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  1. The latest on “food deserts” impacting nutritional disparities across class: “Though significant, spatial differences in access are small and explain only a fraction of the variation that
    we observe in the nutritional content of household purchases.” And try this, “we further find that the nutritional quality of purchases made by households with low levels of income and education respond
    very little when new stores enter or when existing stores change their product offerings.
  2. Does random assignment into economics increase your propensity to major in it? Evidence from Switzerland.
  3. Does free time lead to more innovation? Note that there is obviously a Laffer Curve here, or so says moi. Hayek had very interesting thoughts on promoting innovation in his masterpiece. He thought that we should randomly award a lottery victory to people.
  4. It seems that the returns to vocational training in California are high. Note a pet peeve of mine here. In the abstract the authors say that the return to CTE certificate and degrees are 12 to 23%. Well, to estimate a return, you need to talk about the investment and the timing. Is this an annual increase in earnings as compared to what they would be without the schooling? Is this simply a return per dollar invested in schooling? If you read the paper, both the literature review and the empirical results on pages 15 and beyond, you can see that they mean how much higher their annual earnings are as compared to if they did not complete the degree. These appear to be very large estimates.

I highly recommend reading Sheilagh Ogilvie’s account of the Economics of Guilds. Here are some of many highlights (all of the dog bites man variety):

In 1669, for instance, when the weaver Hannss Schrotter broke his guild’s rules by employing a female servant to weave, his town court fined him the equivalent of a maidservant’s average annual wage (Ogilvie 2003). Public law-courts also punished black-market producers for illegally infringing on guild monopolies, as in … 1742 when a town court jailed a villager’s wife after a complaint by the local nailsmith that she was “dealing in foreign nails, which violated the nailsmiths’ guild ordinance, and damaged him in his craft” (as quoted in Ogilvie 2003). Governments also supported guilds in regulating labor markets, as in 1781, when the pinmakers’ guild of a Normandy town fined a journeyman five years’ wages for quitting his job counter to guild regulations, and the municipal authorities supported the guild on the grounds that “if workers could leave their masters when they please, insubordination and adsfnarchy will result, and ruin manufacturing” (as quoted in Horn 2006, p. 45). The authorities also punished consumers who purchased wares from nonguilded craftsmen, as in Bohemia when the count of Friedland’s court responded to complaints by the local tailors’ guild in 1662 by fining three villagers for buying cheap garments from nonguilded interlopers, by which they had “premeditatedly tried to deceive the authorities and the court, and sought their own advantage” (Státní Oblastní Archiv Litomeˇrˇice, Pobocˇka Deˇcˇín 1662). (wintercow emphasis added)

Note that the origins of occupational licensing and modern labor unions are here, with similar justifications and intentions.  Here is what the Industrial Revolution did to change things, with perhaps a lesson for modern America:

The history of guilds shows that occupational licensing, with its far-reaching effects, is not a modern phenomenon. Professional organizations enforcing barriers to entry were the default in all but the poorest occupations before the Industrial Revolution; what is new in modern economies is the existence of so many occupations where no license is required. Guilds demonstrate how occupational licensing, even when imperfectly enforced, has real economic effects, if only by pushing economic activity into the informal sector where growth is often stifled by insecure property rights, poor contract enforcement, high risks, short time horizons, information scarcity, consumer fraud, and labor exploitation (De Soto 1989; Trivellato 2006; Ogilvie 2007b).

It might be argued that sexist, anti-Semitic, and racist cultural norms were universal in premodern societies, so guild barriers against women, Jews, and minority ethnic groups did not matter (for example, Epstein 2008; Epstein and Prak 2008). But cultural norms could only exert economic impact via institutions, such as guilds, that penalized those who deviated from the norms, for instance by admitting women or Jews to training. In markets where guilds were weak or absent, the individual self-interest of trainers, employers, and consumers made the enforcement of cultural norms much less effective (Ogilvie 2003, 2004b; Trivellato 2006).2

How important were guilds for training people and developing human capital?

In many other crafts, formal apprenticeships were irrelevant. Black-market “interlopers” who failed to obtain guild training—often, as in the case of women and Jews, because guilds excluded them—were vigorously opposed by guilds precisely because they had skills indistinguishable from those of guild members and were willingly hired by customers (Wiesner 2000; Ogilvie 2003, 2004b, 2007a; Hafter 2007; van den Heuvel 2007). For some premodern occupations, skilled training was clearly required, and in some, formal apprenticeship was the best method to provide it. But comparisons across premodern Europe suggest that guilds were neither necessary nor sufficient for ensuring that people invested in their own human capital

Why does it appear that guilds emerged and persisted? The same reason they do today:

Instead, the historical findings on guilds provide strong support for explanations according to which institutions arise and survive for centuries not mainly because they address market failures, but because they serve the distributional interests of powerful groups (Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson 2005; Ogilvie and Carus 2014). Guilds illustrate the long historical interdependence between economic and political institutions in regulating markets. Guilds could sustain their members’ collective monopoly against internal free-riding and external competition only by getting support from political authorities in exchange for a share of the rents.

That the guild system eventually broke down is rather astonishing. It has not gone away however.

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