Saturday, August 4, 2018

The decline of the north is entirely a product of the sorting of migrants by ability into a high-ability south and low-ability north over the last 200 years

From The big sort: The decline of northern England, 1780–2018 by Gregory Clark, Neil Cummins. As I have mentioned before, I have latent concerns about Clark's family name-based methodology but I cannot put my finger on a specific criticism and no-one I have read has mounted any sort of strong attack on his approach.

In the meantime, he keeps coming up with very interesting findings based on that methodology. In this instance he tackles societal sorting on a geographic basis.
Despite significant regional government aid, the north of England and Wales lag the south in output per person, educational attainment, and other social indicators (e.g. Crafts 2005, Geary and Stark 2015, 2016). Value added per person is more than 40% higher in the south. The fraction of 18 year-olds winning admission to Oxford or Cambridge is double in the south.

Using information on surnames that were northern (including Welsh) or southern in origin in pre-industrial England, in a recent paper we show that the decline of the north is entirely a product of the sorting of migrants by ability into a high-ability south and low-ability north over the last 200 years (Clark and Cummins 2018).

Migrants out of the north have had high abilities, and migrants into the north low abilities. As a consequence, those of northern English origin– as opposed to those still living in the north – show no disadvantage in outcomes at the national level in modern England. The disadvantages observed among those still in the north are completely compensated by the advantages seen among those with northern surnames in the south, where they are an elite.

The policy implication of this finding is that despite poorer social outcomes, those living in northern England and Wales do not face social or economic disadvantages relative to those living in the south. Thus, government expenditures designed to compensate for any perceived northern or Welsh disadvantage represent a misallocation of resources. Nor should universities take any steps to specifically raise enrolment from the north or from Wales.

The lack of national-level disadvantage to those with northern surnames implies moves to encourage more migration to the south, as advocated by Leunig and Swaffield (2008),would also be a mistake. If performance is improved by people moving south, then at the national level the northern surnames which are still concentrated in the north would be disadvantaged with respect to educational status, occupational status, and wealth. They are not.

Thus the concentration of education and talent in the south is not associated with significant external benefits, as would be predicted by the doctrines of the New Economic Geography (e.g. Krugman 1991, Krashinsky 2011). The regional sorting by economic ability within England has not had adverse economic effects at the national level. The poor performance economically and socially of northern England and Wales in recent years does not represent any missed economic or social opportunity.
The language is guarded given that it is an unwelcome message to the social planners. Basically people's innate capabilities determine their life outcomes and not their environment. The widening economic gap between northern England and southern England is not a consequence of innate variance in people in either locale or some sort of societal discrimination. Smarter/more capable cluster together and produce higher productivity. That happens to have occurred in the south. The north lost talent, the south gained it.

This is doubly an incendiary issue because it attacks the postmodernist, intersectionalist, social justice assumptions that all negative disparate variances are a product of biased social power structures. Clark is indicating that social power structures do not in aggregate determine disparate outcomes. Outcomes are a consequence of innate capabilities and individual choices.

For all my hesitancy regarding his methodology of names, Clark's finding is consistent with my own research. See Sometimes we let averages and relative measures hide the absolute truth for an American instance comparable to the British North South divide.

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