↳ Coronavirus

July 27th, 2020

↳ Coronavirus

Avey From Cane


Catastrophic deficiencies in the federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic have led to renewed discussion over federalism and its discontents. The divergence among state responses to the crisis in the absence of federal guidance has produced analyses of Trump’s unique, “narrow” sense of federalism, pronouncements of “a new era of federalism,” and hopes for a solidarity-minded “civic federalism.”

In a 1997 article, health law professor JAMES G. HODGE JR. analyzes the impact of state-centric “new federalism” jurisprudence on the government’s ability to realize public health goals. Hodge places new federalism in the context of decades of increasing intrusion by the federal government on states’ power over public health policy:

"The impact of new federalism on the field of public health law is seen in the history of public health regulation. The metamorphosis of public health regulation from purely local to predominantly national means resulted from increased federal presence in the field corresponding to a deemphasis on traditional federalism. It is an inescapable conclusion that an increased federal presence shifted public health goals. National public health priorities dominate local ones. New federalism restrains the federal intrusion on state public health powers by requiring Congress to operate within the constraints of the political process. As a result, state police powers exercised in the interest of public health are strengthened emphatically by the political process confining federal authority to enter the field."

Full paper available here.

  • In an article published this April, Hodge reassesses federal vs. state public health powers in light of disparate responses to the pandemic: "Americans are left wondering, 'which level of government is actually in charge here?' In the face of a pandemic like Covid-19, the answer under principles of federalism is increasingly clear: neither." Link.
  • "American federalism—with its fissures and fractures—haunts the state of emergency." A March post from Phillip Rocco. Link. (See also Rocco's recent post on fiscal federalism in Notes on the Crises.) Along similar lines: Rocco, Daniel Béland, and Alex Waddan on the fiscal barriers to pandemic response. Link. And Nicole Huberfeld, Sarah H. Gordon, and David K. Jones argues that the pandemic has magnified the state-level inequities fostered by federalism. Link.
  • For another view on the relationship between federalism and public health: A 2014 paper by Adam Varvel on the West Nile outbreak of 1999. Link. See also: A post-SARS policy brief on the impact of federalism on international health regulations. Link.
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May 26th, 2020



Analyses of variation in state-level responses to the coronavirus tend to focus on party determination: On the whole, states led by Democrats have been found to undertake more rapid and extensive responses to the crisis. The focus on immediate political factors, however, masks the broader history of America's uneven and disaggregated bureaucratic capacity.

A 1982 book by STEPHEN SKOWRONEK presents one of the most comprehensive accounts of the origins of the US administrative state. Focusing on reforms in civil administration, the army, and national railroad regulation from 1870-1920, the book demonstrates how regional differences contributed to the particular character of American state development.

"Unravelling the state-building problem in modern American political development places the apparent statelessness of early America in a new light. The governmental forms and procedures necessary for securing order in industrial America emerged through a labored exercise in creative destruction. Modernization of national administrative controls did not entail making the established state more efficient; it entailed building a qualitatively different kind of state.

The Civil War brought national military conscription, a national welfare agency for former slaves, a national income tax, national monetary controls, and citizenship. Yet, this was a state grounded in only half the nation. As the South returned, national electoral politics changed, and these institutional achievements began to be undone. Here, then, was a state only in the sense of the word imputed to it by the interests and strategies of the mass electoral organizations controlling its offices. No institution stood beyond the reach of party concerns. The fate of the wartime governmental apparatus suggests that if new institutional forms are to constitute a new state, they must alter the procedural bonds that tie governmental institutions together and define their relationship to society."

Link to the publisher's page.

  • Theda Skocpol and Kenneth Finegold expand Skowronek's research into the New Deal era. Link.
  • "In societies where social status is a cleavage, elites can use the threat of desegregation to unite wealthy and poor members of high-status groups against taxation and the bureaucratic capacity required to collect taxes." Pavithra Suryanarayan and Steven White on "Slavery, Reconstruction, and Bureaucratic Capacity in the American South." Link. In another article, Roberto Stefan Foa and Anna Nemirovskaya analyze the development of state capacity on the frontier. Link.
  • Daniel Berliner, Anne Greenleaf, Milli Lake, and Jennifer Noveck present "systematic study of relationship between state capacity and labor rights." Link.
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May 19th, 2020

Plate Study


Remittances across contexts

Among the many corona-induced shocks rippling through the global economy is the crash in remittance payments to developing countries. The World Bank predicts that remittance flows will fall 20% this year—a decline of $100b—largely as a result of shutdowns and wage losses in the global north. The politics of remittances are complex: the scholarly literature both touts the positive development effects of countercyclical cash inflows, and questions the effects of a system that supports consumption at the expense of longer-term economic development.

