A Brief Guide for Matthew Yglesias, Perplexed as He Is About the Metaphysical Status of 538's "Forecasts"

Reading the Economic History Reading List of the Very Sharp "Pseudoerasmus of Chokurdakh"...

Well, the stars have aligned. I will be teaching nothing but economic history next year: Survey (graduate students), 20th Century (undergraduates), American (undergraduates), and European (graduate students). This provides, I think, an opportunity for a complete rethink of the curriculum: what to teach them and how to teach it...

Searching for inspiration, random googling for things I have not read before leads me to the economic history reading list of the smart-and-mysterious Pseudoerasmus, who thinks like a very sharp Jeffrey Williamson student and who claims to dwell in Chokurdakh in the Sakha Republic, population 2,367:

Preview of Untitled 3

Yes, that Chokurdakh. You have heard of it:

Chokurdakh Google Maps

So let me run through his reading list and pick up things he lists--and things that his listings make me think of--that I think have a very high value/length ratio:

Very Short Introductions:

  • Robert Allen: Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction http://amzn.to/29ibXts: Yes, definitely
  • Partha Dasgupta: Economics: A Very Short Introduction http://amzn.to/29Pc9Cg: Not on Pseudoerasmus's list, but it might be good to assign an introduction to economics--and this, I think, is it
  • Avinash Dixit:* Microeconomics: A Very Short Introduction http://amzn.to/29PeX2h Or possibly this would be the better introduction to economics as a way of thinking...
  • Eric Rauchway: The Great Depression and New Deal: A Very Short Introduction http://amzn.to/29r65Sx: And now that I am thinking about Oxford's VSI series, this superb book is an obvious thing to assign for background
  • Robert Skidelsky: Keynes: A Very Short Introduction http://amzn.to/29ieX9m And if not Rauchway on the Great Depression, then something about Keynes--hanging a great deal of history 1910-1950 and beyond on the biography of Keynes, or a great deal of macroeconomic theory on the biography of Keynes makes it much easier to keep people awake
  • Steven Lovell: The Soviet Union: A Very Short Introduction http://amzn.to/29mATpZ And perhaps we should gain some perspective on a market economy by looking at a non-market one...
  • S.A. Smith: The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction http://amzn.to/29iAinP Or perhaps this is the best way into the big issues of political economy and comparative systems...

"Big History" Books:

  • Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies http://amzn.to/29PgJ3t Pseudoerasmus says that (s)he "do[es] not list any 'big history' books along the lines of Jared Diamond or Fernand Braudel; but that is an issue that should be considered...
  • Paul Seabright: The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life http://amzn.to/29PgJ3t In my view, second to GG&S as a "big history" book...
  • Ian Morris: Why the West Rules--for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future http://amzn.to/29jwS0E In my view, third as a "big history" book...
  • Gregory Clark: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World http://amzn.to/29jxxz9 Fourth as a "big history" book, IMHO...
  • David S. Landes: The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor http://amzn.to/29uVkPE Inferior, IMHO, to the other three--but provocative...
  • Joseph Henrich: The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter http://amzn.to/29iHVeh
  • J. R. McNeill and William H. McNeill: The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History http://amzn.to/29rhh1h
  • Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind http://amzn.to/29nLhLc
  • Ian Morris: Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve http://amzn.to/29ovYDq
  • David Christian: This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity http://amzn.to/29irlWS

Britain and Its Industrial Revolution:


  • Ronald Findlay and Kevin O'Rourke: Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium http://amzn.to/29nFy83
  • Kevin H. O'Rourke and Jeffrey G. Williamson: Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Economy http://amzn.to/29iFgkt
  • Jeffrey Williamson: Trade and Poverty: When the Third World Fell Behind http://amzn.to/29jAPlZ
  • W. Arthur Lewis: The Evolution of the International Economic Order http://amzn.to/29iFAzT
  • Dani Rodrik: The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy http://amzn.to/29nHFsH
  • Steven Radelet: The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World http://amzn.to/29rguNR


North American:

