George Dotsis, 10 September 2017

Option trading has grown phenomenally in the last 40 years, but option markets have existed since the early 17th century. This column reviews an option trading manual written by a London trader in 1906. It shows that traders in the 19th century developed sophisticated techniques for determining the prices of short-term calls and puts. They also priced at-the-money-forward straddles the same way they are priced today.

Michael Bordo, 23 April 2017

Beginning in 1944, the Bretton Woods system played a major role in shaping the global economy in the post-war period. This column describes how although it was successful in bringing about exemplary and stable economic performance in the 1950s and 1960s, familiar confidence and liquidity problems, as well as inflationary pressure and central bankers’ responses to it, ensured that Bretton Woods was short-lived. Nonetheless, legacies of the system, like the dollar standard, remain with us and will likely be with us for some time to come.

Karen Clay, Jeff Lingwall, Melvin Stephens, 22 April 2017

The exact causes of (and lessons from) the Great Compression – the decline in US income inequality in the mid-20th century – remain unclear. This column uses census data and changes in law to examine the effect of education across the complete distribution of income. Policies that increased attendance for young children in the late 19th and early 20th centuries appear to have had long-term implications for earnings and inequality, with returns to schooling highest among those at the lower end of the income distribution.

Suresh Naidu, Noam Yuchtman, 23 August 2016

Today’s labour market in the US has much in common with that of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, as now, there were few government protections for workers, fears over cheap immigrant labour, rapid technological change, and increasing market concentration. This column explores the lessons that can be drawn from the earlier ‘Gilded Age’. The findings suggests that even as markets play a greater role in allocating labour, legal and political institutions will continue to shape bargaining power between firms and workers.

Brian Varian, 29 May 2016

Modern discussions about a country’s ‘decline in manufacturing’ are seldom meaningful. Such talk of industrialisation and deindustrialisation across the entire sector tends to ignore important variation across individual industries. This column draws lessons from the revealed comparative advantage of late-Victorian Britain – the ‘workshop of the world’. Advantage lay mainly in industries that were relatively capital-intensive and that didn’t rely on large pools of unskilled labour. Despite its resource wealth, even Britain in the first era of globalisation was at a measurable comparative disadvantage in a number of industries.

Jeremiah Dittmar, Ralf R Meisenzahl, 26 April 2016

Throughout history, most states have functioned as kleptocracies and not as providers of public goods. This column analyses the diffusion of legal institutions that established Europe’s first large-scale experiments in mass public education. These institutions originated in Germany during the Protestant Reformation due to popular political mobilisation, but only in around half of Protestant cities. Cities that formalised these institutions grew faster over the next 200 years, both by attracting and by producing more highly skilled residents.

Giovanni Federico, Antonio Tena-Junguito, 07 February 2016

Parallels are often drawn between the Great Recession of the past decade and the economic turmoil of the interwar period. In terms of global trade, these comparisons are based on obsolete and incomplete data. This column re-estimates world trade since the beginning of the 19th century using a new database. The effect of the Great Recession on trade growth is sizeable but fairly small compared with the joint effect of the two world wars and the Great Depression. However, the effects will become more and more comparable if the current trade stagnation continues.

Gerben Bakker, Nicholas Crafts, Pieter Woltjer, 05 February 2016

The Great Depression is considered one of the darkest times for the US economy, but some argue that the US economy experienced strong productivity growth over the period. This column reassesses this performance using improved measures of total factor productivity that allow for comparisons of productivity growth in the Depression era and in later decades. Contrary to Alvin Hansen’s gloomy prognosis of secular stagnation, the US economy was in a very strong position during the 1930s by today’s standards.

Stefano Giglio, Matteo Maggiori, Johannes Stroebel, Andreas Weber, 23 January 2016

While some of the costs of climate change won’t be incurred for centuries, the actions to mitigate them need to be taken today. Over such a long timespan, small changes in discount rates can drastically change the attractiveness of such investments. This column presents estimates of appropriate discount rates for very long time horizons. The long-run discount rate for one important risky asset class – real estate – is estimated at 2.6%. This provides an upper bound on long-run discount rates for climate change abatement, one that is substantially lower than some of the rates currently being employed.

Mariacristina De Nardi, Giulio Fella, Fang Yang, 22 December 2015

Thomas Piketty’s "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" quantified the evolution of wealth inequality and concentration over time and across a number of countries. This column examines existing macroeconomic models of wealth inequality through the lenses of the facts and ideas in Piketty’s book. It further examines the importance of the mechanism that Piketty champions – post-tax rate of return on capital. Gaps in existing knowledge and directions for future research are identified. 

