Using Field Experiments To Improve Efficiency of the Provisions of the State by Mrugank Bhusari (A’21)

by tuftsigl
Jul 22

As I continue experimenting with experimental economics, I have tried to find the common lines between macroeconomics and field experiments as a research methodology in economics.

I recently worked on a macroeconomics experiment that Professor John A. List is conducting in partnership with a national government. In line with similar experiments he has already conducted, this will be a tax compliance experiment where the researchers will implement different treatments to test whether there are any significant differences in terms of tax compliance rates between these ‘treatment’ groups and the ‘control’ group (the group that does not receive the mechanism the researchers are testing). This experiment will hold particularly important ramifications for countries with developing economies since these states typically face a relatively greater difficulty in efficiently collecting income and property taxes from their citizens.

As a research assistant, my primary task was to go through each of the nearly 50 published and working papers that have conducted similar experiments and study their structures to find specific information to help in formulating a framework for conducting this large-scale experiment. This was a great experience because I realized the close attention to detail that must be paid to experiments, not only for ensuring the validity of the results but also since experiments, particularly macrolevel experiments, can have important consequences for the respective polity or organization. A flawed experiment could not only invalidate the results but also tamper with existing institutions and the trust and expectations the general populace places in them. Moreover, it is extremely rare and difficult to have the opportunity to work with a macrolevel actor, which makes this project all the more special.

This internship has been special for me because I have had the opportunity to reconcile my own reservations regarding the methodologies and seemingly limited scalability of economic models. As a research assistant, I also had the opportunity to sit in on the weekly team meetings of all of senior and junior research assistants working with Prof. List. Over these meetings, I would learn of all the different projects the team of 30 or so researchers were working on (many of which were related to macro and developmental economics). I would furthermore also understand how progress was made on each of the projects on a weekly basis and thus gain insight into the research process.

Each meeting, one senior member would also present a project in detail that he/she has been working on, and this would often become a feedback and question session regarding the framework, theory and logic of the experiment. I thus got to interact with other professors and researchers who were interested in fields and topics similar to mine.

The multiple projects I worked on as well as the people I met and conversations I’ve had have thus allowed me explore economics as a field that is influenced by and continues to influence other disciplines pertaining to social interactions and human behavior, as well as an instrument for development and informed policymaking.