Frontiers of economic research

Maxim Pinkovskiy, Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 26 June 2016

When it comes to measuring GDP, researchers tend to use the latest vintage of the Penn World Tables. However, competing series like the World Development Indicators (WDI) and changing methodologies between vintages mean this is not necessarily the best approach. This column assesses the relative performance of different GDP estimators using night-time lights as an unbiased predictor of the growth rates of unobserved true income. Newer versions of the Penn Tables are not necessarily improvements on their direct predecessors.  Newer versions of the WDI index, especially the 2011 vintage, appear generally better at measuring cross-country income differences.

Ruben Enikolopov, Maria Petrova, Konstantin Sonin, 20 June 2016

In addition to the traditional mass media, social media has become a channel through which citizens can hold public officials and corporate leaders to account. But social media commentators can be vulnerable to manipulation and reputational damage. This column uses data on a popular blogger in Russia to show that blogs are critical of corruption in state-controlled companies can lead to decreased profit diversion and corruption by the targeted companies. Social media appears to play an important role in improving accountability, particularly when traditional media is censored or political competition is limited.

Ben Vollaard, 16 June 2016

The situations we find ourselves in determine our behaviour far more than we realise.  To show the relevance of this idea to fellow economists, this column presents a natural field experiment that was conducted in an Economics department. The experiment looks at the department members’ honesty in keeping tally of their soda can consumption in the pantry. The honesty rate is shown to depend greatly on the presence of a pen hanging down from the door of the refrigerator, indicating that situational factors are more significant determinants of behaviour than previously realised.

Ruben Durante, Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 15 June 2016

Governments involved in conflict are often concerned with how their actions are perceived by the international community. This column uses evidence on the Israel-Palestine conflict and US news reporting between 2000 and 2011 to show how media considerations can impact military strategy. Israeli attacks are more likely to be carried out one day before the US news is expected to be dominated by important political or sport events. There is no evidence of a similar pattern to Palestinian attacks. The findings suggest that strategic behaviour could undermine the effectiveness of the mass media as a watchdog, and thus reduce citizens’ ability to keep public officials accountable. 

Ali Sina Önder, Hakan Yilmazkuday, 04 June 2016

North American economics departments produce a substantial amount of economics PhDs, and these PhDs are responsible for a disproportionately large share of research published in top academic journals. This column provides an overview of 35 years of peer-reviewed publications by North American economics PhDs. Since 1980, the size of author teams grown and female representation steadily improved. The shares of the major research fields show relatively little variation, though international economics, development economics, and finance are exceptions to this.

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