“Information Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of the Printing Press” (in The Quarterly Journal of Economics)
- An interview on the research conducted by the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s VoxEU project is here.
“State Capacity and Public Goods: Institutional Change, Human Capital, and Growth in Early Modern Germany” (with Ralf Meisenzahl)
What are the origins and consequences of the state as a provider of public goods? We study institutional changes that increased state capacity and public goods provision in German cities during the 1500s, including the establishment of mass public education. We document that cities that institutionalized public goods provision in the 1500s subsequently began to differentially produce and attract upper tail human capital and grew to be significantly larger in the long-run. Institutional change occurred where ideological competition introduced by the Protestant Reformation interacted with local politics. We study plague outbreaks that shifted local politics in a narrow time period as a source of exogenous variation in institutions, and find support for a causal interpretation of the relationship between institutional change, human capital, and growth. A PDF. (Appendix.)
“Reformation and Reallocation: Religious and Secular Economic Activity in Early Modern Germany” (with Davide Cantoni and Noam Yuchtman)
The Protestant Reformation, beginning in 1517, was a first-order economic shock. We document its effects on the sectoral allocation of economic activity in Germany using highly disaggregated data. During the Reformation, particularly in Protestant regions, large numbers of monasteries were expropriated. University graduates shifted toward secular, rather than religious, occupations. Forward-looking university students shifted away from the study of religious sector-specific theology, toward secular fields. Construction activity in the religious sector declined, particularly in Protestant regions, while secular construction increased. These findings highlight the unintended consequences of the Reformation—a religious movement that contributed to Europe’s secularization. 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 diffusion 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 find that competition in media markets mattered most for the diffusion of Protestant ideas where formal political freedom was more restricted. We study the relationship between competition and diffusion directly and using the deaths of printers to isolate plausibly exogenous variation in competition. The diffusion 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 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.)
“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.