Faculty, Staff Celebrate Social Sciences Fest 2024

On April 18, faculty and staff from the Division of Social Sciences — along with their families — convened at the Faculty Club for Social Sciences Fest, the annual celebration of the social sciences at UC Berkeley. The gathering provided an opportunity for members of the UC Berkeley social sciences community to connect over food and drinks. Several children in attendance enjoyed balloon animals, coloring, and other fun activities.

Dean Raka Ray
Dean Raka Ray

Raka Ray, Dean of the Division of Social Sciences, expressed gratitude for how the division’s members have weathered a tumultuous year. “I want to acknowledge with pride the way the departments in the social sciences, and in particular the chairs, have worked so hard to repair frayed relations and always to do the right thing to keep the community together in circumstances that haven’t always been easy,” Ray said.

Ray also shared her optimism for the division’s future, noting that incoming chancellor Richard Lyons is a social scientist. “My job is to remind him that he is a social scientist,” Ray said. “But although the Provost has been helping to resource us, we are still under-resourced. In spite of that, all of you nurture your students, you produce research that matters, and you do massive amounts of service, not just in the department, but for all of campus. It makes me amazingly proud to be able to represent you.”

A Year of Highlights

Ray listed a variety of highlights from the past academic year, including the creation of a comprehensive internship program that aims to help prepare students from the Division of Social Sciences for meaningful careers.

“I noticed there wasn’t really a structured way in which social science students could get internships at all,” Ray said. “Through our donors, we’ve been able to not only find paid internships, but also money so that people who want to follow their heart and do internships that are unpaid are able to earn minimum wage at least.”

Ray also noted the Fall 2023 creation of the one-year Master of Computational Social Science program, which has already accepted a cohort of 25 students selected from hundreds of applicants. “That shows how much it was needed, so that’s very exciting,” Ray said.

Other highlights included public recognition for UC Berkeley social science graduate programs. Several of the division’s graduate programs received top rankings from U.S. News and World Report, Ray said: the Departments of Sociology, Psychology, and History ranked #1 in the nation, while the Departments of Political Science and Economics ranked 4th best.

Other points of celebration included awards won and books published by faculty, as well as the Matrix Faculty Fellows Program, which supports assistant- and associate-level faculty members from the division for continuing work on research that has a significant impact across multiple disciplines. “We have supported eight faculty thus far and we’re going to support for more next year,” Ray said.

Divisional Awards

Raka Ray and Chris Walters
Raka Ray and Chris Walters

The Division of Social Sciences’ Distinguished Teaching Award was established to encourage and reward faculty members who have been exceptionally generous and effective in both undergraduate and graduate teaching.

This year’s Distinguished Teaching Award was given to Chris Walters, Associate Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Economics. “Chris does the hard job of teaching popular core and required classes, but he inspires his students tremendously,” Ray said. “He’s also an exceptional advisor to graduate students, and has done a lot to bring in diversity and inclusion into his syllabi to reflect new criticisms of more conventional studies.”

Upon receiving the award, Walters thanked his wife, his colleagues, as well as Berkeley students. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of really talented undergraduate and graduate students since I’ve been here,” Walters said. “I teach classes in labor economics, which cover potentially difficult, broad topics like minimum wages, the economic impacts of immigration, market discrimination, and so on. In my experience, our students approach those topics with a lot of maturity and intellectual seriousness, and it makes them a real pleasure to teach.”

The Distinguished Service Award, established to recognize a staff member who has made extraordinary service contributions to their department and to the campus, was given to Harumi Quinones, Student Services Director in the UC Berkeley Department of Psychology.

Quinones “has done so much work in not only keeping the morale of the staff and department up, but she’s also been doing incredible work to make psychology even more inclusive,” Ray said. “She really led the effort to remove unnecessary barriers that were preventing people from coming into psychology. Once she did that, the number of psychology majors went up by 50%. But it is still the number one program in the country. Good things happened, as opposed to people’s fear that bad things would happen.”

Harumi Quinones
Harumi Quinones

“I feel so blessed to have had so many faculty supporters who listen to me, and who really were thought partners in thinking about how we can better support students who are interested in psychology,” Quinones said. “I just want to thank this whole wonderful room of supporters and the phenomenal colleagues I have on this campus for helping make wonderful things happen.”


Confiscated Objects of the Cultural Revolution: A Visual Interview with Puck Engman

Puck Engman

China’s Cultural Revolution aimed to reshape the social and political order of China by purging elements of feudalist and bourgeois society, including through confiscating property. In 1966, millions of objects were taken from homes by independently organized and unofficial groups associated with Red Guards, a student-led paramilitary movement that supported the revolution. But what happened to the objects after they were seized? 

Puck Engman, Assistant Professor in History at UC Berkeley and a historian of China in the postwar era, talked with Julia Sizek about the lives of these objects. More broadly, his research concerns the reorganization of state and society in the first 30 years of the People’s Republic of China, and the transition from command economy to market economy at the end of the 20th century.

This interview is based on Engman’s publication, “What Right to Property When Rebellion is Justified?: Revolution and Restitution in Shanghai,” which is published in Justice After Mao: The Politics of Historical Truth in the People’s Republic of China. 

During the Cultural Revolution, China’s Red Guards confiscated so-called “feudal” and “bourgeois” property from private citizens. Your research shows how this confiscation happened in practice. What did this seizure look like on the ground? 

Two men rummaging through property in a person's house.

A group of men on the back of a truck with confiscated property.
Images from the “Cultural revolution video collection.” Courtesy of the H.C. Fung Library, Harvard.

The late summer of 1966 is known among historians of China as “Red August” due to widespread violence and vandalism. This involved Red Guards raiding and ransacking hundreds of thousands of homes across China. “Red Guards” was the name used by the youth organizations that had formed at universities and schools around the country to join a new political movement: the Cultural Revolution. In August, they began entering private homes, often humiliating, threatening, and even beating up residents in the process. While their primary aim was to uncover evidence of counterrevolutionary plots, they more often came across items such as bronzes, books, watches, pianos, and rugs. They seized such items all the same on the grounds that they were vestiges of feudal tradition or bourgeois lifestyle.

I became curious about what happened to all these confiscated belongings. We are talking about literally tons of gold and silver, and millions of books and antiques. Where did it all end up? This question had me follow a paper trail that led away from the street-level politics that we picture when we think of the Cultural Revolution, into storage rooms and warehouses where the objects were stored. Here, I discovered the other side of looting, the bureaucratic side, where the concerns were with logistics, storage space, and ultimately restitution.

The shift of perspective to the bureaucratic side made it clear to me that party and state played an active role in the looting. In fact, when the Shanghai Revolutionary Committee set up a new government in the city, in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, one of its first priorities was to set up a group dedicated to the handling of confiscated belongings.

What were some of the practical challenges that came with seizing private property? 

The Mahavira Hall in the Jade Buddha Temple
The Mahavira Hall in the Jade Buddha Temple


list of confiscated possessions in Tianjin
A sealed suitcase containing seized possessions.

I should start by pointing out that the confiscation of personal belongings during the Cultural Revolution was a major departure from the established script for mass movements. If there was such a thing as a normal operating procedure in Maoist politics, this was not it. This made it easy, in the years after Mao’s death in 1976, for the new political leadership to declare the house raids illegitimate, one of many excesses of the Cultural Revolution.

This would not have been possible before Mao’s death. Mao was the main author of the Cultural Revolution and an enthusiastic and public supporter of the Red Guards.     

From day one, however, the sheer amount of confiscated items presented a logistical problem that local governments could not ignore.

In the city of Tianjin, the loot was enough to fill 52 warehouses, or the equivalent of about 60,000 square meters of storage space. The situation was even worse in Shanghai, where there had been over 10 times the number of house raids that had been reported in Tianjin.

Officials in Shanghai had to get creative to solve the storage crisis. They were able to take advantage of the shutdown of places of worship in the Cultural Revolution: churches and temples became makeshift warehouses, as did a colonial-era entertainment complex in downtown Shanghai. The entire east wing of the Jade Buddha Temple, measuring over a thousand square meters, became a storage space for seized antiquities.

Many seized items remained in such impromptu storage sites for years. When owners were finally able to retrieve their belongings, they would sometimes find that an elegant dress had been ruined by rainwater leaking in from the ceiling or that a scroll painting had been ruined by mildew. The political leadership was aware of this problem. In fact, only months after the raids, concerns about the upcoming rainy season prompted the very first Communist Party directive on the handling of confiscated goods, “which was primarily an order to hand over the loot to the proper authorities, but also opened for limited restitution for working-class household. This was, however, a problem without a quick fix.

What were some of the common paths for these objects to take after they were confiscated, and what are the traces of objects that you have found in the archives?

A coupon used for the procurement of confiscated goods
A coupon used for the procurement of confiscated goods.

In Shanghai and other major cities, the Red Guards delivered their loot to local factories, schools, and government offices by truckloads. Responsibility for processing all these objects was shared across several arms of the local administration.  

All contraband had to be handed over to the police. This included the firearms that Red Guards would display, proudly, as evidence of the counterrevolutionary plots they had thwarted. Much more common, judging from the documentation  I have seen, were mahjong sets. Gambling was illegal in China at the time, but remained widespread and a low priority for the police. But for the Red Guards, gambling symbolized that reactionary attitudes were still prevalent in Chinese society. The movement was possibly the most extensive clampdown on gambling in Chinese history.    

A unique challenge was presented by the confiscation of rare books and antiques. Historian Denise Ho has studied how cultural workers committed themselves to cultural preservation in the midst of the movement’s iconoclasm. Building on her work, I have looked at the decisions that went into separating common trinkets from cultural heritage. Lesser antiquities, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries, were approved for export. In addition to lessening the burden for museums and libraries in China, such exports promised to generate foreign exchange, a rare and highly coveted resource for a country that had been cut off from much international trade. A great deal remained in the warehouses, but the artwork that made its way to Hong Kong was enough to shake up the local art market in Hong Kong, which was suddenly flooded with new items.

Chinese documents show that rare antiques were sometimes recovered by the Shanghai Museum from Hong Kong. Other objects likely remain in poorly documented private collections in Hong Kong or have become part of collections around the world. It is hard to say. Today, art museums are expected to investigate how objects looted by the Nazis were acquired and, increasingly, objects taken under colonialism. As far as I know, there is no provenance research related to looting in the Cultural Revolution

Most items were uninteresting to libraries, museums, or art collectors in China. Such items might instead have ended up in resale stores. The terms and conditions of the trade in confiscated goods were set by local governments. A rationing coupon from Tianjin reads:

  1. Can only be used for the purchase of commercial items from the handling of confiscated goods;
  2. Cannot be tampered with;
  3. Cannot be copied, resold; offenders will be punished according to the law;
  4. Keep safe, will not be replaced if lost;
  5. Take note of the validity period, invalid upon expiration.

The coupon was issued by the Tianjin Confiscated Goods Commercial Acquisition Group. This and other similar groups were responsible not only for setting the terms of trade in confiscated goods, but also for deciding how the items should be priced.

Strong similarities of procedure from one city to another suggest a high degree of coordination in the handling of confiscated goods from the start. As for the trade of seized items, the best we can do at this point is to say that it occurred. What the scope of this trade was, domestically and internationally, is still to be determined. 

In some of the cases, possessions that were confiscated ended up being returned to their original owners, which is known as restitution. What did this process look like?

List of confiscated property, Chuansha County
List of confiscated property, Chuansha County


Form used for compensation for wrongfully confiscated possessions
Form used for compensation for wrongfully confiscated possessions.

There has been very little research on restitution in the context of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. One of the primary reasons is that historians have assumed that restitution did not begin until after Mao’s death in 1976, when the Chinese Communist Party declared that the Cultural Revolution had been an error.

I have found instead that restitution began very soon after the raids, although it was limited. A form for approving the return of confiscated belongings, used in Shanghai in 1967, allows the owner to be identified not just by name and address, but also by their class status. The box for “class status” is significant because at this time, the Chinese Communist Party restricted restitution to those with a “good” class background, like workers and poor peasants. In one example from 1967, a Shanghai woman of “bourgeois” class was allowed access to her confiscated savings, but only because she was ill with cancer and needed to pay for her medicines. When bank officials discovered that she had also been given access to foreign currency, they determined that the request had been part of an enemy plot. Occurrences like this one were probably not common, but as long as restitution was framed in the language of class struggle, there was a certain risk associated with claiming one’s belongings. Over the next few years, the evaluation of who was — and who wasn’t — entitled to restitution changed. 

How did the categories of who was entitled to restitution change? 

Broadly speaking, we can identify two moments that expanded the scope of restitution. At both moments, the key question was who belonged among the People of the People’s Republic of China, by which I mean the members of the political community as opposed to the enemies of the revolution.

The first expansion began in 1969. This was when the mass mobilization phase of the Cultural Revolution ended. The Communist Party switched into a corrective mode, restoring some of the institutions and principles that had been disrupted in the earlier stage of the movement.

Around 1969, local governments began to extend restitution to members of the old elites:  former government officials, religious leaders, capitalists, and intellectuals. These groups had enjoyed some protection from the Communist Party before 1966 but had become targets for the Red Guard attacks. A further push in this direction came in 1971, when Mao Zedong approved a recommendation to expand restitution to the old elites. This was a signal from the highest authority that these groups were no longer to be treated as enemies. Two years later, Shanghai had returned 56 percent of belongings seized from capitalist households. By 1975, this had increased to 70 percent — more than 33,000 households. 

The second expansion came in 1978, at the beginning of the post-Mao reforms. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the People’s Republic of China will recognize this year as a watershed for class politics. The Communist Party ended most forms of class discrimination and described class as a historical category rather than a political label. 

For restitution, this meant that anyone who had been affected by the house raids was, technically, eligible for restitution, regardless of class background. In practice, things were more complicated, as many belongings had been lost or damaged. Trickiest of all was the return of families to homes from which they had been evicted. Many disputes over housing continued well into the 2000s, and grew increasingly fraught when the price of real estate took off. 

Foreign students visit a Red Guard exhibit in Beijing, 1966
Foreign students visit a Red Guard exhibit in Beijing, 1966

As you mentioned, this is a different way of thinking about restitution. How does this narrative of restitution processes change how we think about the Cultural Revolution and the period that came after it? 

I would highlight two takeaways. The first is that we need to rethink the chronology of the Cultural Revolution, which is still thought of as a 10-year period starting with the Red Guard movement in 1966 and ending with Mao’s death in 1976.

Looting and restitution does not fit this framework. The ransacking of private homes only lasted for a few weeks in late summer of 1966. The loot remained in warehouses as the Cultural Revolution took a different direction, shifting focus from reactionary objects to revisionist tendencies within the Communist Party. But the loot did not stay there until 1976. My research shows how renewed efforts to reunite belongings with their owners after Mao’s death followed considerable initiatives at an earlier stage. Here, the watershed moment was not 1976 or 1978, but 1969, when the Cultural Revolution entered a less radical phase, and China started to improve relations with Japan, Hong Kong, and the United States. 

The second has to do with our tendency to associate successful restitution efforts with strong property rights. I’m not sure how strong the connection really is. In the Chinese case, restitution seems to have been relatively successful, despite private property rights being virtually irrelevant both before and after Mao’s death. In 1987, the Supreme People’s Court issued an opinion stating that any case related to compensation for Cultural Revolution house raids should not be handled like an ordinary civil case, and should not be handled in court. In other words, the basis for restitution was not a legal right, but party policy. This meant that individuals had little recourse if the party denied their claim, yet the lack of property rights did not have a major impact on the overall scope or expediency of restitution. Logistics and politics were far more important. 

Black History Month

Honoring Black History Month at Social Science Matrix

Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a time to not only honor past generations of Black Americans, but also to bring attention to the ongoing struggle to advance racial equality and combat racism. At Social Science Matrix, we strive to bring forward the work of UC Berkeley social scientists whose scholarship enhances understanding of Black lives in America, whether through the lens of African American Studies, History, Sociology, Psychology, Ethnic Studies, or other disciplines.

In honor of Black History Month, we share below a selection of 12 of our past articles, podcasts, and videos of panel discussions with themes related to understanding Black lives in America.

Matrix on Point: America’s Pursuit of Racial Justice

america's pursuit of racial justice panelistsLast spring, Matrix convened a “Matrix on Point” panel on the long (and continuing) struggle for racial justice in America. At the center of the discussion: the critical momentum of Black-led protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, situated within the larger historical context of social movements for racial justice in the United States and the unfinished work of the Civil Rights Movement. The panel featured Monica Bell, Associate Professor of Law & Sociology at Yale Law School; Leigh Raiford, Associate Professor of African American Studies at UC Berkeley; and Brandon M. Terry, Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies and Social Studies at Harvard University. The panel was moderated by Christopher Muller, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley.

Music, the Diaspora, and the World: A Conversation with Angélique Kidjo

Angelique KidjoMatrix was honored to welcome four-time GRAMMY winner Angélique Kidjo for a conversation about the global circulation of African musical forms and musicians, as well as the significance and social power of this musical diaspora. The panel was co-sponsored by the Townsend Center for the HumanitiesCal Performances, and the Black Studies Collaboratory, an important new UC Berkeley initiative (funded through a multi-million dollar Mellon Foundation grant awarded to the Department of African American Studies) that brings together “artists, activists, locals, and scholars to amplify the interdisciplinary, political, and world-building work of Black Studies.” Kidjo was joined in conversation by Tianna Paschel, Associate Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of African American Studies; Ivy Mills, Lecturer, Visual and Literary Cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora; and Victoria Grubbs, Lecturer and Black Studies Collaboratory Postdoctoral Fellow.

A New Voice for Black History: Xavier Buck, PhD

Xavier BuckOn this episode of the Matrix Podcast, Julia Sizek interviewed Xavier Buck, Deputy Director of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, a nonprofit that has preserved and promoted the legacy of the Black Panther Party for over 25 years. Buck graduated with a PhD in History from UC Berkeley in 2021. His work blends organizing and educational pursuits in the service of sustaining movements for Black lives, and he has previously been a fellow at Prosperity Now, the Education Trust – West, and the Digital Equity Initiative at the City & County of San Francisco. The discussion focuses on Buck’s work in public history, including his @historyin3 channel (which can be found on TikTok and Instagram), his current work at the Huey P. Newton Foundation, and his dissertation research, which shows how Black experiences in Louisiana from 1927 to 1945 were integral to Black political organizing, cooperative economics, and government partnerships in California from 1945 to 1975. Listen on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

A Photographic Interview: Kaily Heitz on Black Oakland

Kaily HeitzThis article on the Matrix website features a “photographic interview” with Kaily Heitz, who earned her PhD from the UC Berkeley Department of Geography in 2021, and who studies how concepts of Blackness and Black culture have been deployed in the making and marketing of Oakland, California. Her dissertation, “Oakland is a Vibe: Blackness, Cultural Framings and Emancipations of The Town,” draws on Black feminist geographies and media studies to understand contemporary conflicts over gentrification in “The Town.” A paper based on this research, Sunflower’s Oakland: The Black Geographic Image as a Site of Reclamation, was published by Antipode, and was awarded the 2020 Clyde Woods Black Geographies Specialty Group Graduate Student Paper Award. Dr. Heitz has worked with Matrix Research Teams in the past, including the Berkeley Black Geographies team. Her research practice involves ethnographic research with United Roots/ Youth Impact Hub, Eastside Arts Alliance, the Black Cultural Zone, and the Business Association of the Black Arts Movement and Business District (BAMBD), archival research, and analysis of public art in and around Oakland. This interview by Julia Sizek, a PhD candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Anthropology, revolves around images from Kaily’s work that help reveal the arguments of her work.

Q&A with Social Psychologist Jack Glaser on Racial Bias and Policing

Jack GlaserProfessor Jack Glaser, Professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy, is a social psychologist whose primary research interest is in stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. He studies intergroup biases at multiple levels of analysis. For example, he investigates the unconscious operation of stereotypes and prejudice using computerized reaction time methods, and he is investigating the implications of such subtle forms of bias in law enforcement. In particular, he is interested in racial profiling, especially as it relates to the psychology of stereotyping, and the self-fulfilling effects of stereotype-based discrimination. Professor Glaser is working with the Center for Policing Equity as one of the principal investigators on a National Science Foundation- and Google-funded project to build a National Justice Database of police stops and use of force incidents. He is the author of Suspect Race: Causes & Consequences of Racial Profiling. Professor Glaser has been involved with past Matrix Research Teams on community trust and policing. We reached out to Professor Glaser for his insights on bias in policing in the wake of the protests for racial justice and police reform.

Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics

lafleur stephens dougan and taiku leeSocial Science Matrix presented a Matrix Book Salon featuring the book, Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics, by LaFleur Stephens-Dougan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Professor Stephens-Dougan was joined in conversation by Taeku Lee, Professor of Political Science and Law at UC Berkeley. The book focuses on “racial distancing,” which Stephens-Dougan explained is “a political strategy whereby some politicians want to indicate to racially moderate and racially conservative whites that they will not disrupt the racial status quo — in other words, that they will not be too beholden to their Black constituents, but also communities of color more broadly. This racial status quo is characterized…by racial inequality, with whites at the top of the hierarchy, including white dominance in political, social, and economic institutions. The degree to which politicians are really able to engage in this racial distancing is influenced by both their partisanship and their race.”

