Tag Archives: Europe

Why did Latin America fall behind and what explains its human geography?

Leticia Abad and I recently released a new paper, avaliable here, and which is going to be published as a chapter in an edited volume, Globalization and the Early Modern Era: An Iberian Perspective (eds. R. Doblado and A. Garcia-Hiernaux), Palgrave (forthcoming 2020).

The title of the paper is: The Fruits of El Dorado: The Global Impact of American Precious Metals.

Despite the title of this post, the paper’s ambition is to also explain what happened to other parts of the world as well — such as the little divergence within Western Europe (and we also had something to say about Asia and Africa). Nonetheless, we mostly rely on previous work for that; the most innovative focus of our chapter is our argument about Latin America, hence the title of this post.

Here’s the paper’s abstract:

The quest for precious metals and trade routes during the early modern period fundamentally changed the world. What was the global impact of the large deposits of silver and gold which existed in the Americas? In this chapter, we take a global view. We find that in Europe, England and the Netherlands benefited the most. By contrast, the colonizers par excellence, Spain and Portugal, were unable to profit from their colonial expansion. In Latin America, the exploitation of precious mineral resources enabled the geographic expansion of the empire and shaped labor institutions, the fiscal apparatus, and economic activity. The direct impact on other parts of the world was negligible; but the long-term political consequences of European presence shaped the world as we know it today.


Leticia Abad


Nuno Palma

Big debates and economic history: the case of World War II

Economic history matters for big debates. This can be true of even historical national accounting work which to some observers can appear to be as dry a topic as any can be. Here’s an example of why it matters.

In this interview with Tyler Cowen, the notable historian Adam Tooze mentions (from around minute 32) how in writing his celebrated book “Wages of Destruction: the making and breaking of the Nazi economy”, he was critically influenced by the work of top economic historians Angus Maddison and Stephen Broadberry. Their work on productivity comparisons between the USA and Europe, as well as between the UK and continental European countries was of fundamental importance to the formulation of Tooze’s innovative arguments in his book, which relied in part on the rejection of anachronistic assumptions about German economic power prior to (and during) the war.

Tooze’s book rationalizes some of Hitler’s strategic military actions, such as the invasion of the Soviet Union, arguing that it was an ideological but also calculated move to grap resources in antecipation of war with all-mighty USA. The book has at times been criticized for downplaying the role of the UK, but is undeniably brilliant, and it deservingly won the Wolfson History Prize.

Watch the interview here:

“Standards of living in Europe’s Global Empires” session in the WEHC, Paris 2021

This session has been accepted to the World Economic History Conference, which will happen in Paris in 2021.

Session title: “Standards of living in Europe’s Global Empires”

Organizer: Nuno Palma (University of Manchester; ICS, Univ. de Lisboa; CEPR)

Please notice this program is still subject to changes. I will update it as new information arrives.


Pim de Zwart (Wageningen University) and Jan Lucassen (International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam): Poverty or Prosperity in Northern India? New Evidence on Real Wages, 1590s-1870s.

Jan Lucassen (IISH, Amsterdam): Deep monetization and real wage developments: India C13th-19th


Calumet Links (LEAP, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University), Erik Green (LEAP, Department of Economic History, Lund University), and Dieter von Fintel (LEAP, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University): Does household structure influence inequality estimates: the case of Khoe of Swellendam 1825.

Kleoniki Alexopoulou (Tuebingen University, Germany) and Filipa Ribeiro da Silva (International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, The Netherlands): Free and unfree labour migration in Portuguese Africa, 19th- 20th century

Latin America

Tommy E. Murphy (Universidad de San Andrés, Argentina) Truly Bare-Bones: What if Bare Bones Baskets Were Not Fixed?

Angelo Carrara (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro): Living standards of the slave population in mining areas of colonial Brazil


Ewout Frankema (Wageningen University): Exploring Long-term Colonial Legacies Through the Lens of Independence: What Can We Learn From Ethiopia and Thailand?

Hélder Carvalhal (Cidehus, Univ. Évora), Paulo Teodoro de Matos (ISCTE-IUL), and Nuno Palma (Univ. Manchester, Univ. Lisboa; CEPR):  Welfare Benchmarks for Portugal’s Global Empire, 1660-1700



Comparative European Institutions and the Little Divergence, 1385-1800

Addendum (October 2019): We have an updated version of this paper, avaliable here.
The Black legend (leyenda negra) survives. Let’s destroy it (well, part of it).

