© 2017 By Alex Smith. Proudly created with

Alex Smith Econ Economics Alexander Smith West Point USMA

  • Twitter - White Circle
  • LinkedIn - White Circle

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)

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.

Draft    Online Appendix

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

with Andrew Barr (Texas A&M)

(Under Review at Journal of Political Economy)

Despite the extraordinary social costs of crime, relatively little is known about the early life determinants of later violent behavior. We explore the effect of access to food in early childhood using two natural experiments: (1) the rollout of the U.S. Food Stamp Program (FSP), and (2) a shift in Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP). Our results yield three important insights. First, we establish a previously unknown causal link between early childhood nutritional assistance and later violent behavior. Second, we demonstrate that, relative to an equivalent cash transfer, providing benefits restricted to the purchase of food has meaningful effects on adolescent violent behavior. This finding suggests the potential importance of childhood nutrition in influencing later violent behavior and has meaningful implications for the debate surrounding cash versus in-kind transfers. Finally, we estimate that, during the early years of the Food Stamp Program (FSP), the magnitude of the discounted external benefits
generated by the nutritional assistance provided was larger than: (1) the inefficiencies generated from the social transfer, and (2) the costs of the FSP program itself.


The Minimum Wage and Teen Educational Attainment

(Revise and Resubmit at AEJ: Policy)

Teen employment effects are central to the minimum wage debate, but important indirect effects on education receive relatively little attention. I investigate the effect of changes in the minimum wage on high school dropout decisions.  Consistently across two sources of variation and three individual-level datasets, I find that increases in the minimum wage substantially reduce the dropout likelihood of low-socioeconomic status (SES) teens, but have no effect on other teens. I find additional evidence consistent with this effect arising from a reduction in labor demand for low-SES teens that causes them to shift their time from work to education-related activities.


A Head Start on Crime-fighting? The Effect of Access to Early Childhood Education

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

(Under Review AEJ: Applied)

We provide the only large-scale evidence that early childhood education reduces later criminal behavior. To do so we leverage the county-level rollout of Head Start and administrative crime data containing the birth county of all individuals convicted of a crime in North Carolina. We find that the availability of a Head Start program reduces the likelihood of a serious criminal conviction by age 35 by 1.3 percentage points (6-9 percent) for children born into higher poverty counties. Given the high social costs of crime, the benefits generated by Head Start's later crime reduction exceeded the costs of the program.


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

(Cited in the 2016 Economic Report of the President)

While Pre-K enrollment has expanded rapidly over the last decade, there is little evidence to date regarding the long-run effects of statewide universal preschool programs, only studies of programs targeted at more at-risk populations (e.g. Head Start and Perry Preschool) that are often more resource-intensive.  I estimate the impact of Oklahoma’s universal prekindergarten program (UPK) on later criminal activity, an outcome that accounted for 40-65% of the large estimated long-run benefits of Perry Preschool. I assemble data on criminal charges in the state of Oklahoma and identify the effect of UPK availability using a regression discontinuity design that leverages the birthdate cutoff for UPK in the program’s first year of implementation. I find significant negative impacts of UPK availability on the likelihood that black children are later charged with a crime at age 18 or 19 of 7 percentage points for misdemeanors and 5 percentage points for felonies.  I find no impact on the likelihood of later charges for white children. The results suggest that universal Pre-K can, like more targeted programs, have dramatic effects on later criminal outcomes, but these effects are concentrated among more at-risk populations.

The Effects of Performance-Based Compensation: Evidence from Oregon's Teacher Incentive Fund

with Thomas Dee (Stanford University) and James Wyckoff (University of Virginia)

We examine the impact of systems of differential teacher pay based on student test performance and classroom observations implemented by school districts across the country as part of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), a large competitive grant program operated by the U.S. Department of Education. We use student and teacher-level data from six TIF-participating districts in the state of Oregon to provide early evidence on how these high-profile reforms influenced measures of student performance and teacher retention.  We estimate these impacts of TIF by leveraging the discontinuous rule that defines a school’s TIF-eligibility in a regression-discontinuity design. Our approach provides an effective proof of concept for TIF in two ways. First, we capture much of the treatment contrast between implementing the full bundle of TIF-reforms and the status quo. Second, we focus on districts with high fidelity of implementation unlike many of the participating districts. We find significant effects of TIF in improving student reading achievement and reducing teacher retention, but we find no effect on math achievement.

Please reload


U.S. Military Academy, West Point

SS387 Public Finance (Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Fall 2017)

SS201 Principles of Economics (Fall 2015, Spring 2017)

University of Virginia

U.S. Education Policy with James Wyckoff (Fall 2013)

Please reload


Jean Flanigan Outstanding Dissertation Award Honorable Mention (2016)

Association for Education Finance and Policy

Dissertation Award Honorable Mention (2015)

Association for Public Policy and Management

New Scholar Award (2014)

Association for Education Finance and Policy

IPUMS Research Award (2014)

Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota

Smith Richardson Foundation $165,000 (2013-2015)

“The Effects of Performance-Based Compensation: Evidence from the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF)” with James Wyckoff and Thomas Dee

Pre-doctoral Fellowship (2012-2014)

Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in the Educational Sciences, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education

Please reload