Articles

Epp, Derek. 2017. Policy Agendas and Economic Inequality in American Politics. Political Studies.
This article investigates the relationship between economic inequality and US congressional agendas. Longstanding insights into the influence of political spending on public policy suggest that money can narrow the scope of policy conflicts. I argue that rising inequality should intensify these negative-agenda forces as wealthy interests gain a political advantage relative to other social groups and use this advantage to protect their socioeconomic position by donating to candidates who pursue less disruptive agendas. The expectation is that economic inequality narrows the purview of policymaking and that this is manifest through a reduction in the diversity of the congressional agenda. Empirical analysis supports this position. Error-correction models show that rising inequality is associated with a reduction in the diversity of congressional hearings, bill introductions, and laws. Moreover, it is legislators who are heavily dependent on deep-pocketed donors and political action committees that engage with a narrower range of policy topics.

Baumgartner, Frank R., Marcello Carammia, Derek A. Epp, Ben Noble, Beatriz Rey, and Tevfik Murat Yildirim. 2017. Budgetary Change in Authoritarian and Democratic Regimes. Journal of European Public Policy 24 (6): 792-808.
We compare patterns of change in budgetary commitments by countries during periods of democracy and authoritarianism. Previous scholarship has focused almost exclusively on democratic governments, finding evidence of punctuated equilibria. Authoritarian regimes may behave differently, both because they may operate with fewer institutional barriers to choice and because they have fewer incentives to gather and respond to policy-relevant information coming from civil society. By analysing public budgeting in Brazil, Turkey, Malta and Russia before and after their transitions from or to democracy, we can test punctuated equilibrium theory under a variety of governing conditions. Our goal is to advance the understanding of the causes of budgetary instability by leveraging contextual circumstances to push the theory beyond democracies and assess its broader applicability.

Epp, Derek A. 2017. Public Policy and the Wisdom of Crowds. Cognitive Systems Research 43: 53-61.
Collective intelligence, or the wisdom of crowds, refers to a phenomenon by which, under the right conditions, groups of individuals can render highly accurate judgments. This phenomenon has long played an important role in economics, where understanding the behavior of groups is often essential to explaining economic outcomes. More recently, political scientists have shown that trends in public opinion show evidence of collective intelligence. This article further explores how the wisdom of crowds affects politics. I look at two types of decision-making processes, those governed by group dynamics versus those rendered by organizations. Distributional analysis of financial markets and foreign exchange rates shows that when policies are determined by groups they are less prone to instabilities, evidence that in certain issue areas decision-making by groups is more readily adaptive to shifting environmental cues than decisions made through organizational deliberation.

Baumgartner, Frank R., Derek A. Epp, Kelsey Shoub, and Bayard Love. 2016. Targeting Young Men of Color for Search and Arrest During Traffic Stops: Evidence from North Carolina, 2002-2013. Politics, Groups, and Identities 5 (1): 107-131.
North Carolina mandated the first collection of demographic data on all traffic stops during a surge of attention to the phenomenon of “driving while black” in the late 1990s. Based on analysis of over 18 million traffic stops, we show dramatic disparities in the rates at which black drivers, particularly young males, are searched and arrested as compared to similarly situated whites, women, or older drivers. Further, the degree of racial disparity is growing over time. Finally, the rate at which searches lead to the discovery of contraband is consistently lower for blacks than for whites, providing strong evidence that the empirical disparities we uncover are in fact evidence of racial bias. The findings are robust to a variety of statistical specifications and consistent with findings in other jurisdictions.

Epp, Derek A. and Frank R. Baumgartner. 2016. Complexity, Capacity, and Budget Punctuations. Policy Studies Journal 45 (2): 247-264.
The budgeting literature has long focused on “institutional friction” as a cause of ubiquitous punctuated equilibrium (PE) findings. A recent wave of scholarship looks to identify specific institutional mechanisms that affect the number of punctuations in policy outputs. We contribute to this growing body of research by focusing on the complexity of the institutional environment surrounding a policy area as well as that of the government as a whole. These factors have opposite effects: the more complex a policy area, the greater the likelihood of extreme spending changes. But, higher institutional capacity in general leads to greater stability. To test these ideas, we develop a novel index of budgetary change that balances the conceptual importance of extreme changes while analyzing the entire distribution of budget changes, not only the tails. In addition, we also demonstrate that findings are robust to a number of important distinctions, such as between series associated with slowly moving demographic trends or quickly moving stochastic events. We, therefore, demonstrate the robustness of important findings from the established literature, add a new measure of the dependent variable, and push the literature forward with a new focus on issue complexity and institutional capacity.

Epp, Derek A. 2015. Punctuated Equilibria in the Private Sector and the Stability of Market Systems. Policy Studies Journal 43 (4): 417-436.
The article examines longitudinal trends in expenditures by over 1,200 private firms, finding evidence of punctuated equilibrium—a pattern of change widely interpreted as evidence of stick-slip dynamics in decision-making processes. Levels of punctuation in the private sector closely resemble those observed in studies on public budgeting, suggesting that the private sector is not on average any less resistant to change than government. Both private- and public-sector decision making is a function of deliberative processes, which the article compares to market systems. Deliberative decision making takes place when a group comes to a consensus about the allocation of resources. Market processes aggregate the actions of many independent decision makers to arrive at an outcome, such as the value of a commodity. The article considers the relative informational efficiency of these two processes and concludes that market systems should be more adaptive to incoming information. Three case studies provide natural experiments to investigate the stability of outputs during periods of deliberative and market control. A key finding is that when outputs are determined by market systems it greatly reduces the magnitude of punctuation.

Epp, Derek A., Frank R. Baumgartner, and John Lovett. 2014. Partisan Priorities and Public Budgeting. Political Research Quarterly 67 (4): 864-878.
We explore budget data from twenty-nine Western countries from 1948 to 2012 to investigate the impact of partisan control of government on spending patterns. We use a variety of empirical methods, but the central element of analysis is to code spending allocations as “consistent” or “inconsistent” based on the partisanship of the majority party in government. Looking across the board, we show that inconsistent allocations occur at almost exactly the same rate as consistent ones. The implication is that budgets are best understood not as an expression of partisan priorities but as a reaction to changing contextual circumstances.