Economic history

Jacques Melitz, 15 December 2019

Why did the Lydians decide, in the 7th century B.C., to coin electrum? On the face of it, this alloy of gold and silver would seem a particularly poor choice for coinage since its natural gold content varies and is hard to gauge with precision. This column suggests that it is the very uncertainty of the value of electrum, and the close control that the Lydians had over its gold content in coin form, that were the keys to the benefit of its coinage. It also suggests that the subsequent decision by the Greeks to coin silver was driven by the government's plan to subsidise the lower denomination coins, perhaps in order to economise its own transaction costs in its budgetary affairs.

António Henriques, Nuno Palma, 10 December 2019

The decline of countries such as Castile and Portugal, which first benefited from access to the New World, relative to their followers, especially England and the Netherlands, is often attributed to the quality of the Iberian countries’ institutions at the time Atlantic trade opened. This column questions this narrative by comparing Iberian and English institutional quality over time, considering the frequency and nature of parliamentary meetings, the frequency and intensity of extraordinary taxation and coin debasement, and real interest spreads for public debt. It finds no evidence that the political institutions of Iberia were worse until at least 1650.

Neil Cummins, 08 December 2019

Sharp declines in the concentration of declared wealth occurred across Europe and the US during the 20th century. But the rich may have been hiding much of their wealth. This column introduces a new method to measure this hidden wealth, in any form. It finds that between 1920 and 1992, English elites concealed 20-32% of their wealth. Accounting for hidden wealth eliminates one-third of the observed decline of top 10% wealth share over the past century.

Thomas Keywood, Jörg Baten, 07 December 2019

Due to their lower standards of living, Eastern and Central Eastern Europe are losing their young, well-educated and energetic population to the West. The scarcity of data that reach far enough back in time makes it challenging to explain the longstanding East–West differences. This column explores the relationship of economic development with human capital – specifically, elite numeracy – and violence. It concludes that the absence of violence played a significant role in economic development through elite numeracy formation.

Tamas Vonyo, 21 November 2019

The year 1945 marked the end of the worst military conflict in history, which brought unprecedented destruction and loss of life. However, the quarter-century that followed is known as the most remarkable period of economic growth and social progress in Europe. This column, part of a Vox debate on WWII, lays out three factors that made this paradox possible: the strong foundations of economic recovery in Western Europe, vital support for the reconstruction of European trade and cooperation, and Allied support for the revival of the German economy. In contrast, Eastern Europe could barely recover due to the demographic disaster from the war.

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