Chris Becker
Job Market Candidate

Stanford University
Department of Economics
579 Jane Stanford Way
Stanford, CA 94305
jbecker8@stanford.edu

I am on the job market in the 2021-2022 academic year and am available for virtual interviews.

photo of Chris Becker
Curriculum Vitae

Primary Fields:

Economic History, Political Economy

Expected Graduation Date:

June 2022

Dissertation Committee:

Ran Abramitzky (Primary):
ranabr@stanford.edu

Gavin Wright:
write@stanford.edu

Andy Hall:
andyhall@stanford.edu

Job Market Paper

The Rise of Jim Crow Rhetoric in Republican Economic Speeches


I use computational text analysis methods to quantitatively show that the Republican Party has taken the rhetoric that was used by segregationists to defend Jim Crow racial segregation in the Mid-20th Century and incorporated it into their modern-day speeches about economic issues. I analyze speeches from the Congressional Record and use machine learning methods to quantitatively identify phrases that were (i) disproportionately used in explicitly racial speeches related to Jim Crow from 1947-1967 and (ii) strongly associated with pro-segregation politicians. I then track the use of these pro-segregation phrases in speeches about economic issues into the present day. I find that over the course of the late-20th and early-21st Century, segregationist language and ideology from the Jim Crow era has become increasingly associated with the Republican Party in speeches about economic issues. However, Republicans have brought back only the abstract, legalistic language from the Jim Crow era— such as language related to "states’ rights"— rather than explicitly racist language. This evidence suggests the importance of dog-whistles for signaling racial conservatism in Republican economic rhetoric.

Working Papers

Political Speech about Immigration is More Positive but More Polarized than at Any Time in the Past 150 Years (with Ran Abramitzky, Leah Boustan, Dallas Card, Serina Chang, Dan Jurafsky, Julia Mendelsohn, and Rob Voigt)

We classify and analyze 200,000 U.S. Congressional speeches and 5,000 Presidential communications related to immigration from 1880 to the present. Despite the salience of anti-immigration rhetoric today, we find that political speech about immigration is now much more positive on average than in the past, with the shift largely taking place between WWII and the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965. However, since the late 1970s, political parties have become increasingly polarized in their expressed attitudes toward immigration, such that Republican speeches today are as negative as the average Congressional speech was in the 1920s, an era of strict immigration quotas. Using a novel approach based on contextual embeddings of text, we find that modern Republicans are significantly more likely to use language suggestive of dehumanizing metaphors such as Vermin and Machines, and make greater use of frames like Crime and Legality. The tone of speeches also differs strongly based on which nationalities are mentioned, with a striking similarity between how Mexican immigrants are framed today and how Chinese immigrants were framed during the era of Chinese exclusion in the late 19th century. Overall, despite more favorable attitudes towards immigrants, and the formal elimination of race-based restrictions, nationality is still a major factor in how immigrants are spoken of in Congress.

Works in Progress

Segregationist Origins of School Choice Ideology?

In this project I will use computational text analysis methods to quantitatively identify the origins of “school choice” rhetoric in political speeches. I have collected text data from modern-day press releases and editorials by organizations advocating for (or opposing) school choice policies such as support for school vouchers and charter schools. I will use natural language processing classification methods to quantitively identify language associated with school choice proponents today. I will then track the use of this school choice language in congressional speeches historically. I will use these methods to quantitatively test the hypothesis that school choice ideology emerged among segregationist politicians following the Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision in 1954 mandating integration of public schools. This would suggest that early advocacy for modern-day school choice ideology was rooted in a white backlash to desegregation where expanded choice was used to facilitate movement of white students away from racially integrated public schools.

The Effect of Skill-Biased Technological Change on Racial and Labor Politics in the U.S. South (slides available upon request)