Steve Broadberry calls the economic divergence which took place within Europe “little divergence”, in contrast to the “great divergence” of Europe vis-à-vis China and other parts of the world. Countries like Spain and Portugal became poorer than England and the Netherlands

But when exactly did this take place?

Let’s look at the comparative performance of England, Spain and Portugal during the 1500-1850 period:


As the graph shows, a divergence only starts after 1650 – in the case of Portugal, incomes continued to be comparable to those of England until around 1690.

Hence, we must not project England’s later success into the distant future.

A venerable historical tradition places political institutions at the root of the European divergence. For this tradition, diverging paths within Europe were already being trodden as far back as the Middle Ages and continued to be so during the early modern period, before accelerating in the nineteenth century.

For example (and they are just one example), Acemoglu, Jonhson and Robinson (2005) classify Portugal and Spain around 1500 as absolutist monarchies, which they contrast with the much more constrained institutions of England and the Netherlands. They also claim that Portugal and Spain grew less than England in the centuries after 1500, which we have already seen was not the case until the second half of the 17th century.

These authors argue that the executive power being less constrained in Portugal and Spain around the turn of the sixteenth century lead to subsequent institutional and economic divergence relative to England and the Netherlands. The latter countries’ initial institutions (around 1500) would have been beyond a critical threshold which allowed a virtuous circle of economic growth and positive institutional change to take place in interaction with the merchants of Atlantic trade. By contrast, the economic and institutional development of Portugal and Spain were supposedly held back by extractive institutions already in place by 1500.

Let’s take a close look at political institutions. In the paper we show that parliamentary activity, coin debasement statistics, and long-run interest rates on first issues of public debt all suggest that a political divergence (England getting better, Iberian countries getting worse) only started after 1650.

This can be seen in terms of several indicators. One is the number of years with a parliamentary meeting. As we show in the paper, Castile (about 3/4 of Spain) kept up with England until late,  but from the second half of the 17th century onward, the parliaments of Castile and Portugal essentially stop meeting, while that of England becomes permanent.

It matters not only how many times where parliaments meetings but also about what. We discuss this in detail in the paper.

In terms of frequency of extraordinary taxes collected, England was the undisputed champion in most periods. Furthermore, in the paper we show that England raised extraordinary taxes 62 times until 1700 in years with no war, more much more often than Castile (16 times) or Portugal (18 times). This suggests less checks to executive power.

The case of long-run interest-rates is also illustrative (see the full paper for details). Notice how England did issue long-run debt prior to the second half of the 17th century due to credibility problems:


Our paper is as much about England as it is about Iberia. Overall, we do not find support for the viewpoint of North and Weingast (1989) that the Glorious Revolution was the single decisive moment for England – though we find that in the margin, it helped driving forward a process that had been under way. Instead, the timing of the institutional divergence of England relative to the Iberian nations coincides approximately with the former’s Civil War.

Our argument that the mid seventeenth-century is when English political divergence truly began gains support from the fact that this is also when English GDP per capita begins to grow persistently, structural change began, and fiscal capacity took off in comparative terms (see the papers cited in the text).

On the discrepancies between the original Maddison dataset and more recent GDP reconstructions

Angus Maddison was one of the most cited economists of the 20th century.

I often get emails asking me about Maddison’s figures, because I have worked a lot on historical national accounts reconstructions (see here, here, or here), and I was for 2 years faculty in the University of Groningen, where Maddison worked, and this is a justifiably renowned place for this type of work.

As an example, I copy here the relevant bits from an email that a friend and colleague recently wrote me. This colleague is asking about Portugal’s figures, but notice that a lot of what I will have to say can be generalized to other regions:

“The updated Maddison dataset has Portuguese GDP per person at 985 in 1530 (I assume in 1990 dollars).  1239 in 1600.  1192 in 1700, 1614 in 1750, 1330 in 1800 and 1225 in 1850.

The original Maddison dataset has Portuese GDP per person as 425 in 1000, 606 in 1500, 740 in 1600, 819 in 1700, and 923 for 1820.

Do you have any insight into these discrepancies?”

I do. In short, for this and many other cases, Maddison’s figures are simply made up. Read more below.

