Economic history

David Miles, 04 January 2019

If our wealth has been acquired unjustly in the past, does that injustice fade or persist? David Miles of Imperial College tells Tim Phillips how economics can help to answer this question.

Alexandra L. Cermeño, Kerstin Enflo, 03 January 2019

Urban growth is crucial for modernisation, and the wave of new towns in China since the 1980s is one example of a strategy employed by policymakers to encourage the process. This column analyses the long-run success of a town foundation policy in Sweden between 1570 and 1810. While the ‘artificially’ created towns failed to grow in the short term, they eventually began to grow and thrive, and today are as resilient as their medieval counterparts. 

Marvin Suesse, 17 December 2018

While much has been written on why states disintegrate, we know little about the consequences of state breakup. Using data from the breakup of the Soviet Union, this column studies the short-run economic costs of its collapse. It demonstrates how political disintegration can lead to the dissolution of trade links, and to a correspondingly large fall in output. In the Soviet case, this mechanism helps to explain the disappointing performance of its successor states in the 1990s. The uncertainty surrounding secessions is an important driver of the fall in present output.

David Jacks, Martin Stuermer, 07 December 2018

There is a lack of consensus on the importance of various drivers of long-run commodity prices. This column analyses a new dataset of prices and production for 15 commodities, including metals, agricultural goods, and soft commodities, between 1870 and 2015. Demand shocks due to rapid industrialisation and urbanisation have driven a substantial amount of variation in commodity price booms. While demand shocks have gained importance over time, commodity supply shocks have become less relevant. 

Patrice Baubeau, Eric Monnet, Angelo Riva, Stefano Ungaro, 29 November 2018

Previous research has downplayed the role of banking panics and financial factors in the French Great Depression. This column uses a newly assembled dataset of balance sheets for more than 400 French banks from the interwar period to challenge this long-held idea. The empirical results show two dramatic waves of panic in 1930 and 1931, and point to a flight-to-safety mechanism. The findings illustrate how minor macroeconomic assumptions and extrapolations on monetary statistics can introduce large, persistent biases in historiography.

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