TEN BILLION HOURS
Administrative burden and welfare politics
In addition to lagging behind many European economies in the breadth, amount, and quality of welfare provision, the United States also exhibits relatively low rates of take-up among the benefits it does make available. Non-take-up rates can be accounted for—at least in part—by the various bureaucratic barriers that welfare recipients face; multiple qualitative studies have documented the humiliating and arduous nature of applying for benefits. Even in the case of the ostensibly less-burdensome Earned Income Tax Credit, a large share of the transfer is captured by tax preparers.
In their 2019 book, Administrative Burden, Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan argue that these difficulties are not incidental. Through a close inspection of the administrative design of a series of domestic welfare policies (including the Affordable Care Act, SNAP, and Social Security) they demonstrate that difficulty accessing benefits is a core, and intentional, feature of America’s welfare state.
From the book’s introduction:
“Burdens matter. They affect whether people will be able to exercise fundamental rights of citizenship, such as voting; they affect whether people can access benefits that can improve quality of life, such as health insurance. Burdens can alter the effectiveness of public programs. Ultimately, administrative burdens are the fine print in the social contract between citizens and their government.
Administrative burdens are the product of political choices. In many cases, political actors see burdens as a policy tool to achieve ideological goals. Such choices are demonstrated by the maintenance of burdens even when changing circumstances call for governments to minimize them: The failure of the American administrative state to adapt Depression-era burdens on immigrants from Europe is one example of how not acting is itself a choice. Once the war began, Congress and the State Department increased restrictions under the justification that immigrants posed a security threat. In 1943, the new State Department visa application was four feet long.”
- Via a review of Herd and Moynihan’s book: the Information Collection Budget report from the OMB, which estimates that “the public spent an estimated 9.78 billion hours on federal paperwork in 2015, a net increase of 350 million burden hours from 2014.” Link.
- Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward made a powerful case for non-take-up rates as a central clarifying element of the American welfare system: their 1971 book, Regulating the Poor, advocated mass enrollment in welfare programs to reveal the inadequacy of the benefits system. Link to the book, link to seminal 1966 essay that first proposed the “Cloward-Piven Strategy.”
- “This article explores the relationship between revolution and the bureaucratization of tax administration in early modern England and France.” Edgar Kiser and Joshua Kane on the history of bureaucracy. Link. Tangentially related: a “history of file-keeping and bureaucratic paperwork in Maoist China” by Jian Ming Chris Chang. Link.
Palm Oil & Land Redistribution
In a 2018 working paper, SOAS PhD student CAROLINE HAMBLOCH examines the impact of buyer-driven value chains in the palm oil industry and finds that agrarian land reform has not resulted in redistribution of land to small, independent farmers, as intended. Her research stems from field work in Agusan del Sur, Philippines.
“The chain literature has remained surprisingly silent about land as a factor of production and as the basis for chain configuration, overemphasizing capital and to a lesser extent labor. I fill this gap by investigating the interaction of land reform, chain governance, and their implications on economic and social up- and downgrading in the oil palm chain in the Philippines. I argue that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) introduced in 1988 under the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) limited the physical expansion of oil palm plantations profoundly, driving companies to extract as much profit as possible from existing plantation. Thereby, the CARP has not led to the desired redistribution of power from the landed to the landless, i.e. from the palm oil plantation companies to the landless workers, but rather has exacerbated the unequal power distribution between plantation and milling companies and agrarian reform beneficiaries (i.e landowners), producing economic and social downgrading trajectories for reform beneficiaries and farmworkers, and worsening distributional outcomes.”
Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- New on the blog: Patrick Robbins surveys the history of the Rural Electrification Administration to draw lessons for a Green New Deal. Link. And next Friday JFI is thrilled to host Alyssa Battistoni—political theorist, Environmental Fellow at Harvard, and co-author of the new book A Planet to Win—to present on labor and the Green New Deal. Link to the sign-up form.
- Incredible new work by Xiaowen Lin, Paul J. Ruess, Landon Marston and Megan Konar maps—for the first time—the food flows between counties in the United States. Link to the paper, and link to coverage in Fast Company.
- “Do political coalitions actually have the power to influence the performance metrics used for retrospection on the timeline introduced by elections?” John Holbein and Adam Dynes on accountability and electoral timelines. Link.
- Liberalization and the post-communist transition. Link.
- The Labor Center at Berkeley looks at the changing nature of warehouse work. Among the findings: uptake of new technology will continue to be uneven in the low-margin warehousing industry; new technologies are likely to increase work intensity, deskilling, and workplace control measures. Link to the full report.
- Ben Casselman on “The White Collar Job Apocalypse That Never Happened.” Link.
- Arindrajit Dube’s report for the UK government reviewing the international evidence on the impacts of minimum wages: “Overall, existing research therefore points to a muted effect of minimum wages on employment, while suggesting that minimum wages significantly increase the earnings of low paid workers.” Link.
- “Sprawl has outpaced densification.” Link.
- “Using a sample of bonds issued by school districts in coastal counties, we show that municipal bond markets began pricing sea level rise (SLR) exposure following upward revisions in SLR projections in 2013.” By Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham, Matthew Gustafson, Ryan Lewis and Michael Schwert. Link.
- From Autonomy, a “starter pack” on new progressive economic thought, featuring writing from James Meadway, Alice Martin Matthew Lawrence, Grace Blakeley, and others. Link.
- SCOTUSBlog interviews Corey Robin about his new book on Clarence Thomas. “Where legal scholars, focused on doctrinal questions, can only see inconsistency and opportunism in Thomas’ opinions, I tend to see deeper consistencies and visions, which don’t track tidy doctrinal or even partisan lines but do reflect a larger political imagination.” Link.
- A new report from JPAL examines the gender differential in returns to loans and grants. Link. h/t Halah
- Ran Abramitzky, Leah Boustan, Elisa Jácome, and Santiago Pérez examine intergenerational mobility of immigrants in the US over two hundred years. “Using millions of father-son pairs spanning more than 100 years of US history, we find that children of immigrants from nearly every sending country have higher rates of upward mobility than children of the US-born.” Link.
- “In a Honduran field experiment, sequences of cash transfers to poor households varied in amount of the largest (peak) and last (end) transfers. Larger peak-end transfers increased voter turnout and the incumbent party’s vote share in the 2013 presidential election, independently of cumulative transfers.” Link. h/t Sidhya
- “After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, Tsarist Russia’s pace of industrial development, urbanization, and economic growth accelerated. Despite these changes, Russian society was riven by formal social, political, and class divisions, which observers have long tied to the revolutionary events of the early twentieth century. However, for all the debate over class differentiation in Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution, scholars have yet to develop a comprehensive measure of inequality. Careful handling of an eclectic data set reveals the unequal incomes of different classes of Russians on the eve of Revolution. We estimate incomes by economic and social class in each of the fifty provinces of European Russia.” By Peter Lindert and Steven Nafziger. Link.jainfamilyinstitute.us16.list-manage.com/track/click
Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations: email@example.com.