Scammer’s Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica

Scammer's Yard PanelIn March 2021, this video features a panel discussion about Scammers Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica, a book by Jovan Scott Lewis, Assistant Professor of Geography at UC Berkeley. Scammer’s Yard tells the story of three young and poor men striving to make a living in Montego Bay, where call centers and tourism are the two main industries in the struggling economy. The book describes how these young men, seeking to overcome inequality and achieve autonomy, come to view crime as a form of liberation. As part of the UC Berkeley Social Science Matrix “Authors Meet Critics” series, Lewis discussed the book with Nadia Ellis, Associate Professor, UC Berkeley Department of English; and Deborah Thomas, R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City

Brandi Thompson SummersIn Fall 2020, Social Science Matrix hosted an online discussion focused on Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City, a book by Brandi Thompson Summers, Assistant Professor of Geography and Global Metropolitan Studies at UC Berkeley. In her book, Summers documents Washington, D.C.’s shift to a “post-chocolate” cosmopolitan metropolis by charting the economic and racial developments of H Street, one of the city’s main commercial corridors. Thompson’s book offers a theoretical framework for understanding how blackness is aestheticized and deployed to organize landscapes and raise capital. “I’m really describing this changing historical role of Blackness and its interaction with processes of gentrification,” she explained.  “I’m using this small space — H Street, this commercial corridor — to tell a much wider story about cultural change, about racial conflict, and also about capital flows and governance.” Dr. Summers discussed Black in Place with Nikki Jones, Professor in the Department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley.

Matrix Podcast: Interview with Leigh Raiford

Leigh RaifordIn this episode of the Matrix Podcast, Michael Watts interviewed Leigh Raiford, Associate Professor of African American Studies at UC Berkeley and author of Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle, a finalist for the 2011 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians First Book Prize. In her book, Raiford argues that over the past one hundred years, activists in the black freedom struggle have used photographic imagery both to gain political recognition and to develop a different visual vocabulary about black lives. Offering readings of the use of photography in the anti-lynching movement, the civil rights movement, and the black power movement, Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare focuses on key transformations in technology, society, and politics to understand the evolution of photography’s deployment in capturing white oppression, black resistance, and African American life. Listen on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South

Stephanie Jones-RogersRecorded on January 29, 2020, this “Authors Meet Critics” panel featured a discussion of They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South, by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, Associate Professor of History at UC Berkeley. Bridging women’s history, the history of the South, and African American history, They Were Her Property makes a bold argument about the role of white women in American slavery. Jones-Rogers draws on a variety of sources to show that slave-owning women were sophisticated economic actors who directly engaged in and benefited from the South’s slave market. In discussing her book, Jones-Rogers engaged with two eminent colleagues: Bryan Wagner, Associate Professor in the Department of English at UC Berkeley; and Leslie Salzinger, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Race for Profit

Keeanga-Yamahtta TaylorIn early 2020, Social Science Matrix was honored to host Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Professor Taylor discussed her book, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, which was published in 2019 by University of North Carolina Press and was longlisted for a National Book Award for nonfiction. Race for Profit uncovers how exploitative real estate practices continued well after housing discrimination was banned through the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. The same racist structures and individuals remained intact after redlining’s end, and close relationships between regulators and the industry created incentives to ignore improprieties. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Department of African American StudiesGender and Women’s Studies, and Global Metropolitan Studies.

Slave Trade DatabaseSlave Voyages Database

Social Science Matrix is UC Berkeley’s institutional home for the Slave Voyages Database, the most prominent public-facing project on the history of the slave trade and one of the most dynamic sites of research in slavery studies. It was launched under its former name “Transatlantic Slave Trade Database” in 1999 as a CD ROM and migrated online in 2008. A revolutionary tool for scholars since its inception, it has received renewed public attention in the wake of the U.S.’s 1619 anniversary. A consortium has been formed to collaborate on relaunching elements of the project and providing long-term sustainability. UC Berkeley joins our colleagues at UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz organizing this on behalf of the University of California. Other consortium members are Rice University, Emory University, the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Those at UC Berkeley interested in learning more about the Database and opportunities for collaboration should be in contact with G. Ugo Nwokeji (, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Elena Schneider (, Associate Professor of History.


Please stay tuned to our website for updates on future events related to Black lives in America (and other topics). You can also subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter.


Matrix On Point

Matrix on Point: Democracy, Misogyny and Digital Media

protest sign: boys will be held accountable

On December 13, 2021, Matrix convened a diverse group of speakers to discuss today’s remarkable political moment, marked both by a new kind of women’s activism (centered on #MeToo and related movements) and by the rise of a misogynistic far-right. Panelists explored the role that digital mediations, from social media to video games, play in this cultural complex.

This event was presented as part of the Matrix On Point series, a series promoting focused, cross-disciplinary conversations on today’s most pressing issues. Offering opportunities for scholarly exchange and interaction, each Matrix On Point features the perspectives of leading scholars and specialists from different disciplines, followed by an open conversation. These thought-provoking events are free and open to the public.

Panelists included Sarah Sobieraj, an award-winning teacher and researcher with expertise in US political culture, extreme incivility, digital abuse and harassment, and the mediated information environment; C.J. Pascoe, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and co-editor of Socius Journal; Julia Ebner, a radicalisation researcher and bestselling writer based in London; and Kishonna L. Gray, Associate Professor in the Writing, Rhetoric, Digital Studies program at the University of Kentucky. The panel was moderated by Raka Ray, Dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UC Berkeley.


Research Highlights

Social Science Prediction Platform

An interview with Stefano DellaVigna Teaser

Stefano DellaVigna

Whether to refine a hypothesis or identify possible blindspots, social scientists can benefit from gathering predictions from their peers in advancing of conducting a research study. And through the process of comparing research results to what was forecast, researchers can shed new light on gaps in understanding. Yet until recently, there was no tool specifically designed to facilitate the collection of forecasts about research in economics, political science, psychology, or other social sciences.

That has now changed, thanks to the development of the Social Science Prediction Platform, a new resource designed to help researchers and policymakers gather predictions about their findings in advance. Led by Stefano DellaVigna, the Daniel Koshland, Sr. Distinguished Professor of Economics and Professor of Business Administration at UC Berkeley, the prediction platform is designed to “allow for the systematic collection and assessment of expert forecasts of the effects of untested social programs,” according to the platform’s website. “In turn, this should help both policy makers and social scientists by improving the accuracy of forecasts, allowing for more effective decision-making and improving experimental design and analysis.”

Stefano DellaVignaThe Social Science Prediction Platform was developed as part of the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences, and was spearheaded by DellaVigna, together with Eva Vivalt, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Toronto, whose work at the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank included collecting predictions from researchers, officials, and practitioners. The project is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and an anonymous foundation, whose support enables forecasters to receive compensation as an incentive for participating. We interviewed Stefano DellaVigna to learn more about this new resource. (Note the interview has been lightly edited.)

What led to the development of the Social Science Prediction Index?

Our motivation was the experience of being at a typical academic conference, when you present a set of results you have worked on for years, and then somebody raises their hand and says, hey, we knew that already, or that was expected. Often this is pure hindsight bias, but it’s a very deflating experience. Someone could say that the car-sharing service Uber is an obvious idea as a company, but only after it’s created. The only way to address this is to tell people, before any of the results are known, this is what we’re going to do, we don’t know the results yet, what do you think we will find? If everybody says you’ll find x and you find y, people can’t say, we expected y.

This is useful in a number of other ways when we think about research. A researcher is always in a process of updating. There is an initial view, there is a new piece of research, and we update based on that. This honors that perspective and says, let’s capture people’s perspectives ex ante, so when a piece of information comes in, you can consider updating the research. In principle, this can even help in the design of an experiment. It’s a very simple idea, and somewhat surprising that it doesn’t already happen. And that’s why we feel that there has been a lot of positive response.

There has been some work done in psychology where people set up prediction markets to determine which experiments should be replicated to see if they stand up. It turns out, people have some intuitive sense about which ones to replicate and which ones not. Our idea is that this is much more broadly applicable when you have a set of studies, and that it’s often very useful to be able to not only say what you find, but also, how does it compare to what most people in the discipline believed ex ante?

What’s an example of how somebody would use this to inform their research?

As part of my own research, I’ve tried to better understand what people do when they’re unemployed. We don’t typically have information on people’s search efforts, how hard they search for employment, because there is no way to measure that. So we spent years planning a survey of unemployed workers in Germany to trace how people change their search efforts over an unemployment spell, and as benefits expire, because it informs a number of models. We asked labor experts, what do you think our findings will be? In our study, we did not find any evidence that people who had a job offer waited to start until their benefits expired. But almost everybody was expecting they would do this — including ourselves. It was useful to know that it wasn’t just us, and this was a more unexpected result.

Do you find that researchers change their research questions based on the initial predictions they receive — for example, if they get the same prediction from everybody?

It’s really interesting, because it could go either way. As an example, consider Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan’s famous study of CVs, where they randomized the names on resumes to be either African-American or White names. They found the call-back rate for African Americans was about 30% lower. Afterward, Mullainathan said, I almost didn’t run this study, because I asked my colleagues at MIT, what do you think I will find? And they said, you’re probably going to find reverse discrimination, that Blacks will get more call backs, and it may not look good to publish that. And so they ran the experiment and found the opposite. When he went back to those colleagues, he recollects that many of them said, yeah, I told you so. This is an example of hindsight bias.

Even if everybody has the same prior, you might still want to run it, because what they’re agreeing on may not necessarily be true. All the evidence we have collected so far suggests that more accomplished researchers don’t really do any better than PhD students in predicting. So you might want to use that information and crowdsource your forecasts to more PhD students, rather than trying to find one famous expert professor.

Does the survey allow people to explain why they think something will happen?

We always have an open box at the end for feedback. It’s an interesting trade-off. We want to tell authors to be very mindful of people’s time; people’s attention fades quickly, so we encourage them to have a small number of key questions. But in my experience, forecasters often provide really valuable comments in their responses. I should also mention that when a survey forecast period closes, the forecasters can see where their forecast was in the distribution of forecasts. So even before we know the result, we have a tool where you can see, I was just like everybody else, or, I was actually more optimistic about this. That’s an intermediate piece of feedback we can give people that can be valuable.

You’ve talked about this potentially being used in policymaking or in the development of social programs. How would that work?

This approach has been used quite a bit in the context of policy-relevant experiments. Suppose that you’re going to do some conditional cash transfer program or some intervention to improve education in, say, a rural area in Kenya, and you have funding to run three arms, but you have five things you’d like to do. You could either rely on your intuition, or combine that with predictions from people about what might happen in the different arms. You might decide to conduct the study for which people have more dispersed priors, or where people think the chances are higher of having an impact. Almost all of us as researchers often have more ideas than we can bring to the field, and this is frustrating when you’re basing the decision on your intuition, not data. And so here, at least, you can say, we selected it based on some kind of preliminary feedback.

What do researchers need to do before submitting a request for forecasts?

The researcher has to develop a Qualtrics survey, an easy-to-go-through survey that is really not supposed to take longer than 15 minutes. Then it gets vetted, and when it’s ready to go, anybody can click on it and go through the survey and their response is recorded. There is a minimal obligation for the author of the study to come back later and ultimately fill in what they found, so later we’re able to use all the studies and answer questions like predictive accuracy. We set a flag on some key predictive questions, but otherwise, it’s pretty simple.

Right now, we’re able to offer some incentives, so if you forecast a number of studies as a graduate student, you get some reward. We think this can be gratifying and interesting, but it would be really good to have a pool of graduate students so that when a study comes in, they’re like, oh that’s interesting, here are my priors — as opposed to the researcher targeting people that maybe don’t necessarily want to be targeted. We actually have more than 1000 people signed up to do forecasts. Not all the accounts are active, but it’s grown a lot. We started thinking about this three or four ears ago, but the platform has only been operational for the last couple months. It’s a baby, but it’s a baby that is growing fast.

Learn more about the Social Science Prediction Platform at




Research Highlights

Christopher Carter on Indigenous Autonomy

Christopher Carter, a PhD candidate in Political Science at UC Berkeley and a Research Associate at the Center on the Politics of Development, has been announced as a winner of the 2020 Best Fieldwork Prize from the Democracy and Autocracy Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA). The prize, which rewards dissertation students who conduct innovative and difficult fieldwork on the topics of democratization and/or the development and dynamics of democracy and authoritarianism, will be awarded at the virtual APSA meetings in September.

Carter’s research probes the causes and consequences of indigenous autonomy in the Americas in both historical and contemporary perspective. His work draws on over 16 months of fieldwork; close-range ethnographic research and natural experiments; more than 100 interviews with mayors, bureaucrats, and indigenous leaders; and a survey, lab-in-the-field, and conjoint experiments with a sample of over 300 indigenous community presidents.

The award committee praised “the extraordinarily breadth of the fieldwork” and noted that Carter’s ability “to collect data across highly divergent sociopolitical contexts is a testament to his creativity, adaptability, and commitment. We expect the fieldwork and the evidence culminating from it will make a valuable contribution to our understanding of indigenous governance and the literature on state-building and representation more broadly.”

We interviewed Carter to learn more about his fieldwork and dissertation.

How would you summarize your dissertation research project?

The dissertation project mainly looks at a puzzle around indigenous groups’ demands for greater autonomy. These groups have been politically and economically — and often socially and culturally — marginalized. To correct this, one option that governments have is to grant indigenous populations greater authority over their territory and to define the appropriate rules and regulations by which they will live. But what I found interesting is that a lot of individual native communities, when given the opportunity to have this autonomy, actually reject it. That’s pretty surprising, especially because most of the existing scholarship says that autonomy is the central demand of indigenous groups.

To understand why communities reject autonomy, I look at how previous experiences with extraction by both the state and private actors shape the decisions of indigenous communities to seek autonomy or not. These processes of rejecting autonomy began back in the 19th century and continue to the present day.

In addition to the puzzle around the rejection of autonomy, there are several other interesting puzzles that emerged in the research. First, that governments offer autonomy at all is surprising. We think of states as ignoring, assimilating, or even committing genocide against indigenous populations, especially in the historical period. The decision of central states to grant autonomy presents a surprising outcome and thus a puzzle that hasn’t been fully addressed in the existing literature.

I also looked at the long-term effects of autonomy arrangements when they are offered by states and accepted by indigenous communities. There are negative welfare effects that we might not expect, which has to do with the degree to which indigenous groups can achieve representation within the state if they choose the autonomy path. Autonomy may create fewer opportunities for indigenous communities to engage with the state or get resources from the state.

My dissertation looks at these various dynamics to understand otherwise unexplored costs of autonomy. It’s not a simple demand where all communities want it and will embrace it when offered. It is actually much more complex, with some important drawbacks.

How did you come to research this topic?

I grew up in western North Carolina, and from an early age, I was aware of certain issues around indigenous populations in the state, especially the Cherokee and Lumbee. However, I only began to truly understand the magnitude of the challenges faced by indigenous populations during the summer after my first year in college, when I volunteered in an indigenous community in Ecuador. It was through this experience that I was first exposed to a lot of the issues that have subsequently emerged in my dissertation. I became more aware of the degree of indigenous groups’ marginalization from the state and their alternative ideas around what governance is and should be. I became interested in when native groups achieve autonomy, and how effective it is in improving development outcomes once it is achieved. I then wrote my Master’s thesis at the University of Cambridge on indigenous-state relations in Ecuador.

In what geographic region were you primarily focused?

I conducted the majority of my fieldwork in Peru, where I traveled to indigenous communities, trying to better understand the issues they were facing. Specifically, what was most important for them? What were they getting (or not getting) from the government?

During this fieldwork, I spoke with many mayors and indigenous community leaders. I also did a survey of 300 indigenous community presidents to try to understand how they coordinate and cooperate to elect leaders to local government. I also did a survey of mayors in Peru and I spent a summer learning Quechua so that I could have more access to the communities, which are sometimes relatively closed to outsiders. 

Coming in as an outsider in the Peruvian context presents certain difficulties, because it’s not the context in which I was raised. Cultures are different, policies are different, institutions are different. With indigenous communities, there are still different challenges. It is important to come in with an open mind and listen more than talk. That becomes fundamental. Speaking Quechua was extraordinarily helpful in gaining access to community leaders and showing that I was there to listen and understand and eventually try to tell the story that best reflects local realities. I feel that this approach led me to obtain more interesting information and insights than I would have otherwise. In addition to the fieldwork I conducted in rural Peru, I also conducted archival research in Peru, and in the United States and Bolivia. 

My goal in this project was to author a systematic study that would give me the ability to make generalizations about social scientific phenomena. At the same time, I didn’t want to lose the important nuances and stories that distinguish individual indigenous communities from one another. To accomplish this, a variety of research methods — from interviews to surveys to participant observation —were necessary. 

What were some of the key findings from your research?

Put simply, the decision of indigenous communities to reject autonomy depends on two main factors. The first is exposure to state extraction, or the degree to which states have taken indigenous land and labor in the past. These experiences generate skepticism among communities that reduces their faith in the state to respect autonomy and ultimately leads to a rejection of autonomy.

The second factor that determines community-level responses to autonomy is exposure to rural elite extraction, when large plantation owners or land developers attempt to seize native groups’ land or labor. Those experiences make communities more likely to pursue autonomy, because in those cases, autonomy reduces their susceptibility to elite extraction.

If indigenous communities experience both state extraction and rural elite extraction, they tend to reject autonomy. If they experience neither, they tend to reject, because of risk aversion. In other words, communities may say, if we haven’t experienced extraction, we don’t need autonomy, so we’re not going to take the risk of pursuing that path. 

Functionally, then, communities are most likely to embrace autonomy when there’s private extraction, but not state extraction. 

What are the implications if a group chooses autonomy, and why would they choose not to become autonomous, if they have that option?

The key negative outcome is that indigenous communities can lose access to state resources. Certain forms of autonomy may actually reduce indigenous communities’ ability to coordinate to elect leaders to state offices. This reduces native groups’ representation in government and therefore their access to resources.

Sometimes, the negative relationship between autonomy and access to state resources is more direct. Central states may say to communities, here is autonomy, but you will henceforth be responsible for collecting your own revenue. And even when these communities get money from the state, the infrastructure may not be there to deploy those funds. There are certain municipalities in Bolivia that have become autonomous that now want to revert back to their former status, precisely because there was no training given by the government on how to administer the massive amounts of money coming in, how to create projects, how to create bureaucracies, or how to create contracts with firms. And some rural areas don’t have the building and construction firms to hire for projects like bridges and roads.

Do you feel this plays out the same way in different parts of the world, for example, in the U.S. or Africa? Does it vary by geography?

I think it does hold in different regions. In my dissertation, I look at Peru centrally, but I also have chapters on Bolivia and the United States, and other data from various countries in the Americas. In the United States, there was an autonomy extension in 1934 called the Indian Reorganization Act that was passed under the Roosevelt administration, which was labeled the Indian New Deal. This law aimed to give indigenous groups more political autonomy over their communities and their reservations. Almost two-thirds of tribes accepted the Indian Reorganization Act, but a third of them rejected it. So one part of my dissertation looks at why different reservations made the choices they did.

What I found is that exposure to elite extraction under the Dawes Act — the period that preceded the Indian Reorganization Act, in which indigenous groups lost substantial land to private land developers — actually increased the likelihood that reservations would embrace autonomy. That’s consistent with the theory. Other evidence I collected suggests that those reservations that were exposed to state extraction, particularly the Navajo — who lost much of their livestock through a livestock reduction program that the Roosevelt administration implemented — were less likely to accept the Indian Reorganization Act. If you go through the minutes of their meeting to decide whether or not to embrace this Act, you see that the Navajo were really cognizant of this idea that you could not separate the livestock reduction plan from the Indian Reorganization Act. If the government was not credible in one domain, they were also not credible in another domain.

In addition to historical cases, the theory also applies to certain contemporary cases. In Bolivia, the decision to resist autonomy often occurs precisely because groups have different experiences with extraction. As I show in the dissertation, those communities that experience elite extraction are more likely to embrace autonomy, but communities that experience both state-led and elite extraction are more likely to resist it. 

What lessons might policymakers at different levels take from this? What are the key takeaways?

We can think of two poles of government policy: autonomy or integration. My research and conversations with indigenous groups suggest that the best policy would balance between these two poles by granting indigenous communities autonomy at a very local level, while also increasing their formal guarantees of representation within the state, such as quotas for political office.

I think that would reduce the costs of autonomy: indigenous institutions are preserved and legitimized, and groups still have guaranteed access to state resources.

What was different about your fieldwork from how other researchers might have approached this?

One of the things that a lot of researchers have done with indigenous politics, which is extraordinarily valuable, is to examine the effect of national-level indigenous organizations and movements in shaping public policy. National organizations are incredibly important, but there are also really important community-level factors that shape political and development outcomes. I wanted to draw attention to those dynamics.

For example, “indigenous” is an overarching term that masks extraordinary variation in the diversity of indigenous groups. I’ve seen communities that live within 10 miles of each other that are completely different from one another. They speak different languages, they have different cultures, they have different customs. There’s seemingly little that unites them, except perhaps an overarching indigenous identity. And in most cases, that’s not really the identity that’s most salient for them. So I wanted to dig into that more in trying to understand that local-level variation in what indigenous groups want and what struggles they’re facing. What are the important things that are of concern to them, and how do they respond? Do they really want the policies that are being lobbied for and negotiated at the national level by indigenous organizations and movements?

To do all that, it becomes important to visit communities and talk to their members and leaders. There are 6,000 indigenous communities in Peru alone, so I was able to visit only a handful of those. Surveys become valuable tools to try to understand the bigger picture, aside from the important, but not necessarily generalizable picture I got from visits to individual communities.

What are the implications of this research more broadly for political science, or for other disciplines?

Political scientists generally assume that central states want to monopolize force or control over their territory. The idea that states cede autonomy to native groups, which have been politically and economically marginalized throughout history, is sort of surprising. 

