Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Sound for Seniors Workshop, August 23-24 in Gothenburg

Group photo, participants of the workshop

This new series of workshops builds upon the concept of the Sound Economic History Workshop, which is aimed at PhD students and post-docs, primarily from the Scandinavian countries, but instead, it targets researcher who may no longer claim for themselves the label “young”. It held its first event September 23–24, at the Unit for Economic History, Department of Economy and Society, University of Gothenburg. The event was organised by Jacob Weisdorf (SDU), Joacim Waara (Gothenburg), and Svante Prado (Gothenburg), who are also responsible for the initiative and the organisation of future workshops. Scandinavian scholars interested in hosting future workshops are encouraged to contact the organisers.

Keynote by Tommy Bengtsson

The conference accommodated nine speakers and Tommy Bengtsson from Lund University was invited to give a keynote. We also enjoyed the company of a guest from far away, namely Martin Shanahan from the University of South Australia, who happened to be staying at the department at the time of the conference.

The conference started with lunch at the Department of Economy and Society.

The first speaker was Kerstin Enflo, who presented a paper titled, “From conflict to compromise: The importance of mediation in Swedish work stoppages, 1907–1927”, co-authored with Tobias Karlsson. The paper deals with the role of mediation in labour market conflict resolution during first 20 years of state-sponsored intervention. The empirical evidence consisted of a geocoded panel dataset comprised of all reported work stoppages in Sweden from 1903 to 1927. The result suggests that the presence of mediation in a conflict resulted in an approximate 30% higher probability of a compromise outcome. Thus, mediation could have paved the way for a cooperative atmosphere in the local labour market.

The second speaker was Jørgen Modalsli, with the paper, “Multigenerational persistence: Evidence from 146 years of administrative data”. He used Norwegian census data on occupational associations among grandfathers, fathers and children between 1865 and 2011. He found significant grandparental influence throughout the period. In particular, the excess grandparental influence is strong for white-collar occupations. Grandparental effects remained when he restricted the study to grandparents who were not present in their grandchildren’s neighbourhoods, suggesting that mechanisms other than direct grandparent–grandchild interaction are part of the explanation for the observed associations.

The third speaker was Stefan Öberg, who presented a new research project called “Socioeconomic dimensions of diet and health during the 20th century: A longitudinal study”. This was a joint effort with Christer Lundh, Paul Nystedt, Kjell Torén, and Hanna Augustin. The members of the group belong to the fields of economic history, economics, clinical nutrition and environmental and social medicine. The overarching research problem is socioeconomic variations in diet and health. The research task is to examine the social patterns of health-related behaviours, living conditions and diet, as well as their consequences for health later in life. The project will create create a historical cohort, with rich information on health-related behaviours, living conditions and diet at baseline, and it will include a very long follow-up time. The information on socioeconomic background and consumption comes from household budget surveys carried out by the Swedish Social Board between 1913 and 1934 (N≈2,500). The authors will link this household level data to information on longevity and cause of death (and height and weight for men) of the members of the households (N≈10,000).

The fourth speaker was Jacob Weisdorf, who presented a paper named “Unreal wages?
A new empirical foundation for the study of growth and living standards in England, 1260–1860”, co-authored with Jane Humphries. The paper begins by recognising that we know very little about the length of the working year, which makes previous estimates of historical living standards, based on daily wages, very uncertain. The novel part of the paper is to present a new series for unskilled male workers employed by the year. This new series of annual estimates tracks trends in per capita GDP, unlike estimates of wages grossed up from daily rates through an assumption about days worked. By implication, the new annual estimates give us the number of workdays since the year 1260. It turns out that previous studies overestimated the medieval working year, but underestimated the industrial one.
Christer Lundh and Tommy Bengtsson
The final speaker of the first day was Tommy Bengtsson, delivering the keynote, titled “From hunger and disease to modern economic growth”. His presentation traced the rise of a new research field of historical demography, health and living standards, using combined time-series and event-history analyses of longitudinal, nominative, and microlevel data. For him, it started with a growing interest in the issues of health and living standards that were conventionally measured in the 1980s. An important point of departure in Tommy’s presentation was Robert Fogel’s (and Fogel and Costa 1997) description of the evolution of human physiology the last 300 hundred years as “techno-physio evolution”, made possible by advances in technology: “a synergism between technological and physiological improvements that is biological, but not genetic, rapid, culturally transmitted, and not necessarily stable”. In this model, nutritional status is a function of diet, disease and lifestyles, and nutritional status is measured as length of life and height. Improved nutritional status increases output, which in turn increases nutritional status, increasing output, and continuing endlessly. The early trigger of improved nutritional status is improved diet. Poor people, whether in pre-modern Europe or in todays less developed countries, are caught in a nutritional trap, preventing them from improvements in nutritional status and thereby stunting economic growth.

