The Curious Culture of Economic Theory with Ran Spiegler

In this episode, we talk with Ran Spiegler about his book “The Curious Culture of Economic Theory”. The book is a collection of essays about how the professional culture of economics shapes the way theory is done. Our interview focuses on Chapter 8, in which Ran describes the story behind his American Economic Review paper “Search Design and Broad Matching” co-authored with Kfir Eliaz. In this project, Ran and Kfir attempted to study a problem using an established but “unfashionable” modeling approach. Despite getting interesting results, they later rewrote the paper using the standard approach in the literature. Among other things, we discuss why they felt they had to do this and how the new design nudged them into asking certain questions they were originally not interested in.

Team incentives and escape rooms with Simeon Schudy

In this episode, we talk with Simeon Schudy about his working paper “The Effect of Incentives in Non-Routine Analytical Team Tasks”, co-authored with Florian Englmaier, Stefan Grimm, Dominik Grothe and David Schindler (forthcoming in the Journal of Political Economy). Using a novel experimental setup, escape rooms, this paper investigates the effect of incentives on performance in non-routine analytical team tasks. The paper studies the value of incentives for both intrinsically and less intrinsically motivated teams. Further, it evaluates how incentives affect team organization and studies the impact of exogenously varying the demand for leadership in such tasks.

The following reference was also mentioned during the conversation:

Englmaier, F., Grimm, S., Grothe, D., Schindler, D., and Schudy, S. (2021): “The Efficacy of Tournaments for Non-Routine Team Tasks”, forthcoming in the Journal of Labor Economics.

Enabling or Limiting Cognitive Flexibility with Marta Serra-Garcia

In this episode, we talk with Marta Serra-Garcia about her American Economic Review paper “Enabling or Limiting Cognitive Flexibility? Evidence of Demand for Moral Commitment,” co-authored with Silvia Saccardo. This paper investigates the nature and flexibility of self-serving beliefs in decision environments where morals and personal incentives are in conflict. Through laboratory experiments, the authors distinguish participants who are willing to curb opportunities for self-serving beliefs, favouring moral behaviour, from those who seek the cognitive flexibility to entertain beliefs that can justify their selfish decisions.

Cash Transfers & Psychotherapy with Johannes Haushofer

In this episode, we talk with Johannes Haushofer about his paper “The Comparative Impact of Cash Transfers and a Psychotherapy Program on Psychological and Economic Well-being” co-authored with Robert Mudida and Jeremy Shapiro. This paper explores the possible interactive or synergetic effects between cash transfers and a psychotherapy intervention in Kenya. We discuss the surprising results of this study, some of the biggest challenges and ethical considerations such as the collection of sensitive data and randomisation of cash transfers itself.

The following references were also mentioned during the conversation:

Social Learning with Ben Golub

In this episode, we talk with Ben Golub about his paper “Signaling, Shame, and Silence in Social Learning” co-authored with Arun Chandrasekhar and He Yang. This paper studies how signaling and shame-related concerns can reduce social learning. Throughout the conversation, Ben also shares helpful pieces of advice for young researchers ranging from working on multiple projects to writing better.  

The following references were mentioned during the conversation:

  • Goffman, E. (1963): Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
  • Jackson, M. O., and A. Wolinsky (1996): “A strategic model of social and economic networks,” Journal of Economic Theory, 71(1), 44 – 74.
  • Banerjee, A., E. Breza, A. G. Chandrasekhar, and B. Golub (2018): “When Less is More: Experimental Evidence on Information Delivery during India’s Demonetization,” NBER Working Paper No. 24679.

Economic Behaviour and Genetic Makeup with Pietro Biroli

In this episode, we talk to Pietro Biroli from the University of Bologna about his paper “Moral Hazard Heterogeneity: Genes and Health Insurance Influence Smoking after a Health Shock”. In this paper, Pietro and his co-author Laura Zwyssig show that individual behaviour is influenced not only by environmental constraints but also by genetic makeup, which carries implications for the fairness and effectiveness of health policies.

