Maddison Showed Per Capita Income Stagnation from 1000 AD – 1820 AD


Angus Maddison. Source of photo:

I neither met Angus Maddison, nor ever heard him speak, but I have often seen his work praised by those whom I respect.
One example is the praise given to Maddison by Brad DeLong in his wonderful “Cornucopia” essay that documents the benefits from the process of creative destruction.

(p. B10) Professor Maddison, a British-born economic historian with a compulsion for quantification, spent many of his 83 years calculating the size of economies over the last three millenniums. In one study he estimated the size of the world economy in A.D. 1 as about one five-hundredth of what it was in 2008.

He died on April 24 at a hospital in Paris after a long illness, his daughter, Elizabeth Maddison, said.
. . .
In his research, he tried to reconstruct thousands of years’ worth of economic data, most notably in his 2007 book “Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 A.D..” He argued that per capita income around the globe had remained largely stagnant from about 1000 to 1820, after which the world became exponentially richer and life expectancies surged.
. . .
In his archaeological excavation of the economies of other eras, he was “trying to explain why some countries achieved faster growth or higher income levels than others,” he wrote in an autobiographical essay, “Confessions of a Chiffrephile” published in 1994. He wanted to know what some countries did right and what others did wrong, and to figure out how growth influenced culture, and was influenced by it.
Professor Maddison often referred to himself as a “chiffrephile,” or lover of numbers, a term he invented to characterize economists and economic historians like himself who were prone to quantifying the world.
While macroeconomic research in the last few decades was dominated by elegant mathematical models and technical wizardry, his focus on meat-and-potatoes data and cross-country historical comparisons has come back into vogue in recent years, especially in the wake of the financial crisis.

For the full obituary, see:

CATHERINE RAMPELL. “Angus Maddison, 83, Who Quantified Ancient Economies.” The New York Times (Mon., May 3, 2010): B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated April 30, 2010 and has the title “Angus Maddison, Economic Historian, Dies at 83.”)

The Maddison book mentioned in the obituary is:
Maddison, Angus. Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

FDR’s Bad Bet on Aksarben

The “RA” mentioned in the passage quoted below, refers to FDR’s “Resettlement Administration” program.
“Aksarben” is much better known to Nebraskans today as a much-beloved, but now defunct, horse racing track in Omaha, than as Nebraska’s part in FDR’s government housing debacle.

(p. 69) With a staff of (p. 70) 13,000 and a mammoth $250 million to spend, Tugwell made plans for resettling thousands of tenants and marginal farmers into new model communities.

The result was a disaster. “It was all done awkwardly and wastefully,” Tugwell later confessed about the work of the RA. Even Roosevelt himself conceded, “I don’t think we have a leg to stand on,” when confronted with the high costs of the model towns Tugwell was building. Drawing model communities on paper was one thing, but it was another thing to relocate real tenant farmers into affordable houses far away in real towns with functioning services. One of Tugwell’s model communities was Arthurdale in West Virginia. A major problem there was that the ready-made houses could not fit their foundations. Once that problem was solved, the planners discovered that most residents, people from poor backgrounds, could not afford to live there. That protest became a common one in model communities all over the nation. Finding meaningful and profitable work for unskilled laborers was another recurring complaint.24
What that meant was that sometimes the RA had communities built, but no residents either willing or able to move in. An example of this was Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska spelled backward), a “dream city” of thirty-eight green-shuttered houses, each on seven acres of land twenty miles west of Omaha on the Platte River. The problem was that no one wanted to move in. Ak-Sar-Ben became deserted. Nearby farmer Henry C. Glissman observed this project and drew this conclusion: “I predict that in time these homes will all be abandoned and stand as a gruesome monument to a government’s inefficiency and folly in fostering a movement that to a practical mind has the earmarks of failure from the start.”

Folsom, Burton W., Jr. New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America. New York: Threshold Editions, 2008.
(Note: ellipses in original.)

The Nanny State Versus Fun

MonsterSlide2010-05-05.jpg“A boy slides down the enclosed “Monster Slide,” which drops riders the length of three flights of stairs.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

We took Jenny to several children’s museums when she was young, but none was as neat as the City Museum.
It appears that it has continued to get better in the years since.
My view is that a child’s parents should generally decide what risks their child should be allowed to take. Parents have a right to be parents, and they generally do a better job of it than the government does.

(p. A1) The City Museum, housed in 10-story brick building, shows none of the restraint or quiet typical of museums. A cross between a playground and a theme park, it recycles St. Louis’ industrial past into such attractions as slides made from assembly-line rollers. Just about everything can be touched or climbed, including dozens of Mr. Cassilly’s sculptures, among them a walk-through whale on (p. A10) the first floor.

