Monday, 8 December 2014

Origins of Political Change—The Case of Late Medieval Guild Revolts

New EHES working paper

Fabian Wahl is a PhD
student at the University
of Hohenheim
In the last decades there has been an increasing interest in the role of institutional innovations in the late medieval and early modern period for the “Rise of the West” and the “Great Divergence” between the Western countries and the rest of the world.

Within this literature, many papers have dealt with the consequences of the changes that occurred in this period in national and regional political institutions and regimes. However, these studies rarely provide a systematic empirical analysis of the origins of these institutional innovations. Yet, uncovering the roots of participative institutions in later medieval central Europe is essential for understanding the medieval roots of the “Great Divergence” and, more broadly, the origins of political change. Furthermore, it can also be informative about the relationship between economic and political changes as the political change of this period paralleled a notable economic recovery, i.e. the “commercial revolution”.

By investigating the origins of the late medieval guild revolts the recent EHES working paper by Fabian Wahl seeks to shed light on these issues. He argues that guild revolts constituted an important trigger for the turn towards more inclusive political institutions found in the later medieval period. Craftsmen and other groups of citizens, for instance, often gaining political rights in the aftermath of a guilt revolts.

The study is based on uniquely large and systematic data on the prevalence and outcomes of guild revolts in 104 cities in Germany, Austria, the German-speaking area of Switzerland (plus Geneva), Alsace-Lorraine and the Low Countries for every hundred year period between 800 and 1800 AD.  This data are part of a larger dataset on participative political institutions in pre-modern European cities, which the author had constructed and that can potentially be used to assemble many other research questions (see Wahl 2014).

To construct this database, the author reviewed more than 100 historical sources to ensure that the created variables cover as much of the universe of participative political institutions in later medieval cities as possible. The collected data is the most comprehensive and detailed collection of information about the late medieval guild revolts that the author is aware of.  Furthermore, it is the first data set on political institutions or regime types that is systematically defined on city-level and thus makes it possible to exploit variation in political institutions between cities. Based on this data set, the working paper provides an overview of the temporal evolution and spatial distribution of successful guild revolts. The latter is depicted in Figure 1 showing in which cities a successful guild revolt occurred and which outcome it had. Cities in which the guilds gained the majority or all of the seats in the city council are red colored, cities in which the guilds gained at least some seats in the city council are shown in blue.  Finally, cities in which there were no –or no successful—revolts are grey colored.

Guild revolts in 104 cities in Germany, Austria, the German-speaking area of Switzerland (plus Geneva),
Alsace-Lorraine and the Low Countries

Among other things, one can infer from the map that there were almost no cities with guild participation in the north of Germany and the Netherlands, i.e. in core area of the Hanseatic League. This is in line with historical evidence that the Hanseatic League often successfully suppressed guild revolts and defended the ruling merchant elite in its member cities. In central Germany (primarily today's Saxony, Lower Saxony, Hesse and Franconia) there is a medium frequency of guild participation and there are only a few cities with a guild constitution (Brunswick, Goslar and Magdeburg) all of which were members of the Hanseatic league and important political, commercial or ecclesiastical centers and therefore probably predestined for the outbreak of a guild revolt. In those cities the guilds succeeded in their attempts to gain political power despite the opposition of the Hanseatic League. There are almost no cities with guild participation in Bavaria what could be due to the comparatively strong position of the Bavarian ruler and to the fact that bishops there (as e.g. in Passau) were often successful in beating the guilds.

As a next step, an empirical analysis of the origins of the guild is conducted. The results of the performed probit regressions can be summarized as follows: The typical city subject to a guild revolt had a certain degree of autonomy, was located in a large territorial state, was in an area with low urban potential and suitability for agriculture, i.e. it dominated a rural area  with  relatively low agricultural productivity. Furthermore, it did not have any pre-existing participative political institutions and was a center of the textile industry. It had many neighboring cities located at a medium and large distance (between 50 and 250km away) that also experienced guild revolts, but not many in its direct vicinity that witnessed revolts. The significance and different signs of neighborhood spillovers shows how the guild revolts were determined by strategic considerations as well as chance and risk expectations.

In conclusion, a city's urban potential, i.e. its relative position to other cities and the degree to which it dominates the region surrounding it, as well as its agricultural productivity were important. This confirms the importance of the agrarian crisis and the Black Death for the occurrence of guild revolts. Being a commercial and especially an industrial center also played a certain role for the revolts that resulted in a complete success for the guilds.  This points to the existence of a virtuous cycle of economic and political opportunities where political change endogenously emerges from preceding economic changes.

The blog post was written by Fabian Wahl, PhD student at University of Hohenheim and the working paper can be downloaded here:

Monday, 24 November 2014

FRESH: Economic Geography in Historical Perspective IIIS, Trinity College Dublin

This blog post was written by Ronan C Lyons, 
Assistant Professor of Economics at Trinity 
College Dublin and a Research Affiliate at the 
Spatial Economics Research Centre in LSE.
A FRESH meeting was organized in Trinity College Dublin on November 7, with the aim of bringing together researchers involved in work that combines both economic history and economic geography. There were an excellent array of submissions, covering a host of topics from factor price convergence across space to the clusters and the spread of new technologies.

The workshop opened with a keynote address from Professor Kevin O’Rourke, Chicele Professor Economic History at Oxford. His talk, based on work undertaken with Alan Fernihough (Queens, who was also in attendance), was entitled ‘Coal and the European Industrial Revolution’. The research traces the link between coal and population growth in 19th Century, exploiting in particular a geological instrumental variable.

After a coffee break, the first session, entitled ‘Market Integration & Regional Inequality’, began, chaired by Rowena Gray (UC Merced). Kristoffer Collin, a graduate student from the University of Gothenburg, presented a paper entitled ‘Convergence in real regional wages for manufacturing workers in Sweden, 1860–1990’, part of a broader stream of work on Swedish cliometrics taking place at Gothenburg. Next up was Alfonso Diez-Minguela, from Universitat de València, whose presentation explored the potential impact of agglomeration on regional growth in Spain, during the period 1870-1930.

