Friday, January 13, 2017

Economic History in 2016: American Economic History

I posted recently about economic history in 2016 and said that I would have another post that focused on American Economic History. Here it is. Again, 2016 is loosely defined for the purposes of this blogpost, though I think most of the stuff here was published or presented in some way during the year. Also, please do not think that this is intended as an objective list of the best or most important work. This is more like a list of things that came to my attention and will influence what I teach my students in American Economic History.

Measuring Income and Inequality
Lindert, Peter H., and Jeffrey G. Williamson Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality since 1700

This book did not get nearly as much attention as Robert Gordons’ book, but it is far more important for American economic history. There are a lot of reasons why this is an important book. It provides the most up to date picture of long term economic development in America, and it provides a model for economic historians of careful use of primary sources, making the most of the limited sources available.  

Some of the findings:
1.       The U.S. was among the most developed nations very early on.
2.       The Revolution had a large negative effect on incomes.
3.       The relative decline of the South began long before the Civil War.
4.       There is no fundamental law driving inequality. Instead, inequality has risen and fallen over time in response to a changes in demographics, finance, technological change, politics, education policy, and trade.

See also Lindert, Peter H., and Jeffrey G. Williamson. "American colonial incomes, 1650–1774." The Economic History Review 69.1 (2016): 54-77, which shows that “The common view that American per capita income did not overtake that of Britain until the start of the twentieth century appears to be off the mark by two centuries or more.”

Race, Racism, and the Effects of Slavery

Marcella Alsan and Marrianne Wanamaker. "Tuskegee and the Health of Black Men." (2016) used survey data on mistrust of doctors, data on health care utilization, and mortality to show that the Tuskegee experiments had a significant negative effect on the health of older African American men.

See also Celeste K. Carruthers, and Marianne H. Wanamaker. Separate and unequal in the labor market: human capital and the Jim crow wage gap. No. w21947. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2016 on the effect of unequal eduction on skills and wages.

John Parman, Trevon Logan, and Lisa D. Cook used census records in innovative ways to answer questions about segregation and the consequences of distinctively black names. Many of their working papers are available at their websites.

Logan, Trevon, and John Parman. The national rise in residential segregation. No. w20934. National Bureau of Economic Research, found that “The likelihood that an African American household had a non-African American neighbor declined by more than 15 percentage points (more than a 25% decrease) through the mid-twentieth century.” Using this measure of segregation, they also find that higher levels of segregation were associated with an increase in lynching (go to Parman’s website for a link to this paper.)

Lisa Cook, Trevon D. Logan, and John M. Parman. "The mortality consequences of distinctively black names." Explorations in Economic History 59 (2016): 114-125 see Vox for a summary of this work. They found that distinctively black names raised male life expectancy by about 4 years. “One possible explanation lies in the nature of those historical black names. They often draw on biblical names or denote empowerment. Coupled with evidence that names were often passed from father to son, these name characteristics suggest that those with a distinctively black name may have stronger family, church, or community ties. These stronger social networks could help an individual weather negative shocks throughout life, ultimately leading to far better long-term outcomes, as demonstrated in Cook (2011, 2012).”

Evolution of Institutions, Organizations and Markets

Several economic historians are using the North, Wallis and Weingast (transition to open access order) framework to explain the evolution of institutions, especially those governing business organization and finance, in early America.

Hilt, Eric. "Corporation Law and the Shift toward Open Access in the Antebellum United States." In Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development. University of Chicago Press.

Economic History and the History of Capitalism

On two occasions, at Dartmouth and the AHA meetings economic historians and historians of capitalism got together in the same room. Caitlin Rosenthal was involved both times, and in a recent paper in Journal of the Early Republic she continues to argue for more interaction. 

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