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Policy and Legal Issues

The Counter-productive Effects of COIN

IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin (left) discusses his work on wage theft with IPR sociologist Anthony Chen.

The United States military has employed counter-insurgency operations since the Vietnam War; however, these “search and destroy” tactics reached an unprecedented level in the U.S. invasion of Iraq under a new counterinsurgency doctrine known as COIN. Despite the military’s reliance on its use, sociologist, legal scholar, and IPR associate John Hagan and his colleague Joshua Kaiser find that COIN’s extensive incapacitation-oriented tactics are actually counterproductive in defeating insurgents and establishing order in Iraq. The researchers found that the use of these strategies combined with a surge in troops increased unnecessary U.S.-led violence against civilian non-combatants. They found that the felt perceptions of that violence led to an increase in frustration and cycles of violence, rather than an intended peaceful resolution. They also found that COIN tactics led to an increase in civilians who view state laws as illegitimate and nonbinding due to the presence of U.S. forces in place of state authority, which the authors call legal cynicism. This heightening of legal cynicism in Arab Sunni communities bolstered insurgent groups in these areas, which explains why such cycles of terrorism and counterterrorism persist. This research questions how COIN can be fixed and how we can ultimately bring an end to the cyclical violence plaguing the Middle East.

From Labor Law to Employment Law

The landmark U.S. labor laws enacted in the 1930s legitimized labor unions and enabled workers to protect their rights through collective bargaining. Since the 1960s, however, labor law has not been updated to meet changing economic conditions. Left to “ossify” and “drift" it has failed to protect workers’ rights on the scale its designers envisioned. In response, workers and their political allies have turned to state-level employment laws and new forms of worker organization and advocacy. IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin conducts new empirical research to trace these changes in labor politics. In Studies in American Political Development, he shows how the ossification of national labor law has shaped the growth and character of state-level employment laws as well as the actions of new worker groups, sometimes called “alt-labor." Constructing and analyzing a new dataset of every state employment law enacted since 1960, he explains the emergence of what he calls the “new politics of workers’ rights” around these laws. Galvin concludes that the persistence of outmoded national labor law has shaped the form, content, and timing of subnational efforts to protect workers over the last half century. The Russell Sage Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation supported the research.

The Unexpected Consequences of Policy Drift  

“Policy drift” is when a policy stays the same but the broader social or economic context in which it operates changes. This leads to a shift, often negative, in the policy’s intended effects. Examples of policy drift abound: the eroding value of the minimum wage as inflation rises is one example. Increasing gridlock and partisanship in American politics makes it easier to preserve policy rules than to change them, magnifying this drift. In Studies in American Political Development, Galvin and Jacob Hacker of Yale examine how drift affects the political process. They outline two types of drift: contraction, when a policy’s generosity decreases, and expansion, when it increases; and two potential outcomes: formal policy revision or perpetual stalemate. Galvin and Hacker then examine four policy areas—labor law, healthcare, welfare, and disability insurance—to trace how the dynamics of policy drift influence subsequent political development in each policy domain. The consequences primarily involve actions taken by the “losers” of policy drift, as reformers and activists take steps to circumvent the drifting policy and soften its effects. The researchers demonstrate that drift encourages several types of responses: policy “layering” to address the policy in new ways; the adaptation of old groups seeking to survive; and the formation of new groups to respond to emergent problems. Galvin and Hacker’s findings indicate that the “downstream effects” of drift can have a significant impact in reshaping the dynamics of U.S. politics over time.

'Starving the Beast' Traces Origins of the GOP’s Tax Policy

Monica Prasad
IPR sociologist Monica Prasad focuses on economic sociology, comparative historical sociology, and political sociology

What led Republicans to make tax cuts a defining policy of the modern conservative party? This is the question that IPR sociologist Monica Prasad examines in her latest book, Starving the Beast: Ronald Reagan and the Tax Cut Revolution (Russell Sage Foundation, 2019). She examines the origins of the Republicans' focus on tax cuts by tracing the policy shift starting with the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, the largest tax cut in U.S. history, from its inception in the mid-1970s to the passing of the law during Reagan’s first year in office. By using archival documents from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Prasad found that business groups were not driving Reagan’s focus on tax cuts, as often thought. She shows instead that the 1981 tax cut arose from the interaction of the American economy’s unusual fixation on progressive taxation within the context of inflation in the 1970s. Moreover, she argues that the tax cut episode shows how the normal and healthy functioning of democracy can create a conflict among citizens that did not exist before. Another key takeaway is that the United States is unusual for maintaining a low level of tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, despite the rise of GDP over the last several decades. Prasad argues that the U.S. can learn from a European-style tax policy that embeds progressive policies into a system that also promotes businesses and encourages economic growth.

Public Service Motivation and Corruption

Public Service Motivation (PSM) refers to a person’s desire to work for the public and align personal actions with what’s optimal for the public good. In a working paper, political scientist and IPR associate Jordan Gans-Morse and his colleagues explore how this motivation is tied to ethical behavior. They hypothesized that higher levels of this motivation will be associated with higher levels of altruism, lower dishonesty, and a lower propensity to engage in corruption. Data were collected in three studies conducted with approximately 1870 university students in Russia and Ukraine. The study’s novel use of experimental games mitigates concerns related to earlier research’s dependence on participants’ self-reporting and the difficulties of observing illicit behavior. The experimental games also enabled the researchers to incorporate behavioral indicators of corruption into research on PSM for the first time. They find evidence that those with high PSM are more likely to be altruistic and less likely to engage in corruption, while the relationship between PSM and dishonesty was more mixed. Overall, the study has important implications in understanding how Public Service Motivation is tied to ethical or unethical behavior in government.