Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | November 25, 2014

Articles, Noted

For your consideration:

1. Justin Cheng, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizily, Jure Leskovec, “How Community Feedback Shapes User Behavior”: “Social media systems rely on user feedback and rating mechanisms for personalization, ranking, and content filtering. However, when users evaluate content contributed by fellow users (e.g., by liking a post or voting on a comment), these evaluations create complex social feedback effects. This paper investigates how ratings on a piece of content affect its author’s future behavior. By studying four large comment-based news communities, we find that negative feedback leads to significant behavioral changes that are detrimental to the community. Not only do authors of negatively-evaluated content contribute more, but also their future posts are of lower quality, and are perceived by the community as such. Moreover, these authors are more likely to subsequently evaluate their fellow users negatively, percolating these effects through the community.”

(H/T: Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage, “Why Reddit sucks: some scientific evidence.” Prof. Farrell observes: “Trolls and poor quality posters get far more encouragement from negative attention than good posters get from positive attention. Furthermore, the article drops some suggestive hints about the origins of communities of trolls. Some people thrive on negative feedback and find it affirming. Over time, it’s plausible that such people both (a) infect others as described in the article’s findings, and (b) drive away nearly everyone else.”)

2. Jonathan Chapman, “The franchise, taxes, and public goods: the political economy of infrastructure investment in nineteenth century England”: “Many theories of democratization suggest that extending the right to vote will lead to increased government expenditure (e.g. Meltzer and Richard, 1981; Lizzeri and Persico, 2004; Acemoglu and Robinson, 2000). However, these models frequently assume that government can engage in transfer expenditure, which is often not true for local governments. This paper presents and tests a model in which government expenditure is limited to the provision of public goods. The model predicts that the poor and the rich desire lower public goods expenditure than the middle class: the rich because of the relatively high tax burden, and the poor because of a high marginal utility of consumption. Consequently extensions of the franchise to the poor can be associated with declines in government expenditure on public goods. This prediction is tested using a new dataset of local government financial accounts in England between 1867 and 1900, which captures government expenditure on key infrastructure projects that are not included in many studies of national democratic reform. The empirical analysis exploits plausibly exogenous variation in the extent of the franchise to identify the effects of extending voting rights to the poor. The results show strong support for the theoretical prediction: expenditure increased following relatively small extensions of the franchise, but fell following extensions of the franchise beyond around 50% of the adult male population.”

(H/T: Tyler Cowen, who muses thusly: “it is an interesting hypothesis that the current thinning out of the middle class will decrease the political support for infrastructure investment.”)

3. Tanisha M. Fazal, “Dead Wrong? Battle Deaths, Military Medicine, and Exaggerated Reports of War’s Demise,” International Security 39(1) (Summer 2014), pp. 95–125: “In this article, I show that major advances in military medicine have made battle deaths less likely and nonfatal battle casualties more likely over the past several centuries, particularly since 1946 – the same time period that Goldstein, Pinker, and others examine to support their conclusion that war is on the decline. Because these datasets identify wars based on a battle-death threshold that is constant over the entire time period they cover, any apparent decline in war means that war has become less fatal. This observation does not necessarily mean, however, that war has become less frequent.” (footnote omitted)

(H/T: Phil Arena.)


  1. Aspects of the Chapman thesis seem counterintuitive to me (which doesn’t mean he’s wrong, of course).

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