Furthermore, indigenous groups were often ignored, displaced, and even killed by governments, particularly during the colonial and immediate post-colonial periods. Indigenous groups lacked citizenship rights, even in the U.S. and Canada, until the 20th century. The idea that native groups were able to lobby for autonomy in 19th-century Guatemala, Bolivia, and El Salvador is impressive and surprising. It causes one to rethink what the central state was trying to do in an early period of state building and state formation.

The decision by central states to recognize autonomy depended on two factors. The first is that indigenous groups needed to be an important part of the coalition of the incumbent president. Second, if rural elites were strong enough, they could veto any extensions of autonomy, which they opposed, even if the central state wanted to extend autonomy. So you needed two conditions: indigenous groups had to be an important strategic ally of the incumbent to provide the incentive to meet the indigenous demand for autonomy. And rural elites had to be sufficiently weak that they couldn’t block the emergence of autonomy.


  • Banner image: Communal labor project in indigenous community, Cusco, Peru.
  • First image: Christopher Carter, PhD (UC Berkeley, 2020)
  • Second image: Indigenous community in Cusco, Peru with sign noting formal registration with Peruvian government.
  • Third image: Bivariate relationship between exposure to rural elite extraction and support for political autonomy (1930s United States).


Q&A: Dan Lindheim on Police and the Community

An interview with the former Oakland City Administrator — and member of a new Matrix Research Team on police and the community.


When Dan Lindheim was a freshman at UC Berkeley in the 60s, he was arrested in Sproul Hall for his participation in the Free Speech Movement. “We had a very negative view about police departments, particularly the Oakland Police and Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs,” he recalls.

Years later, while in Argentina, he was badly beaten by the police. “They cracked my skull and rearranged my face, among other things,” he says.

In 2008, Lindheim was appointed by Mayor Ron Dellums to serve as the City Administrator for the City of Oakland. Part of his role was to implement a negotiated settlement agreement that called for a major reform of the Oakland Police Department, including reforms related to internal affairs, supervision of officers, police use of force, training, personnel practices, and community policing. “In my first talk to the assembled masses of Oakland officers, I started by saying, ‘I grew up in Berkeley, and we hated the Oakland cops’,” he recalls. “Then every time I met with the police union, and we were in constant meetings and negotiations, they would always start with how I hated the Oakland Police. It got to be sort of a joke.”

Today, Lindheim is an adjunct professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy, and Faculty Director of the Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement. He is also a member of a new Matrix Research Team, “Community Cooperation and the Police in Comparative Perspective,” focused on examining existing work on community relationships and the police in the United States and in developing countries. As part of their collaboration, the team aims to work directly with members of the Oakland Police Department. “Police are an important part of society,” Lindheim says. “In this community, the Oakland Police have been the source of a great deal of community concern and opposition. For a lot of us who grew up and have been active politically in this area, bringing about changes in the Oakland Police Department was something important and necessary.”

We interviewed Lindheim about the “defund the police” movement, changing police culture, and other topics. (Responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity.)

Your Matrix Research Team is very timely, given the recent calls for police reform and defunding. How did the team come together?

These are things that we’ve all been involved in and continue to do research in. We actually trained a cohort of Oakland Police in the fall at the Goldman School. Part of the issue is developing a certain level of confidence with officers, so you can talk frankly about issues. The general concern was to talk about developing a sense of police respect for the community, and community understanding and respect for police. In the absence of that, you have warring factions going against each other.

My particular interest is to specifically delineate the various meanings of “abolish” and “defund.” We have a pretty good sense of the range of important police reforms, but I think it’s less clear which current police functions could be more appropriately done outside of the police department. In my view, when people talk about “abolish,” they should be saying abolish certain police functions. No jurisdiction will be abolishing all police functions. It’s reallocating certain police functions to non-police officers and agencies. The police are often first responders on a range of mental illness issues. The police aren’t trained for that; and police don’t want to handle these issues. So there’s a certain level of general agreement that certain calls for service can be offloaded from police to other groups and agencies. But it’s not well defined what those things are, how alternative models would be developed, and what the process is for creating community involvement and buy-in for doing that. My main interest at the moment is trying to get community processes underway to really look at these issues of “abolish.” Defund is then just reallocating the budget from what had been to new arrangements based on changing those functions. It’s a critical issue of our time.

There’s general agreement that police are not the best trained to respond to all mental health issues. But it’s not obvious how you know when a 911 call is only a mental health issue. This is critical, because Dispatch needs to have clear rules for whether to dispatch an officer or a mental health specialist. You have to develop systems for figuring out, how do you do that triage? How do you do that allocation? And what if you have problems? Let’s assume that we have only social workers doing these responses. How do you protect them when things get dicey? These people are all city workers, whether they’re cops or non-cops. And if you’re the city manager or an elected, you’re responsible for the well-being of all of them.

One serious issue is that Dispatch is always underfunded and undertrained, and they have just an incredibly difficult job. But if we’re going to change from automatically sending everything to the police to sending it to some mix of police and to other people, there must be decision rules and training on these new rules.  We must turn this from a political slogan to programmatic reality. Until this is done, you really can’t switch this on. And there must be community buy-in to any new model. Another abolish/defund issue is that the Oakland community is heterogeneous in all of its diverse communities.  Surprising to some advocates, some people in Oakland want more police. Many in flatland communities and communities of color feel they’re generally over-policed and oppressed by police, but many also feel that they are not appropriately served when they have emergent situations. When faced with a violent situation, if they call the cops, they want to be sure that appropriate responders show up. So it’s very much a community-based issue for how you come up with these new rules of engagement, and who’s going to be assigned to do what.

We must turn this from a political slogan to programmatic reality. Until this is done, you really can’t switch this on.

What do you anticipate will be some of the challenges as cities try to “defund” the police?

The police are interested in keeping their current budgets, but just offload some of their current work to other people. From their point of view, this is a win-win: police can do less of the safety net social issues they don’t want to be working on and can then devote their efforts to addressing violent crime, which is what they really signed up to do.  However, because of COVID, cities are in very precarious financial situations. They won’t be able to fund police at current levels while creating new systems for dealing with these safety-net issues. So it’s not going to be so simple.

Oakland has other challenges for reducing police spending. Oakland has a Measure Z parcel tax, which funds many violence prevention services that most everybody supports, as well as about 50 community policing officers. It has two provisions related to defunding. One, it says there must be at least 677 officers, period. At the moment, they’re at 741, so they still have a bit of room, but that provision means you can’t go below that level. So that’s a limitation. Two, it also says if police staffing is below 800 officers (which it is), then no officers can be laid off. So without layoffs, how do you reduce the force? You have to go back to the voters and change the parcel tax, or wait until 2024, when it is up for reauthorization. But that’s going to require time and its own community process. There is still attrition of about 60-70 officers per year, so the total number can come down, but just lopping off 50% of the officers isn’t happening any time soon. Minneapolis, which has said it will completely defund police, is similarly constrained in laying off officers; its charter requires its current level of 735 officers.

Most people are talking about 911 response when they’re talking about taking functions from police. But more than half of officers don’t work in 911. They’re not beat officers. They’re doing other kinds of jobs. They’re on special teams. They’re detectives. They’re in various different functional units. Part of the reimagining process has to look at that other half, because you have to see where the money is and see which of these functions can be reallocated to other agencies.

It is also important to understand that it is not just the number of officers, but how many beats and how many shifts are being funded. If police departments don’t have the requisite number of officers, frequently they just backfill the open slots with overtime. Part of the question is, how do you control that? One former chief told me, ‘if you give me a reasonable budget, then I’ll hold to that budget. But if you give me an unreasonable budget, to hell with it, I’m just going to do what I have to do.’ In my time in Oakland, we were able to control police spending and control overtime, but it took drastic effort, and it took major micromanaging on my part, and it required developing a relationship with the union and the leadership in a way that most city managers don’t have.

Most people are talking about 911 response when they’re talking about taking functions from police. But more than half of officers don’t work in 911.

How can police departments address a challenge like excessive use of improper force?

Excessive and inappropriate use of force is a serious issue. In my view, use of force policy is something that should be discussed and determined by the city’s elected representatives. Addressing use of force issues is difficult and something we worked very hard on. Officers need to understand that their role is not to mete out discipline to the people they consider to be bad guys.  At most, the police role is to turn somebody over to the judicial process if they are suspected of some wrongdoing. But too many police feel that their role is cop, judge, and executioner. This mindset must be removed. A second aspect — and one of the things that I really fought against — is that when police are being disciplined or evaluated, especially on use of force, the department does what’s called a “final frame” analysis to determine whether the officer’s use of force is justified in the final frame, or very last second prior to the use of force. This makes no policy sense whatsoever. It’s quite possible that, in the final frame, the officer felt they were in jeopardy or imminent danger. But the real issue is, why did they put themselves in that position in the first place? To do a meaningful analysis and create appropriate policies, you have to back up a bunch of frames first and make sure that officers don’t put themselves in that final frame in the first place.

Too many police feel that their role is cop, judge, and executioner. This mindset must be removed.

Oakland has mostly banned car chases, except under very special and controlled circumstances, because generally nothing good happens with a car chase. Innocent people get injured, cars get destroyed, and people will wind up dead or severely injured. Police have an attitude of “we can’t let them get away.” The real question is, why not? Putting it in terms of a social cost-benefit, how important is it to always pursue somebody, and what are the costs of that?

Oakland has also stopped pursuing suspects into dark alleys. Again, nothing good happens in these chases. Officers are endangering themselves, and too often the result is an officer involved shooting.  There was a police-involved shooting of somebody accused of something very minor. Officers pursued him down a dark alley, saw a shiny object, which turned out to be a marijuana scale for street sales, and the police brain said, “dark alley, shiny thing, must be a gun,” and they killed him. Now they have a procedure that they don’t chase people into dark alleys.

In the recent case in Georgia, the cop and [Rayshard Brooks], who ultimately wound up dead, were talking for over half an hour. And the officers had the guy’s car, they had his keys, they knew who he was, they knew where he lived. So he did something he wasn’t supposed to do. He grabbed the guy’s taser and ran. But it wasn’t like they had to do anything. They knew who we was! They could just wait a few minutes, drive around the corner, and arrest him. So trying to change that mental attitude — that you don’t have to use deadly force just to stop someone from running away — is a crucial aspect to all of this.

Another issue is that too many police self-select. Many senior officers say that when you hire inexperienced, young kids, give them a hot car and a weapon, plus you give them a certain amount of authority, it’s a recipe for bad things happening. And so, you really have to control it.

One of the things I learned in Oakland was that if you want cops to act differently, you have to order them to act differently. During the Oscar Grant demonstrations, I ordered them to act differently — not to use their tanks and not to come dressed in battle gear — no “hats and bats.” I said, you guys should be in solidarity with the demonstrators and demonstrating as well. What happened to Oscar Grant was reprehensible, and thank goodness it wasn’t an Oakland cop who did it. And you Oakland cops need to bond with the community. But it’s complicated., When people start throwing bottles at the police, then the question is, is it still okay to not have them using “hats and bats”? They are city employees who you are responsible for, so what seems reasonable becomes more complicated.

A lot of police are ex-military and see their role in that way. It’s a generalized problem across the country, not necessarily just the militarization in terms of the use of tools, which is a serious problem, but there’s this military attitude, and that has to change. You’re just not going to have decent, acceptable police community relations if you have that.

What is the value of having a high level of trust between the police and the community?

Police have very few tools to do any crime fighting or crime solving. If the community won’t give them information, and they can’t deal with the community or they don’t have trust, they have no ability to learn anything. Even when community members know who did what, there’s this whole attitude of, “don’t snitch”. Sometimes it’s because people are afraid, and sometimes it’s just that I people don’t want to be helping the cops. Unless you have some real relationship, it’s very hard for you even to do your job.

One of the issues in a lot of communities, and particularly in Oakland, is that flatland communities are most impacted by policing. Oakland is a very segregated city, and most policing takes place in communities of color, largely because there is a coincidence between where violent crimes are committed and these flatland areas. Most White folks live on the hill side of highway 580. There are almost no homicides and little violent crime and these areas don’t get much policing, much to their feelings of detriment. A few years ago, there was a move to actually hire neighborhood security guards because some of the hill communities felt like they didn’t have any officers.

When police believe that they have to stop people in order to prevent crime, and then wind up disproportionately stopping people of color, this has an impact on the whole community. Police need to understand these impacts. The fact that police mostly stop people of color, and primarily African Americans, is less a function of individual officer racism (which of course exists to some extent in Oakland and elsewhere) and more a function of where police do policing. What I tell my students, and the officers, is that the disproportionate stop numbers are the responsibility of senior policymakers who decide where police are assigned. If officers are assigned to areas that comprise predominantly people of color, the stops will largely be people of color. But that explanation doesn’t make it OK. Stopping people is oppressive to the people being stopped, especially if there isn’t a specific and justifiable reason for making the stop. Car stops, particularly unnecessary stops, harm community police relations. The best way for police to prevent or solve crimes is to have the respect and support of the community. It’s really an efficiency issue more than just a political issue.

When police believe that they have to stop people in order to prevent crime, and then wind up disproportionately stopping people of color, this has an impact on the whole community.

What kind of framework or process do you imagine will be needed to help guide efforts to defund the police?

Let’s take something like mental health. We could bring in various mental health experts and say, what kind of calls can you handle? And how would you know in advance whether you actually can handle them safely? Do you want to handle them with teams of mental health workers, or do you want to have joint teams of mental health workers and police? How do you configure that, and what do you need to know in advance so that a dispatch person can send the appropriate response?

It’s easy to say that mental health calls can be offloaded from police to social workers. But there are a lot of details. How do you pair people up? How do you allocate people? How do you dispatch? How do you protect people? And that’s just on the mental health calls. With domestic violence, there are other sets of issues. How do you determine which is the appropriate response and how do you protect your workers? It’s not so much coming up with an end allocation of who might do what, but how do you inform the debate? To the extent we can define these issues in a more precise and clear way, I think we could make a contribution to whoever we’re dealing with. This debate is just beginning. It is not going to just disappear. Moreover, it’s not something that can just happen in an instant. It’s not like you can just lop off X percent of your police force. You’ve got to come up with specific plans for how you want to deploy and organize, and how you train and how you staff, let alone how you finance it.

On the flip side, if you’re going to start having social workers replace cops, how are you going to deploy your cops? What do you want cops to do? In a place like Oakland, with a high number of violent crimes, what is the community feeling about what they want? They want the city to respond to violent crime and protect them. It may be more police, it may be different kinds of police. To me, one of the most important issues is that this can’t be a top-down kind of process. This has to be a genuine, community-developed process. Because without that, it’s just not going to be able to succeed.

It’s not like you can just lop off X percent of your police force. You’ve got to come up with specific plans for how you want to deploy and organize, and how you train and how you staff, let alone how you finance it.

If you were speaking to either a city administrator or a police chief, what advice would you have about how to approach this to achieve the desired outcomes?

What I’ve told one local chief is that you need to start looking at your calls for service, and trying to figure out in your own mind, which are the low hanging fruit that can and should be handled by non-sworn staff? And how would you know in advance that they’re the obvious ones?

The great advantage of the moment is that cops don’t want to be doing this stuff. It’s not like we have competing demands here. I don’t know that the social workers want to be doing it. (And I’m using social workers as a proxy word, it may or may not be a social worker.) From the police point of view, analyze your calls for service, analyze what your special teams are doing, and see which of these have to be officers and why. What are the gray areas, and how can you offer support? What happens if something goes bad? What’s the best way of staffing those types of calls?

The current police response is, we should have more social workers, but they should work in teams with our people, as opposed to our people getting training on dealing with mental health issues. For community folks, the question is, how do you define mental health calls and how do you want those handled? What kind of people should respond to which kinds of calls? And how do you protect these people if things go bad? It has to go from the sort of sloganeering, “off with your heads, and off with 50%,” into a reasoned discussion in which people can sit around a table and say, this is what I want here, this is not what I want.

I’m not presuming that people are going to agree. But at least you can refine these issues to a certain extent. To me, my real role is trying to educate a community process to make some kind of decisions and at least bring these issues closer to something people can discuss and either agree or disagree about, to come to some sense of what an alternative staffing model might look like, and what it might cost, and is it plausible?

Part of the reimagining is coming up with alternative models, and to the extent that we can help people, let’s just say reimagine alternative models, then that’s really where we have a substantial potential contribution. Otherwise, saying “cut 50%” works great as a slogan, but in the real world, that doesn’t help you a whole lot.

All of a sudden, this is a front-page issue. Once these protests happened, we said, this is an opportunity we can’t miss. We have to have some involvement with the department. This is the burning issue of the moment in this world of police, policing, and community. And I don’t think it’s going to be going away anytime soon. We have to spend whatever time we can to be helpful or useful and in providing whatever knowledge we may have to help the process.


Disaster Preparedness and Seeking Equity Amidst COVID-19

An interview with Sarah Vaughn, Assistant Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Anthropology, on how different communities prepare for and respond to pandemics and disasters.

A recent panel discussion, “Understanding and seeking equity amid COVID-19” — presented as part of the Berkeley Conversation: COVID-19 series — focused on the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on marginalized communities, particularly racial and ethnic minorities. The Center for Disease Control has confirmed that “data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups,” and the Pew Research Center has released research showing a wide gap in financial and health impacts of COVID-19 among different demographic groups.

Facilitated by Jennifer Chayes, Associate Provost of the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society, and Dean of the School of Information, the Berkeley Conversation panel brought together faculty from diverse disciplines to examine the structural challenges that have shaped the inequitable impacts on minorities, as well as issues like algorithmic bias and dissemination of misinformation.

Ziad Obermeyer, Acting Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at Berkeley Public Health, noted that algorithms intended to help healthcare professionals predict which populations will likely get sick in the near-future were directed toward white patients twice as much in comparison to people of color. The reason: one of the variables input into the algorithm, “healthcare cost,” failed to capture marginalized populations who have less access to healthcare, and thereby classified these communities as not needing health services. Obermeyer warned of potential pitfalls in testing data for COVID-19, and suggested incorporating social-science methods (such as population-based surveys) to complement other datasets used to prepare and allocate health resources.

Niloufar Salehi, Assistant Professor at the School of Information at UC, Berkeley, talked about how different communities use social networks and social media, and how data perpetuates disparities. She highlighted that, because information on COVID-19 is exchanged through encrypted and closed channels and messaging apps, it is hard to track the proliferation of potential misinformation. She advised researchers and practitioners to challenge datasets by questioning where data is looked for and what is omitted.

Sarah Vaughn, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, discussed how qualitative research can complement other datasets and help promote greater understanding of social and cultural context. She highlighted that, by understanding how data and technology is produced and consumed on the ground, we can better understand how technologies shape the identity and narratives of different communities.

We reached out to Professor Vaughn to delve deeper into these questions, and how the lessons learned from previous research can apply to the COVID-19 crisis. (Note: this interview has been edited for clarity.)

In the Berkeley Conversation, you talked about how ethnography allows us to think across cultures. From your experience, how do communities respond to issues such as disaster preparedness?

I work in Global South contexts, particularly the Caribbean, which is a part of the world with countries that are relatively small in size and number. Scale is important in terms of contextualizing what a disaster is and what it means to prepare for them. I have done research in Guyana on disastrous flooding and climate adaptation measures. When disastrous flooding happens in Guyana, the majority of the population is affected in some way, and people expect a response from the government on a national, not a local level.

This perspective is quite different from how Americans tend to imagine who is impacted by a disaster. For example, in the case of Hurricane Katrina, many Americans took a shortsighted perspective by only recognizing the event as affecting “marginalized” groups, particularly poor and black communities in Louisiana and Mississippi. Now compare Katrina with what we are experiencing with COVID-19. The events unfolding around COVID-19 are adversely impacting poor and black communities, but this is happening at the same time that the entire United States is being directly impacted by the virus. So, some Americans have now begun to ask: Isn’t every American vulnerable to disaster? If so, then should I expect to be taken care of by federal authorities when a disaster strikes? If not, then how do I ensure that local authorities figure out how to prepare? How do I respond to neighbors, family, coworkers, or authorities who do not take appropriate measures to protect my health and livelihood? In other words, there’s a need for more social science research that takes into account political discourses about disaster and scale.

Based on your research in the Caribbean, what lessons can we learn about the role that qualitative research plays in complementing and even challenging quantitative approaches to researching disasters and pandemics?

I think it might be helpful to answer this question in more general terms. Demographics, for instance, cannot tell you the whole story about how a disaster affects people. A social scientist may have robust methods such as surveys, that help him/her identify the racial or gender demographics of a given vulnerable population. But these demographics do not necessarily explain the broader social context that contributed to the disaster. In this respect, ethnography is a crucial method in qualitative research, because it can provide a perspective on the day-to-day or “ordinary” experiences of vulnerable populations, as well as the experts who attempt to care and respond to them overtime. Anthropologists of very different intellectual leanings—including Veena Das, Peter Redfield, and Kathleen Stewart—all make this point clear. Their ethnographies detail how people create social connections (and sometimes even become cut-off from each other) as they struggle to identify, live through, and make sense of catastrophe.

Can you expand on the role of technology in disseminating information and shaping identities within communities?

Social scientists need to better understand how people use technologies when critical infrastructures are absent or fail them during a disaster. In my research on climate adaptation, I have noticed that people are becoming more dependent on technologies that are easily assembled and have the “user’s immediate needs in mind.” For instance, following the consultation of humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross, communities in Guyana have invested in developing water filtration kits to cope with flood hazards. As communities in Guyana have become more self-sufficient in responding to flooding, the government has taken note. While it has invested in a national flood early-warning system, it also expects communities to create their own version of a “neighborhood flood watch,” whereby people call or leave social media posts for each other to share information about flood hazards.

