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by T

The populist wave of 2016 saw politicians pushing back against experts, both during the Brexit debate and the U.S. presidential campaign. Economists in particular saw their views repudiated as voters and parties turned their backs on many central tenets of mainstream economics, particularly the benefits of free trade.

This backlash against intellectuals poses a question: When should the public place its trust in expert opinion? It might be that we trust experts when they have reached a policy-relevant consensus. For example, support for policies to address climate change is based on a broad consensus among the experts that global warming is the result of greenhouse gas emissions.

Another possibility is that we might trust professional opinion when it is independent of party and ideology. Experts are also citizens, and they may not distinguish between their political views and their expert knowledge when addressing policy questions. If political ideology influences professional opinion, it is unclear that experts have any special claim to the public’s trust. So is the economics profession dominated by consensus or ideology?

One source of data on these questions is the Economic Experts Panel run by the Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago. Since 2011, a small group of economists from elite universities have responded to questions about current policy issues. In a paper published in the American Economic Review, the economists Roger Gordon and Gordon Dahl argued that the panel supported both points: Panelists showed overwhelming consensus, and the remaining disagreements showed no evidence of ideological “polarization.” This result surprised economists like Paul Krugman and Noah Smith accustomed to seeing their field as divided into “factions” or “warring camps.”

As sociologists, my co-authors and I suspected that terms like “faction” and “polarization” do not really capture ideological debates among economists. We used a method better suited to identifying what we call ideological alignment: the intuitive idea that some people are on the far left, some in the middle, others on the moderate right, and so on. We tested this idea in a recently published paper and found that there is more evidence of ideology than previously claimed.

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PATCO members picketing during the 1981 Aircraft Controllers Strike; Image via Forth Worth Star-Telegram

by David Jacobs

In a stunning reversal in the long but slow trend toward greater economic equality that began in the late 1920s and the start of the great depression, U.S. income differences began a sharp acceleration about 35 years ago. In a recent study co-authored with Jonathan Dirlam, I find that a national political shift best explains this reversal. After the effects of many alternative explanations are taken into account, the evidence from this study shows that the election of Ronald Reagan and the two subsequent Republican presidents who supported Reagan’s policies provide the strongest explanation for this reversal in the prior trend toward greater equality.

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Left: FDR signs the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. Right: Clinton signs the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 which largely repealed Glass-Steagall. Source: NYT.

Sociologists, political scientists, and the public at large have long been concerned with the political influence of large corporations. For the past few decades, most research on corporate political influence has focused on a narrow set of obviously political behaviors: lobbying and campaign donations.

Scholars have learned a great deal about why firms donate, the value of those donations, and how lobbying efforts shape the content of policy. And yet, focusing on these narrow aspects of overt political behavior seems to only scratch the surface of the policy influence of large corporations.

In a new paper, sociologist Russell Funk and I argue that scholars must attend to how firms use seemingly non-political, market actions to change the content and meaning of the law. These nonmarket effects of market actions are complements and substitutes to more direct political action.

When firms can’t get what they want through the policy process, sometimes they can get it by engaging in a form of economic “politics by other means.” Through innovation or creative implementations, firms can change the interpretation and consequences of the law without the passage of any new legislation.

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by Michael Sierra-Arévalo

In early 2015, the National President of the Fraternal Order of Police told the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, “now, more than ever, we see our officers in the cross-hairs of these criminals.”

By the end of 2015, officers slain in the line of duty dropped almost 15% from the previous year.

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Even with year-to-year fluctuations in the number of officers feloniously killed (i.e. not accidentally killed), overall trends in the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) data suggests a profession that is growing less deadly over time.

Data notwithstanding, the rhetoric of the “war on police” persists in print and on the air, and the perception of a world full of violence that might strike at any moment is alive and well among U.S. police officers.

But though much attention has (rightfully) focused on how hypervigilance or aggressive training and tactics can negatively affect the citizenry, there has been little attention paid to the price officers themselves might pay by being socialized to see their world through violence-tinted glasses.

After spending hundreds of hours with police officers on patrol, at crime scenes, and in training session in three U.S. cities, as well as interviewing nearly 100 officers, I find that police officers engage in behaviors that they believe keep them safe but, in fact, increase the chances of injury and death in the line of duty.

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by Lena Hipp

What can national governments do to help workers feel secure in their jobs? This question is vital for both individuals and organizations. Workers who believe that their jobs are endangered (even if they actually are not) suffer from poor health and are less happy than workers who feel economically secure; organizations have to deal with decreased loyalty, reduced organizational commitment, and elevated turnover rates.

All of this harms the economy.

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Modern Family - Series 06

by Noelle Chesley

Have you ever noticed what is not “modern” about ABC’s celebrated sitcom Modern Family? Spoiler alert: all of the households in this TV world are headed by a breadwinner father. We get to see a gay couple raising a daughter and a second inter-ethnic marriage with children, but we can’t seem to get rid of the idea that men, and especially fathers, work to support their families while at-home parents (often mothers) do the bulk of caregiving and domestic tasks.

Breadwinning is both an economic arrangement supported through policy (think maternal leave policies) and a gendered social arrangement that pushes men into primary employment and women into primary caregiving roles. While a number of key trends undermine support for breadwinner employment—stagnant wages, increased job instability, and women’s growing educational attainment among them—2013 research by Karen Kramer and her colleagues documents that about 30% of U.S. married couple families with children maintain male-breadwinner households, and this number has held steady for the past two decades.

Social commentators have also noted growing numbers of female breadwinners. In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that 40% of mothers were breadwinners, up from just 3.5% in 1960.

In a time when work and family arrangements are increasingly diverse, what can the experiences of contemporary breadwinner workers tell us more generally about work, and life outside it, today?

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by Jacqueline Maria Hagan and Joshua Wassink

Hernando was born and raised in Heredia, a small agricultural community in central Mexico with an established history of emigration to the United States. He left school at the age of eight to help his father farm their land. Seeking adventure he later decided to migrate to the United States, to Georgia where he had friends. There, Hernando found an apprentice position with a master carpenter.

Through observation and informal on-the-job learning, Hernando became a skilled craftsman. After four years of working under the supervision of his mentor, Hernando had saved enough money to return home to Mexico and launch his own woodworking business.

Today he is the proud owner of a woodworking enterprise that provides U.S.-style cabinetry and furniture to the growing return migrant population in his community. Like many other return migrants who launch entrepreneurial activities, Hernando mobilized new technical and social skills acquired in the U.S. labor market to train his employees and carve a new niche in the local Mexican economy, one driven by return migrants who desire U.S. building styles.

Hernando is one of hundreds of thousands of migrants who have returned home to Mexico from the United States since 2010. In a recent study, we investigate the implications of return migration for economic growth and development in Mexico.

While numerous studies have documented a high rate of business formation among return migrants relative to non-migrants, most scholars treat migration as a source of financial capital to invest in businesses upon return home, rather than a pathway to skill learning and transfer. In a recently published study, we explore the relationship between skill formation in the United States and business formation upon return to Mexico.

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