I have been the Managing Editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives since the first issue in Summer 1987. The JEP is published by the American Economic Association, which decided about a decade ago–to my delight–that the journal would be freely available on-line, from the current issue all the way back to the first issue. You can download individual articles or entire issues, and it is available in various e-reader formats, too. Here, I’ll start with the Table of Contents for the just-released Fall 2021 issue, which in the Taylor household is known as issue #138. Below that are abstracts and direct links for all of the papers. I will probably blog more specifically about some of the papers in the few weeks, as well.
Symposium on Criminal Justice
“The Economics of Policing and Public Safety,” by Emily Owens and Bocar Ba
The efficiency of any police action depends on the relative magnitude of its crime-reducing benefits and legitimacy costs. Policing strategies that are socially efficient at the city level may be harmful at the local level, because the distribution of direct costs and benefits of police actions that reduce victimization is not the same as the distribution of indirect benefits of feeling safe. In the United States, the local misallocation of police resources is disproportionately borne by Black and Hispanic individuals. Despite the complexity of this particular problem, the incentives facing both police departments and police officers tend to be structured as if the goals of policing were simple—to reduce crime by as much as possible. Formal data collection on the crime-reducing benefits of policing, and not the legitimacy costs, produces further incentives to provide more engagement than may be efficient in any specific encounter, at both the officer and departmental level. There is currently little evidence as to what screening, training, or monitoring strategies are most effective at encouraging individual officers to balance the crime. reducing benefits and legitimacy costs of their actions.
“Next-Generation Policing Research: Three Propositions,” by Monica C. Bell
The Black Lives Matter movement has operated alongside a growing recognition among social scientists that policing research has been limited in its scope and outmoded in its assumptions about the nature of public safety. This essay argues that social science research on policing should reorient its conception of the field of policing, along with how the study of crime rates and police departments fit into this field. New public safety research should broaden its outcomes of interest, its objects of inquiry, and its engagement with structural racism. In this way, next-generation research on policing and public safety can respond to the deficiencies of the past and remain relevant as debates over transforming American policing continue.
“The US Pretrial System: Balancing Individual Rights and Public Interests,” by Will Dobbie and Crystal S. Yang
In this article, we review a growing empirical literature on the effectiveness and fairness of the US pretrial system and discuss its policy implications. Despite the importance of this stage of the criminal legal process, researchers have only recently begun to explore how the pretrial system balances individual rights and public interests. We describe the empirical challenges that have prevented progress in this area and how recent work has made use of new data sources and quasi-experimental approaches to credibly estimate both the individual harms (such as loss of employment or government assistance) and public benefits (such as preventing non-appearance at court and new crimes) of cash bail and pretrial detention. These new data and approaches show that the current pretrial system imposes substantial short- and long-term economic harms on detained defendants in terms of lost earnings and government assistance, while providing little in the way of decreased criminal activity for the public interest. Non-appearances at court do significantly decrease for detained defendants, but the magnitudes cannot justify the economic harms to individuals observed in the data. A second set of studies shows that that the costs of cash bail and pretrial detention are disproportionately borne by Black and Hispanic individuals, giving rise to large and unfair racial differences in cash bail and detention that cannot be explained by underlying differences in pretrial misconduct risk. We then turn to policy implications and describe areas of future work that would enable a deeper understanding of what drives these undesirable outcomes.
“Fragile Algorithms and Fallible Decision-Makers: Lessons from the Justice System,” by Jens Ludwig and Sendhil Mullainathan
Algorithms (in some form) are already widely used in the criminal justice system. We draw lessons from this experience for what is to come for the rest of society as machine learning diffuses. We find economists and other social scientists have a key role to play in shaping the impact of algorithms, in part through improving the tools used to build them.
“Inside the Box: Safety, Health, and Isolation in Prison,” by Bruce Western
A large social science research literature examines the effects of prisons on crime and socioeconomic inequality, but the penal institution itself is often a black box overlooked in the analysis of its effects. This paper examines prisons and their role in rehabilitative programs and as venues for violence, health and healthcare, and extreme isolation through solitary confinement. Research shows that incarcerated people are participating less today than in the 1980s in prison programs, and they face high risks of violence, disease, and isolation. Prison conditions suggest the mechanisms that impair adjustment to community life after release provide a more complete account of the costs of incarceration and indicate the performance of prisons as moral institutions that bear a responsibility for humane and decent treatment.
