy blog (EUROPP).

Next we are planning to work on A Micro-Level Study of the Knowledge Economy, Institutions, and Income Inequality.

alumni

Angelo Martelli ’11 is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at LSE. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

LinkedIn | Twitter

The long journey from research to impact: remittance regulation in sub-Saharan Africa

Antonia Esser ’11 (International Trade, Finance, and Development)

portrait

I started to work on remittances around three years ago when I joined my current organization, the Centre for Financial Regulation and Inclusion (or Cenfri in short) as a researcher. We are an independent, not-for-profit think-and-do-tank based in Cape Town, South Africa, trying to answer complex questions around the role of the financial sector in improving individuals’ welfare in emerging economies. Remittances is one of our key focus areas and we have received donor funding from Financial Sector Deepening Africa (FSDA) to understand why the cost of sending funds into Africa is still the highest in the world.

According to the World Bank, the average cost of sending remittances globally stood at just under 7% of the total value of the transfer in the first quarter of this year; in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), consumers had to pay on average 9.25% – by far the most expensive region in the world. The SDGs want to bring down the cost to between three and five percent. Most disturbingly, intra-Africa transfers can cost way more than 15% in some corridors, even when the countries are neighbours (e.g. Nigeria and Cameroon where a transfer can cost 15%). The following graphic shows the average prices some time in 2017 between the UK and selected African countries.

chart
The cost of sending remittances to and within Africa are the highest in the world. Sources: FSDA (2017) and The World Bank (2017)

When one considers that around 80% of African migrants stay within Africa, this is an incredibly high burden in terms of cost that reduces the positive impact of these essential flows for recipients. Many migrants are therefore forced to use informal mechanisms that are often cheaper, more trusted and more convenient. Yet informal mechanisms can be fronts for illicit financial flows, including money laundering and the financing of terrorism. They also indirectly influence competition as they mask the true size of a remittance corridor, deterring providers from entering the market.

Formal remittance flows are now higher than the value of official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investment (FDI). They have shown to have significant positive impact as they flow directly in the hands of those that rely on these funds as a primary source of income, and they tend to be more stable than ODA or FDI.

Based on all this evidence, FSDA asked us to understand the cost drivers and why it is still so expensive to send money to and within the continent despite all the innovations in the FinTech space with apps from players such as WorldRemit. We embarked on a journey to collect evidence through stakeholder interviews (with private sector players such as money transfer organisations, banks, FinTechs, and post offices, as well as regulators, policy makers and experts), mystery shopping, speaking to consumers, and ploughing through existing literature. We travelled to important remittance markets such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda last year to understand the situation on the ground.

What I’ve learned since then is that remittances are an incredibly complicated business. It consists of providers in the first mile (where cash sending happens), the middle mile (where the processing of payments happens) and the last mile (where the recipient collects the money). The value chain is therefore very long and brings with it not only partnership complications but also technical issues. Cross-border money transfers are heavily regulated due to money laundering fears and severe risk exposure, but especially in Africa capital outflows of any kind are also heavily controlled in many markets still. To get a money transfer license can sometimes take a decade, we heard from some providers.

Overall, there were many interesting insights but at the end of the day we narrowed the reasons for the high costs down to four categories: business case barriers, regulatory barriers, infrastructure barriers and consumer-facing barriers. We then evaluated the number of citations and their impact on cost and access for the consumer to show how severe the barrier is for both providers and consumers:

Chart summarizing insights
Click to view the full-size image

From these insights we produced a range of reports, that you can access here, if you are interested, with the aim to disseminate them at key events and bring them into relevant discussions with the various stakeholders.

One avenue we are pursuing is to reduce the regulatory burden for providers to stimulate competition, especially in intra-Africa corridors. Many cross-border corridors are still dominated by one or two companies such as Western Union or MoneyGram that can set their prices freely. They are helped by the regulation as the licensing requirements in some cases can be incredibly high. For example, you may need to show capital of USD 20 million, be operational in at least seven countries for at least ten years. Of course, none of the newer players that can offer cheaper remittances through using apps, for example, can meet all
these requirements.