How to Change with Katy Milkman

In this episode, we talk to Katy Milkman from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania about some of the research that led to the production of her recent book, How to Change. Throughout this conversation, Katy shares with us what she has learned from her many years of experience as a behavioural science researcher and where she might go next to tackle the challenge that preoccupies her the most: changing behaviour for good.

During this conversation, the following references were mentioned:

Case-Based Decision Theory and Maxmin EU with Non-Unique Prior with Itzhak Gilboa

In this episode, we talk to Itzhak Gilboa, professor of Economics at the HEC Paris and Tel-Aviv University, and holder of the AXA Chair in Decision Sciences. We will talk about the contrast “expected vs. actual success” of two of his papers. “Case-Based Decision Theory” was expected to be very successful but turned out not to be. The second paper, “Maxmin Expected Utility with Non-Unique Prior” was not expected to be a big deal, but is now listed as the most cited and the most relevant paper in the Journal of Mathematical Economics. Tune in for a discussion centered around the development of the ideas, the publication process, and to learn about axiomatic decision theory.

Incentivised Elicitation of Private Information with Aurélien Baillon

In this episode, we talk to Aurélien Baillon from Erasmus University Rotterdam about his papers “Bayesian Markets to Elicit Private Information”  and “Simple Bets to Elicit Private Signals”. In this work, Aurélien studies how we can elicit private information about questions for which we cannot verify if the subject responds truthfully, such as her subjective belief about whether she liked a product.

The Dynamics of Discrimination with Aislinn Bohren and Alex Imas

In this episode, we have a power couple joining us. We talk with Aislinn Bohren from the University of Pennsylvania and Alex Imas from the Chicago Booth School of Business about their joint paper “The Dynamics of Discrimination: Theory and Evidence”, co-authored with Michael Rosenberg. They conduct a natural field experiment to identify the dynamics of discrimination and its underlying source. The authors post content on a large online platform and exogenously vary the gender and evaluation histories of the associated accounts. When no evaluation history is available, questions posted to female accounts earn less reputation than questions posted to male accounts. However, the direction of discrimination reverses as more reputation is built. When content is posted to advanced accounts, women’s posts are favoured over men’s. Tune in for a discussion centered around the idea, the design, and the logistical implementation of the paper that has won the 2020 Exeter prize.

How Incentives Can Change What We Believe with Sandro Ambuehl

In this episode, which forms part of a series on ethics in behavioural science research, we talk with Sandro Ambuehl from the University of Zürich about his paper “An Offer You Can’t Refuse? Incentives Change How We Inform Ourselves and What We Believe”. To investigate how economic incentives may skew information gathering and beliefs about what a transaction entails, thus affecting the quality of decisions taken by subjects, he presents a model of costly information acquisition in conjunction with behavioural experiments, one of which includes the ingestion of insects in exchange for money. Tune in for a discussion centred around the project’s design, its ethical and logistical considerations, and on the ethics of incentivising subjects in economic experiments more generally.

Associative Memory and Belief Formation with Florian Zimmermann

In this episode, we talk to Florian Zimmermann, from the briq Institute on Behavior and Inequality and the University of Bonn about his paper  “Associative Memory and Belief Formation,” co-authored with Benjamin Enke and Frederik Schwerter. The paper experimentally investigates the idea that people are more likely to recollect items that are cued by current context. This is because (i) people do not constantly have access to their beliefs so they may need to reconstruct prior information from memory; (ii) similar real-world news are often embedded in similar memorable contexts. The paper finds a predictable and quantitatively meaningful role of associative memory in the formation of beliefs. Tune in for a discussion of the project’s origins, experience preparing an ERC starting grant application, and a typical working day.

