Inequality and Redistribution

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.

Works in Progress

  • The Economic and Political Legacies of Public Works Programs: Evidence from the Works Progress Administration (with Ryan Enos and Jacob Brown)
  • Religion, Community, and Support for Redistribution in the United States