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Working Paper Series

  • Using Non-Linear Budget Sets to Estimate Extensive Margin Responses: Method and Evidence from the Social Security Earnings Test

    Alexander Gelber, Damon Jones, Daniel Sacks, Jae Song

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (June 2018)

  • “Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty”: How Intuitive Insights Shape Legal Reasoning and the Rule of Law

    Stephen M. Maurer

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (April 2018)

    Scientists have long recognized two distinct forms of human thought. “Type 1” reasoning is unconscious, intuitive, and specializes in finding complex patterns. It is typically associated with the aesthetic emotion that John Keats called “beauty.” “Type 2” reasoning is conscious, articulable, and deductive. Scholars usually assume that legal reasoning is entirely Type 2. However, critics from Holmes to Posner have protested that unconscious and intuitive judgments are at least comparably important. This article takes the conjecture seriously by asking what science can add to our understanding of how lawyers and judges interpret legal texts.

    This is a good time to take stock. Recent advances in cognitive psychology, brain imaging, and neural network theory have already pushed many humanities scholars to rethink postmodern interpretations that privilege politics and culture over texts. This article argues that a parallel shift is overdue in law and that Type 1 reasoning, which specializes in pattern recognition, provides a natural explanation for how judges choose among competing legal theories. Finally, and most surprisingly, the article documents cognitive psychology evidence showing that Type 1 judgments show significant universality, i.e. that humans who study subjects for long periods often make similar choices without regard to the societies they were born into. This solves a long-standing difficulty in jurisprudence, which often struggles to explain why one legal interpretation should be more convincing than another. 

    The rest of the article analyzes how Type 1 thinking enters into legal reasoning and outcomes. It begins by reviewing 19th Century theories that claimed a leading role for intuitive reasoning in public policy. It then updates these theories to accommodate the relatively weak statistical correlations that psychologists have documented, arguing that modern court systems amplify these signals in approximately determinate ways. It also explains why advocates should rationally prefer formalist judges to pragmatic ones. Crucially, the existence of universality implies a measure of agreement across all lawyers regardless of personal bias or politics. This common ground gives judges a reliably neutral basis for deciding cases.

  • United States of Dissatisfaction: Confirmation Bias Across the Partisan Divide

    Daniel J. Acland, Amy E. Lerman

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (April 2018)

    Party polarization is a central feature of American political life, and a robust literature has shown that citizens engage in partisan-confirmation bias when processing political information. At the same time, however, recent events have highlighted a rising tide of anti-government populism that manifests on both sides of the aisle. In fact, data show that large proportions of both Democrats and Republicans hold negative views of government. Using an original set of survey experiments, we examine the psychology of public-sector evaluation. We find that citizens engage in a process of confirmation bias when they encounter new information, which is driven not by party and ideology but by beliefs about the quality and efficiency of government. Taken together, our findings suggest important limitations to citizens’ capacity to learn about public administration, and expand our understanding of what drives confirmation bias with respect to public and private service provision.

  • Self-control and Demand for Commitment in Online Game Playing: Evidence from a Field Experiment

    Daniel J. Acland

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (April 2018)

    We conduct an experiment on an online game, exploring the effect on gameplay behavior of voluntary commitment devices that allow players to limit their gameplay. Approximately 25% of players use the devices. Median and 75th percentile device users use devices approximately 60% and 100% of the time respectively. Device users play longer and more frequently than others. Device usage decreased session length and session frequency for device users by 11.3% and 30.7% respectively, while increasing weeks of play by 11.5%. Our results are consistent with some players having self-identified self-control problems, leading to longer and more frequent play than they would prefer, and to demand for commitment, and also with commitment devices creating a more rewarding experience, leading to longer-lasting involvement with the game. Our results suggest incentivizing or requiring commitment devices in computer games.

  • Safety Net Investments in Children

    Hilary Hoynes, Diane Schanzenbach

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper ()

    In this paper, we examine what groups of children are served by core childhood social safety net programs—including Medicaid, EITC, CTC, SNAP, and AFDC/TANF—and how they have changed over time. We find that virtually all gains in spending on the social safety net for children since 1990 have gone to families with earnings, and to families with income above the poverty line. These trends are the result of welfare reform and the expansion of in-work tax credits. We review the available research and find that access to safety net programs during childhood improves outcomes for children and society over the long run. This evidence suggests that the recent changes to the social safety net may have lasting negative impacts on the poorest children.

  • Disability Insurance Income Saves Lives

    Alexander Gelber, Timothy Moore, Alexander Strand

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (March 2018)

  • The Employment Effects of the Social Security Earnings Test

    Alexander Gelber, Damon Jones, Daniel Sacks, Jae Song

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (October 2017)

  • Interest Groups on the Inside: The Governance of Public Pension Funds

    Sarah F. Anzia, Terry M. Moe

    Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (September 2017)

    This paper explores an important dimension of interest group activity—the role of groups as inside players within government—that was central to the literature decades ago, but hasn’t attracted the kind of attention and research from modern political science that it warrants.  Here we aim to advance this agenda by targeting a governmental arena of great significance for the nation: public-sector pension funds.  These funds control trillions of dollars, have vast fiscal and social consequences, and are commonly designed to give public employees and their unions—the systems’ beneficiaries—official insider roles in governance.  We develop a theory arguing that employee representatives can actually be expected to favor policies that undermine the fiscal integrity of their own pension plans.  Our analysis of decisions by 109 pension boards, 2001-2014, supports this expectation—and indicates that, for public pensions, “interest groups on the inside” wield influence that weakens effective government.