The third presentation was by Alexis Wegerich, a DPhil student from Oxford University, who presented work on integration – or lack thereof – in the global market for bunker coal, during the period 1840-1960. The final presentation before lunch was by Michael Pammer, of Johannes Kepler University, who used an administrative dataset to explore the contours of inequality in Imperial Austria in 1911.

After lunch, the second session, Alan Fernihough (Queens University Belfast) chaired a session entitled ‘The Economics of Land and War’. The first presentation was by Ronan Lyons (of Trinity College Dublin), who presented a new housing price index for Dublin over the period 1900-2014. He was followed by Jørgen Burchardt, of the National Museum of Science and Technology (Denmark), whose talked was entitled ‘When industry and homes moved to cheap land’.
The third presentation in the session was by Matthias Blum (Queen's University Belfast), who discussed research on Protestant and Catholic welfare during the First World War and how it may support Max Weber’s hypothesis. The final talk in the second session was by Thilo Huning, a graduate student at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, whose paper was titled ‘How Britain Unified Germany - Geography and the rise of Prussia after 1815’. A coffee break followed, after which the final session began, entitled ‘New Frontiers of Economic History’ and chaired by Matthias Blum, of Queens. The first paper was by Harry Kitsikopoulos, of NYU, who presented on the factors affecting the diffusion of Newcomen engines, 1706-1773. Karol Borowiecki, of the University of Southern Denmark, then presented research on well-being indices for three famous composers, based on their letters, and the link between their well-being and their creativity.
The penultimate presentation of the day was given by Katalin Buzasi, a graduate student from Utrecht University, whose talk was titled ‘The long-term determinants of language development in Sub-Saharan Africa’. Formal proceedings concluded with a presentation by Fabian Wahl, a graduate student from Hohenheim University, who looked at the relationship between participative political institutions and city development in the millennium following 800AD. After such a busy day, the group enjoyed a conference dinner. This followed by some sampling of the Friday night-life in Dublin!
Overall, it was fantastic to be able to bring together such a diverse group, working on a variety of interesting projects but with a common belief: that, when understanding economic outcomes, both time and location matter. Hopefully, the relationships started here will help in the submission of panels at economics and economic history conferences, as well as perhaps some direct collaboration.

Monday, 10 November 2014

FRESH meeting on Ancient Economy and Early Economic Developments

A FRESH meeting was organized in Esbjerg October 1-2 to bring together researchers in Ancient History and Economic History to share research and exchange interdisciplinary ideas. The economists and ancient historians who took part in the workshop are explicitly interested in collaborating across disciplines. Their papers covered a wide spectrum of topics and approaches and provide a comprehensive overview of the different strands of research done in ‘economics and ancient history’, with the intent of bridging the gap between humanities and social science research in Ancient history and long run development.

Carl-Hampus Lyttkens (Lund Univ) gave the first day’s keynote lecture

The first day began with three presentations by Ancient historians that nicely set the stage for highlighting the differences in research scope and methodology, and the similarities in the research goals. Gregor Utz (Regensburg Univ) discussed the challenges of using pottery fragments in assessing trade through the cases of Marseille and Arles in the Later Roman Empire, and the economists in the audience wondered about the possibility of using truncation and censoring models to assist in estimating figures. Vincent Gabrielsen (Univ. of Copenhagen) gave a lively talk about the role of the Hellenistic benefactor in state finances, discussing an evolution in state dependence on individual wealth that spoke to modern issues of regulatory capture and the dynamics of political power and wealth, as financing varied from direct taxation (rare) to money lending or even Ponzi schemes. Roland Oetjen (Kiel Univ), co-organizer, talked about the ways in which we can perceive of euergetism (private provision of public goods or ‘good works’) as credible commitments of political investment. These two papers fit nicely together, using economic concepts in carefully detailed ways to elaborate on human behavior in Ancient Greece.

Carl-Hampus Lyttkens (Lund Univ) gave the first day’s keynote lecture which showed how applying economic principles can help elucidate even the behavior of specific individuals in Ancient Greece. He applied a rational actor framework to Pericles’ behavior regarding his rival Kimon, essentially tracing out Pericles’ response function to Kimon’s successes. George Tridimas (Ulster) then also used game theory to discuss the fall of Athenian democracy. His intriguing model differentiates between rich and poor in their expected returns from warfare and shows how the impetus for too much war, leading to demise, stemmed from the poorer factions.

Markus Sehlmeyer on the formation of the Bosporan Kingdom

Returning to ancient history, Markus Sehlmeyer (Marburg Univ) very nicely discussed the formation of the Bosporan Kingdom using collective action theory, making another nice bridge between economics and Ancient history.

The day concluded with PhD students Joshua Günther and Felix Hahn (Kiel) also discussing individual rational actors Kleisthenes and Kleomenes. In their ongoing research, they are considering their behavior in light of principle-agent problems.

The first days’ conversations extensively worked to share information about the application of economic models and the ways in which economic thought and modeling can augment research in Ancient history, as well as its limitations in generalizing.

A lovely dinner, sponsored by SDU Department of Environmental and Business Economics, with lively conversation followed at Gammelhavn.

The second day had greater focus on long run development issues from an economic standpoint. Ezgi Kurt (Bogazici Univ) presented on the roles of military technology and resource endowments in long run economic growth in Eurasia. She has collected data on dynasties and their longevity to examine political instability and growth.

Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen (SDU Odense) gave a fascinating presentation on Roman road design that brought together GIS, engineering, economics, and an understanding of the limitations of these in the contemporary period to examine the evolving efficiency of Roman road design in minimizing the distance cost (physical effort) of those using the roads by minimizing elevation change. This would have matched nicely with Carl-Johan Dalgaard’s (Univ. of Copenhagen) planned keynote talk on Roman roads and long term economic development, but last minute considerations led him instead to give a more polished presentation on comparative development along North-South lines. His story aims to establish that the turnaround in development, which at earliest periods is located in warmer climes, but then moves away from the equator, is tied to quality investments in child-rearing based on thermal requirements for weaning. Thought-provoking indeed!

