Thomas Piketty’s "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" quantified the evolution of wealth inequality and concentration over time and across a number of countries. This column examines existing macroeconomic models of wealth inequality through the lenses of the facts and ideas in Piketty’s book. It further examines the importance of the mechanism that Piketty champions – post-tax rate of return on capital. Gaps in existing knowledge and directions for future research are identified.
Mariacristina De Nardi, Giulio Fella, Fang Yang, 22 December 2015
Daniel Waldenström, 20 December 2015
Recent work on the importance of wealth and capital shows that it has fluctuated grossly over time in Europe. This column examines whether this pattern carries over to smaller, late-industrialising countries by looking at new historical evidence from Sweden. After being low in the pre-industrial era, Swedish wealth levels came into line with the rest of Europe in the 20th century. However, government wealth grew much faster and became more important in Sweden, largely due its public pension system. These findings highlight the role of economic and political institutions in the long-run evolution of national wealth.
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.
Elena Nikolova, 17 August 2012
Why do some states develop as democracies while others remain authoritarian? The question continues to puzzle social scientists. This column presents new data from 13 British American colonies from before the American Revolution. It shows that democratic institutions had a lot to do with the need to attract workers.
Diego Puga, Daniel Trefler, 05 August 2012
International trade can have profound effects on domestic institutions. This paper examines this proposition in the context of medieval Venice circa 800-1350, showing that increases in long-distance trade enriched a large group of merchants who used their new-found muscle to push for constraints on the executive.
Davide Cantoni, Noam Yuchtman, 21 May 2012
We like to think that we have moved on from the Middle Ages, but do universities from that period have something to teach us about the role of government in education? This column thinks so.
Joachim Voth, Nico Voigtländer, 01 May 2012
The persecution of Jews during WWII is one of the darkest and most puzzling chapters of recent history. This column asks how economics can help our understanding, particularly of how people’s attitudes to Jews have changed over time. It argues that ‘cultural economics’ shows that there is more to understanding how people behave than looking at their incentives.
Christophe Chamley, 10 January 2012
Is it time for Eurobonds? This column argues that Eurobonds have always been the right solution. Every successful union throughout history has needed to create a proper financial instrument of sovereign debt – and the Eurozone is no different.
Steven Pincus, James Robinson, 07 August 2011
As financial markets around the world turn in fear of further government defaults, this column asks what lessons can be taken from a fiscal crisis that occurred over 200 years ago.
Quamrul Ashraf, Oded Galor, 01 August 2011
The reasons given for the vast divide in standard of living between different parts of the world are many, with some economic historians claiming the roots lie in the colonial period. This column goes back even further to the cradle of humankind in East Africa, suggesting that the genetic diversity of the tribes that dispersed to different parts of the globe determined their success many thousands of years later.
Marc Flandreau, Stefano Ugolini, 23 July 2011
Has the global financial crisis been bad news for the world’s reserve currency? This column argues that it needn’t be, citing the rise of sterling as a global currency after the financial crisis of 1866.
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.
Peter Lindert, Jeffrey Williamson, 15 July 2011
When did America begin its gallop towards economic supremacy? Was it only after the American civil war? Did it start earlier during the antebellum period or even before 1776? This column digs up new evidence from the archives to find out.
Alberto Alesina, Paola Giuliano, Nathan Nunn, 02 July 2011
Gender inequality is an old story. This column presents new evidence to suggest it may be as old as the horse and plough. It says there is a robust negative relationship between historical plough-use and unequal gender roles today. Traditional plough-use is positively correlated with attitudes reflecting gender inequality and negatively correlated with female labour force participation, female firm ownership, and female participation in politics.
Anne Murphy, 22 May 2011
Working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday is the typical grind in Anglo-Saxon economies. In some professions, longer hours and low pay for junior workers is justified by the end reward of much better pay and a better work-life balance as they gain seniority. This column examines the workings of the Bank of England in 1783 to show the beginnings of this working culture.
Nicholas Crafts, 24 February 2011
What started as a subprime crisis in the US soon spread to a global crisis resulting in what some have called the Great Recession. This column argues that economists spectacularly failed to take the prevention of financial crises seriously. But since then, economists have heeded the lessons from past crises and have helped avoid the worst.
Jeremiah Dittmar, 11 February 2011
Despite the revolutionary technological advance of the printing press in the 15th century, there is precious little economic evidence of its benefits. Using data on 200 European cities between 1450 and 1600, this column finds that economic growth was higher by as much as 60 percentage points in cities that adopted the technology.
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.
Adrian Bell, Chris Brooks, Tony Moore, 13 May 2009
It is widely believed that the current credit squeeze, leading to bank failures, is a modern phenomenon arising from the interplay of a historically unique set of circumstances that could not have been foreseen. But a team of academics – a finance professor and two medieval historians – at the University of Reading’s ICMA Centre has documented a medieval credit crunch that bears remarkable parallels with the current crisis.
Joachim Voth, 18 September 2008
Around the globe, politically connected firms are more valuable. Nazi Germany was no different, though historians have lacked convincing evidence to prove that claim. This column shows that Nazi-linked firms reaped astoundingly large returns when Adolf Hitler came to power.