Democratic tipping points

VoxEU article by Adilzhan Ismailov ’15 (Economics) and Professor Antonio Ciccone

CEPR’s policy portal VoxEU has published the article “Democratic tipping points” by Economics alum Adilzhan Ismailov ’15 and Antonio Ciccone, professor at the Barcelona GSE and the UPF Economics department, where Adilzhan is currently doing his PhD.

VoxEU promotes “research-based policy analysis and commentary by leading economists.” The site receives about a half million page views per month.

Article summary

Persistence of democratisation following transitory economic shocks plays an important role in the theory of political institutions. This column tests the theory of democratic tipping points using rainfall shocks in the world’s most agricultural countries since 1946. Negative rainfall shocks have a strong and transitory effect on agricultural output, but a persistent positive effect on the probability of democratisation even after ten years.

Key conclusions

The recent history of democratic (non-)transitions in the world’s most agricultural countries indicates that transitory events can have enduring effects on democratic institutions. When lower rainfall led to below-average agricultural output in these countries, countries ruled by authoritarian regimes were more likely to democratise and more likely to be democratic ten years later.

The shape of the effect of rainfall on the probability of democratisation indicates that the effect is through agricultural output. The agricultural economics literature finds an inverted-U-shaped effect of rainfall on agricultural output. In the theory of Acemoglu and Robinson (2001, 2006) we build on, transitorily lower output raises the probability of democratisation, and transitorily higher output lowers the probability of democratisation. Hence, the inverted-U-shaped effect of rainfall on agricultural output should translate into a U-shaped effect of rainfall on the probability of democratisation. We find this to be the case. Moreover, our results indicate that rainfall shocks tend to produce the largest change in the probability of democratisation when the estimated effect of rainfall on agricultural output is largest.

Figure. Effect of rainfall on real agricultural output and on the probability of democratisation

Note: The inverted-U-shaped solid black line is the effect of rainfall in year t on real agricultural output in year t and is measured on the left axis. The U-shaped coloured lines are the effect of rainfall on the probability of democratisation between years t-1 and t (one year later). The three classifications of democratic and autocratic regimes used in the figure are those of Acemoglu et al. (2019) (blue solid line); Przeworski et al. (2000) (red dotted line), as updated by Cheibub et al. (2010) and Bjornskov and Rode (2020); and Geddes et al. (2014) (green dashed line). The effect of rainfall on the probability of democratisation is calculated using the effect of rainfall in year t in column (1) of Tables 2 and 3 in the paper respectively for the Acemoglu et al. and the Przeworski et al. democratisation indicator. For the Geddes et al. democratisation indicator, the effect of rainfall on the probability of democratisation is calculated using the effect of rainfall in year t-1 in column (5) of Table 3. This is because of Geddes et al.’s unconventional start date for democratic regime transitions; see page 16 for details. Real agricultural output is an index with the base period 2004-2006. Rainfall is measured in dm.


Adilzhan Ismailov ’15 is a PhD candidate at GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE). He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

Backlash: The Unintended Effects of Language Prohibition in US Schools after World War I

Review of Economic Studies publication by Vicky Fouka ’10 (Economics)

The paper Backlash: The Unintended Effects of Language Prohibition in U.S. Schools after World War I by Economics alum Vicky Fouka ’10 has been published in the Review of Economic Studies (REStud).

Her research on the topic was also featured in The Washington Post last year!

Paper abstract

Do forced assimilation policies always succeed in integrating immigrant groups? This paper examines how a specific assimilation policy – language restrictions in elementary school – affects integration and identification with the host country later in life. After World War I, several US states barred the German language from their schools. Affected individuals were less likely to volunteer in WWII and more likely to marry within their ethnic group and to choose decidedly German names for their offspring. Rather than facilitating the assimilation of immigrant children, the policy instigated a backlash, heightening the sense of cultural identity among the minority.

“Banning immigrants’ languages can backfire. Just ask Ohio and Indiana.”
The Washington Post. May 11, 2019.

Vicky Fouka ’10 is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. She is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics and earned her PhD in Economics at GPEFM (UPF and BGSE).

Household Behaviour: The COVID-19 “Dance” Phase

Help Economics alum Steffi Huber ’10 by participating this survey!

I’d like to invite Barcelona GSE students and alumni to participate in a survey I’m conducting with Isabelle Salle (Bank of Canada, research fellow at the University of Amsterdam) to help understanding households’ consumption and investment responses to the prolonged “dance” phase of the COVID-19 crisis.

