Politics and economics

Michael Leeds, Hugh Rockoff, 22 February 2021

African American jockeys were once a common feature of horseracing in the US. This column uses historical sources and statistical analysis to document the exclusion of Black jockeys in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, despite their proven talent. While the barriers have been lifted in recent years, Black jockeys have been unable to approach the level of performance that had once been commonplace, and horseracing has become another sad example of the legacy of Jim Crow. 

Ruixue Jia, Gérard Roland, Yang Xie, 21 February 2021

Property rights and the rule of law were weaker in Imperial China than in premodern Europe. And yet, ordinary people in Imperial China had more access to elite status than their European counterparts. This column makes sense of the seeming contradiction by employing a theory of power structures in which a more symmetric relationship between elites and ordinary people stabilizes autocratic rule. If a ruler’s power is absolute, this stabilising effect will be stronger, and the ruler’s incentive to promote such symmetry will be greater. 

Leticia Abad, Noel Maurer, 19 February 2021

While the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have affected the 2020 US presidential elections, it had remarkably little effect on the electoral returns. This column compares the situation to the 1918 influenza pandemic and examines whether the flu pandemic affected US congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential elections during 1918–1920. Flu deaths did have a small effect on elections – voters did indeed blame incumbent parties for bad health outcomes. However, it appears they cared about other things much more.

Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick, Christoph Trebesch, 16 February 2021

The rise of populism in the past two decades has motivated much work on its drivers, but less is known about its economic and political consequences. This column uses a comprehensive cross-country database on populism dating back to 1900 to offer a historical, long-run perspective. It shows that (1) populism has a long history and is serial in nature – if countries have been governed by a populist once, they are much more likely to see another populist coming to office in the future; (2) populist leadership is economically costly, with a notable long-run decline in consumption and output; and (3) populism is politically disruptive, fostering instability and institutional decay. The analysis suggests that populism is here to stay.

Massimiliano Ferraresi, Gianluca Gucciardi, 12 February 2021

In the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, central governments around the world played a central role in defining policy options to combat the pandemic, while the local authorities saw their executive powers temporarily reduced or even cancelled. This column examines the change in policy decisions induced by the pandemic that led to centralised decision-making in Italy. Using an indicator of local governance approval, it investigates the difference between cities politically aligned and non-aligned with the central government before the pandemic, when municipalities enjoyed the usual discretion in policy decisions, and after the COVID-19 outbreak, when decisions were centralised. The findings suggest a public ‘discontent’ with the policy decisions of the central government, which might reflect a sense of a lack of government preparedness against the pandemic.

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