However, historical evidence did not provide unambiguous support for the idea of nutritional traps. Part of the problem, Tommy argues, pertained to the different concepts and measures of standards of living used to investigate the presence of nutritional traps historically: wage and price data, family budgets, mortality rates, heights, food prices and population totals etc. No wonder there is a lack of consensus. The time was ripe to develop a new and different concept of standard of living, designed for longitudinal and microstudies, as well as for comparative purposes. The new concept was borrowed from Amartha Sen’s ideas of functioning and capabilities. In short, demographic responses of individuals and households to short-term economic stress depend on access to resources. Effects of short-term economic stress on migration, nuptiality, fertility, and mortality can therefore be used as in indirect measure of individual living standards. Instead of looking at the relationship between economic conditions and demographic behaviour at the aggregate level, this research approach requires combined time-series and event-history analyses of longitudinal, nominative, microlevel data. These data allow for the finely grained differentiation of mortality, fertility, and other demographic responses by social class, household context, and other dimensions at the individual level a data-demanding framework, indeed.

Tommy formed a Swedish team to collect these data from family reconstitutions, in combination with population registers in a handful of parishes in Southern Sweden (Scania). Then, they collaborated with scholars from Belgium, China, Italy and Japan, in which appropriately detailed historical population register data exist for selected communities. This international collaboration, started in 1994, was coined EurAsia Project on Population and Family History – from macro to micro. Since the early 1990s, several books and many articles have examined the demographic responses mortality, fertility and marriage to social and economic pressures. Some of the conclusions that have emerged from this body of research are that (i) public welfare systems were more developed in the East; (ii) land was more unequally distributed in the West; (iii) households were more complex in the East, and were larger in China; (iv) marriages were planned and dependent on economic factors, both in the East and the West, as was fertility; and (v) living standards and life expectancy were about the same in the West and the East.

But what about the role of diet in the improvements of nutritional status? Was Robert Fogel right in assigning diet as the chief trigger for improvements? Although the jury is still out on that, Tommy seems to have gravitated towards a response in the negative. Mortality has not seemed to vary systematically with income in the past. Only after 1950 has the socioeconomic gradient become visible. This would question whether food intake is as important as what was posited. His recent research, as well as the research of others, places great emphasis on life conditions during very early life stages, because development of organs and cells are fastest during the foetal stage and early in life, and then gradually slows. The disease burden early in life seems to be important, more so than diet.

After the keynote, the participants finished off with a glass of wine at the Department of Economy and Society. Then, everyone walked across the city centre to Fiskekrogen, a restaurant famous for serving gourmet food, in particular fish and shellfish.

Christopher Lloyd

Christopher Lloyd’s presentation sparked off the second day of the conference. The title of his presentation was “From old extractive capitalism to generalised new extractivism: Continuity, transformation, and globalisation in the resource grab settler world”. He begins by recognising that all settler societies were, and many still are, commodity–dependent export economies with peculiar structural connections to the world economy. This is a remarkable fact in the 21st century, especially considering the long history of import-substitution protection of manufacturing that they all employed from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with varying success. His paper aims to add to the analysis of export dependence the important concepts of generalised neo-Ricardian and imperialist rent. The use of these concepts will help to reveal the totalising social nature of rent extraction in these zones today, especially those without strong states and well-organised labour movements to resist the generalisation of rent extraction.