Social scientists need to better understand how people use technologies when critical infrastructures are absent or fail them during a disaster.

This re-distribution of responsibility between the government and public may prove efficient, but it does raise a number of questions. What entails a model for technological design when the environments people live in are prone to ruin and destruction? To what extent do technologies that are easily assembled and mobile undermine or uphold the notion of a social contract? In posing these questions, I want to be very cautious and say that the technological arrangements between the government and communities in Guyana are not solely contingent on political-economic ideologies of self-sufficiency. Instead, what is really at stake is how people design technologies in ways that are influenced by their lived experiences of vulnerability.

In this respect, I think that we can expand our conversation on disaster and technology to consider the debates about COVID-19 and the role of the government and private sector in their plans to disseminate at-home testing kits. The immediate issue in this context becomes: How do people use at-home testing kits in order to live through different stages of the pandemic? How do the at-home testing kits shape their understanding of vulnerability and social distancing through the pandemic?

How can this help address the larger issue of seeking equity in the context of disasters and pandemics?

We have to remember that equity means different things to different people. There isn’t one model for equity. But if I had to define equity in a succinct way, I would say that it involves considering people’s varying interests and desires in order to achieve fairness. Again, this is why I think that ethnographic research on disaster that is critical of technology and its potential to support vulnerable populations is important. Perhaps the first thing many of us recognize when we are immediately impacted by a disaster is that our basic needs cannot be met, or at least not in a reasonably well-organized fashion. Paying attention to how technologies fail or even support daily life during a disaster provides a perspective on people’s sense of equity and perhaps what types of aid and resources they think they deserve to get back to normal.


Image: Data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC Health). Data are derived from the Bureau of Communicable Disease Surveillance System as of April 16, 2020.


Gangs, Labor Mobility, and Development

 A Q&A with Carlos Schmidt-Padilla, PhD Candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Political Science, on his research showing the staggering economic toll of living within gang-controlled territory.

Map showing gang territory in San Salvador

In 1997, the United States shifted its immigration policies, leading to the intensified deportation of individuals with criminal backgrounds back to their country of origin. As a consequence, members of gangs that originated in Los Angeles — including many Salvadorans who were brought to the U.S. in their youth — were deported back to El Salvador as their country was recovering from civil war. Prior to 1997, El Salvador did not previously have any powerful gangs; however, the rise in deportations contributed to the rise of MS-13 and Barrio 18, which quickly gained territorial control in parts of the country.

In a October 2019 paper, “Gangs, Labor Mobility, and Development,Carlos Schmidt-Padilla PhD Candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Political Science, together with Princeton’s Nikita Melnikov and María Micaela Sviatschi, examined what happens to the populations that live within territories controlled by gangs, who limit the mobility of individuals. They found that individuals within gang-ruled areas have significantly less income and lower-quality education — and experience greater inequality — compared to individuals living just 50 meters outside of gang-controlled territories.

Cited by The Economist in early January, the research has brought new attention to some of the broader effects transnational gangs have on communities. We interviewed Carlos Schmidt-Padilla to learn more about the researchers’ key methodologies and findings. (Note that responses have been edited for length and clarity).

What inspired your research on labor and social mobility and development in El Salvador with respect to MS-13 and Barrio 18?

Gangs have been a big issue in Central America since the 1990s, when individuals who had criminal backgrounds in the United States, including many of those involved in the notorious 18th Street and MS-13 gangs, were repatriated to their countries. 18th Street is a Mexican gang that a lot of Salvedorans joined, while MS-13 evolved from numerous neighborhood “cliques” across California. In 1996, the United States passed the Immigation Enforcement Act, and in 1997, they started mass deportations of Salvadorans, mostly undocumented with criminal backgrounds, back to El Salvador. They were deported at a time when the country was recovering from a civil war, and they found a location from which to expand. 

I’m from El Salvador, and all my life I’ve grown up hearing that gangs have control over the country and inflict both physical, economic, and emotional damage to families. What inspired this piece was an effort to understand the mechanisms through which gangs affect social and economic development. In particular, we found that one of the main reasons you see such a detrimental economic impact for individuals in gang-controlled areas is because of the mobility restrictions they place on individuals. This is not to say that entrance into and exit from these specific territories is completely restricted, but there are limitations. These restrictions range from limits on mobility, where it becomes difficult to enter and exit gang-controlled neighborhoods, to the stigmatization of individuals who live in such neighborhoods. The restrictions and stigmatization then affects your labour outcomes and opportunities.

In El Salvador, for example, an individual with tattoos is more likely to be suspected as a gang member. The police tend to stop and scan individuals for tattoos that are exclusive to gangs and they will stigmatize you for it. Following a Supreme Court decision in 2015, gangs have been considered terrorist organizations in the country. If the police think an individual is a gang member, they will arrest that person for illicit associations.

Your research focuses on gang activity and control in urban settings, where state and non-state actors coexist. What does that dynamic look like? 

Our paper focuses on a hybrid setting, where there is a strong presence of both state and non-state armed organizations. There is anecdotal evidence that the state needs the gangs’ approval to enter into these territories. Likewise, when politicians run for office, they need the permission to enter gangs’ territories for campaigning purposes. In the 2014 presidential elections, for example, all the major political parties negotiated with gangs for permission to campaign in their territories. There is now an ongoing court case over these illicit negotiations. It’s very difficult for political figures to operate in all the Salvadoran territory without gangs. A significant portion of the political class has been co-opted and has to participate in these negotiation dynamics. 

With respect to the police and security forces, there have been cases where gang members have entered into the police or military academy. Within the Ministry of Defense, for example, there were 300 applicants who were suspected of having connections to gangs in the last recruiting call. Given their nature, these institutions have been able to resist infiltration by such groups, and there have been discussions on better screening mechanisms for applications, such as a polygraph exam.

Your paper made use of diverse methodologies — including spatial regression discontinuity design and difference in differences analysis — to estimate the causal effect of living under the rule of gangs. What particular advantage did these two methods provide for your research?

The regression discontinuity design allowed us to compare individuals living immediately 400 meters within and outside of gang territory. This ensured that the populations we were comparing are relatively the same, with the gang presence as the only difference. We go through a painstaking process in the paper to show that there were no other differences between the two populations we were looking at prior to the arrival of gangs in San Salvador. This took into account information from prior to the arrival of gangs and after; demographics, such as the number of households present; and the presence of state infrastructure. So we were then able to compare prior and post economic growth in areas that had gang homicides in the early days of gang presence in the country. 

You describe how some gangs set up checkpoints against rival gangs and the state. Can you explain this set up?

There are gang collaborators, for example, between streets, and they’re tasked with overseeing whether people coming into the neighborhood are familiar or strangers. If the individual is a stranger, then that person is intercepted and questioned. If distribution firms want to do business in a gang territory, they pay a toll extortion, while businesses within gang territory are charged a weekly or monthly extortion fee. 

Individuals living in gang territories earn half the amount of income compared to those living 50 meters outside of gang territory. Additionally, they are subject to extortion, or renta, which roughly translates to rent, which applies to families and businesses.

I’ve done research on the Northern Triangle of Central America (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador), and we find that in Honduras, there is a similar tax called impuesto de guerra, or war tax, because of the competition between MS-13 and Barrio-18 and the state.

The gangs want to limit conflict, maintain control over the territories they function within (to extract resources via extortion), and avoid bloodshed, which might attract police attention. In doing this research, it was interesting to learn that, during Christmas and Easter, gang members ask for a bonus extortion payment. Likewise, when one of their members passes away they ask the community to help cover the cost of the funeral. 

It is important to note that a lot of these gang members come from highly marginalized communities, and sometimes individuals are not given the option of joining, but rather face life-threatening consequences if they do not join. There are high degrees of school desertion because of the recruitment of 10- to 12-year-old students, particularly among males.

Individuals living in gang territories earn half the amount of income compared to those living 50 meters outside of gang territory. Additionally, they are subject to extortion….

Aside from checkpoints, what other mechanisms are in place to ensure that the gangs’ territorial control is sustained? 

People become in part dependent on the gangs present in the territory, and some within the territories are able to benefit from the informal economies that gangs create. If you earn a certain ranking within the organization, then your family is able to earn a “pension” from the gang. This is similar to mafias, for example, in Italy and Japan. On the other hand, you have families who have to close their businesses earlier within the gang territories. You have to be careful entering or exiting gang territory, as sometimes gangs check your ID to ensure you are from the neighborhood and not from a rival one. Stigmatization of living in gang territories also influences someone’s likelihood of being hired, or even in working in rival gang territories, as your address is used as a cue for whether you might have ties to gangs. 

Did you encounter any ethical dilemmas in the course of conducting this research?

One of the ethical dilemmas we faced came up when doing the survey, as we asked the participants more detailed questions than what was available to us in the census. These questions ranged from their perceptions of freedom of mobility to cultural attitudes. However, we knew we had to prioritize the security of the participants. We worked with a firm experienced in conducting in-person surveys in these communities and set up a time frame for all the surveys to be conducted from 6AM to 11AM, when gangs are less active. 

Were there any surprises while conducting the research, and what do you hope to see emerge from your research?

We never thought there would be such strong impacts of mobility mechanisms. If you ask anyone the question of whether gangs are beneficial to development, they will mostly likely answer no. We think this paper’s main contribution is helping us understand exactly how gangs hurt development for communities within gang territories. This is the first step in then understanding how we can overcome these imposed challenges. 

It is difficult in El Salvador because voters want quick solutions, and they then support tough-on-crime policies. For example, in the early 2000s, the government passed iron-fist policies that facilitated arrests of people based on their tattoos. With the increase in incarceration rates, you have gang members in prison who become more organized and coordinated. Short-sighted policies are what got the country into this situation, and they might have long-term consequences aside from the ones we study in the paper. El Salvador is close to surpassing the U.S. in terms of incarceration per capita, which is alre the highest in the world.

Right now, the new government that came into power in June 2019 is launching a territorial control plan, which seeks to regain the territory controlled by gangs. This is in part an acknowledgement, particularly from the Ministry for Security, that territories have in fact been lost to gangs and that there is an urgency to regain them. This is a step in the right direction in trying to regain the territories and build trust in order to provide better services for the communities. There seems to be much more coherence in this plan compared to previous tough-on-crime approaches. Both the U.S. Embassy and international organizations have expressed their hopes in this plan. 

Is there anything else you think people should understand about these gangs?

When people think of gangs in the U.S. they tend to think of them as purely terrible organizations. This is in part accurate, but there needs to be more understanding of the positions of individuals who are forced to join. There are kids who grow up living their entire lives in gang-controlled territories, for example, who are forced to join and then cannot leave the organization.


COVID-19: UC Berkeley Social Sciences Portal

In partnership with the Office of the Dean of the Division of Social Sciences, Social Science Matrix created a portal to aggregate insights about the coronavirus pandemic from the UC Berkeley social science community.

In partnership with the Office of the Dean of the Division of Social Sciences, Social Science Matrix created this page to aggregate insights about the coronavirus pandemic from the UC Berkeley social science community. UC Berkeley researchers are invited to contribute to this portal, whether by submitting original commentary or links to outside publications to

Visit for information on UC Berkeley’s prevention and response efforts related to the COVID-19. The Berkeley Rausser College of Natural Resources has launched a portal with links to research, commentary, videos, and other resources that relate to the coronavirus.

The Impact of COVID 19 on University Research and International Collaborations

The Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) recently convened a panel focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international research collaboration. “International knowledge networks are essential for research and research is a core function of universities. All aspects of university work are currently strained by the COVID-19, but international programs, including research collaboration, are especially pressured. These programs have produced some of the most creative and innovative results in many disciplines.” The panel discussed “both the challenges that international research collaboration is facing in the current environment and will describe plans for supporting these efforts and planning for their future post-pandemic.” Participants included: Margaret Heisel, Senior Associate, Center for Studies in Higher Education; David Bogle, Pro-Vice-Provost of the University College London (UCL) Doctoral School; France A. Córdova, an astrophysicist and the 14th director of the National Science Foundation (NSF); Jim Hyatt, Senior Research Associate (CSHE), Vice Chancellor for Budget and Finance and CFO Emeritus; Randy Katz, Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Berkeley; and Tim Stearns, Senior Associate Vice Provost of Research at Stanford University. Watch the video here.

Student depression, anxiety soaring during pandemic, new survey finds

The COVID-19 pandemic is increasing depression and anxiety among college students, with more than a third reporting significant mental health challenges. A recent Berkeley News article by Edward Lempinen cites a new survey co-led by the Center for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE). “The survey of students at nine U.S. public research universities nationwide found that 35% of undergraduates and 32% of graduate and professional students screened positive for major depressive disorder, while 39% of all students screened positive for anxiety disorder, according to the report released on August 18 by the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium. The rate of anxiety and depression was more pronounced among low-income students, students of color, LGBTQ+ students and those who are caring for loved ones. ‘As the pandemic continues, universities need to be prepared for a surge of student requests for mental health services in the fall and beyond,” said SERU Consortium Director Igor Chirikov, a senior researcher at CSHE. “Current plans to continue education with remote or hybrid instruction won’t be effective without adequate resources for mental health support programs.'”

Prospects of Social Democracy in a Post-Pandemic World

In a recent essay posted on 3 Quarks Daily, Pranab Bardhan, Professor of Graduate School in the UC Berkeley Department of Economics, examined the impact the pandemic could have on social democracy, particularly in the wake of recent trends like the rise of automation and globalization, the decline of working-class trade unions, and the increase in inequality and insecurity. Bardhan to “looks at the prospects of social democracy in the post-pandemic world, at the strengthening or weakening of pre-existing tendencies in this respect, and at new elements, circumstances and challenges,” noting it should be seen “as neither a straight-forward prediction, nor just a matter of wishful thinking, more a clear-eyed analysis of constraints and opportunities that social democrats are likely to face or have to be prepared for.”

Beth Piatote writes about love and antibody farms in her fictional story ‘Level 8 Risk’

Beth Piatote, Associate Professor of Native American Studies, published a fictional story called “Level 8 Risk,” depicting a future world in which immigrants can earn their citizenship by joining the Civilian BioMedical Corps (or CivCo for short), in which they are infected with diseases so they can produce antibodies that are harvested and sold. An excerpt: “Three years after the implant gave me an infection, I’m about to get another one. Another microchip implant, that is, and possibly another infection. I’d call it a level 3 risk. Implant infection was only a level 1 risk last time and I got one, so I’m upping the odds. Esau says it’s good to be prepared, especially with re-entry on the horizon. Re-entry has been on the horizon the entire three years I’ve been here. Every time I get scanned the date pops up: May 1, 2028, embedded in the bar code as 010528. At first, I tried to memorize my whole ID, but the green digits on the screen always disappeared too quickly. Once I caught sight of the date in the sequence, I began to focus on that. And thus I became the date of my discharge, which seems as good an identity as any. It’s called discharge, not release or emancipation, because the Civilian BioMedical Corps (or CivCo for short) was designed to mirror the military structurally if not practically. I used to think of the Army and CivCo as twins, like my brother Saul and me, but CivCo is more like that spoiled step-brother who came along after Uncle Sam got remarried to his much younger second wife.” Read the full piece. Read the full piece (behind a paywall on the SF Chronicle site).

Measuring the labor market at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis

UC Berkeley’s Jesse Rothstein, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Economics, and Matthew Unrath, a PhD candidate at the Goldman School Public Policy — together with researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Chicago — have continued their work measuring the collapse and partial recovery of the U.S. economy, largely using data from Homebase, a private-sector firm that provides time clocks and scheduling software to small businesses. “We use traditional and non-traditional data sources to measure the collapse and subsequent partial recovery of the U.S. labor market in Spring 2020,” they wrote in the abstract. “Using daily data on hourly workers in small businesses, we show that the collapse was extremely sudden — nearly all of the decline in hours of work occurred between March 14 and March 28. Both traditional and non traditional data show that, in contrast to past recessions, this recession was driven by low-wage services, particularly the retail and leisure and hospitality sectors. A large share of the job loss in small businesses reflected firms that closed entirely. Nevertheless, the vast majority of laid off workers expected, at least early in the crisis, to be recalled, and indeed many of the businesses have reopened and rehired their former employees. There was a reallocation component to the firm closures, with elevated nrisk of closure at firms that were already unhealthy, and more reopening of the healthier firms. At the worker-level, more disadvantaged workers (less educated, non-white) were more likely to be laid off and less likely to be rehired. Worker expectations were strongly predictive of rehiring probabilities. Turning to policies, shelter-in-place orders drove some job losses but only a small share: many of the losses had already occurred when the orders went into effect. Last, we find that states that received more small business loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and states with more generous unemployment insurance benefits had milder declines and faster recoveries. We find no evidence so far in support of the view that high UI replacement rates drove job losses or slowed rehiring substantially.”

The High-Finance Mogul in Charge of Our Economic Recovery

A recent New Yorker profile about Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, written by Sheelah Kolhatkar, included insights from Barry Eichengreen, George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Economics and Political Science, who noted the broad economic challenges the pandemic has wrought, drawn in comparison to crises from the early 20th century. “’I think what’s missing compared to those earlier crises is fully institutional, innovative thinking about how the structure of the economy—of the financial system and of the public sector in particular—needs to change in light of events,” he said. “I have this strong sense that we now need to turn from keeping restaurants and businesses afloat and keeping people on the payroll to thinking about how the economy after the coronavirus is going to look different than it looked before. The crisis is a reminder that the private sector, left to its own devices, doesn’t always manage those challenges optimally. That kind of strategic planning, thinking about what happens next, isn’t happening. And it needs to.” When I asked Mnuchin whether he had thought about initiating bigger structural changes, he paused for a long time, as if struggling with what to say. “I like to study economic history, and I love biographies,” he said eventually. “I think you learn certain lessons from the past. But, again, no situation is ever the same….’ Eichengreen disagreed that the protests had little to do with economic inequality. He noted the vast numbers of young people of all races who were participating, and pointed out that, in addition to anger and frustration about systemic racial inequities, they were likely despairing over their diminishing prospects and the possibility that they would never achieve the living standards of their parents. “People take to the streets in part when they can’t take to the office,” he said. “We know from previous crises, such as 2008 and 2009, that these economic events cast a very long-lived economic scar—that, if you don’t get that internship in the summer between junior and senior year, you’re never going to get on the ladder of employment in that industry. Kids know that. We were already worried about all these things before. People have been reminded of the fragility of their economic prospects and the fragility of their hopes.” Read the full story.

Structural Racism and COVID-19: The Political Divide, Re-Opening the Society, and Health Impacts on People of Color

Recorded on June 26, this panel — presented as part of the Berkeley Conversations — featured john powell, Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, Cristina Mora, Co-Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies, and Mahasin Mujahid, Epidemiologist, School of Public Health — exploring the impact of a polarized society on COVID19, especially for vulnerable populations. Mora shared data that revealed significant differences of opinion among Californians from different racial backgrounds and political leanings over questions about the threats posed by COVID-19. “In some analyses, we found that even the most liberal whites expressed less concern about COVID-19 than some of our most conservative Black and Latinx respondents,” she said. Watch the video of the panel here.

The Covid Crisis in Historical Perspective and Related Issues in International Finance

Barry Eichengreen, George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Economics and Political Science at UC Berkeley, was interviewed by scholars from Economia PUC-Rio (the Department of Economics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro) about how the current pandemic (and resulting economic crisis) compare to past crises. “This crisis is fundamentally different from financial crises past, and in the most part fundamentally different from other economic crises past,” Eichengreen said. “People like to compare this crisis with the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic, which was global to be sure, but also was very different from what we’re going through now. That pandemic started in the midst of World War I, where governments had already ramped up public spending and were on the verge of ramping it back down. That pandemic occurred in a much less urban, industrial world than today, so it spread in urban centers like this pandemic is spreading in urban centers. But economies were less urban then than they are now. Its incidence was different in terms of hitting young people the hardest, rather than older people. All of these comparisons are highly imperfect, highly incomplete, and potentially misleading.”

Why the US has so many Filipino nurses

Catherine Ceniza Choy, Professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley and author of Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History, was featured in a video about “the push and pull factors and the history that led to the large presence of Filipino nurses in the US.” The accompanying article, by Christina Thornell, notes that “Filipino nurses have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in the US. And that’s because they make up an outsize portion of the nursing workforce. About one-third of all foreign-born nurses in the US are Filipino; it’s been a growing phenomenon for the past 50 years. Since 1960, 150,000 Filipino nurses have come to work in the US. It began with the US colonization of the Philippines under the guise of “benevolent assimilation” and has increased due to a series of US immigration policies. It has resulted in a pipeline that allows the US to draw nurses from the Philippines every time it faces a shortage. But there are factors pushing nurses out of the Philippines too. Check out the video to learn about the push and pull factors and the history that led to the large presence of Filipino nurses in the US.” Professor Ceniza Choy led a Matrix Research Team entitled “Migration, Racialization, and Gender: Comparing Filipino Migration in France and the United States.”

The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Workers in California: An Overview of Research to Date

At the federal, state, and local levels, expansive new policy is being developed and implemented to address the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating effects on workers, businesses, and the economy generally. The UC Berkeley Labor Center is working to provide research on how California specifically is experiencing the pandemic; analysis of what these new policies offer the state’s workers and businesses (and what is still needed); and curated lists of resources, information, and tools for workers and their advocates. Among the findings: more than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment to date; the CA unemployment rate increased from 5.5% in February to 15.5% in April; just under 29% of California’s workers (including those who are self-employed) have now filed for unemployment insurance; and over 5.5 million initial claims were filed in the eleven weeks between March 15th and May 30thVisit this page for more information, or download a PDF of the synthesis report.

