Department of Economics
Coventry CV4 7AL, United Kingdom
Political Economy, Law and Economics, Applied Microeconomics, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning
“Elections and divisiveness: Theory and evidence” (with Massimo Morelli and Richard Van Weelden), Journal of Politics (2017).
This paper provides a theoretical and empirical analysis of how politicians allocate their time across issues. When voters are uncertain about an incumbent’s preferences, there is a pervasive incentive to “posture” by spending too much time on divisive issues (which are more informative about a politician’s preferences) at the expense of time spent on common-values issues (which provide greater benefit to voters). Higher transparency over the politicians’ choices can exacerbate the distortions. These theoretical results motivate an empirical study of how Members of the U.S. Congress allocate time across issues in their floor speeches. We find that U.S. Senators spend more time on divisive issues when they are up for election, consistent with electorally induced posturing. In addition, we find that U.S. House Members spend more time on divisive issues in response to higher news transparency.
“New Policing, New Segregation: From Ferguson to New York” (with Jeffrey Fagan), Georgetown Law Journal (2017).
Modern policing emphasizes advanced statistical metrics, new forms of organizational accountability, and aggressive tactical enforcement of minor crimes as the core of its institutional design. Recent policing research has shown how this policing regime has been woven into the social, political and legal systems in urban areas, but there has been little attention to these policing regimes in smaller areas. In these places, where relationships between citizens, courts and police are more intimate and granular, and local boundaries are closely spaced with considerable flow of persons through spaces, the “new policing” has reached deeply into the everyday lives of predominantly non-white citizens through multiple contacts that lead to an array of legal financial obligations including a wide array of fines and fees. Failure to pay these fees often leads to criminal liability. We examine two faces of modern policing, comparing the Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. We analyze rich and detailed panel data from both places on police stops, citations, warrants, arrests, court dispositions, and penalties, to show the web of social control and legal burdens that these practices create. The data paint a detailed picture of racially discriminatory outcomes at all stages of the process that are common to these two very different social contexts. We link the evidence on the spatial concentration of the racial skew in these policing regimes to patterns of social and spatial segregation, and in turn, to the social, economic and health implications for mobility. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of the “new policing” for constitutional regulation and political reform.
“Intrinsic motivation in public service: Theory and evidence from state supreme courts” (with W. Bentley MacLeod), Journal of Law and Economics (2015).
This paper provides a theoretical and empirical analysis of the intrinsic preferences of state appellate court judges. We construct a panel data set using published decisions from state supreme court cases merged with institutional and biographical information on all (1,636) state supreme court judges for the 50 states of the United States from 1947 to 1994. We estimate the effects of changes in judge employment conditions on a number of measures of judicial performance. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that judges are intrinsically motivated to provide high-quality decisions, and that at the margin they prefer quality over quantity. When judges face less time pressure, they write more well-researched opinions that are cited more often by later judges. When judges are up for election then performance falls, suggesting that election politics take time away from judging work – rather than providing an incentive for good performance. These effects are strongest when judges have more discretion to select their case portfolio, consistent with psychological theories that posit a negative effect of contingency on motivation.
“On the behavioral economics of crime” (with Frans van Winden), Review of Law & Economics (2012).
This paper examines the implications of the brain sciences’ mechanistic model of human behavior for our understanding of crime. The standard rational-choice crime model is refined by a behavioral approach, which proposes a decision model comprising cognitive and emotional decision systems. According to the behavioral approach, a criminal is not irrational but rather ‘ecologically rational,’ outfitted with evolutionarily conserved decision modules adapted for survival in the human ancestral environment. Several important cognitive as well as emotional factors for criminal behavior are discussed and formalized, using tax evasion as a running example. The behavioral crime model leads to new perspectives on criminal policy-making.
This paper contributes to recent work in political economy and public finance that focuses on how details of the tax code, rather than tax rates, are used to implement redistributive fiscal policies. I use tools from natural language processing to construct a high-dimensional representation of tax code changes from the text of 1.6 million statutes enacted by state legislatures since 1963. A data-driven approach is taken to recover the effective tax code – the set of legal phrases in tax law that have the largest impact on revenues, holding major tax rates constant. Exogenous variation in tax legislation from judicial districts is used to capture revenue impacts that are solely due to changes in the tax code language, with the resulting phrases providing a robust out-of-sample predictor of tax collections. I then test whether political parties differ in patterns of effective tax code changes when they control state government. Relative to Republicans, Democrats use revenue-increasing language for income taxes but use revenue-decreasing language for sales taxes – consistent with a more redistributive fiscal policy – despite making no changes on average to statutory tax rates. These results are consistent with the view that due to their relative salience, changing tax rates is politically more difficult than changing the tax code.
