Sunday, 1 June 2014
Workshop on climate, geography and African economic history
James Fenske (in a paper with Namrata Kala) spoke about climate and the slave trade. They examine the influence of African factors on the supply of slaves, specifically environmental shocks. They have port-level data for the transatlantic slave trade as well as temperature, climate and climate shocks. Places that were cooler had higher productivity, lower mortality and more slavery (than warmer regions that typically had more tse tse flies and malaria). In warmer (drier) years these places experienced climate shocks that increased the cost of slavery and reduced the supply of slaves. They then go on to link this to modern development outcomes using light density at night to proxy for economic activity. The areas around the ports that received cold temperature shocks at the peak of the transatlantic slave trade are poorer today! In other words, their better agricultural productivity could not make up for the fact that they lost more people to slavery and had the institutions that made them lose people to slavery. Check out James' web site for the paper, slides and a link to a Vox.EU post. The paper is also a great example of thorough work. It controls for everything and checks robustness from every angle.
Ed Kerby also presented interesting work in the Kenyan railways from a paper with Remi Jedwab and Alex Moradi.The full title is History, path dependence and development: Evidence from colonial railroads, settlers and cities in Kenya. Their focus is on urban emergence, persistence and optimality using the exogenous placement of the so-called "lunatic line" as a natural experiment. The analysis shows that colonial railroads causally determined the location of European settlers, which in turn decided the location of the main cities of the country at independence. Railroads declined and settlers left after independence, yet cities persisted. The paper has some really interesting data and use of "placebo lines" to test the robustness of the results. It is well worth the read if you are interested in economic geography and economic history.
Alfonso Herranz-Loncan and Johan Fourie also presented some first-round work on the social savings of the South African railways. It is a paper to look forward to as we talk about modern day extension of infrastructure in South Africa.
And there were some other interesting papers on local labour markets, on settlement patterns and on climate change in Africa. All round a big success (the people + the Noordhoek venue + the visit to the District 6 museum). A special word of thanks is due to ERSA and Johan Fourie for making the workshop possible.