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Welcome to my website!

I am a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at the Paris School of Economics supervised by Thomas Piketty In fall 2024, I will join the LSE as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economic History.

My research is at the intersection of economic history, trade, and labor economics. My current projects mainly focus on trade, forced labor, and migration involving Eastern Europe. I am particularly passionate about collecting and leveraging large-scale archival data.

I am a fellow at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, the Aix-Marseille School of Economics, the Institut Convergences Migrations, and the World Inequality Lab. From 2021 to 2023, I was a research and teaching fellow at the Harvard Economics Department. In February 2023, I visited Princeton.

My CV can be found here

Do not hesitate to reach out: tom.raster@psemail.eu

Working papers

Breaking the ice: The persistent effects of pioneers on trade relationships

This paper provides the first causal evidence of the effect of individual pioneers — first movers on trade links — on aggregate trade. I collect detailed data on all 1.4 million voyages between Baltic Sea ports and the rest of the world from 1500 until the 1850s, including 47,000 pioneering voyages that first connected two towns. I study the effect of pioneering on subsequent trade in a gravity model of yearly port-pair trade and instrument pioneering at the granular voyage level with (i) quasi-random en-route encounters with captains from new ports, and (ii) rerouting due to the unpredictable obstruction of previous destinations by sea ice. I find that 10% of total trade value is due to recent pioneering. A single pioneering voyage increases town exports by 25–33% for the 12% links that persist. Survival is higher for pioneered ports that are more distant from the origin port or existing trade partners in terms of kilometers, product mix, religion, or language. However, pioneers tend to select less distant ports. Therefore, returns are greatest when sea ice removes this selection and forces pioneers to experiment with exogenously determined ports. Pioneering spills over onto other traders, reducing the private returns of pioneers. This raises concerns about insufficient ex-ante pioneering and underlines the importance of policies that foster pioneering, particularly with distant destinations. 

Paper, Animations, Tweet

presented at: Harvard, Princeton, Economic History Association 2023 annual meeting, CEPII, PSE, Collège de France, AMSE, ASREC 2024 (Chapman U)*

coverage: Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality

Contagious coercion: The effect of plagues on serfdom in the Baltics

Labor scarcity is the main hypothesized determinant of labor coercion Domar (1970), however, its effects are theoretically ambiguous and remain empirically untested. This paper provides the first causal estimate of the effect of labor scarcity on labor coercion. I obtain quasi-exogenous variation in labor scarcity from immense spatial dispersion in deaths from three plagues in the Baltics (1605-6, 1657, 1710-2), which I show is uncorrelated to a host of local, pre-plague characteristics. To measure the intensity of labor coercion, I hand-collect thousands of serf labor contracts in Estonia, which capture the work obligations of serfs. I find that labor scarcity substantially increases coercion à la Domar (1970). Investigating mechanisms, I find that this effect is enhanced by the lack of outside options and increased labor monopsony power, in line with theoretical models. Investigating the consequences of (labor-scarcity instrumented) coercion, I find negative effects on education and increased migration. Taken together, these findings highlight the conditions under which labor scarcity raises coercion and provide suggestive evidence of why it does not in other cases (e.g., in Western Europe following the Black Death).

Paper

presented at: LSE, Princeton, Harvard, PSE, EHESS, Caltech Early Modern Group*

The effects of bourgeois virtues on US innovation

with Lars Harhoff Andersen (U Copenhagen) 

Praising hard work, risk-taking, and wealth accumulation, so-called bourgeois virtues, are hypothesized drivers of innovation and growth (McCloskey, 2006, 2010, 2016). We test this claim, devising a new first-name-based measure of bourgeois virtues and leveraging quasi-exogenous exposure to the bourgeoisie that is provided by road trips of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison (“The Vagabonds”) across the US (1914-24). Using variations in the timing of the road trips and the counties Ford and Edison visited, we find that their visits caused an increase in bourgeois virtues and patenting.

Paper

presented at: ASREC 2023 (Harvard), PE Workshop (Harvard) 

Serfs and the market: Second Serfdom and the East-West goods exchange

Using novel shipment-level data on maritime trade between 1579 and 1856, this paper documents the evolution in grain exports from Western to Eastern Europe and the rise of unfree labor in the former. Hypotheses first formulated more than 60 years ago, that export opportunities spurred labor coercion, motivate the exploration of this relationship. A new dataset of key labor legislation dates in the Baltic area captures de-jure unfree labor (e.g. serfdom or mobility bans). We also capture de-facto variation in coercion using existing data on coercion proxies (land holdings, serf manumission and/or wages) in Denmark, Prussia and Scania and novel household-level corvée data in Estonia. Our findings suggest that increases in grain prices and exports to the West happen, in many instances, concurrently with increases in de-jure and de-facto coercion in the East; thus, providing support for the hypothesis. Specifically, we observe that locations with better export potential see higher de-facto labor coercion; a finding that cannot be reconciled with existing models which predict less coercion in the proximity of cities due to outside options. We rationalize these findings in a new, open-economy labor coercion model that explains why foreign demand for grain is particularly likely to foster coercion. Our empirics may also be interpreted as evidence that Scania’s opening of the land market to peasants allowed them to benefit from trade and reduced labor coercion even in the absence of any coercion-constraining labor policies. It is hoped that this research and the data it contributes provides new conceptual and empirical approaches to understanding past and present unfree labor that may also focus more closely on the broader political economy. 

