Correctional Autonomy and Authority in the Rise of Mass Incarceration



Abstract: Much of the literature explaining both mass incarceration and increasingly harsh punishment policies has been dominated by a focus on factors external to prisons, such as macrolevel explanations that point to political factors (like a popular rhetoric of governing through crime) or social structures (like the presence or absence of a strong welfare state). Where scholarship has focused on factors internal to prisons, explanations have often focused less on individual actors or correctional influence and more on processes, such as routinization, legalization, and risk management. This article argues for the importance of an additional explanatory factor in understanding the phenomenon of mass incarceration: the internal and relatively individualized influence of correctional officials, especially mid-level bureaucrats, who exercise autonomy and authority not only over prisoners and prison policy implementation but over policy initiation.

Titles for me but not for thee: transitional gains trap of property rights extension in Colombia



Abstract: I apply Tullock’s transitional gains trap to the formalization of property titles in Latin America to understand public choice problems in mending institutions. In an area where land is owned by formal and informal institutions, policies to extend property rights will not be supported by voters holding legal title because it will devalue their property. To test this I use data from Colombia where a peace deal to end a 50-year conflict with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels was reached in 2016 and put to a public referendum. The deal included formalization of property titles across the nation as well as an end to the conflict. Using municipal-level data on voting and property ownership and controlling for conflict history, I find potential losses to formal property holders pushed median voter preferences toward dissension. A 1% increase in legally titled land increases dissenting vote share by 3% points. These results are relevant to institutional reforms anywhere with corrupted property rights.

Arbitration in classical Athens



Abstract: The Classical Athenians developed two formal arbitration procedures. They assigned low stakes disputes to a panel of arbitrators, while high stakes cases were handled by a single arbitrator. Given the information aggregation benefit of collective decision making, one would have expected more individuals to be assigned to more important cases. I develop a theoretical model to provide an explanation for their design. Recognizing that arbitrator competence is endogenous, effort put into making a good decision takes time and effort. In larger groups free riding is a concern. Consequently, there exists environments where the free-riding loss is magnified in higher stakes disputes to the point where the socially optimal panel size is inversely related to the stakes involved.

Racial Bias in Bail Decisions



Abstract: This article develops a new test for identifying racial bias in the context of bail decisions—a high-stakes setting with large disparities between white and black defendants. We motivate our analysis using Becker’s model of racial bias, which predicts that rates of pretrial misconduct will be identical for marginal white and marginal black defendants if bail judges are racially unbiased. In contrast, marginal white defendants will have higher rates of misconduct than marginal black defendants if bail judges are racially biased, whether that bias is driven by racial animus, inaccurate racial stereotypes, or any other form of bias. To test the model, we use the release tendencies of quasi-randomly assigned bail judges to identify the relevant race-specific misconduct rates. Estimates from Miami and Philadelphia show that bail judges are racially biased against black defendants, with substantially more racial bias among both inexperienced and part-time judges. We find suggestive evidence that this racial bias is driven by bail judges relying on inaccurate stereotypes that exaggerate the relative danger of releasing black defendants.

Tullock and the welfare costs of corruption: there is a “political Coase Theorem”



Abstract: Gordon Tullock developed an approach to understanding dynamic processes of political change and policy outcomes. The key insight is the notion that political insiders have a comparative advantage—because they face lower transaction costs—in manipulating rules. The result is that political actors can collect revenues from threatening to restrict, or offering to loosen, access to valuable permissions, permits, or services. To the extent that the ability to pay for such favorable treatment is a consequence of private activities that produce greater social value, there is a “political Coase theorem”: corruption makes bad systems more efficient. But the dynamic consequences are extremely negative, because of the inability to institute reforms resulting from application of Tullock’s “transitional gains trap.”

Fired Up by Morality: The Unique Physiological Response Tied to Moral Conviction in Politics



Abstract: Studies provide mounting evidence that morally convicted attitudes elicit passionate and unyielding political responses. Questions remain, however, whether these effects occur because moral conviction is another strong, versus a distinctly moral dimension of attitude strength. Building on work in moral psychology and neuroscience, I argue that moral conviction stems from a distinctive mode of mental processing that is tied to automatic affective reactions. Testing this idea using a lab experiment designed to capture self‐reported moral conviction and physiological arousal, I find that conviction about political objects positively predicts arousal evoked by the objects, while attitude extremity and importance do not. These findings suggest that moral conviction items do tap into moral processing, helping to validate the conviction measure. They also illustrate the value of using physiological indicators to study politics, help explain why morally convicted attitudes trigger such fervent responses, and raise normative questions about political conflict and compromise.

Can fiscal rules constrain the size of government? An analysis of the “crown jewel” of tax and expenditure limitations



Abstract: Fiscal rules attempt to alter budget outcomes by constraining policy makers. They have been one of the primary responses to the recent string of fiscal crises around the globe. We ask if these rules succeed in altering fiscal outcomes by examining what is arguably the most stringent set of fiscal rules in the U.S.—Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). As TABOR attempts to constrain both taxes and expenditures, we develop a novel approach of estimating treatment effects for multiple outcomes simultaneously using the synthetic control methodology of Abadie et al. (2010). Although there will always be a degree of uncertainty over external validity when a policy is enacted in only a single state, our results provide no evidence that TABOR affected the level of taxes or spending in Colorado and are precise enough to rule out large negative effects. Thus, no support is found for the contention that fiscal rules alter budget outcomes. Instead, TABOR appears to have been partly evaded by policy makers and voters despite its stringency and partly nothing more than a ratification of the state’s preference over the size of its public sector.