Working papers

“The Political Economy of Famine: the Ukrainian Famine of 1933”, Revise and Resubmit at the Journal of Economic History

The famine of 1932-1933 of Ukraine killed as many as 2.6 million people out of a population of approximately 30 million. Three main explanations have been offered: negative weather shock, poor economic policies, and genocide. This paper uses variation in exposure to poor government policies and in ethnic composition within Ukraine to study the impact of policies on mortality, and the relationship between ethnic composition and mortality. It documents that (1) the data do not support the negative weather shock explanation: 1931 and 1932 weather predicts harvest roughly equal to the 1925-1929 average; (2) bad government policies (collectivization and the lack of favored industries) significantly increased mortality; (3) collectivization increased mortality due to drop in production on collective farms and not due to overextraction from collectives (although the evidence is indirect); (4) back-of-the-envelope calculations show that collectivization explains at least 31% of excess deaths; (5) ethnic Ukrainians seem more likely to die, even after controlling for exposure to poor Soviet economic policies; (6) Ukrainians were more exposed to policies that later led to mortality (collectivization and the lack of favored industries); (7) enforcement of government policies did not vary with ethnic composition (e.g., there is no evidence that collectivization was enforced more harshly on Ukrainians). These results provide several important takeaways. Most importantly, the evidence is consistent with both sides of the debate (economic policies vs genocide). (1) backs those arguing that the famine was man-made. (2) – (4) support those who argue that mortality was due to bad policy. (5) is consistent with those who argue that ethnic Ukrainians were targeted. For (6) and (7) to support genocide, it has to be the case that Stalin had the foresight that his policies would fail and lead to famine mortality years after they were introduced (and therefore disproportionately exposed Ukrainians to them).

“Demographic Consequences of the 1933 Soviet Famine”

Using recently discovered archival data, this article studies the impact of the 1933 Soviet famine on population and urbanization patterns. It documents that, although most of the direct victims lived in rural areas, the famine had a persistent negative impact on the urban population. In fact, the rural population gradually recovered while urban settlements in more affected areas became permanently smaller. The paper argues that the shortage of labor during the crucial years of rapid industrialization hindered the development of cities in areas struck by the famine. Thus, the timing of the shock to population appears to be an important factor. While established urban networks tend to recover from large temporary negative shocks, the lack of people during construction and rapid growth might have a permanent negative impact.

Work in progress

“The 1933 Soviet Famine” with Andrei Markevich, Nancy Qian, and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya

“Unintended Long-Term Consequences of Industrial Nuclear Explosions in the USSR” with Alexey Makarin