What impact did Black politicians have during the Reconstruction? Trevon Logan from The Ohio State University’s Department of Economics discusses his research into the election of Black politicians after the Civil War ended in 1865, which led to increased tax revenues that were put toward public schools and land ownership reform. White Southerners, however, reversed that progress just 12 years later, augmenting the systematic disenfranchisement of African Americans that remains today.
An interview with: Trevon Logan
Reference Trevon's research:Logan, T. (2020). Do Black Politicians Matter? Evidence from Reconstruction. The Journal of Economic History, 80(1), 1-37. doi:10.1017/S0022050719000755
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[00:06] spk_1: to science pods, where researchers share the stories behind their science
[00:11] spk_0: weeks. In this podcast, we hear from Trevon Logan about recent research on behind the curtain of algorithms to get started, we were curious to hear themes. Story of becoming a researcher.
[00:32] spk_2: I'm Trevan Logan. Currently, I'm a professor of economics at the Ohio State University, also research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Originally, I'm from ST Paul, Minnesota. So a place that is recently in the news went to the oldest high school in the state of Minnesota Central High School and then to the University of Wisconsin, really became interested in economics, actually, through Herbert Hill, who was the former national labor director for the Deep and became very interested in labor history, decided to go to graduate school and went to the University of California, Berkeley. And after completing my PhD, I have been at Ohio State since 2000 and
[01:32] spk_1: Research studies rarely start out with the questions readily in hand. From the science lab to the pub. The paths that researchers take leading up to a study are as unique as the researchers themselves. So we asked, how did this study come
[01:55] spk_2: probably continues to be one of the least researched areas in American history. Everyone loves everything up to the Civil War, and there's a huge literature on the Civil War on presidential leadership, for example. And then we sort of skipped the late 19th century. We get, perhaps, to the Gilded Age, and we moved to the progressive era, etcetera, and there's much more history there. But if you look at America 18 65 to 1900 there is a relative dearth of literature there, so there isn't a lot of interest in history there. There isn't a lot of interest in reconstruction. Um, the interest has grown substantially in the last couple of years, given some recent events, and certainly as people have turned attention to the growth, for example, of Confederate monuments and other sorts of things that have their birth in the late 19th century. But for the most part, it really is a relatively under researched area. So I began really concerted effort to read extensively about reconstruction and to really understand what it waas, how it failed and why it failed, and then thinking about how that historical knowledge could inform the way that I approached this as an economic historian. It led me to really a very simple relationship just to see if having more black politicians in an area actually was related to higher tax receipts and higher government revenues, because black politicians I was finding from the historical narrative really did have a policy agenda that they wanted to push. But the really cool thing about reconstruction is that we had a truly exogenous event that no one say circa 18 63 or even 18 64 would have predicted, which is the enfranchisement of African American men, over a million of them in the south and then the immediate Movinto holding political office for the same men. And that's unprecedented. That's a true shock to the electorate and then to the base and the composition of the local political leadership. And so that's what I really could exploit their in the paper. To find out these effects,
[04:05] spk_0: Thio understand the findings of any research. You have to begin with the methods applied by the researcher. With this in mind, we asked then how this study was conducted. We will hear beans response after this short message. This episode is brought to you by Fixture Free to use cloud based platform for
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[04:38] spk_0: research here again is Trevon Logan.