Labor Market Impacts of COVID-19 on Hourly Workers in Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses: Homebase Data Through May 23

In their latest update, researchers at UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE), the California Policy Lab, Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at Chicago Booth, and the University of Chicago Poverty Lab provided an up-to-date picture of COVID-19’s labor market impact. They are taking advantage of granular data on exact hours worked among employees of firms that use the Homebase scheduling software. Reflecting data through May 23, they found that thirty percent of firms from the baseline sample remain shutdown, down from a high of 45 percent in the beginning of April. Of the firms that ever have shutdown, nearly half (44%) had reopened and remained open. Visit the IRLE’s COVID-19 research and resources page for updates.

Rage Against the Pandemic

In an opinion piece published in Project Syndicate, Barry Eichengreen, Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley and a former senior policy adviser at the International Monetary Fund, argues that the protests following the death of George Floyd stemmed in part from the race-based inequality exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “While it has been widely noted that the social turmoil unfolding in the wake of Floyd’s death may worsen the already-acute COVID-19 crisis, the connection running in the other direction — from the pandemic to the demonstrations — has received far less attention,” Eichengreen wrote. “Without diminishing for a moment the horror of Floyd’s death, the question is: why now?…. It is not incidental that African-Americans work disproportionately in the service sector, where employment has been decimated. It is not incidental that the share of the nonelderly US population lacking health insurance is 1.5 times higher among blacks than among whites. And it is not incidental that the COVID-19 mortality rate is 2.4 times as high among black Americans as white Americans. Even without more images of police brutality, the situation facing many African-Americans, disproportionately affected by the pandemic, was already approaching the unbearable. That is because of America’s threadbare social safety net.” Read Eichengreen’s piece here.

Modi’s Performance and the Tragedy of India’s Poor

Writing for Project Syndicate, Pranab Bardhan, Professor of Graduate School at the UC Berkeley Department of Economics — and author, most recently, of Globalization, Democracy and Corruption: An Indian Perspective — argues that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi must do more to support the nation’s poor. “By imposing one of the world’s harshest COVID-19 lockdowns before preparing adequately or consulting with lower levels of government, Modi has inflicted unprecedented damage on India’s economy and on the poor, who live hand-to-mouth at the best of times,” Bardhan wrote. “In general, the government’s response has largely excluded hundreds of millions of daily wage laborers and urban workers. A substantial increase in cash assistance to all these people — with or without bank accounts — would have gone a long way toward boosting aggregate demand. Likewise, the government could have done more to discourage major non-farm employers from shedding their workforce, such as by offering a significant wage subsidy for workers on their payrolls (as many other countries, both rich and poor, have done). The Modi government has also ignored the pressing need for a large-scale transfer of central funds to near-bankrupt state governments…. Given that India, a country of extreme wealth inequality, taxes neither wealth nor inheritance, and under-taxes capital gains and real property, plenty of untapped revenue sources are available. A “corona levy” toward an overhaul of the country’s public-health system would also be timely. Needless to say, vested interests will vehemently oppose any new taxes. But there is no better time than a crisis to overcome such resistance.”

In a separate article for the blog 3 Quarks Daily, “Universal Basic Income in Post-Pandemic Poor Countries,” Professor Bardhan weighs the pros and cons of implementing universal basic income (UBI) programs as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. “Over the last decade and a half the world has been subject to many traumatic events—the financial crisis, stringent austerity policies, deep slump in many economies, large-scale job losses, technological disruptions, creeping authoritarianism and ethno-nationalist excesses, increasing incidence of natural disasters (probably attributable to the on-going climate change), agro-ecological distress, mass dislocations, and a whole sequence of epidemics, the coronavirus being the latest. All of this has dangerously exposed the fragility and insecurity of the lives and livelihoods of billions of ordinary people. This has been particularly acute in developing countries, where numerous people live a hand-to-mouth existence even in the best of times, with very little in the form of social insurance. A universal basic income supplement can provide some minimum economic security in those countries, which even under the pressing fiscal constraints may not be unaffordable.” Read the post here.

The effect of large-scale anti-contagion policies on the COVID-19 pandemic

According to a new research paper published in Nature by UC Berkeley researchers, anti-contagion policies like closing schools and enforcing shelter-in-place restrictions have “signifcantly and substantially slowed” the growth of the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by Solomon Hsiang, Chancellor’s Professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy and Director of the Global Policy Lab, a global team of scholars compiled data on “1,717 local, regional, and national non-pharmaceutical interventions deployed in the ongoing pandemic across localities in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the United States.” They then applied “reduced-form econometric methods, commonly used to measure the efect of policies on economic growth, to empirically evaluate the efect that these anti-contagion policies have had on the growth rate of infections…. We estimate that across these six countries, interventions prevented or delayed on the order of 62 million confrmed cases, corresponding to averting roughly 530 million total infections. These fndings may help inform whether or when these policies should be deployed, intensifed, or lifted, and they can support decision-making in the other 180+ countries where COVID-19 has been reported.” A write-up about the research by Berkeley News reporter Edward Lempinen can be found here.

COVID-19 Has Hit African Americans the Hardest. Here’s Why.

African Americans are nearly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as would be expected based on their share of the population. To understand why, Brandon Patterson, writing for California magazine, a publication for UC Berkeley alumni, interviewed Tina Sacks, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare whose research focuses on poverty, inequality, and racial inequities in health. “The United States is built around structural inequality,” Sacks said. “Those things play out in terms of what’s happening with COVID because black people don’t have as many buffers. Black people are not concentrated in jobs in which they can work from home. They’re also more likely to be in jobs that don’t have paid sick leave. They’re in public-facing jobs that bring them in contact with the public all the time like postal workers or a conductor on BART. That’s one big factor. There are [also] other factors related to health. Black people have been systematically denied medical treatment for hundreds of years. They receive substandard medical treatment. Consequently, black people are much more likely to suffer from chronic health problems that make them more susceptible to COVID and dying from COVID. The conditions in which black people live and work are harmful to our health. Black people are much more likely to live in segregated communities that are fundamentally separate and unequal. They do not have the same institutional anchors that even lower income white communities have in terms of grocery stores, having some place to exercise, and fresh air. So black people’s health is really compromised at every level—and not to mention the psychic trauma that black people endure all the time in terms of police violence and day-to-day exposure to racism. The reasons are numerous but they’re really essentially the same across the country.” Read the full interview here.

Where’d The Money Go, And Other Questions

Martha Olney, a Teaching Professor in Berkeley’s Economics Department, was interviewed by Darian Woods, of NPR’s “Planet Money,” for a segment focused on “where the money actually goes when the economy crashes.” Olney provided an explanation of the difference between wealth and income. “Part of the question comes from using the word money to mean more than one thing…. In the pandemic, what’s gone is income. In a normal time, one person will spend money, and that becomes the income of the next person, and their spending becomes the income of the next person. And so we have this flow of funds through the economy, and that’s what generates income for a person…. The money didn’t disappear. The $20 bills still exist in that sense. What doesn’t exist anymore is the income that we would have received in March and April and into May as a result of other people buying the things that we produce…. Our wealth is the value of the assets that we own. And so the gold bar in the vault is an asset that we own…. The physical wealth is still there. So the garage is still there. The tools are still there. My computer is still here. And my office, I believe, is still there, although we haven’t been allowed on campus for two months. And so those things still exist, and they still have value.” Listen to the full interview here.

Jobs Numbers across Countries since COVID-19

UC Berkeley economists Jesse Rothstein and Danny Yagan, together with Martha Gimbel, of Schmidt Futures, released research on how the U.S. labor market compares with others during the pandemic. The study “compiles and compares official jobs numbers from seven major countries through April 2020. Post-COVID job losses have varied dramatically across countries. The United States experienced the largest January-to-April rise in unemployment and along with Canada lost over 15% of employment,  amounting to 25 million newly jobless U.S. individuals. Germany, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Israel lost only 0.7%-4.4% of employment – equivalent to 18-24 million fewer jobless individuals on  America’s population base. Germany and Japan each lost only 0.9% of employment as millions of their workers received assistance while working reduced hours under previously established ‘short-time’ work systems. In contrast, employers in the United States and Canada eliminated jobs altogether as the virus spread. South Korea and Australia share strong travel ties with China but contained their outbreaks quickly, experiencing respective employment declines of only 3.6% and 4.4%. Hence, job losses have been lowest in countries that either contained the virus early or had robust systems for subsidizing jobs at reduced hours.” Read the paper here.

UC Berkeley study finds homeless youth in need of support

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health released a report this month revealing that providers for youth experiencing homelessness should be supported in order to adequately care for those who are unable to shelter in place. The report, titled “On the COVID-19 Front Line and Hurting,” discusses the needs of providers for youth experiencing homelessness in the East Bay as well as of the youth themselves. As reported by Luis Cobian in the Daily Californian, the report was the result of a collaboration between the UC Berkeley Catalyst Group to End Youth Homelessness, sponsored by Innovations for Youth, or i4Y, and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health COVID-19 Community Action Team. ‘Both in Alameda County and in Berkeley, youth homelessness is vastly, disproportionately, African American,’ said Coco Auerswald, UC Berkeley professor and principal investigator of the study, who has been researching youth homelessness for almost 25 years. ‘And that’s in Berkeley, which is by no means a predominantly African American community.’ According to her research, Berkeley’s population is approximately 8% African American, yet 75% of minors who were getting services for homelessness in Berkeley were Black. The report found that what is most needed for youth experiencing homelessness are clean and sanitary public restrooms, shower and laundry facilities, easy access to masks and packaged food, decriminalization of homelessness and access to information and services that can help them shelter in place the best they can. It also found that, to support youth experiencing homelessness, the providers for the youth must also be given funding for disinfectant and hygienic supplies, personal protective equipment including masks, mental health support, hazard pay and on-demand COVID-19 testing for both the youth and providers, regardless of symptoms.” Read the Daily Cal article here. Read the full report, “On the COVID-19 Front Line and Hurting.”

The White House’s favored recovery strategy could permanently scar the economy

UC Berkeley’s Jesse Rothstein, professor of public policy and economics, together with Jared Bernstein, chief economist to former vice president Joe Biden, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that the federal government should continue to provide stimulus to the economy after the Cares Act is phased out to avoid “scarring effects,” the ongoing damage resulting from economic downturns. “Research has found that even short-lived recessions cause lasting damage to both labor and product markets,” Rothstein and Bernstein wrote. “Workers who are displaced or unable to find jobs at the beginning of their careers are slowed in their progress. It takes them many years to make up lost ground, and they have lower employment and earnings in the meantime, even if the overall economy has recovered….The imperative to avoid scarring also elevates the need to both preserve businesses through virus-induced shutdowns and create fertile ground for start-ups on the other side. Congress has legislated business-preservation programs, but they’ve focused too much on payroll maintenance and too little on helping firms avoid bankruptcy through meeting their non-labor costs. Many European countries have done both — simultaneously ensuring payroll and preventing bankruptcy. Based on our analysis, this should pave the way for quicker recoveries in those countries. It’s not too late to emulate their approach, and a group of Senate Democrats recently introduced a smart, efficient plan designed to equally support workers and businesses as they gradually reopen.” Read the op-ed here.

COVID-19 in the global south: economic impacts and recovery

On June 10, the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) will sponsor a panel featuring four experts from the CEGA research community to discuss ongoing and completed research that sheds light on the economic toll of the pandemic, as well as the optimal design and targeting of cash transfer programs. Panelists include: Ted Miguel, Oxfam Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics in the Department of Economics at UC Berkeley and Faculty co-Director of the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), who will present new evidence from Kenya demonstrating the economic toll of COVID on poor households; Supreet Kaur, Assistant Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley and CEGA affiliate, who will share research on the impacts and legacy of scarcity and economic shocks in India, with implications for other countries; Paul Niehaus, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of California, San Diego, who will explain GiveDirectly’s tested social safety net model (unconditional cash transfers), reviewing evidence from Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda; and Josh Blumenstock, Assistant Professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information and Director of the Data-Intensive Development Lab, who will discuss the potential to use machine learning approaches and nontraditional data sources (including mobile phone records) to quickly and effectively target the delivery of social safety net programs. Carson Christiano, CEGA Executive Director, will moderate the panel. Watch here.

COVID-19: California poll findings and what they mean for our future

On May 27, as part of the Berkeley Conversations series, researchers from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) and the California Initiative for Health Equity & Action (Cal-IHEA) discussed the findings of a recent poll on Californians’ opinions and attitudes related to COVID-19. IGS Co-Directors Cristina Mora and Eric Schickler and Cal-IHEA Director Hector Rodriguez delved into the significance and meaning of the data, and what it might portend for California and the nation in the current context of political polarization and racial inequality. The results point to a wide range of potential political and societal impacts arising from our still-unfolding responses to the pandemic. “One of the biggest trends that stuck out was the racial and class differences we found across the board,” Mora said. “Going into the poll we knew that COVID would exacerbate the racial and class inequality, but we didn’t know how much and in what ways this would be the case…. The results were quite stark. On the one hand, Latinos, Asians, and blacks were all much more likely to say that COVID was a serious threat to their health — much more likely than whites to say that, for example. The perceived threat was already there. But we also found that racial minorities were also more in situations that were more likely to be exposed to COVID. There’s a 20 point difference between whites and Latinos in terms of who is able to work from home safely.” Watch the full conversation here. (Note the video begins around 12:48.)

COVID at Home: Gender, Class and the Domestic Economy

In a discussion coordinated by the Institute for South Asia Studies, Raka Ray, Professor of Sociology and South & Southeast Asia Studies and Dean of the UC Berkeley Division of Social Sciences, engaged in conversation with Amita Baviskar, Head of the Department of Environmental Studies and Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology & Anthropology at Ashoka University, about the impact of COVID on households in India. “Whether it be called lockdown, as in India, or sheltering in place, as in California, the home has assumed particular significance, for it is to this space that we are all confined,” Ray said. “For those of us who have jobs and can work from home, the boundaries between home and work are blurred…. And for those of us who no longer have jobs, home takes on an entirely different meaning as well. And so we want to talk about the effect of COVID on the place that we call home. Home as we know it is not just a place of safety and refuge for us to nurture our families and be nurtured by our families. For many, home is a place of labor. Paid and unpaid, it is a place of pain and it is a place where inequalities are reproduced and produced.” Watch the full conversation here.

California Voters Strongly Divided About President Trump’s Attribution of COVID-19 to China

Between April 16 and 20, 2020,the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) and the California Initiative for Health Equity & Action (Cal-IHEA), polled 8,800 registered voters about the racialized language President Trump uses when referring to COVID-19. Overall, Californians who approve of the President are not only more likely to blame the Chinese government for the pandemic and shortage of medical supplies but they are also more likely to agree with calling the coronavirus the ‘China virus’.  When asked whether it is acceptable for President Trump to refer to COVID-19 as the ‘China virus,’ the ‘Chinese virus,’ or the ‘Wuhan virus’, only 29% of California voters endorse the use of these terms.  Of voters who disapprove or strongly disapprove of the President, only 8% believe that his use of these terms is acceptable, compared to 76% of voters who approve or strongly approve ofthe President.  As the coronavirus has spread across the U.S., a surge in anti-Asian rhetoric and hate crimes has occurred. Asians have historically been blamed for being disease carriers. According to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center, this led to over 1,500 reported coronavirus-related racist incidents against Asians in one month since the group began tracking cases in March. Read more about the poll.

What Black America Knows About Quarantine

Brandi T. Summers, assistant professor of geography and global metropolitan studies at UC Berkeley — and author of Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City — published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that black Americans have long been “trapped in place,” whether by remote, uninhabitable housing projects or constant policy surveillance. “Under the quarantine, much has been made of Americans’ regulated lack of mobility,” Summers wrote. “But our cities have long kept their black residents contained and at the margins…. One might even consider the black experience as a kind of never-ending quarantine — and indeed Jim Crow laws that grew partly out of concerns that black people spread ‘contagion,’ like tuberculosis and malaria, affirmed as much…. We can fight for opening our cities — politically, economically and racially — with the same energy they are putting toward opening our streets. We must create solutions that benefit the masses, not a select few. A true end to quarantine demands ending the quarantining city. It may not be the best we can do, but it’s the least we can ask.” Read the op-ed here.

Nordics and COVID-19: Public health, economic and public policy responses

Nordic countries are regularly cited as exemplars of healthy and resilient societies. A Berkeley Conversations discussion sponsored by the UC Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business, the UC Berkeley Department of Scandinavian, the Institute of European Studies, the Peder Sather Center, and Nordic Talks at Berkeley will focus on comparing and contrasting the Nordic public health, economic, and public policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the responses by Denmark and Sweden, and consider learnings that may be drawn by the U.S. Hosted by Dr. Laura Tyson, Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, the event will feature Dr. Robert Strand, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business and leading expert on Nordic sustainable business and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Dr. Ann Keller, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management and leading expert on pandemic responses. Watch the conversation here.

How COVID-19 will shape the 2020 election

A recent panel convened as part of the Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19 brought together experts in political science, public policy, cybersecurity, and law to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the November 2020 election. Presented by Berkeley Public Affairs, the discussion focused on an array of issues, from presidential approval ratings, the Constitution, election law, unemployment rates to the security of digital voting, the scholars concluded it was still too uncertain to draw any sweeping conclusions. Except that November 2020 will be an election without precedent. “The Trump administration has decided to make an enormous policy and political bet, and the bet is that they can re-open the economy, and the economy will come back in time for the election, and that COVID-19 won’t re-erupt in a way that will either stifle those efforts or kill lots of people,” said Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy when asked to sum up the next six months. Others, like Bertrall Ross, a professor at Berkeley Law, wondered how the threat of contracting COVID-19 would affect voter turnout, especially among black and Latinx voters who are at higher risk of serious complications if they contract the virus. Philip Stark, a professor of statistics and an expert in election security, wondered if there would be “convincing evidence that the reported winners actually won. Or, are we going to have to take it on faith?” Sarah Anzia, a professor of politics and public policy, noted that there is some hope amid the uncertainty: An messy election could open the door for election law reform, including increased use of vote-by-mail ballots. But on balance, the group said, there is still much to figure out. “Will we be able to hold an election in November that will maximize the ability of people to vote consistent with public health?” asked Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law. “I don’t think we know right now.” View the video on the Berkeley Conversations website.

The underlying condition weakening coronavirus-stricken California

An editorial by the San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board drew upon research from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation to highlight how California’s housing crisis is worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent study, the Terner Center estimated that more than a quarter-million tenant households in the San Francisco-Oakland area depend on industries hurt by the pandemic, and their median rent amounts to more than 80% of the minimum unemployment benefits they can expect under Congress’ stimulus legislation. “The trouble with letting a crisis linger is that a new one inevitably arrives,” the Chronicle Editorial Board wrote. “California’s leaders have finally waited long enough: The state’s housing shortage has been joined by another disaster, one that compounds and complicates the consequences of the first. The coronavirus pandemic and the strict distancing measures imposed in response administered a financial shock to a state already weakened by housing scarcity. The pathogen arrived to find more than 150,000 of the most vulnerable among us in shelters, tents and doorways, rendering them that much more susceptible to infection and worse. The state’s economy and revenues, for all their strength, have been constrained by the crisis, leaving our government and society less able to sustain the blow. And the opportunity to clean up the mess in good times has finally elapsed, forcing a scramble to manage both crises simultaneously.” Read the full San Francisco Chronicle editorial here.

Broad Support for Farmworker Protections in COVID-19 Context

UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) has released a poll showing broad public support for protecting farmworkers and providing access to paid sick leave, medical benefits, and full replacement wages if they fall sick with COVID-19.  However, these views vary by region, partisanship, trust in the federal government, and attitudes toward immigrants. Between April 16 and 20, 2020 the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) and California Initiative for Health Equity & Action (Cal-IHEA), polled 8,800 registered voters about COVID-19. While the majority of employed Californians can work from home, farmworkers continue to work to maintain the country’s food supply during a period of critical need. California farmworkers harvest over a third of U.S. vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts. However, they remain economically and medically vulnerable to repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters in the Central Valley, however, are less likely to support protections for farmworkers despite being the most productive agricultural region of the state and most dependent on farmworkers for their local economy. A quarter of Central Valley voters (25.2%) opposed employer provision of equitable medical and paid sick leave to all farmworkers, regardless of their legal status, if they fall sick with COVID-19, compared to 12.5% of San Francisco Bay Area and 10.4% of Los Angeles County voters. Read the full press release here.

In an op-ed written for The Guardian, Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and now Carmel P. Friesen Professor of Public Policy in the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy (and author of the new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It), examined some of the structural issues that have made the U.S. particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. He points to the nation’s failure to provide universal healthcare or basic sick leave, its weak unemployment system, and its widespread unsafe working conditions. “With 4.25% of the world population, America has the tragic distinction of accounting for about 30% of pandemic deaths so far. And it is the only advanced nation where the death rate is still climbing,” Reich wrote. “So who and what’s to blame for the worst avoidable loss of life in American history? Partly, Donald Trump’s malfeasance. But the calamity is also due to America’s longer-term failure to provide its people the basic support they need.” Read the piece here.

