Playing Checkers in Chinatown

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Proposal Description:

In the 1974 motion picture Chinatown the private investigator J. J. “Jake” Gites (Jack Nicholson) is involved in a conspiracy that involved corruption, deceit and “family secrets.” The goal of the conspirators consisted on buying the lands of unsuspected farmers in the Owens Valley (some 400 miles north of Los Angeles) and then building an aqueduct to bring the water to the city, where it would be worth a fortune. Although, this description is fictional and far from reality, there is much controversy on the way the city of L.A. purchase the water and land rights in the Owens Valley.
The goal of the project is to gather individual unpublished detailed data of all the purchases of land and water rights (1905-1934). With the individual data we will be able to assess whether the prices paid were “fair.” We will also assess why some farmers and not others were able to organize in sellers’ pools. Finally, we will test whether the city of L.A. established a purchasing pattern of “checkers,” thereby isolating farmers’ properties in order to buy them later at a lower price.

Requisite Skills and Qualifications:

The goal for the RA will be to use econometric techniques to test different hypotheses regarding the questions posed above. She will use the dataset that we have and use econometric software such as R or STATA. Knowledge of GIS is advisable, but it is not a prerequisite.

Proposal Two Title: Inequality and Vertical Mobility over the very long run

Proposal Description:

The recent increase in inequality in the U.S. and other developed countries has stimulated the debate among economists. This debate is best exemplified by Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the twenty-first century and his critics. Taking aside the predictions for the future and the role that capital gains play in this debate, a deeper question is: what is a “normal” level of inequality in historical terms? In other words, if we take the estimates at face value, and inequality today is similar to that of the 19th century and higher than most of the middle of the 20th century, which one is the historical anomaly? Is it normal to have high levels of inequality, and the 20th century was an exception, or is it normal to have low levels of inequality and the 19th century was an exception? Without information on inequality before the 19th century, it is hard to answer the above questions.
The role of women in mobility studies has been underplayed due to the lack of information on women’s income. Moreover, since most of the studies are focused on Anglo-Saxon countries, where it is customary for the bride to take the last name of the groom, it is not possible to construct matrilineal family trees. In contract, this was not the case in Spain, even in the pre-modern era. Therefore the study could shed a new light on the role of women on inequality and social mobility.

Requisite Skills and Qualifications:

The RA will help analyze the data-set using econometric techniques. Knowledge of econometric software such as STATA or R is required. 

Project Type: 
Tobin RA