I study the effect of crises on local public good provision using a comprehensive, novel, archival panel data on U.S. cities and municipal bonds during the 1920s and 1930s. Unlike the modern status quo of countercyclical fiscal stimulus, the Great Depression provides a unique empirical laboratory to study the consequences of fiscal shocks. Cities issued vast amounts of debt to fund infrastructure projects and provide important public services during rapid urbanization in the early 20th century. The financial crisis during the Great Depression, however, quickly put an end to urban growth. I estimate the effect of financial leverage on municipal spending and investment and find a significant impact of pre-crisis debt on municipal austerity. I disentangle finance-driven from demand-driven mechanisms and find strong evidence of a significant negative impact of financial market frictions. Cities that were forced to refinance during the Depression drastically cut public expenditure, especially capital outlays and police services.
Between 1910 and 1940, the high school graduation rate in the United States increased five-fold, setting the stage for human capital-led economic growth throughout the 20th century. In this paper, I study the impact of a macroeconomic shock - the Great Depression - on these shifting schooling choices for households across the socioeconomic spectrum. I use novel local data on youth unemployment and school quality during the Depression and study their effect on secondary education. Using Census data on males and their fathers, my difference-in-differences strategy attempts to explain the variation in schooling and intergenerational mobility across cohorts. I find that worsening labor markets for youth significantly increased the school attendance of youth from poor, but not wealthy, families. The Depression not only contributed significantly to the rise of secondary education in the U.S., but it also narrowed the achievement gap between the rich and the poor.
We develop a comprehensive dataset of state and local taxes from 2000–2015 that includes personal income taxes, property taxes, corporate income taxes, sales taxes, estate taxes and excise taxes. We illustrate how state and local taxes have changed over time, over business cycles, and to what extent different taxes co- move within a state or county. We document large differences in the mix of taxes across states and local jurisdictions and note that these differences have become more pronounced over time. Political ideology has strong predictive power over changes in tax rates, and these effects vary substantially across tax types. More- over, we find that taxes of different types tend to co-move within a jurisdiction, highlighting the importance for researchers to take into account the entirety of the tax system, rather than just a single tax type, when examining responses to tax changes.
Financial crises often lead to slow economic recovery, possibly due to credit rationing by banks. This study explores the relationship between policy, bank failures, and manufacturing performance during the Great Depression, using new archival data from the U.S. Focusing on the lender-of-last-resort policies of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, I assess their impact on the banking sector and firms' financial constraints. While I find strong evidence that these policies bolstered the banking sector, they appear to have had limited influence on local manufacturing outcomes at the county and firm-level, despite the manufacturing sector's reliance on bank credit at the time. These results highlight that simply reinforcing the banking sector may not suffice for broader economic recovery after a financial crisis.