Economic history

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.

Guillaume Vuillemey, 17 November 2018

A key function of financial markets is to share risks, and thus to mitigate the transmission of shocks to the real economy. This column analyses one historical setup in which risk-sharing possibilities in financial markets suddenly increased – the creation of the first central clearing counterparty in 1882 in France in the market for coffee futures. The ability to better hedge coffee prices had real effects and increased trade flows Europe-wide. 

Lixin Colin Xu, Li Yang, 11 November 2018

The Taiping Rebellion, from 1851 to 1864, was the deadliest civil war in history. This column provides evidence that this cataclysmic event significantly shaped China’s Malthusian transition and long-term development that followed, especially in areas where the experiences that stemmed from the rebellion led to better property rights, stronger local fiscal capacity, and rule by leaders with longer-term governance horizons.  

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