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Essays on Behavioral Tax Policy and Political Violence


This dissertation includes original research in the fields of behavioral public economics and political economy.

The first chapter provides evidence from a field experiment testing whether exposure to relative earnings information impacts worker effective labor supply. I exogenously manipulate access to information about relative position in the distribution of worker earnings as well as the shape of the distribution among workers engaged in piece rate, web-based clerical work. There are four main findings. First, those exposed to information about their placement in the earnings distribution provide significantly more labor effort on average than those with no information about peer earnings. Second, labor supply elasticity with respect to net of tax wages, a key sufficient statistic for optimal income tax policy, is unchanged between the two groups. Third, the higher productivity observed among workers exposed to relative earnings information is driven by those workers who experienced an exogenously assigned high relative earnings rank and low average comparison group earnings. Fourth, this later finding is gendered in the sense that women supply more labor regardless of whether they learn they occupy high or low relative standing while men supply significantly more labor only upon learning they occupy high relative standing. A model of worker preferences that incorporates status concerns is shown to reconcile these seemingly disparate findings in contrast to several alternatives considered. These findings suggest that governments can potentially use relative earnings information to grow the tax base - but not to affect optimal labor income tax rates - and that firms can generate significant productivity boosts simply by providing workers with information about the earnings of their peers.

The second chapter addresses an entirely different question, namely, the efficacy of violent forms of protest. It takes as its point of departure the acknowledgment that estimating the effect of violent forms of political protest on protest success is complicated by endogeneity and omitted variable bias. To address this problem, I utilize instrumental variables methods to estimate a causal effect of violent protest on the likelihood that protesters win policy concessions. Using daily French protest data and a set of weather and school holiday instruments, I find a significant and negative relationship between property destruction associated with protests and the chance of near-term success in changing policy. The IV estimates are larger than OLS estimates and are robust to a variety of alternative specifications. Such findings are predicted by several posited endogeneity channels, and, they suggest that political violence does not, in fact, pay off.

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