The Royal Economic Society Prize

The 2017 Royal Economic Society prize for best paper in the Economic Journal has been awarded to Robert Warren Anderson, Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama for their paper Jewish Persecutions and Weather Shocks 1100-1800 (non-gated). Noel and Mark are colleagues at George Mason and Robert is a former GMU student. Here’s the abstract:

What factors caused the persecution of minorities in pre‐modern Europe? Using panel data consisting of 1,366 persecutions of Jews from 936 European cities between 1100 and 1800, we test whether persecutions were more likely following colder growing seasons. A one standard deviation decrease in growing season temperature in the previous five‐year period increased the probability of a persecution by between 1 and 1.5 percentage points (relative to a baseline of 2%). This effect was strongest in weak states and with poor quality soil. The long‐run decline in persecutions was partly attributable to greater market integration and state capacity.

The RES is correct, this is an excellent paper with a great combination of theory and original data.

The award is another indication of the stellar quality of GMU’s economics department.


"The long‐run decline in persecutions was partly attributable to greater market integration and state capacity." I suppose one might conclude that it takes a village, even if the village is the dreaded government.

The track record of European governments is hardly one of preventing persecution of the Jews. Stronger states may have been more apt to expel them, however.

I think the point of market integration is that the diversity of supply available from a larger market is better able to carry a population through a temporary shortage in one place. I assume that the temperature differences analyzed in the paper were too small to be perceived directly on a consistent basis and instead represent a proxy for food prices.

Query how robust the temperature data is, by the way.

I wondered the same thing. Anyway, cool that they won the award.

Temperature data in archaeology is typically from wood cores, and pretty reliable, they have an extensive database for all of Eurasia going back many thousands of years.

I have a question (paper is gated) as to whether they cited the Chinese scholars from around a decade ago that found a strong correlation between bad weather and the fall of Chinese dynasties, along the same lines. If they did not, it's academic dishonesty since even I was aware of this paper, and I'm not even in the field.

One time in one place someone was less than forthright about tree ring data, therefore all tree ring data for any purpose whatsoever must be disregarded as questionable.

This is how to do good science.

The authors found that the decline in persecutions of Jews was partly attributable to state capacity. You must disagree with the authors' findings. I might point out that state capacity destroyed the bastards most responsible for the persecution of Jews, although that occurred after 1800.

Obviously, if the Jews weren't causing the crops to fail with their crafty, crafty, sorcery, there would have been no need for the pogrom.... :-)

I see you've been cribbing from the Unz comment boards.

You seem to take Alistair's comment at face value???

Unz is very scientific. They tell you exact names of the demons that the Rothschild's invoke; they have references and everything ; if it wasn't for Putin, we'd be helpless against them :-)

One cannot grammatically 'comma splice' two sentences: "The RES is correct, this is an excellent paper with a great combination of theory and original data.". Try "is correct: this" or "is correct----this"

And yet he did comma-splice, and you understood it perfectly.

As usual with such “rules” I’m sure a cursory search would turn up numerous examples of this horrible crime, committed throughout the history of English literature.

Whether you like it or not, *some* people will downgrade their respect for Alex's arguments when they see his grammatical missteps (which are, I say with regret, not infrequent). There is an opportunity for a Pareto improvement here: Alex (and his arguments) can gain the support of some readers, and lose none of the others, by improving his grammar.

The last sentence of the post was gratuitous. If your program is excellent, you don't have to go around telling people it's excellent.

This just in: Jews are scapegoats. Who knew?

If they stopped poisoning my wells and making my cattle get sick, there would be no reason for persecution.

Due to a lack of others to scapegoat, most likely.

Whatever you think about Judaism as a religion or Jewish culture(S) in general, to have persisted as a non-majority group through those times is quite something.

"The RES is correct, this is an excellent paper with a great combination of theory and original data."

And a narrative of Jewish victimization for the hat trick.

Well we can safely say that a paper focused similiarly on the experiences of early Christians would definitely be criticized for promoting a persecution complex.

If Christians did not want to be persecuted, they should not have burned Rome.

Historical victimization of diverse non-Christian minorities in Europe was a real thing.

Jewish communities seemed to do better at retaining a record. This should be understood as generically applicable to the experience of cultural minorities in Dark Ages Europe, and not specifically about "Jewish victimhood", regardless of whether some activist minority of Jews woefully misuse that history to create propaganda to justify present day injustices.

That doesn't seem like a huge effect, though, does it?

From 2% chance in a given year to 3-3.5%?

Ah well, I'm sure there were "some very fine people on both sides."

A 1 percentage *point* increase on a basis of 2 percentage points so a 50% increase. Big.

True, but with a baseline that still seems like a small effect.

And it doesn't explain the 2%.

