Jonathan Graves

I am a PhD Candidate and Associate Instructor at the Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia.

My research areas are in empirical industrial organization where I focus on firm and consumer decision-making. I am particularly interested in emerging markets, such as crowdfunding, and mature markets where strategic interactions are dynamic and multifaceted.

A Canadian by birth, I have previously studied at the University of Victoria and worked in the private sector. I am on the job market in 2016 and will be available for meetings at the AEA and CEE events in the coming months. Please email me if you wish to meet.

My research areas are in empirical industrial organization where I focus on firm and consumer decision-making. I am interested in using innovative data and techniques to try and discover new facts about how consumers and firms relate to one another in markets. I am always interested in new opportunities for partnerships with private section firms trying to understand their consumers better, and in working with other researchers interested in similar questions

Job Market Paper

Abstract: This paper examines the role of sales (temporary price reductions) in the pricing of perishable products. When products can be stored, periodic sales are commonly explained using inventories: the ability to store lets consumers wait for better prices, and so they have a more elastic demand. When consumers differ in their ability to wait (e.g. different inventories or demands), firms periodically reduce prices in order to keep the regular price high, targeting the low prices to just the most elastic consumers. However, this explanation is not reasonable for perishable goods, since they cannot be stored. Using a large retail dataset, I show that a cyclic pattern of sales is a major feature of how perishable products are priced, which cannot be explained by product expiration. To explain this, I develop a dynamic model of loss leadership. In my model, consumers purchase baskets of goods which contain different mixtures of perishable and storable products. Shopping costs induce consumers to buy their entire basket at a single store. Because these baskets differ, firms can use them to discriminate between different groups of consumers. Specifically, firms want to attract perishable-buying consumers when they are also purchasing relatively many storable goods. In order to do this, they seek to offer these consumers a better total price for their whole basket. It is optimal to do this by lowering just the price of the perishable good, since this targets the price reduction to the group the firm wishes to attract, keeping the total basket price high for other consumers. Firms time these price reductions to allow the target group of consumers to run down their inventory, which entails trading off present and future profit in an inter-temporal optimization problem. The link between storable good inventories and perishable products creates, in equilibrium, periodic sales on the perishable good. I test my model by linking the retail data to consumer choice data, a process which requires the development of a data-driven method of classifying prices into sales. The results validate the central prediction of the loss leadership model: when consumers buy perishables on sale they also buy more of other products, particularly storable ones, relative to their purchasing in non-sale periods. These findings highlight the role multi-product competition has on pricing dynamics, and rationalize an empirical finding which is difficult to explain with most models of sales.

Working Papers

Abstract: This paper studies large contributions and their impact on the outcomes of crowdfunding projects. I first examine the driving forces behind large contributions, finding that they display an apparent preference for being effective in helping projects succeed; indeed, a substantial proportion of large contributions occur simultaneously with projects reaching their goal, often being pivotal in the success of a project. These findings agree with a consumer choice explanation of how large conributions are made, matching predictions from a theoretical model. I futher examine the role large contributions play in project success. Using an instrumental variables approach, I find that the ability of a project to attract large contributors is important: a project is approximately 40-60% more likely to succeed if they can attract a large contributor. Large contributions also appear to be disproportionately effective relative to their size, indicating they not only provide support in the amount needed, but also when it is needed. This inverts the standard logic of crowdfunding: the crowd may be important, but the success of many projects is driven by large contributors.

Abstract: This paper addresses the question of how supporters of crowdfunding projects behave when they choose whether or not to back projects. To this end, I propose a theoretical model which is consistent with new stylized facts gathered from a unique dataset of crowdfunding projects. This model proposes that crowdfunding takes on aspects of both private value and common value models, via a social learning mechanism. I then demonstrate that the model provides a framework which allows for identification of the valuation process underlying the backing decision. These results are then taken to the data, providing some of the first structural work on the microeconomic foundations of crowdfunding. I also extend the methodology, which allows for the testing of several popular alternative models of backer behaviour.

My Teaching

I am passionate about helping students realize how exciting and dynamic the world of economics can be. My classes focus on conveying the unique advantages and benefits an economic perspective can bring to the analysis of any situation: from the business world to their everyday lives. I use a variety of tools to give students hands-on experience formulating economic arguments and critically evaluating problems including: seminars, in-class discussions, "blended" learning sessions, practical lab experience, 1-on-1 guidance, and lectures. My goal has always been to make students into better critical thinkers, economists, and citizens. You can find my teaching statement here.

Courses Taught
ECON 406 Topics in Microeconomics: Applied Industrial Organization (Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016)

This course takes an economic perspective on the world of business and decision making. What can we say about the optimal way businesses organize themselves and their operations? Rather than focusing only on theory, this course approaches this from a hands-on perspective: what kinds of microeconomic tools can assist economists (and businesses) in understanding how companies operate?

The objective of this course is to give students a relevant set of tools to successfully bring an economic viewpoint to work in a business or other large organization. We begin by focusing on causality and evaluation: how can we tell if a policy is working? How can we tell if event A caused event B? Once we have the basics down, we explore the wide, practical scope of this kind of economic analysis, looking at "in-the-news" stories and topics of popular interest and debate.

From here, we use relevant theory to help students understand how and why businesses adopt certain structures. Theory is paired with relevant empirical analysis, giving students a framework to understand and critically evaluate performance and other relevant topics. Emphasis is on understanding the incentives behind decisions, and the ways to visualize those incentives in the data available. The capstone of the course is a major project, in which students demonstrate their mastery of the tools learned, and show their own creativity and insight.

Select Student Comments and Feedback

  • "Good atmosphere, interesting topics, insightful explanations. Probably one of the best classes I've taken at UBC"
  • "Personable, funny, clear in what he wanted to teach us, and a very kind person. It was a pleasure to be taught by you, Professor! Also, has a pretty sweet beard"
  • "I would like to extend a personal thank-you for your efforts in creating an engaging and interesting course that I would definitely rank amongst the most valuable courses I have taken throughout my degree. I have already had two job interviews, in the field of analytics and consulting, in which most of the discussion on my education has revolved around the practical." method and applications learned in this course.
  • "Very inspiring and engaging professor. His passion for the material made the course both interesting and enjoyable to learning the material. Professor knew his material fluently and was able to answer and direct further interest in the subject matter due to his broad knowledge base on a large spectrum of economic theories. Definitely one of the top professors I have had at UBC."
  • "I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for giving such a wonderful class. It's been a fulfilling (and challenging) semester for me, I really enjoyed the seminar-like atmosphere and learned a lot (the discussion regarding selection bias is really an eye-opener)."

Teaching Assistant at UBC for the following courses:

  • MPP 501: Master of Public Policy, Microeconomics
  • Econ 601: PhD Game Theory
  • Econ 600: PhD Microeconomics
  • Econ 545: Masters Applied Economics
  • Econ 101: Introductory Microeconomics
  • Econ 102: Introductory Macroeconomics
  • PhD Math Camp: Mathematics for Economics