Economic history

Alex Klein, Sheilagh Ogilvie, 14 January 2018

A famous hypothesis posits that serfdom was caused by factor endowments, specifically high land-labour ratios. Historical evidence seems to refute this idea, but with substantial identification problems. This column uses microdata for more than 11,000 Bohemian villages in the year 1757 to control for other potential influences on serfdom. The results support the factor endowments hypothesis, with higher land-labour ratios intensifying serfdom, suggesting that institutions are partially shaped by economic fundamentals.

Michel Serafinelli, Guido Tabellini, 06 January 2018

Innovation is often concentrated in certain geographic areas, or ‘creative clusters’. This column uses novel data on famous births to explore the dynamics of creativity in European cities between the 11th and 19th centuries. The results show that creativity tends to precede economic prosperity, and that city institutions that protect personal and economic freedoms are conducive to radical innovation in a variety of domains.

Prateek Raj, 04 January 2018

In medieval Europe, trade depended on personal relationships, which were usually mediated by merchant guilds. The column argues that increasing incentives to do business with merchants outside the guild system, and the availability of better information about those trading partners, led to the decline of merchant guilds in the 16th century. This occurred first in coastal cities that were early adopters of printing technology.

Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein, Mesay Gebresilasse, 23 December 2017

More Americans than Europeans oppose redistribution and government intervention in areas such as healthcare, gun control, the minimum wage, and pollution control. This column argues that the longstanding American culture of 'rugged individualism' is rooted in the history of the frontier. Even accounting for individual-level support for the Republican Party, areas in the US with greater historical frontier experience still exhibit greater opposition to redistribution and government regulation today.

Trevor Burnard, Laura Panza, Jeffrey Williamson, 06 December 2017

Jamaica was considered to be exceptionally rich in the 18th century. Modern historians have tended to perpetuate this idea. This column uses novel methods to shed new light on living standards and inequality in colonial Jamaica. While the country was one of the most expensive places on the planet at the time, this wealth rested in the hands a very small white, slave-owning elite. The rest of the populace, many in slavery, lived at the very edge of subsistence.

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