(Also, do notice that the modern Maddison project database is using 2011 prices, not 1990 ones, so for instance Jaime Reis’ and my own figures for Portugal, 1527-1850, are presented in 1990 prices in our paper, but the Maddison project pushed this into 2011 prices, so the levels may look different but they are not; the underlying real indexes are the same; our figures are the ones included in the Maddison project.)


Nothing I say here means to disparage Angus Maddison. He was a pioneer in these things (especially in so far as putting together in one place many estimates which in fact were often produced by many people – this had a lot of merit, though he’d very frequently get the citations that truly belonged to those who did the original work, but that’s is another story). He did stimulate many of us to continue these lines of inquiry, and do a better job. He was great.

But do notice that in one of the first posts in this blog, I did write,

“Despite the importance that Maddison’s GDP and population figures had in stimulating our thinking about economic history and development, it is fair to say that his pre-1820 figures were less than solid.”

The best way to think about Maddison’s estimates, especially for the period before 1820, is: when estimates did not exist (and they usually did not), he’d make very strong assumptions.

If you are an economist working on long-run growth you need to be wary of these assumptions. For China, real income per capita was stuck at exactly $600 “international” 1990 GK dollars between 1300 and 1850, according to Maddison in his late “Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run” book (p. 157). Does this show that China was Malthusian? no, because Maddison effectively assumed China was Malthusian, and this is why he chose these numbers. I once saw an economist present at a conference and looking frankly ridiculous by claiming he had found that China was Malthusian for most of its history by using Maddison’s numbers. And, by the way, we now know that Maddison was not quite right, as you can read here.

Part of the problem is that Maddison often presents Tables in a way that makes it difficult to trace the original sources (this, I dare say, often made scholars un-aware that those were not his actual estimates, but those of others, which let to the citations problem I mentioned above).

How did he get to those figures? If you look into Volume 2 of his “World Economy” books, which is where most figures are put in Tables together and hence where typically people look first, or if you look online, in this original page, there are none listed. The historical statistics excel file avaliable even says “Copyright Angus Maddison” once you open it…

If you dig deep in his book, however, you do find some info. For population, continuing with the Portugal example, you find in Volume 1, p. 230 that “Population of 13 small West European countries assumed to move parallel to the total for the 12 countries above“. The latter were bigger countries, but the source of most of those is given as Maddison (1991), so you’d have to keep tracking other references to see how even those were actually done. Once you find the answer you will see that the evidence is rather thin. Needless to say, modern reconstructions are much more careful than this.

As for GDP per capita, in Volume 1, p. 249 he writes:

“I assumed a growth rate of Spanish GDP per capita of 0.25 per cent a year from 1500-1600, no advance in the seventeenth century, and some mild progress from 1700 to 1820. I adopted a similar profile for Portugal”.

That’s it. He simply assumed the numbers — vaguely citing only the following as inspiration, though not using it directly and citing with the following caveats (notice his own choice of words): “Yun’s (1994) rough per capita GDP estimates for Castile (about three-quarters of Spain) … his indicators for secondary and tertiary activity are weak“.

So, Maddison’s Portugal GDP per capita numbers are hence simply assumed to behave similarly to those of Spain, which are simply assumed by himself.

By contrast with this, here are the primary, archival sources that Jaime Reis and I use in our recent reconstruction of Portuguese per capita GDP, 1527-1850, which is forthcoming in the June edition of the Journal of Economic History. I list these here as an example, so you can see how much more exhaustive modern work is that what Maddison did. You can see a picture of what these account books look like if you click in our appendix, here.

I hope this discussion has been sufficiently clear on the origins of the differences between modern estimates vis-a-vis those of Maddison. It should be by now clear why they are considerably different at times. And furthermore – if you read our article, you will see that Portugal does not behave like Spain at all…

Primary Sources

We have collected both prices and wages from account (receipts and expenditures) books of the institutions listed below. Almost all were purchasers both of commodities and labor services. Some of them were also sellers of certain commodities produced by them. The account books of these institutions always display: the date of the transaction, the gross and unit value of the commodity, the unit of measurement employed, the quality of the product (e.g., coarse or fine paper, mutton, pork, or beef), and particular features of the transaction.

In order to proxy missing values we sometimes used a similar product or labor type (e.g., tallow candles for wax candles or carpenters for masons, both being skilled workers) by adjusting its price using a price ratio with the original product at a nearby year. Furthermore, to complete our Linen series for Lisbon during 1766–1829, we relied on Madureira (1997), listed in the secondary sources section.

