Fri, 28 July 2017
Noel recently released a working paper titled "The Effects of Land Redistribution: Evidence from the French Revolution." It is coauthored with Theresa Finley and Raphael Franck. The paper examines the consequences of the land auctions held by the Revolutionary government in France. The abstract reads as follows:
This study exploits the confiscation and auctioning off of Church property that occurred during the French Revolution to assess the role played by transaction costs in delaying the reallocation of property rights in the aftermath of fundamental institutional reform. French districts with a greater proportion of land redistributed during the Revolution experienced higher levels of agricultural productivity in 1841 and 1852 as well as more investment in irrigation and more efficient land use. We trace these increases in productivity to an increase in land inequality associated with the Revolutionary auction process. We also show how the benefits associated with the head-start given to districts with more Church land initially, and thus greater land redistribution by auction during the Revolution, dissipated over the course of the nineteenth century as other districts gradually overcame the transaction costs associated with reallocating the property rights associated with the feudal system.
What's so interesting about this particular instance of land redistribution is the fact that it was all sold to the highest bidder rather than being given to the poor. This breaks with the pattern of most attempts at land reform throughout history. People have been trying to take land away from the rich and give it to the poor since at least Tiberius Gracchus in the second century BCE. But the Revolutionary government needed money and they needed it fast. So they concocted a plan to seize and auction off all French lands owned by the Catholic Church, which comprised about 6.5 percent of the country.
Land auctions take time though, and the government desperately needed funds in the short term, so they issued a monetary instrument known as the assignat that could be used in these land auctions. The land was eventually auctioned off and then traded in secondary markets, where much of it was consolidated into large estates that could employ capital-intensive agricultural practices on a large scale.
The evidence suggests that these land auctions added to the productivity of the regions where they occurred. Noel argues that this occurred because the reduction in transaction costs allowed for a more efficient allocation of property rights. One could argue, however, that the Church might have simply owned more productive land to begin with, and the paper uses a series of identification strategies to show that this is not the main driver of their results.
Rachel Laudan discusses the history of potatoes and other foods on EconTalk.
Photo credit: Early French banknote issue during the French Revolution (Assignat) for 400 livres, (1792), from the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.
Thu, 20 July 2017
My guest for this is Ekaterina Jardim of the University of Washington. Ekaterina is one of the authors of the new minimum wage study that has been making headlines recently, "Minimum Wage Increases, Wages, and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle." One reason this study is so interesting is that it was funded by the City of Seattle, which is something that governments aren’t obligated or expected to do when they enact major policy changes like these minimum wage hikes.
There was a broad theoretical and empirical consensus in the 1980s that higher minimum wages have disemployment effects on the low skilled, and then Card and Krueger (1994) started a new empirical literature that found no evidence of disemployment effects.
A major problem with Card and Krueger (1994) and with many of the other studies conducted over the past quarter century was their use of proxy measures for low-skilled workers. Instead of looking at workers who actually earned less than the new minimum wage, these studies looked at groups that they knew to contain many minimum-wage workers: generally teenagers or restaurant workers. This new study does not face this limitation because Washington State requires firms to report both the hours worked and the wages of all workers.
One criticism I’m seeing a lot in response to the media coverage of this study is the fact that they had to drop multi-location firms from the sample. The reason for this is that the data only shows what firms people work for, not their location. So if a firm has locations both inside and outside Seattle, you don't know whether a given worker in that firm belongs in the treatment or the control. Still, despite this limitation, the study's sample included over 60 percent of workers in Seattle. Furthermore, the study authors surveyed employers and found that the multi-site firms that were excluded from the sample actually reported more reductions in work hours than did the firms that remained in the sample. So if anything, this omission understates rather than overstates the effect of the minimum wage increase.
One big concern people have is just how much this study's results deviate from the established literature. The authors address this by repeating their analysis using employment in the restaurant industry as a proxy for low-skilled labour. They find that using this proxy for low-skilled labour reduces the measured impact of the minimum wage to near zero, consistent with past studies that have looked only at the restaurant industry.
It seems that this apparently robust finding, replicated in study after study over the past few decades, was actually a quirk of studying the restaurant industry, which tends to substitute high-skilled labour for low-skilled labour rather than cutting total labour hours as a short-run response to minimum wage hikes.
Kevin Grier explains the synthetic control method, which the minimum wage study uses to construct a control group.
Fri, 14 July 2017
My guest today is Kevin Erdmann, he blogs about economics and finance at Idiosyncratic Whisk.
Kevin has written a ton about housing, as evidenced by the titles of his blog posts. A recent one is labeled Housing: Part 239. This series is part of a larger book project that Kevin is publically drafting on his blog.
We discuss the housing bubble of the 2000s and the post-2008 housing market. I took my first undergraduate economics class in 2008, just as the financial crisis was beginning, so there's never been a time in my economics career when people weren't talking about this. And yet, I still have so much to learn!
Kevin makes an interesting distinction between "open-access cities" and "closed-access cities." Closed-access cities are places like San Francisco, New York, and San Jose that have restricted their housing supplies. Open-access cities are places like Houston and Phoenix with more elastic housing supplies. We talk about these factors and how they relate to the housing boom and bust, liquidity, and central bank policy.
Kevin points out that supply side restrictions on housing construction are necessary for demand-side factors to cause housing bubbles. That's because in a market with an elastic housing supply, more demand doesn't result in higher prices, it just causes more homes to be built.
Fri, 7 July 2017
The guest for this episode is Jonathan Morduch, he is a professor of public policy and economics at NYU and the author of The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty, co-authored with Rachel Schneider.
The book looks at the financial situations of ordinary American families. It is centered around a detailed survey of 235 households where they recorded what they earned and what they spent at an extremely granular level.
From a truck mechanic whose income depends on bad weather wearing out the parts on trucks to a blackjack dealer whose tips literally depend on her customers' winnings at the blackjack table, the surveys reveal a huge amount of variance in the incomes and expenses of these households. This variance is not captured in annualized statistics, but it has profound implications for the way these households spend and save.
We discuss financial literacy in the context of the real problems people face and relate the stories to some results from behavioural and experimental economics.