2016 Awards

Oliver E. Williamson Best Conference Paper Award

Mounir Karadja and Erik Prawitz (IIES, Stockholm University):

"Exit, Voice and Political Change: Evidence from Swedish Mass Migration to the United States”.

This paper studies the long-term political implications of emigration from Sweden in 1867-1920. The authors use a unique dataset that covers the universe of emigrants (1.1 million Swedes - a quarter of the country’s population). They show municipalities with higher emigration have higher membership in local labor organizations and greater strike participation, mobilized voter turnout and support for left-wing parties in national elections. Consequently, these municipalities chose higher welfare spending per capita, both before and after the introduction of democracy; they were also more likely to adopt inclusive political institutions. The authors interpret these results as evidence that emigration has increased the remaining citizens’ bargaining power.

The empirical strategy of the paper is to use the exogenous variation in local frost shocks that resulted in poor harvests and sparked the initial wave of emigration. They interact these shocks with the distance to ports to create an instrument for emigration. As emigration is highly persistent, their instrument predicts the intensity of emigration over the whole fifty year period. The paper is not only an excellent piece of modern empirical research. It also represents a great fit with SIOE’s agenda and exemplifies what SIOE scholarship can and should do.

The paper is multidisciplinary - the authors use historical economic, political, demographic, and meteorological data. The paper is rigorous: the authors’ innovation is to design a convincing identification strategy and check the potential alternative explanations. Finally, and most importantly, the paper addresses the first-order research question: the origin of political institutions.

Douglass C. North Research Award

Josiah Ober (Stanford University):

The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (Princeton University Press, 2015).

The book shows that, contrary to longstanding conventional wisdom, classical Greece flourished economically as well as intellectually and artistically. Ober then provides a fascinating institutional analysis of classical Greece to explain its exceptional flourishing, based on relatively fair rules, capital investment, and low transaction costs on the one hand and competition, innovation, and rational cooperation on the other. The second half of the book presents Greek history from 800 to 300 BC through this lens. The book is innovative, creative, full of surprises – and a great read. I would also like to note that Josh participated in a terrific panel at this year’s SIOE on Ancient Greece, and the prospects for institutional analysis of the ancient world have never been better.

The North Award is offered every two years for “the best research in institutional and organizational economics published during the previous two years.” This is the first North Award since Doug North’s death last year, and I believe that Doug would be thrilled at this outstanding work on Classical Greece and its importance to SIOE.

[from Henry Smith's background of the Award]