Economic history

Stephen Broadberry, 20 April 2021

As a result of recent work on historical national accounting, it is now possible to establish more firmly the timing of the Great Divergence of living standards between Europe and Asia in the 18th century. This column shows that there was a European Little Divergence as Britain and the Netherlands overtook Italy and Spain, and an Asian Little Divergence as Japan overtook China and India. The Great Divergence occurred because Japan grew more slowly than Britain and the Netherlands starting from a lower level, and because of a strong negative growth trend in Qing dynasty China.

David Jacks, Martin Stuermer, 18 April 2021

As the recent past has shown, maritime transport costs are subject to wide swings. This column analyses a large new dataset on dry bulk freight rates from 1850 to 2020, when maritime transport costs fell 79%. Turning to the drivers of booms and busts in the dry bulk shipping industry, it finds that shipping demand shocks dominate both fuel price and shipping supply shocks. Shipping demand shocks have increased in importance over time while shipping supply shocks have become less relevant.

Morgane Laouénan, Arash Nekoei, Étienne Wasmer, 16 April 2021

Can we create a database of everyone in history using the sources we have today? Tim Phillips talk to the authors of two projects which set out to do just that through combining sources such as Wikipedia and Wikidata with machine learning. What do these databases tell us about who we consider to be important?
The two papers discussed are:

Bhargava, J, Eyméoud, J-P, Gergaud, O, Laouenan, M, Plique, G and Wasmer, E. 2021. 'A Cross-verified Database of Notable People, 3500BC-2018AD'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research. https://cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15852

Nekoei, A and Sinn, F. 2021. 'Human Biographical Record (HBR)'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research. https://cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15825

 

Kevin Daly, Rositsa D. Chankova, 15 April 2021

The economic consequences of Covid-19 are often compared to a war, prompting fears of rising inflation and high bond yields. However, historically, pandemics and wars have had diverging effects. This column uses data extending to the 1300s to compare inflation and government bond yield behaviour in the aftermath of the world’s 12 largest wars and pandemics. It shows that both inflation and bond yields typically rise in wartime but remain relatively stable during pandemics. Although every such event is unique, history suggests high inflation and bond yields are not a natural consequence of pandemics. 

Stephen Broadberry, Alexandra de Pleijt, 04 April 2021

Little is known about the role of capital in economic growth before the late 19th century. This column provides the first estimates of investment and the capital stock in Britain as far back as 1270. Although important changes did occur in the role of capital, such as the growing importance of fixed capital relative to working capital and a substantial increase in the investment share of GDP, growth accounting analysis shows that productivity growth was more important than capital deepening in explaining the growth of output per head.

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