According to Julie

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Thoughts that go through my head while revising for exams

1. What are those people at the university library doing? I mean, the ones who are there for 10 hours or more per day. The ones who have been there 10 hours or more per day for months. They can’t possibly be working efficiently, or they would be done now. They would have read the library by now if they were reading at my speed. They are probably just succumbing to a false belief in The Osmosis Theory of Higher Education: the idea that close physical proximity to books and professors will make your brain absorb knowledge even while you update your Facebook status, watch random Youtube videos and take three-hour-long coffee breaks. (See this definition of “study”)

2. Why, oh why, did I not move into the university library months ago? The osmosis theory is so accurate, and if (when?) I completely fail at my exams, knowing that I had completely sacrificed all my free time to prepare for them would at least mean that I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about studying less so that I could spend my time dancing.

3. I would rather be dancing. I would rather be dancing. I would rather be dancing.

4. Whatever. No matter what my exam results are, at least I spent some of my exam revision time dancing. That’s learning too.

5. Economic history is fascinating. I love this. I just hope I can remember all this fascinating stuff when I have less than an hour to answer questions like “Why are some countries rich and some countries poor?” or “What determines economic growth?” (Why don’t they just add “What is the meaning of the universe?”)

6. I am one of the luckiest people in the world. My current “job” is to read interesting articles, thoughtfully curated and uploaded for my convenience by some of the most acclaimed geniuses in the field of economic history. Seriously, I have no reason to complain.

7. If it weren’t for the stress of knowing that some of these geniuses are going to judge my writing about what they’ve spent their careers researching, I would be having the time of my life.


For Norwegian readers, I have written more about university osmosis here.

I illustrated this post with pictures of books, because I enjoyed browsing for pictures of books. In reality, because I don’t actually like working with paper, my real study situation looks like this:

Picture sources: 1, 2, 3 and the last one was taken by my mom, Lena R. Andersen

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Why countries restrict migration–and why they should stop

My most recent economic history essay, aka. an example of what I am writing these days (not blog posts, I know).

“The question today is (…) of protecting the American rate of wages, the American standard of living, and the quality of American citizenship from degradation through the tumultuous access of vast throngs of ignorant and brutalized peasantry from the countries of eastern and southern Europe Francis A. Walker in the Atlantic Monthly, 1896

Between 1815 and 1930, an estimated 50 million Europeans migrated to the «New World» of North and South America and Oceania (Baines 1994:525). Much of this migration took place in the absence of migration restrictions. However, since the American economist Francis A. Walker wrote «Restriction of Immigration», popular opposition to immigration among the native population has generally included at least one of three arguments: «Immigrants steal our jobs.» «Immigrants are unproductive and drain our resources.» and «Immigrants threaten our culture.»

Economists have estimated that removing immigration controls could more than double the size of the world economy, because it would allow workers to move to places where they could be more productive (Legrain 2007:64). There is not much evidence that the negative effects these arguments allude to outweigh the gains from migration.

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Putting my long distance relationship into perspective

“The Chinese government developed perhaps the strictest set of controls over the movement of people of any state in the modern world in 1958. The basis of control was the hukou, or household registration system. (…) People were supposed to reside and work only where they had their hukou. Transfer of hukou was normally granted only in certain well-defined circumstances, which included assignment to a job in another area, marriage across administrative boundaries and moves to join family members. The administration of the hukou stystem was complex and involved different government offices. A transfer needed the permission of the authorities in the area where the hukou had been held and the authorities in the area to which it was being transferred. (…) Matches between people with different types of hukou or inhabitants of different towns or cities caused some tragic family separations. Marriage did not confer the right for one spouse to acquire the hukou of the other, and it appears that the authorities were determined that this would not become a way to move up the spatial hierarchy. There was no automatic right to be joined by a spouse when assigned a new job in some far-off place., and even when this right was granted to individuals, they sometimes waited years for the necessary hukou and job transfers to be arranged. 11.4 million couples in stable marriages were geographically separated at the time of the 1982 Census.”

– Delia Davin  (1999), Internal Migration in Contemporary China, published by Macmillan Press Ltd., pages 4-18


Related post: To all my champagne people


Moving abroad means going back to the Dark Ages

“Why doesn’t this work?!?!? Oh, right, we’re in England.”

This is the explanation for any problem my Danish flatmate and I encounter. While she’s lived here for years and I just arrived, we both get frustrated over the way things work – or don’t – in the UK. Yesterday I tried to explain at least some of these problems to my flatmate using economic history: the two of us are living in a developing country. Or, since I don’t really like that term, let’s say we are living in a medieval economy.

In an essay I handed in recently, I argued that the process of economic development is the process of solving fundamental problems of exchange (FPOE), thereby moving towards a situation of optimal levels of exchange. FPOE is the technical term for what happens when trade does not take place due to a lack of trust.

For those of you who appreciate game theory:
In a Prisoner’s Dilemma or “game of trust”, A can choose to initiate exchange or not, and B can choose to cooperate (by fulfilling his side of the contract) or not cooperate. If there is no exchange, the payoff for both players is 0. If there is a successful exchange (B cooperates), both players will be better off. However, if B thinks not cooperating will get him a higher reward than cooperating, he has an incentive to cheat A, leaving A worse off than if there is no exchange. And if A thinks he is likely to be cheated, there will be no trade, leaving the game at a sub-Pareto-optimal equilibrium without an exchange.

