Willem Thorbecke, 15 October 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic many countries experienced difficulty obtaining the semiconductors that are vital for smartphones, computers, cars, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and many other applications. This column looks at how Asia gained comparative advantage in this sector and identifies lessons for countries seeking to promote domestic semiconductor manufacturing.

Alex Armand, Britta Augsburg, Antonella Bancalari, 09 August 2021

Community toilets in slums are often degraded, dirty, and poorly maintained, but upgrading facilities is difficult because of low willingness to pay among potential users and free riding. This column looks at community toilets in Uttar Pradesh, India, and asks whether externally incentivising maintenance can sustainably improve the quality of public infrastructure. Providing cash incentives to the caretaker and a one-time facility upgrade improved the quality of facilities and reduced free riding, but pushed more residents to practise open defecation, with poor public health outcomes. Fully subsidising basic services is important but measures are needed to prevent overcrowding and degradation.

Alex Edmans, Tom Gosling, Dirk Jenter, 15 July 2021

How CEO pay is set has been studied extensively, but most theoretical models do not capture whether real-world CEOs care about, for example, their reputation, fairness, or being appreciated by directors and investors. This column explores this using a survey of over 200 non-executive directors of FTSE All-Share companies and over 150 institutional investors in UK equities. While financial incentives are relevant to motivating CEOs, both CEOs and investors view a CEO’s intrinsic motivation and personal reputation as most important. Fairness matters – CEOs believe it is fair to be recognised for a job well done.

Joan Costa-Font, 29 June 2021

Covid-19 vaccines exert large positive spillover effects beyond their protective effects for individuals, and thus their value far exceeds their costs. But these benefits are only realised if enough people receive both doses, so policymakers need to ensure appropriate incentives are in place to mitigate vaccine hesitancy. This column explores the potential of different incentives, arguing that creating a narrative of social esteem around being vaccinated may be the most effective way to ensure widespread uptake.

Nathan Sussman, 18 December 2020

The development of contact tracing apps was a promising response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but too few people appear to be using the apps to make them effective. This column offers three economic explanations for non-use: 1) the economic and social costs of quarantine, 2) underestimation of social externalities of app use, and 3) procrastination. It argues for the immediate application of carrots in the form of financial incentives and sticks in the form of regulation to accompany holistic policies that cover education, public campaigns, trust building, accountability, and nudging.

Roberto Chang, Andres Velasco, 01 May 2020

Much has been written about the stark choice facing governments in the wake of COVID-19. Should they preserve lives or livelihoods? Less has been said about the equally stark choices facing ordinary citizens, yet the decisions they make every day – whether or not to comply with lockdown and social distancing measures, for instance – are as important as those made by their governments. This column argues that if economic policy incentives are responsible for even a fraction of compliance rates, then policy has a crucial role to play in the fight against Covid-19.

Thomas Tørsløv, Ludvig Wier, Gabriel Zucman, 21 April 2020

Despite the legal frameworks and large amounts of lost tax revenue, profit-shifting practices persist around the world. This column argues that fiscal authorities of high-tax countries face an incentive problem in combatting profit shifting to tax havens. Enforcement efforts are focused on relocating profits booked in other high-tax countries rather than those in tax havens. This can ultimately result in lower global tax payments of multinational companies. The results call for a global corporate tax reform in order to save resources that currently go to wasteful and inconsequential tax enforcement.

Mariella Gonzales, Gianmarco León-Ciliotta, Luis R. Martinez, 23 September 2019

To counter the worldwide fall in electoral participation over the last 30 years, some governments have introduced compulsory voting, with ten countries currently punishing abstainers with a fine. This column examines the question of whether and how voter turnout is affected by changes to the value of the fine, drawing on the experience of Peru, where voting has been compulsory since 1933 and the abstention fine was reformed after 2006. The study finds that compulsory voting with low fines helps reduce the burden on those that pay them without fundamentally undermining the effectiveness of the system. 

Henri Servaes, 30 May 2019

Performance fee-based contracts, which aim to align the interests of the fund manager with that of the investor, have been controversial in mutual funds markets, and are once again under review in Europe. This column presents empirical evidence showing that performance fee contracts do not improve fund performance, particularly in instances where contracts fail to specify a benchmark for results.

