Economic history

Morgan Kelly, Cormac Ó Gráda, 27 January 2018

The consensus among economic (but not maritime) historians that maritime technology was more or less stagnant for 300 years until iron steamships appeared in the mid-19th century is largely based on indirect measures, such as changes in the cost of shipping freight or the length of voyages. This column instead looks directly at how the speed of ships in different winds improved over time. The speed of British ships rose by around half between 1750 and 1830 (albeit from a low base) thanks to innovations like the copper plating of hulls and the move from wooden to iron joints and bolts.

Alessandro Iaria, Carlo Schwarz, Fabian Waldinger, 26 January 2018

Access to existing knowledge fuels basic scientific progress and is key to the development of new technologies. This column studies how the decline in scientific cooperation that occurred during and after WWI affected science and innovation. The interruption of international knowledge flows led to stark declines in both the volume and quality of scientific production. This points to the merits of opening up access to scientific journals and of discerning what constitutes frontier research.

Jutta Bolt, Robert Inklaar, Herman de Jong, Jan Luiten van Zanden, 25 January 2018

Research on long-run economic development has relied heavily on the database compiled by Angus Maddison. This column presents a new version of the Maddison Project Database based on historical growth data, but also incorporating historical cross-country income comparisons. The revisions shed new light on patterns of long-term development and cross-country income convergence.

Alex Klein, Sheilagh Ogilvie, 14 January 2018

A famous hypothesis posits that serfdom was caused by factor endowments, specifically high land-labour ratios. Historical evidence seems to refute this idea, but with substantial identification problems. This column uses microdata for more than 11,000 Bohemian villages in the year 1757 to control for other potential influences on serfdom. The results support the factor endowments hypothesis, with higher land-labour ratios intensifying serfdom, suggesting that institutions are partially shaped by economic fundamentals.

Michel Serafinelli, Guido Tabellini, 06 January 2018

Innovation is often concentrated in certain geographic areas, or ‘creative clusters’. This column uses novel data on famous births to explore the dynamics of creativity in European cities between the 11th and 19th centuries. The results show that creativity tends to precede economic prosperity, and that city institutions that protect personal and economic freedoms are conducive to radical innovation in a variety of domains.

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