Economic Policy Research at Yale Law School

Faculty Sponsor(s): 
Ian Ayres and Zachary Liscow

Project Description(s):

Professors Ayres and Liscow are each recruiting one Fellow to work on the following projects:

Ian Ayres, the William K. Townsend Professor at Yale Law School, and Zachary Liscow, Associate Professor at Yale Law School, are seeking two empirical research assistants to assist with research projects. Day-to-day work includes brainstorming, conceptualization of suitable empirical methodologies, collecting and structuring datasets, performing econometric analysis in Stata and interpreting results, undertaking literature reviews, and drafting manuscripts. Work also may include implementing field experiments and conducting surveys.

In addition to working closely with Yale faculty, the program provides formal training and mentoring, as well as membership in a group of peer RAs working on different projects through the Tobin Center for Economic Policy at Yale.

Previous Fellows have gone on to attend top law schools, enroll in PhD programs, and win prestigious fellowships.

Professor Ayres’s recent research has included work on innovation policy, behavioral economics, corporate finance and law, civil rights, and contract law. For more information, visit his website,

Professor Liscow’s research focuses on tax policy, inequality, infrastructure costs, and local public finance. For more information, visit his website,

In particular, Professor Liscow is working on two sets of projects:

Why Does Infrastructure Cost So Much to Build?: There is widespread consensus that US infrastructure investment—and infrastructure quality—has been on the decline. In response, politicians across the ideological spectrum have called for increased infrastructure spending. How much infrastructure we would get depends on how much output is produced per dollar of spending. Yet we know surprisingly little about infrastructure costs across time and place. We help to fill this gap by using data we digitized on the Interstate highway system—one of the nation’s most valuable infrastructure assets—to document spending per mile over the history of its construction.

We make two main contributions. First, we find that spending per mile on Interstate construction increased more than three-fold (in real terms) from the 1960s to the 1980s. We date the inflection point of increase to the early 1970s. We further show that changes in observed geography over time do not explain these changes. Second, we provide suggestive evidence of the determinants of the increase in spending per mile. In particular, the increased spending per mile coincides with the rise of “citizen voice” in government decision-making in the early 1970s. And rising incomes and housing prices nearly completely statistically explain the increase in costs. We also largely rule out several common explanations for rising costs, such as increases in per-unit labor or materials prices. In the coming year, we will continue exploring what drives infrastructure spending, which holds out the hope of helping to transform how policymakers can build high-quality infrastructure at low costs.

The Political Economy of Redistribution and How to Redistribute Efficiently: Economics typically analyzes ideal policies, ignoring real-world institutions and constraints. It is helpful for real-world political actors, though, to have guidance for the real world, which this Article provides for policymakers setting policy with distributional impacts. Current guidance not considering real-world constraints may significantly hamper policymakers’ effectiveness at addressing today’s crisis of inequality.

This research agenda explores a particular set of political constraints: how ordinary people think about policy issues.  In a range of scenarios from tax policy to regulatory cost-benefit analysis to expenditures on transportation, ordinary people may have intuitions that make the most efficient policies for redistribution unavailable. This agenda seeks to understand the contours of those beliefs so that efficient policies can be designed that accord with ordinary people’s intuitions about justice. To pursue this work, we will work on “survey experiments,” asking ordinary people online in carefully structured settings about economic policy choices to understand their psychology about such choices. Only with such an enhanced understanding of what actually drives redistributive views can economists be most effective at designing policies to grow the economy while helping everyone achieve their full potential.

Requisite Skills and Qualifications:

• B.A. or M.A. in Economics/Statistics (or equivalent).
• Strong econometrics background and experience programming in Stata. Python programming experience a plus.
• Eagerness to take initiative and solve intricate problems.

Special Application Instructions:

Positions begin in June 2020. If you are interested in committing to work for two years (for which we have some preference), please state that in your cover letter.

Unfortunately, we cannot provide visa sponsorship.

Sponsor Name: