Attempts to curb illegal activity by enforcing regulations gets complicated when agents react to the new regulatory regime in unanticipated ways to circumvent enforcement. We present a research strategy that uncovers such reactions, and permits program evaluation net of such adaptive behaviors. Our interventions were designed to reduce over-fishing of the critically endangered Pacific hake by either (a) monitoring and penalizing vendors that sell illegal fish or (b) discouraging consumers from purchasing using an information campaign. Vendors attempt to circumvent the ban through hidden sales and other means, which we track using mystery shoppers. Instituting random monitoring visits are much more effective in reducing true hake availability by limiting such cheating, compared to visits that occur on a predictable schedule. Monitoring at higher frequency (designed to limit temporal displacement of illegal sales) backfires, because targeted agents learn faster, and cheat more effectively. Sophisticated policy design is therefore crucial for determining the sustained, longer-term effects of enforcement. Data collected from fishermen, vendors, and consumers allow us to document the upstream, downstream, spillover, and equilibrium effects of enforcement on the entire supply chain. The consumer information campaign generates two-thirds of the gains compared to random monitoring, but is simpler for the government to implement and almost as cost-effective.
Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak is a Professor of Economics at Yale University with concurrent appointments in the School of Management and in the Department of Economics.
Mobarak is the founder and faculty director of the Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE). He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT, as co-chair of its Urban Services Initiative and of its Environment & Energy Sector work. He is also the academic lead for the Bangladesh Research Program for the International Growth Centre (IGC) at LSE, and Scientific Advisor to Innovations for Poverty Action, Bangladesh.
Mobarak has several ongoing research projects in Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Malawi. He conducts field experiments exploring ways to induce people in developing countries to adopt technologies or behaviors that are likely to be welfare improving. He also examines the implications of scaling up development interventions that are proven effective in such trials. His research has been published in journals across disciplines, including Econometrica, Science, The Review of Economic Studies, the American Political Science Review, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Demography, and covered by the New York Times, The Economist, Science, NPR, Wired.com, BBC, Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, and other media outlets around the world. He received a Carnegie Fellowship in 2017.
Mobarak is currently collaborating with Evidence Action in multiple countries to replicate, test, and scale his research program that encourages rural to urban seasonal migration to counter seasonal poverty. This program, called No Lean Season, is supported by GiveWell.org, Good Ventures and the Global Innovation Fund, and the start-up accelerator Y-Combinator.