The Economic Journal Current Issue

11 Jun 2020

Agricultural Returns to Labour and the Origins of Work Ethics

Fouka V, Schläpfer A.

We examine the historical determinants of differences in preferences for work across societies today. Our hypothesis is that a society’s work ethic depends on the role that labour has played in it historically, as an input in agricultural production: societies that have for centuries depended on the cultivation of crops with high marginal returns to labour effort will work longer hours and develop a preference for working hard. We formalise this prediction in the context of a model of endogenous preference formation, with altruistic parents who can invest in reducing their offsprings’ disutility from work. To empirically found our model, we construct an index of potential agricultural labour intensity, that captures the suitability of a location for the cultivation of crops with high estimated marginal returns to labour in their production. We find that this index positively predicts work hours and attitudes towards work in contemporary European regions. We investigate various mechanisms of persistence, including cultural transmission, as well as a society’s production structure and institutions.
20 May 2020

Learning Spillovers in Conditional Welfare Programmes: Evidence from Brazil

Brollo F, Maria Kaufmann K, La Ferrara E.

We study spillovers in learning about the enforcement of Bolsa Familia, a programme conditioning benefits on children’s school attendance. Using original administrative data, we find that individuals’ compliance responds to penalties incurred by their classmates and by siblings’ classmates (in other grades/schools). As the severity of penalties increases with repeated noncompliance, the response is larger when peers are punished for ‘higher stages' than the family’s, consistent with learning. Individuals also respond to penalties experienced by neighbours who are exogenously scheduled to receive notices on the same day. Our results point to social multiplier effects of enforcement via learning.
02 Apr 2020

Gravity Without Apology: the Science of Elasticities, Distance and Trade

Carrère C, Mrázová M, Neary J.

Gravity as both fact and theory is one of the great success stories of recent research on international trade, and has featured prominently in the policy debate over Brexit. We first review the facts, noting the overwhelming evidence that trade tends to fall with distance. We then introduce some expository tools for understanding constant-elasticity-of-substitution theories of gravity as a simple general-equilibrium system. Next, we point out some anomalies with the theory: mounting evidence against constant trade elasticities, and implausible predictions for bilateral trade balances. Finally, we sketch an approach based on subconvex gravity as a promising direction to resolving them.
26 Mar 2020

Migrating Extremists

Ochsner C, Roesel F.

We show that migrating extremists can shape political equilibria in the long run. Regions in Austria that witnessed an influx of Nazis fleeing the Soviets after WWII still have significantly higher far-right vote shares today. Institutions and family ties perpetuate persistence. Migrated Nazi elites founded and penetrated local party branches that cultivate and preserve far-right ideologies, even when outside conditions temporarily change. Phonebook entries from 1942 allow tracing current far-right party membership back to past migration. Our results suggest that controlling migrating extremists is crucial to contain the spread of radical movements.
26 Feb 2020

Decoupling the Ces Distribution Circle with Quality and Beyond: Equilibrium Distributions and the Ces-Logit Nexus

Anderson S, de Palma A.

We show for CES demands with heterogeneous productivities that profit, revenue and output distributions lie in the same closed power family as the productivity distribution (e.g., the ‘Pareto circle’). The price distribution lies in the inverse power family. Equilibrium distribution shapes are linked by linear relations between their density elasticities. Introducing product quality decouples the CES circle, and reconciles Pareto price and Pareto sales revenue distributions. We use discrete choice underpinnings to find variable mark-ups for a more flexible demand formulation bridging CES to logit and beyond. For logit demand, exponential (resp. normal) quality-cost distributions generate Pareto (log-normal) economic size distributions.
14 Feb 2020

Distributive Justice for Behavioural Welfare Economics

Mandler M.

The incompleteness of behavioural preferences can lead many or even all allocations to qualify as Pareto optimal. But the incompleteness does not undercut the precision of utilitarian policy recommendations. Utilitarian methods can be applied to groups of goods or to the multiple social welfare functions that arise when individual preferences are incomplete, and policymakers do not need to provide the preference comparisons that individuals are unable to make for themselves. The utilitarian orderings that result, although also incomplete, can generate a unique optimum. Non-separabilities in consumption reduce this precision but in all cases the dimension of the utilitarian optima drops substantially relative to the Pareto optima.
03 Feb 2020

Signalling by Bayesian Persuasion and Pricing Strategy

Chen Y, Zhang J.