Symposium on Geographic Disparities in Health
“Rising Geographic Disparities in US Mortality,” by Benjamin K. Couillard, Christopher L. Foote, Kavish Gandhi, Ellen Meara and Jonathan Skinner
The twenty-first century has been a period of rising inequality in both income and health. In this paper, we find that geographic inequality in mortality for midlife Americans increased by about 70 percent between 1992 and 2016. This was not simply because states like New York or California benefited from having a high fraction of college-educated residents who enjoyed the largest health gains during the last several decades. Nor was higher dispersion in mortality caused entirely by the increasing importance of “deaths of despair,” or by rising spatial income inequality during the same period. Instead, over time, state-level mortality has become increasingly correlated with state-level income; in 1992, income explained only 3 percent of mortality inequality, but by 2016, state-level income explained 58 percent. These mortality patterns are consistent with the view that high-income states in 1992 were better able to enact public health strategies and adopt behaviors that, over the next quarter-century, resulted in pronounced relative declines in mortality. The substantial longevity gains in high-income states led to greater cross-state inequality in mortality.
“The Causal Effects of Place on Health and Longevity,” by Tatyana Deryugina and David Molitor
Life expectancy varies substantially across local regions within a country, raising conjectures that place of residence affects health. However, population sorting and other confounders make it difficult to disentangle the effects of place on health from other geographic differences in life expectancy. Recent studies have overcome such challenges to demonstrate that place of residence substantially influences health and mortality. Whether policies that encourage people to move to places that are better for their health or that improve areas that are detrimental to health are desirable depends on the mechanisms behind place effects, yet these mechanisms remain poorly understood.
“When Innovation Goes Wrong: Technological Regress and the Opioid Epidemic,” by David M. Cutler and Edward L. Glaeser
The fourfold increase in opioid deaths between 2000 and 2017 rivals even the COVID-19 pandemic as a health crisis for America. Why did it happen? Measures of demand for pain relief—physical pain and despair—are high and in many cases rising, but their increase was nowhere near as large as the increase in deaths. The primary shift is in supply, primarily of new forms of allegedly safer narcotics. These new pain relievers flowed in greater volume to areas with more physical pain and mental health impairment, but since their apparent safety was an illusion, opioid deaths followed. By the end of the 2000s, restrictions on legal opioids led to further supply-side innovations, which created the burgeoning illegal market that accounts for the bulk of opioid deaths today. Because opioid use is easier to start than end, America’s opioid epidemic is likely to persist for some time.
“Neighborhoods Matter: Assessing the Evidence for Place Effects,” by Eric Chyn and Lawrence F. Katz
How does one’s place of residence affect individual behavior and long-run outcomes? Understanding neighborhood and place effects has been a leading question for social scientists during the past half-century. Recent empirical studies using experimental and quasi-experimental research designs have generated new insights on the importance of residential neighborhoods in childhood and adulthood. This paper summarizes the recent neighborhood effects literature and interprets the findings. Childhood neighborhoods affect long-run economic and educational outcomes in a manner consistent with exposure models of neighborhood effects. For adults, neighborhood environments matter for their health and well-being but have more ambiguous impacts on labor market outcomes. We discuss the evidence on the mechanisms behind the observed patterns and conclude by highlighting directions for future research.
“College Majors, Occupations, and the Gender Wage Gap,” by Carolyn M. Sloane, Erik G. Hurst and Dan A. Black
The paper assesses gender differences in pre-labor market specialization among the college-educated and highlights how those differences have evolved over time. Women choose majors with lower potential earnings (based on male wages associated with those majors) and subsequently sort into occupations with lower potential earnings given their major choice. These differences have narrowed over time, but recent cohorts of women still choose majors and occupations with lower potential earnings. Differences in undergraduate major choice explain a substantive portion of gender wage gaps for the college-educated above and beyond simply controlling for occupation. Collectively, our results highlight the importance of understanding gender differences in the mapping between college major and occupational sorting when studying the evolution of gender differences in labor market outcomes over time.
“Recommendations for Further Reading,” by Timothy Taylor