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Ph.D. Students Bibek Adhikari and Sean Higgins Awarded Doctoral Dissertation Research Grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF)


Two of Economics' fifth-year Ph.D. students have received prestigious doctoral dissertation grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Bibek Adhikari's project, “The Economic and Behavioral Effects of a Value-Added Tax: Evidence from Firm-Level Data,” investigates whether the value-added tax (VAT) is an efficient tax in practice, where imperfect tax compliance and enforcement imply that one cannot rely on traditional economic models of tax efficiency. His study, under Principal Investigator James Alm, Chair of Tulane’s Economics Department, exploits the notch created by the VAT registration threshold in France to analyze the causal effect of VAT. In addition to funding from the NSF, Bibek’s research has received funding from a Tulane School of Liberal Arts Summer Merit Fellowship, as well as the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy. The results from his study will provide insights on how to improve the administration, the enforcement, and ultimately the effectiveness of the VAT system.

The second recipient is fifth-year Ph.D. student Sean Higgins. Sean’s project, “Debit Cards, Cash Transfers, and Savings: Evidence from Mexico,” studies the use of formal bank accounts by poor families who receive cash transfers from the government. His study, under Principal Investigator Nora Lustig, Samuel Z. Stone Professor of Latin American Economics, exploits a natural experiment in Mexico to explore the role of debit cards in both reducing the transaction costs of accessing savings (by permitting withdrawals at any bank’s ATM) and in providing a mechanism for poor families to build their trust in banks (by checking account balances at nearby ATMs). In addition to funding from the NSF, Sean’s research has received funding from two Tulane School of Liberal Arts Summer Merit Fellowships, as well as the Fulbright Program. The results from his study will provide important insights for governments seeking to increase financial inclusion, especially as many government welfare programs move to payments in bank accounts tied to debit cards.

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