Cristóbal Otero

I'm an Assistant Professor in Economics at Columbia Business School. I hold a PhD in Economics from UC Berkeley, where I worked under the supervision of Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

I'm interested in public, health, and organizational economics.

My CV is available here, and you can contact me at


Abstract: We study the effects of competition by state-owned firms, leveraging the decentralized entry of public pharmacies to local markets in Chile. Public pharmacies sell the same drugs at a third of private pharmacy prices, because of stronger upstream bargaining and market power in the private sector, but are of lower quality. Public pharmacies induced market segmentation and price increases in the private sector, which benefited the switchers to the public option but harmed the stayers. The countrywide entry of public pharmacies would reduce yearly consumer drug expenditure by 1.5 percent.

[NBER WP 30779] [NBER Appendix]

Featured: [Pauta] [The Clinic] [Sonar FM] [Las Últimas Noticias] [Chilevisión Noticias 1, 2] [CNN Chile] [LAPDE Podcast] [Diario Financiero 1, 2]

Policy Briefs: [by Centro de Competencia UAI] [Nada es Gratis] [Columbia Business School]

Twitter Thread

Abstract: We study a regulation in Chile that mandates warning labels on products whose sugar or caloric concentration exceeds certain thresholds. We show that consumers substitute from labeled to unlabeled products—a pattern mostly driven by products that consumers mistakenly believe to be healthy. On the supply side, we find substantial reformulation of products and bunching at the thresholds. We develop and estimate an equilibrium model of demand for food and firms' pricing and nutritional choices. We find that food labels increase consumer welfare by 1.8% of total expenditure, and that these effects are enhanced by firms' responses. We then use the model to study alternative policy designs. Under optimal policy thresholds, food labels and sugar taxes generate similar gains in consumer welfare, but food labels benefit the poor relatively more.

Featured: [El País] [Pauta] [Radio Usach] [Chilevision] [America Economía] [La Tercera] [CNN Chile] [BBC Sounds] [DiarioConVos] [Cadena 3] [Canal de la Ciudad] [DelSol] [Infobae] [Esto No es Economía] [Pivotes] [Centro Competencia] [La Nación]

Policy Briefs: [Ciper Chile] [Nada es Gratis]

Policy Discussion: [Centro UC Políticas Públicas]

Video:  [econimate]

Twitter Thread

Abstract: This paper explores how discontinuities created by national borders can influence development across the Americas. We exploit the discontinuous nature of borders jointly with exogenous variation at the national level to identify discontinuous effects on proxies for economic development at the regional and pixel levels. We separate the effects of national institutions from local historical conditions. Our analysis yields three main findings. First, we find important discontinuities in development across national borders for the Americas. Second, we also show that they are, for the most part, caused by institutional differences at the national level and not for differences at the regional level in geography, climate, endowments, and pre-colonization conditions. Third, we also present evidence that differences in national institutions affect human capital at the regional level.

Working papers

Managers and Public Hospital Performance
with Pablo Muñoz
Last update: May 2024
Revision requested at the American Economic Review

Winner of the 2024 Essen Health Conference Best Paper Award

Abstract: We study whether, and how, managers can increase government productivity in the context of public health provision. Using novel data from public hospitals in Chile, we document that top managers (CEOs) account for a significant amount of variation in hospital mortality. Using a difference-in-differences design, we show how the introduction of a competitive selection system for recruiting public hospital CEOs reduced hospital mortality by approximately 7%. The effect is not explained by a change in patient composition and is robust to several alternative explanations. Instead, we provide suggestive evidence that the reform led to more efficient use of medical resources and improved personnel practices. We then show that the policy changed the pool of CEOs by displacing doctors with no management training in favor of CEOs who had studied management. The mortality effects were largely driven by hospitals in which the new CEO had managerial qualifications.

Featured: [El Mercurio] [CNN Chile] [Pivotes] [Nada es Gratis 1]

Policy Briefs: [Nada es Gratis 2]

Single-Threshold Food Labeling Policies
with Nano Barahona, Sebastián Otero, and Josh Kim
Last update: December 2023

Abstract: We study the aggregate and heterogeneous effects of a front-of-package labeling policy implemented in Chile. We find that consumers reduced their sugar and caloric intake by 9% and 6%, reductions explained by consumers purchasing healthier products and firms reformulating their offerings. On the demand side, labels prompt consumers to substitute within categories rather than between categories. Within-category responses are more pronounced when labels provide new information. On the supply side, we observe bunching at regulatory thresholds with substantial heterogeneity across categories, consistent with heterogeneous costs of product reformulation. We conclude that considering policy-response heterogeneity is key for effective policy design. 

Featured: [El Mercurio] [Radio Cooperativa] [Social Science Matrix]

Policy Briefs: [Berkeley Econ] [Centro Competencia CeCo]


Impuestos Justos para el Chile que Viene: Diagnóstico y Desafíos Tributarios para un Nuevo Pacto Fiscal
with Jorge Atria (eds.)
Fondo de Cultura Económica. November 2021 (1st Edition), September 2022 (2nd Edition)

Thomas Piketty
Author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century
This is a fascinating book on inequality and taxation in Chile. This collective volume brings the best experts and a refreshing perspective on this central issue. Chile is one of the most unequal countries in the world, partly due to its unfair tax system and the legacy of the Pinochet regime. At a time when the country is rethinking its basic law and social contract, this is a very timely book and a must-read for all citizens of the world.

Gabriel Zucman
Coauthor of The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay
Taxation is one of the most important political — and even philosophical — issues we face as citizens. This groundbreaking book is a treasure trove of information on taxation and inequality in Chile, a rigorous analysis of the changes in taxation that have taken place over the last century, and a vital contribution to the public debate that will resonate for many years in Chile and in Latin America.

Selected work in progress

Occupational Licensing in Global Labor Markets: Evidence from Physicians
with Juan Pablo Atal, Tomás Larroucau, and Pablo Muñoz

Public outreach

Media (In Spanish)

Written (In Spanish)

Other fun stuff

Interview with Gabriel Zucman
with Juan Andrés Guzmán
May 2022, Tercera Dosis

Is Chile richer than Uruguay?
Twitter thread

Has inequality decreased in Chile?
Twitter thread

Amateur political philosophy: Social equality's (in)compatibilities with liberal egalitarianism
Sept 2016 | Dissertation, MSc. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, LSE