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Politics, Race and the Economy

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, International 9
Hosted By: American Economic Association & Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession
  • Chair: Renee Bowen, University of California-San Diego

The Political Economy of Mass Incarceration and Crime: An Analytic Model

Peter Temin
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


This paper presents a model of mass incarceration in the United States, which has the largest proportion of its population imprisoned among advanced countries. The United States began to differ from other countries in the 1970s in response to changes in judicial policies, and the model demonstrates that the United States has moved from one equilibrium position to another. The model is driven by two equations, one for incarceration and one for crime. It explains why the growth of prisoners has ceased in the last decade and what would be needed to return to the original equilibrium

The Effect of Political Power on Labor Market Inequality: Evidence from the 1965 Voting Rights Act

Abhay Aneja
Stanford University
Carlos F. Avenancio
MIT GCFP & Indiana University-Bloomington


A central concern for racial and ethnic minorities is having an equal opportunity to advance
group interests via the political process. There remains limited empirical evidence, however,
whether democratic policies designed to foster political equality are connected causally to social
and economic equality. In this paper, we examine whether and how the expansion of minority
voting rights contributes to advances in minorities’ economic interests. Specifically, we consider
how the political re-enfranchisement of black Americans in the U.S. South, stemming from the
passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), contributed to improvements in their relative
economic status during the 1960s and 1970s. Using spatial and temporal variation arising from
the federal enforcement provision of the VRA, we document that counties where voting rights
were more strongly protected experienced larger reductions in the black-white wage gap between
1950 and 1980. We then show how the VRA’s effect on the relative wages of black Americans
operates through two demand-side channels. First, the VRA contributed to the expansion of
public employment opportunities. Second, in line with previous work on the importance of civil
rights laws, the VRA contributed to and complemented the enforcement of labor market policies
such as affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws.

Historical Lynchings and the Contemporary Voting Behavior of Blacks

Jhacova Williams
Clemson University


This paper analyzes the extent to which the political participation of blacks can be traced to historical lynchings that took place from 1882 to 1930. Using county-level voter registration data, I show that blacks who reside in southern counties that experienced a relatively higher number of historical lynchings have lower voter registration rates today. This relationship holds after accounting for a variety of historical and contemporary characteristics of counties. Examining individual-level data show that lynchings are significantly associated with voting differences between blacks and whites yet this relationship does not exist for other minorities and whites.

The Political Economy of Immigration Enforcement under Federalism: Conflict, Cooperation, and Policing Efficiency

Alberto Ciancio
University of Pennsylvania
Camilo Garcia-Jimeno
Emory University


We study how the shared responsibilities over immigration enforcement by local and federal levels in the US shape immigration enforcement and law enforcement outcomes, using detailed data on immigration enforcement under the Secure Communities program (2008-2014).
Tracking the pipeline taking unlawfully present individuals arrested by law enforcement through the several steps of the immigration enforcement process, and exploiting a large shift in federal immigration enforcement priorities in mid 2011, we disentangle the three key components of the variation in deportation rates: federal enforcement efforts, local enforcement efforts, and the composition of the pool of arrested undocumented individuals.
This allows us to recover the local (county) level immigration enforcement response to changes in federal immigration enforcement intensity.
We show how the endogenous response of the local level to federal enforcement is shaped by the extent of alignment of preferences between both levels, and estimate how county characteristics determine whether this response exhibits strategic complementarities or substitutabilities.
We show how the heterogeneity in law enforcement outcomes closely depends on the nature of this local-level response.
We then propose a simple behavioral model of the local political economy of immigration enforcement that rationalizes the estimated local level responses, where the willingness to enforce immigration is shaped by the costs it imposes on overall law enforcement efficiency.
Leonard Wantchekon
Princeton University
Juan Carlos Suárez Serrato
Duke University
Michael Olabisi
Michigan State University
Elizabeth Cascio
Dartmouth College
JEL Classifications
  • D7 - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making
  • J1 - Demographic Economics