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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

James Heintz

Second Advisor

Daniele Girardi

Third Advisor

Emily Wang

Subject Categories

Behavioral Economics | Growth and Development | Political Economy


This dissertation uses microeconomics to study questions of learning and conflict in developing countries. The first essay studies how much rural producers in developing countries can learn from their own experience to redress important information gaps about their crop. It builds a theoretical model of learning from experience and applies it using a rich dataset on cotton farmers in Pakistan. I test whether farmers learn from cultivation experience about the pest resistance of their seeds and use this information to improve selection and productivity. I find no such learning effect and this conclusion is robust to several parameters that could signal learning. The findings document the difficulty of parsing out information from cultivation experience alone and point to the importance of external information provision by the government in these contexts. The second essay studies how firms can learn from cumulative production experience to improve productivity and competitiveness, also known as learning by doing. It argues that learning by doing may be particularly important in a development context but that its popular conceptualization in the growth literature, as a passive process in which higher output automatically improves productivity, falls short in some important ways. I review case studies on firm behavior to show that a more active process, in which workers must exert costly effort to learn from trial and error, is a better approximation of how experience improves productivity. I compare this type of learning, which I term effortful learning by doing, to other types of knowledge acquisition, and use qualitative evidence to demonstrate its relevance to productivity growth in developing country firms. The third essay studies the ongoing absence of a solution in Israel-Palestine through the lens of game theory. It shows that the game theoretic literature on the conflict largely relies on unsupported assumptions about what the main actors are trying to achieve. Specifically, a historical analysis of Israel's settlement policy suggests that Israel is not strategically interested in withdrawing from the occupied territories in a ``land for peace'' deal, contrary to what most formal models assume. I show that integrating alternative, more historically plausible, assumptions into a game can generate results mirroring the settler-expansion of the Israeli state and help explain the deteriorating prospects for a solution.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.