Despite the whiff of danger, or perhaps because of it, the City Museum is one of St. Louis’s most popular attractions. Its 700,000 annual attendance is roughly twice the population of St. Louis and dwarfs the turnout at refined destinations such as the St. Louis Art Museum.
The injuries and lawsuits put the City Museum at the center of an enduring argument over the line between liability and personal responsibility. Some of the injured and their lawyers say the museum is deceptively dangerous and doesn’t do enough to publicize its risks through signs or other warnings.
Mr. Cassilly counters that it is as safe as it can be without being a bore. “They [lawyers] are taking the fun out of life.”
. . .
Mr. Cassilly trained as a sculptor but made most of his money as a developer, having bought, renovated and sold some four dozen homes and commercial properties over the years. In 1993 he paid $525,000 for two downtown St. Louis buildings once used by a shoe company, and opened the City Museum in 1997. It’s now a for-profit enterprise that he co-owns with a local investor.
He says the museum is about first-hand experience, a “computer-free zone” where rules are kept to a minimum. At the “skateless park,” kids run up and slide down wooden skateboard ramps now used as slides. One smaller ramp has a rope swing that kids use to swing across the ramp, not always successfully.
“I slipped and the edge scraped my leg,” said Garett Vance, 11, sitting atop what the museum bills as the world’s largest pencil with a museum-provided ice pack taped to his leg. His mother, Mindy Vance, says a friend warned her that the museum was dangerous but she wasn’t deterred.
“You take a risk when you go anyplace,” says Ms. Vance, a nurse-practitioner who lives in Springfield, Ill., about two hours away.

For the full story, see:
CONOR DOUGHERTY. “This Museum Exposes Kids to Thrills, Chills and Trial Lawyers; Defiant St. Louis Venue Owner’s Claim: Attorneys ‘Take the Fun Out of Life’.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 1, 2010): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

DarkTunnell2010-05-05.jpg“Visitors passed through a dark tunnel. The injured and their lawyers say the museum is deceptively dangerous and doesn’t do enough to publicize its risks. Mr. Cassilly, the founder, counters that it is as safe as it can be without being a bore.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

School Choice “Lifts the Performance of Public-School Students”

(p. A15) There is . . . clear evidence that many private schools outperform public schools academically. The first children to enter the Washington, D.C., voucher program, for example, now read more than two grade levels above students who applied for the program but didn’t win the voucher lottery.

Researchers from Northwestern University will soon release a study on how competition from Florida’s education tax-credit program is impacting the performance of children who remain in public schools. The preliminary evidence is that school choice lifts the performance of public-school students significantly.
Florida’s scholarship program appears to be the first statewide private school choice program to reach a critical mass of funding, functionality and political support. As an ever increasing number of students in Florida take advantage of the scholarship program, other states will find it hard to resist enacting broad-based school choice.

For the full commentary, see:
ADAM B. SCHAEFFER. “Florida’s Unheralded School Revolution; A scholarship program could produce a new era of choice.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 30, 2010): A15.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Leapfrog Competition in the Wine Industry


“A machine makes Portugal whine.” Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) ZEBULON, N.C.–In a nondescript factory in this small, wooded town, 10 giant machines worked around the clock last year to churn out 1.4 billion plastic corks, enough to circle the earth 1.33 times if laid end-to-end.

Unknown to most American wine drinkers, the plant’s owner, Nomacorc LLC, has quietly revolutionized the 400-year-old wine-cork industry. Since the 1600s, wine has been bottled almost exclusively with natural cork, a porous material that literally grows on trees in Portugal, Spain and other Mediterranean lands.
But over the past 10 years, an estimated 20% of the bottle stopper market has been replaced by a new technology–plastic corks that cost between 2 and 20 cents apiece. More than one in 10 full-sized wine bottles sold worldwide now come with a Nomacorc plug, while another 9% or so come from other plastic cork makers. Screw caps took another 11% of the market.
“We infuriated the cork industry,” says Marc Noel, Nomacorc’s chairman.
. . .
The story of how Nomacorc and other stop-(p. A10)per upstarts broke the centuries-old cork monopoly is a lesson in how innovation, timing and hustle combined to exploit an opening in a once airtight market. It shows that any dominant industry can be vulnerable to competition, especially if it grows complacent about its position.

For the full story, see:
TIMOTHY AEPPEL. “Show Stopper: How Plastic Popped the Cork Monopoly.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 1, 2010): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)


Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

Henry Ford’s Finest Hour

(p. 52) Not all men who refused to sign the code could be easily intimidated. In the auto industry Henry Ford refused to sign the NRA code and jack up his car prices, as his competitors were doing. “I do not think that this country is ready to be treated like Russia for a while,” Ford wrote in his notebook. “There is a lot of the pioneer spirit here yet:’ However, General Motors, Chrysler, and the smaller independents eagerly signed Blue Eagle codes, which, under penalty of fine and imprisonment, regulated their production, (p. 53) wages. prices, and hours of work. Ford was astounded: his colleagues preferred stability and government regulation to competition and free trade. He was especially irked when Pierre S. DuPont, the former head of General Motors, urged him at a party to sign the code.

