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Can new technology cause social instability and unrest? We examine the famous `Captain Swing’ riots in 1830s England. Newly-collected data on threshing machine diffusion shows that labor-saving technology was associated with more riots. We instrument technology adoption with the share of heavy soils in a parish: IV estimates demonstrate that threshing machines were an important cause of unrest. Where alternative employment opportunities softened the blow of new technology, there was less rioting. Conversely, where enclosures had impoverished workers, the effect of threshing machines on rioting was amplified.
We study the effects of the adoption of new agricultural technologies on structural transformation. To guide empirical work, we present a simple model where the effect of agriculturalproductivity on industrial development depends on the factor bias of technical change. We test the predictions of the model by studying the introduction of genetically engineered soybean seeds in Brazil, which had heterogeneous effects on agricultural productivity across areas with different soil and weather characteristics. We find that technical change in soy production was strongly labor saving and led to industrial growth, as predicted by the model.

Finance and the Diffusion of Digital Technologies

In 2008 received the Angelo Costa Award and it was published in the Rivista di Politica Economica 98(6):79-122.


The paper examines how different dimensions of financial development have influenced firms’ willingness to adopt new digital technologies  (IT). To do so, it introduces an econometric analysis based on an Error Correction Model run over a panel of fifteen industrialized countries. The results point to the importance of stock market development and suggest that market-based systems encourage digital investments better than bank-based ones. The evidence is consistent with theories that stress the effective selection of projects carried out by stock markets and the positive role that new financial tools traded within these markets had on IT adoption.

Working Papers

Governments often implement large-scale redistribution policies to gain political support. However, little is known on whether such policies generate sizable gains, whether these gains are persistent, and why. We study the political consequences of a major land redistribution program in Italy. Using a panel spatial regression discontinuity design, we show that the reform generated large electoral gains for the incumbent Christian Democratic party, and similarly large losses for the Communist party. The electoral effects persist over four decades, in which the agricultural sector shrank dramatically. Analysis of fiscal transfers, public sector employment, and referendum outcomes suggests that the reform initiated a repeated exchange: the incumbent party continued promoting the interests of treated towns even after the land redistribution ended. Additional analysis finds less support for other potential mechanisms, including voters’ long-term memory, changes in voters’ beliefs, and mechanical correlation in voting over time.
Why do people fight for their country? The risk is high, the payoff uncertain. We show that receiving welfare support can be a key motivating factor. During the 1930s New Deal, welfare spending surged in the US. Support for World War II was greater where pre-war welfare support was more generous: citizens bought more war bonds, volunteered more, and more soldiers won a medal. Two instruments suggest that the effect is causal: weather shocks (droughts) and congressional committee representation predict New Deal spending, leading to more bond buying, volunteering, and medals. Economic factors cannot account for these patterns.

Work in progress

Contagious Extremism: Nazi Marches and Radical Voting

with Hans-Joachim Voth and David Yanagizawa-Drott.

Old Stuff

We exploit a Brazilian tax reform to study the productivity losses caused by taxes on turnover, a type of tax that distorts transactions between rms and that is common in developing countries. We build a model in which many sectors exchange inputs sequentially before delivering nal goods, and show that distortions to trade between rms are ampli ed by the \\\\number of stages of production”. We calibrate the model to the Brazilian economy and compute the productivity gains of the reform. We nd that considering production processes that have 11 or more stages of production leads to estimated productivity gains of removing the turnover tax more than 4 times larger than considering production processes where rms exchange inputs only once. When production requires an in nite number of stages the gains of the reform are maximized and they are equal to around 0.05% of national income.

Team Visibility and City Travel:

Evidence from the UEFA Champions League Random Draw

Winner of Best Project Award at the 2018 Sports, Data and Journalism Conference. dyreg: Stata code to compute dyadic standard errors on an incomplete network (adapted from Marcel Fafchamps’ ngreg)

Does hosting a sports team boost the visibility of a city among tourists? I test this proposition by looking at the effect of playingsoccer’s UEFA Champions League on air travel. I compare routes across cities that had their teams randomly drawn into the same group in the first phase of the competition to routes across cities hosting teams randomly allocated to different groups. The average effect of being drawn into the same group is between 5 and 8 percent more arrivals for the three months following the group stage, a period which coincides with a break in the competition.