Zhexun MO

Welcome to my website!

I am currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Paris School of Economics, and the East Asia Coordinator for the World Inequality Lab.  

NEWS!! Starting in September, 2024, I will be a post-doctoral scholar at the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. 

I am an applied economist, with research interests at the intersections of development economics, political economics and economic history

In particular, I explore the long-term vicissitudes of inequalities in multi-dimensional forms in both Africa and East Asia, and their interactions with development over the long run. 

I also do experiments on inequality perceptions, preferences for redistribution and fairness reasoning in the developing world.

You could reach me at zhexun.mo@gmail.com,  fredzhexun.mo@psemail.eu and zhexun.mo@sciencespo.fr, or follow me on Twitter .

How to pronounce my name? Click here


National Wealth, Inequality and Distributional National Accounts (DINA) in Asia

Income Inequality in South Korea, 1933-2022: Evidence from Distributional National Accounts , with Li Yang and Sehyun Hong NEW!!!

[WID Working Paper]


This study presents “Distributional National Accounts (DINA)" for South Korea. We combine household survey micro data, tax data, and national accounts to construct annual pretax income inequality series which is coherent with macro aggregates. We show the distribution of pretax national income over the period from 1933 to 2020, with detailed breakdown by age, gender, and income composition in the years from 1996 to 2020. This series allows for a much richer analysis of the long-run income inequality trend in South Korea than previous work based on fiscal tabulation, which only includes top income shares and misses an increasing component of tax-exempted capital income in recent years. Our new series suggests that after the Asian financial crisis in 1997, income inequality has worsened due to the rise of tax-exempted capital income concentration at the top. Additionally, South Korea is characterized with relatively higher gender inequality and lower old-age income shares compared to the United States and France. Compared to other East Asian countries, South Korea exhibits relatively lower levels of income inequality, mostly due to the fact that its national income growth was more equally distributed in the early stages of economic take-off in the 1980s, even though income inequality has worsened over the last three decades. Rather strikingly, despite similar economic backgrounds and development trajectories, there is a huge gap in pretax national income inequality between Taiwan and South Korea. This gap stems mostly from the fact that the distribution of capital income in Taiwan has been much more unequal than that in Korea. 

Ideological Shifts and Wealth Dynamics: Unraveling the Century-Long Accumulation of Chinese National Wealth (1911-2020) , with Li Yang and Qing Wang

In progress.

Long-term Income Inequality in Japan (1981-2020): A Distributional National Accounts Approach, with Li Yang, Kentaro Asai, Chiaki Moriguchi, Junji Ueda and Sehyun Hong

In progress.

Drawing the Line Between Survey and Tax Data: Determinants of Mis-reporting in Korean Survey Income Data , with Li Yang and Sehyun Hong

Measuring Social Mobility in South Korea (2002-2022) , with Li Yang, Sehyun Hong and Unai Oyón Lerga

Consumption and Income Inequalities of the Bottom Billion in Asia” , with Li Yang, Nitin Kumar Bharti, Thanasak Jenmana and Sehyun Hong

French Colonialism, Forced Labor and Inequalities in Africa

Rationally Coercive Rulers? Evidence from Head Tax and Blood Tax Levy in French West Africa, with Denis Cogneau Working Paper Coming Soon!


The coercive-ness of imperial empires in colonial Africa (or a lack thereof) is still an unsettled debate. In this paper, we further delve into the political economy of colonialism in former French West Africa, via the lens of the two most important administrative missions at the time: capitation tax collection and military conscription. We engaged in voluminous digitization efforts and constructed an original panel dataset on both conscription and capitation tax figures in French West Africa at the colonial district level from 1919 till 1949. Overall, we find that the French colonial state could be best described as coercive rulers in a geographically dynamic, yet temporally static manner. On the one hand, the colonial officials achieved high coercive capacity in both conscription and capitation tax levy, with astoundingly high compliance rates across both space and time. On the other hand, in terms of variations in the burden of tax and conscription levies across districts, we find that colonial districts which were closer to ports, more populated and have higher production of cash crops were consistently levied more intensively in terms of capitation tax, yet the same pattern was non-existent for military recruitment, the quotas of which were evenly set in proportion to local population. Temporally speaking, however, we observe very little adjustments of either tax or conscription levy from the side of colonial officials, with both tax rates and military quotas being kept stable under both the Great Depression and severe droughts in French West Africa in the late 1930s. Overall, we argue that the French colonial authorities displayed high extractive capacity by taking into account the economic and political contexts across regions at the time, but were rather unresponsive towards the idiosyncratic evolution of the business climate in colonial West Africa. 

Soldiers versus Laborers: Legacies of Colonial Military Forced Labor in Mali, with Marion Richard and Ismaël Yacoubou Djima  Working Paper Coming Soon!


