2020 Urban Research Award: The Effects of Civil Service Reform on Local Government: Evidence from the Progressive Era

PI: James Feigenbaum, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, College of Arts & Sciences
Co-PI: Abhay Aneja, JD, Assistant Professor of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law

photo of James Feigenbaum
James Feigenbaum

As populations grew throughout the early 1900s, questions of city governance grew in importance and complexity. How were the cities of the early twentieth century managed and governed? Early in the 19th century, traditional patronage systems reigned and were seen as an important tool for voter mobilization. However, by 1920, over 200 cities had implemented some type of merit system to govern public sector hiring and promotion. Through the analysis of newly digitized and transcribed complete count census data, in addition to the use of detailed data on city spending measures and outcomes, Feigenbaum and Aneja will seek to answer questions surrounding the effects of reforms, how they reshaped city governments, and how incumbent “patronage” workers were affected.

As cities grow and become more complex, the challenges of their governance grows as well. This study will address the key urban problem of urban governance and reform. What are the effects of changes to city institutions and governing rules and what role did the professionalization of public bureaucracy play in American urban development in the early 20th century? How did public employees’ careers and lives and families respond to the policy changes?