The discussion of long run growth continued with Fabian Wahl (Hohenheim) presenting on city development and participative political institutions from 800-1800. This work provided interesting contrast to Kurt’s earlier paper and the two authors defended their positions with gusto. After lunch, Anastasia Litina (Luxemborg) also tackled long run growth issues, looking in to geographical conditions of early state formation. This work dovetailed nicely with the previous day’s presentation on collective action and state formation, and the two authors, along with many other participants, shared ideas on how to incorporate more of each other’s fields into their works.

Anastasia Litina (Luxemborg) discussing the geographical conditions of early state formation
The final two presentations shared a focus on resource use and economic development. The first, by Georg Schwesinger (Univ. of Bremen), outlined a new research project seeking to develop bio-economic models of economic development and collapse in the Ancient world. The second, by co-organizer Brooks Kaiser (SDU Esbjerg), investigated the long-standing questions about the timber supply for the extensive Athenian navy in the Classical period using theories from institutional economics and resource economics.

The meeting concluded with a desire to continue the interdisciplinary dialogue in future workshops.

This blog post was written by Brooks Kaiser, Professor WSR at the Department of Environmental and Business Economics at University of Southern Denmark and co-organizer of the FRESH meeting.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Effects of Agricultural Productivity Shocks on Female Labor Supply: Evidence from the Boll Weevil Plague in the US South

New EHES working paper

Manifested in historical accounts, songs, and family tales, the boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis), an approximately one-fourth inch long beetle with a very long snout, is considered as the most well-known agricultural pest in the American South. 

Anthonomus grandis
Arriving near Brownsville, Texas, from Mexico in 1892, the boll weevil started to impair the main economic engine of the South: cotton production. Depending on prevailing wind and weather conditions, the boll weevil could cover from 40 to 160 miles a year such that thirty years after its arrival the whole Cotton Belt was almost completely infested. 

Map showing spread of boll weevil 1892 to 1922

The recent EHES working paper by Ager, Brückner and Herz (2014) focuses on the Cotton Belt counties of the American South that were infested by the boll weevil during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As the boll weevil adversely affected cotton production and hence the demand for labor, the authors exploit the arrival of the boll weevil as agricultural productivity shock to identify the response of labor supply to changes in labor income. The central message of Ager, Brückner and Herz's article is that labor income shocks had a significant effect on labor supply at the extensive margin in the United States during the 1880-1940 period. For a panel of 903 counties the authors estimate that a one percent increase in labor income increased the labor force participation rate by around 0.2 percentage points. The finding is based on an instrumental variables approach that carefully addresses endogeneity issues.

The instrumental variables approach exploits that in the beginning of the 1890s, counties located in the Cotton Belt of the American South were hit by an agricultural plague, the boll weevil, that adversely affected cotton production and hence the demand for labor. The impact of the boll weevil on output per worker varied across US counties depending on the initial importance of cotton production in a particular county. Counties with a greater initial cotton share experienced a significantly larger drop in output per worker due to the incidence of the boll weevil. Ager et al. therefore use the interaction between the incidence of the boll weevil and counties' 1880 cotton share as an instrument for labor income.

It is notable that instrumental variables estimates of labor supply are significantly larger than those produced by least squares regressions. An explanation for the larger two-stage least squares estimates is a reverse causal effect, which downward biases the least squares estimates. The negative reverse causal effect arises in the least squares regressions because increases in labor supply decrease output per worker as well as wages (under the standard assumption of decreasing returns to scale in labor).

Ager et al. also explore alternative adjustment mechanisms to the labor income shock. They find that there were significant effects on immigration and emigration, as well as on non-market labor. Decreases in output per worker due to the boll weevil lead to significant decreases in immigration, significant increases in emigration, and significant increases in the share of housekeepers.

This blog post was written by Philipp Ager, assistant professor of Economics at University of Southern Denmark, Markus  Brückner Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore and  Benedikt Herz, PhD student in Economics at Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

The working paper can be downloaded here.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Accounting for the Size of Nations: Empirical Determinants of Secessions and the Soviet Breakup

New EHES working paper

The year 2014 has marked the return of secessions as a challenge to existing European states. A referendum on Scottish independence was held in September, and the regional government of Catalonia may follow suit in November. Meanwhile, Ukraine faced secessionist referenda and uprisings in a number of its regions. But why do people demand the formation of new states? A new EHES Working Paper by Marvin Suesse at Humboldt University of Berlin evaluates economic theories of secession.

Participants at a pro-independence protest in Kyiv, Ukraine, in the summer of 1991, demand that “Ukraine leaves the USSR.” Picture credit: Unian.
In much of the economic literature, state size is thought of as the result of a trade-off between the benefits of size and its costs, an idea that goes back to the influential book on “The Size of Nations” by Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore (2003). They propose that benefits of size stem from fixed costs in the provision of public goods, which makes living in a small state costly to each individual taxpayer. The costs of size are due to individual heterogeneity, which reduces the utility from the consumption of public goods to those individuals located far away from the government in terms of preferences or geography. If individuals are located far enough from the source of public goods, they may gain by seceding and providing public goods themselves, even if this provision is proportionally more costly. This basic trade-off can be moderated by a number of factors, such as trade prospects, the degree of democratization, as well as differential income levels between regions.

Although this theoretical framework offers some insights into state formation and dissolution, empirical evidence for it is scarce. This is partly because actual secessions are still relatively rare events. Even where we do observe them, they are difficult to compare across time and space. The new EHES paper by Marvin Suesse circumvents these constraints by looking at variation in the demand for secession expressed by millions of pro-independence protesters across 184 regions of the former Soviet Union. The paper concentrates on the late 1980s and early 1990s, because repression by Soviet authorities had become much more fragmented by that time.

The results indicate that regions that were most different from the center in Moscow in terms of language, ethnicity, religion, or historical experience, saw more secessionist protests on average. Most remarkably, larger regions saw a higher intensity of protests per capita. This supports the theory of the “Size of Nations”. The evidence is further strengthened by the fact that size seems to have acted as a “threshold” condition that determined whether there were any pro-independence protests in a region at all. Very small regions did not experience any secessionist pressure, notwithstanding their ethno-cultural differences with Moscow.