Stellar? At least they're not red dwarfs.

the economics profession has indeed lost its compass if this paper/topic is so grandly heralded.

Of all possible topics for serious economic study in the 21st century -- how did this topic even make the top 1,000 list?

of what value is this study and who will act upon its findings?

"of what value is this study and who will act upon its findings?"

What good is a newborn baby? Anyway, I will promptly nominate a Pogroms Czars and act on his advice to apply agricultural counter-cyclical policies and be sure pogroms are more uniformly distributed in time.

Are you sure of that? A Hebrew-speaking Israeli was attacked today in Chicago by an apparently Muslim Uber driver. In the United States, 15 miles from my home. Study on.

Frankly this must come from a mutual admiration club that because of too much incestuous groupthink has completely lost its bearings.

And for what did the authors control?

What are you suggesting? That some other factor caused both lower temperatures and persecution?

Jewish sorcery could have caused both.

This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain to me again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes...

I am not saying it was Jews provoking bad time and ruining the crops. I am just saying it could have been. We can not be sure. Lynching mobs are rarely unreasonable. Why not teach the controversy instead of imposing an one-size-fits-all politically correct model?

Thiago, your comments are why I read comments. Such subtlety is wasted on the Internet. Please write plays.

Quick! Somebody blame the pogroms on climate change! It's too good an opportunity to miss! :-)

'partly attributable to greater market integration and state capacity'

Shame they stopped in 1800 to arrive at that conclusion, because it took a large amount of market integration (think standard gauge rail throughout most of Europe) and state capacity to carry out the Holocaust.

People have argued a similar relationship with lynching in America - That lynching increased after bad crop yields. In part as a way to avoid paying blacks for their labor or force lower prices.

Have never seen a deep study of these claims. I think Ida B Wells made this argument. Lynchings in the South were claimed to be mostly about sex crimes (about 1/3 of black lynchings involved claims of sexual assault - about 25% of all lynchings involved whites or Hispanics in the western US for crimes like horse or cattle theft) but the black lynchings often had a financial motive, per Ida B Wells.

Not surprising; we know lynching and pogroms in the third world often have an economic motive, or swiftly acquire one after the first few deaths...

This is the kind of point of view that can survive a knowledge of actual lynching statistics. There would have to have been way more lynchings for this to even be remotely plausible.

People have argued a similar relationship with lynching in America - That lynching increased after bad crop yields. In part as a way to avoid paying blacks for their labor or force lower prices.

Between 1882 and 1946, the number of lynchings in this country averaged about 55 per year. The majority of identified cases occurred prior to 1903. I don't think the savings on agricultural wages would have been all that robust.

That would be lynchings of Southern blacks. About 1/3 of the lynchings on record were in lightly governed Western states. These ceased around about 1925.

"EJI has documented 4084 racial terror lynchings in twelve Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950, which is at least 800 more lynchings in these states than previously reported. EJI has also documented more than 300 racial terror lynchings in other states during this time period."

That does come out to about 55 per year. I don't know if they clustered in some years.

Half of the black lynchings involved rape or murder allegations. I assume that Ida B Wells allegations that some involved economic motives is true. How isolated or rare I don't know.

Very few "terrorist" deaths occur in the US. But I would assume that averaging 55 a year would have an impact on our culture.

The following looks at the history of lynching. Some of the later claims go a bit far but interesting

IDA B Wells on lynching this
Paper shows an effect of global cotton prices on Lynchings for whats it’s worth

Data dredging.

Thank you for link

His main result
"I claim that lynchings occurred during poor economic times, when whites lynched blacks to terrify the black labour force into migrating, thus reducing labour and increasing wages. It is therefore important that cotton shocks predict lynchings"

seems to me like a jump in logic. But still thanks

There were two consequential episodes of economic distress during the two generations in question, and the frequency of lynching was declining during the latter of the two.

When times are tough, some/many people look for scapegoats.

Certainly, it is possible to have genuinely bad luck or to be very intentionally victimized. That is not the same thing as being blamed for things outside of one's control, or things that one simply did not do.

I wonder what happens with rebellions against the lord's peasants owed taxes to when times were tough.

But of course this would not be "scapegoating" for some reason.

Correct. Blaming some autocratic origin of a heavy tax burden during hungry times is not the same as blaming some minority group for causing the weather underlying a bad harvest.

The first is not scapegoating, and the second is.

What about tax farmers and money lenders? Why might people have a problem with them in hard, tight times? Obviously not too different to a landlord.

You might actually want to think about why people might have a problem with a specific group rather than "Muh minorities".

Jews of the Middle Ages being a group who were in an "already tight alliance" with "secular lords", that you describe as autocrats against which rebellion is justified.