In this paper, we study the coercive military forced labor regime instituted by the French colonial authorities in colonial Mali between 1927 and 1950. Due to endemic labor scarcity, the colonial authorities resorted to activating military reservists as forced laborers for public infrastructure construction. This acted as an in-kind tax on the most productive workforce, as only the 20% healthiest individuals were ultimately recruited by the conscription system. By digitizing more than 180,000 hand-written individual soldier files as well as colonial-time district conscription tables, we find that historically speaking, the activation of military forced labor was strongly correlated with local population density and specific demands of different public infrastructure projects. We further document that the severe working conditions in this coercive labor system may have propelled the conscripts to join the regular army as volunteers, whose total numbers were capped. Over the long run, we also find that Malian localities that were historically more exposed to military forced labor (as opposed to regular army recruits) continue to display lower development outcomes until this day. This effect also seems to be stronger in localities with a higher share of reservists activated as forced workers, suggesting that it is not only driven by a positive shock resulting from enrollment in the army. Interestingly, the levels of inequality in these localities are also comparatively reduced. Furthermore, such effects on inequality only emerged in more recent years, which points to dynamics on long-term persistence of forced labor regimes. These results highlight the importance of understanding the particular historical set-up of extractive colonial institutions, and how this in turn would affect the dynamics of their enduring legacies on development outcomes.

Inequality, Fairness, Meritocracy and Preferences for Redistribution

Not My Money to Touch: Experimental Evidence on Redistributive Preferences under Market Transition in China, with Nora Yuqian Chen and Yuchen Huang

[WID Working Paper] [AEA RCT Registry


This paper explores the factors that influence redistributive preferences in the

context of sustained economic expansion, focusing on luck and growth. Using an

online survey experiment with a nationally representative sample from China, we

find that priming getting rich via relatively less meritocratic, yet representative ways

under market transition in post-reform China reduces redistributive support, specifically for policies that aim to take from the rich and the belief in the government’s duty to redistribute, indicating the presence of a set of fairness views in China that could deviate from meritocratic ideals. Heterogeneous treatment effects analyses reveal that such non-meritocratic fairness views are a general phenomenon and self-interest in the form of subjective economic pressure only serves as a secondary concern. While people feel that the rich are more deserving and demand less redistribution after being primed with stories of getting rich via transition premium regardless of subjective economic pressure, only those under less economic pressure exhibit decreased support for policies that aim to help the poor. Priming China’s growth story does not result in statistically significant changes in redistributive support. Additionally, we rule out the influence of three relevant confounders: low tax salience, preference falsification under authoritarianism, and misperceptions about relative income positions and intergenerational occupational mobility. We argue that such potentially non-meritocratic fairness views are particularly salient in societies that break away from a centrally-planned economic system in the past, and transition towards a high-growth market economy, where economic fortunes are abundant and random.

Non-Meritocrats or Conformist Meritocrats? A Redistribution Experiment in China and France, with Yuchen Huang and Margot Belguise

[WID Working Paper] [AEA RCT Registry


Recent empirical evidence contends that meritocratic ideals are mainly a Western

phenomenon. Intriguingly, the Chinese populace appears to not differentiate

between merit- and luck-based inequalities, despite its rich historical legacy of meritocratic institutions. We propose that this phenomenon might be due to the Chinese public’s greater adherence towards the status quo. In order to test this hypothesis, we run an incentivized redistribution experiment with elite university students in China and France, by varying the initial split of payoffs between two real-life workers to redistribute from. We show that Chinese respondents consistently and significantly choose more non-redistribution (playing the status quo) across both highly unequal and relatively equal status quo scenarios than our French respondents. Additionally, we also show that the Chinese sample does differentiate between merit- and luck-based inequalities, and does not redistribute less than the French absent status quo conformity. Ultimately, we contend that such a phenomenon is indicative of

low political agency rather than apathy, inattention, or libertarian beliefs among the

Chinese. Notably, our findings show that Chinese individuals’ conformity to the status

quo is particularly pronounced among those from families of working-class and

farming backgrounds, while it is conspicuously absent among individuals whose

families have closer ties to the private sector.

Perceptions and Preferences towards Chinese Investments: A Randomized Survey Experiment in Germany, with Li Yang and Carsten Schröder


China’s rapid economic development and its central role as a driver of globalization have resulted in expanding economic ties with the European Union (EU) over the past few decades. However in the most recent years, given geo-political tensions there's also a lot of concerns within the EU over whether investment ties should be further strengthened with China. In this project, we plan to focus on one important dimension of such mutual economic ties: namely Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) between China and Germany, the latter of which is one of China's biggest investment partners within the EU. Specifically, we propose to conduct a randomized information-provision survey experiment, in which we will survey the German public’s opinions towards inward Chinese Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in Germany, where we will investigate first of all, whether there are major misperceptions from the German public when it comes to the actual figures and status quo with regards to Chinese FDIs inside Germany. And secondly, we will study the contrasting causal effects of negative (and positive) Chinese FDI narratives versus Chinese FDI facts on the formation of preferences towards Chinese investments.


I taught Development Economics, Linear Algebra and Introduction to Core Economics, at Sciences Po Paris - Campus du Havre, for two semesters, in the academic years of 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.

Levels: First and Second Years, Bachelor in Economics and Political Science.

I'm also teaching assistant for Thomas Piketty's course <Introduction to Economic History: Capital, Inequality, Growth>  for the academic years of 2022-2024 at the Paris School of Economics. 


Media Outreach for the World Inequality Lab

What's new about inequality in East Asia?  

[Regional Update 2022]

[Issue Brief]

[Technical Report]