Measuring the Welfare Effects of Shame and Pride with Robert Metcalfe

In this episode, we talk with Robert Metcalfe from Boston University about his paper “Measuring the Welfare Effects of Shame and Pride,” which he co-authored with Luigi Butera, William Morrison and Dmitry Taubinsky. To investigate how public recognition can be employed as a vehicle for motivating desirable behaviour, they develop a portable money-metric method to measure the direct welfare effects of shame and pride, which they then deploy in a series of experiments centred around exercise and charitable giving behaviour. Tune in for a discussion of the project’s inception, its design considerations and execution, including its evolvement in light of the global pandemic.

Equilibrium in the Jungle with Ariel Rubinstein

In this episode, we are joined by Ariel Rubinstein from NYU and Tel Aviv University, to discuss his paper “Equilibrium in the Jungle,” which appeared in The Economic Journal in 2007. Co-authored with Michele Piccione, the paper constructs a system that is analogous to the conventional ‘exchange economy’ of micro theory, except that the forces governing allocations are those of power and coercion, rather than prices. Tune in for a discussion of the state of modern economic theory, the interplay between research and policy change and whether cafés provide a superior arena for innovative thought, when compared to conventional office spaces.

If you want to learn more about the economics of the jungle, you can download Economic Fables from Ariel’s webpage here (as well as other textbooks). 

Civic Honesty Around the Globe with Michel Maréchal

In this episode, we are joined by Michel Maréchal from the University of Zurich to discuss his 2019 Science paper “Civic Honesty Around the Globe” co-authored with Alain Cohn, David Tannenbaum and Christian Lukas Zünd. More than seventeen thousand wallets were handed in to reception staff at various institutions in major cities across 40 countries, whereby civic honesty was elicited by the rate at which these employees attempted to contact the owner. Neither the economists nor the non-economists were able to predict what happened next. The presumed relationship between honesty and self-interest is pitted against evidence of altruistic tendencies and individuals’ self-image concerns. Tune in for a discussion of the project’s origins, logistics, design choices, publication and media controversy.

Regressive Sin Taxes with an Application to the Optimal Soda Tax with Dmitry Taubinsky

In this episode, we talk to Dmitry Taubinsky from the University of California Berkeley about his paper “Regressive Sin Taxes, with an Application to the Optimal Soda Tax,” which he co-authored with Hunt Allcott and Benjamin B. Lockwood. This paper develops a theoretical model of an optimal “sin tax” i.e., a tax on goods that are considered harmful to consume. The theoretical framework is then applied to estimate the optimal soda tax.

Preferences for Truth-telling with Johannes Abeler and Daniele Nosenzo

In this episode, we talk to Johannes Abeler from the University of Oxford and Daniele Nosenzo from Aarhus University (formerly, the University of Nottingham) about their paper “Preferences for Truth-telling,” which they co-authored with Collin Raymond. The authors first conduct a meta-analysis with data amalgamated from more than 90 studies across 47 countries and 44,000 participants. They then test the set of existing theories that seek to rationalise truth-telling behaviours by iteratively eliminating models that cannot explain the stylised facts yielded by their meta-analysis. The surviving set of models is further refined by their own experimental evidence. The authors have provided transparent and intuitive data visualisations of their main meta-analysis findings on the accompanying website.

Conducting Field Experiments in Education with Sally Sadoff and Andy Brownback

In this episode, we speak with Sally Sadoff from the Rady School of Management, UC San Diego, and Andy Brownback from the University of Arkansas, about their field work with community colleges. They discuss two recent papers they coauthored on the topic. The first paper, entitled “Improving College Instruction through Incentives,” investigates the effect of offering performance-based incentives to community college instructors on students’ achievement. The second paper studies the educational benefits of enrolling in college summer schools and whether students correctly perceive the potential returns.

