Gregory Lane, a development economist, has joined the Harris faculty as an Assistant Professor, starting the 2022-2023 academic year. His research agenda focuses on innovations in finance, technology, and labor markets in developing countries.

Prior to joining Harris, Lane was an Assistant Professor at American University. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a PhD in Agriculture and Resource Economics in 2019. He is currently researching projects on public bus safety in Kenya, social protection for refugees, and on-line job portals in India. 

Lane extends the school’s faculty expertise in development economics and related fields, which includes two Nobel laureates.

In this Q&A, Lane shares perspective on his research, his career, and what drew him to Harris.

What can you tell us about your research?

I have a fairly eclectic focus, but the majority of my work explores one of two areas. The first is refugee protection and how various interventions – such as helping them to find work – have an impact on their lives and societies. And the second major line of research looks at technology in labor markets and how those markets change as new technologies are introduced.  I’m also working on some other projects – one with the World Bank evaluating how well resilience programs work and another with some Harris colleagues, Fiona Burlig and Amir Jina, on the potential value of monsoon onset forecasts for farmers in India.

What are you learning about technology’s impact on labor markets and broader societies?

One project that I’m excited about explores the adoption of remote monitoring technology for commuter minibuses in Kenya. These buses are prevalent there and in many other countries. The technology was expected to do things like discourage drivers from driving recklessly, thereby improving public safety and potentially also having an impact on how successfully the bus companies operate. We found that the introduction of these monitoring devices does not necessarily affect safety, but it does prevent the drivers from taking risks such as driving on bad roads – which helps the firms reduce maintenance costs, operate more profitably, and expand operations. In this way, our work suggests that these kinds of monitoring devices could be a boon for small businesses in developing countries.  

On the other hand, because we were surprised that there was no impact on safety, we began to advertise a rating system, which showed riders which bus companies had a better track record than others for safety.  And over time that has caused both riders to switch and the companies themselves to improve their safety performance. We’re still assessing how much you can generalize about the impact of this kind of transparency.

What about your work on refugee issues?

I’ve been involved in studying refugee protection with projects in Bangladesh and Uganda. One of the things that we are studying is a low-cost program that provided jobs to refugees. What we found is that giving cash assistance with work requirements attached was a far more desirable policy option than simply giving people money. This work revealed that it’s psychologically disadvantageous to not be working. Those refugees who had jobs reported being 3-4x higher on key happiness measures than their non-working peers. Consistent with these findings, 66% of those in our work treatment were willing to forego cash payments to instead work for free. We’re learning that broad work restrictions on refugees that are common in many locations could be quite damaging.  

Why did you choose to come to Harris?

Harris, and the broader community at UChicago, has become a place where lots of exciting work in development economics is being done, which make it an appealing school to join. Also, I was already working with two faculty members at Harris, so when the opportunity to join came I was quite excited.  

Are you teaching this year?

Yes, I will be teaching this year – likely sometime in the winter or spring quarters. The exact courses have not yet been decided, but I’m excited to start engaging with Harris students.

What else should we know about you?

I’m married to a wonderful development economist, Erin Kelley, with whom I do a lot of my research. If you’re interested in the type of work that I do, you should also learn more about her by browsing her website.