In a fascinating study on remittances from GCC countries—where migrant workers tend to have few rights while making up a large share of the population—FAISAL Z. AHMED looks at the political effects of remittance economies.

"Using duration models of government turnover for a sample of 97 countries between 1975 and 2004, this article demonstrates that the combination of aid and remittance inflows can empower governments in autocracies to survive longer. The link between the effects of foreign aid and remittances on government survival hinges on the fact that these inflows of money constitute forms of unearned foreign income that a government can potentially exploit for nefarious purposes. This is achieved via two channels. In the first, governments direct some foreign aid to finance patronage goods (income effect). In the second, governments respond to shocks in unearned and largely untaxable household income (i.e., remittances) by diverting expenditures from the provision of welfare goods in favor of patronage goods (substitution effect). My findings suggest that domestic political institutions (and the incentives they generate for governments) mediate the impact of aid and remittance inflows on the quality of governance and the endurance of governments in autocracies."

Link to the paper.

  • A 2019 analysis from the Financial Times provides an excellent overview of remittances to emerging market economies. Link. Part of a FT series on remittances, including case studies on Zimbabwe and Nepal, and reporting on the nations attempts to issue "diaspora bonds" to attract the earnings of expatriate workers. Link to the series.
  • A paper by Muhammed Tariq Majeed looks at the effects of remittances on poverty across 65 countries from 1970-2008. Link. Relatedly, a 2015 paper by Phanindra Wunnava et al looks at the impact of financial liberalization on remittances across 84 countries from 1986-2005, and finds mixed results: increased economic freedom in the financial sector has a positive impact, while improved robustness of financial markets has a negative and lagged effect. Link. h/t Alison Oh
  • A 2011 paper by Rui Esteves and David Khoudour-Castéras examines remittances and capital flows in the European periphery from 1870-1913. Link.
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May 12th, 2020

The Giant


Public opinion and policymaking

Covid is changing popular attitudes towards the public sector, prompting many commentators to anticipate a new period of welfare expansion. Others are more skeptical, noting that public opinion undergoes rapid fluctuations, which rarely resolve into a new equilibrium.

Like its forebear in debates over the 1981 Meltzer-Richards model, the present discussion assumes a strong relationship between public opinion and policymaking. A 2012 book by political scientist MARTIN GILENS demonstrates the flaws underlying this assumption.

From the book:

"Democracy is commonly understood to entail a substantial degree of political equality. This ideal of political equality is perhaps impossible to fully achieve in the face of economic inequality—in every democracy citizens with greater resources are better able to shape government policy. But the degree of political inequality in a society tells us much about the quality of the society’s democracy. I aim to document and explain patterns of representation in the United States over the past few decades by examining the relationship between the policy preferences expressed by the American public and the policies adopted by decision makers in Washington. To do so I have assembled a dataset of survey questions reflecting the policy preferences of hundreds of thousands of Americans at different income levels on all sorts of government policies—from raising the minimum wage, to restricting abortions, to sending U.S. troops to Bosnia.

When preferences across income groups diverged, only the most affluent appeared to influence policy outcomes. Representational inequality was spread widely across policy domains, with a strong tilt toward high-income Americans on economic issues, foreign policy, and moral/religious issues, and only modestly greater equality of responsiveness to the middle class and the poor in the social welfare domain. Even this partial exception to the dominance of the affluent was accounted for by the fortuitous confluence of preferences between middle-class citizens and powerful interest groups on issues like health care, education, and Social Security. Yet the importance of political conditions in shaping responsiveness means that our political destiny is not predetermined. The obstacles to enhancing representational equality in America are considerable, but the costs of not doing so are considerable as well."

Link to the publisher's page.

  • Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's much-cited Winner Take All Politics outlines the mechanisms of policy influence in the US. Link.
  • A new paper by Matias López et. al examine the economic and social factors which shape elite attitudes towards redistribution in Brazil. Link. h/t Paul
  • "In 1893, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner famously argued that the American frontier fostered individualism. We investigate this thesis by tracking the frontier between 1790–1890 and constructing a novel, county-level measure of total frontier experience (TFE). Long after the closing of the frontier, counties with greater TFE exhibit more pervasive individualism and opposition to redistribution." Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein, and Mesay Gebresilasse on the historical roots public opinion. Link.
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