Economic history

Debin Ma, Kaixiang Peng, 21 May 2022

A pessimistic view of Chinese agriculture development is based on a Malthusian trap, characterised by diminishing returns to agriculture and a declining land-labour ratio. This column presents stylised empirical facts of 19th and 20th century Chinese agriculture, focusing on the seasonality of labour demand and the resulting rise of sideline employment, to challenge the implications of this view. The reallocation of labour across idle seasons facilitated commercialisation and higher population densities, yet it was industrialisation, occurring outside the agriculture sector, which enabled modernisation. 

Alexander Donges, Jean-Marie Meier, Rui Silva, 20 May 2022

A large part of the world operates under oligarchic and authoritarian regimes, where access to economic opportunities is not offered to all citizens. This column discusses the impact of such ‘extractive institutions’ in stifling innovation and future economic growth. Using novel hand-collected data, it documents that ‘inclusive institutions’, which promote equal access to economic opportunities, are a first-order determinant of innovation. Geographical regions with more inclusive institutions are able to produce more than twice as much innovation (proxied with patents per capita) as regions with worse institutions.

Andreas Ferrara, Joung Yeob Ha, Randall Walsh, 18 May 2022

Researchers typically collect newspaper-based data for use as outcome, treatment, or control variables in statistical analysis. This column argues that data generated from historical newspaper articles can also be used as a low-cost alternative for resolving measurement errors. The authors illustrate their framework by replicating two recent studies of how the boll weevil – a beetle that infests cotton crops – affected economic outcomes in the US South from 1892 to 1922. The newspaper-based replications increase the effect sizes and strengthen the results obtained in both papers using US Department of Agriculture maps. 

Carlos Javier Charotti, Nuno Palma, João Pereira dos Santos, 14 May 2022

Spain was one of the world’s richest countries around 1500. Two centuries later, it was a backwater. This column discusses the long-run impact of the influx of precious metals from the New World on the economic development of Spain. Using an augmented synthetic control methodology, the authors show that in the long run the growth and price level trajectories evolved dramatically different in Spain relative to other Western European nations. Spain initially boomed but suffered from high inflation and became poorer as the result of a resource curse which had economic and political dimensions.

Marco Del Angel, Gregory D. Hess, Marc Weidenmier, 08 May 2022

Recessions in Europe often pushed Europeans to migrate to the US in search of better economic opportunities. This column examines the effect of this on conflict with Native Americans in the western US during the late 19th century. The authors find that a recession in Europe significantly increased the probability of conflict between US soldiers and Native American tribes. As they were often driven off their land and relocated to areas with inferior land and rainfall, European immigration to the American west likely had long-term negative effects on economic conditions for Native Americans. 

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