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Social Studies: Democrats and distress; reconsidering ‘Moneyball’; the power of TV

Restaurant patrons in Kansas City watched the World Series on TV on Oct. 5, 1950.William Straeter/Associated Press

Labeling issues

In 2008, a prominent economic development program for the Appalachian region began labeling the poorest 10 percent of counties “economically distressed,” and this new designation got widespread media coverage. Now a new analysis finds that counties that were given this label experienced a significant increase in voting for Democratic candidates for president and for the House of Representatives, whereas counties just above the cutoff did not. The effect was greater in distressed counties with greater telecommunications access, and the researchers surmise that media attention on the new label prompted more voters to support government interventions favored by Democrats.

Firoozi, D., “Economic Distress and Electoral Consequences: Evidence From Appalachia,” Review of Economics and Statistics (forthcoming).


As you were

Michael Lewis’s book “Moneyball” encouraged the use of statistical analysis in baseball management because it suggested that teams were not recruiting and paying players in proportion to their actual effect on wins. And indeed, a few years after the book came out, researchers found that a batting statistic highlighted by the book — on-base percentage — went from being uncorrelated with payroll to being correlated with it. However, a new study uses a more precise statistic of a batter’s contribution and finds that payroll was actually well correlated with players’ contributions the whole time, both before and after the book’s publication.

Pinheiro, R. & Szymanski, S., “All Runs Are Created Equal: Labor Market Efficiency in Major League Baseball,” Journal of Sports Economics (forthcoming).

Community disorganizer

By analyzing recent survey data from countries of the former Soviet Union, researchers found that people who live near the sites of Stalin-era labor camps known as gulags are less trusting of strangers and government institutions and less likely to vote or visit family and friends. The researchers controlled for the demographics of the respondents and say the results are not explained by gulags being located in previously low-trust or high-repression areas or by subsequent migration.


Nikolova, S. et al., “Stalin and the Origins of Mistrust,” Journal of Public Economics (April 2022).

The medium is the message

From 1948 to 1952, the Federal Communications Commission halted the licensing of new TV stations because of signal-interference issues. Comparing areas that had already gotten TV service with those that hadn’t, an economist has found that retail sales, especially of cars, grew significantly faster in the areas with TV. This was not explained by pre-existing socioeconomic differences between TV and no-TV areas. Areas with TV also experienced more highway construction and a boost in the birth rate.

Kim, W., “Television and American Consumerism,” Journal of Public Economics (April 2022).


A new study finds that people write more words to report an event that’s inconsistent with stereotypes — and that this tendency can end up favoring those who are stereotypically privileged. For example, in experiments, people wrote more words about a negative event if it happened to a white person. Experiments also found that people were more inclined to allocate resources to solve missing-children or unidentified-body cases that had been described at greater length. In fact, in one experiment, people chose to allocate resources to the case with the longer description even when the description was illegible.

Eskreis-Winkler, L. & Fishbach, A., “Surprised Elaboration: When White Men Get Longer Sentences,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).