Alex Smith Econ Economics Alexander Smith West Point USMA

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Alexander Apt Smith


United States Military Academy, West Point




607 Cullum Road

West Point, NY 10996


I am an Assistant Professor of Economics in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point.  My research interests lie in Labor and Public Economics, particularly in the long-run effects of policy interventions on outcomes related to social mobility.




The Effect of Income During Infancy: Evidence from a
Discontinuity in Tax Benefits

with  Andrew Barr (Texas A&M University) and Jonathan Eggleston (U.S. Census)

(Revise and Resubmit, Quarterly Journal of Economics)  Draft

We provide evidence of the long-run effect of income provided during the first year of life. We take advantage of the January 1 birthdate cutoff for child-related tax benefits, which results in families of otherwise similar children receiving substantially different amounts of income. Using the universe of administrative tax data in selected years, we show that an additional $1,000 of income during the first year of life increases young adult earnings by at least 1-2%, with larger effects for males. These effects show up earlier in terms of improved math and reading test scores and a higher likelihood of high school graduation. Estimates of parental behavior in the years after birth suggest an important role for liquidity during the year after birth.

Pre-Analysis Plan: The Effects of (Free) College on Earnings and Health Across the Life Cycle

with  Andrew Barr (Texas A&M University), Adam Roberts (Texas A&M University), and Jonathan Eggleston (U.S. Census)

Draft Pre-Analysis Plan

Correlational evidence suggests that college graduates outperform their less educated peers in various measures of life success, including earnings and health. However, it is unclear the extent to which the observed correlations are driven by the endogenous selection of individuals into college. We will overcome endogeneity concerns by
leveraging the elimination of the Social Security Student Benefit Program. We will use a large sample of administrative Social Security records to precisely identify individuals impacted by the elimination of the program. Linking these individual records to Census Bureau survey data will allow us to estimate the long run effects of college
attainment on earnings and health and how these effects vary across the life course.

The Effect of Early Childhood Education on Adult Criminality: Evidence from the 1960s through 1990s

with John Anders (Trinity University) and Andrew Barr (Texas A&M University)

(Conditional Acceptance, American Economic Journal: Policy)   Draft

We investigate the impact of early childhood education on adult criminal behavior, leveraging changes in policies that occurred over a number of decades. Using variation across birth cohorts generated by the rollout of Head Start (for those born in the 1960s and 1970s) and Smart Start (for those born in the 1980s and 1990s), along with administrative crime data that include the birth county of all individuals convicted of a crime in North Carolina, we find that improvements to early childhood education led to large (20 percent) reductions in the likelihood of a serious criminal conviction in adulthood. These reductions were concentrated in high poverty counties. While the benefits generated by each program in the form of crime reduction account for a large portion of the costs of the education provided, we find substantial relative gains from the targeting of funds to high poverty areas and to areas without existing access to subsidized care.

Fighting Crime in the Cradle: The Effects of Early Childhood Access to Nutritional Assistance

with  Andrew Barr (Texas A&M University)

(Forthcoming Journal of Human Resources)  Draft     #JHR_Threads Explainer

Despite the extraordinary social costs of crime, relatively little is known about the early life determinants of later criminal behavior. We explore the effect of access to nutritional assistance in early childhood. Using variation in the rollout of the Food Stamp Program (FSP) in the 1960s and 70s, combined with criminal conviction data from North Carolina, we find that FSP availability in early childhood leads to large reductions in later criminal behavior. Each additional year of FSP availability in early childhood reduces the likelihood of a criminal conviction in young adulthood by 2.5 percent. FSP availability has strong effects on the most costly crime types for society: violent and felony convictions. These effects are substantially larger for non-whites, consistent with the higher levels of FSP participation in this population. Analogous estimates derived from the FBIs Uniform Crime Report data suggest similar reductions in arrests for violent crime. These results reveal an important additional benefit of the FSP and suggest a potential link between childhood nutrition and later criminal behavior. Even under conservative assumptions, the discounted social benefits from the FSP's later crime reduction exceed the costs of the program over this time period.

Who Will Fight: The All-Volunteer Army after 9/11

with Susan Carter (USMA) and Carl Wojtaszek (USMA)

(American Economic Review 107(5): 415-19, Papers and Proceedings) Draft  Online Appendix

Who fought the War on Terror? We find that as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan progressed, there was an increase in the fraction of active-duty Army enlistees who were white or from high-income neighborhoods; and that these two groups selected combat occupations more often. Among men, we find an increase in deployment and combat injuries for white and Hispanic soldiers relative to black soldiers and for soldiers from high-income neighborhoods relative to those from low-income neighborhoods. This finding suggests that an all-volunteer force does not compel a disproportionate number of non-white and low socio-economic men to fight America’s wars.

The Long-Run Effects of Universal Pre-K on Criminal Activity


(Revise and Resubmit, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management) Draft  

While public prekindergarten access has expanded rapidly over the last two decades, there is little evidence on the long-run effects of large-scale universal prekindergarten (UPK). I estimate the impact of Oklahoma’s UPK policy on the likelihood of criminal conviction in early adulthood using a regression discontinuity design that leverages the birthdate cutoff for UPK in the program’s first year of implementation. Using administrative criminal records from Oklahoma, I find that UPK reduces the likelihood of conviction in early adulthood by 1.3 percentage points (35%), with larger effects for black children.


SS387 Public Economics

(Spring 2016, Fall 2016-2020)  Syllabus

SS489C Research Methods in Economics

(Fall 2020, Spring 2021) Syllabus

SS498C Senior Thesis in Economics  

(Program Director Spring 2019-2021) Syllabus

SS382 Microeconomics

(Spring 2019-2020) Syllabus

SS201 Principles of Economics

(Fall 2015, Spring 2017-2018)

U.S. Education Policy

(Fall 2013 at University of Virginia with James Wyckoff)