Oliver W. Kim


Job Market Paper

NOAA rocket launch
The launch of a NOAA satellite.

Reassessing China's Rural Reforms: The View from Outer Space, with Joel Ferguson. [Latest Draft]

Abstract: We study one of the central reforms in China’s economic miracle, the Household Responsibility System (HRS), which decollectivized agriculture starting in 1978. The HRS is commonly seen as having significantly boosted agricultural productivity—but this conclusion rests on unreliable official data. We use historical satellite imagery to generate new measurements of grain yield, independent of official Chinese statistics. Using a difference-in-discontinuities design, we find no causal evidence that provinces that adopted the HRS sooner experienced faster grain yield growth. These results challenge our conventional understanding of decollectivization, land reform, and the origins of the Chinese miracle.

Working Papers

The Distribution of Power: Decentralization and Favoritism in Public Infrastructure, with Catherine D. Wolfram, Susanna B. Berkouwer, Felipe Vial, Eric Hsu, and Edward Miguel. Submitted. [Latest Draft (June 2024)] [Online Appendix]

Privilège Exorbitant? The Developmental Effects of the CFA Franc, with Abdoulaye Cissé and Joel Ferguson.

Land Reform and the Taiwanese Miracle, with Jen Kuan Wang. [Latest Draft]

Abstract: Taiwan’s 1950s land reform, which redistributed land to tenant farmers, has long been thought of as central to its growth miracle, but this claim has never been tested with modern empirical tools. By assembling a novel dataset from historical archives and exploiting a natural experiment in the second phase of the reform program, we study land reform’s effect on Taiwan’s economic development. We have three main findings. First, land reform reduced tenancy and increased the share of smallholder farmers. Second, land reform significantly increased the yields of rice, Taiwan’s main staple crop. Finally, agricultural productivity growth pulled labor from the manufacturing sector, consistent with a standard neoclassical growth model. Considering the large boon to agricultural productivity, these results strongly suggest that land reform had a large and positive impact on Taiwan’s economic development.


Money or Power? Choosing Covid-19 Aid in Kenya, with Susanna B. Berkouwer, Pierre Biscaye, Eric Hsu, Kenneth Lee, Edward Miguel, and Catherine D. Wolfram. Energy Economics. 2023. 127(B)107036. [Journal version] [Working paper] [IGC Blog Post] [PEDL Blog Post]