Raids on Immigrant Communities During the Pandemic Threaten the Country’s Public Health

In an editorial published by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), Miriam Magaña Lopez, a research and policy analyst with the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, and Seth M. Holmes, Associate Professor and Chair of Society and Environment and Medical Anthropology at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, argued that the ongoing raids of immigrant communities by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have harmful impacts on public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Far from promoting public health and safety, these raids, detentions, and deportations contravene public health recommendations and threaten to worsen the pandemic in the United States and beyond on several important levels—leading to avoidable exposures, infections, and deaths,” the researchers wrote. “ICE raids produce skepticism of public health recommendations and institutions. Trust is broken when local, state, and federal governments order everyone to stay home and avoid all activities unless essential to survival while simultaneously continuing to raid immigrant and minoritized communities, separate families, and detain and deport individuals. Experiences of raids at any time produce increased stress at the community level, thereby worsening health outcomes, as well as distrust of public health institutions, leading to decreased utilization of important health services for prevention and treatment. During this pandemic, it is likely that these raids will lead community members to avoid necessary treatment if experiencing symptoms of COVID19.” Read the full editorial here.

Not Under Lockdown: Sweden’s Singular Response to COVID-19

On May 13 at 12pm, the Institute of European Studies will present a virtual discussion on the how Sweden has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some European countries opted immediately for a lockdown policy to prevent the virus from spreading, others — such as the Netherlands and the UK — soon abandoned earlier plans to fight the disease with a herd immunity strategy before implementing their own lockdowns. Only one European country, Sweden, chose a different path. While the Swedish government did impose a series of limitations, it did not decide to place the nation under total lockdown. In doing so, it followed the recommendation of its most eminent virologist, Anders Tegnell. In this discussion, Ludvig Norman, Associate Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Stockholm University and Senior Fellow at the UC Berkeley Institute of European Studies, will discuss life in Sweden under COVID-19 and offer some thoughts on how the strategy has been legitimized politically and why Swedes place such high faith in their Public Health Agency. Participants will have a chance to engage in the conversation with questions for Dr. Norman. The conversation will be moderated by IES Director Jeroen Dewulf and Associate Director Akasemi Newsome. This virtual event will be held on Zoom. Register here.

Californians’ Views Towards President Trump Shape COVID-19 Attitudes

Californians’ views towards President Trump are a powerful predictor of their attitudes towards COVID-19, according to a recent poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies. “Californians who either strongly approve or disapprove of the way that President Trump is handling his job have dramatically different opinions on the risks posed by COVID-19 to themselves and their neighbors, and on the usefulness of social distancing and other policies to limit its spread,” IGS announced in a press release. “Where supporters fall on the question of Trump’s performance is connected to how concerned they are about the pandemic. Among all respondents, 48% say that they are very concerned that they will spread the virus to others. However just 24% of strong Trump supporters are very concerned about this as compared to 58% of strong Trump disapprovers. Nearly half of strong Trump supporters are not concerned about spreading the virus, while only 13% of those who strongly disapprove of Trump are not concerned. ‘That Trump supporters are much less likely to believe in the efficacy of practices, such as social distancing, and are generally much less worried about contracting COVID-19, denotes just how powerfully politics can shape understandings of health and safety,’ said IGS Co-Director Professor Cristina Mora.”

How COVID-19 will shape the 2020 election

An upcoming Berkeley Conversations panel, sponsored by the Goldman School of Public Policy, will examine the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had (and will continue to have) on the 2020 presidential election. “In the months ahead, it will shape every facet of the contest: the issues, the mechanics of campaigns, how candidates engage the voters, and ultimately, how we cast our ballots. A panel of Berkeley political scientists and election experts will discuss election law and security, voter participation, and how COVID-19 may permanently change how America votes.” Watch the video panel here on Friday, May 8 from 12pm-1pm PDT.

Bangladesh’s garment industry unravelling

Sanchita Banerjee Saxena, Executive Director of the Institute for South Asia Studies at UC Berkeley and Director of the Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies, published an article on East Asia Forum’s website highlighting the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on Bangladesh’s garment industry. Saxena is the editor of Labor, Global Supply Chains, and the Garment Industry in South Asia: Bangladesh after Rana Plaza (Routledge, 2020), and in her piece, she highlights how reforms intended to improve working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry have failed to lift wages for workers. “During this time of global upheaval, brands have used their unequal power positions with suppliers to justify cancelling or postponing orders and refusing to pay for orders that suppliers have already produced and materials that have already been procured, despite having a contractual obligation to do so,” Saxena writes. “Brands have benefited from cheap labour from Bangladesh for decades but do not feel obliged to take care of those at the bottom of their supply chains. As a result, tens of thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh may die, not from COVID-19, but from starvation.” Read the full piece here.

Berkeley Interpersonal Contact Study

To measure the effectiveness of social distancing measures in reducing face-to-face contact in the United States, Dennis Feehan and Ayesha Mahmud, Assistant Professors in the UC Berkeley Department of Demography, launched the Berkeley Interpersonal Contact Study (BICS), with seed funding from the Berkeley Population Center. “By the start of April 2020, the majority of people living in the United States were under orders to dramatically restrict their daily activities in order to reduce transmission of the virus that can  cause COVID-19,” Feehan and Mahmud wrote in the abstract to a paper presenting their initial findings. “These strong social distancing measures will be effective in controlling the spread of the virus only if they are able to reduce the amount of close interpersonal contact in a population. It is therefore crucial for researchers and policymakers to empirically measure the extent to which these policies have actually reduced interpersonal interaction. We created the Berkeley Interpersonal Contact Study (BICS) to help achieve this goal.” Social Science Matrix interviewed the scholars about the paper here.

Urban slums are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19. Here’s how to help

Residents of the world’s slums are highly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, and governments should do more to step in, argues a new report published April 24 in the Journal of Urban Health. As reported by Berkeley News’ Kara Manke, “The report, authored by a team of public health experts and epidemiologists working in collaboration with community leaders and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from urban slums around the world, provides eight urgent recommendations for reducing the impact of COVID-19 on people living in poverty. These recommendations are crucial not just for people living in urban slums in the global south, but for other vulnerable populations, such as migrant farm workers and those living in refugee camps and homeless encampments and on Native American reservations in the United States, the authors say. Early evidence now suggests that the coronavirus is disproportionately affecting black Americans in some U.S. cities, possibly due to similar structural factors, such as the inability to take time off of work. ‘The political and economic shocks and instability that are happening now and are likely to follow from this epidemic will likely kill more and lead to more disability in this population than the coronavirus itself,’ said Jason Corburn, a professor of public health and of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the paper. ‘We felt we needed a strategy that recognized the unique needs of the urban poor at the front.'” Read the full story here.

Climate Change and COVID-19: Can this crisis shift the paradigm?

On April 27, the Rausser College of Natural Resources will present the latest “Campus Conversation” with a panel featuring four scholars discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to affect climate change. “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy is skidding into recession. Reduced consumption and transportation also mean reduced CO2 emissions. From India to China to the United States, skies are blue and the air is cleaner and healthier in cities than it has been for years. The pandemic has caused seismic shifts in how we produce and consume goods and could open a path to a more sustainable future. Or, government bailouts and investments could double down on the fossil fuel economy, and set back efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change. This conversation will feature Berkeley researchers discussing the science and policy behind CO2 emissions and opportunities for a different path forward.” Panelists include David Ackerly, Dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources; Daniel Kammen, Professor and Chair of the Energy Resources Group and Professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy and the Department of Nuclear Engineering; Kate O’Neill, Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management; and Valeri Vasquez, a PhD candidate with a designated emphasis in Computational Data Science and Engineering in the Energy and Resources Group under the Rausser College of Natural Resources.

Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19: Mental health and well-being for ourselves and our children

As part of the Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19 live webcasts, UC Berkeley psychologists Dacher KeltnerSonia Bishop and Frank Worrell offered advice on how to tackle COVID-19 stress. “The intense social isolation, stress and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is shaping up to be its own mental health pandemic,” wrote Berkeley News reporter Yasmin Anwar in a write-up about the panel. “Already, spikes in post-traumatic stress disorder are being documented among vulnerable populations, health workers and other front-line personnel. ‘Before there were stay-at-home orders, quite a lot of people were not necessarily feeling that anxious — maybe not taking it that seriously,’ said Bishop, an associate professor of psychology and an expert on the cognitive neuroscience of anxiety. But now, she added, ‘many more people are seeing people who are like them, and are getting ill,” and she mentioned recent surveys showing that six out of 10 adults are reporting anxiety.'” Watch the video and read the write-up here.

Industries at Direct Risk of Job Loss from COVID-19 in California: A Profile of Front-Line Job and Worker Characteristics

In a blog posted by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, Sarah Thomason (research and policy coordinator at the Labor Center), Annette Bernhardt (director of the Labor Center’s Low-Wage Work Program), and Nari Rhee (Director of the Retirement Security Program) wrote about potential differences in the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on California’s workers, focusing on major industries that are at highest risk of job losses or hours reduction stemming from social distancing and public health directives. “Because of time lags in the gathering of government data, we do not yet have enough data on current job losses in California by industry,” they wrote. “However, the major impact sectors are already evident, such as restaurants, hotels, and retail…. Here, we profile these industries in terms of the prevalence of low-wage work and demographic characteristics of the workforce, focusing on front-line occupations that are likely to be the first to experience hours reductions or outright job loss.” Among their findings: 31 percent of the state’s low-wage workers are employed in major industries at risk of job loss from the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to only 12 percent of middle- and higher-wage workers. Read the article here.

COVID-19 is blind to legal status, but can disproportionately hurt immigrants

In an article on the Social Science Matrix website, Irene Bloemraad, Class of 1951 Professor of Sociology and founding director of the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative (BIMI), and Dr. Jasmijn Slootjes, BIMI’s Executive Director, argue that more support services are necessary for immigrants, who are particularly vulnerable to exposure to the coronavirus and face a variety of barriers to access to healthcare. “The bottom line is that everyone needs to be protected, physically, mentally, and economically, regardless of where they are born or their immigration status,” they write. “If immigrants are more likely to be infected by the coronavirus, yet they delay or avoid medical care, or if they feel forced to keep working because they are not protected by government programs, this will extend and deepen the public health crisis for everyone. We can take many steps, big and small, to tackle these challenges.”

BIMI’s Mapping Spatial Inequality project is the first comprehensive immigrant services database in the Bay Area, and provides an overview of legal and health services in the nine-county Bay Area, which provides immigrants, policy makers, and community advocates with information on health and legal resources that serve immigrants in the Bay Area.

How can African governments persuade citizens to follow coronavirus guidelines?

Writing for the Washington Post‘s “Monkey Cage,” Allison Namias Grossman, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley, drew upon her research with Leo Arriola, Associate Professor of Political Science, to argue that public health messaging should be localized to be more effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in Africa. “My research with Professor Leo Arriola in the West African country of Guinea suggests that governments and their international partners may gain higher levels of compliance if they tailor the messenger of those guidelines,” Namias Grossman wrote. “Specifically, this research finds that members of politically marginalized groups are more likely to comply if they hear health advisories coming from local — rather than national — political authorities. To contain infectious diseases, government informational campaigns often target ways to alter intimate practices such as sexual behavior (HIV/AIDS), burial customs (Ebola) — and now, for covid-19, emphasizing hand-washing and enforcing social distancing. But some communities in Guinea may be suspicious of government campaigns and motives, especially if they feel the government does not represent their community.” Read the Monkey Cage post here, or read Grossman and Arriola’s full findings in “Ethnic Marginalization and (Non)Compliance in Public Health Emergencies,” a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Politics.  in Public Health Emergencies

Student Futures and Life Under COVID-19

In a blog post on the Matrix website, Michael Watts — Acting Director of Social Science Matrix and Class of 1963 Professor of Geography and Co-Chair of Development Studies at UC Berkeley — explores how COVID-19 is likely to upend the work of PhD students, and argues that philanthropic institutions should step in to provide relief. He also considers new solutions that may be needed if student enrollment sharply declines in the fall. “This is a moment — early on in the economic and political lifecycle of COVID-19 — when foundations should think about a collective intervention that includes the establishment of a relief fund to ensure that ‘all but dissertation’ students (ABDs) and recent PhDs do not fall out of the system,” Watts writes. “The challenge is to turn what may become a large cohort of non-enrolled college students into a powerful social force for good, and for personal betterment, growth, and, yes, education. It might be an opportunity to road-test what some have suggested is the future of higher education: spending time on and off campus, in and outside of ‘the workforce.’ There are no easy answers to these questions — and the radical uncertainty of COVID-19 dynamics makes planning hazardous — but there is a conversation to be had in and outside of the academy — and urgently.” Read the full post.

Hand-washing in the Time of COVID-19

In the era of COVID-19, the public health directive to “wash your hands” is a challenge for people with limited access to clean water, writes Isha Ray, Professor in the UC Berkeley Energy Resources Group, Co-Director of the Berkeley Water Center, in an essay on the Social Science Matrix website. “I’ve been a water and sanitation researcher for 30 years, and these days I’m thinking about the prospects for hand-washing among the world’s poor as they confront COVID-19,” Ray writes. “Hand-washing is arguably even more important when people live shoulder-to-shoulder, near trash heaps and open drains…. But how do you adhere to these expectations if you have no access to piped water, or even if you are one of the lucky households with piped water, but from a communal tap that is only intermittently supplied?… In the current crisis, it is imperative for governments and donors to generously fund affordable, reliable, and accessible water services, here in the U.S. and in underserved regions around the world. These investments will protect global public health and help revive the global economy, and they must be made even where the users are low-income and require subsidies. Water for hand-washing is a public good, and public goods call for public investment.” Read the full post.

A post-coronavirus California will be dramatically different. Here’s what it could look like

How will schools have to be adapted to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission?  Janelle Scott, Professor at the University of California at Berkeley in the Graduate School of Education and African American Studies Department, was quoted in an L.A. Times article examining how life in California is likely to change following the COVID-19 pandemic. She commented on potential changes to K-12 education suggested by Governor Gavin Newsom, such as staggering students’ start times or reducing congregated meals. “It’s hard to make a campus virus-proof,” Scott said. “The ability of things to spread is just really not controllable…. You spend the first several years of school…sick all the time.”

UC Berkeley Group Builds Interactive COVID-19 Mapping Tool For Vulnerable Populations

A new online mapping tool from UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute is helping identify which California communities are most at risk from the novel coronavirus, reports CBS San Francisco. “The interactive tool features more than a dozen distinct data points — including COVID-19 infection and mortality rates — and overlays that information on a state map highlighting pollution levels by county or neighborhood…. This interplay between the virus, air pollution and chronic health conditions is expected to land more heavily on low-income populations and communities of color…. The map also allows users to look at specific counties or neighborhoods in order to track potential vulnerabilities, like what percentage of the population lives below the poverty line, has limited English skills, works in vulnerable jobs, is classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “socially vulnerable” and lives in overcrowded households, among other things.”

Webinar on Structural Competency in the Era of COVID-19

On April 15, a group of scholars focused on “structural competency” — identifying structural level determinants, biases, inequities, and blind spots that can shape definitions of health and illness among doctors and patients — will be holding an webinar for healthcare workers, activists, and scholars to discuss structural competency innovations and opportunities in the era of COVID-19. UC Berkeley’s Seth Holmes is one of the leaders of this initiative. The first session will focus on “Basic Needs and First Response.” RSVP here.

Generation C Has Nowhere to Turn

In an article entitled “Generation C has Nowhere to Turn,” Amanda Mull, a staff writer for The Atlantic, interviewed UC Berkeley’s Elena Conis, a historian of medicine and public health, about the economic impacts of past epidemics. Once people are let out into the world to rejoin their lives, the pandemic will continue to harm them for years to come. ‘Epidemics are really bad for economies,’ says Elena Conis, a historian of medicine and public health at UC Berkeley…. ‘We’re going to see a whole bunch of college graduates and people finishing graduate programs this summer who are going to really struggle to find work…. There are aspects of history that repeat themselves, but what’s more true is that every epidemic takes place in its own context. This is a unique viral agent and a unique social and cultural context, and economic context, too.'”

Labor Markets During the COVID-19 Crisis: A Preliminary View

UC Berkeley economics professor Yuriy Gorodnichenko has co-authored a working paper with Olivier Coibion (University of Texas at Austin) and Michael Weber (University of Chicago) detailing their research findings based on an analysis of survey data from the Nielsen Homescan panel to characterize how labor markets are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “First, job loss has been significantly larger than implied by new unemployment claims: we estimate 20 million lost jobs by April 8th, far more than jobs lost over the entire Great Recession,” the researchers wrote. “Second, many of those losing jobs are not actively looking to find new ones. As a result, we estimate the rise in the unemployment rate over the corresponding period to be surprisingly small, only about 2 percentage points. Third, participation in the labor force has declined by 7 percentage points, an unparalleled fall that dwarfs the three percentage point cumulative decline that occurred from 2008 to 2016. Early retirement almost fully explains the drop in labor force participation both for those survey participants previously employed and those previously looking for work.”

US food workers are in danger. That threatens all of us.

In an opinion column in The Guardian, Seth Holmes, Associate Professor and Chair of Society and Environment and Medical Anthropology at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, together with Vera L. Chang, a PhD student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, argue that the U.S. government must do more to protect our nation’s food and farm workers. “Though [food and farm workers’] designation as essential workers is apt, relief measures recognizing their importance haven’t been offered,” Holmes wrote. “Congress’s $2-trillion pandemic stimulus package specifically excludes food workers, leaving them without basic safety equipment like masks and hand sanitizer, benefits like healthcare and childcare, protections like physical distancing, and hazard pay. Food workers have also been left out of state aid…. As much of the country shelters in place to slow the spread of the virus, we put our lowest-paid workers at the frontlines of battle with no support. But the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers, 148,000 processing workers and other food chain workers are imperative to our economy, collective health and basic survival. They support the national interest. Danger to food workers is a danger for us all. And some of them are starting to die while working to feed us…. We have a responsibility to act decisively. Time is running out.” (Image: Heather Dill via Unsplash.)

A Billion People Live in Slums. Can They Survive the Virus?

A team of epidemiologists from UC Berkeley and UCSF wrote an op-ed published in the New York Times arguing that governments need to do more to protect the roughly billion people around the world who live in slums. The authors — Lee W. Riley, Professor at the School of Public Health, Robert Snyder, manager of the Center for Global Public Health’s Research and Education Program, and Eva Raphael, a clinical research fellow at UCSF — wrote that high levels of crowding, inadequate sanitation, and lack of medical services make the residents of slums particularly vulnerable. “The most important factor in enabling the spread of pandemics in slums is the neglect of these marginalized populations by governing elites,” they wrote. “There is little previous effort to prevent the spread of diseases. Access to tests for the coronavirus, for example, is extremely limited…. The world’s public health systems and governments must make sure that people who live in slums, homeless encampments and refugee camps are not forgotten. We must prepare to deal with the consequences of the pandemic — for all populations.” (Image: The Mathare Valley slum by Claudio Allia)

Berkeley Conversation: Economists and Public Policy Experts Weigh In

On April 10, a panel of prominent UC Berkeley economists and public policy experts discussed the economic consequences of sheltering-in-place, evaluated the Congressional response, and discussed strategies that could help to stabilize the economy, safeguard jobs, and protect society’s most vulnerable people. The discussion was presented as part of a new live, online video series, Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19, featuring Berkeley scholars from a range of disciplines. The panel included Henry Brady, Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy and Class of 1941 Monroe Deutsch Professor of Political Science and Public Policy; Ellora Derenoncourt, Incoming Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Policy, whose research focuses on labor market institutions, economic history, and inequality; Hilary Hoynes, Professor of Public Policy and Economics; Haas Distinguished Chair in Economic Disparities; and Co-Director of the Berkeley Opportunity Lab; Jesse Rothstein, Professor of Public Policy and Economics and Director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment; and Gabriel Zucman, Associate Professor of Economics and Director of the Stone Center on Wealth and Income Inequality. The panel was moderated by veteran journalist Dan Mogulof, who now serves as UC Berkeley’s assistant vice chancellor for executive communications. .

Racist harassment of Asian health care workers won’t cure coronavirus

In the wake of a surge in violent hate crimes against Asian Americans — including Asian physicans and nurses — due to xenophobic perceptions about COVID-19, UC Berkeley News interviewed Catherine Ceniza Choy, Professor of Ethnic Studies and author of Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History. In the interview, by Ivan Natividad, Ceniza Choy spoke about the history of such racism and the reasons xenophobia can halt attempts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. “This is a really important moment for all of us to learn more about Asian American history and ethnic studies, and how immigrants throughout the world have made such important contributions to our overall collective and global public health,” Ceniza Choy said. “The contributions of ethnic studies and Asian American studies also help to debunk these stereotypes associated with Asian bodies as disease carriers. These anti-Asian hate crimes related to the coronavirus don’t just hurt Asian Americans, they really hurt all Americans. So, in addition to washing our hands properly and practicing physical distancing, we can use this time to understand the reasons why racism is also a virus, and why we all have a stake in stopping that racism that leads to xenophobia and hate crimes.”

Video Interviews with Shachar Kariv, Sonia Bishop

Christian Gordon, Assistant Dean of Development in the UC Berkeley College of Letters & Science, has launched a series of video interviews with UC Berkeley social scientists about topics related to the Covid-19 pandemic. He interviewed Shachar Kariv, Benjamin N. Ward Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, about his research on the social preferences of medical professionals, why they are well-suited to respond to crisis, and what to expect regarding long term economic impacts. For the second video, Gordon interviewed Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience Sonia Bishop joins Assistant Dean of Development Christian Gordon to discuss the role anxiety plays, how to understand it in the age of COVID-19, and how we may manage it in an environment of prolonged stress.

