In Progress

Human Costs of Competition in Informal Markets: Evidence from South Africa

Abstract: A growing literature in economics has focused on understanding the drivers of violence through studying the governance of and competition between criminal organisations operating in markets for illegal goods. However, little work has been done on the conditions under which violence can emerge as a result of competition in legal, but informal industries in developing countries. This paper studies the interactions of economic competition and violence in the context of the informal commuter transport industry in South Africa. As in many other developing countries, this industry plays a crucial role in urban mobility in light of inadequate public transport provision in rapidly growing cities. The minibus taxi industry is also characterized by severe and persistent violence in the form of targeted assassinations of taxi owners and drivers. Using geocoded administrative data on operating licenses, novel collected data on prices, and a unique dataset of violent crimes in the taxi industry, this paper asks whether there is an underlying economic structure that explains outbreaks of violence.

The Political Economy of Migration Restrictions under Apartheid, with Tomás Domínguez-Iino

Abstract: Non-democratic states often promote the development of strategic industries while simultaneously restricting internal migration. While such restrictions come at an aggregate efficiency cost due to the spatial misallocation of labor, they divert labor to sectors of the economy the regime considers strategically important to remain in power. Such sectors may be fiscally important, in that they represent a large share of the regime’s revenue, or politically important, in that they disproportionately represent the regime’s political base. In this paper, we study the case of Apartheid South Africa, where internal migration restrictions were imposed on the black population from 1923 until 1986. One key objective for the ruling regime was to divert captive labour to the mining and agricultural sectors, which were important sources of fiscal revenue and political capital, respectively. First, using micro-data from historic South African censuses, we show dramatic changes in migration patterns before and after restrictions were removed. Second, we complement our migration data with labor demand data, which we construct from mine-level archival records and historical agricultural censuses. Third, we estimate a multi-sector migration choice model, which we use to study how migration restrictions are endogenously chosen by the regime as complementary to the broader industrial policy context.

Individual agglomeration gains and sorting in South Africa

Abstract: How do individual agglomeration gains in lower and middle income countries differ from those in high income countries? This paper uses a large administrative panel (2013-2019) of the universe of registered taxpayers to estimate the magnitude of private sector agglomeration gains in South Africa following standard methods in the empirical urban economics literature. Dynamic gains from time spent in large cities, the distribution of gains across the income distribution, and by industry and gender are presented.

Cooperative governance: Traditional leaders and local government, with Dieter Von Fintel

Abstract: In many African countries dual systems of institutions exist. Modern, democratic governments exist alongside systems of traditional leadership, communal land tenure and customary courts. In South Africa, roughly a third of the population -18 million people- reside in areas under some form of traditional authority. This paper evaluates the impact of a reform allowing for the participation of traditional leaders on municipal councils on service delivery, spending outcomes and public perceptions. We create a new database by searching through and extracting detailed information from South African government gazettes and combine this with yearly panel data on municipal finances, service delivery and audit outcomes. Preliminary results suggest the participation of traditional leaders leads to limited changes in municipal service delivery and spending priorities, but coincides with an increase in irregular expenditure and a significant increase in protests in municipalities affected by the reform.

Working Papers

Leaving the Hearth You Know: Internal Migration and Energy Poverty, with Johanna Choumert-Nkolo, (Forthcoming in World Development), (Link)


Adaptive Investment With Land Tenure and Weather Risk: Behavioral Evidence From Tanzania (2024), with Martine Visser, Chalmers Mulwa, Mintewab Bezabih and Byela Tibesigwa, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, (Link)

Urban demand for cooking fuels in two major African cities and implications for policy (2024), with Ipsita Das, Marc Jeuland and Remidius Ruhinduka, PLOS Sustainability and Transformation, (Link)

Decision-Making in a Water Crisis: Lessons From the Cape Town Drought for Urban Water Policy (2020), with Johanna Brühl, Martine Visser and Gunnar Köhlin, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. (Link)

Stacking up the ladder: A panel data analysis of Tanzanian household energy choices (2019), with Johanna Choumert-Nkolo and Pascale Combes-Motel, World Development, vol. 115, pages 222-235. (Link)