There is no rest for the wicked. Every morning, I am up at 05:30 to start writing and every day I advance my research agenda a little more. The most recent addition to my list is written with my good friend Phil Magness of George Mason University. Phil and I have been concentrated for the last year or so on the task of improving (alongside John Moore and Phil Schlosser for subsequent papers) the precision of inequality measurements before 1941 in the United States. There are many difficulties in tackling this topic, most notably the gargantuan magnitude of the task. As such, we sliced our contribution into different articles. The one you will find here on SSRN is the first (of three, maybe four) papers on the topic. The abstract is below:
In this short note, we use two different sources available for the state of Wisconsin
in order to assess the quality of income inequality measurements in the United States between the two World Wars. By comparing estimates derived from federal income tax records with estimates derived from the state income tax for Wisconsin, we find that each series produces highly different patterns and levels in inequality for the state. These findings attest to the high sensitivity of modern distributional estimation techniques to issues of quality with their underlying data sources. Noting this concern, we argue for greater caution in the use of income tax data for measuring historical income inequality.
I know, I’ve published a lot of working papers in the last few days, but many of them came to maturity at the same time as a pure coincidence. However, the one I am publishing right now is slightly different. The other ones were ready for submission and publication (if accepted). This one is missing something as me and my co-authors (Jari Eloranta of Appalachian State University and Vadim Kufenko of the University of Hohenheim) fell that there is a need to “add some flesh around the bones” in order to improve the framing and the empirics of the paper. Basically, the paper asks if the public good of global security provided by Empire (i.e. what we call the security effect) comes at a cost too high because of the expenses associated with providing said security. We concentrate on the shipping industry and its productivity and argue that large military navies required to create the security effect generate a crowding-out effect on the industry that depresses trade. The abstract is below, the paper can be consulted here on SSRN and we welcome comments:
While there is a rich literature on the benefits of empire in terms of the provision of key public goods—notably security for international trade—the costs have been downplayed. In this paper, we focus on merchant shipping data between Canada and Britain between 1764 and 1860 to measure these costs. Imperial hegemony would have implied greater security for shippers and this, in turn, would have stimulated investments in productivity. However, we contend that a counter-effect would have operated simultaneously. The provision of greater security meant greater military navies which crowded out merchant navies in terms of availability of capital and labor. We argue that the benefit of the “security effect” has to be weighed against the cost of the “crowding-out” effect. We find that the “crowding-out effect” was larger than the “security effect.” For “security effects” to overpower “crowding out effects,” one had to have a very small navy in absolute terms but a large one relative to other military powers.
I have a new working paper, which I have been allowing to mature for some months now, concerning the assessment of Cuba’s health outcomes since Castro took power in 1959. The abstract is below and the article can be consulted here on SSRN and here on Academia:
In spite of being poor and lacking in economic opportunities, the population of Cuba enjoyed significant improvements in health outcomes under the Castro regime. Many have praised the ability of the regime to overcome the barriers of poverty and economic stagnation in order to improve health outcomes. Many have also argued that efficient features of Cuba’s health policy should be imported regardless of political considerations. In this paper, we argue that these improvements are probably overestimated, but that they are real nonetheless. We also argue that some of these improvements were an integral part of health policy and could only have been realized by the use of extremely coercive institutions. While efficient at fighting certain types of diseases, coercive institutions are generally unable to generate economic growth. On the other hand, the poverty such coercive institutions engender may have actually helped improve health outcomes, providing us with a false impression of the efficacy of the health care system in Cuba.
UPDATE: The chapter has been accepted for publication
I have a new working paper out there which has been submitted for publication as a chapter in an upcoming book on American economic history. The goal of the book is to provide insights from public choice theory into the study of American economic history. The abstract is below and the paper can be consulted here on SSRN and here on Academia:
Starting in 1755, the French-speaking colonists of Atlantic Canada (known as the Acadians) were deported by the British. The expulsion was desired by the American colonists in New England but was opposed by the government back in England. In fact, the expulsion was enacted against the wishes of the Imperial government. Set against the backdrop of rising public debt in England, the costly expulsion of the Acadians (combined with the subsequent conquest of the French-speaking colony of Quebec) contributed to a change in policy course favoring centralization. Using public choice theory, I construct a narrative to argue that the Acadian expulsion contributed to the initiation of the American Revolution.
My paper with Vadim Kufenko and Michael Hinton regarding farming efficiency in Quebec during the 19th century has been accepted for publication in Historical Methods which is a great journal of quantitative historians. The paper can be consulted here and the abstract is below:
New TFP estimates drawn from the neglected census of 1831 for Lower Canada are used to test the controversial, but still dominant, traditional “poor French farmers” explanation for a prolonged economic crisis. The new evidence shows that French-speaking areas were equally productive as English-speaking areas – something that upturns the established consensus and reinforces the minority viewpoint that culture had little to do with the crisis. Using a broad range of controls, we find that this conclusion is robust and that other variables such as settlement recency, environment and economic structure were much more significant determinants of TFP. We argue that these results warrant the abandonment of the cultural explanation and a shift towards other explanatory channels
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.
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).