Julia Payson: Growth at All Costs? Managerial Expertise and the Pursuit of Development Over Redistribution in U.S. Cities


Monday, February 8, 2021, 12:15pm to 1:15pm


Julia PaysonAssistant Professor of Politics, New York University.
Julia PaysonSince the Progressive Era, reformers and scholars alike have theorized that municipal governments would operate more cost-effectively if they were modeled after businesses. But are technocratic leaders really better at generating local growth? If so, who benefits?  To answer these questions, we conduct an original phone survey on the management practices of over 300 mayors and city managers across the U.S. Using a difference-in-differences design, we examine how changes in leadership affect within-city expenditure patterns.
We find that when local leaders employ management practices associated with successful organizational performance, their cities increase spending on developmental policies and subsequently experience faster growth across a range of outcomes. But these managerially skilled leaders also reduce funding for redistributive programs, including public health. These results are consistent with classic work in urban economics suggesting that the efficient pursuit of growth can sometimes come at the expense of providing services for less advantaged residents.
About the speaker
Julia Payson is an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at New York University. She is a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University for the 2020-21 academic year.
Her research interests include elections, representation, accountability, and public service provision in state and local governments in the U.S. Her first book, When Cities Lobby, explores how cities seek to shape state politics through lobbying and documents the effects of this behavior on municipal inequality.  The book is based on her PhD dissertation, which won the American Political Science Association's Christopher Z. Mooney Best Dissertation Award in State Politics and Policy (2018). Her research has appeared or is forthcoming at Legislative Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Politics, and The American Political Science Review.
While at Princeton, Payson will begin work on her second book manuscript, a joint project with Maria Carreri (UCSD) that examines how the managerial practices used by mayors and city managers shape governance outcomes at the local level. This study will provide one of the most comprehensive analyses to date on how local officials approach the day-to-day of managing their cities and will contribute to a longstanding debate over how much individual leaders matter for government performance.
Payson received her PhD in political science from Stanford University in 2017, where she was an Affiliated Researcher at the Bill Lane Center for the American West.
See also: Spring 2021