Daniel Waldenström, 20 December 2015

Recent work on the importance of wealth and capital shows that it has fluctuated grossly over time in Europe. This column examines whether this pattern carries over to smaller, late-industrialising countries by looking at new historical evidence from Sweden. After being low in the pre-industrial era, Swedish wealth levels came into line with the rest of Europe in the 20th century. However, government wealth grew much faster and became more important in Sweden, largely due its public pension system. These findings highlight the role of economic and political institutions in the long-run evolution of national wealth.

Matthew Jaremski, David Wheelock, 25 October 2015

The US’s Federal Reserve System was established more than a century ago as a confederation of 12 regional districts. The selection of cities for each region’s Reserve Bank disproportionately favoured the Northeast and the state of Missouri, a fact that remains controversial to this day. This column describes how the existing banking infrastructure and population density at the time, guided the selection of these cities. Modern communication technology has reduced the need for physical proximity between Reserve and commercial banks. Debates about rezoning the Federal districts should therefore focus on the distribution of monetary policymaking authority.

Alexandra Lopez-Cermeño, 12 July 2015

Economic historians tend to explain US geographical development gaps in terms of industrialisation. But by the end of the 20th century, the richest counties had become specialised in services, rather than in manufacturing. This column evaluates how the service economy triggered this evident contrast between the urban and rural US. Market size causes localisation of non-agricultural activity, with the effect being stronger for services, especially knowledge services. Local policymakers can thus foster growth by attracting high-skilled workers to a region, with the multiplier effect eventually increasing the local market.

Clemens Jobst, Stefano Ugolini, 23 June 2015

Central banks today provide liquidity exclusively through purchases of (mostly) government bonds and through collateralised open-market operations. This column considers the evolution of liquidity provision by central banks over the past two centuries, and argues that there are alternative approaches to those that are focused on today. One such alternative is a revival of the 19th century practice of uncollateralised lending. This would discourage market participants from relying on informational shortcuts, and reduce the likelihood that informational shocks trigger collateral crises.

Roger Backhouse, Mauro Boianovsky, 19 May 2015

The notion of secular stagnation – a state of negligible or zero economic growth – is back in the headlines. Questions naturally arise about its intellectual antecedents. This column discusses how the concept rose and fell with the economic fortunes of advanced industrialised nations. Political trends and trends in economic theory played a part in its trajectory, with the notion closely connected to the idea that the level of government debt should be allowed to rise.

Dora Costa, Matthew Kahn, 27 April 2015

Newspapers report good and bad news, but the reporting doesn’t always match reality. This column presents evidence from turn-of-the-century America that news reports of typhoid tracked mortality patterns, but the reporting was biased. Spikes in death rates led to bigger jumps in media coverage when death rates were low. This could be due to the idea that deviations from Kahneman and Tversky’s ‘reference points’ are more newsworthy, or due to the possibility that bad news is more valuable to readers when things seem to be going well.

Francesco D'Acunto, Marcel Prokopczuk, Michael Weber, 26 February 2015

Discrimination can be costly for both victims and perpetrators. This column uses the variation of historical Jewish persecution across German counties to proxy for localised distrust in financial markets. Persecution reduces the average stock market participation rate of households by 7.5%–12%. This striking effect is stable over time, across cohorts, and across education levels. The effect survives when comparing only geographically close counties. It suggests that the persecution of minorities may negatively affect societal wealth even far into the future through the channel of intergenerationally transmitted investment norms.

Coen Teulings, 11 July 2014

The financial crisis and the Great Recession have led to calls for more economic history in economic education. This column argues for a much broader use of history in economics courses, as a device for teaching both the logic and the empirical relevance of economics. A proposed curriculum would include the rise of agriculture, urbanisation, war, the rule of law, and demography.

Warren Anderson, Noel Johnson, Mark Koyama, 18 February 2013

Explanations for the persecution of minorities rarely contain economic considerations. But what is the relationship between ethnic conflict and the economy? This column argues that economic factors are, in fact, important. Using historical evidence, it is clear that the persecution and expelling of Jewish people by pre-modern European states is linked to agrarian variations. Based on historical weather data, evidence suggests that during the 15th and 16th centuries, colder temperatures made it significantly more likely that a Jewish community would be expelled.

Stelios Michalopoulos, Alireza Naghavi, Giovanni Prarolo, 08 December 2012

Islam spread remarkably quickly before the era of European colonialism. This column argues that an important economic factor in determining the geographic range was spatial inequality that necessitated a politically unifying force like Islam. Regions that harboured such economic inequality were especially ripe for a system like Islam that offered progressive redistributive tenets with centralised authority to enforce them.