But how was this demand for secession translated into actual policy? The paper also shows that regional elites in the late Soviet Union were actively engaged in secessionist policies, such as issuing separatist declarations and laws. But their determinants seem to have been quite different. To a certain extent, regional elites may have been much more concerned about power considerations than preference heterogeneity with regard to the center. Only once we are able to understand the interplay between popular demand for secession, and the interests of local elites in shaping and transmitting those demands into actual policy, will we be able to fully understand the breakup of states.

The blog post was written by Marvin Suesse, a PhD student at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The working paper can be found here.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

How the Danes Discovered Britain: The International Integration of the Danish Dairy Industry Before 1880

New EHES working paper

On the 150th anniversary of the loss of the Danish Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein to Prussia, a new EHES working paper, by Markus Lampe at Universidad Carlos III Madrid and Paul Sharp at the Historical Economics and Development Group of the University of Southern Denmark, asks whether it really was the turning point in Danish economic history it is often supposed.

The Battle of Dybbøl, 1864, by Jørgen Valentin Sonne (1801-1890) 

A commemorative medal produced for a large exhibition of industry and art in Copenhagen in 1872 bore the words of the poet H.P. Holst: ‘Hvad udad tabes, skal indad vindes’, or ‘What outside is lost, must inside be won’. With the loss of the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein to Prussia in the Second Schleswig War of 1864, this soon became a sort of national motto for Denmark and remains a potent national symbol of strength at a time of adversity even to today. Indeed, the rapidness with which Denmark subsequently developed, based largely on the success of her agricultural exports, is well known.

Thus the then Danish Prime Minister, marking the centenary of the Federation of Danish Cooperatives in 1999, stated that the cooperative movement (a key factor in the success of Danish agriculture) was ‘part of the history of the country of Denmark, which won inwardly what we lost outwardly after the catastrophe in 1864, when we lost two-thirds of our precious country’. Then, marking the anniversary this year in front of the queen and other dignitaries, the present prime minister stated that ‘Out of the defeat in 1864 grew the modern Denmark. With democracy. With a well-educated population. With equality between the sexes. Freedom for the individual. And the whole of our welfare society based on solidarity.’

The success of Danish agricultural exports at the end of the nineteenth century is often attributed to the establishment of a direct trade with Britain. Previously, exports went mostly via Hamburg, but this changed with the loss of Schleswig and Holstein to Prussia in the war of 1864, after which the German hub was politically unacceptable. From this point quantity and price data imply narrowing price gaps and thus imply gains for Danish producers. Given this, this new working paper asks a rather neglected but perhaps obvious question: with so much to gain, why then did Denmark not discover the British market earlier?

In fact, it turns out that butter markets in the UK and Denmark were integrated in the eighteenth century, but through the Hamburg hub. It is then demonstrated that there were sound economic reasons for this well into the nineteenth century. However, movements to establish a direct trade were afoot from the 1850s, as these factors became less important even before 1864. First, the costs of establishing a direct connection with England fell with the price of steam shipping and the telegraph, and with the liberalization of British trade policy. Second, the benefits of the Hamburg hub were decreasing with the abolition of the Sound Toll (which was payable by any ships entering the Sound between Helsingør in Denmark and Helsingborg in Sweden) in 1857, which made Copenhagen a more attractive port than it had been. And finally, the commercial and credit crisis in Hamburg in late 1857 also contributed to its relative loss of centrality in trade between Britain and Southern Scandinavia over the following decade or so.

Thus, it is argued, although the war certainly gave an extra boost to the process, the shock from the loss of the Duchies was not necessary for the future Danish success.

This blog post was written by Paul Sharp, professor in Economics at University of Southern Denmark.

The working paper can be downloaded here

Monday, 13 October 2014

New crops, local soils and urbanization: Clover, potatoes and the growth of Danish market towns, 1672-1901

How did local soil conditions affect local development historically? Evidence on this question is provided in a new EHES working paper by Torben Dall Schmidt, Peter Sandholt Jensen and Amber Naz from the University of Southern Denmark. 

They investigate how the introduction of clover and potatoes affected market town development. Their strategy is to apply a differences-in-differences type estimation which exploits local variation in suitability for growing these new crops. The authors exploit unique data on adoption of clover whose introduction arguably worked to increase nitrogen supply which is known to govern the yields of crops that have enough water. 

Clover adoption in Denmark in 1775 
Clover adoption in Denmark in 1805 
Note: The measure of spatial distribution of clover adoption was collected on the basis of all 18th manor archives and a number of other sources as detailed by Kjærgaard (1991).

Since clover adoption is most likely endogenous, the authors employ soil suitability for growing alfalfa as an instrumental variable. The reason for this choice is that alfalfa and clover tends to grow well on the same soils, but alfalfa did not have its breakthrough in the period studied mainly due to reasons of climate. To evaluate the impact of the potato, they follow the well-known strategy of Nunn and Qian (Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2011) and use soil suitability for growing potatoes.

The authors find that both clover and potatoes contributed to market town growth with clover contributing roughly 8 percent out of the total growth from 1672 to 1901, whereas potatoes contributed a little in excess of 6 percent.  

The working paper can be downloaded here.  

This blog post was written by Peter Sandholt Jensen, professor in Economics at the University of Southern Denmark.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Lifespan from the Dark Ages to the Industrial Revolution

New EHES working paper

The family trees of European nobility provide a rich resource for the understanding of our
Neil Cummins is Assistant Professor of
Economic History,
London School of Economics
demographic past. Over the past year, I have consolidated about 1.3 million aristocratic records that have been deposited online by the church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. The LDS church believes in a doctrine called Baptism for the dead and they have amassed billions of genealogical records which they make freely available.

