Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, April 4, 2019

Student presents research about impact of mortgage interest deduction on housing policy

Michael Caniglia Michael Caniglia

First-year student Michael Caniglia presented a paper he wrote for the La Follette School’s Policymaking Process course (PA 874) during a conference in Washington, DC, March 29 and 30.

Caniglia shared his research on The Intersection of Policy Drift and Punctuated Equilibrium Theory: The Case of the Mortgage Interest Deduction during the annual DC Regional Student Conference for the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM). The conference offers graduate-level students the opportunity to present their research to and receive feedback from policy researchers, academics, and peers.

Caniglia’s paper examines political science constructs that explain the growth of the federal mortgage interest deduction and its impact on national housing policy. It also offers clues into the political dynamics shaping the fight over a program that costs $30 billion annually and is widely panned by economists as an engine of socioeconomic inequality.

“A couple years ago, I read a piece by UW–Madison alumnus Matthew Desmond profiling the mortgage interest deduction’s impact on housing policy,” said Caniglia, who received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “I was intrigued by how the tax expenditure disproportionately benefits the wealthy, who take on larger mortgages and deduct more interest each year than their middle-class peers.”

His analysis evaluates the twin roles that policy drift and punctuated equilibrium theory (PET) play in shaping mortgage interest deduction policy, which was created under President Woodrow Wilson and initially intended for small businesses.

“My findings reinforce evidence regarding the influence of PET and policy drift within housing policy and the submerged welfare state,” Caniglia said. “They also have implications for other federal public assistance programs.”

APPAM’s regional student conferences are unique because they attract experts from across economics, sociology, and political science, he said, adding that he built important connections with other students who are researching housing policy. “These conversations will provide invaluable insights as I make future career decisions,” he said.

The fourth annual conference attracted more than 100 students from across the country.

“Experiences like this do not occur in a vacuum,” said Caniglia, who hopes to work as an analyst evaluating government programs and later earn a PhD in public policy or a related field. “Without guidance from faculty mentors and support from generous alumni, I would not have been positioned to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.” 

Caniglia received financial support from the La Follette School’s Student Travel award program.