The Seasons


Applying quantitative methods to examine the spread of ideology in judicial opinion

In a recent paper, co-authors ELLIOTT ASH, DANIEL L. CHEN, and SURESH NAIDU provide a quantitative analysis of the judicial effects of the law and economics movement. Comparing attendance at seminars run by the Manne Economics Institute for Federal Judges from 1976 to 1999 against 380,000 circuit court cases and one million criminal sentencing decisions in district courts, the authors identify both the effects on judicial decision-making and the dispersion of economic language and reasoning throughout the federal judiciary.

“Economics-trained judges significantly impact U.S. judicial outcomes. They render conservative votes and verdicts, are against regulation and criminal appeals, and mete harsher criminal sentences and deterrence reasoning. When ideas move from economics into law, ideas have consequences. Economics likely changed how judges perceived the consequences of their decisions. If you teach judges that markets work, they deregulate government. If you teach judges that deterrence works, they become harsher to criminal defendants. Economics training focusing on efficiency may have crowded out other constitutional theories of interpretation. Economics training accounts for a substantial portion of the conservative shift in the federal judiciary since 1976.”

Link to the paper.

  • Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber picks out some additional highlights. Link.
  • A Washington Post article from January 1980 provides some contemporaneous context on the Manne seminars. Link.
  • In a relevant 2015 paper, Pedro Bordalo, Nicola Gennaioli, and Andrei Shleifer apply salience theory to model judicial decision-making: “The context of the judicial decision, which is comparative by nature, shapes which aspects of the case stand out and draw the judge’s attention. By focusing judicial attention on such salient aspects of the case, legally irrelevant information can affect judicial decisions.” Link.


A new publication from JFI

This week, we’re pleased to introduce Phenomenal World, a publication featuring writing from JFI staff and external contributors. We’ll be adding posts once a month on metaresearch; basic income, welfare and the commonwealth; digital ethics; education; economic history; and evolving institutions. We hope you’ll enjoy our first set of posts:

  • From JFI Lead Researcher Sidhya Balakrishnan and fellow Gary Tan, a comprehensive literature review on the effects of conditional and unconditional cash transfers: “As a whole, the research also does not show that recipients of cash transfers are spending on temptation goods–rather, they’re putting the money into smoothing consumption, like increased food security and purchases of durable goods.” Link.
  • From JFI fellow David Gray Grant, a digital ethics case study: “The [AI software] agent made a surprising recommendation: it recommended that the intervention team put the youth currently at highest risk of drug abuse into one group, and divide the youth at lower risk among the remaining groups… For obvious reasons, this made the research team deeply uncomfortable, and left them uncertain as to how to proceed.” Link.
  • From Cosmo Grant, on significance tests in statistics: “The very same sequence of coin flips, with the very same conventions, leads to opposite conclusions, depending on which stopping rule was used. That’s what we mean when we say that significance tests are sensitive to the stopping rule.” Link.
  • From Steve Krouse, on Dynamicland, a dream for a new coding interface: “Dynamicland is a new kind of computer. It’s not a gadget that you keep in your pocket, nor one you can slip into your bag. The whole darn room is the computer.” Link.


  • Annie Lowrey on Kamala Harris’ proposed LIFT The Middle Class Act. Link. And link to a post from our colleagues at the Economic Security Project, some of whose Working Families Tax Creditmade its way into the proposed legislation.
  • Last month, Chicago announced the Resilient Families Task Force, which is “charged with further modernizing and expanding access to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), exploring a potential pilot of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) or other guaranteed income programs, and recommending other opportunities to reduce poverty and reduce financial burdens on low-income residents.” Link. JFI’s UBI team was honored to present to the task force earlier this week about pilot design. (See here for the Onion’s incisive take.)
  • The first analysis of pre-registered studies shows a sharp rise in null findings. Link.
  • From The Century Foundation: an issue brief on higher education funding and community colleges. Link.
  • From 2013, an interesting post on Shinichi Mochizuki’s controversial ABC Conjecture papers, and the social dimensions of mathematical proofs: “A proof in a vacuum is no proof at all.” Link. (Link, also, to some news from this year in the ongoing debates over Mochizuki’s proof.)
  • “The diffusion of salary information has important implications for labor markets, such as for wage discrimination policies and collective bargaining. We provide evidence of significant frictions in how employees search for and share salary information and suggestive evidence that these frictions are due to privacy norms.” Link.
  • “The New Class Blindness” by Cary Franklin in the Yale Law Journal. Link.
  • In a post at Effective Altruism, Amanda Askell discusses the moral value of information. Link.
  • On the mortality crisis in the post-89 transition to market economies in eastern Europe. Link.
  • New from Dani Rodrik: “Global value chains and new technologies exhibit features that limit the upside and may even undermine developing countries’ economic performance.” Link.
  • “Our research analyzes the gradual extensions of suffrage to various segments of the population over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in 18 countries… [and] provides empirical evidence that extending suffrage to broader segments of the population hampers the development of stock markets. In contrast, broadening suffrage is conducive to banking sector development.” Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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