Economic history

Marvin Suesse, Nikolaus Wolf, 13 January 2020

There was a rapid spread of credit cooperatives in rural 19th-century Germany providing small-scale savings and loan services to previously unbanked people. This column shows how these cooperatives helped shift farm investment from grains to potentially profitable but more capital-intensive products, such as the production of meat and dairy. In cases like this, changes in the sector of economic activity are a better metric for the impact of microfinance than comparing income pre- and post-credit.

Gregori Galofré Vilà, 13 January 2020

Economic history is a thriving subset of the field. This column uses network analysis to review the development of the discipline over the last 40 years. It illustrates how economic historians are interconnected through their research, identifies which scholars are the most cited by their peers, and reveals the central debates enlivening the discipline. It also shows that the rapid increase in the number of economic history publications since 2000 has been driven more by research at universities in continental Europe than by those in the US or UK.

Jacques Melitz, 15 December 2019

Why did the Lydians decide, in the 7th century B.C., to coin electrum? On the face of it, this alloy of gold and silver would seem a particularly poor choice for coinage since its natural gold content varies and is hard to gauge with precision. This column suggests that it is the very uncertainty of the value of electrum, and the close control that the Lydians had over its gold content in coin form, that were the keys to the benefit of its coinage. It also suggests that the subsequent decision by the Greeks to coin silver was driven by the government's plan to subsidise the lower denomination coins, perhaps in order to economise its own transaction costs in its budgetary affairs.

António Henriques, Nuno Palma, 10 December 2019

The decline of countries such as Castile and Portugal, which first benefited from access to the New World, relative to their followers, especially England and the Netherlands, is often attributed to the quality of the Iberian countries’ institutions at the time Atlantic trade opened. This column questions this narrative by comparing Iberian and English institutional quality over time, considering the frequency and nature of parliamentary meetings, the frequency and intensity of extraordinary taxation and coin debasement, and real interest spreads for public debt. It finds no evidence that the political institutions of Iberia were worse until at least 1650.

Neil Cummins, 08 December 2019

Sharp declines in the concentration of declared wealth occurred across Europe and the US during the 20th century. But the rich may have been hiding much of their wealth. This column introduces a new method to measure this hidden wealth, in any form. It finds that between 1920 and 1992, English elites concealed 20-32% of their wealth. Accounting for hidden wealth eliminates one-third of the observed decline of top 10% wealth share over the past century.

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