Working Paper
Carlos Lastra-Anadón, David Stasavage, and Kenneth Scheve. Working Paper. “Learning to Love Government? Technological Change and the Political Economy of Higher Education”.Abstract

Why do voters have divergent beliefs about the role of government in solving social problems? We study this question in the context of skill-biased technological change and investment in higher education. We document that the negative labor market consequences of technological change are significantly mitigated in US counties with greater levels of higher education investment. We show that exposure to these condi- tions is, in turn, correlated with greater public support for higher education spending. We further present evidence that technological change induced a vote towards more centrist ideological positions and a pro-government shift in partisan voting in counties with higher initial levels of educational investment. We conclude that higher education investments are productive, but there is also evidence of history-dependent diverging support for such investments. We present a model of incomplete learning as a possible interpretation for our findings. In a context where higher education spending dampens the negative employment effects of technological change, a history of believing that education is productive advantages local communities in learning the true productivity of higher education investments, while the absence of such a history favors incomplete learning.

Carlos Lastra-Anadon. Working Paper. “Population density and educational inequality: the role of public school choice and accountability”. 20171129_lastra_density.pdf
Thomas Gift and Carlos Lastra-Anadon. Forthcoming. ““Deservingness” and Public Support for Universal Public Goods: A Survey Experiment .” Public Opinion Quartlerly.Abstract

Voters support less spending on means-tested entitlements when they perceive beneficiaries as lacking motivation to work and pay taxes. Yet do concerns about the motivations of “unde- serving” beneficiaries also extend to universal public goods (UPGs) that are free and available to all citizens? Lower spending on UPGs poses a particular trade-off: It lessens subsidization of “unmotivated” beneficiaries, but at the expense of reducing the ideal levels of UPGs that voters personally can access. Studies suggest that individuals will sacrifice their preferred amounts of public goods when beneficiaries who do not pay taxes try to access these goods, but it is unclear whether they distinguish based on motivations. To analyze this question, we field a nationally- representative survey experiment in the UK that randomly activates some respondents to think about users of the country’s universal National Health Service as either “motivated” or “unmoti- vated” non-contributors. Although effect sizes were modest and spending preferences remained high across-the-board, results show that respondents support the least spending on the NHS when activated to think of users as “unmotivated” non-contributors. These findings suggest how the deservingness heuristic may shape public attitudes toward government spending, regardless of whether benefits are targeted or universal.

Carlos Lastra-Anadón and Paul E Peterson. Forthcoming. “The Efficiency-Equity Trade-off in a Federal System: Local Financing of Schools and Student Achievement.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism.Abstract

Federalism theorists debate the desirability of funding local services from local revenues or intergovernmental grants. Tiebout expects efficiency gains from local funding, but Oates says it perpetuates inequalities. Research using data from national probability samples has yet to show whether efficiency-equity trade-offs are associated with funding sources.We describe the trade- off in education by estimating the effect of revenue share from local sources on math and reading achievement. Data come from national probability samples of student performances on tests administered between 1990 and 2017. Relationships are estimated with OLS descriptive models, event study models of school finance reforms, and geographic discontinuity models that exploit differences in state funding policies. For every ten-percentage point increase in local revenue share, mean achievement rises by 0.05 standard deviations (sd) and socio-economic achievement gaps widen by 0.03sd. Voice and exit channels moderate the size of the efficiency- equity trade-off. Implications for inter-governmental grant policy are discussed.

Thomas Gift and Carlos Lastra-Anadon. Forthcoming. “Perceived Beneficiaries and Support for the Globalization of Higher Education: A Survey Experiment on Attitudes toward International Students.” Political Science Research and Methods.Abstract

Foreign students are one of the most significant immigrant categories in many North American and Western European countries. Yet as their numbers have swelled, many governments have experienced increasing pressures to cap their entry. This is true despite the sizable benefits that foreign students bring to host countries, and despite standard political economy concerns about immigrants—that they take away jobs or abuse public entitlements—not applying to foreign students. We field a nationally-representative survey experiment in the U.K., one of the top destinations for foreign students, to examine potential activators of public support for capping the number of foreign students. Results show that support for caps is most activated when citizens are primed to think about foreign students competing with domestic students for scarce admissions slots at universities.

