Economic history

Daniel Gallardo Albarrán, 22 May 2016

Industrialisation has been the key to modern economic growth and rapidly rising incomes, but some question whether it is always a blessing when taking a broader view of human wellbeing. While the recent rise of China and other Asian economies has transformed the lives of millions, the experience of Britain in the 19th century shows a more mixed picture of development. This column presents a unified framework for measuring British wellbeing over the period 1780-1850, which shows that better health and higher income levels alternated in improving overall wellbeing, until declining health in the 1840s led to stagnating wellbeing.

Timo Boppart, Per Krusell, 21 May 2016

The rise of automation and, more generally, IT-driven structural change in the labour market have made policymakers and researchers worry about ‘disappearing jobs’ and a dire future for employment. This column examines data from several countries to get a long-term view of labour supply. To the extent that productivity improvements continue, hours worked will indeed likely fall. But this will not necessarily be a bad thing and jobs will not necessarily disappear.

Allison Shertzer, Randall Walsh, 19 May 2016

US cities became increasingly segregated by race over the 20th century. General consensus holds that most of this segregation was concentrated in the post-war period. This column uses neighbourhood-level data to find that racial segregation in cities began earlier; indeed, much of it had taken place by 1930. The column also examines the residential response of whites to black arrivals, suggesting that this contributed to segregation in addition to discrimination and institutional factors.

Guglielmo Barone, Sauro Mocetti, 17 May 2016

Societies characterised by a high transmission of socioeconomic status across generations are not only more likely to be perceived as ‘unfair’, they may also be less efficient as they waste the skills of those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Existing evidence suggests that the related earnings advantages disappear after several generations. This column challenges this view by comparing tax records for family dynasties (identified by surname) in Florence, Italy in 1427 and 2011. The top earners among the current taxpayers were found to have already been at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago. This persistence is identified despite the huge political, demographic, and economic upheavals that occurred between the two dates. 

Matthias Morys, 10 May 2016

The first century of modern Greek monetary history has striking parallels to the country’s current crisis, from repeated cycles of entry and exit from the dominant fixed exchange rate system, to government debt built-up and default, to financial supervision by West European countries. This column compares these two episodes in Greece’s monetary history and concludes that lasting monetary union membership can only be achieved if both monetary and fiscal policies are effectively delegated abroad. Understandable public resentment against ‘foreign intrusion’ might need to be weighed against their potential to secure the long-term political and economic objective of exchange rate stabilisation.

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