Labor Market Impacts of COVID-19 on Hourly Workers in Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses: Four Facts from Homebase Data

Professor Jesse Rothstein was one of a group of co-authors — along with Alexander W. Bartik, Marianne Bertrand, Feng Lin, and Matt Unrath — who used data from Homebase, a widely used provider of scheduling and time clock software for small businesses, to assess the labor impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Published on the blog of the Chicago Booth Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, their research provides a glimpse into economic phenomena not yet visible through traditional measures. “COVID-19, and the policies enacted in response to the disease, have resulted in dramatic changes in many aspects of American society,” the researchers explained. “These changes have been particularly large in the labor market. It has been challenging to understand the magnitude of these changes because standard data sources become available only with a lag of several weeks – we will not receive data on employment and unemployment after shelter-in-place orders took effect until the first week of May…. We take advantage of granular data on exact hours worked among employees of firms that use the Homebase scheduling software to provide an up-to-date picture of the labor market impact of COVID-19. We measure how the impact varies across geography and industry, how it evolves in response to state and local social distancing guidelines and orders, and how concentrated it is among particular sets of workers.” This research was cited in a New York Times article on the federal response to the pandemic.

Pay now, Verify Later to Loosen the Unemployment Insurance Bottleneck

Together with Arindrajit Dube, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Jesse Rothstein, Professor of Public Policy and Economics at UC Berkeley, wrote a policy brief for Economics for Inclusive Prosperity proposing that unemployment offices loosen eligibility requirements to ensure all applicants receive benefits in a timely manner. “The coronavirus [unemployment] claims will create a backlog that could take weeks or even months to work through, at a time when we desperately need the benefits to go out quickly to sustain families,” they wrote. “Moreover, the relief bills currently under consideration in the House of Representatives and the Senate will deliver a large part of the aid through expansions of unemployment benefits, making it all the more important that the system handle claims quickly. The unemployment insurance processing system is not prepared for this hundred-year flood…. Desperate times call for desperate measures. There is a way to handle the spike in claims, get benefits out quickly, and ensure that public dollars are not wasted on invalid and inappropriate claims. Unemployment offices should presume that all applicants are eligible and prioritize paying claims without careful review. Then, when the initial wave is past and there is more breathing room, they should go back and review the claims, and, if necessary, collect overpayments.”

‘Social Distancing’ is more than standing 6 feet away

Kamala Russell, a PhD Candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Anthropology published an article for Medical Anthropology Quarterly arguing that “social distancing” — the suggestion that people maintain six feet of space between themselves and other people — is not as easy at it seems. “As a linguistic anthropologist who works on the ethical, affective, and communicative dynamics of intercorporeal space (the space between bodies) outside of disease contexts, I immediately thought of just how complicated this seemingly simple guideline is,” Russell wrote. “First, intercorporeal space is a highly complex and affectively laden site of social practice. Secondly, maneuvering in space depends on a moving body’s attunement to other moving bodies and surfaces in the environment: not static measurements.  These meanings and attunements are typically employed in managing social interactions: making, breaking, or modulating a communicative channel with someone. Social distancing then, requires more than just measuring six feet of distance, it requires actively ‘making space’ in ways that come into conflict with ingrained conventions regarding speaking to others.”

Close to the edge: Service workers and their children at the front lines of a crisis

Daniel Schneider, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley, together with Kristen Harknett, Associate Professor in the UCSF School of Nursing, Social & Behavioral Sciences, wrote an article for the William T. Grant Foundation drawing upon their past research through the Shift Project, which has collected survey data on scheduling practices and wellbeing from thousands of retail workers employed at large firms. “As the shock of the current health and economic crisis takes a heavy toll on millions of Americans employed in the service sector, we must remember that millions of children are also vulnerable to dire consequences,” they wrote. “Public policies and company actions that ameliorate the health and economic impact for these workers will also offer some protection to the 1 and 10 American children with a parent in the service sector. Social scientists have a vital role to play in charting the consequences of the pandemic for these children and illuminating policy potential levers to lessen their burden and ultimately improve their outcomes.”

Managing Stress and Finding Connection while Social Distancing

UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner has launched a video series to share science-based strategies to help people cope with the stress and uncertainty of COVID-19. “In touching every aspect of our lives, the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly disrupted our sense of well-being and produced uncertainty and anxiety,” announced a UC Berkeley press release. “How do we find resilience while remaining productive and caring family members, friends, professionals and citizens in these unprecedented times?” In the videos, Keltner, “who has studied stress, relationships and well-being for 25 years and is co-founder of the campus’s Greater Good Science Center, will share ideas and practices for cultivating resilience and connection as we face the challenges of the coming months. Drawing on insights from the center’s Science of Happiness online coursepodcast series and magazine, Keltner shares tips on how to manage stress and find meaningful connections while social distancing, completing each video with simple, science-tested practices useful for this moment in time.”

The ‘certified recovered’ from Covid-19 could lead the economic recovery

People who have developed immunity to the Covid-19 coronavirus could play a key role in jumpstarting the economy, argue Aaron Edlin, professor of economics and law at UC Berkeley (and currently a visiting scholar at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics) and Bryce Nesbitt, a co-founder of NextBus, a public transit information company, in an op-ed in STAT. “Someday soon there will be millions of people in the U.S. who have recovered from Covid-19,” they write. “The best evidence suggests that they can’t get infected again soon and won’t infect others by shedding the virus. That suggests a path to run essential services more safely and to reopen sectors of the economy faster than would otherwise be possible. New York, Washington, California, and other states with high caseloads should rush to set up credible, verifiable, and voluntary programs to identify individuals as “certified recovered” from Covid-19…. Creating a path for the certified recovered from Covid-19 reduces the tension between jump-starting the economy and letting the virus run rampant…. Now that fast antibody and viral tests have FDA approval, new testing will pick up speed. If certification piggybacks on such tests, the U.S. could create a substantial and vital new specialized labor force of the certified recovered in the short term.”

The Dangers of Moving All of Democracy Online

Marion FourcadeIn an op-ed in Wired, Marion Fourcade, Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley and a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study’s School of Social Science (and incoming Director of Social Science Matrix), together with Henry Farrell, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, argue that the coronavirus represents a threat to democracy, as it could pave the way for insufficiently secure online voting systems and new forms of surveillance. “Democratic politics is a mixture of mass involvement and endless meetings,” they wrote. “All this is hard when people can be infected with a potentially deadly virus if someone simply coughs nearby. The obvious answer might seem to be to move democracy to the internet, but some parts of democracy translate badly to an online world, while others are already being undermined by emergency powers (for example, Hungary’s parliament just passed a law that allows the prime minister to rule by decree) and by the rise of digital surveillance…. As we try to protect democracy from coronavirus, we must see technology as a scalpel, not a sledgehammer…Until we can secure digital voting systems, we shouldn’t use them…. And you shouldn’t just worry about the surveillance state. A fearful public might get all too accustomed to mobile tools to surveil themselves and each other. We have some idea how to protect democracy against a data-hungry state. If the risk comes from data-hungry citizens, we may not know where to start.”

In an op-ed in the New York Times, UC Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, authors of The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay, argue that Congress should respond more forcefully to address the economic impacts of the coronavirus, including by imposing an “excess profits tax” to ensure companies do not benefit outrageously from the government support they receive. “The coronavirus pandemic is laying bare structural deficiencies in America’s social programs. The relief package passed by Congress last week provides emergency fixes for some of these issues, but it also leaves critical problems untouched. To avoid a Great Depression, Congress must quickly design a more forceful response to the crisis…. The government should impose excess profits taxes, as it has done several times in the past during periods of crisis…. These taxes all had one goal — making sure that no one could benefit outrageously from a situation in which the masses suffered. To help make this happen, the next bill needs an excess profits tax. If Congress fails to act, the pandemic could well reinforce two of the defining trends of the pre-coronavirus American economy: the rise of business concentration and the upsurge of inequality. Some will say that the solutions we’ve outlined show excessive faith in government. They will correctly point out that some of these policies are undesirable in normal times. But these are not normal times. The big battles — be they wars or pandemics — are fought and won collectively. In this period of national crisis, hatred of the government is the surest path to self-destruction.”

In a defunded health system, doctors and nurses suffer near-impossible conditions

Seth HolmesIn a March 29 piece in Salon, Professor Seth Holmes, together with Liz Buchbinder, an internist with UCLA Health, wrote about the daunting challenges healthcare providers are facing in treating COVID-19 patients — and their frustration about the lack of equipment intensified by the de-funding of the health system by the Trump administration. “We are acutely aware of how contagious and deadly the virus is — especially for elderly and chronically ill people. Yet, we and our patients are put at unnecessary risk due to shortages of basic protective health equipment and testing kits. These shortages were avoidable and they never should have happened. The Trump administration’s active de-funding of our health system is leading to additional exposures, infections and deaths. We have trained over many years to calmly soldier on in the face of the turmoil, suffering and pain that plays out every day in health care. But the avoidable shortages of basic equipment in this pandemic add layers of uncertainty and strain that are pushing providers and our health system toward the breaking point.”

Coronavirus crisis is an opportunity to overcome oligarchy

In a post on his blog that also ran on,  Robert Reich, Professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy, highlights how the coronavirus has exposed the economic inequality of Americans — and the need for better solutions. “The coronavirus has starkly revealed what most of us already knew: The concentration of wealth in America has created a a health care system in which the wealthy can buy care others can’t,” Reich wrote. “It’s also created an education system in which the super-rich can buy admission to college for their children, a political system in which they can buy Congress and the presidency,  and a justice system in which they can buy their way out of jail. Almost everyone else has been hurled into a dystopia of bureaucratic arbitrariness, corporate indifference, and the legal and financial sinkholes that have become hallmarks of modern American life. The system is rigged. But we can fix it. Today, the great divide in American politics isn’t between right and left. The underlying contest is between a small minority who have gained power over the system, and the vast majority who have little or none. Forget politics as you’ve come to see it – as contests between Democrats and Republicans. The real divide is between democracy and oligarchy.”

Coronavirus skeptics, deniers: Why some of us stick to deadly beliefs

Celeste KiddIn recent weeks, conservative media personalities, political and business leaders, and other influencers have publicly shrugged off warnings about the dangers of the novel coronavirus. What causes certain people to stick to their beliefs and act with skepticism despite overwhelming contradictory evidence? For answers, Berkeley News’ reporter Yasmin Anwar interviewed Celeste Kidd, a UC Berkeley computational cognitive scientist who studies false beliefs, curiosity, and learning. “Most of us like to think of ourselves as rational agents who can make decisions and form beliefs that make sense,” Kidd explained. “But the world is far too big and complex for us to have the time or attentional bandwidth to know about everything, so we have to pick and choose. The scientific name for this is “sampling,” and it works well in a dynamic world where the approximate truth is usually good enough to make everyday decisions. We’re also built to favor investigating the things we feel uncertain about. This tendency pushes us to expand and update our knowledge base. Once we feel like we know everything, we disengage and move on to the next thing. This prevents us from wasting time on what we already know so we can learn something new. The problem arises when we believe that we know everything there is to know, but we are wrong. When this happens, we are less open to changing our minds based on new information because we don’t seek out new information, and we are more inclined to ignore it when we do encounter it.”

What use is worry? Psychologist explains anxiety’s pros and cons

Excessive worry about COVID-19 is becoming a mental health pandemic unto itself. But when is anxiety useful, and when is it destructive? Berkeley News’ Yasmin Anwar interviewed Sonia Bishop, an associate professor of psychology and cognitive neuroscience who studies anxiety and how it affects decision-making. “If I told you the person next to you at a bar had a 1 in 10,000 chance of having Covid-19, you might respond very differently than if I said the risk was 1 in 1,000, 1 in 100 or even 1 in 10. At the moment, we don’t know how to respond, because the probability of exposure to the virus is rapidly changing,” Bishop said. “In times of uncertainty, our personality traits have a big influence on how we react based on our assumptions about the world and our level of ‘optimism bias.’ Research by psychologists Ronnie Janoff-Bulman and Neil Weinstein shows that, to get through life, many of us use subconscious, self-protective assumptions — for example, that the world is a good, safe place and that bad things happen to other people, not to me. When the probabilities of danger are very low, for example, such as dying in a plane crash, these assumptions protect us from worry. However, with this pandemic, optimism bias can lead us to ignore guidance on social distancing and possibly get ill or pass on the virus to a loved one and unknowingly add to the spread of the virus and, sadly, deaths. This is a particular risk for young people who might have few, if any, symptoms and are especially likely to feel invulnerable. Meanwhile, people who have experienced and adapted to bad things happening may adopt the subconscious assumption that taking certain actions can prevent bad things from happening. This may explain the panic buying and even an uptick in gun purchases. People are trying to gain a sense of control over the situation that will make them feel safe. Hopefully, if people realize this, they may be able to stop and ask themselves, ‘Do I really need a gun?’ or, more mundanely, ‘Can I leave that extra package of toilet paper for someone else?'”

Ice agents are still performing raids – and using precious N95 masks to do so

In an essay in The Guardian, Miriam Magaña Lopez, a public health researcher and practitioner in the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkeley, together with Seth Holmes, Associate Professor and Chair of Society and Environment and Medical Anthropology at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, called out the Immigration and Customs Enforecement (ICE) for conducting raids on immigrant communities during the first day of California’s “shelter-in-place” lockdown—and using N95 medical masks that are desperately needed by healthcare workers forking on the front lines of the COVID crisis. “In a time with severe shortages and orders to ‘shelter in place,’ the federal government chose to prioritize masks for Ice agents instead of necessary health personnel and, ultimately, chose raids over the health of our country,” they wrote. “The ICE raids conducted by the federal government are putting our country at risk, worsening a critical shortage of medical supplies and leading to overcrowding and movement that facilitate the spread of Covid-19. At this historic moment, we must set our priorities straight. If we want to survive, we must stop ICE raids, detention and deportation. We must provide protective equipment to frontline workers in our health system. Our lives and the future of our society depend on it.”

Ten takes on COVID-19 from a resource economist and citizen

In a March 28 article written for the Berkeley Blog, David Zilberman, Professor in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, drew upon his 40-year career studying the evolution and control of diseases in “plants, animals, ecosystems, and humans” to examine the implications of 10 key factors influencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Zilberman delineates factors such as technology (including the development of vaccines); heterogeneity, defined as “differences among individuals, locations, and social responses to this contagion”; the role of government; and economic impact. He also notes that “crisis triggers change” because “in a period of crisis, the political and economic resistance to experimenting with political and technological solutions can decline sharply.” Zilberman says that strong political leadership will be essential for managing the pandemic. “I hope that the current crisis will lead to the emergence of leadership that will pursue global cooperation rather than mutual isolation,” he said. “Despite self-imposed handicaps, and being very concerned about the COVID-19 and its impacts, I know we will survive it, it will lead to changes for the better, but tragically at a high cost.”

Africa faces grave risks as COVID-19 emerges

In an interview with UC Berkeley News reporter Edward Lempinen, Edward Miguel, Oxfam Professor in Environmental and Resource Economics and faculty director of the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), discussed the potential threats of the COVID-19 virus in Africa, which first arrived in Africa in late February. Miguel noted that while Africa has some strengths over the countries affected so far — including a relatively young population, less density, and regional experience in dealing with other diseases, such as Ebola and HIV/AIDS – the continent remains highly vulnerable, as African nations lack the health care infrastructure required to treat large numbers of patients. “If there’s a significant outbreak, even if there aren’t as many vulnerable elderly people, millions of people still could be affected,” Miguel says. “Very few will have the care they need with ventilators and other advanced treatment…. I’m very concerned that people who are desperate will rise up against incompetent governments because they want to save their lives. They might want to put a competent government in its place…. COVID-19 pandemic demands a global, collective response. It is in the self-interest of the United States to deal with the epidemic globally to make sure it doesn’t break out again.” The piece was cited in a column by Charles Blow in the New York Times, “The Racial Time Bomb in the Covid-19 Crisis.”

What History’s Economy-Disrupting Outbreaks Can Teach Us About Coronavirus Panic

Writing for Time Magazine, Elena Conis, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Journalism affiliated with the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society, wrote about past epidemics—including the cholera epidemic of 1832 and the deadly flu outreak of 1918 — as lenses on current the COVID pandemic. A historian of U.S. public health and medicine, Conis is also affiliated with the Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and author of Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization. “Total economic losses due to the 1918 epidemic are difficult to estimate, but one thing was clear: after it ended, society recovered,” Conis wrote. “As the study’s author concluded, the flu changed individual lives forever, but the economy bounced back. Historians, as Robert Peckham notes, tend to believe that ‘analogies create blind spots.’ Each epidemic takes place in its own context. The state of trade in New York in 1832—as well as the city’s infrastructure, wealth, poverty, graft and relationship to the rest of the world—played a role in cholera’s spread. The economy recovered then, and has many times since. At the same time, a number of historians credit medieval plague with a role in the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism, so it is hard to generalize about the relationship between epidemics and economies. The national and global financial systems will still exist on the other side of a disease. But no amount of looking backward can tell us what they will look like then—or what COVID-19 might be capable of changing.”

This crisis calls for massive government intervention: here’s how to do it

In a March 17 essay in The Guardian, UC Berkeley economists Emmanual Saez and Gabriel Zucman argued that the world’s governments need to enact strong measures to support workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Sending checks to families in the U.S. “help to alleviate temporary economic hardship but are poorly targeted,” they argued, as “it’s too little for those who lose their jobs, and it is not needed by those who don’t.” Instead , they argue, governments “should step in as payers of last resort, which means they would cover wage and maintenance costs for businesses facing shutdown. In the context of this pandemic, we need a new form of social insurance, one that directly helps both workers and businesses…. A payer-of-last-resort programme would alleviate the hardship on workers and businesses. It would maintain the cash flow for families and businesses so the coronavirus shock has no secondary impacts on demand – such as laid-off workers cutting down on consumption – and a quick rebound can take place once demand comes back. Business activity is on hold today, but with an intravenous cash flow it can be kept alive until the health crisis is over.”

A fast, simple way to get support to workers without paid leave

On March 10, The Washington Post published a “Perspective” by Jesse Rothstein, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Economics at UC Berkeley, and Jared Bernstein, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, arguing that firms should continue to pay workers directly during shutdowns. “In most cases, employers will want the workers back once the threat of the virus recedes, and continuation of wage and salary payments will help meet these workers’ and their households’ needs while supporting consumer spending in the broader economy,” they wrote. “To help them through what we believe will be an extremely challenging period, we propose the creation of a temporary, national paid-leave program, funded by the federal government, for workers idled due to the coronavirus…. Employers would continue to pay workers who are prevented from working by the virus, through direct deposits or paychecks in the mail. They would report this to their state[unemployment insurance] system, which would reimburse them through tax credits or direct payments and would in turn be reimbursed by the federal government…. The idea would be to reimburse employers for paying their workers through their coronavirus-caused leave, with as little disruption as possible…. Millions of households who are on the precipice of economic despair depend on policymakers getting this right.”

What we social scientists can do for vulnerable workers

In a 3/14 piece on Berkeley Blog, Jesse Rothstein, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Economics, highlighted how UC Berkeley social scientists have played an influential role throughout the COVID-19 crisis. “As a labor economist, I’m greatly worried about the economic damage that quarantines, social distancing efforts, and the like will cause,” he wrote. “It will be essential that we respond quickly and effectively to limit the damage. Toward that end, I’m especially proud that the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, which I direct, has been able to have a quick impact on the national conversation and the policy response.” Rothstein called out a variety of initiatives, including The Shift Project, headed by Assistant Professor of Sociology Daniel Schneider, which has measured the prevalence of unstable, unpredictable work among large low-wage employers like Walmart and McDonalds, and which was called out in a New York Times editorial arguing that “employers have a duty to give their workers paid leave, not just during the crisis, but permanently.” Rothstein noted that the bill passed by the House of Representatives includes “a set of provisions that closely resemble our proposal.” Noting that “the bill is not perfect” (in part because it excludes employers with more than 500 workers and is temporary), the bill provides two weeks of paid leave for people who are sick, quarantined due to symptoms, caring for a sick relative, or caring for kids whose schools are closed, paid at two-thirds of 100 percent of regular pay, depending on the reason; after that runs out, three months of paid family or medical leave; reimbursement to employers for both of the above through credits against payroll taxes, refundable if the credit exceeds the firm’s liability; and general fund transfers to hold the Social Security trust fund harmless. “We social scientists will all have roles to play, and the work that researchers at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and elsewhere at Berkeley do will be more important than ever.”

The Sudden Stop

What are the impacts of the economy grinding to a sudden halt, and what can be done about it? Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, S.K. and Angela Chan Professor of Global Management in the UC Berkeley Department of Economics and Haas School of Business and Director of the Clausen Center for International Business and Policy, discussed this subject with Cardiff Garcia and Stacey Vanek Smith for a March 16 segment of “The Indicator,” a segment on NPR’s Planet Money. “In 2008, the U.S. economy contracted by 4.5% So we’re looking at something that, on the baseline, relatively optimistic scenario, is going to dwarf this,” Gourinchas said. “The risk is also that these connections holding the economy together will fall apart. And if that happens, those relationships will be hard to rebuild, and that will delay the economy’s ability to recover. Businesses… might have problems refinancing a credit line with their bank. The bank might just say, no. We’re not renewing that because we’re not seeing you selling anything, so we’re cutting down your credit line. So now you have to repay. So you can’t do that, so now the business is going bankrupt. Now the bank may in turn have non-performing loans, and they’ll be piling up, so the bank may be in trouble. So now you have a financial crisis on top of everything else. These are the kinds of amplification and feedback loops that we can try to avoid…. If you know the crisis is going to be very short-lived, you don’t want to destroy all this network of relations. You want to preserve it so that it can restart again. If the crisis were going to be a permanent crisis, a very long-lasting crisis, there would be much less of a need to do that because you couldn’t just preserve these relationships.”

An Economic-History Lesson for Dealing with the Coronavirus


The Berkeley Protocol on Open Source Investigations

UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center is leading the way in the ethical use of open-source methods for investigating war crimes and human rights violations.