We were therefore on the hunt to influence regulators to revise some of the regulations. And a lot of regulation touches cross-border remittances: payment system act, banking act, foreign exchange act, agent banking regulation, e-money regulation, telecommunications regulation, cross-border transfer regulation etc – the list goes on and on. Every country seems to have their own set of rules and regulations that need to be made interoperable or at least harmonise to reduce the regulatory burdens in a value chain that can cross many jurisdictions. Definitely not an easy task! Many African countries are still heavily dependent on natural resources, such as Nigeria on oil for example. Their exchange rate with the dollar is fixed by the central bank. Yet, the Nigerian Naira is overvalued, leading to a parallel shadow market where one can get better rates for dollars on the streets of Lagos, impacting the use of formal remittance channels. But of course, the regulator is very concerned with financial stability and the impact a devaluation could have on foreign exchange reserves, inflation etc. Attracting more formal remittances does not sway the regulator enough to change the exchange rate policies. All of these realities need to be taken into consideration when approaching the regulators to try and achieve change based on research, and of course protocols play a huge role.

As part of this effort to reach regulators and based on the research we had done, I was recently invited to attend the inaugural meeting of experts, organized by the African Institute for Remittances (AIR), which is a programme established by the African Union. We were called from all over the continent based on our research and professional experience to build a cohort that would give technical assistance to willing African regulators. Last month we met in Mombasa, Kenya, and learned more about the planned interventions. On the one hand, we want to achieve better remittance data quality in the individual countries as the data can be questionable, but on the other hand we want to assist with writing the right kind of regulation that fosters innovation, reduces cost without reducing the access for consumers, and incentivise the uptake of formal remittance mechanisms.

I learned which data point to allocate to which balance of payment code at the central bank to make sure there is consistency across countries. I also learned how we will go about understand the regulatory background, as of course there is a difference between de jure and de facto regulation, i.e. we need to understand how regulation is interpreted from a stakeholder point of view.

So far it has been an exciting journey to see how we can take our insights into regulatory change. Some countries have already shown interest in being assessed and assisted and we will receive a list of our country missions as the expert cohort soon. Judging from our past work with regulators, this process can take many months, years if not decades but the potential impact of such fundamental changes is immense, especially for the individual person on the ground. System-level impact takes patience and perseverance.

ITFD taught me to be precise and on-point with my research to effect change – policy makers do not want to read 300 pages no matter how well-researched the material is. Insights need to be relatable and digestible, yet you also need to be able to raise funding for important interventions even if they seem cumbersome. We are lucky that FSDA has such a mandate and I look forward to continuing this journey with them and the African Union. Hopefully I will be able to report a significant drop in remittance prices due to regulatory change soon..ish.

portrait

Antonia Esser ’11 is an Associate at Cenfri in Cape Town, South Africa. She is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in International Trade, Finance, and Development.

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Solving data science problems with Record Matching

Presentation by Data Science alum Jordan McIver ’15

presentation

Every organisation needs to be able to properly connect disparate datasets to take full advantage of their data assets. Alchemmy held an event to discuss approaches and technologies to connect datasets and watchouts to consider once they are connected.

Check out my talk here where we look at an approach that best enables data scientists by partnering them with the other staff who actually hold the context of the data:

Video summary

Most businesses have some or all of the following problems: not enough data science resources for the work required; a large community of data-adjacent staff who have most of the context but are not contributing what they know in the right way; data science problems lacking that same context; algorithms that cannot overcome a lack of data quality or availability of training data. Jordan walks through the use of interactive dashboards where users quality assess the data and this feeds back into the data science process which addresses these problems.

Jordan

Jordan McIver ’15 is Head of Data Consulting at Alchemmy in London. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Data Science.

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