who are you?

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics at the University of Colorado Boulder. My research is in environmental, natural resource, and computational economics. I am on the job market in 2018-2019 and available for interviews at the ASSA annual meeting in Atlanta.

I received a BS in Business Administration in 2012 from the University of California, Riverside, and an MA in Economics in 2016 from the University of Colorado Boulder; my PhD adviser is Dan Kaffine.

what do you do?

I study common-pool resources and commercial orbit use. Earth’s orbits are the world’s largest common-pool resource. As humans launch more satellites, the risk of collisions between orbiting objects increases. Paths in low-Earth orbit are under “open access” - firms are unable to secure property rights over orbits. Open access to a common-pool resource typically causes over-exploitation, and sometimes collapse, of the resource. In the orbital case, expect to see more satellite-destroying collisions and a higher risk of Kessler Syndrome in low-Earth orbit than would be socially optimal.

In my job market paper I derive economic principles governing the choice of space traffic control policies and the effects of active debris removal technologies. Since physical uncertainty over collisions is symmetric between regulators and firms, space traffic control policies can be efficient as prices or quantities. What matters for efficiency is whether policies are imposed on the stock of active satellites in an orbit (e.g. a satellite tax) or the flow of satellites entering an orbit (e.g. a launch tax). Policies targeting satellite launches deter entry into the orbital commons, creating rents for incumbent satellite owners. These rents cause inefficient spikes in the launch rate, collision risk, and risk of Kessler Syndrome, and limit the regulator’s ability to induce socially but not privately optimal satellite deorbits. Policies targeting satellite ownership, on the other hand, can smoothly reduce the collision risk and induce deorbits when necessary. Though active debris removal technologies can reduce the risk of Kessler Syndrome, under open access they will only reduce the risk of satellite-destroying collisions to the extent that satellite owners bear the cost of debris removal.

I am also interested in applying tools from information elicitation to externality problems in environmental economics. Many of these problems require a regulator to elicit reports from parties generating externalities to assess compliance and liability. Using these reports as the basis of corrective policy gives externality creators an incentive to manipulate their reports to reduce their liability. In ongoing work, my coauthor and I uncover some features of economically efficient elicitation and corrective taxation mechanisms which use independently-obtained aggregate or ambient data to verify marginal emissions reports from polluters. We numerically analyze a specific scheme, the Brier-Pigou tax, and consider its robustness to strategic collusion in reporting. I think it would be useful for policy design if this could be generalized to an understanding of how the elicitation complexity of marginal damages or abatements scales with uncertainty and convexity in the damage or abatement cost functions.

In my free time I make silly Twitter bots, play video games (online RTS and single-player RPGs), and think about the economics of fictional worlds .


Akhil Rao
Department of Economics
University of Colorado–Boulder
256 UCB
Econ 414
Boulder, Colorado 80309–0256

Email: akhIil.raodon't@wantcospam! loSopleaseraleave dome.alonee!du
Phone: 951-732-7261