My study, Longevity and the Rise of the West, uses those records which have estimates of birth and death dates, for those that die over 20, to construct a history of adult noble lifespan over the millennium between 800 and 1800. In doing this, there were many surprising patterns that emerged from the data concerning the path of violence, plague lethality and the characteristics of noble longevity across time and space.

European nobility specialized in the execution of violence. Their genealogies connected them to the Barbarian conquerors of Europe following the decline of the Roman Empire. A large proportion of noble men died in battle. To investigate precisely how many nobles died from violence, I employed a general version of the famous birthday problem. First year statistics students are often introduced to probability via the surprisingly low number of people it takes to have a high probability of a shared birthday. If we take the number of exact-date deaths per year, n, and the number of deaths on a given day, m, we can calculate the probability that a given n-m combination occurs randomly or is likely the result of a battle. I use this ‘clumping’ technique to estimate the proportion of nobles dying from violence. My estimates are presented in figure 1 below. Violence suddenly declines within this warrior caste in the 16th century.

Figure 1: The Time Trend of Male Violent Deaths

The empirical challenge I faced was to extract from the imperfect, noisy data the major time and spatial trends in noble lifespan, while controlling for the changing selectivity and composition of the sample. Every possible covariate that could confound my characterization of the time-trends that could be included was included. Figure 2 below is my estimate for the time-path of noble median lifespan, 800-1800.

Figure 2: Expected Median Lifespan 800-1800, with 95% CI

The results demonstrate that the nobility were forerunners of Europe’s mortality decline with significant and large increases in noble longevity beginning for the birth cohort of 1640-59 at least one century before that of the general population. However, a major surprise is the Europe wide rise in noble lifespan around 1400. From 600 years of mean of about 50, adult noble longevity rises sharply to a median of 55. This has never been documented previously. This pattern has remained hidden as only long and deep time series of at least a millennia in length could uncover this.
By coding each observation for longitude and latitude I was able to characterize the spatial aspects of noble mortality. Figure 3 reports median lifespan by integer values of longitude and latitude. There is a striking European Mortality Pattern. Nobles live significantly shorter lives in the South and East relative to the North and West. My analysis indicates that this Mortality pattern has existed since 1000AD.

Figure 3: Heat Map of Median Noble Lifespan

These results have implications for theories of the rise of Europe. The European Mortality Pattern revealed above correlates with those regions which later experience the Industrial Revolution first. Recent research has suggested that “The Great Divergence” of East and West is preceded by a little divergence of East and West, within Europe, around the time of the Black Death (1347). This research shows that North-West Europe was differentiated from the rest of the continent by its demographics centuries before the Black Death.

A new set of stylised facts has been uncovered that seem to raise more questions than they answer. Why were noble lifespans longer in Northwest Europe in 1000AD? What caused noble lifespan to shoot upwards in 1400? Why did violence decline so suddenly in the 16th century? Future research will tell us more.

The EHES working paper can be downloaded here

The blog post was written by Neil Cummins,
Assistant Professor of Economic History, London School of Economics

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Paving the way to modernity: Prussian roads and grain market integration in Westphalia, 1821-1855

New EHES working paper

Europe in the early nineteenth century has seen enormous changes: Borders were redrawn at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815, economic liberalism took hold in Britain and the continent alike, urbanisation grew and industrialisation began to change the standard of living and the environment, to speak of just a few. Yet, economic history research on this period has been overshadowed by the late 19th century. Apparently, the events in this period – be it in politics such as the US Civil War in the 1860s, the founding of the German Reich in 1871, or be it in technology such as the railroad, the steamship, and the telegraph – have in hindsight been too monumental to not casting their shadows over the events just a few years earlier. 


In this paper we follow up on recent findings about the surprising macroeconomic and demographic changes in Germany before 1850 and investigate one of the possible drivers of these changes: increasing market integration due to investment in paved roads.

For centuries, overland transport remained almost unchanged since Roman times until the late 18th century. Before the establishment of paved roads, roads were often described by contemporaries as mortal traps for men and horses, whose state barely allowed carriages to travel faster than pedestrians. An example might be illustrating. Before the Muenster-Hamm road was paved, it took 36 hours to go from one city to the other. After being paved, travelling time was reduced to only eight hours.

The importance of this mean of transport was soon recognised by the Prussian government in the early 19th century, which invested a considerable amount of resources in establishing a large paved road network. Around 1816, there were about 3.700 km of paved roads in the whole Prussian kingdom. By the middle of the century, there were 13.400km. This impressive development did not stop with the coming of the railway age, but it continued until the late 19th century.

The spread of the paved road network in the Prussian kingdom was very uneven. The Western provinces of the empire such as Westphalia and the Rhineland had a special trait (at least until 1850) from the Prussian government and they did benefit more from public investment due to their economic importance. In our study, we focus on the province of Westphalia.

To analyse the effects of paved roads on economic development, we focus on market integration. One way in which spatially separated markets become more integrated is through lower transport costs, since regions become closer in economic terms. From this integration, regions can benefit in many ways. One of the most important is the intensification of trade that leads to the regional specialization of production (i.e. Smithian growth).

From our analysis, at least two points are worth noting. One is that we take a novel approach to analyse the effects of paved roads. Instead of coding whether a city had access to the paved road network or not (i.e. dummy-variable approach), we went through all cities and for each time period we looked at the number of paved road connections to neighbouring cities. By doing this, we are able to capture some network effects that arise with the building of new paved roads that a dummy approach does not capture. The second point is that we put paved roads in a comparative perspective with other transport infrastructures such as waterways and railways by developing a digitised map of Westphalia for the period 1821-1855. We find that paved roads have always a significant and positive effect on market integration and that this effect is surprisingly bigger than the effect of railways.

These results point out that paved roads deserve a closer inspection – and there is a good reason to listen for policy makers, too: In advanced countries, the railway networks have been declining for decades, and more goods are transported on trucks. In developing countries, the state is often too poor to finance a railroad, but could maybe afford a paved road. Roads are also more flexible, as they can be used by the broad public, be it lorries, bicycles or mule-drawn carriages without time constraints.

