Fri, 24 March 2017
Returning to the podcast is Vincent Geloso of Texas Tech University.
Our topic for this episode is anthropometric history, the study of history by means of measuring humans. Doing serious historical research into the distant past is difficult work, because the further you look back in time, the less information you can access. For the 20th century we have wonderful thing like chain-weighted real GDP. Going back further, we have some statistics, lots of surviving physical evidence, and loads of documents and writings. Going further than that, we're left with the odd scrap of thrice-copied surviving manuscripts and second-hand accounts from people who lived centuries after the events they describe. And going even further than that, we have just bones and dilapidated temples with the occasional inscription.
Anthropometric history allows us to look into the distant past at what economic historians like Vincent hope might be a good measure of different populations' health and standards of living: their heights. People who have healthy upbringings with lots of access to food tend to be taller than people who don't; that's why modern humans are much taller than they were a thousand or even a hundred years ago.
Vincent has contributed to this literature with his latest co-authored paper, The Heights of French-Canadian Convicts, 1780s to 1820s. The abstract reads as follows:
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.
Listen to the full episode for our fascinating discussion of this branch of historical research, including the so-called "Antebellum puzzle," the anomalous observation that American heights decreased in the years prior to the Civil War even though the economy was apparently growing rapidly. We also discuss the heights of slaves in the American South, who were taller than their white counterparts despite being oppressed as slaves.
Fri, 17 March 2017
Today's guest is Kate Raworth, she is a senior visiting research associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, a Senior Associate at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, and the author of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist.
In this interesting and wide-ranging discussion, we discuss Kate's critiques of the standard models taught to economics undergraduates, as well as her views on development, economic growth, inequality, and the environment. You might think our viewpoints would be very different on these topics, but we find a surprising amount of common ground.
During our discussion of inequality and the patterns noticed in the 1950s by Simon Kuznets, I bring up Geloso and Magness' work on inequality in the early 20th century. You can hear my conversation with Vincent Geloso about that research here, as well as his comments on it here.
Fri, 10 March 2017
Today's guest is Akin Unver of Kadir Has University. He uses geospatial data to study political events such as the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016.
The coup was an attempt by certain rogue elements of the Turkish armed forces to oust President Erdogan. However, unlike past coups in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997, the Turkish people documented and coordinated their opposition to it on social media in real time, leaving a rich record of events as they unfolded.
Akin's research, which was featured in an extensive and detailed article for Foreign Affairs, shows how, when, and where the opposition to the coup occurred. He shows, for instance, the importance of mosque networks in coordinating resistance. And while the media put a lot of importance on Erdogan's personal appeals through FaceTime and Twitter in galvanizing support, the data show that resistance started organically almost as soon as the coup began, hours before Erdogan appeared on television to rally support.
The discussion delves deep into specific details of the coup and the resistance, while also touching on other areas of Akin's research. Towards the end, we discuss the technical side of working with geospatial data.
Fri, 3 March 2017
This episode features Anton Howes of Brown University. He is a historian of innovation, and in this conversation we discuss his work on the explosion of innovation that occurred in Britain between 1551 and 1851. You can check out his Medium blog for some of the articles we discuss.
Anton has collected a data set of over 1,000 British innovators who worked during this period. He has documented their education, their experience, and their relationships with one another. Some of the interesting patterns that emerge in his data are the large fraction of innovators who developed technologies in industries outside of their areas of expertise, as well as the high degree of interconnectedness between innovators.
Innovation, it seems, is a mindset; one that can be spread from person to person like a contagion. As far as Anton can tell, this mindset seems to have spread from Italy and the Low Countries during the Renaissance and taken hold in Britain to usher in its Industrial Revolution. With his view of innovation as a mindset, Anton's work complement's Deirdre McCloskey's work on the origins of modern economic growth.
Our conversation concludes with stories about some particularly interesting innovators, some of whom were also pirates!