Economic history

Stephen Broadberry, John Joseph Wallis, 05 July 2017

Most analysis of long-run economic performance abstracts from short-run fluctuations and seeks to explain improved performance through an increase in the rate of growth. Using data on annual rates of change of per capita income reaching back to the 13th century for some countries, this column show that improved long-run performance has actually occurred primarily through a decline in the rate and frequency of shrinking. Structural change, technological change, demographic change and the changing incidence of warfare offer at best a partial explanation; a full understanding requires a consideration of institutional change.

Neil Monnery, 30 June 2017

Post-war Hong Kong delivered one of the most dramatic improvements in living standards in history, a transformation regarded by Milton Friedman as an experiment in the potential impact of economic freedom on economic growth. This column assesses the contribution of one key official – finance minister Sir John Cowperthwaite – whose laissez-faire approach of ‘positive non-interventionism’, much admired by Friedman, underpinned that success. It also explores, 20 years on from the handover to China, whether a second stage of the Hong Kong economic experiment might be in progress, perhaps leading to faltering freedom and faltering growth.

Ravi Kanbur, 25 June 2017

Political economy discourses in areas such as the nature of market failure, the case for government intervention on grounds of efficiency and equity, and the interplay between economic and political forces have run for generations. This column provides an overview of the life of Nobel Prize-winning economist W Arthur Lewis, who was a critic of laissez-faire economic policies, but who also acted as a check on extreme statist interventions, arguing against heavy state subsidy to industry on purely economic grounds.

Taylor Jaworski, 17 June 2017

Mobilisation for WWII is typically credited as having spurred the industrialisation of the American South, where industrial development had previously been stymied. Using newly collected data, this column revisits this hypothesis. Unlike earlier studies, the results do not support a decisive role for wartime capital deepening on the South’s post-war industrial development. While the results don’t rule out some positive effects of WWII investment, they suggest it may have had limited usefulness in post-war, non-military production.

Christopher Meissner, John Tang, 16 June 2017

Economists have long been interested in the dynamics of comparative advantage, but have only recently begun to use detailed product-level data in their analysis. This column examines the Japanese experience after the liberalisation of the 1850s. It suggests that trade costs, destination market demand conditions, and product specific factors played key roles in Japanese exports growth. Roughly 30% of growth in exports between 1880 and 1910 came from shipping new goods to new countries, selling new goods to extant trade partners, and introducing existing products to new countries.

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