Situating Southern Influences in James M. Buchanan and Modern Public Choice Economics

I rarely venture in the field of the history of economic thought. I much prefer to work on the history of economies per se. However, in the wake of the work of Nancy MacLean on James Buchanan and my own emerging work on institutional roots of inequalities between individuals and groups (I am finishing another working paper on this for Canada), I felt the need to venture in that field. Along with Phil Magness and Art Carden, I revisit the role of southern influences on James Buchanan’s ideas. The abstract of our paper can be found below and the link to the SSRN version can be found here:

Was 1986 Nobel Laureate James Buchanan an intellectual heir of South Carolina slavery apologist and political thinker John C. Calhoun? Further, was Buchanan’s worldview shaped by segregationist Nashville Agrarian poet Donald Davidson? These are claims made by historian Nancy MacLean in her 2017 Democracy in Chains; however, documentary evidence from Buchanan’s Collected Works and other sources suggests that Calhoun and Davidson were not among his influences and that, therefore, MacLean’s attempt to locate Buchanan within the segregationist tradition in Southern political thinking is not supported by the historical record.

Finalist for the Allan Nevins Prize

I have recently received news that my dissertation (see here) was selected as a finalist for the Allan Nevins prize of the Economic History Association. As a result, I will be in San Jose (CA) between the 15th and the 17th of September to present my results in front of the members of the association.

For those who are interested, here are the papers that came out of my dissertation and their current publication status:

A Price Index for Canada, 1688 to 1850 (revise and resubmit to Canadian Journal of Economics).

Distinct from the Rest of North America: Living Standards in French Canada, 1688 to 1775  (second round of revisions requested from Explorations in Economic History).

Growth in the New World during the Colonial Era: Evidence from Canada, 1688 to 1790 (submitted to Canadian Journal of Economics).

The Wild Card: Colonial Paper Money in French North America, 1685 to 1719 (submitted to Journal of Money, Credit and Banking with Mathieu Bédard).

Were Wages That Low? Real Wages in the Strasbourg Regions Before 1775 (revise and resubmit to Journal of Interdisciplinary History).

The Wild Card: Colonial Paper Money in French North America, 1685 to 1719

I have another working paper available which I intend to submit in the next few days. This time, my partner is Mathieu Bédard (with whom I wrote this forthcoming article in the Journal of Private Enterprise). In the paper, we discuss the Canadian colonial experiment with paper money (written on the back of playing cards) between 1685 and 1719 in order to derive insights regarding an important debate in monetary history. For some years now (since the early 1980s), economic historians have debated why some issues of paper money in the American colonies during the 18th century did not lead to inflation. At the time of writing, no resolution seems forthcoming. This is largely the result of the absence of reliable macroeconomic data like wages, prices and outputs. We argue that Canada can help break the deadlock since we now have the needed macroeconomic data for the colony when it was under French rule and conducted similar monetary experiments as the American colonies.  The evidence for Canada suggests that more attention should be awarded to the role of the enforcement of legal tender laws in order. The abstract is below and the paper is here on SSRN and here on

We argue that the Canadian experiment with paper money (written on the backs of playing cards) can inform the puzzle of low inflation in the American colonies that experimented with paper money. The major impediment to the debate over the American experiment has been the limited data about prices and output—an impediment that does not exist for Canada thanks to recent works on its quantitative economic history (Geloso 2016). We show that variations in the money supply (M) cannot fully explain variations on the right-hand side of the equation of exchange P * Y for Canada, which leaves an important role for changes in velocity (V). The pattern of the velocity of paper money is consistent with changes in the enforcement intensity of legal tender laws. We argue that this narrative can be imported for the American colonies.

Divergence, convergence, and the history-augmented Solow Model

I have a new working paper available. This time, it is written with Vadim Kufenko and Klaus Prettner of the University of Hohenheim. It expands on a recent item in the literature about convergence which consists in using historical narratives to augment the Solow model in order to explain income differences between countries. This paper is the first of a series that we are working on which relies on better incorporating demographic insights into the convergence literature.  The abstract is below and the paper is available here:

We test the history-augmented Solow model with respect to its predictions on the patterns of divergence and convergence between the nowadays industrialized countries of the OECD. We show that the dispersion of incomes increased after the Industrial Revolution, peaked during the Second World War, and decreased afterwards. This pattern is fully consistent with the transitional dynamics implied by the history-augmented Solow model.

Is the U-Curve that Pronounced? Revisiting Income Inequality in the United States, 1917-1945

Along with Phil Magness, John Moore and Phil Vøn Schløsser, I assembled a series of concerns that we have regarding the measurement of income inequality in the US before 1945 as pictured by the Piketty-Saez U-Curve. We argue that the pronounced left-hand side of the U-Curve is sensitive to minor changes in assumptions as well as minor improvements in data quality. We argue that income inequality probably did fall and rise over the 20th century, but not in the proportions presented in the Piketty-Saez papers. The paper is available here on SSRN and the abstract is below:

In this article, we reconsider the level and trend of the income inequality series produced by Piketty and Saez (2003, 2015) for the United States using tax data for the period prior to 1945, which forms the left-side of a century-long distributional U-curve. We argue that there are reasons to doubt the depicted shape of the left-side of the U-curve of inequality. We make corrections to the series for reporting behavior conditional on tax regimes, minor changes to the definition of the tax unit population, and the fiscal income denominator. All of these corrections show comparatively stable top income shares throughout the period. We point out that comparisons with other state-level tax datasets – like Wisconsin which has conceptual advantages over the IRS data – yield dramatically different results that should make us skeptical of the trends observed with the IRS data.

Fur Prices in Quebec, 1757-1832

I have a new working paper available. This one is a data note that I just submitted to Essays in Economic and Business History because I want the data to be easily available. Basically, it provides the first extension of price history regarding the fur industry in Canada past the 1760s well into the 19th century. The abstract is below and the paper can be found here on SSRN and here on Academia:

This short note provides the first data series of fur prices in Canada that expands beyond the end of French rule. Linking with other available price series allows us to generate a price history of furs in Canada spanning from the late seventeenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Incomes and Growth in Canada, 1688 to 1790

After some work over details and robustness checks, I am finally ready to present the final version of my estimates of Canadian GDP from 1688 to 1790. The article is available here on SSRN, the abstract is below:

This article provides the first estimate of per capita GDP for Quebec – the largest colony in Canada before 1790. It finds a modest rate of long-term economic growth in spite of frequent large war shocks and that the inhabitants were poorer than the Americans, the British, and the French, equally rich as the Mexicans and richer than the Peruvians. It also finds that income-based comparisons yield a different result than wage-comparisons between New World and Old World Economies.