Surely these guys first submitted this to the Journal of Economic History. I'd be curious to read the original readers' reports.

A Talebian take would be that increased state capacity reduced the number of smallish persecutions but greatly increased the chance of persecution on a huge scale. Same theory could be relevant for the complete Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492.

The universalism of modern "WEIRDO" whites is highly unusual. Intergroup conflict is the norm in human history simply because groups have distinct and conflicting interests and they generally have no particular reason to place a high weight on the welfare of outgroups. Sure, sometimes cooperation is mutually beneficial, but such cooperation is typically precarious and short-lived. External factors like weather/famine could be contributory factors, sure, but that provides zero insight into the underlying group interests, nor would such correlation (assuming for sake of argument that it isn't completely bogus) explain the "baseline" level of disharmony.

More interesting scholarship would offer a detached and frank account of the interests and behaviors of the groups in questions. That comes naturally when you're examining conflicts between groups most of us don't care about, like say the Taino and the Caribs. (The only bias there would be to hide the history entirely as it undermines the idea of the uniquely evil Europeans disturbing a peaceful population of noble savages). But no one would dare offer a detached analysis in this case. The only acceptable take is that these persecutions were completely irrational, the effect of a frenzied Gentile mind. Crazy Gentiles overreacting to the weather. Yes, that's it.

Also Jewish blood help my cows to grow strong and produce more milk.

If there are no countering forces, diverse individuals and groups may have counterproductive conflict.

This suggests that it would be good to intentionally set about to have explicit means to promote a reduction of the tendency of individuals and groups to have conflicts, or at least to ensure that negative outcomes or side effects can be minimized in a freedom-respecting manner.

Specifically, the fact of historical and present day conflict between diverse individuals and groups should not be viewed as a reason for generalized indifference. Au contraire.

Moreover, the fact that cooperation often does not presuppose an eternal cooperation, is not a good reason to disdain cooperation in general. For example, one might cooperate for just a few moments, some days, or for some years (or longer), and then for some diversity of good/bad reasons might decide to not continue some mutually beneficial cooperation.

Not sure what you're getting at. Just to clarify, my comments are descriptive rather than prescriptive, and I think that is the correct framework for understanding history. Prescriptively, I agree as a general rule that it's wise to seek harmony with other groups.

Very possibly, higher levels of intergroup cooperation (or at least non-hostility) are historically much more common than one might surmise. It's not very often that historians (or current media) write a lot about people getting along, whereas victor's justice tends to include rationalization for what evils the losers did to deserve their fate (which sometimes may be true, underlying some ease of mobilization contrary to said evils).

Which is to say that historical lack of intergroup cooperation could easily be overstated. Which is the main point, but there is a reason it is relevant.

So even if it's (somewhat near to) a historically accurate representation, there is some risk of being accidentally or quasi-intentionally misread. For example, some people are always on the lookout for ideas that will justify a hateful attitude toward others, and if intergroup cooperation was relatively lower in historical periods, this could justify views of no-cooperation being a more "natural" state of things and for which reason they should not only feel OK about hating others for no reason other than being of a particular ethnicity or religion, but perhaps even follow through on a belief that promoting hate among groups is necesary to return to this more "natural" state of affairs.

You could say that my comment is directed more so toward those who may be triggered by the statement that "as a general rule it's wise to seek harmony with other groups."

Koyama and Johnson’s work is great and glad to see the good press.

I’m surprised Alex didn’t touch on the fact that some of the their findings on religious tolerance is relatively unlibertarian - mainly public choice considerations played a role.

Quite honest :)

Jewish specialization and monopolies in moneylending in agrarian economies could also be a factor.

Pre-industrial, agrarian production was relatively static and varied significantly according to the weather. Colder growing seasons would have meant dramatic falls in agricultural production. Interest payments and debt accrue according to a mathematical calculation rather than a physical process like agricultural production. The high volatility in agricultural production following bad weather presumably would result in transfers of assets secured by loans.

The salient point. Perhaps more akin to dustbowl farmer anger at foreclosing banks in times of hardship.

What was the weather like when the Cathars were being slaughtered? Shouldn't that provide an independent test of their hypothesis?

sample of one.

A sample of fifty to a hundred thousand, probably. And, being independent data, quite enough to falsify a theory.

Congratulations to Noel and Mark! Great news!

Congratulations to Mark! Well deserved. Have been trying to get him in to JMU to give a talk, but he keeps not being around. Oh well.... :-(.

Scapegoating is a solid tool in the autocrats toolbox, even today. Currently there’s a faction in the US focusing on Mexicans and Muslims.

Remember: if you can’t fix the problem, the least you can do is fix the blame.

"Currently there’s a faction in the US focusing on Mexicans and Muslims." And another on Russians. The US is in a bad way.

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