Susan Lund, Jacques Bughin, 10 April 2019

The history of trade reflects the ongoing march of technological innovation. This column argues that despite today’s increased trade tensions, rising nationalism, and slowdown in global goods trade, globalisation is not in retreat. Instead, it is entering a new chapter that is being driven by flows of information and data, as well as technological changes that are reshaping industry value chains.

Jörg Baten, Alexandra de Pleijt, 11 February 2019

Empirical evidence suggests a positive relationship between gender equality and long-term economic growth, but establishing the direction of causality has been hampered by a lack of consistent data. This column uses historical evidence on dairy farming to examine the growth effects of gender equality. Countries with greater female autonomy allowed women to contribute more to human capital formation and prosperity, leading to greater economic development in the long run.

David Hendry, 12 December 2018

The Industrial Revolution has been of vast benefit to humanity, but it came at the cost of a global explosion in anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. The UK was the first country into the Industrial Revolution. Now it is one of the first countries heading out, with annual CO2 emissions per capita back below the levels of the 1860s. This column presents an econometric model of UK emissions over the last 150 years to establish what has driven them down and reveal the impacts of important policies, especially the Climate Change Act of 2008. Even so, large reductions in all the UK’s CO2 sources are still required to meet its 2050 target of an 80% reduction from 1970 levels.

Richard Baldwin, 23 November 2018

Alexandra de Pleijt, Alessandro Nuvolari, Jacob Weisdorf, 20 October 2018

While technological progress has typically been seen as increasing the demand for skilled workers since the beginning of the 20th century,  technological change has historically been associated with ‘de-skilling’. This column explores how the advent of the steam engine affected human capital formation in industrialising England. More steam engines per person are found to be associated with lower shares of unskilled workers. The results run contrary to the workshop-to-factory argument of skilled workers’ downward mobility, pointing instead to a farm work-to-factory transition. 

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.

Leander Heldring, James Robinson, Sebastian Vollmer, 18 November 2017

The Industrial Revolution is arguably the most important economic event in world history, and successful industrialisation continues to elude many developing countries today. This column argues that an important driver of industrialisation in England was the development of markets that allowed division of labour, innovation and, ultimately, social change. Institutional change, rather than advantageous geography, is the main driver of successful industrialisation in England.

David de la Croix, Matthias Doepke, Joel Mokyr, 02 March 2017

The role of specific institutions was important in giving Europe a technological advantage well before the Industrial Revolution. This column argues that apprenticeships were crucial to Europe’s rise. Unlike in the extended families or clans in other parts of the world, apprentices in Europe’s guild systems could learn from any master. New techniques and innovations could thus spread rapidly across the continent, without being constrained by family lines.

Enrico Spolaore, Romain Wacziarg, 10 February 2017

Since the Industrial Revolution, modern prosperity has spread from its European birthplace to many corners of the world. Yet the diffusion of technologies, institutions and behaviours associated with this process of economic modernisation has been unequal both over space and time. This column, taken from a recent Vox eBook, argues that the divergent historical paths followed by distinct populations led to barriers between them. Although these barriers are deeply rooted, their effect is not permanent and immutable.

Daniel Gallardo Albarrán, 22 May 2016

Industrialisation has been the key to modern economic growth and rapidly rising incomes, but some question whether it is always a blessing when taking a broader view of human wellbeing. While the recent rise of China and other Asian economies has transformed the lives of millions, the experience of Britain in the 19th century shows a more mixed picture of development. This column presents a unified framework for measuring British wellbeing over the period 1780-1850, which shows that better health and higher income levels alternated in improving overall wellbeing, until declining health in the 1840s led to stagnating wellbeing.

Jaume Ventura, Hans-Joachim Voth, 27 July 2015

Is debt really that bad? This column looks at the towering debts, rapid tax hikes, and constant state of war that led to Britain’s Industrial Revolution, showing that the devil is in the detail when assessing sovereign debt. When we consider the dangers of debt in today’s world, we should keep an eye on its potential benefits as well.

Nico Voigtländer, Mara Squicciarini, 13 July 2014

Although studies of contemporary economies find robust associations between human capital and growth, past research has found no link between worker skills and the onset of industrialisation. This column resolves the puzzle by focusing on the upper tail of the skill distribution, which is strongly associated with industrial development in 18th-century France.

Coen Teulings, 11 July 2014

The financial crisis and the Great Recession have led to calls for more economic history in economic education. This column argues for a much broader use of history in economics courses, as a device for teaching both the logic and the empirical relevance of economics. A proposed curriculum would include the rise of agriculture, urbanisation, war, the rule of law, and demography.

Stephen Broadberry, 16 November 2013

The economic divergence we observe today was existent even a thousand years ago. Thanks to recent work on historical data, we can now trace the economic development of different countries centuries back in the past. This column discusses the roots of the Great Divergence between European and Asian economies. The column argues that divergence is due to the differential impact of shocks that hit economies with different structural features.

Nicholas Crafts, Nikolaus Wolf, 22 October 2013

Europeans worry about competition from low-wage economies. This column looks at the basis of the success of the 19th-century Lancashire cotton industry faced with a similar situation. The message is that the productivity benefits of a successful agglomeration can underpin both high wages and competitive advantage in world trade. Policymakers can support such agglomerations by easing land-use restrictions, promoting investments in transport, and providing local public goods.

Richard Pomfret, 22 May 2012

Politicians who rail against socialism or capitalism always adopt a more moderate stance after they come into office. This column argues this is because we are still experiencing the consequences of the industrial revolution. The current state of that process involves a widely accepted compromise between aggregate prosperity and distributional equality.

Tony Wrigley, 22 July 2011

Before the industrial revolution, economists considered output to be fundamentally constrained by the limited supply of land. This column explores how the industrial revolution managed to break free from these shackles. It describes the important innovations that made the industrial revolution an energy revolution.

Ralf R Meisenzahl, Joel Mokyr, 13 June 2011

The industrial revolution is, for many, the start of modern economic growth. But what started the industrial revolution? The consensus view is that scarce labour stimulated labour-saving inventions and induced innovation. This column begs to differ. It argues that it was the technical competence of the British mechanical elite that allowed great ideas to turn into economic realities.

Jan Luiten van Zanden, 26 January 2011

China has been one of the world’s most dynamic economies in recent decades, but how did it fall so far behind? This column argues that the industrial revolution occurred in Europe rather than China because European entrepreneurs were eager to adopt machines to cut down on high labour costs. China didn’t “miss” the industrial revolution – it didn’t need it.

Ludger Woessmann, Sascha O. Becker, Erik Hornung, 09 May 2010

Did education play a role in economic development during the Industrial Revolution? This column discusses new evidence from Prussia showing that formal education was critical to technology adoption in the first and second phase of the Industrial Revolution during the 19th century.

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