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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.

Working Papers


Governments often implement large-scale redistribution policies to gain enduring 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 reform in Italy. A panel spatial regression discontinuity design shows 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. Farmers’ grassroots organizations and continued political investment in reform areas (i.e. fiscal transfers and public sector employment) are plausible mechanisms for this persistence. We find less support for other potential explanations, including migration, voters’ beliefs, and patterns of economic development.

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

Fighting for Growth. War-Induced Labor Shortages and Technology Adoption during the British Industrial Revolution.

with Alex Trew and Hans-Joachim Voth.

Pressures to Hire, Productivity and Technology Adoption: Experimental Evidence from Uganda.

with Elisa Macchi.

The New Occupations of the Industrial Revolution

with Daron Acemoglu and Hans-Joachim Voth.

Contagious Extremism: Nazi Marches and Radical Voting

with Marcel Caesmann, Hans-Joachim Voth and David Yanagizawa-Drott.

Team Visibility and City Travel:

Evidence from the UEFA Champions League Random Draw

Winner of Best Paper Award at Sports, Data and Journalism Conference. Journal of Sports Economics 2021, 22(1): 85-114. 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 playing soccer’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% more arrivals for the 3 months following the group stage, a period which coincides with a break in the competition. The first appearance of a team in the competition has a larger impact on air travel, providing suggestive evidence of diminishing returns of exposure.

Finance and the Diffusion of Digital Technologies

Winner of Angelo Costa Award. Rivista di Politica Economica 2008, 98(6):79-122. Italian version.


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.