Econ 2: Spring 2014: Week 0: Winter Break Assignments
A Historical Memory for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Pre-Class Memo to Berkeley Econ 210a Students About January 22, 2014 Class: Pedagogy; Administrivia; Utility of Economic History; Bones, Heights, and Deaths; Malthus and Malthusianism; Pre-Industrial Technological Progress

To: Students enrolled in Econ 210a: Introduction to Economic History
From: Brad DeLong
Subject: First Class on January 22, 2014
Date: January 19, 2014

Before you show up in Evans 597 at 1 PM on Wednesday, January 22, do the reading:

January 22. The Malthusian Economy (Feudalism and Manorialism; Gilds and Trade) (DeLong)

The Solow and the Arrow are very short and very easy to read--talks they gave in 1985 on why they thought graduate students in economics should take economic history (and what economic history should be). The Steckel and the Clark are even easier to read: addressed to the audience of the Journal of Economic Perspectives and to non-economist general readers, respectively. Steckel describes how his four favorite biomedical measures allow insights into prosperity and poverty and what those measures say, and it is important to listen to him because oftentimes we have much better information about biomedical and demographic outcomes than we do of the quantities and real prices of commodities. Clark presents his view of why the pre-industrial world was so poor: his explanation for the puzzle of why, even though the average worker had at least three times as much in the way of economically-valuable skills in 1500 as back at the invention of agriculture, human living standards at least for the broad majority appear to have stagnated in the ten thousand or so years before 1500.

The Malthus is similarly short, but is more difficult to read: it is English of two centuries ago. It is worth reading because it is the first developed appearance of an argument that has been very important in economic discourse, and is very important in understanding the world before Malthus.

The only thing at all difficult is Finley, and that is not because it is conceptually or technically difficult but because Finley is writing to his fellow English-speaking professors of not just economic history but ancient Greek or Roman economic history--he assumes that his readers have at some point read Cato, Varro, Columella, Petronius, and Dio Cassius, just for a start. Thus Finley does not present his evidence: he alludes to his evidence by naming the ancient writer whose works survive in his writings the evidence is set down.

You need to do the reading because of what I call the 10%-40%-80% memory rule, coupled with what I call the 50% discussion-lecture principle. The 50% discussion-lecture principle is that if I lecture I can get through all of what I have planned to cover, but if I run the class as a discussion we will touch on only about 50% of it. The 10%-40%-80% memory rule is that if I say something in class there is only a 10% chance that you will note it, remember it, and be able to retrieve it should you need or want it. By contrast, if one of your peers says it, then your chances are 40%. And if you say it--or if it is on the tip of your tongue and you might have said it when one of your peers does--then your chances are 80%. Thus a perfectly-run discussion is about 4 times as effective and even a limping discussion with most people unengaged is about 2 times as effective as a lecture. And I want this class to be as effective as possible.

Thus do the reading.

Also, before coming to the first class, read the course documents. Read the memo instructions,, the introduction to the course,, the note on the paper assignment,, and skim the list of readings, all of which are collected in the syllabus Also take a look at the presentation slides for pedagogy and administrivia We are going to start at a little before 1:10 on Wednesday. I want to be finished with the pedagogy and the administrivia by 1:30, and that will work only if you have glanced over what I am going to say.

At or about 1:30, I hope, we will kick off our discussion of the utility or lack thereof of economic history, using Solow and Arrow as our launch pad. I expect that discussion to last for about 20 minutes--it may be more, it may (but probably won't) be less. Then at or about 1:50, we will turn to Steckel and what heights and bones and death rates can and cannot tell us. That will take us to 2:15 or so.

Then we will launch into what I expect to be half an hour of trying to understand the economic forces and conditions that produced what we think happened at the most broad-brush level in global economic history in the "Malthusian Age" between the invention of agriculture and 1500 or so. Malthus and Clark should strike some people as very insightful--as having nailed it--and I hope will strike at least some others as having missed the point completely.

Then for the last fifteen minutes, I hope, we will consider Finley's ideas about why the pace of technological progress in the pre-industrial world was what it was

When we finish at 3, there will then be coffee and cookies in the Peixotto Room...