Why can't an economist be more like a(n) historian?

Yuyu Chen, Ginger Zhe Jin and Yang Yue are all economists and they are doing interesting work on rural-urban migration in China. Given that China has better registration of its rural population than places like Mexico it is a good place to look at migration patterns. They find that people from the same village tend to go to the same places, and even congregate in the same jobs. They attribute this to social networks, which make it easier and easier for people to go someplace once more and more of their compatriots are there.

This is of course not surprising to anyone familiar with Chinese migration in the past. Honig and Goodman, among many others, have written about how native-place ties structured migration and sojourning.  Chen et. al., don’t compare this migration to earlier ones, which for a historian would seem to point to lots of interesting questions. I was also very surprised that they keep calling their area of study “China.” Their stats come from 8 counties. Are they all in the same region (or macro-region)? From different regions and they are assuming you can draw conclusions about “China” from them? Its an interesting paper, but in addition to proving some important stuff it also shows that economists are not like you and me.1

Via Brad DeLong


Goodman, Bryna. Native Place, City, and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities in Shanghai, 1853-1937. University of California Press, 1995.

Honig, Emily. Creating Chinese Ethnicity: Subei People in Shanghai, 1850-1980. Yale University Press, 1992.

  1. Yes, I know, they have more money. 

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