Klara Arnberg

The second speaker of the second day was Klara Arnberg, with a paper called “Advertising to advertisers: Intersectional perspectives on the development of Swedish market segments, 1880–1939.” Her paper examines the history of the expansion of a market for consumer goods and the history of the expansion of the press in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When press publishers tried to convince advertisers to put ads in their newspapers and magazines, they not only tried to attract with circulation figures, but they also tried to reach specific consumer groups, as in the above quotation. Her paper follows how these ads framed and formulated different consumer groups in terms of intersections of class and gender in the industrialisation process when the purchasing power of different groups changed rapidly, when new consumer goods were introduced at the market, and when ideas about consumer behaviour were introduced in Swedish advertising. By studying how segments were formulated to the advertisers by the press, she can trace early ideas about consumption, gender and class.

The third speaker was Erik Bengtsson, presenting his paper “The wealth of the richest:
Inequality and the nobility in Sweden, 1750–1900”. This paper, co-authored with Anna Missiaia, Mats Olsson and Patrick Svensson, explores the wealth of the Swedish nobility from agrarian society to industrial society by using a sample of 200+ probate inventories of nobles for each of the benchmark years of 1750, 1800, 1850 and 1900. The paper shows that the nobility 0.5% of the population was very dominant in 1750: the average noble was 60% richer compared to the average person, and the nobles held 29%of private wealth. In addition, 90% of the nobles were richer than was the average person. On the other hand, in 1900, the nobles’ advantage had decreased and the stratification within the nobility had increased dramatically. There was a group of super-rich nobles, often old nobility with lots of land, but there was also a large minority who were not richer compared to the average Swede. This goes against the older interpretation of mediaeval and early modern Sweden, which has tended to downplay the political and economical importance of the Swedish nobility relative to elsewhere in Europe.

The fourth speaker was Sakari Saaritsa, who talked about a research project titled “Socioeconomic capital, physiological capital and human capital: An anthropometric perspective on schooling and social mobility in early 20th century Finland”. The project will exploit school-based statistics on height and weight by age to analyse the linkages between social inequality, physiological development, and evolving mass education in early 20th century Finland. Available aggregate statistics were available on height by age for a sample of thousands of pupils of both sexes by educational track between ages 7 and 20, from the turn of the 1920s and the mid-1930s, enable the incorporation of physiological capital into the analysis. Applying modern Finnish and WHO benchmarks makes it possible to estimate the extent of stunting by group and by sex in the two periods. In addition to measuring differences in height at age of tracking, it is possible to analyse gender differences in the degree of physiological inequality between secondary and non-secondary schooled children. The analysis adds an important dimension to the dynamics of pre-welfare-state inequality.

The fifth, and final, speaker was Cristián Ducoing Ruiz, who presented joint work with Sara Torregrosa Hetland, called “Voting for welfare? Comparative performance in Ibero-American democratisations”. The paper asks whether or not democracy leads to achieving economic and human development. Do dictatorships leave long-run legacies behind? The paper explores the cases of four Ibero-American countries having common histories, but under different contexts: Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and Chile. The two Iberian countries suffered long periods of autocratic regimes, while the South American cases had relatively later and shorter dictatorships. The authors intend to assess the extent to which these democratisations brought about improvements in societal welfare, looking at several indicators. As an indicator combining both of these dimensions, they propose the applicability of the concept of Inequality Extraction Ratio, initially suggested for ancient societies, but adapted by Milanovic (2013b) to the analysis of contemporary economies. The idea is that democratisations might not have been able to achieve reductions in inequality, but could have promoted decreases in the appropriation of economic surplus by the national elites.

Svante Prado, Jacob Weisdorf, Sakari Saaritsa, Chistoffer Collin
The conference ended with lunch at the Department of Economy and Society.
This blog post was written by: Svante Prado, University of Gothenburg

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