[04:47] spk_2: I want to estimate the impact of black politicians on local public finance and so in particular, I'm thinking about what is the effect on additional black politician has on, say, per capita tax receipts in a rural area. And you could think about doing this. Just looking at the correlation between by politicians and the per capita tax rates would answer that question. There is a problem, theoretically, because it could be the case that the places that elect more black politicians have underlying preferences for higher taxes. And so then the correlation that you estimate between black politicians and per capita tax rates is the correlation. But it does not have a causal interpretation. It's curious, right is partially driven by the fact that these places have higher preferences for higher tax rates for more redistributive public policy. So I don't really have something that tells me that black politicians caused there to be higher per capita taxes. So I need something that's going to actually get me the experimental or causal estimate. What we do in economics is we have to think about something that would give us what we call an instrumental variable. And what really does is it drives a wedge between the spurious correlation. So what I do in the study of black politicians is I use the antebellum distribution of free blacks as my instrumental variable for the following reasons. Ah, lot of the politicians who held office were themselves free African Americans, and the distribution of free blacks in 18 60 is not due to the fact that people thought, you know, in 18 60 we're gonna fight a civil war. The Civil War is going to end slavery at the end of the civil war that end, slavery were going toe, have broad enfranchisement of African Americans, and these free blacks are now going to disproportionately hold office relative to those who are enslaved. So what this does is it's something that is related to free blacks, the variables free black, so it's related to the propensity to which areas air going toe have black politicians, but it certainly can't be related to people's preferences for redistribution. So what I'm going to get is something that's going to tell me whether places have Mawr or fewer black politicians. But for reasons that are going to be completely unrelated to this omitted factor, that would drive a spurious correlation. And that's what an instrumental variable is. It's something that's related to my outcome of interest and driven by outcome of interest and, in fact related to this factor, in my case, black politicians, but could not be driven by something that would potentially be driving the relationship between both simultaneously. So what it breaks is the endogenous 80 that might exist between black politicians and taxes
[08:08] spk_2: know that black politicians were intimately involved in the establishment of the public school system, um, in the South, intimately involved in terms of its construction and in terms of the development of its financial infrastructure before the civil war. Many people don't realize the South did not provide a large range of public goods and certainly not relative to the north. So while if you were in your little town in Iowa, you had a public school system. You did not in the South have large scale public school. One of the first things that changed in the South institutionally was the establishment of public schools. They were segregated public schools, but they were actually funded quite equally, and they were advocated for, particularly by black politicians. Now do boys covered this extensively in black reconstruction? What I also found searching food through the narrative evidence was that black politicians in particular sought to use tax policy, in particular property tax policy to increase wealth holding among African Americans. In one particular way, the South was very productive in agriculture In the antebellum era, the South also had more landed inventory than the North, which is really strange when you think about sort of agricultural productivity. You think that the south of sort of using every piece of arable land and they weren't they were actually had a lot of land in inventory. And of course, the people who knew that lots of land was held in inventory are the people who were formerly enslaved who were working that land. And so the South also had a relatively lax property tax system and low levels of property taxes. So what African American politicians wanted to do was increase taxes on land. If I tax your land at a high rate, essentially encouraging you to sell the land that is an inventory that is not productive, it doesn't bring you any any rents from that land. And so you would sell that land. And in selling that land, you would largely lead that land to belong to someone else. And African American politicians believe that that would lead to large scale African American land ownership. It did not happen that way, but that's what they believed would happen if they actually raised taxes on land, that it would take land that was not in production and move it into the market and therefore put it into production. And they were really explicit about this goal, that they wanted to make African Americans landholders and that they wanted to have a class of yeoman farmers who were African American and they wanted to use tax policy to that purpose. So I find that there were two broad areas of agreement among by politicians, and the first is to use taxes to finance public school system. And the second is to use tax policy to try to encourage African American land ownership.
[11:01] spk_0: Research results routinely have both expected and unexpected implications. This'll lead us to wonder what been beliefs will be the influence of this work.
[11:18] spk_2: When redemption came, some white politicians wanted to move back to antebellum sort of public good provision, which would be essentially the elimination of public public schools for whites and blacks. And what they found was that whites, poor whites in particular had strong preferences. They liked the public schools that have been established, and so the one thing that they could pursue was racially disparate funding of education. And in addition to that, lowering the level of funding overall, they found that they could get away with that. Politically, they could decline and decrease the funding for public education. But as long as they decreased ITM or for blacks than for whites, it was politically tenable for them to do so. Thing happened during President Johnson's war on poverty, for example, areas we're seeing poverty alleviation, but that there was a racial ization of anti poverty policy that made whites really resistant to it, even though they themselves would benefit from those policies. If we think about what I would call the willingness to pay for whiteness, it's quite high. In other words, as long as there's a perception that African Americans suffer mawr, it's amazing what some politicians hewing to these racial lines are able to get away with with their white constituents. In other words, it's amazing how punitive whites are willing to be towards themselves as long as there's a perception that there's a greater amount of punitive policy being attached and meted out to blacks.
[12:59] spk_0: That waas Trevon Logan discussing recent research on How Black Politicians Matter. You can learn about this research, download a copy of this podcast or read the transcript at science pods dot com.
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