This article investigates how a privately informed seller could signal her type through Bayesian persuasion and pricing strategy. We find that it is generally impossible to achieve separation through one channel alone. Furthermore, the outcome that survives the intuitive criterion always exists and is unique. This outcome is separating, for which a closed-form solution is provided. The signalling concern forces the high-type seller to disclose inefficiently more information and charge a higher price, resulting in fewer sales and lower profit. Finally, we show that a regulation on minimal quality could potentially hurt social welfare, and private information hurts the seller.
25 Jan 2020

Heterogeneous Consumers, Segmented Asset Markets and the Real Effects of Monetary Policy

Enders Z.

This article proposes a novel mechanism by which changes in the distribution of money holdings have real aggregate effects. I develop a flexible-price model of segmented asset markets in which monetary policy influences the aggregate demand elasticity via heterogenous money holdings. Because varieties of consumption bundles are purchased sequentially, newly injected money disseminates slowly throughout the economy via second-round effects. The model predicts a short-term inflation-output trade-off, a liquidity effect, countercyclical markups, and pro-cyclical wages after monetary shocks. Among other correlations of financial variables, it also reproduces the empirical, negative relationship between changes in the money supply and markups.
24 Jan 2020

Optimal Monetary Policy when Information is Market-Generated

Benhima K, Blengini I.

The nature of the private sector’s information changes the optimal conduct of monetary policy. When firms observe their individual demand and use it as a signal of real shocks, the optimal policy consists in maximising the information content of that signal. When real shocks are deflationary (like labour supply shocks), the optimal policy is countercyclical and magnifies price movements, which contrasts with the exogenous information case, where optimal monetary policy is procyclical and stabilises prices. When the central bank communicates its information to the public, this policy is still optimal if firms pay limited attention to central bank announcements.
24 Jan 2020

Skill-Biased Management: Evidence from Manufacturing Firms

Feng A, Valero A.

This article investigates the link between management practices and workforce skills in manufacturing firms, exploiting geographical variation in the supply of human capital. Skills measures are constructed using newly compiled data on universities and regional labour markets across 19 countries. Consistent with management practices being complementary with skills, we show that firms further away from universities employ fewer skilled workers and are worse managed, even after controlling for a rich set of observables and fixed effects. Analysis using regional skill premia suggests that variation in the price of skill drives these relationships.
22 Jan 2020

Labour Market Shocks and the Demand for Trade Protection: Evidence from Online Surveys

Di Tella R, Rodrik D.

We study preferences for government action in response to layoffs resulting from different types of labour-market shocks. We consider: technological change, a demand shift, bad management and three kinds of international outsourcing. Support for government intervention rises sharply in response to shocks and is heavily biased towards trade protection. Trade shocks generate more demand for protectionism and, among trade shocks, outsourcing to a developing country elicits greater demand for protectionism. The ‘bad management’ shock is the only scenario that induces a desired increase in compensatory transfers. Trump supporters are more protectionist than Clinton supporters, but preferences seem easy to manipulate: Clinton supporters primed with trade shocks are as protectionist as baseline Trump voters. Highlighting labour abuses in the exporting country increases the demand for trade protection by Clinton supporters but not Trump supporters.
15 Jan 2020

Climbing the Rungs of the Quality Ladder: FDI and Domestic Exporters in Romania

Bajgar M, Javorcik B.

This article argues that inflows of foreign direct investment can facilitate export upgrading in host countries. Using customs data merged with firm-level information for 2005–11, it shows a positive relationship between the quality of products exported by Romanian firms and the presence of multinational enterprises (MNEs) in the upstream (input-supplying) industries. Export quality is also positively related to MNE presence in the downstream (input-sourcing) industries and the same industry, but these relationships are less robust. These conclusions hold both when the product quality is proxied with unit values and when it is estimated following the approach of Khandelwal et al. (2013).