  • Peter H. Lindert and Jeffrey G. Williamson: Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality since 1700 http://amzn.to/29xpaVm
  • Robert Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War http://amzn.to/29oFUdD

Latin America:

  • Stanley L. Engerman and Kenneth L. Sokoloff, eds.: Economic Development in the Americas since 1500: Endowments and Institutions http://amzn.to/29nJDcm
  • Stephen Haber, ed.: How Latin America Fell Behind: Essays on the Economic Histories of Brazil and Mexico* http://amzn.to/29oHEDC
  • Gerardo della Paolera and Alan M. Taylor, eds.: A New Economic History of Argentina http://amzn.to/29rggGH

Eastern Europe:

  • T.H. Aston and C.H.E. Philpin, eds.: The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-industrial Europe http://amzn.to/29nIWzY
  • Robert Allen: Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution http://amzn.to/29nHCwS


  • Richard von Glahn: The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century http://amzn.to/29jBkwt



Middle East:



Enrico Spolaore and Romain Wacziarg: How Deep Are the Roots of Economic Development?:

The empirical literature on economic growth and development has moved from the study of proximate determinants to the analysis of ever deeper, more fundamental factors, rooted in long-term history. A growing body of new empirical work focuses on the measurement and estimation of the effects of historical variables on contemporary income by explicitly taking into account the ancestral composition of current populations. The evidence suggests that economic development is affected by traits that have been transmitted across generations over the very long run. This article surveys this new literature and provides a framework to discuss different channels through which intergenerationally transmitted characteristics may impact economic development, biologically (via genetic or epigenetic transmission) and culturally (via behavioral or symbolic transmission). An important issue is whether historically transmitted traits have affected development through their direct impact on productivity, or have operated indirectly as barriers to the diffusion of productivity- enhancing innovations across populations.

Nathan Nunn: The Importance of History for Economic Development:

This article provides a survey of a growing body of empirical evidence that points toward the important long-term effects that historic events can have on economic development. The most re- cent studies, using microlevel data and more sophisticated identifi- cation techniques, have moved beyond testing whether history matters and attempt to identify exactly why history matters. The most commonly examined channels include institutions, culture, knowledge and technology, and movements between multiple equi- libria. The article concludes with a discussion of the questions that remain and the direction of current research in the literature.

Nathan Nunn: Historical Development:

This chapter surveys a growing body of evidence showing the impacts that historical events can have on current economic development. Over the past two decades historical persistence has been documented in a wide variety of time periods and locations, and over remarkably long time horizons. Although progress continues to be made identifying and understanding underlying mechanisms, the existing evidence suggests that cultural traits and formal institutions are both key in understanding historical persistence.

Nathan Nunn: Culture and the Historical Process:

This article discusses the importance of accounting for cultural values and beliefs when studying the process of historical economic development. A notion of culture as heuristics or rules of thumb that aid in decision making is described. Because cultural traits evolve based upon relative fitness, historical shocks can have persistent effects if they alter the costs and benefits of different traits. A number of empirical studies confirm that culture is an important mechanism that helps explain why historical shocks can have persistent impacts; these are reviewed here. As an example, I discuss the colonial origins hypothesis (Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson 2001), and show that our understanding of the trans- plantation of European legal and political institutions during the colonial period remains incomplete unless the values and beliefs brought by European settlers are taken into account. It is these cultural beliefs that formed the foundation of the initial institutions that in turn were key for long-term economic development.

Joseph Henrich: Culture and Social Behavior:

Comparative research from diverse societies shows that human social behavior varies immensely across a broad range of domains, including cooperation, fairness, trust, punishment, aggressiveness, morality and competitiveness. Efforts to explain this global variation have increasingly pointed to the importance of packages of social norms, or institutions. This work suggests that institutions related to anonymous markets, moralizing religions, monogamous marriage and complex kinship systems fundamentally shape human psychology and behavior. To better tackle this, work on cultural evolution and culture-gene coevolution delivers the tools and approaches to develop theories to explain these psychological and behavioral patterns, and to understand their relationship to culture and human nature.