As yet, policymakers and academics do not have good estimates for how people might behave in this crucial period. You can help to fill this gap, and in the process help to build a collective understanding of the economic consequences of the pre-vaccine crisis. 

We’ve received around 1,000 responses to the survey so far, and we are using it as a trial survey which will be adjusted for a large grant application to run a representative survey in all major European countries.

Please read below to know more about what is involved.

Purpose of the research

This research survey aims to shed light on household responses to the COVID-crisis in two ways. First, we want to investigate how the crisis has already changed investment and consumption demands. Second, we want to understand the expected consumption and investment behavior of households when lockdown restrictions are progressively lifted but prior to an effective treatment or vaccine being available.  

What taking part involves

There will be a series of questions about your current and planned consumption and investments. The survey requires no special knowledge for you to complete it. Your participation is voluntary, you do not have to answer all the questions if you do not want to, and you may withdraw from the study at any point. 

Your data

The information provided by you in the survey will be held anonymously, so it will be impossible to trace this information back to you individually. The anonymous data itself will be held indefinitely and may be used to produce reports, presentations, and academic publications. If you have any questions or concerns about this research please feel free to contact any of the researchers involved in the project, using the contact details below. 

The survey can be answered in 16 different languages. So, don’t hesitate to forward this email to all your international friends!

See this website for more info on the objectives of this project.


Stefanie J. Huber ’10 is Assistant Professor at the University of Amsterdam. She is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics and GPEFM PhD Program (UPF and Barcelona GSE).

LinkedIn | Website

Pay out emergency benefits or subsidize wages?

Opinion piece by Francesco Amodio ’10 (Economics) on Canada’s response to COVID-19 crisis

In a piece published on March 31 in the Montreal Gazette, Francesco Amodio ’10 (Economics) looks at measures taken by the Canadian government in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s an excerpt:

The measures taken by the Canadian government are in line with those taken in other countries, where governments are adopting either one or the combination of the following two approaches. In the first one, the government lets firms lay off workers, then pays out employment insurance benefits or other kind of income support transfers. The second approach focuses instead on “saving jobs,” with the government subsidizing wages in order to avoid layoffs.

Each approach has its pros and cons. In the short run, the size of wage subsidies and number of potential layoffs will determine which one is costlier. Perhaps more importantly, the two approaches differ in their medium- to long-run impacts.

Francesco Amodio ’10 is a graduate of the Barcelona GSE Master’s Program in Economics and the GPEFM PhD Program (UPF and Barcelona GSE). He is currently Assistant Professor of Economics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website

Specific Human Capital and Wait Unemployment

Publication in the Journal of Labor Economics by Benedikt Herz ’08 (Economics)


The main chapter of the PhD dissertation by Benedkit Herz (Economics ’08, GPEFM ’13), “Specific Human Capital and Wait Unemployment,” has been published in the Journal of Labor Economics and is now available online.

Paper abstract

A displaced worker might rationally prefer to wait through a long spell of unemployment instead of seeking employment at a lower wage in a job he is not trained for. I evaluate this trade-off using micro data on displaced workers. To achieve identification, I exploit the fact that the more a worker has invested in occupation-specific human capital, the more costly it is for him to switch occupations and therefore the higher is his incentive to wait. I find that between 9% and 17% of total unemployment in the United States can be attributed to wait unemployment

Benedikt Herz ’08 is member of the Chief Economist’s Team, European Commission DG for Internal Market and Industry. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

Website | LinkedIn

Sectoral risk-weights and macroprudential policy

Publication in Journal of Banking and Finance by Alex Hodbod (ITFD ’12) and Steffi Huber (Economics ’10, GPEFM ’17)

We have a forthcoming article “Sectoral Risk Weights and Macroprudential Policy” in the Journal of Banking & Finance with our co-author Konstantin Vasilev (Essex).

The authors!

Paper abstract

This paper analyses bank capital requirements in a general equilibrium model by evaluating the implications of different designs of such requirements regarding their impact on the tendency of banks to amplify the business cycle.

Interest rate spreads structure. This figure gives an overview of the different interest rate spreads within the model and the factors that affect them. The asset-specific interest rate spreads determine the borrowing costs of households and firms and hence the quantities of specific loan types in the economy.

We compare the Basel-established Internal Ratings-Based (IRB) approach to risk-weighting assets with an alternative macroprudential approach which sets risk-weights in response to sectoral measures of leverage. The different methods are compared in a crisis scenario, where the crisis originates from the housing market that affects the banking sector and is then transmitted to the wider economy.

