Things that I pretend I will have smart things to say about in the future:

  • Lemin Wu on whether we are thinking about Malthusianism correctly. A general point from this paper is that once you stop thinking of output as a single homogenous good, how you choose to weight different goods in your GDP/real wage/utility calculation matters a lot for your conclusions.
  • David Autor will take your job. Or something like that. I lost the thread of this article when I came upon this sentence: "Mr. Autor—who always sports a single gecko-shaped silver earring, his trademark symbol also pasted on his iPhone—says the fear has outpaced reality."?!?!?
  • Ogilvie and Carus handbook chapter on institutions and economic growth in historical perspective. Whenever economic historians write something called "XXXXX in historical perspective", the punch line is that "XXXXXX is wrong". They do not definitively ruin the institutions/growth relationship, but do provide a lot of needed skepticism regarding the relationship. If you are going to argue that institutions matter for growth, then you have to do so in more of a case-by-case basis, and not using crude measures in cross-country regressions. I feel like I've heard that before...
  • I like this Krugman post from earlier this week. Expanding education is not necessarily the answer to inequality. The idea that education levels are the key to higher wages is very useful for employers. Few people can or will leave work for 2 or 4 years to increase their education once they are working, and so they are willing to accept the low wages they currently have.
  • Ortman, Cabaniss, Sturm, and Bettencourt on settlement scaling and increasing returns in ancient society. They look at pre-Hispanic Mexico and find that the larger the settlement sizes/cities, the larger the monuments they built. Not surprising. But the relationship indicates IRS, which is. A ten-fold increase in settlement size led to a greater than 10-fold increase in the scale of monuments built.
  • Jane Humphries and Jacob Weisdorf look at women's wages in England from 1260-1850. Female servant wages did not appear to be affected by the Black Death, which is problematic for the theory that the plague led to the emergence of the European Marriage pattern (see here). Women's wages also did not track with men's during the run-up to the Industrial Revolution, which may be problematic for the theory that high wages were part of the explanation for adoption of labor-saving technology (see here). Stupid data, always ruining things for everyone.

What I read on the plane rides to and from DC this week.

  • Medieval Technology and Social Change, Lynn White Jr. Probably best known for the "plows changed social structure" thesis. This is incredibly readable, and is less a definitive argument regarding technology and social change than a very nicer primer on the basic idea.
  • Mohammed and Charlemagne, by Henri Pirenne. A classic on the influence of Islam on the West. The first part of the book establishes that despite all the invasions of Huns, Goths, and the like, the areas of the Roman Empire remained fundamentally "Roman" throughout. The true disruption of Roman culture didn't take place until Islam restructured the Mediterranean world. Like White's book, very readable.
  • Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer. Fiction. First of a trilogy about unnamed scientists exploring the mysterious Area X. It sets up so much, I hope he can pull off a meaningful conclusion. Please don't be like Lost. Please don't be like Lost. Please don't be like Lost....

For Chris Blattman, who needs kids book suggestions. These should work for 4-6 year olds, and were approved by my 11 and 9 year old as books they enjoyed a lot.

  • Magic Treehouse books. Kids explore different times, places, ideas in each book. As a bonus, they do companion non-fiction "Fact Tracker" books with more information on the topic.
  • Junie B. Jones. Barbara Park absolutely nails exactly how little kids talk and act. I loved reading these to my girls.
  • Roald Dahl. These are definitely too advanced for 4-6 year olds to read themselves, but we found they could start paying attention long enough to listen to a whole chapter. You have to stop sometimes to explain what is going on, or remind them the next night what is happening in the book, but reading James and the Giant Peach is soooooo much better then reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie again, and again, and again.
  • Fancy Nancy. Shorter and good for helping them start to read. I resisted early on, but Fancy Nancy (including her many sequels) kind of grows on you. Perhaps that is just a coping mechanism.