Today, many underdeveloped regions still suffer from the same transport problems the Kingdom of Prussia suffered two hundred years ago. The lack of paved roads complicates social and economic exchange especially in the rainy season, where most unpaved roads cannot be used. Thus, we think both for economic historians and for development policy makers alike, roads and economic development are increasingly worth the trip.

Article written by Daniel Gallardo Albarrán (University of Groningen) and Martin Uebele (University of Groningen).

The paper can be downloaded here.

Daniel Gallardo Albarrán 
Martin Uebele

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

International conference on economic and business history of Latin America

Call for papers

As part of the 80th anniversary celebrations of the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Chile, the Faculty is hosting an International Conference on the Economic and Business History of Latin America to be held on December 12th, 2014 in its premises in Santiago, Chile. The conference invites contributions in English or Spanish in all areas associated to the themes of the conference. A selection of the participating papers will be invited to be published in a special issue of the journal Estudios de Economía (indexed in Thomson ISI- JCR), with Professor Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo (Bangor University) as guest editor. The conference is organized with the sponsorship of Universidad de Santiago de Chile.

The conference is also organizing a posters session open to undergraduate and postgraduate students undertaking their thesis in any field relevant to the conference. The best posters will be awarded a prize.
The deadline for submitting contributions and posters is October 19th, 2014. An extended abstract of up to 1000 words explaining the research question, the data and methods employed and the main results and conclusions should be sent to  The deadline for sending the complete versions of the papers is December 1st, and the deadline for submitting the final, revised versions of the papers to be published in Estudios de Economía is January 18th, 2015. The special issue will be published in May 2015.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Report from the Economic History Society in Columbus, Ohio, September 12-14, 2014.

This year’s Economic History Association meeting took place in Columbus, Ohio. It followed the usual format of short presentations, and designated discussants on each paper, as well as poster displays from graduate students.

There were many excellent presentations, including some from European scholars or on European topics. Of particular interest to EHES members might be the session on Political Economy in Europe, with papers presented by Noel Johnsson at George Mason University, Rui Esteves at Oxford, and Mark Dincecco at  Michigan, and one on trade with Michael Huberman from Montréal, Alan de Bromhead from Queen’s Belfast, and Jules Hugot from CEPII. I particularly enjoyed Alan’s talk on the effect of the granting of female suffrage in the UK on the movement towards protectionism, which generated a lively debate.
In one of the sessions, Ahmed Rahman, USNA, talked about naval economic history

After an entertaining introduction, the Presidential Address was by Philip Hoffman, who argued against the traditional definition of the national state as laid down years ago by Max Weber. He demonstrated that many entities which we would certainly consider states did not enjoy a ‘monopoly of violence’.

The Gerschenkron Prize for the best PhD dissertation on topics other than American economic history was won by Tyler Beck Goodspeed on ‘Essays in British Financial History’. He received his PhD from Harvard, so no luck for the Europeans this year. He is however currently at Oxford, so we can be optimistic that European universities continue to attract many of the best economic historians – even from the United States.
The dissertation session
Otherwise, the Friday night reception at the Ohio Statehouse was a great chance to visit this impressive building. The Saturday night dinner was, on the other hand, in the view of your correspondant, something of a let down!

This blog post was written by Paul Sharp, professor in Economic History at University of Southern Denmark

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Catching up or falling behind? Institutions, Geography and Economic Development of Eastern Europe in the Long Run

We look back on a summer school, hosted by the EHES, Humboldt-Universität and the London School of Economics and Political Science.  Centered on the theme “Catching up or falling behind? Institutions, Geography and Economic Development of Eastern Europe in the Long Run”, the Summer School brought together experienced and young researchers working on Eastern European economic history in an engaging and informal atmosphere. The event, which took place from September 1st to 5th, put the factors that have shaped development of the eastern half of the continent in the context of the recent debates in our discipline, such as the Little Divergence, institutional persistence and the role of geography.

Lecturers Max-Stephan Schulze (LSE, London) and Nikolaus Wolf (Humboldt,
Berlin)  focused on the role of market access and agglomeration effects in explaining the lag between western and eastern European regions.

Steven Nafziger (Williams College, MA) and Sevket Pamuk (Boğaziçi, Istanbul) provided valuable insights into the interaction between state formation, institutional reform and economic outcomes. Sibylle Lehmann-Hasemeyer (Hohenheim) took the chance to offer an encompassing account of the political economy of growth and protectionism in the late 19th century.

Additionally, the Summer School featured daily seminars aimed at bridging the gap between theoretical insights and hands-on empirical analysis. Speakers Tamas Vonyo (LSE, London), Alexander Klein (Kent) and Matthias Morys (York) allowed the  participants an in-depth view of the nuts-and-bolts aspects of empirical research. Particular emphasis was placed on the methodological issues surrounding growth accounting, the treatment of endogeneity, and exchange rate dynamics.

Finally, afternoon workshops gave doctoral students a chance to present their newest research related to Eastern Europe. This included talks by Bálint Menyhért, Hana Nielsen, Ilya Voskoboynikov, Jelena Raifalovic and Leo Kukic on the long run drivers of development, Flóra Macher, Thilo Albers, Marvin Suesse and Stefan Nikolic on financial crises and geography, Elena Korchmina, Alexander Opitz, Ekaterina Khautsova and Valentyna Shevchenko on institutions and economic development in Imperial Russia, Mikolaj Malinowski, Pinar Ceylan, Piotr Łozowski, and David Dolejší on early modern markets and cities, as well as Rita Pető, Máté Rigó, Ruth Schueler and Paweł Bukowski on the economic role of culture, education and social status.

We are very proud of having hosted such an event that provided stimulating intellectual inspiration for so many promising young talents. Many students took the chance to build networks and present their ideas to academic peers stemming from different disciplinary and cultural backgrounds. The impressive variety of innovative ideas presented during the week gives us a very positive outlook on the future of the field.

This blog post was written by:

Thilo R. Huning, PhD student at Humboldt-Universität in Berlin.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The British Economy in Global Perspective, 1000-2000

The Department of Business and Economics at the University of Southern Denmark marked the start of the new academic year with a PhD course given by their Guest Professor Stephen Broadberry. The course, titled The British Economy in Global Perspective, 1000-2000, efficiently covered a millennium of British economic history in just three days.

