News

New working paper: The Political Economy of Lighthouses in Antebellum America

I have a new working paper, this time with Justin Callais of my alma mater of Texas Tech University. In this paper, we show that lighthouses in America — the textbook example of a public good that must be provided by goverments — were not allocated solely according to economic needs. Political considerations played an important role in determining where lighthouses were built. The abstract is below and the paper can be accessed here on SSRN:


Lighthouses are the quintessential public goods and thus constitute a key illustration of market failure in need of government remedy. Considerable debates have been waged over whether optimal private provision was historically possible. However, little to no attention has been devoted to how lighthouse systems operated once governments took charge of remedying the public goods problem. Using the fact that Antebellum America came close to following the ideal textbook solution to the provision of public goods, we assess how government allocated lighthouses before the Civil War. We find some evidence that the lighthouses were built according to commercial needs. However, we also find strong evidence that political considerations played a strong role in selecting where lighthouses would be built.

New working paper: Pandemics, Economic Freedom, and Institutional Trade-Offs

I have a new working paper, this time with Ilia Murtazashvili, of the University of Pittsburgh. In this paper, we revisit the work of economic historian Werner Troesken who argued that countries that were historically well-equipped in terms of institutions to generate fast economic growth were poorly equipped to deal with infectious diseases such as smallpox. We argue that, using economic freedom, institutions actually targeted the costliest sources of mortality (such as typhoid) and that the trade-off of high wealth/limited ability to deal with smallpox is incomplete. The paper has been submitted for a special issue of the European Journal of Law and Economics.

Are Anarcho-Capitalists Insane? Living Standards Under Medieval Icelandic Conflict Institutions

I have received news earlier this week that my paper with Peter Leeson on living standards in medieval Iceland had been accepted for a special issue of the Revue d’Économie Politique (the oldest economics journal in French but which also publishes English articles). The article, whose final version can be found here, argues that Iceland’s relative statelessness did not generate low living standards. Quite the reverse, living standards matched those in England and exceeded those of the most of the Western world at the time.

New working paper: A narrow escape? Malthusian pressures in the late Imperial Moscow

I have a new working paper with my friends Vadim Kufenko and Katya Khaustova on Malthusian pressures on late Imperial Russia. Concentrating on Moscow, we find that Malthusian pressures (the short-run relationships between wages, deaths and births) disappeared in the period from 1870 to 1910. However, the escape is narrow (very) and they appear to come back at some points during the 1890s. Our results are consistent with new literature on economic growth in Russia in the decades prior to the Revolution. The abstract is below and the paper is here on SSRN

Did late Imperial Russia suffer from Malthusian pressures? In this paper, we use quarterly demographic and economic data from Moscow to answer this question using a VAR approach. In doing so, we provide the first application of this common methodology in economic history to pre-1913 Russia. We find signs that there was an escape from Malthusian pressures, but that this escape was a narrow one. Our findings are consistent with the existing literature depicting a low, but unsteadily increasing standard of living in Russia during the late imperial period.

New working paper: The Linguistic Wage Gap in Quebec, 1901 to 1921

This summer is the summer of productivity and I keep churning out new papers that needed to be finished. Here is the newest. Its with my friend Jason Dean of Sheridan College (who is an incoming professor at King’s University College) and studies the wage gap in Quebec between francophones and anglophones from 1901 to 1921. The abstract is below and the paper is available on SSRN:

For most of Canadian economic history, French-Canadians (composing more than a quarter of the country’s population) had living standards inferior to those of English-Canadians. This was true even in the province (Québec) where the French-Canadians constituted a majority. Today, no significant gap remains. However, the question of when the gap started to disappeared remains surprisingly unanswered. Most of the attention has been dedicated to the post-1970 data when census information is available and which shows rapid convergence. However, we do not know if the convergence started before 1970. In this paper, we use data from the 1901, 1911 and 1921 censuses to provide the first elements of an answer. We find that the gap started closing modestly at the beginning of the 20th century but that it stopped closing until 1970. This is an important finding as it suggests that while there was some pre-1970 convergence, the bulk of the convergence occurred after 1970.