Podcast interview about “The Heights of French-Canadian Convicts, 1780s-1820s”

I recently gave an interview on Economics Detective Radio with Garrett Petersen to talk about my forthcoming article in Economics & Human Biology (with Vadim Kufenko and Alex Arsenault Morin). In the interview, I explain why anthropometric history is important to our understanding of living standards, their evolution and short-term trade-offs in economic history. The interview is below, but you should subscribe to Garrett’s podcast as he is well on his way to becoming a serious competitor to EconTalk with the bonus that he does lots of economic history.

Link here

The Heights of French-Canadian Convicts, 1780s to 1820s

A few weeks ago, Economics & Human Biology informed me (and my co-authors Alex Arsenault Morin and Vadim Kufenko) that our paper on the heights of French-Canadian convicts was accepted for publication. Today, the paper has been made available online. The volume and issue have not yet been determined, but it can be consulted here. The abstract is below:

This paper uses a novel dataset of heights collected from the records of the Quebec City prison between 1813 and 1847 to survey the French-Canadian population of Quebec—which was then known either as Lower Canada or Canada East. Using a birth-cohort approach with 10 year birth cohorts from the 1780s to the 1820s, we find that French-Canadian prisoners grew shorter over the period. Through the whole sample period, they were short compared to Americans. However, French-Canadians were taller either than their cousins in France or the inhabitants of Latin America (except Argentinians). In addition to extending anthropometric data in Canada to the 1780s, we are able to extend comparisons between the Old and New Worlds as well as comparisons between North America and Latin America. We highlight the key structural economic changes and shocks and discuss their possible impact on the anthropometric data.

For those who are interested, the working paper version can be consulted. I offer this possibility for the sake of intellectual honesty as our paper changed in many subtle ways between the WP and the publication in EHB (even if the core result has not changed).

Inequality and Guard Labor, or Prohibition and Guard Labor?

A few days ago, I posted the abstract of my working paper with Vadim Kufenko on guard labor and prohibition enforcement. At that time, the paper was not yet uploaded in the official working papers series. This is no longer the case. The abstract is below and the article can be consulted here:

In this paper, we consider whether or not inequality forces society to expend more resources on supervision which imposes an extra cost to doing business. Some argue that since inequality deteriorates social capital, there is a greater need for supervisory labor which is a costly burden to bear. We propose an alternative (but not mutually exclusive) explanation. We argue that the war on drugs leads to institutional decay and lower levels of trust which, in turn, force private actors to deploy resources to supervise workers and protect themselves. Our explanation complements the argument regarding the link between inequality and guard labor.

The Fall and Rise of Inequality: Disaggregating Narratives

I have a new working paper available. It will be presented at a seminar in Montreal and will most likely be modified as a result of the comments that will be made.  In the paper, I discuss the economic history of American inequality over the course of the 20th century. I argue that we must eschew broad aggregate measures of inequality since they may conceal (rather than reveal) important interpretative nuances in the analysis of the evolution of inequalities. The abstract is below and the paper can be consulted here on SSRN:

In this paper, I attempt to extend insights regarding statistical aggregates, from scholars such as Hayek (1931) and Mises (1947), to the topic of inequality. Using the work of Lindert and Williamson (2016), I show that a disaggregation of inequality into some of its many subcomponents alters our reading of its evolution. While I only work with stylized facts from the field of economic history, I argue that the promising implications derived from disaggregation militate in favour of more effort being directed toward decomposing the evolution of inequality.

Adjusting Inequalities for Regional Price Parities: Importance and Implications

I have a new working paper available, this time with my friend Youcef Msaid. In this paper, we recalculate the different gini coefficients of US states in 2012 with and without the regional price parity deflators provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. We argue that the level of inequality is moderately lower but that the spatial distribution of the bottom income decile is dramatically different. The abstract is below and the paper can be consulted here on SSRN:

Corrections to CPS data dramatically change the geographic distribution of the top and bottom deciles of the income distribution. We correct the measure of real personal and household income with regional price indices from BEA. Uncorrected figures have poorer states overrepresented in the bottom decile, while corrected figures have much of that decile living in urban areas in NY and CA. We draw policy-relevant conclusions from these facts, mostly with regard to housing policy.

Were Wages That Low? Strasbourg Wages and Welfare Ratios Before 1775

I have a new working paper available, which I have submitted to a journal for publication. It is a note concerning the measurement of living standards in Strasbourg during the 17th and 18th century. I argue that the wage series used for that region underestimate the true level of wages and make it appear to be one of the poorest regions of Europe. The note is here on SSRN and the abstract is below:

This note suggests that the region of Strasbourg in France has had its living standards grossly underestimated for the period prior to 1789. Once the proper adjustments are made, the region appears to have been much better-off than has been believed.

Distinct within North America: Living Standards in French Canada, 1688 to 1775

Although this paper was submitted roughly a month ago, I am now making available as a working paper. It is drawn from my PhD dissertation with some edits over the basket to measure real wages. Basically, its the first paper to measure living standards from 1688 to 1775 in Canada using a welfare ratio approach commonly used by economic historians. The paper can be found here on SSRN and the abstract is below:

This paper uses a novel dataset of prices and wages from the French colony of Quebec (Canada’s second largest province today) between 1688 and 1775 in order to measure living standards during the colonial era. Using these data, I find that Quebec experienced no growth over the long-run, and that for much of the period, Quebec was poorer than the American colonies and England, while not being appreciably richer than France. However, this last conclusion is sensitive to changes in the basket used to compare wages.