Thought-provoking papers that have crossed my desk recently

Income and happiness: Evidence, explanation and economic implications
Andrew E. Clark, Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields
There is now a great deal of micro-econometric evidence, both cross-section and panel, showing that income is positively correlated with well-being. Yet the famous Easterlin paradox shows essentially no change in average happiness at the country level, despite spectacular rises in per capita GDP. We argue that survey well-being questions are indeed good proxy measures of utility, and resolve the Easterlin paradox by appealing to income comparisons: these can be to others (social comparisons) or to oneself in the past (habituation). We review a substantial amount of econometric, experimental and neurological literature consistent with comparisons, and then spell out the implications for a wide range of economic issues.

From Farmers to Merchants, Voluntary Conversion and Diaspora: A Human Capital Interpretation of Jewish History
Maristella Botticini & Zvi Eckstein
From the end of the second century C.E., Judaism enforced a religious norm requiring any Jewish father to educate his children. We present evidence supporting our thesis that this exogenous change in the religious and social norm had a major influence on Jewish economic and demographic history. First, the high individual and community cost of educating children in subsistence farming economies (2nd to 7th centuries) prompted voluntary conversions, which account for a large share of the reduction in the size of the Jewish population from about 4.5 million to 1.2 million. Second, the Jewish farmers who invested in education, gained the comparative advantage and incentive to enter skilled occupations during the vast urbanization in the newly developed Muslim Empire (7th and 8th centuries) and they actually did select themselves into these occupations. Third, as merchants the Jews invested even more in education–a pre-condition for the extensive mailing network and common court system that endowed them with trading skills demanded all over the world. Fourth, the Jews generated a voluntary diaspora by migrating within the Muslim Empire, and later to western Europe where they were invited to settle as high skill intermediaries by local rulers. By 1200, the Jews were living in hundreds of towns from England and Spain in the West to China and India in the East. Fifth, the majority of world Jewry (about one million) lived in the Near East when the Mongol invasions in the 1250s brought this region back to a subsistence farming economy in which many Jews found it difficult to enforce the religious norm regarding education, and hence, voluntarily converted, exactly as it had happened centuries earlier.

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1 Response to Thought-provoking papers that have crossed my desk recently

  1. Peter says:

    Haven’t read the 2nd paper cited (so this point may be covered in it): But, contrary to the impression given by the abstract, one factor in the spread of Jewish people across Europe in the pre-modern era was entirely beyond the control of Judaism or its adherents: the Christian opposition to usury, which preventing Christians charging interest on loans. It thus suited medieval Christian rulers to have a local Jewish community from whom they could borrow.

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