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"Urban Flight: A Short-term Phenomenon or Long-term Trend?" (with Julia Freybote, Dongshin Kim, and Youngme Seo) -- forthcoming at Real Estate Economics

Abstract: We investigate whether the urban flight from more to less dense locations identified by previous housing studies for the early COVID period (2020) is a temporary, pandemic-induced phenomenon or long-term trend. In our investigation, we focus on the period of 2017 to 2022 and three housing market metrics, namely visit activity, days on market (DOM), and sales price. In our investigation, we use 14,961 single-family home transactions from the Southwestern Ontario region, which covers areas of varying population density. Our results for sales price in the early pandemic periods (2020 to 2021) are in line with previous studies that find evidence of a shift in homebuyer preferences towards less dense locations. However, our results for sales price in the last pandemic phase (2022), marketing time, and visit activity suggest that the urban flight was a temporary phenomenon characteristic of the early COVID phases. Interestingly, we find evidence that virtual tours represent a substitute for physical tours.

"Economic Influence Activities and the Strategic Location of Investment" (with John M. de Figueiredo). Business and Politics. 2022: Volume 24, No. 3, pages 292-317. 

Abstract: This paper examines the economic influence activities (EIAs) of firms. We argue that firms invest in jobs and establishments in districts of congressional committee members that have oversight over their businesses and industries. This investment increases as legislators’ power rises in Congress. Our theory makes three predictions.
First, EIAs by firms will be higher in congressional districts where the legislators have substantial political influence over the firm, relative to districts where legislators have little influence over the firm. Second, EIAs will increase with the legislators’ power on the focal committee. Third, when a legislator exits the committee, EIAs will diminish, but previous investments in the district will remain. We test these predictions by analyzing the Trinet census of establishments, mapped into the committee structure of the U.S. Congress, by tracking the investment and employment of firms in each industry in each congressional district over time. Using fixed effects models, we show
the predictions of the theory find substantial support in the U.S. Senate but not the House. We explore causality by using exogenous exits of politicians by death and scandals to further complement our analysis, and discuss why EIAs may be less likely to occur and detect in the House.

"Propaganda, Alternative Media, and Accountability in Fragile Democracies" (with Anqi Li, and Kenneth W. Shotts). Journal of Politics. 2022: Volume 84, No. 2, pages 1214-1219.

Abstract: We develop a model of electoral accountability with mainstream and alternative media. In addition to regular high- and low-competence types, the incumbent may be an aspiring autocrat who controls the mainstream media and will subvert democracy if retained in office. A truthful alternative media can help voters identify and remove these subversive types while re-electing competent leaders. A malicious alternative media, in contrast, spreads false accusations about the incumbent and demotivates policy effort. If the alternative media is very likely be malicious and hence is unreliable, voters ignore it and use only the mainstream media to hold regular incumbents accountable, leaving aspiring autocrats to win re-election via propaganda that portrays them as effective policymakers. When the alternative media's reliability is intermediate, voters heed its warnings about subversive incumbents, but the prospect of being falsely accused demotivates effort by regular incumbents and electoral
accountability breaks down.

"Time Horizons and Corporate Governance." American Journal of Finance and Accounting. 2019: Volume 6, No. 1, pages 77-100.

Abstract: This paper examines the impact of operational time-horizons on corporate
governance. Managerial “short-termism” is problematic in industries where long product development and life cycles require managerial decisions that are similarly farsighted in scope. By protecting managers from the pressures that induce short-termism I show how corporate governance and anti-takeover provisions can mitigate short-termism for firms with long operational time-horizons. I predict that firms operating in long time-horizon industries will employ more anti-takeover provisions than firms in short time-horizon industries. I examine this empirically and find support for this prediction.

"Economic Influence Activities." Journal of Economics & Management Strategy. 2018: Volume 27, No. 4, pages 830-843.

Abstract: Firms frequently make operational and strategy decisions to gain political influence. They locate plants, expand workforces, or choose suppliers, with the aim of affecting the economy and the electoral success of politicians. This behavior constitutes a nontraditional form of influence, which I refer to as economic influence activities. In this paper I show how such activities influence policymaking and why firms may prefer it to more traditional influence activities such as campaign contributions. What distinguishes economic influence activities is that a firm’s strategy choices affects the state of a local economy and, in turn, the evaluations that voters make of the performance of an officeholder. I show how firms can use this capability to extract subsidies and policy favors from incumbent office-holders.

"Startups Are Turning Customers into Lobbyists" (with Guy Holburn). Harvard Business Review: October 24, 2017.

Abstract: How can new firms overcome the regulations that protect incumbents? Lobbying for policy reform isn’t much of an answer, because incumbents generally have the benefit of long-term relationships with government agencies built up over many years. Recent research finds that some insurgent firms have prevailed on the regulatory front by using a strategy straight out of the playbook of environmental activists – mobilizing stakeholders to become political advocates. Organized demonstrations of support by stakeholder groups can send a powerful signal to policymakers. Firms mobilize their customers – one important stakeholder group – in three primary ways: online petitions, partnerships with other organizations, and customer associations.

"Durable Policy, Political Accountability, and Active Waste" (with Steven Callander). Quarterly Journal of Political Science. 2017: Volume 12, No. 1, pages 59-97.