In medieval times, in the absence of state institutions like courts, traders attempted to solve their trust issues among themselves. For example, according to the historian Greif, Maghribi traders of the eleventh-century Mediterranean developed an informal contract-enforcement mechanism based on multilateral relationships within a close-knit “coalition”. They could spread information about cheating agents and make sure they were not traded with again. Basically “If you cheat one of us, we will all boycott you.” 

Institutions like the Maghribi coalition are relationbased. They are largely implicit, personal and formed outside of courtrooms. In contrast, most of our modern state institutions are rule-based: most transactions are based on impersonal and explicit agreements, and the state can impartially enforce contracts.

The point I would like to stress in this distinction is not the existence of a state to regulate a market. It is the possibility of enforcing contracts impersonally and impartially, rather than through reputation. A rule-based system allows for large-scale anonymous trade – so it favors economic development.

Yet even a state-controlled rule-based system has certain relational elements. Citizenship gives you access to a coalition that is certainly larger than the one organized by the medieval Maghribis – but it is a coalition none the less. When a British library asks for proof of a UK address before they let me in to their reading room, when setting up a UK bank account turns into a bureaucratic nightmare for foreign students, and when I have to pay six months rent in advance unless someone who owns property in the UK can vouch for me, it is because the UK is a coalition. There is an implicit agreement that the Prisoner’s Dilemma has been resolved in advance for permanent members of the UK club, while foreigners must negotiate on their own. When you leave your home coalition, you are plunged back into the market conditions of the Middle Ages.

(This is of course only made worse by the fact that there may be institutions to help you, but you are less likely to know about them than you are to know about institutions in your home country – which may explain why I find London increasingly practical and less ridiculous the longer I stay here.)

Medieval traders went from a situation where trade didn’t take place because it was literally impossible to move goods between people, to a situation where trade was possible, but didn’t happen because of a lack of trust. Today we can initiate trade with complete strangers – not just impartially and impersonally, but instantly  – with one click on a touch screen. But «can» and «do» are not the same. We have resolved so many of the practical problems that limit trade, from transportation costs to language barriers to timing, that when we refrain from exchange now, it is almost always because of some lack of trust.

Despite our supposedly rule-based national and international institutions, we still act relationally. Recent research using simple web-based games shows how cooperation can remain stable in a large group if participants have some choice over who they interact with. When grouped together completely randomly, the participants cheated each other more and more, even though this left them worse off in total.

According to The Economist, international migrants use diaspora networks as modern day coalitions. They trust people on the other side of the globe, because they originally emigrated from the same home countries. These networks make cross-border trade easier, and they are not government-enforced.

The paradox for economic historians who study medieval times is that exchange took place without the assistance of a state regulating the market. A paradox for both scholars and policy-makers today is how exchange should take place in a globalized economy where one state can no longer regulate the entire market.

Related posts:

  • Living locally, working globally My BA dissertation about, among other things, diaspora networks and how the preference for our home coalition makes the global labor market less global
  • Illegal = global FPOE means there is no global market for music

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Living locally, working globally

I am re-uploading my BA thesis in International Studies (it was hosted on a university website, but the link is broken now).

I wrote about high-skilled labor migration and offshoring between the US and India, mainly within the IT industry, and discussed the importance of this international labor market both historically for India, and theoretically for International Relations theory. My main argument was that offshoring is a form of labor migration without physical migration, and that this duality makes offshoring both a globalizing and a localizing force.

Living locally, working globally

If you are not as geeky about population-related matters like high-skilled labor migration and location-insensitive work as I am, why not do the busy grad-student trick of reading just the conclusion, which I have pasted below…

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I’m a people person

This evening I found myself sitting at the LSE Library reading a chapter about ways to quantify and compare fertility rates in different pre-industrial societies. I was surprised by how much fun I was having. Just an hour before, I had spoken to fellow students while waiting for class to start, and one of them had said: “I’m sure there are many lovely people who find demographics interesting, but I am not one of them.”

Well, I am. In fact, I find population growth rates, changes in life expectancy and statistics like “median age of married women at the birth of their last child” more interesting than say, descriptions of history’s great military battles and political intrigues. When I think about societies from other time periods, I like knowing how old the old people were, when (and how and why) people got married, how many children they had and whether the children went to school, and for how long, and what they learned there. And I like knowing how people decided where to live, and how to live and who moved where.

I’ve always preferred the social sciences over natural sciences because I am interested in people. I think the reason I eventually ended up in economic history, is less to do with an interest in money and more to do with an interest in the importance of the general population – their wealth, education, opinions and general patterns of behavior – and what that all means in the long run.

Military history and political history is – at least when separated from socio-economic history – the study of a few people’s major, singular decisions: Should I give the order to go to war? Do I want to run for president? Should I veto this, approve that? Economic history is the study of the aggregated choices of ordinary people over time.

When you decide to move to the suburbs, or use birth control, or get a student loan, or buy a house, or not get married, or spend more rather than save more when you get a pay raise, you are changing history. How can you not find that interesting?

Related: For Norwegian readers, a previous post on brain drain within the health sector, one of many things within the realm of population studies that I find interesting.