Mengjia Ren, Lee Branstetter, Brian Kovak, Daniel Armanios, Jiahai Yuan, 16 March 2019

Despite leading the world in clean energy investment in recent years, China continues to engage in massive expansion of coal power thanks to policies that effectively subsidise and (over)incentivise coal power investment. This column examines the effects of the 2014 devolution of authority from the central government to local governments on approvals for coal power projects. It finds that the approval rate for coal power projects is about three times higher when the approval authority is decentralised, and provinces with larger coal industries tend to approve more coal power.

Alvaro Remesal, 04 January 2019

Alvaro Remesal of CUNEF in Madrid discusses the importance of dismissals in CEO incentives. The interview was recorded at CEPR's Third Annual Spring Symposium in April 2018.

Francesca Borgonovi, Collin Hitt, Jeffrey A. Livingston, Sally Sadoff, Gema Zamarro, 16 January 2018

The Programme for International Student Assessment is a global standardised test of students’ mathematics, reading, and science skills. This column describes how the results of various studies using different approaches all find evidence that many students who take the PISA do not try as hard as they can, and that the level of effort varies widely across countries. The findings illustrate that a combination of ability and motivation may be more important than ability alone.

Jean-Pierre Danthine, 21 November 2017

There is little doubt that one of the main causes of the Global Crisis was excessive risk-taking by large international financial institutions. This column argues that the combination of very high leverage and limited liability continues to incentivise risky behaviour by bankers. Dealing with this problem requires the alignment of bankers’ incentives with those of society, rather than of shareholders. Deferred compensation in the form of contingent convertibles presents one promising strategy.

Edward Glaeser, Giacomo Ponzetto, 18 September 2017

Psychologists have long documented that we over-attribute people's actions to innate characteristics rather than to circumstances. This column shows that when we commit this ‘fundamental attribution error’ as voters, we over-ascribe politicians´ success to personal characteristics that merit re-election. Although this mistake can improve politicians’ incentives in ordinary times, the theory also explains lack of institutional reform and poor institutional choices, such as decreased demand for a free press and preferences for dictatorship.

Arnaud Chevalier, Peter Dolton, Melanie Lührmann, 15 July 2017

Feedback has been found to improve exam performance in the context of higher education, but demand for feedback is low among students when obtaining it requires unrewarded effort. This column evaluates how the provision of extrinsic incentives affects students’ effort and performance. Having online learning assessments count towards final grades is found to trigger large participation increases, and better subsequent exam performance. Given the low cost of these interventions, they offer particular promise in higher education.

Philipp Ager, Leonardo Bursztyn, Hans-Joachim Voth, 14 January 2017

During World War II, the German military publicly celebrated the performance of its flying aces to incentivise their peers. This column uses newly collected data to show that, when a former colleague got recognition, flying aces performed much better without taking more risks, while average pilots did only slightly better but got themselves killed much more often. Overall the incentives may have been detrimental, which serves as a caution to those offering incentives to today's financial risk-takers.

Sebastian Galiani, Nadya Hajj, Pablo Ibarraran, Nandita Krishnaswamy, Patrick McEwan, 22 October 2016

Conditional cash transfers are a form of programmatic redistribution that can yield electoral benefits for incumbent parties. This column assesses the electoral impact of conditional cash transfers targeting poor areas in Honduras. Voters responded to the net amount of cash transfers and their timing, but the conditional elements of the transfers were not commonly enforced and the distribution of payments did not always conform to schedule. Electoral incentives to improve implementation do not appear to be strong.

Rasmus Landersø, James Heckman, 12 September 2016

The Scandinavian model of social welfare is often contrasted favourably with the US model in terms of promoting social mobility across generations. This column investigates the accuracy of these claims, focusing on the case of Denmark. Denmark invests heavily in child development, but then undoes the beneficial effects by providing weak labour market incentives for its children to attend school compared to the US. This helps explain why the influence of family background on educational attainment is similar in the two countries.

Thomas Eisenbach, David Lucca, Robert Townsend, 17 June 2016

The two main elements of bank industry oversight are regulation and supervision. This column provides a framework for thinking about supervision in relation to regulation. Using US data on supervisory hours spent, it finds evidence of economies of scale for bank size. Additionally, less risky banks receive substantially lower amounts of supervisory hours. The findings highlight that supervisors face resource constraints and trade-offs.

Samuel Bowles, 26 May 2016

Explicit economic incentives – for example, a subsidy to contribute to a public good – can sometimes ‘crowd out’ generous and ethical motives. But when properly designed, can incentives ‘crowd in’ these civic virtues? This column uses an example from ancient Athens to show how this might be done, providing a lesson for modern mechanism design and public policy. 



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