Fri, 16 June 2017
My guest on this episode is Kevin B. Grier of the University of Oklahoma.
Our topic for today is a paper Kevin wrote on the economic consequences of Hugo Chavez along with coauthor Norman Maynard.
I had Francisco Toro on the show last year to discuss Venezuela's economic history, so you can listen to that episode if you want a refresher on Chavez. For this episode, our main topic is the empirical method Kevin used to quantify Chavez' effect on Venezuela: synthetic control.
Synthetic control is a relatively new empirical technique. It grew out of an older technique called difference in differences (or diff-in-diff). Diff-in-diff is simple and intuitive: Given two statistics with parallel trends, we can compare their changes before and after some intervention affecting only one of them to see the effect of the intervention. So for instance, if you wanted to know the effect of Seattle's minimum wage increase, you could compare the employment trend among low-skilled workers in Seattle to the same trend in Portland. Then assuming Seattle and Portland would have had similar trends if not for the minimum wage hike, we say the difference between the employment growth in the two cities is attributable to the minimum wage hike.
But what if Seattle and Portland don't have similar trends? What if there's no labour market similar enough to Seattle's to provide a valid comparison? That's where synthetic control comes in. Seattle might not be like Portland, but it might be like a weighted average of Portland, San Francisco, and several counties just outside Seattle. We could construct this weighted average and call it a synthetic Seattle; it is designed to mimic the dynamics of Seattle's labour market before the minimum wage hike. Then if the synthetic Seattle deviates from the real Seattle after the wage hike, we can attribute that difference to the hike.
This is what Kevin has done to study the impact of Hugo Chavez on Venezuela. Listen to the episode to find out his results!
Fri, 9 June 2017
My guest for this episode is Mark Koyama of George Mason University. Our topic is a recent paper titled, "States and Economic Growth: Capacity and Constraints," which Mark coauthored with Noel Johnson.
As stated in the paper, "state capacity describes the ability of a state to collect taxes, enforce law and order, and provide public goods." That said, state capacity does not mean big government. A state may have the power to impose rules across its territory, but it doesn't have to use that power in a tyrannical way. Another way of saying that is to say that having a high state capacity is compatible with Adam Smith's desire for "peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice."
One metric that researchers use to measure state capacity is tax revenue per capita. But as Mark is careful to point out, a state with less state capacity can still sometimes achieve a relatively high income through tax farming. This is the practice in many pre-modern states of auctioning off the right to extract tax revenues to local elites in different regions.
We discuss the rise of modern nation-states in various regions, and why some states developed more state capacity than others going into the twentieth century. In particular, we discuss Europe's transition away from a feudal system ruled in a decentralized way by monarchs who held power based on their personal relationships with local lords. England's Glorious Revolution of 1688 allowed it to develop its state capacity earlier than other European nations, with a centralized tax system controlled by parliament.
By contrast, continental powers like the French Ancien Régime and the Hapsburg Empire were legally and fiscally fragmented, leading them to develop their state capacity much later than England.
We also discuss the development of state capacity in Asia, and why Meiji Japan was able to develop its state capacity much faster than Qing Dynasty China.
Fri, 2 June 2017
My guest for this episode is Nuno Palma, he is an assistant professor of economics, econometrics, and finance at the University of Groningen.
Our discussion begins with the monetary history of England. Nuno has authored a study that reconstructs England's money supply from 1270 to 1870. We discuss his methods and findings. We also discuss the influx of precious metals into European markets after the discovery of the New World.
Later in the conversation, we discuss the effect of trade on economic growth during the industrial revolution. Nuno places a greater importance on international trade than McCloskey and Mokyr, but a lesser importance than historians like Wallerstein. Although gross trade flows were not particularly large, trade created new domestic industries like the porcelain industry that was created to compete with Chinese imports. Imports also encouraged urbanization among the European population, something that created many positive spillover effects over the long term.