I have been the Managing Editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives since the first issue in Summer 1987. The JEP is published by the American Economic Association, which decided about a decade ago–to my delight–that the journal would be freely available on-line, from the current issue all the way back to the first issue. You can download individual articles or entire issues, and it is available in various e-reader formats, too. Here, I’ll start with the Table of Contents for the just-released Winter 2022 issue, which in the Taylor household is known as issue #139. Below that are abstracts and direct links for all of the papers. I will probably blog more specifically about some of the papers in the few weeks, as well.
Symposium on Economies of Africa
“Labor Productivity Growth and Industrialization in Africa,” by Margaret McMillan and Albert Zeufack
Manufacturing has made an important contribution to raising living standards in many parts of the world. Concerns about premature deindustrialization have made some observers skeptical about the potential for manufacturing to play this role in Africa. But employment in African manufacturing has grown rapidly over the past 20 years. These employment gains have been accompanied by: (i) large increases in the number of small manufacturing firms; (ii) limited employment gains in large firms; and (iii) robust labor productivity growth in Africa’s large firms. Limited employment growth in Africa’s large manufacturing firms is partly a result of the capital intensity of the manufacturing subsectors in which African countries are most engaged—the processing of resources—and partly a result of rising capital intensity in manufacturing. The potential for manufacturing to raise living standards in Africa depends on indirect job creation by large firms through backward and forward linkages and increasing labor productivity in small firms.
“Agricultural Technology in Africa,” by Tavneet Suri and Christopher Udry
We discuss recent trends in agricultural productivity in Africa and highlight how technological progress in agriculture has stagnated on the continent. We briefly review the literature that tries to explain this stagnation through the lens of particular constraints to technology adoption. Ultimately, none of these constraints alone can explain these trends. New research highlights pervasive heterogeneity in the gross and net returns to agricultural technologies across Africa. We argue that this heterogeneity makes the adoption process more challenging, limits the scope of many innovations, and contributes to the stagnation in technology use. We conclude with directions for policy and what we feel are still important, unanswered research questions.
“Time Use and Gender in Africa in Times of Structural Transformation,” by Taryn Dinkelman and L. Rachel Ngai
Many African countries are still in the early stages of structural transformation. Typically, as economies move through the structural transformation, activities once conducted within the household are outsourced to the market. This has particular implications for women’s time use. In this paper, we document that current patterns of female time use in home production in several African countries closely resemble historical time use patterns in the Untied States. We highlight two stylized facts about women’s time use in Africa. First, in North Africa, women spend very few hours in market work and female labor force participation overall is extremely low. Second, although extensive margin participation of women is high in sub-Saharan Africa, women tend to work in the market for only a few hours each week, with the rest of their work hours spent in home production. These two facts suggest two different types of constraints that could slow down the reallocation of female time from home to market as economies grow: social norms related to women’s market work, and a lack of infrastructure (e.g., household infrastructure and childcare facilities) to facilitate marketizing home production. We discuss recent empirical evidence related to each set of constraints and highlight new avenues for research.
“Young Adults and Labor Markets in Africa,” by Oriana Bandiera, Ahmed Elsayed, Andrea Smurra, and Céline Zipfel
Every year, millions of young adults join the labor market in Africa. This paper harmonizes surveys and censuses from 68 low- and middle-income countries to compare their job prospects to those of their counterparts in other low-income regions. We show that employment rates are similar at similar levels of development but that young adults in Africa are less likely to have a salaried job, especially when the size of their cohort is large. Building on existing evidence on the impacts of interventions targeting both the demand and supply sides of the labor market, we discuss policy priorities for boosting the growth of salaried job creation in the region.
“Political Distortions, State Capture, and Economic Development in Africa,”by Nathan Canen and Leonard Wantchekon
This article studies the role of political distortions in driving economic growth and development in Africa. We first discuss how existing theories based on long-run structural factors (e.g., pre-colonial and colonial institutions, or ethnic diversity) may not capture new data patterns in the region, including changes to political regimes, growth patterns, and their variation across regions with similar historical experiences. We then argue that a framework focused on political distortions (i.e., how political incentives impact resource allocation and economic outcomes) may have multiple benefits: it encapsulates many distortions observed in practice, including patronage, variations in contract enforcement and the role of political connections in firm outcomes; it unifies results in Africa and elsewhere; and it leaves a wide scope for policy analysis. We conclude by overviewing reforms that may curb such distortions, including changes to campaign financing rules, bureaucratic reform, free trade agreements, and technology.
“The Price of Nails since 1695: A Window into Economic Change,” by Daniel E. Sichel
This paper focuses on the price of nails since 1695 and the proximate source of changes in those prices. Why nails? They are a basic manufactured product whose form and quality have changed relatively little over the last three centuries, yet the process for producing them has changed dramatically. Accordingly, nails provide a useful prism through which to examine a wide range of economic and technological developments that touch on multiple areas of both micro- and macroeconomics. Several conclusions emerge. First, from the late 1700s to the mid-twentieth century, real nail prices fell by a factor of about 10 relative to overall consumer prices. These declines had important effects on downstream industries, most notably construction. Second, while declining materials prices contribute to reductions in nail prices, the largest proximate source of the decline during this period was multifactor productivity growth in nail manufacturing, highlighting the role of the specialization of labor and reorganization of production processes. Third, the share of nails in GDP dropped back from 0.4 percent of GDP in 1810—comparable to today’s share of household purchases of personal computers—to a de minimis share more recently; accordingly, nails played a bigger role in American life in that earlier period. Finally, real nail prices have increased since the mid-twentieth century, reflecting in part an upturn in materials prices and a shift toward specialty nails in the wake of import competition, though the introduction of nail guns partly offset these increases for the price of installed nails.
“The Puzzle of Falling US Birth Rates since the Great Recession,” by Melissa S. Kearney, Phillip B. Levine and Luke Pardue
This paper documents a set of facts about the dramatic decline in birth rates in the United States between 2007 and 2020 and explores possible explanations. The overall reduction in the birth rate reflects declines across many groups of women, including teens, Hispanic women, and college-educated white women. The Great Recession contributed to the decline in the early part of this period, but we are unable to identify any other economic, policy, or social factor that has changed since 2007 that is responsible for much of the decline beyond that. Mechanically, the falling birth rate can be attributed to changes in birth patterns across recent cohorts of women moving through childbearing age. We conjecture that the “shifting priorities” of more recent cohorts, reflecting changes in preferences for having children, aspirations for life, and parenting norms, may be responsible. We conclude with a brief discussion about the societal consequences for a declining birth rate and what the United States might do about it.
“Isaiah Andrews, 2021 John Bates Clark Medalist,” by Anna Mikusheva and Jesse M. Shapiro
Isaiah Andrews is an exceptionally warm and caring person, a remarkable teacher, a collaborator and mentor, an exemplary contributor to his department and profession, and a brilliant econometrician. In this article, we review Isaiah’s contributions to econometric theory in the context of Isaiah’s receipt of the 2021 John Bates Clark Medal.
“Recommendations for Further Reading,” by Timothy Taylor