Paper

presented at: WEAST 2019 (Helsinki) 

Work in progress (selected)

Cabotage, costs, and climate

with Tillman Graff (Harvard)

We estimate a structural model to quantify how the EU’s cabotage rules affect costs and CO2 emissions, mainly by forcing trucks to run empty between destinations. EU cabotage rules require truckers to return periodically to their country of origin. Given the large share of truckers in one region, Eastern Europe, this requirement can create inefficiencies. We collaborate with large trucking companies to obtain the first trip-level data on trucking. Preliminary findings indicate that EU cabotage laws lead to substantially more empty running, higher costs, and excess CO2 emissions. For identification, we exploit changes in cabotage rules and traffic-related delays that we observe in driver tracking data and that exogenously bring truckers closer to their cabotage window. Our findings demonstrate the trade-offs between protecting Western European truckers and excess costs and emissions.

Wealth and serfdom: The Baltics, 1200-1939 

I quantify the wealth of noble landowners and (freed) serfs in Estonia and Latvia from the beginning of the colonization by Baltic Germans in the 1200s to the end of the first period of independence in 1939. To this end, I collect extensive data on the landholdings of individual Baltic Germans and their families and show how their wealth recovers following shocks (plagues, wars, and conquests). I also document the slow rise in landownership among formerly enserfed ethnic Estonians and Latvians following the abolition of serfdom in 1816-9. The wealth gap between Baltic Germans and ethnic Estonians and Latvians only significantly closed following land reforms after the independence from Russia in 1918-9. 

The Hanseatic League: breakdown of a cartel

The Hanseatic League was a large merchant guild that existed from the 12th century until its last meeting in 1669. The Sound Toll allows me to study the cheating of individual captains on Hanseatic statutes. Cheating occurs when (i) non-Hanse captains sail to Hanse towns and (ii) Hanse captains sail to non-Hanse trade routes. This analysis of each individual shipment provides unique evidence of the causes of the League’s decline through the lens of cartel theory.


presented at: Economic History Association 2017 annual meeting, University of Groningen

The long-run political effects of refugees: Evidence from post-WWII Germany

with Li Yang (ZEW)

We study the political consequences of German WWII refugees who were expelled from Eastern Europe. Using county-level data, we show that the (instrumented) presence of WWII refugees leads to significantly more far-right voting today. A new identifier in large survey data allows us to decompose this effect for refugees and their offspring and non-refugees and their children. We show that WWII refugees themselves vote less for the far-right and view immigration more favorably. We find opposite effects for the children of refugees, non-refugees, and non-refugee children. Our findings demonstrate that within-country displacement can lead to a persistent backlash.


presented at: PE Gov (Harvard)

Publication

Liquidity Constraints and Willingness to Pay for Solar Lamps and Water Filters in Jakarta

with Robert Lensink (U Groningen) & Angelique Timmer (Ivy)

The European Journal of Development Research (2018), 30, 577-587

In this study, using the Becker–DeGroot–Marschak mechanism, we assess the Willingness to Pay for water filters and solar lamps in Indonesia. The study shows that credit constraints are important determinants of the low levels of WTP and low adoption rates of preventative health technologies. Providing women with an option to spread out the payments for these products over 50 weekly periods more than doubles the maximum WTP.


Paper

Seminars & conferences

2023

Grad. Labor (Princeton), Grad. Trade (Princeton), Atelier Simiand (EHESS), Applied Lunch (PSE), ASREC (Harvard), International Economics Lunch (Harvard), Economic History Workshop (Harvard), IC Migration (×2), ENS, Eurasia Economic History Workshop (University of Chicago), CEPII, Economic History Association, AMSE*

(* marks scheduled)

2022

Graduate Economic History Seminar (LSE), International Economics Lunch (Harvard), PE workshop (Harvard), Economic History Workshop (Harvard), Applied Lunch (PSE), XIX World Economic History Congress

2021

Atelier Simiand (PSE), Pol Econ Tea (×2, Harvard), Economic History Workshop (Harvard)

2020

Applied Lunch (PSE), GSIE (PSE/Université Paris 1)

2019

Baltic Connections (U. Helsinki)

2018

Economics-Econometrics-Finance seminar (U. Groningen), Economic History Association

Teaching

Harvard:

University of British Columbia:

University of Groningen (TAs are generally not evaluated):

Data & Useful Links

Data:


Baltic Economic History (BIH) database

Interactive visualizations of the Sound Toll

Historic Baltic Sea ice data


Links:


News

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