Leslie Finger and Carlos Lastra-Anadon. 2022. “Advocates For Hire: How Government Contracting Shapes Politics .” Governance, 35, 1, Pp. 187-208.Abstract

Many public services in the U.S. are administered through non-state actors, many of which are nonprofits with broad social missions. Some scholars show that contracting these organizations can compromise their broader goals and political activities, while others find that such arrangements empower the organizations to engage in advocacy and influence policy. We argue that not only can contracting strengthen nonprofits’ capacity to engage in politics and advance their missions, but it can mobilize political activity among those working for and engaging with the nonprofit. We use the case of Teach For America (TFA) and an instrumental variable approach that leverages plausibly exogenous variation in the timing of TFA’s arrival in states to show that contracting TFA is related with the arrival of new education reform advocacy groups spearheaded by TFA alumni. This, in addition to TFA’s direct efforts, leads to the passage of reform policies - especially charter school laws.

Renzhe Yu, Subhro Das, Sairam Gurajada, Kush Varshney, Hari Raghavan, and Carlos Lastra-Anadon. 2021. “A Research Framework for Understanding Education-Occupation Alignment with NLP Techniques.” In Proceedings of the 1st Workshop on NLP for Positive Impact, Pp. 100–106. Online: Association for Computational Linguistics. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Understanding the gaps between job requirements and university curricula is crucial for improving student success and institutional effectiveness in higher education. In this context, natural language processing (NLP) can be leveraged to generate granular insights into where the gaps are and how they change. This paper proposes a three-dimensional research framework that combines NLP techniques with economic and educational research to quantify the alignment between course syllabi and job postings. We elaborate on key technical details of the framework and further discuss its potential positive impacts on practice, including unveiling the inequalities in and long-term consequences of education-occupation alignment to inform policymakers, and fostering information systems to support students, institutions and employers in the school-to-work pipeline.
Emmerich Davies, Thomas Gift, and Carlos Lastra-Anadón. 2020. “How global performance assessments shape attitudes toward government decision-making: Survey experimental evidence .” Governance. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Global Performance Assessments (GPAs), which rank countries on a range of policy areas, can encourage domestic demands for policy reform. Yet can they also affect at what level of government—local or national— citizens want reform to take place? We theorize that, by emphasizing how countries fare relative to others, GPAs prompt citizens to view domestic policy underperformance as a “national problem requiring national solutions.” This increases calls for vesting pol- icymaking authority in the hands of central govern- ments. We argue that this effect should be most salient when underperformance is presented as a threat to a country's security because it induces citizens to “rally ‘round the flag.” To test our theory, we field an original survey experiment in the United States using fictitious news articles manipulating both the source of perfor- mance monitoring information and how it is presented. In line with our prediction, respondents are most likely to demand policy centralization when underperformance is framed using GPAs and citizens are primed to think of low scores as a threat to their country's security. These results indicate that GPAs could eventually increase calls for expanding the purview of national-level politicians over policymaking.

Susana Cordeiro Guerra and Carlos Lastra-Anadón. 2019. “The quality-access tradeoff in decentralizing public services: Evidence from education in the OECD and Spain.” Journal of Comparative Economics.Abstract
Decentralized delivery of public services should enhance constituents’ ability to hold politicians accountable and improve public service outcomes, according to theory. Yet, decentralization has not consistently yielded those improvements. This paper uses a novel cross-country panel from the OECD to show that decentralization generally improves students’ access to education, but in so doing, it creates congestion effects which diminish the overall quality of education that students receive. We argue that this is partially explained by the incentives of sub-central governments upon receiving their new authority. Sub-central governments are more incentivized than national ones to pursue policy improvements that are more visible and quicker to achieve, even when they are costly – like improving access – over improvements that are less visible and take longer to achieve – like increasing quality. Decentralization should therefore result in positive effects on education access and negative on quality, consistent with our findings. We directly test the impact of political incentives on responses to decentralization by exploiting the timing of education decentralization in Spain (1980–99), and variation in the political assertiveness of regional governments, using generalized difference-in-differences and synthetic controls. As predicted, the magnitude of decentralization's effects is greater for assertive regions, which are most incentivized to prioritize high visibility, costly policies.
Thomas Gift and Carlos Lastra-Anadón. 2018. “How voters assess elite-educated politicians: A survey experiment.” Electoral Studies, 56, Pp. 136-149. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Are politicians with elite backgrounds more electable? In this article, we test whether being an elite is a net positive or negative in running for public o ce via an original survey experiment that manipulates one of the most salient indicators of eliteness in American life: university education. We nd that liberals, but not con- servatives, perceive politicians who attended elite schools to be more competent. Meanwhile, conservatives, but not liberals, perceive politicians who attended elite schools to be less relatable. On average, citizens are mildly, but not signi cantly, less inclined to vote for elite-educated politicians. By embedding treatments in our survey for whether politicians came from advantaged or disadvantaged upbringings, we also con rm that our results do not entirely re ect generic attitudes toward economically privileged candidates.