Economic history

Nicholas Crafts, Alex Klein, 30 July 2015

There is increasing evidence that cities offer externalities that raise labour productivity. This column looks at the contribution of US cities to productivity growth at the turn of last century. The findings show that increased specialisation, promoted by improved transportation, was the key to productivity growth. Today’s policymakers should heed this lesson.

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.

Howard Bodenhorn, Timothy W. Guinnane, Thomas Mroz, 22 July 2015

Were living standards during early industrialisation as terrible as we imagine? Robert Fogel, the Nobel prize-winning economic historian, taught us a great deal about studying long-term living standards through looking into people’s height. This column argues that one of Fogel’s early claims turns out to have, at best, a weak foundation. The measured decline of mean height during industrialisation reflects in large part the nature of the data sources, not necessarily changes in the height of the underlying populations. The Industrial Revolution did not necessarily make people shorter.

Nathaniel Hilger, 17 July 2015

Intergenerational mobility – the ability of less-advantaged children to achieve economic success – is held in high regard across the political spectrum in the US and other industrialised countries. But not much is known about its history. This column presents a new method that allows intergenerational measurement further back in time, as well as across more places and demographic groups. One firm result shows a large increase in intergenerational mobility after 1940 in the US South and among African Americans.

Ewout Frankema, Jeffrey G. Williamson, Pieter Woltjer, 14 July 2015

The partitioning of Africa by European imperial powers in the late 19th century irreversibly transformed the long-term development trajectories of African economies. Yet, the motives for, and timing of, the scramble remain poorly understood. This column argues that the changes in African international trade over the course of the 19th century created an economic rationale for the African scramble. This episode offers insights that are relevant for current African economic development.

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