The Curley Effect: The Economics of Shaping the Electorate

James Michael Curley, a four-time mayor of Boston, used wasteful redistribution to his poor Irish constituents and incendiary rhetoric to encourage richer citizens to emigrate from Boston, thereby shaping the electorate in his favor. As a consequence, Boston stagnated, but Curley kept winning elections. We present a model of using redistributive politics to shape the electorate, and show that this model yields a number of predictions opposite from the more standard frameworks of political competition, yet consistent with empirical evidence.

A nice paper (pdf) by Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer.



Tail effects

From Emil Kirkegaard‘s website,

Tail effects are when there are large differences between groups at the extremes (tails) of distributions. This happens when the distributions differ in either the mean or the standard deviation (or both), even when these differences are quite small.

A nifty interactive visualization to explore tail effects can be found here.

Dani Rodrik, It’s a war of ideas, not of interests

Another perceptive blog post by Dani Rodrik.

The progressives’ preference for specific policies is rooted in the view that voters’ “interests” – as they derive from their occupation, income, race, or gender – are fairly fixed. So policies are winners as long as they appeal to those “interests.”

But there is a complementary perspective in politics that says political competition is as much about shaping those interests. The politics of ideas is about activating identities that may otherwise remain silent, altering perceptions about how the world works, and enlarging the space of what is politically feasible.

Progressives need to shape the narrative that structures voters’ interests. They need to be able to appeal to identities beyond race and gender – occupation, social class, income status, and patriotism. They need to convince the electorate that it is their interests they have at heart – not those of bankers or of large corporations.  They need to forge a story line that will shape a package of policy proposals into a politically appealing whole.

Progressives need not give up on the white, male working class. But they need to understand that politics is as much about redefining perceptions of interests as it is about responding to those interests.

Read the whole post.


A group of middle-aged whites in the U.S. is dying at a startling rate

A large segment of white middle-aged Americans has suffered a startling rise in its death rate since 1999, according to a review of statistics published Monday that shows a sharp reversal in decades of progress toward longer lives.

An increase in the mortality rate for any large demographic group in an advanced nation has been virtually unheard of in recent decades, with the exception of Russian men after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Read more here.

Racial Differences in Police Use of Force

Interesting paper by Roland G.Fryer, Jr.

This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of which have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.


Books on writing

Academic writing is often a real challenge for both undergraduate and graduate students. It is an absolutely necessary skill.

Here are some useful books,

Strunk & White, The Elements of Style is probably the best known.

Joseph M. Williams’ Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace is also very good.

A personal favorite is Thomas & Turner, Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose.