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Essays on Markets and Institutions in Emerging Economies


Market frictions pervade emerging economies and constrain private sector development. In such settings, formal institutions to help address contract enforcement, property rights and information asymmetries are typically weak or absent. Instead, market participants must rely on informal practices and institutions to mitigate uncertainty, instability and opportunism. For example, personalized exchange relationships are useful when contract enforcement is weak, and cash holdings can be attractive when financial institutions are unreliable. In three specific emerging economy settings, I explore how informal practices and institutions interact with formal market development, and in particular the role that market frictions play in determining outcomes for firms, technologies and employees.

The first chapter of this dissertation explores how changes in formal upstream market structure affect the economics of downstream relationships using original data from the ice industry in Sierra Leone. In this setting, a monopoly ice manufacturer sells through independent retailers to fishermen buyers. I demonstrate that a shock that increases upstream competition among manufacturers improves the contractual terms offered by retailers to buyers. Under the monopoly manufacturer, late deliveries are common due to outside demand shocks. To help mitigate this uncertainty, retailers prioritize loyal customers when faced with shortages, and buyers respond by rarely switching retailers. When manufacturers compete, prices fall, quantities increase and services improve with fewer late deliveries. Entry upstream also disrupts collusion among retailers by increasing the value of competing for buyer relationships. Competing retailers expand trade credit provision as a new basis for loyalty, and stable buyer relationships reemerge after a period of intense switching. The findings suggest that market structure shapes informal contractual institutions, and that competition can reconstitute the nature of relationships.

The second chapter addresses the relationship between violence and financial decisions in Afghanistan. In particular, I investigate how violence affects the tradeoff between informal cash holdings - which are liquid but insecure - and usage of a more secure but less liquid formal financial account. Using three separate data sources, I find that individuals experiencing violence retain more cash and are less likely to adopt and use mobile money, a new financial technology. First, combining detailed information on the entire universe of mobile money transactions in Afghanistan with administrative records for all violent incidents recorded by international forces, I find a negative relationship between violence and mobile money use. Second, in the context of a randomized control trial, violence is associated with decreased mobile money use and greater cash balances. Third, in financial survey data from nineteen of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, I find that individuals experiencing violence hold more cash. Collectively, the evidence indicates that individuals experiencing violence prefer cash to mobile money. More speculatively, it appears that this is principally because of concerns about future violence. These results emphasize the difficulty of creating robust financial networks in conflict settings.

Finally, in the third chapter, I study how informal behaviors interact with incentives to affect employees' decisions to formally save in the context of a large firm in Afghanistan. I analyze a mobile phone-based account that allows savings to be automatically deducted from salaries. Employees who are automatically enrolled in this defined-contribution account are 40 percentage points more likely to contribute than individuals with a default contribution of zero. Analyzing randomly assigned employer matching contributions, I find that the effect of automatic enrollment on participation is approximately equivalent to providing financial incentives equal to a 50 percent match. To understand why default enrollment increases participation, some employees are randomly offered an immediate financial consultation, and others a financial consultation in one week. Employees are more likely to discuss changing their savings contributions in one week, suggesting that defaults raise contributions because of the perceived complexity of financial decisions, and because employees procrastinate in developing a financial plan for the future.

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