From the Field to the Classroom: The Boll Weevil’s Impact on Education in Rural Georgia
(Job Market Paper) [pdf
This paper exploits a unique shift in agricultural production that occurred in the early twentieth-century American South to analyze how the production of a child labor intensive crop (cotton) impacted schooling, with a particular focus on racial differences. In the early twentieth-century South the harvesting of cotton required a large number of extra workers for three months of the year. Children were employed to help fill this seasonal labor demand. Because the harvest happened during the fall, it conflicted directly with traditional school attendance. Since white children had wealthier parents, and were therefore less likely to work in cotton production than blacks on average, a theoretical model of the time allocation of children predicts the enrollment rate of blacks to be more responsive to changes in cotton production than that of whites. I test this prediction using newly collected county-level panel data for Georgia, a major cotton producer. Because cotton production may be endogenous, I use the arrival of the boll weevil, an agricultural pest that attacks the cotton plant, as an instrumental variable. The results reveal that a 10 percent reduction in cotton production caused a 2 percent increase in the school enrollment rate of blacks. By contrast, I find little evidence that cotton production affected the enrollment rate of whites. The shift away from cotton production after the arrival of the boll weevil can explain 30 percent of the narrowing of the black-white differential in enrollment rates between 1914 and 1929.
From Plutocracy to Progressivism? The Assassination of President McKinley as a Turning Point in American History
(with Carola Frydman and Eric Hilt) [pdf
We use the assassination of President McKinley in September 1901 to measure the value of his Presidency to large corporations. McKinley’s campaigns were funded by major business interests, and while in office he permitted significant merger activity without much enforcement of antitrust laws. His Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, was well known to be a reformer and had a stronger stance against the trusts. Using share prices, financial data, and board data for all NYSE-listed corporations in 1901, we estimate the effect of McKinley’s assassination on corporate valuations. We distinguish among firms with varying degrees of vulnerability to antitrust prosecution, and among firms with varying degrees of political influence, using data on board interlocks with elite financial institutions and social connections to Roosevelt. Our analysis indicates that firms with vulnerability to antitrust prosecution saw greater decreases in their valuations following the assassination. The value of railroads likely to be targets of antitrust enforcement declined further when Roosevelt’s administration sought to apply the Sherman Act to railroads for the first time, providing further evidence that regulatory forbearance was an important mechanism by which firms benefited during McKinley’s Presidency.
Finding the Fat: The Relative Impact of Budget Fluctuations on African-American Schools
It has been established by the literature that the quality of African-American schools was inferior to that of white schools in the early twentieth century. While it is undeniable that racial bias was a driver of this empirical fact, it is unclear how much of this disparity was driven by inadequate funding for maintaining two separate systems of schools. In other words, did local school officials diminish the quality of African-American schools to prop up white schools in times of budget distress? I use data from the early twentieth century on schools in Georgia to answer this question. In Georgia, a county’s share of the State School Fund was set every five years based on the proportion of the school-age population residing in the county. The infrequent adjustment to changes in the distribution of school-age children resulted in significant shocks to per pupil expenditures in adjustment years in some counties. Exploiting this exogenous source of variation in school funds, I employ a differences-in-differences strategy to investigate how the relative quality of education for African Americans changed with the level of local funding for education.