Economic history

Giuseppe De Feo, 15 June 2018

The presence of a local criminal organisation can be linked to slower economic and social growth, and this holds true of the Sicilian Mafia. Giuseppe De Feo discusses his recent research on how the Mafia came to be, and its impact on Sicilian growth since its inception. The threat of Peasant Fasci organisations in the 1890s led landholders and politicians to turn to the Mafia to combat pressure from the peasant class. Since then, the Mafia's existence seems to have reduced literacy and health outcomes, and limited the provision of a variety of local public goods.

Peter Jensen, Markus Lampe, Paul Sharp, Christian Skovsgaard, 08 June 2018

Denmark is a paragon of economic development because it rapidly modernised its agriculture 150 years ago by using technology and cooperatives. This column argues that Denmark's development story has in fact been misrepresented. Rapid agricultural development was the end of a process begun by landed elites in the 18th century. It may be a mistake to cite the case of Denmark to argue that a country with a lot of peasants and cows can cooperate its way out of underdevelopment.

Nuno Palma, Jaime Reis, 02 June 2018

Can less democratic forms of government lead to higher literacy rates? This column uses a sample of over 4,000 individuals from military archives in Portugal to show that an autocracy can have greater educational success than a democracy if it has closer cultural alignment with the preferences of the masses. This understanding has implications for development policy in poor countries today. 

Pablo Selaya, 30 May 2018

Recent evidence suggests that infrastructure put in place by the Roman empire over 2,000 years ago might have lasting economic consequences to this day. In this Vox Talks, Tim Phillips talks to Pablo Selaya about his recent research on the persistence of historical public goods provision, in the form of road network development in Roman times. The specific features of these roads - originally built for military access into newly-conquered territories - meant the transport network grew to be uniquely extensive and efficient, with lasting benefits for economic development.

Paul Schmelzing, 24 May 2018

Growth rates have been stubbornly low since the financial crisis, and many have noted that the interest rate environment has been weakening since the 1980s. This column places recent episodes in the context of longer-term economic history, going back to the 14th century. Trends over recent decades are generally in line with a long-term ‘suprasecular’ trend of declining real rates. Negative real rates could become a more frequent phenomenon, and indeed constitute a ‘new normal’.

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