Was (English) Canada Poorer than the United States? Living Standards circa 1830 to circa 1845

I have a new working paper available. This time, it is co-authored with Gonzalo Macera (Texas Tech University & Free Market Institute). We use evidence from the censuses of 1842 in Canada to showcase that most of the differences in living standards between the United States stem from the relative poverty of Quebec – home of the French-speaking population of Canada. Because of Quebec’s important demographic weight, we argue that this finding that Canada was nearly equal to the US in the early 19th century highlights the need to consider what institutions weighted down Quebec and Canada as a second order effect. The abstract is below and the link to SSRN is here:

This paper uses the censuses of 1842 of Canada East (modern day Quebec) and Canada West (modern day Ontario) to help explain the historical differences in living standards between Canada and the United States. The argument made in this paper is that Canada East was substantially poorer than the rest of Canada. The wage and price data contained in the censuses suggest a gap of 42% between Canada East and Canada West. As it represented such a large of the total population (north of 35%) of Canada, that relative poverty weighed heavily in determining the extent of living standards differences between Canada and the United States. This changes the perspective on the roots of the differences between the two countries. It proposes that any research agenda trying to explain them should focus heavily on Quebec.


Markets for Rebellions? The Rebellions of 1837–38 in Lower Canada

Along with Vadim Kufenko, I have a new working paper available where we assess the role of market development as a cost-reducing mechanism to the coordination of rebellious activities. We use the colony of Lower Canada which rebelled against British rule in 1837-38. The paper is available here on SSRN and the abstract is below:

In 1837–38, the British colonies of Upper and Lower Canada rebelled. The rebellion was most virulent in the latter of the two colonies. Historians have argued that economic consideration were marginal in explaining the causes of the rebellions. To make this claim, they argue that the areas that rebelled in Lower Canada were among the richest in the colony, and the least likely to be motivated by economic factors. In this paper, we use the census of 1831 and databases of rebellious events to question this claim. We argue that the rich areas were more prone to rebellion because they were where markets were most developed. These well-developed markets allowed for cheaper coordination of seditious elements while also increasing the wealth (i.e. the rent) over which to fight.

Adjusting Inequalities for Regional Price Parities: Importance and Implications

My paper with Youcef Msaid on the impact of adjusting inequality figures with regional price indices (as opposed to national indices) is now available at the Journal of Regional Analysis & Policy.  In the paper we show that doing this adjustment reduces modestly the level of inequality and changes dramatically the geographical distribution of households in the top and bottom deciles of the income distribution. The latter point is crucial to formulating proper policy to deal with inequality. The abstract is below :

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 over-represented 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.

Forthcoming: Distinct from the Rest of North America: Living Standards in French Canada, 1688 to 1775

I received news yesterday that my paper on real wages in Quebec (French Canada) from 1688 to 1775 has been accepted for publication at Cliometrica. The SSRN version of the paper is no longer the exact version that has been accepted, but its core results are still valid:

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 follow a welfare ratios approach and find that Quebec was poorer than the American colonies and England, while being slightly richer than France. However, this last conclusion is sensitive to changes in the basket used to compare wages. When one shifts from a bare-bones basket in the welfare ratio to a respectable basket, Quebec becomes only as rich as France, but remains poorer than the American colonies and England.

This is an important development for me as I have been waiting for the publication of this paper to set up my other papers. Indeed, finding that Canada was poorer (and in line with most of Latin America) during the colonial era suggests that a) Canadian institutions should be considered in the same light as American and Latin American institutions; b) that there is something clearly exceptional that is happening in the American colonies at the time.

Forthcoming: Market Theory and the Lighthouse System (book chapter)

Alongside Rosolino Candela, I have a new paper out. This paper is to be included in a forthcoming edited companion to the work of Israel Kirzner (UFM Companion to Israel Kirzner). The chapter is a reconsideration of the debate on the lighthouse as a public good in the lenses of Israel Kirzner’s emphasis on market processes. The chapter is available here on SSRN and the abstract is down below:

In this chapter, we point out that Kirzner’s focus on the market process and entrepreneurial alertness to profit opportunities that come from improving allocative efficiency (or pushing back the frontiers of production possibilities) is universal in that it can be applied to what appears to be the most unassailable “bailey” of market failure theory. To do so, we consider the historical case of lighthouses which, because the light they produced to guide ships in the age of sail was non-rivalrous and non-excludable, is considered the textbook example of a “pure” public good. We point to recent research that show that the market process could have led to the production of efficient maritime safety services but that it was prevented from operating by state-mandated monopolistic guilds. As such, we argue that even this seemingly impregnable bailey of market failure theory fails to withstand Kirzner’s argument.

Forthcoming: James M. Buchanan and the Political Economy of Desegregation

My article, co-authored with Phil Magness and Art Carden, on James Buchanan and the political economy desegregation is now forthcoming at the Southern Economic Journal. In this article, we do two things: 1) we respond to the claims made by Nancy MacLean (Duke University) in Democracy in Chains that nobel laureate James Buchanan was a closeted racist and segregationist and show that the opposite was true; 2) we situate public choice within debates over racism and desegregation. The article can be downloaded here on SSRN and the abstract is below:

Recent historical works, most notably 2017’s Democracy in Chains, claim that 1986 Nobel Laureate James M. Buchanan’s formative contributions to political economy were inspired in significant part by hostility to Brown v. Board of Education. This argument suggests that the research agenda of public choice economics emerged from an opportunistic alliance with Virginia’s “Massive Resistance” to school integration and should thus be situated within the racially tinged tradition of southern conservatism. While Buchanan wrote very little on the economics of race, an extensive review of archival evidence as well as his published works refutes this claimed association. Buchanan’s work is better understood in the context of his Chicago school mentor Frank Knight as well as his own support for the public choice contributions of W.H. Hutt, rather than the unattested links to southern racial conservatism that are posited by MacLean. To the contrary, we show that Buchanan opposed segregation and believed that the competitive processes of an educational voucher system would undermine the Massive Resistance status quo. We accordingly reject the primary thesis of Democracy in Chains and offer a corrective account of the relationship between Buchanan and the segregation debate.

The Cuban Revolution and Infant Mortality, 1959-1974

I have a new working paper available. This time, it concerns Cuba (again) and I joined efforts with my friend Jamie Bologna Pavlik of Texas Tech University to write up that paper. We used a synthetic control method to assess the effect of the 1959 revolution on Cuba’s infant mortality rate. As health outcomes are often presented as the Castro regime’s best accomplishment (and yet there exists no attempt to disentangle the true effects of the revolution), we decided that this was a paper whose time had come. We find that infant mortality went up relative to the counterfactual between 1959 and 1970 but then reverted back to the counterfactual (a reversal which we attribute to the ramping-up of Soviet subsidies to Cuba). Overall, somewhere between 33,000 and 41,000 extra infant deaths occurred between 1959 and 1974. The paper is available here on SSRN and the abstract is below:

The Cuban government often vaunts its accomplishment of reducing infant mortality post 1959. However, because many Latin American countries experienced similar decreases, it is unclear that this effect is government induced. We use the fact that Cuba underwent momentous and unique political change to consider the legacy of the Fidel Castro regime on infant mortality. We employ a synthetic control method to ascertain the reduction attributable to the regime. We find that in the first years of the regime, infant mortality increased relative to the counterfactual but that – after the introduction of Soviet foreign aid – infant mortality reverted to trend.