Alastair Langtry

PhD student at the University of Cambridge. I'm a microeconomic theorist. My main interest is in networks, including how they interact with 'non-standard' preferences. I'm also interested in conflict and political economy. 

email: atl27 [at]

address: Faculty of Economics, Austin Robinson Building, Sidgewick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DD

Working Papers

Status Substitution and Conspicuous Consumption (with Christian Ghiglino, Draft date: March 2023)


This paper adapts ideas from social identity theory to set out a new framework for modelling conspicuous consumption. Notably, this approach can explain two stylised facts about conspicuous consumption that initially seem at odds with one another, and to date have required different families of models to explain each: (1) people consume more visible goods when their neighbours’ incomes rise, but (2) consume less visible goods when incomes of those with the same race in a wider geographic area rise. The first fact is typically explained by ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ models, and the second by signalling models. Our model also explains related features of conspicuous consumption: that the rich are more sensitive to others’ incomes than the poor, and that the effect of income inequality on consumption differs qualitatively across groups. Importantly, it explains this fourth stylised fact without falling back on differences in preferences across groups, as required in other models. In addition, our model delivers new testable predictions regarding the role of network structure and income inequality for conspicuous consumption. 

Keeping up with "The Joneses": reference dependent choice with social comparisons (Draft date: June 2022) Winner, EEA Young Economist Award, 2022

Accepted, American Economic Journal: Microeconomics


Keeping up with “The Joneses” matters. This paper examines a model of reference dependent choice where reference points are determined by social comparisons. An increase in the strength of social comparisons, even by only a few agents, increases consumption and decreases welfare for everyone. Strikingly, a higher marginal cost of consumption can increase welfare. In a labour market, social comparisons with co-workers create a big fish in a small pond effect, inducing incomplete labour market sorting. Further, it is the skilled workers with the weakest social networks who are induced to give up income to become the big fish

Inside the West Wing: Lobbying as a contest (Draft date: July 2022)


We treat lobbying as a contest. We find that a benevolent government wants to give favourable treatment to certain special interest groups in exchange for contributions. In other words, the government sells “protection”. Doing so improves overall welfare. The government sells protection to build its own “war chest” of political capital, and does so until it wins all remaining contests. It will sell protection to those it finds least objectionable. Treating lobbying as a contest stands in contrast to prevailing models that view lobbying as driven by information or agency problems. 

Social networks, confirmation bias and shock elections (with Edoardo Gallo, Draft date: November 2020)


In recent years online social networks have become increasingly prominent in political campaigns and, concurrently, several countries have experienced shock election outcomes. This paper proposes a model that links these two phenomena. In our set-up, the process of learning from others on a network is influenced by confirmation bias, i.e. the tendency to ignore contrary evidence and interpret it as consistent with one's own belief. When agents pay enough attention to themselves, confirmation bias leads to slower learning in any symmetric network, and it increases polarization in society. We identify a subset of agents that become more/less influential with confirmation bias. The socially optimal network structure depends critically on the information available to the social planner. When she cannot observe agents' beliefs, the optimal network is symmetric, vertex-transitive and has no self-loops. We explore the implications of these results for electoral outcomes and media markets. Confirmation bias increases the likelihood of shock elections, and it pushes fringe media to take a more extreme ideology. 

Fines and progressive ideology promote social distancing (with Darija Barak and Edoardo Gallo, Draft date: September 2021)


Governments have used social distancing to stem the spread of COVID-19, but lack evidence on the most effective policy to ensure compliance. We examine the effectiveness of fines and informational messages (nudges) in promoting social distancing in a web-based interactive experiment conducted during the pandemic on a near-representative sample of the US population. Fines promote distancing, but nudges only have a marginal impact. Individuals do more social distancing when they are aware they are a superspreader. Political ideology also has a causal impact -- progressives are more likely to practice distancing, and they are marginally more responsive to fines. 

The economic and health impacts of contact tracing and quarantine programs (with Darija Barak and Edoardo Gallo, Draft date: September 2022)


Contact tracing and quarantine programs have been one of the leading Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions against COVID-19. Some governments have relied on mandatory programs, whereas others embrace a voluntary approach. However, there is limited evidence on the relative effectiveness of these different approaches. In an interactive online experiment conducted on 731 subjects representative of the adult US population in terms of sex and region of residence, we find there is a clear ranking. A fully mandatory program is better than an optional one, and an optional system is better than no intervention at all. The ranking is driven by reductions in infections, while economic activity stays unchanged. We also find that political conservatives have higher infections and levels of economic activity, and they are less likely to participate in the contact tracing program.