Rational repression

Perhaps it is apropos to start the new year’s blogging with a look back at history. A working paper reported at Vox examines Stalin’s gulags from an economic, rather than political, viewpoint. In Western capitalist economies it is the threat of losing one’s job that motivates effort in employment. If you shirk and are caught then you get fired. However, in a centrally planned economy there is no possibility of getting fired: everyone has a role to play and nobody is left out. How then is a dictator who’s done the hard yards planning out the lives of an entire country for five years to motivate his workforce? Miller and Smith suggest that Stalin used the gulags as a device to enforce discipline among workers. Read more

Was Jesus an early applied economist?

According to a number of religious people, there is a Jesus economics. Now I don’t agree with their idea of the sort of economics Jesus presented at all, that may be because I’m not a religious academic, or it could be that these people just didn’t understand what economics actually is (for example they complain that we study scarcity, when Jesus economics is about abundance. That is silly, economics is the study of scarcity. Just because its Jesus economics doesn’t mean it can break literal definitions.)

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Slavery and growth

Many writers have noted that colonisation contribute to the sad state of many African economies today. Now Nathan Nunn claims that the slave trade may also have had a long-term impact on economies. The author

…find[s] a robust negative relationship between the number of slaves exported from a country and current economic performance. To better understand if the relationship is causal, I examine the historical evidence on selection into the slave trades, and use instrumental variables.

This analysis indicates that “…it was actually the most developed areas of Africa that tended to select into the slave trades”, which points to a causal relationship running from slavery to poor economiic performance. The author suggests that the reason might be that “…procurement of slaves through internal warfare, raiding, and kidnapping resulted in subsequent state collapse and ethnic fractionalization.”

Yet another reason why the West is morally required to help African nations out of their current strife?