Abstract: The policy choices of governments are frequently durable. From the building of bridges to the creation of social programs, investments in public infrastructure typically last well beyond a single electoral cycle. In this paper we develop a dynamic model of repeated elections in which policy choices are durable. The behavior that emerges in equilibrium reveals a novel mechanism through which durability interacts with the shorter electoral cycle and distorts the incentives of politicians. We find that a government that is electorally accountable nevertheless underinvests in policy, that it deliberately wastes investment on projects that are never implemented, and that the type of policy it implements is itself Pareto inefficient. The first two distortions match evidence from infrastructure policy in western democracies, and the third identifies a distortion that has heretofore not been explored empirically. Notably, these effects emerge solely due to the interaction of policy durability and political accountability, and not from corruption, poor decision making, or voter myopia.

Working Papers

1) "Does the Foreign Buyers Tax Reduce Foreign Demand? Evidence from Superstitious Beliefs in Real Estate Pricing." (with Lu Han)

Abstract: This paper analyzes the effects of the recent Ontario Non-Resident Speculation Tax (NRST) on housing markets, using the transaction-level data for the Greater Toronto Area. Despite the popular belief that the inflow of Chinese investors has been partly responsible for the recent rapid house price growth, evaluating the effectiveness of the NRST is challenging for two reasons. First, buyer nationality is difficult to observe. Second, the implementation of the NRST coincided with a number of other policies targeted at the housing market. To address these challenges, we propose a behavioral approach to infer the policy’s impact on foreign housing demand from estimating how culture-dependent numerological superstition affects home purchase decisions differently before and after the policy. Our results indicate that superstition bias enters real estate pricing and that such bias is culture dependent. While Chinese buyers may view 8 as lucky and 4 as unlucky, others may view 13 as unlucky. Consistent with this, we find that for hedonically identical homes, there is a premium associated with addresses containing “8”s and a discount associated with addresses containing “4”s in Chinese neighborhoods; in contrast, there is always a discount associated with addresses containing “13”s across the GTA. Further, the discount for unlucky addresses is substantially larger than the premium for lucky ones, consistent with theories of loss aversion. Finally, we find that the implementation of the NRST substantially reduced the discount associated with unlucky “4”s but had no effect on the discount associated with unlucky “13”s, indicating that the NRST dampens the demand mostly from Chinese investors. This result is stronger in condominium markets than in house markets, possibly due to the fact that the former is treated as an easier investment vehicle for foreigners. Further tests suggest that our conclusions are unlikely to be driven by endogeneity.

2) "Strategic Mobilization of Voters" (with Guy Holburn)

Abstract: Organized public demonstrations of voter support for policy issues through rallies, petitions and letter-writing campaigns are mechanisms by which interest groups sometimes seek to influence political decisionmaking.
We develop a model of an interest group’s strategic decision to publicly mobilize supportive voters that assesses the informational and voter preference conditions under which mobilization is effective, and which form of mobilization is optimal. Our model shows that voter mobilization can be influential when elected politicians are sufficiently uncertain about two dimensions of voters’ preferences, the breadth of support for the issue and the saliency of the issue (depth of support). The distribution of voter preferences – defined by the numbers of policy
supporters and opposers and election vote-switchers and non-switchers – determines whether low or high participation-cost forms of mobilization are optimal. The model’s predictions are consistent with recent mobilization campaigns organized by a range of interest groups, such as firms (e.g. Uber, Airbnb), environmental activists (e.g. Fridays for Future), and racial justice advocates (e.g. Black Lives Matter).

3) "Informational Industrial Blackmail" (with Al Slivinski)

Abstract: It is often observed that politicians “overpay” to attract business investment to their jurisdiction, often despite condemnation by voters and the media. Standard explanations of this phenomenon hinge on the effect of competition among jurisdictions for the investment, leading to a version of the winner’s curse. This paper proposes an alternative explanation that turns on the interaction between informational asymmetries between voters and politicians and electoral incentives. We show that when business investment is economically impactful it can be used to positively distort the informational inferences of voters regarding incumbent politicians. Our key results show than even when it is common knowledge that the benefits of the investment, while positive, are smaller than the cost of subsidizing investment, that politicians will still offer subsidies, and this will enhance their electoral prospects. Further, we show that even when there is some likelihood the business investment would have occurred in the absence of subsidies, the same equilibrium behavior emerges.

4) "Nonmarket Strategies of Market Rivals: Theory and Evidence from Uber and the Taxi Industry" (with Guy Holburn and Kartik Rao)

Abstract: We examine how firms strategically lobby policy makers in a nonmarket environment characterized by a new market entrant going up against established incumbents. We argue that attributes of policy makers such as their institutional status, and their newness to office has a positive relationship with both their likelihood of being targeted by firms as well as the speed with which firms respond to their rivals’ lobbying of such policy makers. Further, we argue that a larger differential in accumulated lobbying capital between competing interest groups negatively impacts the likelihood and the response speed with which firms target policy makers. We employ a repeated-hazards event history analysis to test our predictions in the context of Uber’s entry in the Toronto taxi market using a novel lobbying dataset from the Toronto City Council.

Work in progress

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