Professor Broadberry opens the lecture 

Drawing upon his work with various co-authors, Professor Broadberry began day 1 with a discussion of the course of British economic growth between 1270 and 1870, before placing the numbers in an international context in the afternoon’s session. Days 2 and 3 were less about Britain’s golden years and more about her relative decline from around 1870.

The course was well attended by staff and students from across Scandinavia. It was the latest in a series of exciting courses offered by the university, with Nick Crafts having offered a three-day course in October 2013.

This blog post was written by Jason Lennard, PhD student at Lund University

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Mismeasuring Long Run Growth. The Bias from Spliced National Accounts

Leandro Prados de la Escosura
is Professor in Economic History at
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Last April it was made public that Nigeria’s GDP figures for 2013 had been revised upwards by 89 per cent, as the base year for its calculation was brought forward from 1990 to 2010 (Financial Times April 7, 2014). As a result, Nigeria became the largest economy in Sub Saharan Africa. Though spectacular, this is not an exceptional case. Ghana (2010), Argentina’s (1993) or Italy’s (1987) also experienced dramatic upward revisions of their GDP. 

How should this revision affect GDP time series and, consequently, the country’s relative position? Should the existing historical series be re-scaled in the same proportion? 

Official national accounts are usually available from mid-twentieth century onwards, but often only for the latest decades. Furthermore, official national accounts are only constructed in a homogeneous way for short periods. Hence, the output of national accounts needs to be spliced with historical national accounts. Thus, when a homogeneous long-run GDP series is required, various sets of national accounts using different benchmark years and often constructed with dissimilar methodologies need to be spliced. The alternative choice of splicing procedures to derive a single GDP series may result in substantial differences in levels and growth rates and, hence, in significant biases in the assessment of economic performance over time.

National accounts rely on complete information on quantities and prices in order to compute GDP for a single benchmark year, which is, then, extrapolated forward on the basis of limited information for a sample of goods and services. To allow for changes in relative prices and, thus, to avoid that forward projections of the current benchmark become non representative, national accountants periodically replace the current benchmark with a new and closer GDP benchmark. The new benchmark is constructed, in part, with different sources and computation methods. Often far from negligible differences in the new benchmark year between ‘new’ and ‘old’ national accounts stem from statistical (sources and estimation procedures) and conceptual (definitions and classifications) bases. Once a new benchmark has been introduced, newly available statistical evidence would not be taken on board to avoid a discontinuity in the existing series. Thus, the coverage of new economic activities partly explains the discrepancy between the new and old series. As a result, a problem of consistency between the new and old national account series emerges.

Is there a solution to this inconsistency problem? The obvious option would be computing GDP for the years covered by the old benchmark with the same sources and procedures employed in the construction of the new benchmark. However, this option is beyond the resources of an independent researcher. The challenge is, then, establishing the extent to which conceptual and technical innovations in the new benchmark series hint at a measurement error in the old benchmark series. In particular, whether the discrepancy in the overlapping year between the new benchmark (in which GDP is estimated with ‘complete’ information) and the old benchmark series (in which reduced information on quantities and prices is used to project forward the ‘complete’ information estimate from its initial year) results from a measurement error in the old benchmark’s initial year estimate.

A simple solution, widely used by national accountants (and implicitly accepted in international comparisons), is the backward projection, or retropolation, approach, that accepts the reference level provided by the most recent benchmark estimate (YT) and re-scales the earlier benchmark series (Xt) with the ratio between the new and the old series for the year (T) at which the two series overlap (YT/XT).
Underlying this procedure is the implicit assumption of an error level in the old benchmark’s series whose relative size is constant over time. In other words, no error is assumed to exist in the old series’ rates of variation that are, hence, retained in the spliced series YRt . Official national accountants have favoured this procedure of linking national accounts series on the grounds that it preserves the earlier benchmark’s rates of variation.

Usually the most recent benchmark provides a higher GDP level for the overlapping year, as its coverage of economic activities is wider. Thus, the backwards projection of the new benchmark GDP level with the available growth rates -computed at the previous benchmark’s relative prices- implies a systematic upwards revision of GDP levels for earlier years. This one-sided upward revision effect on the levels of spliced GDP series is hardly noticeable when discrepancies between the new and old benchmarks are small for the overlapping year and the considered time span is short. However, as the time horizon expands and earlier series are re-scaled once and again to match newer ones, the gap tends to deepen significantly.

An alternative to the backward projection linkage is provided by the interpolation procedure that accepts the levels computed directly for each benchmark-year as the best possible estimates, on the grounds that they have been obtained with ‘complete’ information on quantities and prices, and distributes the gap or difference between the ‘new ‘and ‘old’ benchmark series in the overlapping year T at a growing rate.
Contrary to the retropolation approach, the interpolation procedure assumes that the error is generated between the years 0 and T. Consequently, it modifies the annual rate of variation between benchmarks (usually upwards) while keeps unaltered the initial level –that of the old benchmark-. As a result, the initial level will be probably lower than the one derived from the retropolation approach.

The choice of linkage procedure makes a significant difference for GDP levels and growth rates. When the levels for earlier years are re-scaled upwards with the retropolation procedure, the country in question becomes retrospectively richer. Alternatively, interpolating each original benchmark tends to raise the economy’s rate of growth and, hence, casts a lower initial GDP level. Which method is preferable? A practical answer may be derived from the analysis of Spain’s experience, a country that went through a process of deep structural change during the second half of the twentieth century.

The figure below presents the GDP levels resulting from splicing national accounts through non-linear interpolation relative to the levels derived through extrapolation. It can be noticed how the over-exaggeration of GDP levels cumulates over time when the extrapolation method is used.

Ratio of spliced interpolated series to retropolated series, 1954-2013 (GDP at current prices). 

