The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Race and Social Science Workshop- Trevon Logan (The Ohio State University)

Do Black Politicians Matter?

Wed, May 2, 2018 | BAT 5.108

12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Abstract: This paper exploits the unique history of Reconstruction after the American Civil War to estimate the causal effect of politician race on public finance. I overcome the endogeneity between black political leadership and local political preferences, demographics, economic conditions, and political competition using the number of free blacks in the antebellum era (1860) as an instrumental variable (IV) for black political leaders during Reconstruction (1867-1877).  While the instrument is well motivated by the historical literature, I show that it is not related to electoral outcomes, the tenure of black elected officials, nor political competition and voter education campaigns during the Reconstruction era.  IV estimates show that a one standard deviation increase in the number of black officials in a Southern county increased per capita county tax revenue by 0.62 standard deviations, a sizable effect.  At the end of Reconstruction, however, the effect of black politicians entirely reverses--- the same increase (which, after Reconstruction, is a decrease) in black politicians decreases per capita county tax revenue (1880-1870) by 0.86 standard deviations.  Finally, I investigate whether the results are consistent with the policy objectives of black political leaders, who favored higher taxes to invest in public education and initiate land reform. While I find no effects of black politicians on land redistribution, there are effects on land tenancy.  Estimates also show that exposure to black politicians during school age increased black literacy more than 6% and decreased the black-white literacy gap by more than 7%.  These results suggest that politician race has substantial effects on public finance and individual outcomes.

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