Wednesday, December 21, 2005

NBER readings for the holidays

Political business cycle, where are you?

How Do Budget Deficits and Economic Growth Affect Reelection Prospects? Evidence from a Large Cross-Section of Countries
by Adi Brender, Allan Drazen #11862 (EFG)
Conventional wisdom is that good economic conditions or expansionary fiscal policy help incumbents get re-elected, but this has not been tested in a large cross-section of countries. We test these arguments in a sample of 74 countries over the period 1960-2003. We find no evidence that deficits help reelection in any group of countries  -- developed and less developed, new and old democracies, countries with different government or electoral systems, and countries with different levels of democracy. In developed countries, especially old democracies, election-year deficits actually reduce the probability that a leader is reelected, with similar negative electoral effects of deficits in the earlier years of an incumbent's term in office. Higher growth rates of real GDP per-capita raise the probability of reelection only in the less developed countries and in new democracies, but voters are affected by growth over the leader's term in office rather than in the election year itself. Low inflation is rewarded by voters only in the developed countries. The effects we find are not only statistically significant, but also quite substantial quantitatively. We also suggest how the absence of a positive electoral effect of deficits can be consistent with the political deficit cycle found in new democracies.


The bizarre world of the free trade vs. free migration asymmetry in historical perspective

A Dual Policy Paradox: Why Have Trade and Immigration Policies Always Differed in Labor-Scarce Economies
by Timothy J. Hatton, Jeffrey G. Williamson #11866 (DAE ITI LS)
Today's labor-scarce economies have open trade and closed immigration policies, while a century ago they had just the opposite, open immigration and closed trade policies. Why the inverse policy correlation, and why has it persisted for almost two centuries? This paper seeks answers to this dual policy paradox by exploring the fundamentals which have influenced the evolution of policy: the decline in the costs of migration and its impact on immigrant selectivity, a secular switch in the net fiscal impact of trade relative to immigration, and changes in the median voter. The paper also offers explanations for the between-country variance in voter anti-trade and anti-migration attitude, and links this to the fundamentals pushing policy.

Let the kids monitor their teachers... with disposable cameras!

Monitoring Works: Getting Teachers to Come to School
by Esther Duflo, Rema Hanna #11880 (CH ED)
In the rural areas of developing countries, teacher absence is a widespread problem. This paper tests whether a simple incentive program based on teacher presence can reduce teacher absence, and whether it has the potential to lead to more teaching activities and better learning. In 60 informal one-teacher schools in rural India, randomly chosen out of 120 (the treatment schools), a financial incentive program was initiated to reduce absenteeism. Teachers were given a camera with a tamper-proof date and time function, along with instructions to have one of the children photograph the teacher and other students at the beginning and end of the school day. The time and date stamps on the photographs were used to track teacher attendance. A teacher's salary was a direct function of his attendance. The remaining 60 schools served as comparison schools. The introduction of the program resulted in an immediate decline in teacher absence. The absence rate (measured using unannounced visits both in treatment and comparison schools) changed from an average of 42 percent in the comparison schools to 22 percent in the treatment schools. When the schools were open, teachers were as likely to be teaching in both types of schools, and the number of students present was roughly the same. The program positively affected child achievement levels: a year after the start of the program, test scores in program schools were 0.17 standard deviations higher than in the comparison schools and children were 40 percent more likely to be admitted into regular schools.


Social interactions and social capital are NOT declining

The Demand for Social Interaction
by Henry Saffer #11881 (HE)
In this paper social interaction is modeled as a consumer good. Social interaction may provide an externality in the form of social capital, but the primary reason that individuals engage in social interaction is that these activities directly yield utility. It is important to note that some measures of social interaction show declines while many do not. A model of household production is employed to derive the demand for social interaction. The model shows that the demand for social interaction is a function of its price, the price of other goods and income. The role of children and marriage in social interaction can also be explained in the model. The theory is tested with data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and the results show that social interaction can be explained as the consequence of utility maximizing behavior by individuals. Increases in education generally increase memberships but reduce visiting with relatives and friends. Increases in income generally increase memberships and some forms of visiting. The model predicts 70 percent, or more, of the time trends in social interaction. These results are in contrast to social capital theorists who have focused on the declines in social interaction and who have attributed these changes to factors such as increased community heterogeneity and increased television viewing.

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