“Electoral systems and political attention: Evidence from electoral reform in New Zealand” (with Massimo Morelli and Moritz Osnabrügge)
This paper investigates how electoral systems influence political attention in parliamentary democracies. We argue that electoral systems affect the transaction costs of making decisions because they facilitate different types of government. If the transaction costs are high, parliamentarians have more incentives to talk about procedural topics. To test our argument, we study the effect of the 1993 electoral reform in New Zealand, which replaced a first-past-the-post system with a mixed-member proportional electoral system. We introduce a new supervised learning method to estimate topics from the text of 300,000 parliamentary speeches in the period 1987 through 2002. We find that the reform increased attention towards the process of decision-making. This effect is especially strong for general debates and parliamentarians from opposition parties.
“Civil Service Reform in U.S. States: Structural Causes and Impacts on Delegation” (with Massimo Morelli and Matia Vanonni)
This paper studies the causes and consequences of the introduction of an independent bureaucracy. We demonstrate with a theoretical model that legislators establish an independent bureaucracy where their interests diverge (i.e. where government is divided). We take this claim to data by studying civil service reforms in U.S. states in the second half of the 20th century. Consistent with the model, we find that states tend to introduce stronger merit systems when there is divided government (that is, different political party control of legislature and governorship). Next, we examine the impact of these reforms on legislative complexity, using new methods from computational linguistics. We find that after civil service reform, legislatures start writing more complex statutes that contain more legal provisions. This is consistent with a model in which a more independent bureaucracy requires more specific instructions to avoid agency drift, rather than a model in which a more technocratic bureaucracy should be given less instructions and more discretion.
“Are governors more likely to keep their promises under divided government? Agenda speech and legislative outcomes” (with Daniel M. Butler and Joseph L. Sutherland).
Do governing politicians fulfill their promises? Are they more likely to do so when their party has greater institutional power? We link gubernatorial agenda speech to the language reflected in state session laws to examine whether the agenda speech is more likely to be reflected in subsequent law under unified government. The empirical strategy compares changes in similarity between the agenda speech and enacted laws over time. The paper dedicates substantial time to the comparison of results under different modeling specifications. We provide evidence of greater similarity after a speech under unified government than after a speech in under divided government, which suggests that politicians are more likely to keep their promises when they have the political power to do so.
“A research-based ranking of public policy schools” (with Miguel Urquiola).
This paper presents research-based rankings of public policy schools in the United States. In 2016 we collected the names of about 5,000 faculty members at 44 such schools. We use bibliographic databases to gather measures of the quality and quantity of these individuals’ publication output. These measures include the number of articles and books written, the quality of the journals the articles have appeared in, and the number of citations all have garnered. We aggregate these data to the school level to produce a set of rankings. The results differ significantly from existing rankings, and in addition display substantial across-field variation.
“Sequential decision-making with group identity” (with Jessica Van Parys).
Previous experimental studies on sequential decision-making games have shown that individuals often conform to the decisions of others rather than reveal their private information — resulting in less information produced and potentially lower payoffs for successive participants. This paper asks whether the decisions underlying such information cascades are affected by experimentally induced group identity. We show that players conform more to the decisions of in-group members and less to the decisions of out-group members, especially on pivotal tie-breaking turns where choices may result in cascades. In particular, reverse cascades (cascades on the wrong choice) are more likely to occur in rounds with more in-group members, reducing average payoffs in those rounds. The results suggest that players update their beliefs differently depending on the group identities of other players. Therefore, alternating decision-making across members of different groups may improve welfare in sequential decision-making contexts.
“The Performance of Elected Officials: Evidence from State Supreme Courts” (with W. Bentley MacLeod).
This paper provides evidence on the effect of electoral institutions on the performance of public officials. Using panel data on state supreme courts between 1947 and 1994, we measure the effects of changes in judicial electoral processes on judge work quality — as measured by citations by later judges. Judges selected by non-partisan elections write higher-quality opinions than judges selected by partisan elections. Judges selected by technocratic merit commissions write higher-quality opinions than either partisan-elected judges or non-partisan-elected judges. Election-year politics reduces judicial performance in both partisan and non-partisan election systems. Giving stronger tenure to non-partisan-selected judges improves performance, while giving stronger tenure to partisan-selected judges has no effect.
“Ideas have Consequences: The Impact of Law and Economics on American Justice” (with Daniel Chen and Suresh Naidu).
“Religious freedoms , church-state separation, and religiosity: Evidence from randomly assigned judges” (with Daniel Chen).
“Aging and retirement in a high-skill group: The case of state supreme court judges” (with Bentley MacLeod).
“Local public finance and discriminatory policing: Evidence from traffic stops in Missouri” (with Jeffrey Fagan and Allison Harris).
“Property taxes and local labor markets: Evidence from staggered property reassessments.”
“The making of international tax law: Empirical evidence from treaty text” (with Omri Marian).