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Research


Representation of the People: Franchise Extension and the ‘Sinn Féin Election’ In Ireland, 1918


with Alan de Bromhead (QUB) and Alan Fernihough (QUB). Forthcoming at Journal of Economic History.

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Do large franchise extensions bring about dramatic electoral changes? Electoral reforms in 1918 nearly tripled the number of people eligible to vote in Ireland. Following the reforms – the largest franchise extension in UK history – the previously obscure Sinn Féin party secured 73 of Ireland’s 105 seats, an outcome that precipitated a guerrilla war and ultimately independence from the United Kingdom. However, our analysis finds little evidence that the franchise reforms benefited Sinn Féin. New female electors appear less likely to have supported Sinn Féin while new male electors were no more likely to vote for Sinn Féin than the existing electorate. Women also appear less likely to have cast a vote at all. Economic and social factors did matter when it came to voting however, as did public opinion in relation to armed rebellion. These results remind us that dramatic political changes, such as those that took place in Ireland 1918, do not require dramatic changes in political participation. Sinn Féin’s electoral success was more likely driven by a change of heart on behalf of the Irish electorate, rather than a change in its composition.

Coverage: Irish Times, The Conversation, Irish Examiner


Taxpayer Responses in Good Times and Bad

Forthcoming at Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

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I show that the magnitude of taxpayer responsiveness, a key parameter in public finance, varies through time. Using linked administrative data and identifying responses from changes in notches, I document a marked decline in responsiveness during the Great Recession that cannot be explained by increased enforcement. I characterize which employee-employer pairs are best at reporting tax-advantaged incomes. Workers in industries with above-average responsiveness, such as construction, were disproportionately affected by the recession. I show responsiveness also declined for workers who remained matched with the same employers throughout the period.


Inequality and Giving

with Nic Duquette (USC). Revise and resubmit at Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

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Standard theories predict that greater inequality will increase charitable giving, though tax return data suggest the opposite may be true. We develop a model which, incorporating insights from behavioral economics and social psychology, allows the distribution of resources to affect giving decisions. We test the theory in an experiment on donations to a real-world charity. By randomizing the income distribution, we identify the causal effect of inequality on giving behavior. We find greater inequality causes giving to fall.


Who Donates to Revolutionaries? Evidence from Post-1916 Ireland

Revise and resubmit at Explorations in Economic History.

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This paper analyzes the determinants of providing financial support to revolutionaries, using a hand-compiled dataset of 17,000 donations to the Irish National Aid Association after the Easter Rising of 1916. I employ machine-learning techniques to show that financial support is best predicted by literacy, marital status, religious affiliation, and relatively high socio-economic status. In this sense, donations have some characteristics of a luxury good. I find evidence that long-run historical grievances (the Great Famine) also predict support.


Does Statutory Incidence Matter? Earnings Responses to Social Security Contributions

with Barra Roantree (ESRI)

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Abstract

This paper provides evidence that statutory incidence can play an important role in taxpayer behaviour. It is well-known that taxpayers avoid notches in the tax schedule where liabilities increase discontinuously. We investigate responses to notches using linked employer-employee earnings data. We show that short-run earnings responses are stronger for taxes paid by employees than for those paid by employers. This runs counter to the irrelevance of statutory incidence predicted by standard models.


Political Fragmentation and Fiscal Policy

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Abstract

This paper examines the link between political fragmentation and tax policy. A model of government is presented where an n-member coalition chooses revenue and expenditure policies. I derive the response of tax policy to a change in the number of coalition partners. The model predicts that an increase in the number of parties leads to (i) lower taxes; (ii) lower expenditure; and (iii) lower social security transfers. These results are counter to the conventional wisdom that countries with more fragmented governments have larger public sectors. I test the model on a large panel of developed countries, and all three of the model's predictions are supported. My results have coefficients significantly different from, and of opposing signs to, the conventional wisdom. I estimate that moving from a two- to three-party legislature lowers tax revenue by 6.7%, expenditure by 9.5%, and transfers by 5.4%. These results are robust to a host of potentially important variables such as the ideological composition of government, changes in the tax base, and electoral cycle effects.


Optimal Pigouvian Taxation when Externalities Affect Demand

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Abstract

Purchasing a network good such as a cell phone generates the positive externality of making phones more useful for others. Should we subsidize cell phones? If pollution/fumes from cars make commuting by foot less desirable, people become more willing to pay road tax. How then should we tax car pollution? To address these questions, I extend and generalize the standard optimal commodity tax model to let the demand for an externality-generating good depend on society's total consumption of that good. The optimal tax rate depends on three factors: the demand elasticities of the good, the marginal social cost, and the response of consumption to the externality. These factors are additive and separable. I find that if a negative externality affects consumption enough, the optimal policy can be to subsidize it.


Crime and Unemployment in Ireland, 2003-2016

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Abstract

This paper investigates the relationship between crime and unemployment in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger boom, Great Recession, and subsequent economic recovery. Using unique administrative police station-level crime data and exploiting large variation in unemployment rates, I first document that a 10% increase in unemployment is associated with a 5% increase in thefts and burglaries. Instrumental variables show that a 1,000-person decline in employment causes 15-25 more thefts or burglaries per quarter. The property crime-unemployment relationship remained robust during the most recent period of substantial economic recovery, with areas where the recovery was fastest also experiencing sharper decreases in property crime.

Coverage: Irish Times, Irish Times (again)