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December 14, 2007

Gentzkow, Glaeser and Goldin on how the press became informative

Abstract: A free and informative press is widely agreed to be crucial to the democratic process today. But throughout much of the nineteenth century U.S. newspapers were often public relations tools funded by politicians, and newspaper independence was a rarity. The newspaper industry underwent fundamental changes between 1870 and 1920 as the press became more informative and less partisan. Whereas 11 percent of urban dailies were “independent” in 1870, 62 percent were in 1920. The rise of the informative press was the result of increased scale and competitiveness in the newspaper industry caused by technological progress in the newsprint and newspaper industries. We examine the press coverage surrounding two major political scandals – Crédit Mobilier in the early 1870s and Teapot Dome in the 1920s. The analysis demonstrates a sharp reduction in bias and charged language in the half century after 1870. From 1870 to 1920, when corruption appears to have declined significantly within the United States, the press became more informative, less partisan, and expanded its circulation considerably. It seems a reasonable hypothesis that the rise of the informative press was one of the reasons why the corruption of the Gilded Age was sharply reduced during the subsequent Progressive Era.

Matthew Gentzkow, Edward L. Glaeser, and Claudia Goldin (2004), “The Rise of the Fourth Estate: How Newspapers Became Informative and Why It Mattered,” NBER Working Paper 10971. Available here.

Blattman on Violence and Voting in Uganda

Abstract: How do war and violence impact long-run political development? The bulk of existing theory and evidence concerns macro-level actors and processes. This paper presents evidence for a micro-level link between war and individual political engagement. I demonstrate that conscription by a Ugandan rebel group generates quasi-experimental variation in who became a combatant, and use original survey data to show that conscription leads to significantly greater political participation later in life, and that the principal channel appears to be war violence received (rather than perpetrated). Conscription and violence do not appear to affect nonpolitical forms of community participation, however. I show that these patterns are not easily explained by models of participation based on simple rational preferences, social preferences, mobilization by elites, or information availability. Only expressive theories of participation appear consistent with the patterns observed, whereby exposure to violence augments the value a person places on the act of political expression itself.

Christopher Blattman (2007), “From violence to voting: War and political participation in Uganda,” unpublished paper. Available here.

December 13, 2007

Meade and Stasavage on the downsides of open decision making at the Fed

Abstract: Transparency in committee decision making may have clear benefi…ts by making committee members more accountable to outside observers, whether these observers are shareholders, voters, or market participants. While recent literature generally focuses on the advantages of transparency, in this paper we consider one potential cost: the possibility that publishing detailed records of deliberations will make members of a committee more reluctant to other dissenting opinions. Drawing on the literature on expert advisors with “career concerns”, we construct a model that compares incentives for members of a committee to voice dissent when deliberations occur in public, and when they occur in private. We then test the implications of the model using an original dataset based
on deliberations of the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee, asking whether the FOMC’s decision in 1993 to begin releasing full transcripts of its meetings has altered incentives for participants to voice dissenting opinions. We …find evidence that transcript publication has stifl‡ed the FOMC’’s debate over short-term interest rates. Our fi…ndings have implications both for monetary policy institutions, as well as for more general debates about the effect of transparency in agency relationships.

Ellen Meade and David Stasavage (2008), “Publicity of Debate and the Incentive to Dissent: Evidence from the US Federal Reserve,” The Economic Journal, forthcoming. Available here.

Stasavage on polarization and deliberation

Abstract: Though openness in government has obvious benefits, recent scholarship has devoted less attention to the possibility that it might also have costs. I use a formal framework to investigate the effect of public versus private decision making on opinion polarization. Existing work emphasizes that public debate helps to reduce polarization and promote consensus, but I argue that when debate takes place between representatives the opposite may be true. When representatives make decisions in public, they face incentives to use their actions as a signal of loyalty to their constituents, potentially ignoring private information about the true desirability of different policies. Anticipating this, constituents will not alter their prior policy beliefs following a debate of this type. When representatives instead make policy decisions in private, they are more likely to allow private information to influence their actions. An important consequence is that even if constituents do not observe actions or statements of individual representatives, they can still use the final policy choice to revise their initial beliefs. I suggest that these conclusions have significant implications for both the literature on deliberative democracy and for discussions of polarization in American politics.

