Characterizing the impact of new farmer entry on local farm economies
Efforts to incentivize beginning and new farmers entry into agriculture have been ongoing since at least the 1990s, with funds and the number of programs meant to support beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers increasing through the 2002, 2008, 2014, and the most recent 2018 farm bills. With roughly a quarter of current operators in the United States above the age of 65 and given the difficulties in securing capital and land necessary to launch a new farm, policymakers have been concerned with increasing rates of retirement and the entry dynamics of farm operators. This research uses variation in the availability of EQIP and a pilot program in land contract sales to assess the impact of incentives on new farmer entry, using these results to evaluate a range of outcomes for the farm economy and for participation in conservation programs.
Strategic judge assignment by and revealed preference of prosecutors
The District Attorney is a political office in the United States and has a powerful role to play in determining the administration of criminal justice policy and, as a result, the administration of corrections. Theoretical economic literature diverges on the objectives of prosecutors, which are likely to vary given political preferences—but how big of a difference do the objectives of prosecutors really play in outcomes? This research uses administrative data from the North Carolina criminal justice system to present evidence of strategic scheduling by prosecutors around judicial rotations and to consider alternative goals of district attorneys in North Carolina to identify and classify the preferences of prosecutors.
Procurement contracting with for-profits and not-for-profits in corrections
The rise of for-profit participation in the administration of corrections policy (not only through construction and operation of detention facilities, but also rehabilitation services) takes place in a sector that has historically had active civil society participation. This research uses a contract theory framework to assess how the same incentives in procurement contracts for these services lead to different outcomes for for-profit and not-for-profit agents, and suggest implications for policy-makers in limiting contracting with different partner types. Using federal procurement data, I examine federal halfway house contracts by firm type to assess the role that objectives around rehabilitation play in determining location decisions of facilities.
Complements and substitutes in local neighborhoods for prisoner and substance abuse rehabilitation
A major step towards rehabilitation and successful reintegration into society for prisoners and individuals with substance abuse issues is availability of support networks, including through participation in local labor markets and availability of complementary social services, and avoidance of substitutes to rehabilitation, for example participation in drug markets or areas of high criminal activity. This research considers the location of crucial social service facilities, in particular halfway houses and sober living facilities, within networks of complementary and substitute services. Using city-level data I construct measures of local conditions for rehabilitation. I then examine the impact of city-level variation in the availability of complements and substitutes to rehabilitation on reported crimes.
My research interests primarily lie in two, related directions: First, I am interested in using applied microeconomics and econometrics for program evaluation in a diverse range of public policy environments. I aim to bring the flexible toolkit of applied econometrics and my experience in analyzing the institutional features of complex policy environments to a support economic program evaluation across policies and sectors. Second, I am interested in studying the contracts that public agencies use to delegate the provision of public services to private agents, in particular how differences in private agent types (e.g. for-profit and not-for-profit) impact the optimality and incentive-effects of these contracts.
These two directions are bound by a common interest in the provision of public goods and social services, particularly those with significant economic features and costs but that are not easily integrated into a model of surplus-maximizing behavior. Decisions about criminal prosecution, incarceration, the rehabilitation and release of criminals, the treatment of the mentally ill or individuals with substance abuse, the housing of the homeless, or end-of-life care all have far-reaching impacts on human capital, labor markets, public finances, and public welfare in general but are marked by significant challenges in provision and evaluation. Likewise, issues such as the structure of farm operator characteristics or environmental conservation policies involve classic public goods issues and significant externalities. These domains often lack obvious social welfare functions or price signals, and frequently depend on a mix of public and private actors with varying objectives and incentives or display institutional rigidities that must be taken into account during analysis.
Yet it is necessary to develop reliable methods for evaluating success in these highly complex policy and legal environments. Applied econometric approaches and quasi-experimental reduced form designs that pay careful attention to identification of effects without relying on significant structural assumptions provide a flexible approach for considering the impacts of real-world policies with credible results. The ability to use multiple outcome measures with the same flexible research design allows for a multifaceted but clean research approach. At the same time, structural modeling that isolates specific behaviors and their reactions to incentives is a powerful lens for designing and critiquing policy in environments marked by imperfect information, perverse incentives, or multiple types of actors. These are particular important when there is a lack of clean, observational data or no credible design for applying a reduced form approach.
As a result, I believe both are necessary research tools in my arsenal, especially when studying the complex area of public good provision. My dissertation combines an applied econometric analysis of prosecutor behavior in North Carolina, the use of difference-in-differences and other applied econometrics tools to analyze incentives for new farmer entry in the United States, and an applied contract theory analysis of for-profit and not-for-profit contractors for offender re-entry services in the United States. I plan to continue this work, and expand my methods towards a broader set of public policy problems.