Date of Graduation
Chambers College of Business and Economics
This dissertation investigates policy-relevant topics in public economics and law and economics. The first chapter applies the transitional gains trap to legal land title enfranchisement in developing countries. The second chapter examines the role of US Forest Service avalanche forecasting operations in preventing human-involved backcountry avalanche accidents. The final chapter explores what extent local newspaper coverage has on traffic stop behavior by local law enforcement. In the first chapter “Titles For Me But Not For Thee: Transitional Gains Trap of Property Rights Extension in Colombia” I apply Tullock’s “transitional gains trap” to the formalization of property titles in Latin America to understand public choice problems in institutional reform. In a country where land is governed by formal and informal institutions, policies to extend property rights will not be supported by voters holding legal title because it will devalue their properties. To test that prediction, I use data from Colombia where a peace deal to end a 50-year conflict with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels was reached in 2016 and submitted to a public referendum. The deal included formalization of property titles across the nation as well as an end to the conflict. Using municipal-level data on voting and property ownership and controlling for the conflict’s history, I find that potential losses to formal property holders pushed median voter preferences toward opposition. A 1 % increase in legally titled land increases the dissenting vote share by three percentage points. These results are relevant to institutional reforms anywhere with corrupted property rights. The second chapter is “Knowledge is Powder: Effect of Forecasting Services in Natural Hazard Management.” When making decisions under uncertainty or engaging in risky behaviors, people rely on heuristics as well as information from outside sources. Does external information about a fluctuating risk reduce bad outcomes for risk-takers? I examine this question using data from avalanche incidents in wintertime backcountry recreation. The number of people traveling in avalanche terrain in the United States has grown exponentially in the past 20 years, yet major avalanche accidents have remained relatively constant. Using data from reported avalanche incidents in Colorado and Utah, this paper shows that additional avalanche forecasting services reduce dangerous incidents. A policy change in Colorado allows for a difference-in-difference estimation with neighboring forecast centers, which gives causal estimates of forecasting reducing incidents by 42 percent on higher danger days. This reduction may be partially offset by an increase in incidents on lowest-rated danger days. The third chapter “Beat Cops and Beat Reporters: The impact of local press on taxation by citation” asks what inhibits the ability for governments to garner revenue from police issued fines? This paper investigates the role of print media in constraining bureaucrats from increasing revenues from non-traditional forms of taxation. Using data from seven million traffic stops in Illinois and a string of newspaper closings in the state, I find ticketing increases by local law enforcement after a closing. This causal estimate translates to roughly one additional ticket per day by a law enforcement department. 84 percent of the increase in citations are written to local drivers, the group that should receive the largest benefit from the newspaper. Citation leniency toward local residents is eliminated and residents are 23 percent more likely to be searched during a stop after newspaper closure. These results indicate that local media is effective in constraining government’s ability to increase revenue through taxation by citation.
Ferrell, Perry, "Three Essays in Public Economics" (2020). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 7601.