Prices in Canada from 1688 to 1850

I have just completed my most recent paper. It is a price index for Canada covering the period from 1688 to 1850. I use prices collected from the account books of religious congregations with estates throughout the modern-day province of Quebec. The consistency of the type of price quotations in the source material, the high frequency of observations for many goods, the vast number of goods and the inclusion of numerous non-agricultural and non-food goods represent a substantial improvement over previous indexes. Price trends are mildly different from those of existing, but less comprehensive, price indexes. This new index is used to link up with indexes post-1850 in order to create a 328 years-long price index for Canada.

The paper can be consulted here at SSRN and here at Academia

Multilingualism and the Decline of French in Quebec

I have new working paper out (its now under consideration at Social Science Quarterly). Its a short article on the impact of the ecological inference fallacy in measuring the use of French in my home province of Quebec. Alongside my good friend Alex Arsenault Morin (a promising PhD student at Queen’s University), I argue that the vitality of the French language in Quebec is misestimated by different linguistic behaviors in the workplace and in the household.

The abstract is below and the article is here on SSRN:

Using census data from 2001, 2006 and 2011, we contest the view that the French language is retreating in Quebec. We argue that the apparent decline of French in Quebec is linked to a rise in multilingualism, especially of multilingualism in which French is one of the spoken languages. We find that inter-linguistic marriages, along with a rise in the proportion of individuals whose language at home is different from their language at work, distort statistics considerably. The level of usage of the French language is therefore considerably underestimated and the often discussed downward trend is absent. This yields important implications for policy analysis.

Monopsony and industrial development in nineteenth century Quebec : the impact of seigneurial tenure

Is monopsony power a potent candidate to explain Quebec’s divergence within Canada? Alongside Alex Arsenault Morin and Vadim Kufenko, I make this case in a new working paper.

Basically, we argue that the land tenure system created a series of localized monopsonies on the non-farm labor market. We argue that this depressed wages and labor demand (we have no measure of total employment in the non-farm sector). The abstract is below and the link is here (ungated):

We argue that the system of seigneurial tenure used in the province of Quebec until the mid-nineteenth century – a system which allowed significant market power in the establishment of plants, factories and mills, combined with restrictions on the mobility of the labor force within each seigneurial estate – is best understood as a system of regionalized monopsonies in the non-farm sector. Seigneurs had incentives to reduce their employment in those sectors to reduce wage rates. We use the fact that later, with the Constitutional Act of 1791, all new settled lands had to be settled under a different system (British land laws). This natural experiment allows us to test our hypothesis that seigneurial tenure was a monopsony, using data from the 1831 and 1851 Lower Canada censuses. We find strong evidence that this difference in tenure partially explains the gap in industrial development between Quebec and the neighboring colony of Ontario

Living Standards in Lower Canada, 1831

A few months ago, I posted the first version of a paper that considered the issue of living standards in Lower Canada in 1831. It was co-authored with Vadim Kufenko and Remy Villeneuve. Since then, we have reworked the paper and integrated it with another paper. In this paper, we also ask the question of whether or not seigneurial tenure (the peculiar institution of Lower Canada) could have mattered. The abstract is below and the paper can be found here.

This paper uses the price and wage data contained in the 1831 census of Lower Canada to provide regional estimates of disparities in living standards within Quebec in 1831. Combining these data with price data for the colony as a whole, we compare living standards in Quebec with those of numerous American and Canadian cities at the same point in time. The results show that Quebec was overall poorer in comparison. However, there are wide variations within the colony—mostly along institutional lines. As a whole, Quebec was significantly poorer than the United States at the same time.

Electricity in Quebec Before Nationalization, 1920 to 1939

I have a new working paper out there that I am about to submit. It is co-written with my old-time partner in crime, Germain Belzile (HEC Montreal) and it concerns the electricity business in Quebec before nationalization. The abstract is below and the paper can be consulter here on SSRN or here on Academia:

Upon opening history books about the electrical industry in the Canadian province of Quebec prior to nationalization (which was realized in two steps between 1944 and 1962), one is often confronted with the claim that the industry was monopolistic and was gouging consumers especially when compared to the neighbouring province of Ontario. Even though it is hard to collect price data at the level of firms, it is possible to collect some overall—but often ignored—data about the industry to evaluate this claim. With the use of such data over time, we observe the opposite: electrical firms in Quebec increased production faster than elsewhere while prices fell constantly. Moreover, there is strong evidence that productivity growth was higher in Quebec than in Ontario and the Canadian average. The main reason for this divergence between facts and history books is most likely the choice of comparing Quebec’s private industry with Ontario’s nationalized industry.


Forthcoming, Demographic Change and Regional Convergence in Canada

During the month of July, I posted a working paper that was written by myself, Vadim Kufenko and Klaus Prettner on the role of demographic change in measuring income convergence across provinces in Canada. We argued that wide differences in household minimized differences in income per adult equivalent relative to differences in per capita income (at least until the 1990s). You can consult the paper here.

The paper was submitted to Economics Bulletin and it has been accepted for publication. It will be available online soon.

Thank you to those who provided comments.


A U-Curve of Inequality? Measuring Inequality in the Interwar Period

I have a new working paper fresh out of the oven. My co-authors (John Moore and Philip Schlosser) are myself are seeking comments. Basically, this is part of a series of papers on the economic history of the United States from 1890 to 1940 for which we obtained funding.

In fact, it is the first paper of that series and questions the use of tax data for the measurement of inequality during the era from the late 1910s to the 1940s. We argue that this is a crucial period in our understanding of inequality in America. The period from the end of the Great War to the beginning of the Second World War is marked by a high level of inequality that falls thereafter, reaching the trough in the 1970s. After that point, inequality increases dramatically up to the present time and returns to 1920s-like level. This is Thomas Piketty’s U-Curve of Inequality

We argue that the tax data overestimates inequality in the 1920s and underestimates it in the 1930s. This changes the left-side of the U-Curve. We argue that this tail is flatter than what Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have claimed. It looks more like a J-curve or even a steady linear increase thereafter.

The paper can be consulted here on Academia or here on SSRN. The abstract can be found below:

Abstract: In this paper, we question the level of inequality in the 1920s as presented in recent works by Piketty (2014, 2015), Piketty and Saez (2003) and Atkinson, Piketty and Saez (2011). Their work purports to observe a U-shaped curve of the evolution for inequality over time; it falls from the 1920s to the 1960s and increases thereafter. The implicit assumption is that we are now returning to 1920s-like inequality. We argue that it is quite likely that they dramatically overstate the level of inequality observed in the 1920s which materially affects any narrative of the evolution of inequality thereafter.