Variance decomposition – real consumption during the Great Recession. This variance decomposition shows that the model identifies the productivity shock and the shock to mortgage lending risk to be the main drivers of the crash in real consumption during the Great Recession. In our model, the main channel through which the shock to mortgage risk has a procyclical effect on consumption is through lending and house prices.

We investigate both boom and bust phases of the crisis by simulating an unrealized news shock that leads to a gradual build-up and rapid crash in the economy. Our results suggest that the IRB approach creates procyclicality in regulatory capital requirements and thereby works to amplify both boom and bust phases of the financial cycle. On the other hand, our proposed macroprudential approach to setting risk-weights leads to counter-cyclicality in regulatory capital requirements and thereby attenuates the financial cycle.

Impulse Response Function – Unrealised news shock. Here, we model both the build-up and crash phases of the crisis and use this to examine how different policy approaches perform in handling the boom phase of the cycle. In periods 1-4 agents start with expectations that a housing boom will occur, but at period 4 a shock arrives as this boom does not materialise. At the top of the chart one sees that the policy setup based on the IRB approach (red) generates the biggest macroeconomic consequences from this shock; it is the most procyclical. The macroprudential approach to risk-weighting (in green) is the least procyclical. An unweighted “leverage ratio” approach (blue) is less procyclical than the IRB approach, but more so than our macroprudential approach.

Conclusions in brief

  • We show that IRB risk-weights can induce procyclicality of capital requirements and amplify both boom and bust phases of the business cycle. This is particularly concerning because procyclical risk weights could undermine other macroprudential tools, as these other tools are themselves based on risk-based measures of capital requirements e.g. Counter Cyclical Capital Buffers.
  • Our alternative approach of macroprudential risk weights could induce countercyclicality of capital requirements, which may offer benefits in terms of smoothening financial cycles. Targeting macroprudential intervention on bank risk-weights is likely to be more effective when it is sector-specific. This will alter banks’ incentives in a sensitive way – thereby tending to attenuate sectoral asset booms.
  • The results complement the ongoing debate about the potential merits of a Sectoral Counter Cyclical Capital Buffer, which is ongoing internationally.

About the authors


Alexander Hodbod ’12 is Adviser to representatives on the ECB Supervisory Board. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in International Trade, Finance and Development.

LinkedIn | Twitter


Stefanie J. Huber ’10 is Assistant Professor at the University of Amsterdam. She is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics and GPEFM PhD Program (UPF and Barcelona GSE).

LinkedIn | Website

If you are an alum and would like to share your work on the Barcelona GSE Voice, please reach out!

Uncertainty in learning, choice and visual fixation

Paper by Hrvoje Stojić (Economics ’11, GPEFM ’17)

source: Stojić et al

Hrvoje Stojić (Economics ’11 and GPEFM ’17) is co-author on a new paper, “Uncertainty in learning, choice and visual fixation,” now available in pre-print on PsyArXiv.

The authors on the paper illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of this research. Hrvoje and co-author Raymond Dolan are researchers at the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research; Jacob Orquin of Aarhus University specializes in the role of eye movements in decision making; Peter Dayan is at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics), and Maarten Speekenbrink is affiliated with the UCL Department of Experimental Psychology.

About the paper

Hrvoje shares an overview of the paper in this Twitter thread:

Get the pre-print

The paper can be downloaded from PsyArXiv.


Hrvoje Stojić (Economics ’11, GPEFM ’17) is a researcher at UCL. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics and PhD from GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE).

LinkedIn | Twitter | Github

Women in Economics seminar

Master’s students Analía García ’19 (ITFD) and Lorena Franco ’19 (Economics) organized the seminar to highlight research by female PhD students and professors

Women in Economics seminar

This May, BGSE Master’s students Analía García ’19 (ITFD) and Lorena Franco ’19 (Economics) organized the Women in Economics two-day seminar, which meant to highlight female PhD students and faculty members’ research.

Three students and four Barcelona GSE Affiliated Professors presented their work, which varied from family economics to political economics and experimental economics. More information of the speakers and their topics below.

Organizers Analía García ’19 and Lorena Franco ’19

These efforts, nonetheless, started over two months ago when both students, who are from Latin America and the Caribbean, organized an open forum on International Women’s Day. Having prior work experience and noting the clear lack of female representation in economics and academia, they wanted to expand the conversations on the topic and discuss what we could do to potentially “make it better” within their parameters. The Women in Economics seminar was born from the conversations during the first and second open forums, and thanks to the ideas of Marta Morazzoni and Claudia Meza, both PhD students at GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE).

Putting this together was a challenge given this had not been done at BGSE before, but the organizers hope this was insightful for all those who attended.