In the face of strong pressure from the NRA, Ford refused to sign the auto code. He defied the law, pronouncing it un-American and unconstitutional. Hugh Johnson, the NRA chief, and President Roosevelt, however, wanted government control as well as compliance. They tried to pressure Ford into signing the code, and when he refused they tried force. Ford would receive no government contracts until he signed–and with the large increase in government agencies during the 1930s, that meant a huge business. For example, the bid of a Ford agency on five hundred trucks for the Civilian Conservation Corps was $169,000 below the next best offer. The government announced, however, that it would reject Ford’s bid and pay $169,000 more for the trucks because Ford refused to sign the auto code. As Roosevelt announced at a press conference, “We have got to eliminate the purchase of Ford cars” for the government because Ford has not “gone along with the general [NRA] agreement:”

Folsom, Burton W., Jr. New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America. New York: Threshold Editions, 2008.
(Note: ellipses in original.)

New York City Government Protects Us from More than Three Living in an Apartment

RoommatesBreakingLawMouaGroup.jpg“From left, Doua Moua, 23, George Summer, 30, and David Everett and Jasmine Ward, both 21, are among six people in a four-bedroom apartment in Hamilton Heights. “It’s part of New York City culture,” Mr. Moua said.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A16) Doua Moua, 23, played a menacing gangster in a Clint Eastwood movie, but Mr. Moua swears he really is a nice, gentle and rules-abiding fellow. At least he was until he moved to New York City and unwittingly slipped into a world of lawlessness.

Mr. Moua lives with five roommates. And in New York, home to some of the nation’s highest rents and more than eight million people, many of them single, it is illegal for more than three unrelated people to live in an apartment or a house.
. . .
Mr. Moua’s landlord, who did not want his name published for fear of a crackdown, said he wrestled with converting some of his apartments into four-bedroom units. He knew it was illegal to allow four unrelated people to live together, but decided that if tenants were willing to live in what was once a dining room, it was fine with him. He could collect slightly more in rent over all and charge less for each room.
“If it’s done in a good way, and there’s not unlimited cramming in, and the shared facilities are adequate,” the landlord said, “then it actually helps solve the affordable housing problem, which I think is a good thing.”

For the full story, see:
CARA BUCKLEY. “A Law Limits Housemates to Three? Who Knew?” The New York Times (Mon., March 29, 2010): A16.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 28, 2010 and has the title “In New York, Breaking a Law on Roommates.”)

RoommatesBreakingLaw2010-04-30.jpg“From left, Anya Kogan, 27, Jordan Dann, 33, Nick Turner, 29, and Michelle McGowan, 32, share a town house in Brooklyn.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Higher Unemployment Benefits May Result in Higher Unemployment Rates

The size and structure of the “safety net” is a subject of hot debate. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom suggested that higher benefits would lead to slower labor market adjustments.
There may have been multiple causes for the high unemployment rate in the U.K. in the 1920s and 1930s. But it is highly plausible that higher unemployment benefits would have made the unemployed more selective in which jobs they would accept, and hence would have contributed to higher rates of unemployment and higher average duration of unemployment.

(p. 7B) The ultimate evidence . . . is from the 1920s, when the Labour Party came to power in the U.K. for the first time. As scholars Daniel K. Benjamin and Levis Kochin pointed out in a Journal of Political Economy paper, the moment was one in which “unemployment benefits were on a more generous scale relative to wages than ever before or since.”

The result was the mother of all jobless recoveries. For almost two decades, from 1921 to 1938, U.K. unemployment averaged 14 percent and never got below 9.5 percent.

For the full story, see:
Amity Shlaes. “Help can hurt job hunters.” Omaha World-Herald (Friday April 16, 2010): 7B.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Pear Growers Suffer From Unintended Consequences of Land-Use Law

PearGrower2010-04-30.jpg“”We hit the wall,” the 63-year-old grower says. . . . , Mr. Naumes showed off a Bosc pear.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A3) MEDFORD, Ore.–Farmers say conditions in southern Oregon’s Rogue River Valley are among the best in the world for raising pears. Yet for the past decade, acreage planted in pears has been halved, as has the number of growers.

Land-use regulations designed to maintain open space and preserve farmland are to blame, pear growers here say.
It is a paradox few foresaw in 1973, when Oregon passed Senate Bill 100. That measure, considered a landmark of the budding environmental movement, put Oregon on the map as the “greenest” of U.S. states by placing zoning decisions with a central agency, outside the purview of local authorities.
The law had a huge impact in restricting suburban sprawl throughout the state, preserving environmentally critical habitats.
But since the mid-1990s, more than 3,500 acres planted in pears have gone out of production here. From 87 pear farms operating in 1992, only 48 remain.
. . .
The credit crunch and consumers unwilling to splurge for $30 boxes of pears are behind much of the pain, growers say. Yet they insist their real headache is their inability to raise capital by selling land at top value, which they say would let them buy farmland further from residential areas. That is because land-use laws say their orchards must remain in agriculture.
“It’s the worst case of unintended consequences you can imagine,” says David D. Lowry, chief executive of Associated Fruit Co., the smallest of Medford’s Big Three, who fears his business could be the next to close. Like others, he has plenty of land to sell, but no one willing to buy as long as it is zoned for farming only.

For the full story, see:
JOEL MILLMAN. “Oregon Pear Growers Sour on Land Law; Farmers Say Landmark 1970s Measure Aimed at Conserving Agricultural Areas Limits Their Ability to Nurture Investment.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 2, 2010): A3.
(Note: ellipses added.)


Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.