Job Market Paper

From Plantations to Prisons: The Legacy of Slavery on Black Incarceration in the US

Black males constitute 6.5% of the US population but account for 40% of the prison population. The extent to which these disparities reflect differences in criminal conduct and socio-economic background, as opposed to differential treatment is a long-standing question. However, little is known about the roots of this disparity. This paper uses US decennial censuses for the period 1850 to 1940 to show that the race gap in incarceration can be traced back to the abolition of slavery in 1865. In particular, I exploit the variation in the prevalence of slavery across counties in southern states to estimate the short- and long-run impact of slavery on black incarceration rates.   I document a substantial increase in black incarceration immediately after the abolition of slavery, with no comparable effect on whites, and that this black-white incarceration gap continued to grow. These baseline OLS results are not driven by omitted variables given their robustness to: (i) observable controls, which proxy for racial attitudes and socioeconomic and geographic characteristics, (ii) analyses of neighboring counties that are more likely to be comparable on unobservable dimensions, and (iii) an IV analysis that instruments for slavery intensity with cotton suitability.   
Using novel historical data on prison work camps from the Department of Labor, I provide evidence that the high levels of black incarceration in the US started, at least in part, due to labor scarcity in which convict labor was used to replace slave labor.  This mechanism is further supported in analyses of three natural experiments -- land grant allocations, Boll Weevil cotton pests, and the Mississippi River floods -- that reduced the demand for labor; these reverse shocks are associated with lower black incarceration rates.  

Working Papers 

The Effect of Violence on Social  Capital: Evidence from an Exogenous Variation in an Illegal Market

This paper studies the effects of violence on social capital using individual and municipal level data in Colombia. To estimate causal effects, I exploit changes in violence attributed to cross-border shocks on coca markets in neighbouring countries, interacted with a novel index of suitability for coca cultivation; this resulted in greater violence in municipalities that are more suitable for coca production. I find that violence has a negative effect on social capital measures such as trust, participation in community organisations, and cooperation. My findings are consistent with conflict in which is hard to identify the perpetrators.

Comparing Labor Market Risk Across Developing Countries (with William Maloney)

This paper generates comparable measures of labor market risk across the development process from repeated cross sections of labor market surveys, and identifies patterns across demographic and employment categories. It identifies a striking and very significant negative correlation between risk and the level of development. Developing country workers do seem to face more risk. It finds little evidence of differences across demographic or job categories. On average, women appear to face slightly less risk and the self-employed roughly the same as salaried males. The downward gradient seems partly a general phenomenon, but also reflects greater labor market risk among the self-employed and lower female labor market participation.

Work in Progress

Mined land: Natural resources and conflict 

The purpose of this paper is to estimate the impact of mining on conflict. Most of the available literature uses resource discoveries as random events, however, discover are not necessarily a pure result of nature, they are likely to be related with geographic and institutional characteristics that might also affect the levels of conflict, and therefore estimates can be biased. I overcome this limitation by using an exogenous source of variation in the mineral discoveries. My identification strategy uses the fact that villages where minerals were discovered constitute the treatment group while villages with drilling but no discovery are the control group. Furthermore, this article provides evidence of an additional mechanism explaining the relationship between mining and conflict: forced displacement because of competition for land. 

The collapse of the Maya civilization (with Ola Olsson)

What factors explain the collapse of the Maya civilization? While the collapse of the Maya society has been an issue of ongoing debate, little is known about the economic reasons behind it. In this paper, we estimate the effect of extreme weather conditions on the construction of monuments. We take advantage of rich paleontological data on weather conditions during the Maya era which can be linked to archaeological data on the location of monuments and the occurrence of wars. To shed light on potential mechanisms, we study heterogeneity along with the suitability for growing maize – the main crop of the Maya civilization. And potentially other variables.


  • Ethnic Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System: The Case of the Irish in London during the Potato Famine (with Anna Bindler, Randi Hjalmarsson, Steve Machin)

  • Intergenerational Effects of Slavery: Following the Children of Slaves in the US

  • Migration and Crime: Evidence from the Great Migration

  • Media and Migration: The Role of the Chicago Defender on the Great Migration

Policy Writing 

  • Economic valuation of the marine protected areas subsystem in Colombia: an analysis for Policy makers using a multi-service and multi-agent approach

  • Economic valuation of marine protected areas from the perspective of local users: conciliating quantitative-individual with qualitative-collective approaches

Indigenous community, Colombian Amazon, 2017.