Beyond Incentives: Institutions, Social Norms and Civic Behavior

Many of the problems we care about in politics - from tax evasion and corruption to political participation and social movements - can be viewed as collective action dilemmas.  In such cases, we know that social and moral norms play an important role in eliciting civic-minded (“prosocial”) behavior, even though such conduct may be privately costly.  As political scientists, we tend to study how institutions and public policies can alter these (material) costs, while paying less attention to the role of the institutional environment in shaping norms, values and beliefs.  My research tries to understand how different states "manage" these non-material motivations, specifically in the context of corruption and tax compliance.

I am also interested in the problem of establishing causal inference in empirical research, as well as issues of research design. Methodologically, my work employs a combination of natural, survey and laboratory experiments.

To learn more about my current work, please see a list of my publications and working papers here.

Also, more information about our tax compliance project can be found at the project website here.

Foundations of State Capacity

In addition to my main research focus, I am also working on a side-project with Melissa Lee about the conceptualization and measurement of state capacity. Theoretically, we argue that it is often useful to think about the state as simply a hierarchical organization, subject to a number of common organizational challenges.  Chief among these is the need to render its population "legible" - that is,  to obtain information about the society it seeks to regulate, and to organize this information in a way which useful for planning and administration.  Empirically, we operationalize legibility by measuring how accurately a state conducts its dicennial census.  Our measure of census accuracy has the advantage of providing quantitative data on state capacity at the subnational level, stretching back several decades.