More female and racial diversity in economics and academia, please!

The speakers and the titles of the work were the following (listed alphabetically):

PhD Students

  • Marta Morazzoni “Family Dynamics in Macroeconomics: when the representative household does not represent us anymore”
  • Marta Santamaría “The Gains from Reshaping Infrastructure: Evidence from the Division of Germany”
  • Alina Velias “When to Tie Odysseus to the Mast: Costly Commitment Under Biased Expactations”


  • Enriqueta Aragonés “Stability of a Multi-level Government: A Catalonia in Spain”
  • Rosa Ferrer “Consumers’ Costly Responses to Product-Harm Crises” and “Gender Gaps in Performance: Evidence from Young Lawyers”
  • Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell “Relative Deprivation in Tanzania”
  • Rosemarie Nagel “Regularities in the Lab, Brain, and Field: A Cognitive Reasoning Model”

Asymmetric Social Distance Effects in the Ultimatum Game

Publication by Orestis Vravosinos ’18 (Economics) with Kyriakos Konstantinou

The Ultimatum Game Comic
Comic author: Zach Weinersmith

A paper by Orestis Vravosinos (Economics ’18, UPF MRes in Economics ’19) and Kyriakos Konstantinou (LSE) has just been published in the Review of Behavioral Economics. Below is an overview of the paper.

The Ultimatum Game

Given that in experiments ultimatum game outcomes are often significantly different from Nash equilibrium predictions under standard assumptions on preferences, many studies have examined the impact of fairness on players’ considerations and how the effect of the sense of fairness on players’ actions may vary, while other factors change. It has been argued that increased stakes (larger sum of money distributed) can reduce sensitivity to fairness of player 2 making it more likely that she accepts lower shares of the total sum, thus, giving player 1 the opportunity to offer a lower share.

Social Distance

Social distance has also been found to affect fairness. In the existing literature, social distance commonly varies only from players being close relatives or friends to complete strangers, even though negatively-valenced relationships can be important from an economic point of view. Our study aims to fill this gap by introducing negatively-valenced relationships between the players. We argue that altruistic and empathetic behavior of the proposer towards the responder may not vary (increase) as significantly in the region of negative relationships compared to the region of positive relationships. Similarly, social distance effects stemming from reciprocity may vary less in the region of negative relationships. Thus, we hypothesize that in the ultimatum game social distance effects are asymmetric with their magnitude varying more in the spectrum of positively compared to negatively-valenced relationships.

Our experimental results support this hypothesis; in the region of positively-valenced relationships, the proposers increase the percentage they offer as relationship quality increases more drastically compared to when the relationship is negatively-valenced, in which case they appear more invariant to relationship effects. Also, by eliciting a minimum share which the responder is willing to accept out of the total sum, we provide clearer results on the social distance and stakes effects on the latter’s behavior. Last, we find a negative effect of relationship quality on the minimum acceptable share. This contradicts a strand of the literature which suggests that closer-“in-group” individuals may be punished more severely, so that cooperation in a group is maintained.


Orestis Vravosinos and Kyriakos Konstantinou (2019), “Asymmetric Social Distance Effects in the Ultimatum Game”, Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 6: No. 2, pp 159-192.

Orestis Vravosinos

Orestis Vravosinos ’18 is an MRes student at GPEFM (UPF and Barcelona GSE). He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

LinkedIn | Website

Unlucky Cohorts: Estimating the Long-Term Effects of Entering the Labor Market in a Recession in Large Cross-Sectional Data Sets

A new publication by Hannes Schwandt (GPEFM ’12) in the Journal of Labor Economics

Hannes Schwandt (GPEFM ’12) is Assistant Professor of Economics at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, currently visiting Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). His paper, “Unlucky Cohorts: Estimating the Long-term Effects of Entering the Labor Market in a Recession in Large Cross-sectional Data Sets” (with Till von Wachter) has just been published in the January 2019 issue of the Journal of Labor Economics. The paper has garnered attention from major media outlets including The Economist and The Financial Times.


This paper studies the differential persistent effects of initial economic conditions for labor market entrants in the United States from 1976 to 2015 by education, gender, and race using labor force survey data. We find persistent earnings and wage reductions, especially for less advantaged entrants, that increases in government support only partly offset. We confirm that the results are unaffected by selective migration and labor market entry by also using a double-weighted average unemployment rate at labor market entry for each birth cohort and state-of-birth cell based on average state migration rates and average cohort education rates from census data.

Media attention

See how media outlets covered this paper (subscription may be required):