Economic history

Daron Acemoglu, Jacob Moscona, James A Robinson, 27 June 2016

The ‘great inventions’ view of productivity growth ascribes the excellent growth from 1920 to 1970 in the US to a handful of advances, and suggests that today poor productivity performance is driven by a lack of breakthrough discoveries. This column argues instead that the development of an effective governmental infrastructure in the 19th century accounted for a major part of US technological progress and prominence in this period. Infrastructure design thus appears to have the power to reinvigorate technological progress.

Daniel Bernhofen, Markus Eberhardt, Jianan Li , Stephen Morgan, 22 June 2016

Despite being credited with many of the defining inventions of the early modern era, China failed to develop in line with Western Europe at the start of the 19th century. This column suggests that one reason for this was that China’s economy was more fragmented than that of Europe. Using Chinese monthly grain prices from 1740-1820 and grain price panels from Western Europe, it shows that in terms of market integration, the Great Divergence was well under way decades before the start of the 19th century.

Brandon Dupont, Joshua L. Rosenbloom, 19 June 2016

The long-run persistence of social and economic status has received substantial attention from economists of late. But the impact of economic and political shocks on this persistence has yet to be thoroughly explored. This column examines the disruptions from the US Civil War on the Southern wealth distribution. Results suggest that an entrenched southern planter elite retained their economic status after the war. However, the turmoil of the decade opened mobility opportunities for Southerners of more modest means, especially compared with the North.

Peter H. Lindert, Jeffrey G. Williamson, 16 June 2016

Americans have long debated when the country became the world’s economic leader, when it became so unequal, and how inequality and growth might be linked.  Yet those debates have lacked the quantitative evidence needed to choose between competing views. This column introduces evidence on American incomes per capita and inequality for two centuries before World War I. American history suggests that inequality is not driven by some fundamental law of capitalist development, but rather by episodic shifts in five basic forces: demography, education policy, trade competition, financial regulation policy, and labour-saving technological change.

William F. Maloney, Felipe Valencia Caicedo, 14 June 2016

The persistence of economic fortune over the long run has been the subject of intense research. This column investigates the persistence of patterns of economic activity in the Americas at the sub-national level over the last half millennium. The location of today’s prosperous cities and regions within each country is closely correlated with the location of indigenous population centres before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Policymakers seeking to make radical changes in the spatial distribution of economic activity should be mindful of the centuries-old, even pre-colonial, forces working against them.

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