Differences between the results of the interpolation and retropolation procedures appear much more dramatic when placed in a long run perspective, that is, when the spliced national accounts are projected backwards into the nineteenth century with volume indices taken from historical accounts series. This is due to the fact that most countries grew at a slower pace before 1950, so its per capita GDP level by mid-twentieth century determines its earlier relative position in country rankings.

Thus, the choice of splicing procedure can result in far from negligible differences in the relative position of a country in terms of per capita income over the long run. As an illustration I present Spain’s relative position to France derived with retropolation and interpolation splicing methods below.

Spain’s Real Per Capita GDP (France = 1). Alternative Splicing Results (2011 EKS $)
According to the retropolation splicing procedure, by mid-nineteenth century, real per capita GDP in Spain would have been similar, if not superior, to that of France. If, alternatively, the relative position that results for Spain from the interpolation splicing procedure represents about 80 percent of the French. When the period 1850-1913 is considered, Spain would match France’s real income per head, according to the retropolated series, and reach only four-fifths if the interpolated series are employed. These proportions hardly alter if the period under comparison is extended to 1935. It can be conclude that whatever the measurement error embodied in the interpolation procedure may be, its results appear far more plausible than those resulting from the conventional retropolation approach.

The bottom line is that splicing national accounts must be handled with extreme care, especially when countries have experienced intense growth and deep structural change, as there is a risk to bias their income levels upwards and, consequently, their growth rates downwards. A systematic revision of national accounts splicing in fast growing countries over the last half a century using the interpolation approach would most probably reduce their initial per capita GDP levels while rise their growth with the result of a more intense and widespread catching up to the Core countries.

This blog post was written by Leandro Prados de la Escosura (Universidad Carlos III and CEPR)


de la Fuente Moreno, A. (2014), “A Mixed Splicing Procedure for Economic Time Series”, Estadística Española 56 (183): 107-121.

Maddison, A. (1991b), “A Revised Estimate of Italian Economic Growth 1861-1989”, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Quarterly Review 177: 225-241.

Prados de la Escosura, L. (2014), Mismeasuring Long Run Growth. The Bias from Spliced National Accounts, EHES Working Paper 60.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Drivers of Long-run CO2 Emissions: A Global Perspective since 1800

New EHES working paper

Climate change is regarded by many as the greatest environmental challenge faced by present and future generations. While public awareness and climate policy are recent developments, mankind’s activity has been contributing to the rise in CO2 emissions for more than two centuries. New research by Sofia Teives Henriques and Karol J. Borowiecki investigates the drivers of changes in fossil-fuel CO2 emissions in a long-term and global perspective.

The unprecedented prosperity brought about by industrialization is strongly linked with wide-range changes in global patterns of energy consumption. These shifts have led to a significant rise in the level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, which is currently 40% above its long-term pre-industrial average.

Coal-burning in an English town during the late 19th century

This article explores the drivers behind long-run CO2 emissions across twelve presently developed economies, by decomposing changes in carbon emissions into population, income, technological and energy mix changes. By building on nine European countries, the United States, Canada and Japan, which were responsible for more than three quarters of worldwide CO2 emissions until 1950 and more than half until the 1980s, the authors are able to shed light on the drivers of historical carbon emissions in a global context.

Total CO2 emissions, Gt

The results indicate that at low levels of income per capita, fuel switching from biomass to fossil fuels is the main contributing factor to CO2 emission growth. Population and especially income effects become the most important emission drivers at higher levels of income and also dominate the overall long-run change. Technological change is the main offsetting factor. Particularly in the last decades, technological change and fuel switching have become important contributors to the decrease in emissions in Europe.

Cumulative time-series decomposition of the changes in CO2 emissions, 1800-2011, Gigatonnes

The results presented by Sofia and Karol indicate that the combined contribution of changes in energy intensity and fuel switching to the decline in CO2 emissions was weaker in the more recent period 1990-2011 than in 1973-1990. Nevertheless, Europe fared better in this regard than non-European countries, possibly thanks to stronger political commitment. This supports the view that in order to limit further emissions, a much more comprehensive global energy policy is needed.

The working paper can be downloaded here.

Sofia Teives Henriques is a Post Doc Researcher,
University of Southern Denmark
Karol J. Borowiecki is associate professor in
Economics at 
University of Southern Denmark

Thursday, 28 August 2014

State dissolution, sovereign debt and default: Lessons from the UK and Ireland, 1920-1938

New EHES working paper

How do financial markets react to the dissolution of a sovereign state?  Do dissolutions lead to sovereign defaults? Events in Scotland, Spain and the Ukraine underscore the importance of these questions. In the absence of recent case studies, historical studies can provide insight. A new EHES working paper studies the breakup of the United Kingdom (UK) of Great Britain and Ireland in 1922.

Photo of an Irish land bond

Compiling daily historical data from the Dublin Stock Exchange, Nathan Foley-Fisher (Federal Reserve Board) and Eoin McLaughlin (Edinburgh) utilise a type of sovereign debt termed ‘Irish land bonds’. Before independence in 1922, all land bonds issued carried a UK government guarantee.  After independence, the Irish government guaranteed new land bond issuance. The authors exploit this institutional structure to analyse market participants’ perception of the strength of the UK’s guarantees.

Foley-Fisher and McLaughlin find persistent uncertainty about the value of the British government’s guarantee. This uncertainty lasted until 1932, when the Irish government refused to transfer payments on the land bonds to the British Treasury.  The default forced the British government to make good on its guarantees.  Demonstrating that the guarantees were sound removed the surrounding uncertainty. As a consequence, the yield spread on the pre-independence land bonds fell significantly.

'Weighted average (nominal amount outstanding) current yields on UK and Irish bonds
The main lesson is that uncertainty about fiscal responsibility can persist for a long time after independence has been declared.  Even with sovereign guarantees, market participants may expect compensation for the uncertainty in the form of higher yields. This compensation may, in turn, raise the cost of borrowing, as can be seen from the above graph.

The working paper can be downloaded here:

Nathan Foley-Fisher is an Economist at the Federal Reserve Board 

Eoin McLaughlin is an Early Career Fellow at University of Edinburgh