Gregory Clark and Neil Cummins recently took a very interesting look at the economic divide between the North of England (its Rust Belt) and the much better performing, London dominated South.
They used surname analysis to look at where people with Northern names ended up and how they were performing. An excerpt:
Using information on surnames that were northern (including Welsh) or southern in origin in pre-industrial England, in a recent paper we show that the decline of the north is entirely a product of the sorting of migrants by ability into a high-ability south and low-ability north over the last 200 years (Clark and Cummins 2018).
Migrants out of the north have had high abilities, and migrants into the north low abilities. As a consequence, those of northern English origin– as opposed to those still living in the north – show no disadvantage in outcomes at the national level in modern England. The disadvantages observed among those still in the north are completely compensated by the advantages seen among those with northern surnames in the south, where they are an elite.
The policy implication of this finding is that despite poorer social outcomes, those living in northern England and Wales do not face social or economic disadvantages relative to those living in the south. Thus, government expenditures designed to compensate for any perceived northern or Welsh disadvantage represent a misallocation of resources. Nor should universities take any steps to specifically raise enrolment from the north or from Wales.
The lack of national-level disadvantage to those with northern surnames implies moves to encourage more migration to the south, as advocated by Leunig and Swaffield (2008),would also be a mistake. If performance is improved by people moving south, then at the national level the northern surnames which are still concentrated in the north would be disadvantaged with respect to educational status, occupational status, and wealth. They are not.
Thus the concentration of education and talent in the south is not associated with significant external benefits, as would be predicted by the doctrines of the New Economic Geography (e.g. Krugman 1991, Krashinsky 2011). The regional sorting by economic ability within England has not had adverse economic effects at the national level. The poor performance economically and socially of northern England and Wales in recent years does not represent any missed economic or social opportunity.
That’s certainly an in your face take. If this is true, it potentially has profound implications in explaining the gaps in US regional performance as well. Click through to read the whole thing.