Economics Seminar Series

October 24, 2016


These aim to promote awareness and debate of high-quality economic research that is relevant to The World Bank’s operations and strategy in the region. The seminars are thematically broad-ranging, covering all relevant areas of economics.

To have your email address included in our distribution list, please contact Ruth Eunice Flores.

Upcoming Presentations:





February 6, 2018

Kevin Stange, University of Michigan

Price Regulation, Price Discrimination, and Equality of Opportunity in Higher Education: Evidence from Texas

March 13, 2018

Marti Mestieri, Northwestern University

To be announced

April 24, 2018

Giordano Mion, University of Sussex

To be announced

May 8, 2018

Paula Bustos, CEMFI

To be announced

June 2018

David Figlio, Northwestern University

To be announced

Past Presentations:

Facebook Causes Protests

December 5, 2017

Presentation by:  Leopoldo Fergusson, Universidad de los Andes


Internet and social media have been considered main drivers of recent political turmoil and protests. While rigorous evidence on the political implications of new media is not altogether absent, existing research has focused on a number of specific episodes and much of this perception is mainly the result of journalistic analyses based on anecdotes rather than methodical research. In a large panel of countries, we examine whether Facebook increases various forms of collective action and political activity. To estimate the causal impact of Facebook on political outcomes, we exploit Facebook’s release in a given language as an exogenous source of variation in access to social media where those languages are spoken. Variation at the country, subnational, and individual level suggests that Facebook had a significant and sizable positive impact on citizen protests. Complementary findings suggest that both information and coordination are playing a role in increasing the incidence of protests, and that Facebook has been particularly important for increased collective action in contexts of either very strong or very weak accountability.


Real exchange rates, income per capita and sectoral input shares

November 14, 2017

Presentation by:  Javier Cravino, University of Michigan

Abstract: Aggregate price levels are positively related to GDP per capita across countries. We propose a mechanism that rationalizes this observation through sectorial differences in intermediate input shares. As aggregate productivity and income grow, so do wages relative to intermediate input prices, which increases the relative price of non-tradables if tradable sectors use intermediate inputs more intensively. We show that sectorial differences in intermediate input shares can account for two thirds of the observed elasticity of the aggregate price level with respect to GDP per capita. The mechanism has stark implications for industry-level real exchange rates that are strongly supported by the data.

Technological Absorptive Capacity and Development Stage: Disentangling Barriers to Riches

October 16, 2017

Presentation by: Rodrigo Fuentes, Universidad Católica de Chile

Abstract: Adoption of better technologies is a crucial way for developing countries to close productivity gaps with leading economies. However, the possibility of growing through technological adoption depends decisively on the country's absorptive capacity. We build a theoretical model of technology adoption that focuses on four factors that shape the countries' technological absorptive capacity, namely: i) years of education; ii) quality of the educational system; iii) barriers that impede the entry and exit of firms; and iv) the institutions that enhance or impede the diffusion of new technologies. We calibrate the model for a sample of 86 economies. The United States is our benchmark leading economy. We disentangle the relative weight of each development factor in explaining per capita income differences and study patterns in relationships between the type of development barrier and the level of development. Our results show that in relative terms, years of education and education system quality along with high barriers to opening new firms are the main impediments that middle to high-income economies face in closing the gap with the United States. Education as whole (quality plus years of education) explains 50% of the gap between high-income countries and the United States while the entry costs account for nearly 25% of this gap. A remarkable result is the small effect that individual reforms have on steady-state productivity in low-income countries. Outside of institutional framework, the remaining three factors are individually responsible for less than 15% of the gap. This result is explained by poor global absorptive capacity that reduces the effect of each factor when implemented individually. In fact, there are significant  nonlinearities between development level and the effects of individual reforms, which are due to the strong complementarities between the different development factors.


Slum Growth in Brazilian Cities

September 5, 2017

Presentation by:  Guillermo Alves, CAF

Abstract: I study the growth in the number of households without basic water and sanitation in Brazilian cities between 1991 and 2010 by estimating a spatial equilibrium model and solving for a set of counterfactual equilibria. I explain why cities experiencing rapid economic growth usually experience rapid slum growth. First, households migrate rapidly to these cities following higher wages. Second, cities’ housing supplies are more elastic for unserviced than for serviced houses. I show that when urban economic growth improves incomes nation-wide, a standard income effect reduces slum incidence. I further evaluate policies repressing slum formation or subsidizing non-slum houses’ supply.


Earnings Inequality and the Minimum Wage: Evidence from Brazil

May 9, 2017

Presentation by: Christian Moser, Columbia University

Abstract: We quantify the effect of a minimum wage on compression throughout the earnings distribution. Using the case of Brazil, which experienced a large decrease in earnings inequality while its real

minimum wage increased from 1996-2012, we establish three empirical facts: (i) the decrease is bottom-driven but widespread; (ii) reductions in the firm productivity-pay premium and in the worker skill premium explain a large share of the decrease; and (iii) greater bindingness of the minimum wage is associated with compression up to the 75th earnings percentile. To assess the causal link between the minimum wage and earnings inequality, we develop an equilibrium search model with heterogeneous firms and workers. We show that the minimum wage is consistent with the above three facts and explains 70 percent of the observed inequality decrease, with half of the effect due to spillovers further up the earnings distribution.


