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Study Questions: Pre-Commercial Revolution Economies

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Study Questions for the History of Economic Growth: For Midterm 1: Econ 135

  1. Explain in words what the steady-state balanced-growth path Solow-Malthus equilibrium equation for real living standards https://delong.typepad.com/.a/6a00e551f0800388340240a50c1a9a200b-pi tells us about what the level of income will be in a Malthusian society.
  2. Explain in words what the steady-state balanced-growth path Solow-Malthus equilibrium equation for the level of population https://delong.typepad.com/.a/6a00e551f0800388340240a50c1aa8200b-pi tells us about what the level of population will be in a Malthusian society.
  3. What do you think are the three most reasons not to take the Solow-Malthus model as gospel in understanding pre-Industrial Revolution economic growth—and its absence?
  4. What are three data sources that economic historians rely on to try to get a handle on the pace of economic growth in pre-modern times?
  5. Why did average incomes and prosperity levels remain so low back before the year 1500?
  6. What were the most important changes that made the Industrial Revolution possible?
  7. Where and when did the Industrial Revolution take place?
  8. What theory about why the Industrial Revolution happened when and where it did do you find most attractive?
  9. What are the limitations of and problems with the theory that you find most attractive about why the Industrial Revolution happened when and where it did?
  10. Were income and standards of living under the Roman Empire subject to Malthusian constraints?
  11. How, so far in this course, has the concept of economic class been important in shedding light on understanding processes of economic growth?
  12. Based on what we have covered in this course so far, what do you expect to see in economic growth in the world economy over the next 50, 100, and 1000 years?
  13. In the Solow growth model, what are the important determinants of prosperity in the sense of income per worker, and how do those determinants interact?
  14. Why is Michael Kremer's (and Paul Romer's, and Jared Diamond's) theory of growth—that much of economic growth can be explained by the facts that ideas are non-rival and that two heads are better than one—attractive?
  15. Why is Michael Kremer's (and Paul Romer's, and Jared Diamond's) theory of growth—that much of economic growth can be explained by the facts that ideas are non-rival and that two heads are better than one—inadequate?
  16. Why is it probably wrong to suppose that humanity's effective effort at innovation and technology development at any point in time is proportional to the human population then?
  17. What kinds of innovative effort are positive-sum? What kinds of innovative effort are negative-sum?
  18. Why do extensive empires often appear to have higher standards of living than other, more divided societies that possess the same level of useful ideas about technology and organization?
  19. Why do extensive empires often appear to have greater population densities than other, more divided societies that possess the same level of useful ideas about technology and organization and the same quality of natural resources?
  20. What was the "Columbian Exchange" and why was it important for economic growth?
  21. What was the impact of the Spanish Conquest on the population levels and the living standards of the Amerindian population living in the Americas when the conquistadores arrived?
  22. Explain why you are annoyed by Jared Diamond's claim that the invention of agriculture was a big mistake.
  23. On what evidence does Greg Clark base his conclusion that English working-class standards of living were roughly $2.50 a day in the eight centuries before 1800?
  24. Was the standard of living of the English working class highest in 1310, 1450, or 1800; and why was it highest when it was highest?
  25. Why does Lant Pritchett believe the world today is much more unequal than it was back in 1800? Do you buy his argument?
  26. Why, in Partha Dasgupta's view, is money an extremely useful societal invention?
  27. Why, in Partha Dasgupta's view, does "Becky" have so much more social power and opportunities than does "Desta"?
  28. At what rate does income per worker grow in the Solow growth model when an economy is on its equilibrium balanced-growth path? Why does it grow at that rate?
  29. At what rate does society's total income grow in the Solow growth model when an economy is on its equilibrium balanced-growth path? Why does it grow at that rate?
  30. What changes would tend to make an economy following the Solow growth model and on its equilibrium balanced-growth path richer?
  31. What changes would tend to make an economy following the Solow growth model and on its equilibrium balanced-growth path poorer?
  32. What is meant by saying that an economy is a "Malthusian economy"?
  33. What is meant by the "demographic transition"?
  34. Why doesn't technological progress raise standards of living in a Malthusian economy on its steady-state balanced-growth path?
  35. What do economic theorists think is the reason that the much larger global STEM workforce today than in 1870-1900 has not led to a faster proportional rate of technological progress now than back then?
  36. What does Aristotle claim are the four branches of household resource management, and which of the four does he think is most important?
  37. How much does Aristotle think a philosopher—or any aristocratic Greek male—should know about economic matters: market prices of commodities and production technologies?
  38. Why does Aristotle believe that markets and merchants are useful for a city-state, and for a Greek aristocratic male?
  39. Why does Aristotle believe that markets and merchants and too much knowledge about them are dangerous and destructive for a city-state, and for a Greek aristocratic male?
  40. Why does Gilgamesh deserve to be King of Uruk? And what should his people do when they recognize that he has turned into an overbearing tyrant?