Berkeley Protocol - Open Source Investigations

Human rights investigations increasingly rely upon open-source intelligence (OSINT) to identify, document, and verify human rights atrocities. These open sources—such as publicly available Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and tweets—provide important information about human rights violations and perpetrators. However, the process of analyzing, verifying, and corroborating these sources to support legal accountability is time-consuming and requires expertise. Additionally, there is currently no international standard for using open-source investigations for legal accountability.

The UC Berkeley Human Rights Center‘s forthcoming Berkeley Protocol on Open Source Investigations—the first-ever manual on the effective use of open-source information in international criminal and human rights investigations—seeks to set that standard. Tentatively set to be published in partnership with the United Nations in Fall 2020, the Protocol details measures that should be taken in order to check the authenticity and reliability of visual content, such as videos and photos, that emerge out of crises from around the world. The Protocol will be available in Arabic, Spanish, and French in order to reach a wider audience and to ensure its adaptability in local contexts. The Berkeley Protocol is expected to launch in all four languages in early September, in Berkeley and Geneva.

The Protocol’s development was supported in part by a 2017-2018 Matrix Project Team, which brought together scholars from the fields of law, as well as journalism, public policy, and public health, among others, for a series of workshops on how courts have successfully used open sources to improve the outcomes of their cases, and to what extent a protocol might be necessary and/or helpful for the field. The project team also hosted workshops in London and the Hague on a variety of topics, including the ethical and legal challenges of using sock puppets (fake online identities) on Facebook.

We interviewed Dr. Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law and a pioneer in shaping the Berkeley Protocol. (Note that this interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

What is an “open-source investigation” in the context of international criminal and human rights law?

It is an investigation into any big research question using open-source information, which is available to the public usually by at least one of three means: observation, request, or  purchase. What the Human Rights Center (HRC) is pioneering is how to use new and emerging digital technologies to help us understand social phenomena. Our focus is primarily on war crimes and human rights-related issues.

What are some examples of the investigations the HRC has conducted?

A longstanding focus has been on the Syrian conflict, as people in Syria are trying to get information out to their broader communities, and to the world more generally. Open-source investigation has changed how digital information that is shared online can be helpful for building war crimes cases and bringing attention to people in humanitarian crises.

We have worked to find information online to understand the “who, what, where, when, and how” of different attacks, and to verify content provided to us by our partner organizations, such as the Syrian Archive and Amnesty International. When we verify, we are interrogating the information that is being shared with us to check for its reliability. For example, if we receive a video and someone is claiming it took place in Idlib on a particular date, how do we in fact know that such claims are accurate? We have investigated and published on events ranging from chemical attacks to bombings of hospitals to the destruction of civilian facillities and infrastructures.

Myanmar is another longstanding crisis where we have been trying to support fact-finding. In 2016/17, when we started our Investigations Lab, we began grabbing content from Facebook that was being shared by the military in Myanmar—content that is now characterized as hate speech by human rights lawyers and increasingly recognized by the UN and others to have potentially contributed to genocide. We began collecting this content prior to some of the worst attacks, including those in Summer 2017, and we had information leading up to those attacks (and after). This contributed to a series of stories published by Steve Stecklow of Reuters that ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize.

A lot of the work we do focuses on supporting three constituencies: 1) human rights researchers and activists who are trying to get information out through organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Syrian Archive; 2) human rights lawyers who are trying to bring information that will strengthen the evidentiary foundations of the legal cases they are bringing forth; and 3) investigative reporters who are trying to report information out to the world about what is happening.

Increasingly, we are beginning to look at how open source fact-finding can be supportive of telling the climate crisis story and the impact of climate change on populations around the world, whether destruction of forests or the shrinking of lakes and rivers through satellite imagery. The human rights community is realizing that we cannot talk about human rights violations without understanding the role that climate justice plays in human rights phenomena across the globe.

What is the value or impact of having this type of investigation housed in a university environment, and what has been UC Berkeley’s contribution to this field?

What UC Berkeley can offer the world is the extraordinary talent and dedication present amongst our students. When we were considering launching our Investigations Lab in 2015/16, we recognized that a lot of this work is time-consuming, whether coming up with structured research questions, deciding what technologies should be used for different conflict areas, or doing the painstaking work of verification itself. A task as simple as geolocating where a video was captured can take hours, if not days to complete. Additionally, a lot of our non-profit partners are strapped for cash and human resources. The question became, how can we match the extraordinary international cohorts of students, who are rich in background, culture, and language skills, with those organizations? It also allowed for the pedagogical purpose of training students at Berkeley in the newest methods of fact-finding for human rights and social justice more generally.

What have been the most difficult dilemmas the HRC, or this field as a whole, has grappled with, both ethically and in terms of psycho-social resilience for the investigators?

One of the biggest questions for us has been whether we should be exposing students to graphic material, and what boundaries should be placed around that. One of our advisory board members, who was a war reporter, approached us and said “this is an incredible program and I am blown away by what’s happening at Berkeley, but how are you going to keep the students safe?” Ultimately, we were working with students who don’t necessarily have the on-the-ground experience or resources to deal with the psycho-social aspect of this work.

Sam Dubberley, who started the Digital Verification Corps at Amnesty International and was our partner from the outset, had been observing the impact of user-generated content on journalistic communities for a long time, and conducted some of the first research to examine the toll dealing with such raw material was taking on even professionals on this space. We began thinking through safeguards we could put in place to support the students, and I credit the students in the Lab who have helped refine it. The work the Berkeley students are doing is helping us all understand what works and doesn’t and is now informing global practice.

There’s an assumption by many human rights workers that when you are remote from a crisis, you are protected from it. Yes, you may be physically protected from the violence happening on the ground, but when you are dealing with the sheer volume of imagery before you, there’s an intimacy to watching digital content about crises on your laptop for hours on end. You also don’t have the same degree of community you might have when you’re on the ground. As a result of the distance, you are not seeing the immediate impact of your work, and we’ve learned that understanding your impact goes a long way to helping provide you with the strength and thoughtfulness in doing this work.

Lastly, when we were launching our first international training on open-source investigation, there was some reluctance by our partners toward including a resiliency section in our training. The implication was that these are trained and tough war crimes investigators, and discussions around resiliency would be “fluffy.” I remember saying, “over my dead body are we not going to have a training on this.” There’s a tangible role that Berkeley plays in thinking through the psycho-social aspects of this work and preparing a generation to do this work on a long-term basis. What we have seen historically is people burning out, resorting to alcohol or other dangerous coping mechanisms, so we wanted to figure out how the next generation will tackle these issues head on.

It’s not about being “mentally weak,” it’s about thinking through the physical, digital, and psycho-social work together. We really can’t talk about the physical and digital security for ourselves and partners unless we are dealing with the psycho-social security of that entire ecosystem. As soon as one of those three pillars crumbles, the entire scope is compromised and mistakes will be made.

The first protocol on open-source investigations is emerging thanks to your Center’s work. What was the process from which this protocol emerged? What were the key issues or demands that inspired its creation?

We began working in this space back in 2011/12, when we engaged with the International Criminal Court to look at how digital technologies can supplement what witnesses were saying in the courtroom. The courts were struggling to bring cases to fruition because the judges were saying the stories of survivors were not enough to meet the legal requirements to have cases proceed. We began holding a series of workshops with people from other court systems—and people who were experimenting with new technologies for fact-finding—to determine what could be brought into the courtroom to support what survivors were saying was happening in their communities. This included remote-sensing technologies such as satellite imagery, people working on big data analytics in looking for patterns of conflict, and people who were stretching the boundaries of what could be captured on cell phones.

We worked with Witness, which trains people and communities on how to document crises with phones to produce video evidence that can be successful in a court of law. We’ve also worked closely with groups like the Syrian Archive, which is aggregating content that is shared online, to think through how war crimes investigators might probe that information to find the data that is most helpful in building and strengthening their cases.

After four or five years, we began receiving calls from people on the ground in Iraq and Bangladesh, for example, asking us on how they should be storing the information they were collecting to meet the forensic standards. There were a lot of amazing researchers, like Lindsay Freeman and Tara Vassefi, who helped think through what exists and what’s missing. What we found, after consulting with more than 150 different people and holding multiple workshops, was that there really wasn’t clear guidance for fact-finding using digital technologies.

What is the goal of the Berkeley Protocol? How can it help address the dilemmas you highlighted?

We began holding a series of workshops to think through thorny questions where there wasn’t a clear understanding about what courts were going to require. We began doing a lot of doctrinal and social-science research on what other people were talking about regarding how digital technologies could help. Lindsay Freeman, whom we brought on in early 2018, began looking at law enforcement, domestic courts, international courts, human rights organizations, and technologists to really find out what was coming together and what was missing.

What we heard over and over was that it would be helpful to have a set of guidelines. The trick was to create a set of global guidelines that would not be so restrictive that people “on the ground” — in low-bandwidth or low-resource environments — would be unable to meet those standards. We aimed for a minimum set of standards for how to do this work and do it really well. We provide the bare minimum that you need to preserve chain of custody around the content so we know how likely it is to have been tampered with since capture, and we provide best practices for when resources are available. We tried to make it less prescriptive, so those doing this work in less privileged positions weren’t excluded.

We also realized that a lot of people did not know how to assess the quality of the investigations that were being pulled together. Often, visual investigations are produced that seem very sexy and convincing, bringing together satellite imagery with chronolocation and geolocation. People who are intimidated by those or do not know how they work are at risk of two things: 1) they are overly convinced by the research without having healthy skepticism; and 2) they’re unsure how to evaluate that work and blow it off completely, and do not consider it a valuable source of information. If the viewer is a judge, we don’t want them to be doing either of those two things because it will either be overly prejudicial, or all that work and time will be wasted and not weighted into the fact-finding and analysis. We wanted to provide guidance for the lawyers on the ground, as well as the judges, researchers, investigators, and journalists and human rights activists who are increasingly using these methods.

How do you see the Protocol being implemented by organizations and universities who engage with this field of investigation?

I’m hoping it’ll be a resource for people to be able to flip through particular sections. It serves as a helpful guide in providing tips about the best way to carry out any particular portion of an investigation.

The first audience we focused on are legal investigators, as the protocol helps them understand what judges are likely to want to see — practices that can help ensure the information makes it into a court of law. But we expect it to be helpful for reporters who are trying to grab information and figure out what to download and how to download it, as well as human rights advocacy groups who are trying to get information out, but are open to having the information they collect potentially go to the courts.

One risk with digital information is that it is ephemeral. If content is graphic, social media companies are likely to take it down or make it inaccessible. The question is, how do we ensure that the precious piece of content that somebody may have risked their life to put online is held in a way that can have maximum impact down the line?

The next piece is figuring out how national jurisdictions can adapt and adopt some of the findings and research that went into the Protocol. I am looking forward to having regional workshops so we can get feedback on future iterations of the Protocol, but also to help translate the protocol into local contexts. The spread of smartphones and digital technology is only going to continue, so jurisdictions that aren’t grappling with the questions the Protocol aims to answer will probably be facing them in the near future.

Five years ago, we were told that social media content would never become primary evidence in the courtrooms. In the case of Al-Werfalli, a Libyan war lord, the International Criminal Court recently issued its first arrest warrant based primarily on information pulled from Facebook. There’s a dawning realization that this kind of information will have more utility in the future than was previously recognized.

Part of the Protocol focuses on “resiliency,” ensuring the long-term mental health of the researchers. How do you think about resiliency in this context, and why is it featured so prominently?

Resiliency is something everyone thinks is important, but almost no one dares talk about. The attitude for a long time has been, either you can handle this work or you can’t, and if you can’t, then get out. Reacting negatively to egregious material is a very human response, and there are things we can do to prepare ourselves and better respond when we do react. There are some who are very grateful that we are shining a spotlight on some of these issues, while others have rolled their eyes until they hear us talk about it in the context of security, where they see its value.

What’s exciting for UC Berkeley is that the students are helping to bring some weight into this space and reinforce each other in sharing the importance of this work. It’s very hard when you’re new in your job with much more experienced colleagues, who may not share the same understanding of the value of this work. We are trying to figure out a way to support the students by getting as much out there publicly so that it provides an echo into what they are saying in their fields internally.

From a sociological perspective, when we talk about social change, we are thinking about having a focus, first, at the individual level so each person has the skills and knowledge—for example, about the value of community to mental wellbeing—to be equipped to do this work. Though we have a long way to go, the more we can drive that cultural change, the better. At the structural level, we are thinking about a template for a resiliency plan that could be shared and adapted by those conducting their investigations in the hope that planning for resiliency will become as important as surveying the digital landscape before an investigation.

To what extent did social science research methodologies and frameworks go into the Protocol?

There are three ways in which social science research went into the Protocol. The first relates to the idea of resiliency. There has been research by Columbia University by lawyers and psychologists who are interested in tracking people’s reactions and responses to the sheer volume of graphic and sensitive content that they watch. Additional research has been done by individuals such as Michele Grant and Sam Dubberley, who founded the Digital Verification Corps at Amnesty International, on vicarious trauma as it pertains to the field of human rights.

The second way is with respect to questions of discrimination and bias that can enter the field of open-source investigations. Swansea University, alongside researchers from Essex University and UC Berkeley, are involved in a consortium dedicated to understanding how digital content capturing crises can bias which narratives and stories are heard and reported on, particularly with respect to age, gender, and geography. We have been thinking through questions of access with respect to demography. That is, who has access to social media, the internet, and the technologies needed to capture or investigate violations as they emerge.

The third piece relates to gender and sexual-based violence, and understanding how digital investigations can help address these highly sensitive and overly stigmatized issues without feeding into the stigmatization. An important piece to this are the ethical considerations around which digital information can be shared with courts, for example, without risking, exposing, or exploiting the vulnerability of the victims in these cases.

What limitations, if any, or areas for future discussions and proposals do you see with the Protocol?

One question that we debated is to what extent should we make this Protocol tool-agnostic, as opposed to bringing in the tools of investigations ranging from tools to archive, chronolocate, geolocate, and more broadly verify the open source content. Of course a lot of people on the ground want to know what tools they should be using to preserve the chain of custody, for example. There are amazing tools out there like Hunchly to preserve that content, but for the protocols that exist and have specific tools and how to use them, they become outdated really fast. The hardest part has been providing guidance based on principles and concepts, rather than on the tools.

As a center, we have always had a deep dedication to the resiliency and ethics piece of this work, but there were questions about whether they should be standalone sections or how we should integrate them into the overall piece. This is an area where feedback from those using the Protocol will be helpful.

Image: From the cover of The New Forensics: Using Open Source Informationto Investigate Grave Crimes. Credit: Eliot Higgins, Bellingcat


Q&A: Professor Gabriel Zucman

A new book by Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez argues that the American tax system is more unfair than ever—but there are ways to fix it. 


How has U.S. tax policy contributed to inequality in the past few decades? What would be the impacts of the different tax policies the Democratic presidential candidates are proposing? What can be done to prevent corporations from avoiding paying taxes? We interviewed Gabriel Zucman, Associate Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley and co-author (with Professor of Emmanuel Saez) of the book Triumph of injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make them Pay, which David Leonhardt of the New York Times called “the most important book on government policy that I’ve read in a long time.”

What is the general argument of Triumph of Injustice?

In the book, we construct new theories showing how much each social group has paid in taxes as a fraction of their income all the way back to 1913 and up to 2018, which is the year following President Trump’s tax reform. And what we find is that, in 2018, for the first time ever, the super-rich billionaires paid a lower tax rate than everybody else.

If you look at the U.S. today, the average tax rate is 28%. Each group of the population—the working class, the middle class, the upper middle class, the rich—pays around 28% of their income in taxes. So the U.S. tax system looks like a big flat tax, where the tax rate doesn’t increase with income, except for the ultra wealthy, who pay only 23%. That’s taking into account all taxes paid at all levels of government—so not only individual income tax, but also corporate income tax, consumption taxes, estate taxes, and so on.

What’s very important to realize is that 2018 is the first time this happens, that the U.S. tax system is so regressive and so unfair. If you look, for instance, at the 1950s, the very rich paid 70% of their income in taxes. This effective tax rate gradually declined and, following the Trump tax reform that became effective in 2018, it reached its historical minimum, this effective tax rate of the very rich of 23%.

That’s what we call the “triumph of injustice.” The book tells the story of how the U.S. moved from having the most progressive tax system in the world—with a tax system where the super rich pay much higher tax rates than the working class and the middle class—to a tax system that’s regressive and is now an engine of inequality. Because of course, if they only paid 23% of their income in taxes, it becomes very easy for the super wealthy to accumulate more and more wealth, without any barrier. And with wealth comes power, including the power to influence policy for their own benefit, like influencing tax policy, getting extra tax cuts, and so on. That’s the current situation.

What do you propose can be done about this?

The other dimension of the book, which is probably even more important beyond establishing these facts, is to offer solutions. How could tax justice prevail? How could tax progressivity be restored? How can we have a fair tax system in the 21st century? We describe a number of solutions.

Many people have become convinced that it’s impossible to tax the rich in today’s economy because of globalization: corporations will move abroad, the rich will move abroad, or because of modern technology, there will be tax avoidance opportunities, or the rich will hide assets. There is this view that nothing can be done—and this view is wrong.

What we explain in the book is how it’s possible to have a highly progressive tax system today through a combination of various taxes. The most important one is probably a progressive tax on net wealth, taxing wealth itself—all assets real and financial, net of debts. Along the line of what Elizabeth Warren has proposed and what Bernie Sanders is proposing. In the case of Elizabeth Warren, she proposes to tax wealth above $50 million. So if you have less than $50 million, you pay zero, and then on the first dollar above $50 million, you pay two cents. Bernie Sanders has a similar plan that starts at $32 million, but with tax rates that go up to 8% for wealth above $10 billion. A progressive wealth tax like that would be a very powerful way to restore tax progressivity and to curb the rise of wealth concentration.

But we also describe other solutions. The wealth tax would not solve every problem. You also need to fix the income tax. You also need to make sure that big corporations pay taxes. And so we have solutions for that. That’s what the book does. The situation today is sad and dramatic in many ways, but the message from the book is a message of hope. It’s possible in today’s economy to make the rich pay their fair share.

What are some of the impacts of the current tax structure?

When you have a tax system that’s a giant flat tax, where everybody pays roughly the same tax rate of 28%, except the very rich who pay only 23%, you have two problems. One problem is that high tax rates of close to 30% for the working class and for the middle class make it difficult for these parts of the population to accumulate wealth, to save and to build wealth. The reason why they face high tax rates is because payroll taxes are high and have increased since the 1950s. Sales taxes and consumption taxes in general are high and burden the working class heavily. So you have high tax rates that make it harder for the working class to save and accumulate wealth.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, when the super rich have a tax rate of only 23%, and they earn hundreds of millions of dollars in income each year, that means their wealth mechanically accumulates without any barrier. And so you have a snowballing effect where the rich get richer by virtue of being already rich.

For a long time, the tax system prevented this from happening by limiting the snowballing wealth accumulation effect. When you have 70% tax rate on the rich, it makes it harder for the rich to become richer mechanically. But with a 23% tax rate, there’s no barrier anymore, and so inequality increases.

It has increased dramatically already. If you look at the share of wealth owned by the top 0.1% richest Americans, in 1982 it was 7%. Today it’s about 20%. So this share has been multiplied by three. Twenty percent of wealth—the share of wealth owned by the top 1% richest Americans—is about as large as the share of wealth owned by the bottom 90% of American families.

You have the top 1% richest families who own as much wealth as the bottom 90%. You have the wealth of the top 0.1% that keeps rising and rising faster than average wealth, with a dysfunctional, unfair tax system such as the one we have today, the rise of inequality will continue. With a fairer tax system, with a more progressive tax system, the rise of inequality can be stopped and we can even start thinking about the decline in wealth concentration.

Talk about the website you’ve developed as part of this project.

The book comes with a website, which is really essential for the project as a whole. The website is, and there’s a website that allows people, no matter their knowledge about economics or their party or political stripe, to simulate tax reforms in a simple and user-friendly way.

The website starts from the current progressivity of the tax system, how much taxes as a percent of income each group pays. The user can create new taxes or change parameters of the current tax system. So, for instance, what would happen if the top marginal income tax rate was increased to 70%, which is what Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a few months ago? How much tax revenue would this generate? Or what would happen if the U.S. created a wealth tax like the wealth tax proposed by Elizabeth Warren? How would that increase the tax progressivity? How much tax revenue would this generate? How would this affect the dynamic of inequality?

The website is a tool for the public to participate and make the tax debate democratic again. Taxation is an extremely important policy in any democracy. Through the tax system, Americans share a third of their income. In other countries, it’s even more than that, it’s 40% or 50%. Half of their income is shared through the tax system. So making sure that tax system is fair, that it works well, is a central democratic question.

Our view is that it is not for economists to decide on taxation, to say, that’s the best way to proceed, that’s the optimal tax rate. No, it’s for the public with facts, with good information about who pays what and how different taxes could change these effective tax rates.

What do you hope people take away from the book and website?

There is no fixing inequality without fixing the tax system. And so if you care about the future of inequality, if you care about the future of globalization and the future of democracy, you need to read this book. Because if the policies that are implemented keep rewarding the super rich at the expense of everybody else, and keep rewarding the big winners from globalization, the big multinational companies and their shareholders, at the expense of those who don’t benefit much or suffer from globalization, then you can see that globalization is in trouble and even democracy is in trouble.

To have sustainable globalization, you need to make sure that the winners from globalization pay more taxes, instead of paying less. And that’s what we try to do in the book and with the website. We explain that this is possible.