Trade and Migration: A Quantitative Assessment

April 4, 2017

Presentation by: Fernando Parro, Johns Hopkins University

We present a dynamic model of international migration and trade and use the model to quantify the trade, migration, and welfare effects of actual changes in migration and trade policy. Using the EU labor force survey for 23 countries we measure the flow of workers by nationality across countries before and after the EU 2004 enlargement. We exploit the timing variation of the migration policy to measure the change in migration costs. We then use our model to quantify the gains from the actual reductions in tariff and migration restrictions. We find that the gains from trade and migration are quite different. While all countries gain from trade, new member states (NMS) gain from international migration while not all EU countries gain. We show how the results depend crucially on the extent to which the migrants congest the use of local public services and factors. Our results shades new light to the study of the policy implications of migration and trade policy reforms.


Rethinking Detroit

February 28, 2017

Presentation by: Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, Princeton University

Abstract: We study the urban structure of the City of Detroit. Following several decades of decline, the city's current urban structure is clearly not optimal for its size, with a business district immediately surrounded by a ring of largely vacant neighborhoods. We propose a model with residential externalities that features multiple equilibria at the neighborhood level. In particular, developing a residential area requires the coordination of developers and residents, without which it may remain vacant even if its fundamentals are sound. We embed this mechanism in a quantitative spatial economics model and use it to rationalize current city allocations. We then use the model to evaluate existing strategic visions to revitalize Detroit, and to design alternative plans that rely on .development guarantees. to yield better outcomes. The widespread e¤ects of these policies underscore the importance of using a general equilibrium framework to evaluate policy proposals.


Offshoring and Reorganization
January 17, 2017

Presentation by: Teresa Fort, Darmouth College

Abstract: This paper examines the effects of offshoring by analyzing how it affects firms' optimal allocation of resources across activities. We address two key questions. First, we use detailed new data to provide a clear measure of offshoring and to document how it differs along several dimensions from the import of intermediate goods that has been used extensively in prior work. Second, we show how this precisely defined form of offshoring leads firms to reallocate labor away from direct production work towards technology-related occupations. This reallocation of workers is accompanied by increases in offshoring firms' product development and R&D spending. Firm reorganization highlights the importance of a new channel in which offshoring affects innovation, and may ultimately affect economic performance and growth as well.


Heterogeneous Firms: Skilled-Labor Productivity and the Destination of Exports

December 6, 2016

Presentation by: Jorge Balat, Johns Hopkins University

Abstract:  This paper studies a systematic link between the choice of export destinations and technology differences across firms. Our premise is that firms differ in the relative efficiency with which they can utilize skilled labor. In a context in which quality provision is skill-intensive and consumers in high-income countries are more willing to pay for quality, exporting firms that are more efficient in the use of skilled labor export relatively more to high-income destinations.  The contribution of the paper is twofold. First, we propose a new estimation method of production functions that allows for heterogeneity in the production function coefficients across firms and addresses the aggregation problem when firms are multiproduct. The estimation strategy is based on an extension of the structural control variable approach (Olley and Pakes (1996); Levinsohn and Petrin (2003)) to multi-dimensional heterogeneous parameters. Second, we provide an empirical measure of capability of quality production and show that it is a determinant of the choice of exports, export destinations, and quality using firm-level data from Chile.


Using Exchange Rates to Estimate Production Functions: Evidence from Colombia

November 8, 2016

Presentation by: Eric Verhoogen, Columbia University

Abstract: This paper develops an instrumental-variables methodology for estimating production-function coefficients using exchange rates as a source of exogenous variation in input prices. We use rich data from the Colombian manufacturing census, which includes information on prices and physical quantities of all outputs and inputs of firms, in conjunction with customs records on all import and export transactions of Colombian firms. Preliminary results indicate that exchange-rate movements in source countries generate sufficient across-firm variation in input usage to estimate production functions of Colombian firms, and that our estimates differ from those of proxy-variable methods currently dominant in the literature.


Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets

October 26, 2016

Presentation by: Pascual Restrepo, MIT

Abstract:  As robots and other computer-assisted technologies take over tasks previously performed by labor, here is increasing concern about the future of jobs and wages. We analyze the effect of the increase in industrial robot usage between 1990 and 2007 on US local labor markets. Using a model in which robots compete against human labor in the production of different tasks, we show that robots may reduce employment and wages, and that the local labor market effects of robots can be estimated by regressing the change in employment and wages on the change in exposure to robots in each local labor market---defined from the national penetration of robots into each industry and the local distribution of employment across industries. Using this approach, we estimate large and robust negative effects of robots on employment and wages. We show that the commuting zones most affected by robots in the post-1990 era were on similar trends to others before 1990, and that the impact of robots is distinct and only weakly correlated with the prevalence of routine jobs, the impact of imports from China, and overall capital utilization. According to our estimates, each additional robot reduces employment by five to seven workers, and one new robot per thousand workers reduces wages by 0.8 to 1.6 percent.


