NBER Working Papers by Debraj Ray

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Working Papers

March 2014Aspirations and Inequality
with Garance Genicot: w19976
This paper develops a theory in which society-wide economic outcomes shape individual aspirations, which affect the investment incentives of individuals. Through its impact on investments, aspirations in turn affect ambient social outcomes. We explore this two-way link. A central feature is that aspirations that are moderately above an individual’s current standard of living tend to encourage investment, while still higher aspirations may lead to frustration and lower investment. When integrated with the feedback effect from investment, we are led to a theory in which aspirations and income evolve jointly, and the social determinants of preferences play an important role. We examine conditions under which growth is compatible with long-run equality in the distribution of income. More gener...
January 2014Productivity Response to a Contract Change
with Rajshri Jayaraman, Francis de Vericourt: w19849
This paper studies the productivity impact of a contract change for tea pluckers in an Indian plantation. The contract, implemented at the end of a three-year cycle in which contracts are generally revised, was (a) the joint outcome of negotiations between twenty unions and plantations, (b) mandated to respect a state government notification stipulating a new minimum wage for plantation workers statewide, and (c) applicable equally to all the plantations in the local region. The contract raised the baseline wage by 30% but lowered marginal incentives, by shifting the existing piece rates to higher minimum thresholds and eliminating an existing penalty per unit for low output. In the one month following the contract change, output increased by a factor between 30-60%, the exact number depen...
May 2013Implications of an Economic Theory of Conflict: Hindu-Muslim Violence in India
with Anirban Mitra: w19090
We model inter-group conflict driven by economic changes within groups. We show that if group incomes are low, increasing group incomes raises violence against that group, and lowers violence generated by it. We then apply the model to data on Hindu-Muslim violence in India. Our main result is that an increase in per-capita Muslim expenditures generates a large and significant increase in future religious conflict. An increase in Hindu expenditures has negative or no effect. These findings speak to the origins of Hindu-Muslim violence in post-Independence India.

Forthcoming in the Journal of Political Economy

January 2013Poverty and Self-Control
with B. Douglas Bernheim, Sevin Yeltekin: w18742
The absence of self-control is often viewed as an important correlate of persistent poverty. Using a standard intertemporal allocation problem with credit constraints faced by an individual with quasi- hyperbolic preferences, we argue that poverty damages the ability to exercise self-control. Our theory invokes George Ainslie’s notion of “personal rules,” interpreted as subgame-perfect equilibria of an intrapersonal game played by a time-inconsistent decision maker. Our main result pertains to situations in which the individual is neither so patient that accumulation is possible from every asset level, nor so impatient that decumulation is unavoidable from every asset level. Such cases always possess a threshold level of assets above which personal rules support unbounded accumulation, an...

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