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“Information Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of the Printing Press” (in The Quarterly Journal of Economics)

A PDF. The Appendices.

An interview on the research conducted by the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s VoxEU project is here.

New Media and Competition: Printing and Europe’s Transformation After Gutenberg” A PDF

“Public Goods Institutions, Human Capital, and Growth: Evidence from German History” (with Ralf Meisenzahl)

What are the origins and consequences of the state as a provider of public goods? We study institutional changes that established public goods provision through new laws in German cities during the 1500s. Cities that adopted institutional change subsequently began to differentially produce and attract human capital and grow faster. Institutional change occurred where ideological competition introduced by the Protestant Reformation interacted with local politics. We study plagues that shifted local politics in a narrow period as sources of exogenous variation in institutions, and find support for a causal interpretation of the relationship between institutional change, human capital, and growth.

A PDF.

“Religious Competition and Reallocation: The Political Economy of Secularization in the Protestant Reformation” (with Davide Cantoni and Noam Yuchtman)

Using novel microdata, we document an unintended, first-order consequence of the Protestant Reformation: a massive reallocation of resources from religious to secular purposes. To understand this process, we propose a conceptual framework in which the introduction of religious competition shifts political markets where religious authorities provide legitimacy to rulers in exchange for control over resources. Consistent with our framework, religious competition changed the balance of power between secular and religious elites: secular authorities acquired enormous amounts of wealth from monasteries closed during the Reformation, particularly in Protestant regions. This transfer of resources had important consequences. First, it shifted the allocation of upper-tail human capital. Graduates of Protestant universities increasingly took secular, especially administrative, occupations. Protestant university students increasingly studied secular subjects, especially degrees that prepared students for public sector jobs, rather than church sector-specific theology. Second, it affected the sectoral composition of fixed investment. Particularly in Protestant regions, new construction from religious toward secular purposes, especially the building of palaces and administrative buildings, which reflected the increased wealth and power of secular lords. Reallocation was not driven by pre-existing economic or cultural differences. Our findings indicate that the Reformation played an important causal role in the secularization of the West. A PDF.

“The Emergence of Zipf’s Law” (under review)

Zipf’s Law characterizes city populations as obeying a distributional power law and is supposedly one of the most robust regularities in economics. This paper documents, to the contrary, that Zipf’s Law only emerged in Europe 1500-1800. Until 1500, land entered city production as a quasi-fixed factor. Big cities grew relatively slowly and were “too small.” After 1500, developments in trade and rising agricultural productivity relaxed this constraint. As a result, city growth became size independent and Zipf’s Law emerged. This urban transformation occurred in the centuries immediately preceding the industrial revolution and the onset of modern economic growth. A PDF.

(An older version of this paper examines institutional determinants of city growth in Eastern and Western Europe. A PDF.)

“Media, Markets, and Radical Ideas: Evidence from the Protestant Reformation” (with Skipper Seabold)

This research studies the role of economic competition in the di ffusion of ideas that challenged an ideological monopoly and powerful elites during the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther circulated his initial arguments for reform in 1517.  We assemble data on all known books and pamphlets printed in German-speaking Europe between 1454 and 1600 and provide a new measure of religious ideas in the media. We document a dramatic shift towards Protestant ideas after 1517 in cities with competitive media markets, but not in cities with media monopolies.  We fi nd that competition in media markets mattered most for the di ffusion of Protestant ideas where formal political freedom was more restricted. We study the relationship between competition and diff usion directly and using the deaths of printers to isolate plausibly exogenous variation in competition. The di ffusion of Protestant ideas in the media preceded and predicts the institutionalization of the Reformation in municipal law. A PDF.

“New Media, Competition, and Growth: European Cities After Gutenberg”

This research studies how variations in competition and in media content characterized the use and impact of Gutenberg’s printing press technology during the European Renaissance. The research constructs annual firm-level panel data on the publications produced by 7,000+ printing firms operating in over 300 European cities 1454-1600. Evidence on the timing of the premature deaths of firm owner-managers is used to isolate shocks to competition. Firms where owner-managers died experienced large negative shocks to output. However, at the city-level deaths of incumbent managers were associated with significant increases in entrance and with a positive and persistent impact on competition and city output. Variations in city supply induced by heterogeneous manager deaths are used to study the relationship between the diffusion of ideas in print and city growth. A uniquely strong relationship is observed between city growth and the ideas in the new business education literature. A PDF.

“The Welfare Impact of a New Good: The Printed Book” (working paper)

Gutenberg’s printing press was the great revolution in Renaissance information technology. Economists have struggled to identify its impact in macroeconomic data on productivity, output per person, or real wages. This paper documents the welfare impact of the technology by exploiting data on the price and consumption of books in England between the 1490 and 1700. I find that the welfare impact of the printed book was equivalent to 4% of income by the 1540s and 10% of income by 1700 using a calibration strategy. The impact of the Gutenberg revolution exceeded similarly measured welfare effects so far associated with the personal computer. Moreover, in historical perspective the share of spending devoted to print media was relatively low, implying that the printed book had a relatively big “bang for the buck” in delivering felicity. A PDF.

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“Contested Property: Runaway Slaves in the US South” (with Suresh Naidu)

“Reallocation and Reformation in the German Lands” (with Davide Cantoni and Noam Yuchtman)

“Conflict and Economic Geography: Evidence from The Thirty Years War” (with Russell Gasdia)

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“Institutions and the Great Divergence: City Growth in East and West Europe”

The Second Serfdom was an institutional regime whose key feature was a set of laws severely restricting labor mobility and sectoral reallocation in central Eastern Europe. The laws of the Second Serfdom were in force between roughly 1500 and 1800, when Eastern European states passed emancipation decrees eliminating serfdom. I find that before and after the Second Serfdom, the cities of Eastern Europe grew relatively quickly as Eastern European economies converged with Western European economies. However, the institutions of the “second serfdom” in Eastern Europe were associated with the loss of several centuries of catch-up city growth in Eastern Europe – or, put differently, a 1/3 reduction in city growth in the East between 1500 and 1800. This institutionally driven reduction in city growth has not previously been quantified. Under preparation.

“Cities and Economic Growth”

This paper analyzes the relationship between urban hierarchies and economic growth in 20th century data across a large sample of economies. The analysis examines the distribution of city populations and measures deviations from power law distributions. It suggests that deviations from distributional power laws may reflect market distortions. Preliminary results suggest these deviations are negatively associated with both subsequent economic growth and subsequent increases in measures of institutional quality, while urbanization is not. These findings suggest that urban hierarchies – and not just the level of urbanization – matter for macroeconomics. Under preparation.

“Ideas, Information, and Commerce in European History”

Innovations in business practice were at the heart of the Commercial Revolution that preceded the Industrial Revolution in Europe. This paper uses canada pharmacy city level data to document the diffusion and impact of innovations in business mathematics and accounting that reshaped European capitalism 1470-1800.

“Institutions and the Great Divergence: City Growth in East and West Europe”[MH1]


[MH1]JD: Is this the correct title? The list you put in the dropbox and your website have different titles for what I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) is the same paper.