  41. Why does Willem Jongman believe that the classical Mediterranean became so rich and prosperous, so much so that, in the words of the historian Edward Gibbon: "If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of [the Emperor] Domitian [in 96] to the accession of [the Emperor] Commodus [in 180]…"?
  42. Why, in Willem Jongman's view, was the prosperity of the Antonine-Age Roman Empire between the assassination of the Emperor Domitian in 96 and the accession of the Emperor Commodus in 180 not followed by a further expansion of or even the maintenance of equal prosperity?
  43. What happened to the living standards of peasants and craftsmen in western Europe in the two centuries after the 1346-1348 Bubonic Plague, and why do economic historians (led by Robert Brenner) think what happened happened?
  44. What happened to the living standards of peasants and craftsmen in eastern Europe in the two centuries after the 1346-1348 Bubonic Plague, and why do economic historians (led by Robert Brenner) think what happened happened?
  45. Consider the course of history in western Europe after the Bubonic Plague of 1346-8, the course of history in eastern Europe after the Bubonic Plague of 1346-8, and the course of history in the Roman Empire after the Antonine Plague of 165-180. Which two do Willem Jongman and Melissa Dell think are more closely analogous? Why and how?
  46. Why, in Peter Temin's view, was the prosperity of the Antonine-Age Roman Empire between the assassination of the Emperor Domitian in 96 and the accession of the Emperor Commodus in 180 not followed by a further expansion of prosperity and a 1500 years-earlier Industrial Revolution?
  47. Why, in Peter Temin's view, was the prosperity of the Antonine-Age Roman Empire between the assassination of the Emperor Domitian in 96 and the accession of the Emperor Commodus in 180 not followed by a further expansion of prosperity that carried the proportional growth rate of the value of the stock of useful human ideas about technology and organization up from the 0.06%/year of the year -1000 to year 1 Axial Age to something like the 0.15%/year of the year 1500 to year 1700 Commercial Revolution Era?
  48. Why, in Moses Finley's view, was the prosperity of the Antonine-Age Roman Empire between the assassination of the Emperor Domitian in 96 and the accession of the Emperor Commodus in 180 not followed by a further expansion of or even the maintenance of equal prosperity?
  49. What factors made it so that the year 1 was much more likely to have seen the Mediterranean dominated by a Rome-based formal empire of conquest and legions first and trade and cultural influence second than an Athens-based informal empire of trade and cultural influence first and conquest and fleets second?
  50. What, in Josh Ober's view, was the likelihood that classical Mediterranean civilization might have attained something like the pace of commercial activity and productivity growth of the 1500-1700 Commercial Revolution Era?
  51. What is Brad DeLong's guess of the average proportional rate of growth of the real value of the stock of useful human ideas about technology and organization in the long Agrarian Age between the invention of agriculture in the year -8000 and the year 1500? Why was this rate of growth so low?
  52. What is Brad DeLong's guess of the average proportional rate of growth of the real value of the stock of useful human ideas about technology and organization in the Commercial Revolution Era of 1500-1770? Why was this rate of growth so much higher than in the previous Agrarian Age? Why was this rate of growth so much lower than in the subsequent Industrial Revolution Era?
  53. What is Brad DeLong's guess of the average proportional rate of growth of the real value of the stock of useful human ideas about technology and organization in the Industrial Revolution Era of 1770-1870? Why was this rate of growth so much higher than in the previous Commercial Revolution Era? Why was this rate of growth so much lower than in the subsequent Modern Economic Growth Era?
  54. What is Brad DeLong's guess of the average proportional rate of growth of the real value of the stock of useful human ideas about technology and organization in the Modern Economic Growth Era of 1870-today? Why was this rate of growth so much higher than in the previous Industrial Revolution Era?
  55. What is Brad DeLong's guess of what the average proportional rate of growth of the real value of the stock of useful human ideas about technology and organization will be in the next five centuries? Why doesn't he think it will be higher? Why doesn't he think it will be lower?
  56. What is Brad DeLong's guess of what the average proportional rate of growth of human living standards was between the year -6000 and 1500. What factors made it so low?
  57. What is Brad DeLong's guess of what the average proportional rate of growth of human living standards was between the year -6000 and 1500. What factors made it so much lower than the rate of growth of the useful ideas stock?
  58. Suppose that the rate of growth of the real value of the stock of useful human ideas about technology and organization in the world had stuck at its Commercial Revolution Era 1500-1770 pace. What would you guess the world economy would look like today in terms of total human population and average living standards and productivity levels?
  59. Suppose that the rate of growth of the real value of the stock of useful human ideas about technology and organization in the world had stuck at its Industrial Revolution Era 1770-1870 pace. What would you guess the world economy would look like today in terms of total human population and average living standards and productivity levels?
  60. Suppose population growth in the "advanced west"—the European North Atlantic coast countries that were the most technologically advanced and became militarily powerful in the Commercial Revolution Era 1500 to 1770—had been at its historic level of 0.4%/year over 1500 to 1770, that invention and innovation had proceeded as in actual world history, but that the rest of the world had managed to fight off European colonialism and retain control of the Americas and of Indian Ocean trade in non-European hands. Would living standards in the European North Atlantic coast countries have then been likely to increase between 1500 and 1770? (In our history they increased by some 40% over that period.)