David Stasavage (2007), “Polarization and Publicity: Rethinking the Benefits of Deliberative Democracy,” Journal of Politics 69:59-72. Available here.

Gomez, Hansford and Krause on Why Republicans Should Pray for Rain

Abstract: The relationship between bad weather and lower levels of voter turnout is widely espoused by media, political practitioners, and, perhaps, even political scientists. Yet, there is virtually no solid empirical evidence linking weather to voter participation. This paper provides an extensive test of the claim. We examine the effect of weather on voter turnout in fourteen U.S. presidential elections. Using GIS interpolations, we employ meteorological data drawn from over 22,000 U.S. weather stations to provide election day estimates of rain and snow for each U.S. county. We find that, when compared to normal conditions, rain significantly reduces voter participation by a rate of just less than one percent per inch, while an inch of snowfall decreases turnout by almost .5 percent. Poor weather is also shown to benefit the Republican Party’s vote share. Indeed, the weather may have contributed to two Electoral College outcomes, the 1960 and 2000 presidential elections.

Brad T. Gomez, Thomas G. Hansford and George A. Krause (2007), “The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather, Turnout, and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections,” The Journal of Politics 69:649-663. Available here.

December 08, 2007

Nunn on the economic consequences of the slave trade

Abstract: Can part of Africa’s current underdevelopment be explained by its slave trades? To explore this question, I use data from shipping records and historical documents reporting slave ethnicities to construct estimates of the number of slaves exported from each country during Africa’s slave trades. I find a robust negative relationship between the number of slaves exported from a country and current economic performance. To better understand if the relationship is causal, I examine the historical evidence on selection into the slave trades, and use instrumental variables. Together the evidence suggests that the slave trades have had an adverse effect on economic development.

Nathan Nunn, “The Long-Term Effects of Africa’s Slave Trades,” forthcoming, Quarterly Journal of Economics. Available here.

Alvarez, Bailey and Katz on Voter ID and turnout

Abstract: Since the passage of the “Help America Vote Act” in 2002, nearly half of the states have adopted a variety of new identification requirements for voter registration and participation by the 2006 general election. There has been little analysis of whether these requirements reduce voter participation, especially among certain classes of voters. In this paper we document the effect of voter identification requirements on registered voters as they were imposed in states in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, and in the 2002 and 2006 midterm elections. Looking first at trends in the aggregate data, we find no evidence that voter identification requirements reduce participation. Using individual-level data from the Current Population Survey across these elections, however, we find that the strictest forms of voter identification requirements — combination requirements of presenting an identification card and positively matching one’s signature with a signature either on file or on the identification card, as well as requirements to show picture identification — have a negative impact on the participation of registered voters relative to the weakest requirement, stating one’s name. We also find evidence that the stricter voter identification requirements depress turnout to a greater extent for less educated and lower income populations, but no racial differences.

Michael Alvarez, Delia Bailey and Jonathan Katz, “The Effect of Voter Identification Laws on Turnout,” unpublished paper. Available here. Via The Monkey Cage.

