Economic history

Daniel Gallardo Albarrán, Robert Inklaar, 31 July 2020

Modern economic growth has improved the lives of millions in an unprecedented way, but its unequal progression across the globe has resulted in high income inequality. Most of the cross-country differences in income levels are typically attributed to differences in productivity rather than to physical or human capital accumulation. This column argues that this has not always been the case: physical capital accounted for a much larger fraction of income variation at the beginning of the 20th century. More generally, the results of the study call for a reevaluation of the long-term determinants of relative economic performance over time.

Jean Lacroix, Pierre-Guillaume Méon, Kim Oosterlinck, 18 July 2020

Rising populism has raised concerns that democracies may give in to authoritarian pressure. On 10 July 1940, exactly 80 years ago, the French parliament passed an enabling act granting full power to Marshal Philippe Pétain. Analysing how the Members of Parliament voted, this column shows that MPs belonging to a pro-democratic dynasty were more likely to oppose the act. Dynastic politicians may contribute to stabilising democracies by better resisting peer pressure.

Joel Mokyr, 17 July 2020

Skilled artisans were needed to build, improve and mend the machines that powered the industrial revolution. Joel Mokyr tells Tim Phillips how this can help explain why the revolution happened when - and where - it did.

Walker Hanlon, Casper Worm Hansen, Jake Kantor, 15 July 2020

Temperature can affect human health and mortality. Historical evidence on the changing relationship between temperature and mortality may be useful in today’s world as we consider adaptive strategies to face global warming. This column uses detailed weekly mortality data from London for 1866–1965 to examine how the temperature-mortality relationship changed as the city developed. In 1866–1914, high-temperature events increase mortality for several weeks, but much of the effect of high temperatures on mortality has disappeared after WWI. The change is linked to the significant reduction in infant digestive disease around 1900.

Mario Francesco Carillo, Tullio Jappelli, 14 July 2020

Many developing countries do not have adequate health infrastructure or the capacity to effectively implement lockdown policies to contain the spread of COVID-19. This column studies the historical experience of Italy during the 1918 Great Influenza in order to shed light on the consequences of pandemics in societies where it is difficult to implement lockdown policies or where healthcare systems are lacking. Using regional GDP and mortality data, it finds a strong negative effect of the pandemic on local economic growth. However, these adverse effects mostly dissipated three years after the pandemic.

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