Created 9/18/1997
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Econ 210a: Fall 1997

Possible Paper Topics:

Note that these are suggested only. You are free (indeed, encouraged) to write on some other topic that interests you more.

1. Who is right on QWERTY, Paul David or his critics? What additional pieces of information should either (or both) have sought to uncover, and used? What do these additional pieces of information say?

2. Go take a look at Richard Easterlin's book Growth Triumphant, in which he claims that increased output per capita does not make people "happier"--only longer-lived, better-fed, smarter, more productive, more knowledgeable. Are the surveys he cites enough evidence to support his point? If not, what additional evidence do you think he needs? Where is it to be found, and what does it say?

3. Come up with a rough division of material production into "necessities and conveniences", "status goods", and (pointless) "luxuries". How has production per capita of these three categories changed over the past three centuries? What conclusions do you draw?

4. A couple of years ago a San Francisco-based organization, "Redefining Progress" tried to construct alternatives to Kuznets-style national product (look through back issues of the Atlantic Monthly to find out what they did). Do you think they did a good job? Do a better job for the past four centuries.

5. Take some other good and do for it what Nordhaus did for the price of light. Argue over which commodity is more "representative".

6. Find a piece of information that DeLong and Shleifer should have used in their "Princes and Merchants" paper, but didn't. How does it affect their conclusions?

7. Take a detailed look at relative navigational technology around 1400: contrast the Portuguese ships funded by Prince Henry the Navigator with the Arab-Indian ships of the Arabian Sea trade with the ships of the Chinese Eunuch Admiral Qeng Ho. Is there any reason to suspect that the first is superior in terms of its openness to technological development?

8. Peter Temin tried to resolve the British industrial revolution debate using trade data. Richard Steckel tried to resolve the standard of living debate using height data. Find another source of data not usually used in, but relevant to, the debates about the origins, timing, and impact of the industrial revolution in Britain. What conclusions do you reach?

9. Was labor "scarce" in industrial America? What would you expect to find if labor was "scarce"? Do you find such scarcity?

10. Who benefitted from slavery in the American south? Do some back-of-the-envelope general equilibrium calculations. Support them with qualitative historical evidence.

11. How much did migration change the world in the half century before World War I? What would the world have looked like if migration then had been as restricted as migration now?

12. What did migration back before World War I mean for the standard of living of the migrants? Why were nearly 100 million people willing (eager) to move from one continent to another in the fifty years before World War I?

13. Some have claimed that the German hyperinflation of the 1920s was caused by reparations imposed on Germany by the victors in World War I: fearful that they would be heavily taxed to pay for reparations, mobile capital fled Germany, pushing down the exchange rate. The government was unwilling to allow the collapse of the exchange rate to lead to a deep depression. And hyperinflation was the result. Others are just as certain that the German hyperinflation had monetary causes: that it was the result of excessively rapid money-printing by the government. Who is right? How could you find out who is right? Can you find out who is right?

14. In most cases, times of high unemployment are very bad for union movements: high unemployment greatly reduces the bargaining power of unions and potential unions vis-a-vis their employers. Why, then, did the 1930s see the union movement in the United States grow more rapidly and more strongly than ever before?

15. Some (i.e., DeLong and Summers, 1986) have claimed that the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 helped stem the Great Depression in the United States: it broke the cycle of deflation, and the end of the cycle of anticipated deflation generated a resumption of investment. Others see the NIRA (and the organization, the NRA, it set up) as making the Great Depression worse: restricting aggregate supply and thus producing higher prices and lower production. What pieces of evidence would help you decide who is right? Can you find any such pieces of evidence?


Created 9/18/1997
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Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans
University of California at Berkeley; Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax