Friday, August 20, 2010

New Projects

The proposal has been submitted, work will be a little slack until we start hearing back on the summer proposal season, the 1920-21 revision is in, the Buturovic and Klein critique is in, so now I feel scope to start new projects. Things I'll be working on (and hence probably talking about and refering to) are:

1. The co-authored chapter (with Hal Salzman) for the NBER volume on the engineering workforce, mainly covering labor supply issues.

2. This morning I started writing a research note that I've been thinking about for a while on gross job flows in 1880. Gross job flows have been an important part of the modern macroeconomics of labor, but they haven't been that prominent in the economic history literature because you need firm-level panel data, which isn't particularly easy to come by. I'm using some data collected by the census bureau in 1880 to do the job. I'll hopefully also look at job flows from 1870-1880 to see if the same cyclical patterns we see in modern data show up back then, but the retrospective data is ultimately going to be less reliable - we'll see. This will be shorter than the last paper. I'm thinking of the Journal of Economic History because I know it regularly publishes notes (unlike the Economic History Review), but if anyone has any other suggestions I'd love to hear about it.

3. Still pulling together material on the political economy of H.P. Lovecraft, who put a surprising amount of thought into the changes that were going on in American society in the 1920s and 1930s. I have no idea what's going to come of this... it's just in a perpetual collect/annotate/outline mode.

4. And this "if Hayek and Bastiat were econometricians what kind of econometricians would they be?" thing... again... we'll see what comes of that.

Oh ya, and applying to grad school... essay mostly drafted, gotta start actually studying for the GRE now. I didn't do so shabby last time - hopefully this won't be so bad.


  1. What's a "gross job flow?"

  2. The 19th century census had some inherent problems with it. I guess you are aware of that, but would just point that out.

  3. Speaking of the census, here's a little gem:

    ~Why did no congressional reapportionment occur in 1920?

    Congress failed to reapportion following the 1920 Census. The failure was in part the result of a difference of opinion over the method of dividing political power. Throughout the 1920s, Congress debated which of two mathematical models for reapportionment—whose outcomes for distribution of House seats differed—would be used. In 1929, one mathematical method was selected for the reapportionment, but it was not applied until after the 1930 Census. Furthermore, the debate about apportionment methods was not over. In 1941, a different model was chosen called "the method of equal proportions." It is still in use today.

    The failure to reapportion in 1920 was also a reflection of regional power dynamics. The results of the 1920 Census revealed a major and continuing shift in population from rural to urban areas, which meant that many representatives elected from rural districts resisted reapportionment. Also, the growing number of immigrants entering this country had some impact on population shifts. Delay followed delay as rural interests tried to come up with mechanisms that would reduce the impact of the population shift. Congressmen from rural areas that would lose seats to more urbanized areas simply blocked passage of reapportionment legislation for 9 years.

    During the congressional debates on Pubic Law 71-13, which was enacted in 1929, language requiring that districts be composed of contiguous, compact territory and contain the same number of individuals was deleted. Therefore, the reapportionment law that finally passed in 1929
    was silent on the subject of rules for how the states were to establish districts to elect their representatives. As a result, some states simply stopped redistricting, despite major changes in the internal distribution of their populations over time from rural to urban to suburban. A process of malapportionment —meaning establishment of districts containing unequal population sizes — continued unchecked for decades.

    Adapted from United States General Accounting Office, May 1998, Decennial Census: Overview of Historical Census Issues, GAO/GGD-98-103.~

    What the piece doesn't go into is the wet vs dry politics behind the delay, as well as the xenophobia that informed it.

    Something similar happened with the immigration laws passed in the 1920s - which alloted quotas for legal immigration based on the 1880 census - a census which did not reflect that large influx of southern and eastern europeans that came to the U.S. between 1880 and 1924. The more things change, the more they suck.

  4. Way OT, but this is the best "Beat It" mashup yet:!

  5. Anonymous -
    Sorry for the jargon! So we typically think about net changes in employment and unemployment. Since the late 1980s or so, though, people have been paying more attention to gross labor flows particularly after some work done by Pissarides, Mortenson, etc.

    There are two kinds of gross labor flows you hear people talk about: gross job flows and gross worker flows.