#berkeley #economicgrowth #economichistory #highlighted #teachinggrowth #teachinghistory #2020-02-14



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Economy

Book of the Week 7: To Engineer Is Human by Henry Petroski

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Henry Petroski is a fascinatingly eclectic writer – a nerd with the soul of a poet. I relied upon his book The Pencil: A History in writing the opening chapter of the forthcoming The Next Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy (coming in May), and turned to Success Through Failure while writing Adapt.

I was delighted to receive To Engineer Is Human as a Christmas present – one of those rare surprise presents that actually works out… It’s a wide-ranging collection of essays and musings. Topics range from the experience of being a toddler in a world of adults, through the distinctive pattern of fatigue in a “Speak & Spell”, to the catastrophic collapse of walkways in the lobby of a Kansas City hotel in 1981.

One provocative idea in Petroski’s work is the idea that engineers learn through trial and error more than one might expect. Yes, there are the laws of physics and in principle one can calculate the load-bearing strength of any structure – but in practice, when we try to do something new we will sometimes run into the unexpected.

Not every essay hits the mark – I didn’t feel moved or improved by the analysis of the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem “The Deacon’s Masterpiece” – but like a collection of poems or short stories, if you don’t enjoy one you can skip to the next. Overall I felt I was learning things from Petroski that I wouldn’t learn from anybody else.

Some overlap with the more recent book Success Through Failure, but lots to intrigue.

US: Powell’s / Amazon   UK: Blackwells / Amazon

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Playing Scrooge in “The Best Economy Ever”

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@TBPInvictus here:

On Presidents Day, it is noteworthy that the current President feels compelled to cap the salaries of those employees who work for the government, who perform duties in the national interest, and  operate essential services for the benefit of the nation.

Salary increases limited to 1% annually. That ought to teach the Deep State!

Read Trump’s February 11 tweet below and try to reconcile it with the Feb 10 excerpt from a White House transmittal to Congress the day before.

Trump tells us — constantly and incessantly — that he has created the “best economy in history.” Let’s ignore the fact that he inherited  a robust GFC recovery from Obama, and then temporarily goosed it with an unfunded trillion dollar tax cut that never got us over 3% GDP on a sustainable basis, and which has since worn off, leaving us at a 2% or so GDP.

While we’re all enjoying the greatest economy ever, could he possibly – unilaterally, no less – cut the proposed pay increases (to 1.0%) for the nation’s Federal employees?

I don’t profess to have any other answer than that the man is a stone-cold hypocrite and liar. I’m open to other possibilities.

The previous day, February 10, 2020 (emphasis mine):

I am transmitting an alternative plan for pay adjustments for civilian Federal employees covered by the General Schedule and certain other pay systems in January 2021.

Title 5, United States Code, authorizes me to implement alternative plans for pay adjustments for civilian Federal employees covered by the General Schedule and certain other pay systems if, because of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare,” I view the increases that would otherwise take effect as inappropriate.

[…]

We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course; Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases. Accordingly, I have determined that it is appropriate to exercise my authority to set alternative pay adjustments for 2021 pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 5303(b) and 5 U.S.C. 5304a.

Specifically, I have determined that for 2021 the across-the-board base pay increase will be limited to 1.0 percent and locality pay percentages will remain at their 2020 levels. This alternative pay plan decision will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well‑qualified Federal workforce.

This is rank hypocrisy. I don’t know who else is flagging this, but:

 

Greatest. Economy. Ever.

The post Playing Scrooge in “The Best Economy Ever” appeared first on The Big Picture.



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Arguments for Compulsory Vaccination

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The Connecticut legislature wants to abolish the last non-medical exception for the compulsory vaccination of children, following in the steps of five other state governments (“Connecticut Lawmakers Brace for Public Hearings on Vaccination Bills,” Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2010). Two serious economic arguments can be made in favor of this measure. (It wouldn’t protect against the coronavirus, for which there is yet no vaccine, but this epidemic is certainly a motivation or an excuse for strengthening compulsory vaccination.)

