Northwestern Events Calendar


Seminar in Economic History

When: Wednesday, April 10, 2024
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM CT

Where: Kellogg Global Hub, 2130, 2211 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Samantha Westlake-Hart  

Group: Department of Economics: Seminar in Economic History

Category: Academic


Eyal Frank (University of Chicago): "Campaigning for Extinction: Eradication of Sparrows and the Great Famine in China"

Abstract: How do large disruptions to ecosystems affect human well-being? In 1958, China embarked on the "Four Pests Campaign" that aimed to quickly eradicate flies, mosquitoes, rats, and sparrows nationwide, despite warnings from scientists that sparrows play important roles in pest control. Historians have long speculated that eradicating sparrows, by letting other pest populations grow out of control, contributed to the Great Famine in China between 1959 and 1961—the largest in human history. This paper combines newly digitized data on historical agricultural productivity in China with habitat suitability modeling methods in ecology to quantitatively test this hypothesis. We document that regions with higher "sparrow suitability" experienced significant drops in agricultural output after the Four Pests Campaign, as compared to their low-suitability counterparts. A one standard deviation difference in sparrow suitability explains a 5.3% or 8.7% decline in rice or wheat agricultural output. We further document that the food procurement and redistribution system exacerbated the negative agricultural shock in high-sparrow suitability counties. Consequently, we find that counties with a one standard deviation in sparrow suitability experienced an elevated death rate of 3.3 deaths per 1,000 people during the Great Famine, even though there were no systematic differences between the two before 1958. These effects are driven by yield reductions for above-ground crops, which are more vulnerable to pest outbreaks, and farmers tried to mitigate pest risks by switching to below-ground crops. When China removed sparrows from the "four pests" list in 1960 and started to reboot the sparrow population, agricultural productivity gradually recovered, while the change in crop choices persisted.


Omer Ali (University of Pittsburgh): “The Impact of Federal Housing Policies on Racial Inequality: the case of the Federal Housing Administration”

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