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Paying for Power (with Anant Sudarshan)

Fiona Burlig, Assistant Professor, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago

Jan 30 2023 | 11:00am to 12:00pm PT Bren Hall 1424 / Online

Headshot of Fiona Burlig
Fiona Burlig

Dr. Burlig's research is at the intersection of energy, environmental, and resource economics with a focus on developing countries. Dr. Burlig's work combines microdata, machine learning, and causal inference methods to inform policy-making. The Bren community will have much to learn from her talk on implementing and analyzing the outcomes of a large-scale randomized controlled trial of enforcement efficacy in India's electricity sector.
—Sandy Sum, Bren School PhD Student

Dr. Burlig will present in person at Bren. Join us in Bren Hall 1424 or watch online using this link and passcode power



Developing countries struggle to collect public revenue, reducing their ability to provide services. In the Indian electricity sector, state-run utilities incur billions of dollars in losses, exceeding the budgets of other ministries, because they do not collect on payments due to them. This paper reports the results of an enforcement experiment run in partnership with two state utilities in Madhya Pradesh, where only 28 percent of domestic customers pay in full. We randomize 30,000 households into a control group and several enforcement treatment arms. We find that mailed disconnection notices and electricity disconnections significantly reduce arrears in the short-run. In contrast, an identical notice delivered in person by local utility staff has no effect, as does a traditional SMS reminder and a social comparison nudge. We find evidence of significant heterogeneity in treatment effects, suggesting that targeting may be useful. 


Fiona Burlig is an Assistant Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Deputy Faculty Director of EPIC-India. She is an applied microeconomist with research interests in and at the intersection of energy, environmental, and resource economics and development economics. Prior to joining Harris, she was a postdoc in the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago. She holds a PhD in agricultural and resource economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BA in economics, political science, and German from Williams College.

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