Research

Working Papers

“Debt and Taxes: Fiscal Strain and U.S. City Budgets during the Great Depression” [paper]

Abstract: While municipal budgets fared well on average during the Great Depression, many suffered greatly. In newspapers and trade publications, key observers blamed distress in real estate markets, the general rise in tax delinquency, and growth in real debt obligations. This paper uses a sample of large U.S. cities to estimate how these factors influenced municipal revenue and spending changes during the Depression. The results show that city finances were stable in the face of the housing market distress that plagued many urban areas in the 1930s. Instead, principal elements of fiscal strain were the rise in unpaid taxes, which was associated with diminished revenue and operating expenditures, and growth in real debt obligations, which was primarily associated with reduced capital outlays. Thus, the behavior of taxpayers and obligations to city creditors drove local budgets rather than the downturn in real estate markets. These results shed light on the policy responses of municipal governments to the fiscal strain wrought by the Depression.

Publications

“Clean Slate: Land-Use Changes in San Francisco after the 1906 Disaster,” 2017. Explorations in Economic History, 65 (July): 1-16. [link]

“Razing San Francisco: The 1906 Disaster as a Natural Experiment in Urban Redevelopment,” 2015. Journal of Urban Economics, 89 (September): 48-61. [link]

Work in Progress

“The 1906 San Francisco Disaster and Business Agglomeration in the City”

“Local Origins and Implications of the 1930s Urban Debt Crisis” (with Samara Gunter)

“The (Golden) Gated City: The Great Fire, the Cost of Zoning, and San Francisco Housing Prices” (with Devin Bunten)

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