Research

You can find a full list of my publications on my CV here. The title and abstracts of my current working papers are below.

McCabe, J. “Expansion in a Time of Austerity: Fiscalization as an Obfuscation Strategy” 

Tax expenditures, such as in-work and child tax credits, have grown into major components of social policy in several liberal welfare regimes since the 1970s. While some scholars have noted this increasing “fiscalization” of social policy, our current theories of welfare state struggle to explain such expansion in an era of “permanent austerity”.  This paper suggests that fiscalization enables policymakers to expand social programs through a strategy of obfuscation normally associated with retrenchment. Specifically, I outline two aspects of tax expenditures, their technical and symbolic perception as non-spending, which make them more attractive to policymakers working in austere environments. Using case studies of the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, I demonstrate how policymakers were able to successfully expand major social programs by obfuscating their real effects on government budgets.

Drifting Toward Tax Revolts: Inflation, Indexation, and the Rise of Anti-Tax Politics in the 1970s

Most accounts of the election and concomitant anti-tax agenda of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher see them as the result of resurgent conservative movements, business group mobilization, or dependent on progressive tax structures. The election of conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in Canada casts doubt on this conventional wisdom. Leveraging evidence from this new case, I argue that tax cuts were a reaction against inflation-induced erosion of tax exemptions and bracket creep. By refusing to introduce indexation into the tax system in order to raise more revenue, left-leaning policymakers adopted a strategy of policy drift leading to real increases in the tax burden on working and middle class families in the U.S. and U.K. Popular support for tax cuts was a response rising taxes. The early decision of Canadian policymakers to index the tax system prevented an increase in tax burdens and thus a similar anti-tax backlash there. As a result, the election of a conservative government in Canada did not lead to a pursuit of the same anti-tax agenda due to a lack of popular support. Ironically, the anti-tax backlash in the U.S. and U.K. can be traced to attempts by left-leaning governments to increase revenues by stealth.

Why No Family Allowances in the United States? Sequence and Benchmark Events in North American Social Policy

Why is the United States the only rich democracy that never adopted family allowances? Despite its implication for child poverty, this particular question has received little attention relative to other aspects of American exceptionalism. This paper identifies the 1940s as a critical juncture in which the U.S. diverged from similar liberal welfare regimes, failing to adopt family allowances. A comparative analysis of the U.S. and Canada find that neither was considering family allowances before the publication of the Beveridge report in the United Kingdom. I argue the sequence of policy crafting surrounding this “benchmark event” mattered in two ways. In Canada, the crafting of a blueprint for postwar reconstruction following the Beveridge report 1) allowed for the activation of strategically placed reformist actors and 2) helped legitimize family allowances as a new policy innovation. The U.S. blueprint, crafted prior to the Beveridge report, did not benefit from these advantages. As a result, family allowances became part of the agenda in Canada but were never proposed in the U.S. before the critical juncture closed again. In highlighting the role of sequence and contingency, I challenge conventional accounts relying on political culture, race, and conservative forces to explain American exceptionalism regarding social policy and poverty.

Institutional Anchors and Social Movement Advocacy: The Case of the Pro-Family Right in the U.S. and Canada

Scholars studying Evangelical movements in the United States and Canada often note that although the two groups have similar conservative views on social issues, Evangelicals in Canada do not share the same conservative economic views as their counterparts in the United States.  The introduction of child tax credits, under pressure primarily from Evangelical pro-family groups in both countries, allows us to examine the factors behind this divergence. Whereas American groups sought to limit tax credits to middle class taxpayers, Canadian groups sought to concentrate tax credits on the poorest families. Rather than reflecting broad differences in national culture, interest group strength, or state structures, I argue that these actions were institutionally anchored in different policy legacies which shaped the views of pro-family groups in each country. In doing so, this paper further highlights the link between culture and institutions.

Why No Fiscal Equalization in the United States? State Bargaining Power and Interstate Redistribution

Among advanced welfare regimes with federal forms of government, only the United States lacks a program of fiscal equalization to reduce regional disparities in fiscal capacity between states. Despite the association between limited fiscal capacity, regressive taxation, and meager social spending among states, research on the unique absence equalization in the U.S. is almost nonexistent. This article fills this gap in the literature with a comparative analysis of the U.S. and Canada from the 1930s through 1970s. I argue that differences in postwar bargaining power explain why poor Canadian provinces were able to successfully lobby for equalization while poor American states failed. In doing so, I challenge previous explanations based on racial animosity, conservative ideology, and legislative institutions to show the importance of seemingly minor factors in setting the U.S. on the distinctive trajectory we call American exceptionalism.

Third Rail or Third Way? The Diverging Fate of Mortgage Tax Relief in the U.S. and U.K.

The Home Mortgage Interest Deduction (HMID) is a $72 billion tax-based housing subsidy universally loathed by economists yet perceived as an untouchable “third rail” in American politics. The equivalent Mortgage Interest Relief (MIR) in the United Kingdom was once seen as similarly untouchable but subsequently saw its value decline over several decades before being eliminated by the Blair government in 2000. This paper compares the political trajectories of these two tax deductions in order to understand the factors that have led to either its persistence or its demise in each country.

Drafts available upon request.