Debate participation and electoral outcomes with Horacio Larreguy

In this episode, we talk with Horacio Larreguy from the Harvard Kennedy School about his paper “Who Debates, Wins? At-Scale Experimental Evidence on Debate Participation in a Liberian Election,” which he co-authored with Jeremy Bowles. They conduct a field experiment in Liberia to understand how the participation of legislative candidates in nationwide debate initiatives affects their electoral outcomes.

Dynamic Inconsistency in Food Choice with Anya Samek

In this episode, we talk with Anya Samek from the University of Southern California about her paper “Dynamic Inconsistency in Food Choice: Experimental Evidence from Two Food Deserts,” which she co-authored with Sally Sadoff and Charlie Sprenger. In the context of two home grocery delivery programs, this paper provides evidence of (i) dynamic inconsistency between immediate and advance choices of food and (ii) a surprising negative link between dynamic inconsistency and commitment demand to advance choices.

During this conversation, Anya also refers to two papers on the topic of field experiments:

Medieval universities and market expansion with Noam Yuchtman

In this episode, we talk with Noam Yuchtman from the London School of Economics about his paper “Medieval Universities, Legal Institutions, and the Commercial Revolution,” which he published in 2014 with Davide Cantoni. Using data from medieval Germany, this paper examines the causal link between the emergence of universities, including the legal training they provided, and Europe’s Commercial Revolution.

Testing Bayesian Updating with Ned Augenblick

In this episode, we talk with Ned Augenblick from the University of Berkeley Haas School of Business about his paper with Matthew Rabin entitled “Belief Movement, Uncertainty Reduction, & Rational Updating”. This paper analyzes the relationship between (i) the movement in the beliefs of a Bayesian updater when new information arrives, and (ii) the associated reduction in his uncertainty. This relationship is used to develop statistical tests of rational updating that are then applied to datasets of beliefs.

Identifying Social Norms with Roberto Weber

In this episode, we talk with Roberto Weber from the University of Zurich about his paper “Identifying social norms using coordination games: why does dictator game sharing vary?,” which he published in 2013 with Erin Krupka. In this paper, Roberto and Erin introduce a new procedure for eliciting social norms, which they use to understand giving behaviour in one of the most studied experimental games, the dictator game.

Fairness across the World with Bertil Tungodden

In this episode, we talk with Bertil Tungodden from the Norwegian School of Economics about his project entitled “Fairness across the world” in which he and his collaborators elicited the fairness preferences of  65,000 individuals from 60 different countries. As of the recording of this episode, no paper from the project is available yet. However, the results of a pilot study comparing just Norway and the US were published as a separate paper: Cutthroat Capitalism versus Cuddly Socialism: Are Americans More Meritocratic and Efficiency-Seeking than Scandinavians?

Misperceived Social Norms with Leonardo Bursztyn

In this episode, we talk with Leonardo Bursztyn from the University of Chicago about his paper “Misperceived Social Norms: Female Labor Force Participation in Saudi Arabia,” which he co-authored with Alessandra L. Gonzalez and David Yanagizawa-Drott. In this paper, the authors examine whether one driver of low female labour force participation in Saudi Arabia is that male guardians incorrectly believe that other men disapprove of female labour force participation.

Sleep Quality and Productivity with Heather Schofield

In this episode, we talk with Heather Schofield from the University of Pennsylvania about her paper “Sleepless in Chennai: The Economic and Health Effects of Reducing Sleep Deprivation Among the Urban Poor”. In this paper, Heather and her co-authors Pedro Bessone, Gautam Rao, Frank Schilbach and Mattie Toma examine the impact of interventions that aim to improve sleep quality on the productivity of low income workers from Chennai, India.

Protests as Strategic Games with Noam Yuchtman

In this episode, we talk with Noam Yuchtman from the London School of Economics about his paper “Protests as strategic games: experimental evidence from Hong Kong’s antiauthoritarian movement”. In this paper, Noam and his co-authors Davide Cantoni, David Y Yang and Y Jane Zhang examine how protesters in Hong Kong respond to information about the participation of other protesters.