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Causal Inference for Spatial Treatments

Michael Pollmann

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Abstract: Many events and policies (treatments) occur at specific spatial locations, with researchers interested in their effects on nearby units of interest. I approach the spatial treatment setting from an experimental perspective: What ideal experiment would we design to estimate the causal effects of spatial treatments? This perspective motivates a comparison between individuals near realized treatment locations and individuals near counterfactual (unrealized) candidate locations, which differs from current empirical practice. I derive design-based standard errors that are straightforward to compute irrespective of spatial correlations in outcomes. Furthermore, I propose machine learning methods to find counterfactual candidate locations using observational data under unconfounded assignment of the treatment to locations. I apply the proposed methods to study the causal effects of grocery stores on foot traffic to nearby businesses during COVID-19 shelter-in-place policies, finding a substantial positive effect at a very short distance, with no effect at larger distances.

Date: 2020-10, Revised 2023-01
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-ecm, nep-geo, nep-tre and nep-ure
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Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:2011.00373