Shifting Frontiers in Global Resource Wealth: The Role of Policies and Institutions

August 30, 2016

Presentation by: Rabah Arezki, IMF Research Department

Abstract: This paper explores the effect of change in market orientation and improvements in institutions on resource wealth using worldwide major hydrocarbon and mineral discoveries. We first analyze the effects of a change in the level of market orientation or institutions captured by a tax on multinational corporations in a two-region model of endogenous reserves based on Pindyck (1978). We then estimate the effects of changes in market orientation on a large three-way panel ̶ resource, country and year. Our empirical results are consistent with the predictions of the model. An increase in market-orientation cause a statistically and economically significant increase in the likelihood of resource discoveries over and above the effect of changes in resource prices and depletion. A thought experiment whereby Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa were to suddenly adopt the same quality of institutions as the United States yields an increase of 25 percent in the number of discoveries worldwide. Our results provide novel evidence in support of the primacy of institutions by calling into question the view that resource endowments are an exogenous feature of an economy.


Why Doesn’t Technology Flow from Rich to Poor Countries?

May 2, 2016

Presentation by: Juan M. Sánchez, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Abstract: What is the role of a country’s financial system in determining technology adoption? To examine this, a dynamic contract model is embedded into a general equilibrium setting with competitive intermediation. The terms of finance are dictated by an intermediary’s ability to monitor and control a firm’s cash flow, in conjunction with the structure of the technology that the firm adopts. It is not always profitable to finance promising technologies. A quantitative illustration is presented where financial frictions induce entrepreneurs in India and Mexico to adopt less-promising ventures than in the United States, despite lower input prices.


Sharing a Ride on the Commodities Roller Coaster:
Common Factors in Business Cycles of Emerging Economies

February 16, 2016

Presentation by: Andrés Fernández, Inter-American Development Bank

Abstract:  We explore the hypothesis that fluctuations in commodity prices are an important driver of business cycles in small emerging market economies (EMEs). We first document that the share of commodities in total exports in the average EME is relatively large; that commodity prices exhibit strong comovement with other macro variables along the business cycle of these economies; and that a common factor accounts for most of the time series dynamics of these commodity prices. Guided by these stylized facts, we embed a commodity sector into a dynamic, stochastic, multi-country business cycle model of EMEs where exogenous fluctuations in commodity prices coexist with other driving forces. Commodity prices follow a common dynamic factor structure in the model. When estimated with EMEs data, the model gives to commodity shocks, mostly in the form of perturbations to their common factor, a paramount role when accounting for aggregate dynamics. The median share of commodity shocks in the variance of real output across the EMEs is 42 percent.  The model also performs well when accounting for other business cycle facts. A further amplification mechanism is a "spillover" effect from commodity prices to interest rates. Yet, sometimes, positive commodity price shocks have also cushioned other negative domestic shocks, particularly during the fast recovery from the world financial crisis. 


The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market

February 11, 2016

Presentation by: David J. Deming, Harvard University

Abstract:  The slow growth of high-paying jobs in the U.S. since 2000 and rapid advances in computer technology have sparked fears that human labor will eventually be rendered obsolete. Yet while computers perform cognitive tasks of rapidly increasing complexity, simple human interaction has proven difficult to automate. In this paper, I show that the labor market increasingly rewards social skills. Since 1980, jobs with high social skill requirements have experienced greater relative growth throughout the wage distribution. Moreover, employment and wage growth has been strongest in jobs that require high levels of both cognitive skill and social skill. To understand these patterns, I develop a model of team production where workers “trade tasks” to exploit their comparative advantage. In the model, social skills reduce coordination costs, allowing workers to specialize and trade more efficiently. The model generates predictions about sorting and the relative returns to skill across occupations, which I test and confirm using data from the NLSY79. The female advantage in social skills may have played some role in the narrowing of gender gaps in labor market outcomes since 1980.


Crime and Punishment: The Impact of Violence on Economic Activity in Mexico

January 12, 2016

Presentation by: Paul Gertler, UC Berkeley

Abstract: The paper, joint with Laura Chioda, aims to quantify the short and long-term effects of urban violence. Violent crime not only imposes direct costs on society in the form of increased mortality but also has indirect economic costs. Local-level crime waves can reduce private sector investment and distort workers’ labor decisions. Such distortions are reflected in market prices and market size, and can ultimately affect welfare. Despite these potential short- and long-term costs, there is relatively limited evidence on the causal effects of outbreaks of violent crime. We analyze social and economic costs of violence by studying recent episodes of local-level spikes in crime in Mexico. Levels of violence in Mexico have increased dramatically in the past decade due to structural changes in the drug-trafficking industry. The increase in the number of drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) fighting over the control of territory and trafficking routes resulted in a marked increase in homicide rates, as well as rates of other crimes. We rely on exogenous variation in violence generated by spikes in drug-related spikes in conflict at the municipal-by-monthly level that result from the capture or killing of DTO members to identify structural breaks in crime. Impacts on consumer confidence, employment, and access to credit are considered. 


Presentations from 2015: Archives

Presentations from 2014: Archives

Presentations from 2009 to 2013: Archives