The first argument is a public good argument, which can be summarized as follows. Everybody potentially benefits from other individuals being vaccinated, the main beneficiary being those whose age or state of health precludes vaccination. Immunization through vaccination is thus a public good, to the production of which everybody must contribute. A large part of this contribution consists in having oneself vaccinated. In order to prevent potential free riders from skirting vaccination while benefiting from that of others—benefiting from the so-called “herd immunity”—compulsory vaccination is justified. Richard Epstein’s article “Let the Shoemaker Stick to His Last” (Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 46:3, 2003) can be interpreted this way.

The second argument for “compulsory” vaccination relates to the fact that, nowadays, it is, thus far, advocated only for children as a condition for admission in public schools (or perhaps private schools too). A child, the argument goes, is, by definition, too young to know where his own interest lies, especially in probabilistic choices such as between the risk and consequences of catching the disease on one side, and the inconvenience and risk of vaccination on the other side. The child’s parents must make the choice. However, as was famously said in a slightly different context:

A priori, parents would ideally always be willing and able to protect children from tobacco themselves. If this happened, there would be little need for governments to duplicate such efforts. Perfect parents, however, are rare.

This statement is due to Prabhat Jha et al., “The Economic Rationale for Intervention in the Tobacco Market,” in Prabhat Jha and Frank J. Chaloupka, Eds., Tobacco Control in Developing Countries (World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 164. Note that the title of the book is a misnomer, for it is concerned as much with rich countries as developing ones.

The validity the two arguments for compulsory vaccination, even for children, is not obvious.

The first argument is analogous to the one that Thomas Hobbes, in his 1651 book Leviathan, made for the state in general. Since the security provided by the state is in everybody’s interest—since it is, in today’s terms, a public good—it is also in everybody’s interest not only that everybody contribute to financing the state, but also that the state be the only judge of everybody’s contribution. Otherwise, free riders will ride. Or so claimed Hobbes.

One problem with the Hobbesian argument, as well as with the public-health argument for compulsory vaccination, is that it justifies absolute power. Although Hobbes took the argument very seriously, some would dismiss the fear of tyranny as a slippery-slope argument. As if slippery slopes did not exist. Consider how, in the early 20th century, compulsory vaccination was used to legalize forced sterilization. The famous 1927 Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell (274 U.S. 200) said it clearly:

The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

It was not an abstract matter. The decision legalized previous and future forced sterilizations against individuals deemed to be “imbecile,” “feebleminded,” “defective,” or “socially inadequate.” It is estimated that more than 65,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized up to the 1980s. The last sterilization statute, in Mississippi, was only repealed in 2008. (On this topic, see Paul A. Lombardo, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell [John Hopkins University Press,2008].)

Another problem with the public-good argument is that, technically, it only applies to goods or services unanimously desired. If basic security against aggression can be assumed to be a public good, the assumption becomes less valid as it is extended to other goods or services. Indeed, from what we can observe in the anti-vaxxer movements, many people do not want vaccination because they think that its cost is higher than its benefits for them or their children. From the point of view of a philosopher-king, this may be true or not, but it is not correct to think that there is no “objective” risk. For example, philosopher Mark Navin (who believes that compulsory vaccination is morally justified) cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention according to whom the DTaP vaccine (against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough) causes long-term seizures or brain damage in “only” one out 1,000,000 children (Values and Vaccine Refusal: Hard Questions in Ethics [Routledge, 2016]).

Furthermore, there is a good economic argument against government pretending to determine the “optimal” vaccination coverage. University of Chicago economist Tomas Philipson brilliantly argued that the fewer the number of people who get vaccinated, the higher the risk factor for the unvaccinated, and the higher the latter’s incentives to get vaccinated (or to use other prevention measures). (See notably his “Economic Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases,” in A.J. Culyer and J.P. Newhouse, Eds., Handbook of Health Economics, Vol. 1 [Elsevier Science B.V., 2000].)

As for the argument that imperfect parents cannot be trusted to make decisions in the best interest of their children, the basic counterargument is quite simple: have you seen many perfect politicians and perfect bureaucrats? Despite a few extreme and troubling cases, parents have been genetically hard-wired to look out for their children’s interests. There is no such hard-wiring for the state.

To be clear—and to this extent that this may seem relevant—I am not arguing that the anti-vaxxers are right. In fact, I don’t agree with their evaluation of costs, but I don’t claim that their children belong to me either.

In this short post, I have only scratched the surface of the issue. It may get especially pressing if an epidemic scare grips the public. It will be interesting to see if populists affirm the primacy of individual choices or, at least, the presumption of individual liberty or, instead, just follow a frightened and irrational mob.

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