This is the third in our series of posts by students on the job market this year.
Economists tend to believe that travel and trade costs reduce welfare. Trade papers like Irwin (2005), Redding & Sturm (2008), Storeygard (2014), and Etkes & Zimring (2014) draw on evidence from the United States, West Germany, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Gaza Strip to support this idea. One might reasonably expect, therefore, that the welfare of Palestinian commuters declined during the Second Palestinian Uprising (2000-2007), when the Israeli army deployed hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints along the West Bank’s internal road network in order to defend Israeli civilian settlements. Although these obstacles were intended to deter and intercept militants, they had the unintended consequence of delaying Palestinian civilian travel between Palestinian towns, and from Palestinian towns to Israel (B’Tselem (2007), World Bank (2007)). Two World Bank working papers (Cali & Miaari (2014), van der Weide et al (2014)) take advantage of this ‘natural experiment’ to study the effects of travel costs on commuters’ welfare, finding that economic outcomes of Palestinians declined in the face of obstacle deployment. My job market paper, however, finds a very different result: while obstacles reduced the welfare of laborers in some towns, laborers from other towns actually benefited from obstacles. The salient outcome of obstacle deployment was not welfare reduction, but rather welfare inequality.