    Gross worker flows are basically separations and hirings (they're also broken down further into employment to employment flows, employment to unemployment flows, employment to "out of the labor force" flows, etc.). If you have 50% of your workers separate from a firm in a given month and 50% of your workers rehired to a new firm, you won't see any net change in your employment or unemployment figures but there's a lot of turnover in the labor market. That sort of turnover varies predictably and it impacts the macroeconomy in important ways.

    The second type of gross labor market flow are job flows: job creation and destruction. These are net increases and decreases in employment at the firm level. Again, 50% of the jobs in the economy may be destroyed in a given month and 50% of the jobs may be newly created jobs - that wouldn't register in employment changes at all, but it's a dynamic process that that is predictable and has important effects on the macroeconomy.

  6. For a lot of questions, including wage determination and the price level, I think gross worker flows are more important than gross job flows, but I'm interested in both.

    Gross job flows are interesting, though, because we don't have as much data on them and we don't have as much theory explaining them as gross worker flows. The reason for the (relative) lack of empirical work is simply that it's harder to get panels of firms than it is to get panels of workers. I have a dataset put together by the Census bureau in 1880 on about 650 manufacturing firms. It asks retrospective questions about employment that can be used like a panel, so I can look at gross job creation and destruction at this period in history. I'm concerned the only really reliable data will be for the change from 1879 to 1880, which will still give a nice cross section. But I keep about 400 of the firms back to 1870, which means I can look at the cyclical behavior of job creation and destruction too. That sample is obviously a little less dependable. It's a ten year retrospective and it would only be firms that we know survived to 1880, which are likely to be different from other firms. Nevertheless, I still might be able to say something.

    I hatched this idea in the winter, haven't been able to work much on it until now.

  7. "The more things change, the more they suck. "

    Aww, that's sad!

    I'm using data from the Census of manufacturers, so I don't think it should have this problem.

    However, I am concerned about whether it oversampled firms from large manufacturing areas (or perhaps vice versa?). So I've been thinking of doing it weighted and unweighted, using the 1880 census figures on manufacturing employment by state to reweight the data.

    So I'm not using the 1880 census directly, but I should look into that if I reweight - thanks.

  8. Why do economists use the term "job destruction?" It seems to bias the discussion.

    I'd be rather skeptical of using any census data prior to 1950.

  9. As far as I'm aware it was John Haltiwanger that popularized that term.

    He talks about both job destruction and job creation though.

    I don't know - what would you call it. Certain jobs that existed before no longer exist and jobs that didn't exist before exist now. "Creation" and "destruction" seems to work.

    I personally like "gross job flows" better because it captures both of them, it more clearly connects the concept to "gross worker flows", and it more clearly communicates the idea that often these are jobs that are being reallocated from one sector to another or from one firm to another.

  10. Daniel,

    Do you know how the census was done prior to 1850? From 1800 to 1950 the census was done at the precinct level - the local political bosses, etc. would hire someone (or rather, a group of people) to go count people. There would only be one count and no effort to find people who weren't at home, etc. Also, they tended to just work their way along roads, through neighborhoods, etc., so there was no systematic use of whatever postal, etc. records existed at the time (the notion of a phone book is obviously of recent invention). Only in 1950 did the federal government take over the task by sending out mailers to people (still not perfect, but better).

  11. Well, when I see the term "job destruction" I break into thermo mode in my head, and that just doesn't sound right to me. Obviously this isn't physics though.

  12. Actually, re-reading, you are using perhaps a different database than just the regular census. Maybe the census of manufacturers is more accurate than the census of the population for reapportionment? I know nothing about the former.

  13. So is the sort of thing you are looking at?

  14. Sort of like that... there have been lots of surveys of manufacturers a lot like this, going back to Tench Coxe's data collection efforts in the early republic.

    I'm looking at a dataset compiled by a guy named Joseph Weeks - I believe he was looking primarily with working hours at the time, but he has a sample of 600 odd manufacturing firms in 1880, and he asks them about their employment retrospectively. A former Census Bureau employee went through his old survey response sheets and cleaned and recorded the data electronically, and that's what I'm using.


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