Exit, Voice and Political Change: Evidence from Swedish Mass Migration to the United States

By Sergei Guriev

Every year, the Society awards the Oliver E. Williamson Best Conference Paper Award  to the best paper presented in the SIOE’s Annual Conference. The paper is chosen by an Award Committee made of several members of the conference’s Program Committee and is chaired by the conference’s organizer. This year’s Award Committee included Sergei Guriev (chair), Ruben Enikolopov, Marian Moszoro and Maria Petrova. We have asked all Program Committee members to nominate the papers they liked best. We ended up with 16 short-listed papers out of 255 papers presented in the conference. The Award Committee has decided to award the Best Conference Paper Award to:

Mounir Karadja and Erik Prawitz’s paper "Exit, Voice and Political Change: Evidence from Swedish Mass Migration to the United States”. 

This paper studies the long-term political implications of emigration from Sweden in 1867-1920. The authors use a unique dataset that covers the universe of emigrants (1.1 million Swedes - a quarter of the country’s population). They show municipalities with higher emigration have higher membership in local labor organizations and greater strike participation, mobilized voter turnout and support for left-wing parties in national elections. Consequently, these municipalities chose higher welfare spending per capita, both before and after the introduction of democracy; they were also more likely to adopt inclusive political institutions. The authors interpret these results as evidence that emigration has increased the remaining citizens’ bargaining power.

The empirical strategy of the paper is to use the exogenous variation in local frost shocks that resulted in poor harvests and sparked the initial wave of emigration. They interact these shocks with the distance to ports to create an instrument for emigration. As emigration is highly persistent, their instrument predicts the intensity of emigration over the whole fifty year period. The paper is not only an excellent piece of modern empirical research. It also represents a great fit with SIOE’s agenda and exemplifies what SIOE scholarship can and should do.

The paper is multidisciplinary - the authors use historical economic, political, demographic, and meteorological data. The paper is rigorous: the authors’ innovation is to design a convincing identification strategy and check the potential alternative explanations. Finally, and most importantly, the paper addresses the first-order research question: the origin of political institutions.