Political Economy of Inequality

Does Public Policy Make Citizens? Causal Estimates of the Impact of Welfare State Participation on Democratic Citizenship

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Redistribution is a cornerstone of most modern democratic polities. While scholars generally argue for and document a positive correlation between participation in the welfare state and democratic citizenship, making causal claims about the effect of redistributionary policies on political engagement is difficult since recipients and non-recipients differ across a number of observable and unobservable dimensions. To identify the causal effect of redistribution on political participation, I leverage a discontinuity generated by the eligibility rules for Medicare–one of the most ubiquitous social welfare programs in the United States. Using a fuzzy regression discontinuity design, I find that participation in Medicare actually reduces or has no effect on political engagement measured along a variety of dimensions including attending political meetings, working on or donating to campaigns, and voter turnout. These results indicate that public policies that are a product of democratic politics may actually undermine democratic citizenship.

From Immigrants to Americans: Race, Status and Assimilation during the Great Migration

(with Vasiliki Fouka and Marco Tabellini) We study how the inflow of 1.5 million of African Americans to the US North between 1915 and 1930 – a historical episode termed the first Great Migration – affected the assimilation of previously arrived European immigrants. We construct a shift-share instrument by interacting 1900 settlements of southern-born blacks living in northern cities with out-migration from each southern state after 1910. Measuring assimilation in several ways, including naturalization rates, intermarriage trends and occupational patterns, we provide evidence that the arrival of African Americans favored the Americanization of European immigrants. We discuss several mechanisms through which the rising numbers of an out-group might have favored the economic and cultural integration of previous outsiders, including competition between minorities and the effect of racial threat on barriers to immigrant assimilation.


  • The Economic and Political Legacies of the New Deal: Evidence from Linked Administrative Data (with Ryan Enos, Jacob Brown, and James Feigenbaum)
    • We study the impact of the New Deal–particularly, the Works Progress Administration–on intergenerational mobility and political behavior by linking new, individual-level, administrative data on public works employment to the 1940 U.S. Census and contemporary voter files.
  • Patronage and Clientelism in the Age of Mass Migration (with James Snyder)
    • Explores the relationship between immigration and patronage in the United States from 1910-1930.