Do Black Politicians Matter?
This paper exploits the history of Reconstruction after the American Civil War to estimate the causal effect of politician race on public finance. I overcome the endogeneity between electoral preferences and black representation using the number of free blacks in the antebellum era (1860) as an instrument for black political leaders during Reconstruction. IV estimates show that an additional black official increased per capita county tax revenue by $0.20, more than an hour's wage at the time. The effect was not persistent, however, disappearing entirely at Reconstruction's end. Consistent with the stated policy objectives of black officials, I find positive effects of black politicians on land tenancy and show that exposure to black politicians decreased the black-white literacy gap by more than 7%. These results suggest that politician race has large effects on public finance and individual outcomes over and above electoral preferences for redistribution.
I thank Lee Alston, Rodney J. Andrews, Renee Bowen, John J. Clegg, William Collins, Lisa D. Cook, Stanley L. Engerman, Vicky Fouka, Stephen Hahn, Anna Harvey, Damon Jones, Suresh Naidu, John M. Parman, Jon Pritchett, Richard H. Steckel, Melissa Thomasson, Ebonya L. Washington, Gavin Wright, audiences at Williams, Maryland, Ohio State, Yale, Vanderbilt, Emory, the NBER DAE Spring Meeting, WEAI, EHA, PIEP, SSHA, and Brookings for feedback and suggestions. Eric Bloomfield, Jacob Ginsberg, Isaac Kebe, Spencer LaHue, Matthew Mahoney, Alan McClain, Adaeze Okoli, Tiara Shanklin, and Taylor Smith provided excellent research assistance. The usual disclaimer applies. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.