Judicial Capture
(with Sultan Mehmood) Accepted - The Economic Journal)

Download (pdf)


We use data from Pakistan to establish a reciprocal exchange relationship between the judiciary and government. We document large transfers in the form of expensive real estate from the government to the judiciary, and large favors in the form of pro-government rulings from the judiciary to the government. Our estimates indicate that the allocation of houses to judges increases pro-government rulings by 50% and reduces decisions on case merits by 30%. The allocation also incurs a cumulative cost of 0.03% of GDP to the government. However, it allows the government to expropriate additional land worth 0.2% of GDP in one year. The results suggest that such transfers within the state deteriorate the rule of law.

Travesty of Justice: Unintended Consequences of Anti-Corruption Campaigns
Best Paper Award (IOEA 2023) - Job Market Paper 

Download (pdf)

This study provides empirical evidence into the dual-edged nature of anti-corruption initiatives, revealing how such campaigns can be manipulated for political persecution and the entrenchment of power by incumbents. Utilizing a regression discontinuity design, we scrutinize corruption convictions within Pakistan's Anti-Corruption or NAB Courts, uncovering a discernible bias against opposition politicians who marginally win elections. These marginal “winners” are statistically more likely to be convicted of corruption-related charges compared to their narrowly defeated counterparts, suggesting a strategic use of prosecutions. Analysis of mechanisms reveal that judges who rule against these opposition figures are subsequently more likely to advance in their careers, underscoring the role of career concerns explaining this dynamic. The study also uncovers a crowding-out effect, where the persecution of political adversaries inadvertently crowd out genuine corruption cases, particularly those involving career bureaucrats. In contrast, political affiliates of the incumbent government who secure marginal election victories experience a sharp fall in the likelihood of their corruption convictions, hinting at a protective halo conferred by their political alignment. These findings underscore the paradoxical consequences of anti-corruption drives, which, although widely believed to enhance governance, may instead serve to consolidate authoritarianism and erode democratic institutions.

Reform Multiplier and Elite Entrenchment
(with Sultan Mehmood) 

How and when does a reform trigger a cascading effect? This paper provides evidence that a judge selection reform in Pakistan, which shifted the appointment power of judges from the government to a committee of judges, had a multiplier effect on anti-government rulings in the decade following its implementation. As the first generation of committee-appointed judges (first-degree of separation from the government) is replaced by the second generation of committee appointees (second-degree of separation from the government), the reform's effect compounds. Nevertheless, as the reform amplifies anti-government rulings, it also increases the concentration of judges hired from a few select law firms. Despite the rise in judges hiring their former colleagues from law firms where they previously practiced as attorneys, there is no observable decline in the quality of judicial decisions. Rulings based on case merits and adherence to due process of law rise with each degree of separation from government appointments. Selection effects of second-generation judges drawing talent from top law schools emerge as a key contributor behind the reform multiplier effect. Overall, our results underscore that measures increasing the independence of the judiciary can have enduring positive effects on judicial autonomy and decision quality, even when they concurrently alter the composition of the judicial elite by making it concentrated.

Altruistic Vaccination - (COVID-19 RESPONSE)
(with Jun Hyung Kim, Avner Seror, and Syngjoo Choi)

We conducted a study on the altruistic motives behind vaccination intentions. Using data from a field experiment in Pakistan, we discovered that providing information about the probability of transmitting Covid-19 to others significantly increases vaccination intention. Subjects in our study responded more positively to a treatment that directed their attention to the potential loss experienced when they do not get vaccinated and infect others, compared to a treatment that focused on the gain experienced when they do get vaccinated and do not infect others. We explained these findings using a theoretical model that incorporates reference-dependent preferences and loss aversion. By utilizing this model, we estimated subjects’ loss aversion in the context of altruistic preferences to be between 2.2 and 2.9. In conclusion, our results indicate that loss aversion has an impact on altruistic preferences and can be utilized to enhance vaccination uptake.

Work in Progress

Psychological Well-being and Educational Efficiency:  Evidence from Civil Servant Intervention in Pakistan  (with Sultan Mehmood and Daniel L. Chen) - 

(Draft available on request)

Teaching in public schools is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. We work with one of the largest networks of charter schools to investigate how mental health assistance to teachers impacts their and students' mental health. We provide experimental evidence on how teacher stress can be reduced, how it transmits to student stress, and how it may hold back academic achievement. We randomly assign teachers to mindful meditation, individual cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, and pharmacological aid. Meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy reduce stress, while no impact of pharmacological assistance is observed. In a factorial design, we also cross-randomize teachers to reduce mental health stigma, increasing the acceptability of seeking pharmacological aid. We observe increased take up and impact of pharmacological aid in the cross-randomized group. Overall, we find stress from teacher to student is transmissible and hurts student learning, but these costs can be ameliorated through policy interventions. Social stigma against pharmacological assistance is a key stumbling block beyond financial constraints that hurts teachers' and students' mental health. A social action signaling social acceptance of seeking mental health reduces stigma associated with accepting pharmacological help, increase take-up of pharmacological aid, and reduces the stress in short and medium term. 

Wolf Guarding the Sheep: Regulatory Capture in Agricultural Markets

In this project, I hope to study how regulatory agencies may engage in monopoly pricing. We do this in context of Pakistan where we examine how politicians just winning elections and those just losing may impact price fixing behaviour in the agriculture markets in a Regression Discontinuity Design. I have complied a list of names of “sugar barrons”, these are politicians-cum-industrialists that both hold key regulatory offices as well as have large personal stakes in the sugar industry. I hope to match this with votes data from Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and examine how these politicians just winning elections impact local sugar prices, quantity produced and local economic development in the district.