Essays on public policy and economic inequality
This dissertation consists of three essays. The first is an analysis of tax credits that encourage charitable giving that estimates the causal effect of two of the costliest program: Arizona's Working Poor Tax Credit (WPTC) and the Endow Iowa program. Using synthetic control methods to construct counterfactuals, I estimate a 125 percent increase in contributions to community foundations in Iowa. In contrast, I find no evidence that the WPTC increased contributions to the targeted Arizona nonprofits. Evidence suggests that the growth in contribution levels in Iowa included increases in both the number of foundations and the level of contributions per foundation. The second essay examines the economic impact of the AmeriCorps program on the nonprofits. Fixed effects regressions show that nonprofits experience higher levels of contributions in years in which they sponsor AmeriCorps, whether State and National or VISTA. However, instrumental variables analysis suggests that AmeriCorps State and National have a crowding out effect on contributions. A ten percent increase in the number of AmeriCorps State and National is associated with a one percent decline in contributions. This level of crowd-out is similar to those estimated for other forms of government funding for the nonprofit sector. Estimates of the impact of VISTA rule out large levels of crowd-out. The third essay tests the sensitivity of cross-national inequality research to the choices about the underlying data. The main takeaways are as follows. First, estimates appear to be more sensitive to the choice of welfare concept than to the choice of inequality measure. Second, different international inequality databases frequently produce different results, even when the countries, the welfare concept, the inequality measure, and the time period are held constant. Third, while there is a rather large amount of evidence that estimated rates of convergence differ by region and by time, even this result is sensitive to the database that is used to perform the analysis.