Publications & Selected Work in Progress

1. How Research Affects Policy: Experimental Evidence from 2,150 Brazilian Municipalities, with Jonas Hjort, Diana Moreira and Gautam Rao

American Economic Review, May 2021

NBER Working Paper No. 25941

Media coverage: DerStandard, El Comercio, Exame, Folha SP I, Folha SP II, Het Financieele, LiveMint, Nexo, Pesquisa

Can research findings change political leaders' beliefs and policies? We use experiments with 2,150 Brazilian municipalities to measure mayors' demand for and response to research information. In one experiment, we find that mayors are willing to pay to learn the results of evaluation studies, and update their beliefs when informed of the findings. They value larger-sample studies more, while not distinguishing between studies in rich and poor countries. In a second experiment, we find that informing mayors about research on a simple and effective policy - taxpayer reminder letters - increases the probability the policy is implemented by 10 percentage points.

2. Connecting Research Evidence to Municipal Policymakers, with Diana Moreira

In: What Informs Public Policy? Use and Non-Use of Research Evidence in Brazil. Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA), forthcoming (em português)

3. Shaping Police Officer Mindsets and Behaviors: Experimental Evidence from a Procedural Justice Training, with Rodrigo Canales, Alexis Cherem and Marina Gonzalez

Revised and Resubmitted (2nd round), Administrative Science Quarterly

Research on organizational justice shows that perceptions of justice by internal and external agents are robust predictors of key organizational outcomes. But how can we promote the enactment of fair behavior by those with decision-making authority within organizations? This is particularly important for complex situations, where individual discretion is required and "necessary evils" are unavoidable. Few organizations face this challenge as intensely as police forces, where misconduct and bad decisions by their street-level bureaucrats can have large negative consequences. This paper treats justice as a dependent variable to investigate whether police officers can incorporate procedurally just perceptions and behaviors in their policing. We provide evidence from a randomized controlled trial with 1,854 Mexico City police officers that procedural justice training significantly changes perceptions and actual behavior in the streets (e.g. decreasing the likelihood of engaging in negative behavior with citizens). We find treatment effects in the range of 0.4 standard deviations for perceptions and 0.2 for behavior. Our research yields insights into critical moderators to consider in organizational training programs, including managerial alignment with the objectives of the training and consideration of employees’ views toward their clients and work environment.

4. Revenue Slumps and Fiscal Capacity: Evidence from Brazil, with Claudio Ferraz and Dirk Foremny

The capacity to tax is one of the main drivers of the development process, but yet little is known about when and why states intend to improve this capacity. This paper studies the impact of exogenous revenue shocks on investment in fiscal capacity in Brazil. Using a difference-in-difference event-study design, we analyze budgetary adjustments after an unexpected shock in formula transfers to local governments. A sudden reduction in transfer revenues induces governments to invest in fiscal capacity. Jurisdictions hit by a negative revenue shock increase local tax collection by approximately 30 percent. We show that part of this effect happens through broadening of the tax base, mainly due to additional spending on tax auditors and technicians, and an improvement of property tax-related registers.

5. Knowledge-Based Hierarchies and the Organization of the State: Evidence from Brazilian Municipalities, with Claudio Ferraz

We follow the theory of knowledge-based hierarchies to study the internal organization of municipal governments in Brazil. Using detailed employer-employee matched data, we construct bureaucrats’ hierarchies within municipalities and show that the empirical patterns match the theoretical predictions. Lower layers of the municipal hierarchy are larger in the number of working hours employed and earn lower wages than higher layers. We then present suggestive evidence linking the organization structure in which bureaucrats work and public sector capacity. Municipalities’ actions and decisions in terms of the number of layers of bureaucrats are positively associated with the amount of discretionary federal transfers that local governments receive. Our study brings new insights into the relation between state effectiveness and bureaucratic structures.

6. Justice is in the Eye of the Beholder: Experimental Evidence from Police-Citizen Interactions, with Rodrigo Canales and Amy Wrzesniewski

Projects in the Field

1. A Field Experiment on Door-to-Door Nonenforcement Community Policing Visits: Trust and Cooperation, with Rodrigo Canales and Jessica Zarkin

2. Thinking Twice: Does Psychotherapy Influence Police Officer Behavior? Experimental Evidence from Mexico City Police, with Judson BrewerRodrigo Canales and Emma Seppala