↳ Administrative+burden

December 23rd, 2019

↳ Administrative+burden

The Road in the Forest

Thank you for reading the JFI letter this year. As we prepare for another year of research and link sharing, here's some of what we sent in 2019.
We'll see you in 2020.

OVER ILLUMINATION

Highlights from a year of JFI Letters

+ In our first newsletter of 2019, we looked at a report by Yale School of Management's Evidence in Practice project, which considered the relationship between research and policymaking: "The most successful examples of evidence integration lessen the distinction between evidence generation and application, and focus on designing approaches that simultaneously generate (different types of) rigorous evidence and develop an iterative process for integrating evidence into practice." Link to the archived letter. + A July letter features work by Jonas Hjort et. al on how research evidence shaped the decisions of policymakers in Brazil. Link to the archived letter.

+ Recurring debates on the future of work: Brishen Rogers argues that labor precarity is the result of politics, not the outcome of any force of automation outside of our control: "Hotel work, food services, janitorial work, and retail work have become precarious over the past twenty years because companies in those sectors forcibly de-unionized and/or 'fissured' away their workers to subcontractors or franchisors, thereby denying them effective access to many legal rights." Link to the April letter. + In the first of a two-part series, Aaron Benanav historicizes automation debates in order to shed light on their significance for the present. Link to the October letter.

+ On education and the labor market: Alicia Sasser Modestino et. al criticize the "skills gap" theory, which suggests that labor standards are declining because American workers lack the training to enter high paid industries. They argue instead that it's due to an abundance of skilled workers that employers have raised the credentials required for entry level jobs. And Marshall Steinbaum and Julie Morgan show the "skills gap" theory to be inconsistent with the student debt crisis. Link. + In March, we looked at the proliferation of certificate programs, an understudied development in the higher education landscape. Link to the archived letter.

+ On the nuts and bolts policy history and implementation: A recent letter discussed Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan's book, Administrative Burden, which argues that, "ultimately, burdens are the fine print in the social contract between citizens and their government." Link to the archived letter. + A look into the history of the EITC, from May. Link.

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November 12th, 2019

Hanging Scheme

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."

Link to the book, and link to a January interview with the authors on the New Books Network.

  • 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.
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