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Article

Brant Abbott and Giovanni Gallipoli

This article focuses on the distribution of human capital and its implications for the accrual of economic resources to individuals and households. Human capital inequality can be thought of as measuring disparity in the ownership of labor factors of production, which are usually compensated in the form of wage income. Earnings inequality is tightly related to human capital inequality. However, it only measures disparity in payments to labor rather than dispersion in the market value of the underlying stocks of human capital. Hence, measures of earnings dispersion provide a partial and incomplete view of the underlying distribution of productive skills and of the income generated by way of them. Despite its shortcomings, a fairly common way to gauge the distributional implications of human capital inequality is to examine the distribution of labor income. While it is not always obvious what accounts for returns to human capital, an established approach in the empirical literature is to decompose measured earnings into permanent and transitory components. A second approach focuses on the lifetime present value of earnings. Lifetime earnings are, by definition, an ex post measure only observable at the end of an individual’s working lifetime. One limitation of this approach is that it assigns a value based on one of the many possible realizations of human capital returns. Arguably, this ignores the option value associated with alternative, but unobserved, potential earning paths that may be valuable ex ante. Hence, ex post lifetime earnings reflect both the genuine value of human capital and the impact of the particular realization of unpredictable shocks (luck). A different but related measure focuses on the ex ante value of expected lifetime earnings, which differs from ex post (realized) lifetime earnings insofar as they account for the value of yet-to-be-realized payoffs along different potential earning paths. Ex ante expectations reflect how much an individual reasonably anticipates earning over the rest of their life based on their current stock of human capital, averaging over possible realizations of luck and other income shifters that may arise. The discounted value of different potential paths of future earnings can be computed using risk-less or state-dependent discount factors.

Article

Samuel Berlinski and Marcos Vera-Hernández

Socioeconomic gradients in health, cognitive, and socioemotional skills start at a very early age. Well-designed policy interventions in the early years can have a great impact in closing these gaps. Advancing this line of research requires a thorough understanding of how households make human capital investment decisions on behalf of their children, what their information set is, and how the market, the environment, and government policies affect them. A framework for this research should describe how children’s skills evolve and how parents make choices about the inputs that model child development, as well as the rationale for government interventions, including both efficiency and equity considerations.

Article

Samuel Berlinski and Marcos Vera-Hernández

A set of policies is at the center of the agenda on early childhood development: parenting programs, childcare regulation and subsidies, cash and in-kind transfers, and parental leave policies. Incentives are embedded in these policies, and households react to them differently. They also have varying effects on child development, both in developed and developing countries. We have learned much about the impact of these policies in the past 20 years. We know that parenting programs can enhance child development, that centre based care might increase female labor force participation and child development, that parental leave policies beyond three months don’t cause improvement in children outcomes, and that the effects of transfers depend much on their design. In this review, we focus on the incentives embedded in these policies, and how they interact with the context and decision makers to understand the heterogeneity of effects and the mechanisms through which these policies work. We conclude by identifying areas of future research.

Article

Sheilagh Ogilvie

Guilds ruled many European crafts and trades from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution. Each guild regulated entry to its occupation, requiring any practitioner to become a guild member and then limiting admission to the guild. Guilds intervened in the markets for their members’ products, striving to keep prices high, limit output, suppress competition, and block innovations that might disrupt the status quo. Guilds also acted in input markets, seeking to control access to raw materials, keep wages low, hinder employers from competing for workers, and prevent workers from agitating for better conditions. Guilds treated women particularly severely, usually excluding them from apprenticeship and forbidding any female other than a guild member’s widow from running a workshop. Guilds invested large sums in lobbying governments and political elites to grant, maintain, and extend these privileges. Guilds had the potential to compensate for their cartelistic activities by creating countervailing benefits. Guild quality certification was one possible solution to information asymmetries between producers and consumers, which could have made markets work better. Guild apprenticeship had the potential to solve imperfections in markets for skilled training, and thus to encourage human capital investment. The cartel profits generated by guilds could in theory have encouraged technological innovation by enabling guild masters to appropriate more of the social benefits of their innovations, while guild journeymanship and spatial clustering could diffuse new technical knowledge. A rich scholarship on European guilds makes it possible to assess the degree to which guilds created such benefits, outweighing the harm they caused. After about 1500, guild strength diverged across Europe, declining gradually in Flanders, the Netherlands, and England, surviving in France and Italy, and intensifying across large tracts of Iberia, Scandinavia, and the German-speaking lands. The activities of guilds contributed to variations across Europe in economic performance, urban growth, and inequality. Guilds interacted significantly with both markets and states, which helps explain why European economies diverged in the crucial centuries before industrialization.