Supply-side factors in the dominance of the fur trade in colonial Canada

This paper – written with my good friend Alexis Lacombe of the Collège de Granby – contends that supply-side factors related to the maritime’s industry response to conflicts are quite important in explaining the predominant role of the fur trade in the early economy of Canada. Exports and imports of non-fur industries in Canada tended to be bulky with a low value to weight compared to furs and inputs needed for the fur trade which were of higher value to weight.  As a result, ship-owners – when assuming the higher transport costs induced by warfare – preferred not to ship low-value-to-weight goods and reorganized their cargo compositions to ship high-value-to-weight goods. Both the inputs and the outputs of non-fur industries tended to be low-value-to-weight, which was not the case for the fur trade. The result is that war meant important increases in costs for non-fur industries and important reductions in demand for their goods. The frequency of wars acted to depress the output of non-fur industries.

At the present time, this is a working paper with numerous flaws that we would like to work out and we are presenting this paper at the Economic and Business History Society meeting in Montreal at the end of may. The paper can be consulted here. 

Could seigneurial tenure have mattered?

This paper is intended as a conference paper. It encompasses an earlier article we have already submitted (on living standards in Lower Canada in 1831). However, it considers the question we (myself and my co-authors) thought the most relevant: did seigneurial tenure in Canada have an important impact?

The peculiarities of seigneurial tenure as a land tenure system were unique to Canada and, we argue, create barriers to economic activity. While we are not the first to consider this channel to explain Canada’s poorer economic performance (more precisely, the French part of Canada), we are the first to ask the question if it did matter using empirical estimates. Numerous scholars have claimed that while it may not have helped, the impact of seigneurial would have been – at best – limited. Using wages and prices from across the colony in the census year of 1831, we can isolate the effects of institutional differences on real wages. When we control for environmental factors and access to markets, we find that non-seigneurial areas enjoyed a wage advantage over seigneurial areas ranging between 29% to 39%. We argue that, while the channels through which those differences would have emerged are manifold and thus would require individual studies, it is clear that seigneurial tenure did matter.

The paper will be presented at the Economic and Business History Society meeting in Montreal (may 2016). The paper is available here. 

Joining Texas Tech University

In a few months, my PhD at the London School of Economics will be completed (waiting for exam date to be settled). Thereafter, I will be joining Texas Tech University (TTU) for a limited-term appointment as post-doctoral researcher associated with the Free Market Institute (FMI website here)

The FMI has numerous scholars interested in public choice theory and the teachings of economists like James Buchanan, Elinor Ostrom, Gordon Tullock and F.A Hayek. I intend to use my time at TTU and the FMI to perfect these aspects of my research. On top of continuing my empirical papers on measuring living standards, I also intend to expand on some ideas I have been entertaining regarding population and institutions (see notably my infant mortality paper with Arsenault Morin and Kufenko and my malthusian pressures paper with Kufenko).