Barreto, Nuno and Sanchez on voting ID requirements and minority turnout

In 2004 Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, which among other things, strictly enforced new requirements that identification be shown at the polling place before a citizen could vote. Similar laws have since been proposed and passed in many other states, typically related to charges of vote fraud, and often times tied into the divisive debate regarding undocumented immigrants. Changes like these to electoral laws are central to many long-standing theories in the political participation literature. However, very little is known about the effects of voter identification (ID) laws. Our manuscript analyzes the impact that new voter identification laws may have on both the participation rates of particular segments of the electorate, as well as on election outcomes in the United States.
Specifically, through the use of a unique dataset from the 2006 elections, we analyze the impact that voter identification laws have on immigrant and minority voters in California, New Mexico and Washington. Exit polls in each state asked voters to check which forms of identification they would be able to provide if voter ID laws were passed in their state. Controlling for age, income, and education, we find that immigrant and minority voters are significantly less likely to be able to provide multiple forms of identification, such as a copy of their original birth certificate, or a recent bank statement. In full, we asked respondents about their ability to provide approximately six unique forms of identification, and immigrant and minority voters were consistently less likely to have each form of identification. Because our data reflects the identification trends of actual voters, not just adult citizens, the findings go far to suggest that voter identification laws could immediately disenfranchise many Latino, Asian and African American citizens.

Matt Bareto, Stephen Nuno and Gabriel R. Sanchez, “Voter ID Requirements and the Disenfranchisement of Latino, Black and Asian voters,” unpublished paper. Available here.

Via The Monkey Cage.

Heutel on crowding out, crowding in and charity

Abstract: A large literature examines the interaction of private and public funding of public goods and charities, much of it focusing on how public funding crowds out private funding: when governments increase funding of public goods, such as grants to charities, individuals may decrease voluntary contributions. This paper tests two new hypotheses. First, the crowding out effect could also occur in the opposite direction: in response to a change in the level of voluntary private contributions to a charity, the government may alter its level of funding. I show in a static model how crowding out can manifest in both directions, and that the order of movement between the individuals and the government affects the equilibrium level of private and government contributions. Second, with
asymmetric information about the quality of a public good, government funding may act as a signal about that quality. In this case, crowding in of private donations may be observed. I test for both of these phenomena using a large panel data set gathered from nonprofit organizations’ tax returns. I find evidence for both observations: government
grants respond to the level of private donations, and government grants crowd in private donations.

Garth Heutel, “Crowding Out and Crowding In of Private Donations and Government Grants,” unpublished paper. Available here.

Murtin on education and economic growth in the US

This paper proposes a model of long term economic development and assesses it on the United States 1840-2000. Because of a low cost of education, parents invest into children’s education and simultaneously diminish the number of their offspring. This trade-off generates a virtuous circle in which individual productivity, labor market participation and the share of the labor force in total population are rising, ultimately transforming a physical capital-based economy into a human capital-based economy. Overall, the model accounts for major traits of American economic development at the micro-economic level over the period, which are: the rapid spread of education, the continuous decrease in fertility and the associated rise in women participation to the labor market, the reduction in differential fertility across income groups, the growth in life expectancy, the Great Compression of income inequality in the course of the twentieth century, and intergenerational correlation of income. Macro-economic trends such as capital deepening in the nineteenth century, the ageing structure of the population, the rise in labor productivity and fast technological change, are also well captured. Counterfactuals show that the expansion of education has a comparable effect on the growth rates of labor and physical capital, and that inequality has a detrimental impact on output growth because it slows down the accumulation of human capital across generations.

Fabrice Murtin, “American Economic Development or the Virtues of Education,” unpublished paper. Available here.

Montinola on aid conditionality

Abstract: Many scholars argue that conditionality – the setting of policy goals in exchange for access to aid - does not work. None, however, investigates whether aid’s effect on policy is mediated byrecipient country characteristics. I argue that conditional aid’s efficacy depends on recipient countries’ level of democracy because the value of aid to governments depends on the degree to which it helps them maintain power, and recent work shows that the marginal impact of aid on political survival increases with level of democracy. I test this argument on data from 67 countries over the period from 1980 to 1999. I focus on aid’s impact on fiscal reform, one of the most commonly stipulated conditions in aid-for-policy arrangements. I show that aid promotes fiscal reform, but only in more democratic countries, and the positive impact of aid on reform increases with level of democracy. My work thus shows that conditionality is effective but only when applied on democratic governments.

Gabriella Montinola, “When Does Aid Conditionality Work?,” unpublished paper. Available here.