How Bureaucrats Represent Economic Interests: Partisan Control over Trade Adjustment Assistance (Job market paper) (Link)

Governments adopt redistributive policies to assist those harmed by international trade. In the United States, benefits are conditioned on a technical determination that the petitioning workers were displaced by trade. However, the bureaucrats who make this decision are themselves subject to political forces. In this paper, I show how these political effects manifest in the career institutions that place the power of permanent appointments in the hands of politically appointed agency heads. To show this, I examine the 45 years of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) petition-level data (84,165 petitions) and career paths of the Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance (OTAA) investigators. I find that they are less likely to certify the petitions and more likely to delay the investigations during Republican presidencies and vice versa during Democratic presidencies, especially in their first few years of careers prior to obtaining a permanent appointment. I further show these partisan effects amplify when the labor-Democratic party coalition is strong. These findings, through clarifying when and how career bureaucrats respond to policy platforms of the political parties, demonstrate the importance of the executive in shaping distributive outcomes.

Importing Threat: The Electoral Logic of Economic Relief (Working Paper, co-authored with Robert Gulotty) (Link)

Commercial policies are often only efficient insofar as those harmed can be compensated. In practice, compensatory measures fall far short of distributive harm. We rationalize the paucity of compensation as a strategic effort on the part of elected officials to withhold information about effects of their policy initiatives. We develop a formal model in which citizens must infer the effects of a policy initiative as well as the politician’s commitments from the choice to offer compensation. We find that committed policymakers under-provide compensation to avoid electoral backlash. Using microdata from the US Trade Adjustment Assistance program, we replicate a research design that uses exogenous allocation of petitions for assistance across bureaucrats for causal identification. We find that a ten percent increase in the TAA certification rate decreases support for Democratic candidates by 1.75% in areas hard hit by import-competition. This electoral effect incentivizes pro-distributive politicians to under-provide economic assistance.