Via the CEPR come two new papers:
Almost (pdf) a century and a half after the first large [United States] migration wave of the late 19th century, those places where migrants settled in big numbers are significantly better off than those which were virtually untouched by the migration wave...migration has left an imprint which still affects economic performance.
And a study (pdf) of 18th and 19th century England finds that:
children of couples of low fecundity (and hence small families) were more likely to become literate and employed in a skilled profession than those born to couples of high fecundity.
This, the authors say "could well have played a key role" in the industrial revolution.
These two different papers add to a growing body of evidence which shows that quite distant history strongly influences our economic fortunes today. Barack Obama was right to say in his "you didn't build that" speech that "if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own." You were helped not only by teachers and the government, but (unwittingly?) by previous generations.
In those remarks, Obama was criticizing Randian Conservatives - who are sadly not confined to the US - with their silly idea that today's rich are heroic self-made men. But there is another strand of conservatism which is wholly consistent with the idea that we owe our fortune to the past. Edmund Burke famously said that society is "a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born."
Which raises a paradox. Whilst economic research now supports Burke's view, much of the right no longer does so, preferring ahistorical inidividualist tosh. But as Will says:
A Conservative without a sense of history is just a whining, pleading bully.