Colonial Military Garrisons as Labor-Market Shocks: Quebec City and Boston, 1760- 1775

I have a new paper (co-authored with Jeremy Land) that has recently been submitted for consideration. Jeremy and I argue that the military occupation of Boston in 1768 should be viewed as a labor market shock that would have fueled revolutionary fervor. We highlight that it is the combination of an increased supply of labor and the mandatory quartering of troops (which acts as a tax which mitigates any demand effect that the influx of troops might have had) that did the trick for reducing real wages. We compare with Quebec City at the same time which had a similar shock in 1760 when the British conquered the colony from the French. However, unlike Boston, the garrison was gradually reduced and real wages increased.  The abstract is below and I will provide an update when (or if – fingers crossed) the paper is accepted:

The military occupation of Boston in 1768 shocked the city’s labor market. The
soldiers, who were expected to supplement their pay by working for local businesses, constituted an influx equal to 12.5 percent of greater Boston’s population. To assess the importance of this shock, we use the case of Quebec City, which experienced the reverse process (i.e., a reduction in the British military presence from close to 18 percent of the region’s population to less than 1 percent). We argue that, in Boston, the combination of the large influx of soldiers and a heavy tax on the local population in the form of the billeting system caused an important wage reduction while the lighter billeting system of Quebec City and the winding down of the garrison pushed wages up. We tie these experiences to political developments in the 1770s.


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