Economic history

John Joseph Wallis, 27 November 2015

Douglass C. North was among the most important and influential economic historians and economists of the late 20th century. This column highlights four of his major contributions: his pioneering work in quantitative economic history, or ‘cliometrics’; his similarly fundamental work using neoclassical economics to understand institutions; his critique of theory for explaining long-term economic and institutional change; and the distinction he drew between institutions and organisations.

Kevin Bryan, 27 November 2015

Douglass North, economic historian and co-recipient of the 1993 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, passed away this week. This column pays tribute to one of the great social scientific pioneers of the modern era – focusing on one particular example of how North drew on historical, empirical and theoretical evidence to understand the interactions between institutions and economic change.

Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick, Christoph Trebesch, 21 November 2015

Recent events in Europe provide ample evidence that the political aftershocks of financial crises can be severe. This column uses a new dataset that covers elections and crises in 20 advanced economies going back to 1870 to systematically study the political aftermath of financial crises. Far-right parties are the biggest beneficiaries of financial crises, while the fractionalisation of parliaments complicates post-crisis governance. These effects are not observed following normal recessions or severe non-financial macroeconomic shocks.

Guido Alfani, Wouter Ryckbosch, 06 November 2015

Thomas Piketty and others have prompted renewed interest in understanding long-term patterns of inequality. This column presents evidence from pre-industrial Europe. Inequality rose even during the success stories of early modern Europe, but it can hardly have been the sole requisite for growth. In both economic history and today’s economic theory, the idea of a universal trade-off between growth and inequality needs to be replaced by stronger attention to social processes and institutional developments.

Matthew Jaremski, David C. Wheelock, 25 October 2015

The US’s Federal Reserve System was established more than a century ago as a confederation of 12 regional districts. The selection of cities for each region’s Reserve Bank disproportionately favoured the Northeast and the state of Missouri, a fact that remains controversial to this day. This column describes how the existing banking infrastructure and population density at the time, guided the selection of these cities. Modern communication technology has reduced the need for physical proximity between Reserve and commercial banks. Debates about rezoning the Federal districts should therefore focus on the distribution of monetary policymaking authority.

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