Lisbon and Its Hinterland

Casa da Congregação do Oratório, Casa da Saúde, Lº 1º Receita e Despesa (Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa)

Casa dos Contos: Archive of the Court of Auditors

Convent of Nossa Senhora da Luz: National Archive

Convent of Santa Marta de Jesus: National Archive

Convent of Santo Alberto: National Archive

Convent of São Domingos de Lisboa: National Archive

Convent of Carmo, Expenses of the Sacristy: National Archive

Hospital of S. José: National Archive

Hospital of All Saints: National Archive

Holy House of Mercy of Almada: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Almada

Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon

Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon, Shelter: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon

Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon, Foundlings: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon

Monastery of Chelas: National Archive

Monastery of S. Dinis de Odivelas: National Archive

Convent of Santo António da Convalescença: National Archive

Fabric of the See of Lisboa: National Archive

Seminary of Santa Catarina: National Archive

Administration of the Royal Household, Kitchens: National Archive

Porto and Its Hinterland

For Porto, we rely on Godinho (1955) as a secondary source plus the following primary sources:

Casa Pia Orphanage (administration): Porto District Archive

The See of Porto (revenues and expenditure): Porto District Archive

Colégio dos Órfãos, Daily Expenditure: Porto Municipal Archive

Porto Holy House of Mercy, Jailhouse Expenditure: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, General Hospital: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, Interments: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, Hospice for the Homeless: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, D. Lopo Hospital: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, Foundling Home: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Municipality of Porto, Palace of the Municipality: Porto Municipal Archive Municipal Abattoir, Porto Municipality: Porto Municipal Archive

Coimbra and Its Hinterland

University of Coimbra, Refectory: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Hospital of the University, Accounts and Administration: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Hospital of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, Accounts: Archive of the University of Coimbra

College of São Pedro, Kitchen: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Colégio de São Pedro, Book of purchases: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Expenditure on the Churches of the Reverend Chapter of the See of Coimbra: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Chapel of S. João da Sé, Revenue and Expenditure: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Chapter of the See, register of expenditures: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Fabric of the College of São Pedro, Register of Expenses: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Municipal Council of Coimbra, Revenue and Expenditure: Archive of Coimbra

Municipality Works of the Church of the See of Coimbra, Expenses: Archive of the University of Coimbra

University of Coimbra, Receipts and Expenditure: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Hospital of São Lázaro, Receipts and Expenditure: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Holy House of Mercy of Coimbra, Income and Expenditure: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Coimbra

Episcopal Mitre of Coimbra, Expenses: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Register of the Granary of the Chapter of Coimbra: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Royal Hospital of Coimbra, Registers of Expenditure: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Évora and Its Hinterland

For Évora, we rely on Santos (2003) and Godinho (nd) secondary sources plus the following primary sources:

Royal Public Granary of Évora, Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

Évora Aqueduct, Accounts of the Repairs and Maintenance: Archive of the District of Évora Repairs of Évora City Streets ,Wages and other Expenditure: Archive of the District of Évora

Casa Pia Orphanage, Revenues and Expenditures: Archive of the District of Évora

Casa Pia, Hospice of Nossa Senhora da Piedade, Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

Holy House of Mercy, Books and Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

Convent of Paraiso, Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

Convent of the Saviour, Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

College of Nossa Senhora da Purificação: Archive of the District of Évora

Secondary Sources

Costa, Leonor, and Jaime Reis. “The Chronic Food Deficit of Early Modern Portugal: Curse or Myth?” Análise Social LII (2017): 416–29.

Godinho, Vitorino Magalhães. Introdução à história económica. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, n.d.

———. Prix et monnaies au Portugal 1750–1850. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1955.

Madureira, Nuno. Mercados e Privilégios. A Indústria Portuguesa entre 1750 e 1834. Lisboa: Estampa, 1997.

Santos, Rui. Sociogénese do Latifundismo Moderno: Mercados, Crises e Mudança Social na Região de Évora, Séculos XVII a XIX. Lisboa: Banco de Portugal, 2003.


addendum: I originally wrote in this post, a few hours ago, that the Maddison project now corrects for inflation by expressing variables in 2015 dollars, but this should be 2011. I heard they were thinking of changing to 2015 in the next version.

Money and Modernization in Early Modern England (forthcoming at the Financial History Review)

In early modern England, coin supply increased a lot without prices responding proportionally:


This contradicts the Quantity Theory of Money, according to which the changes should move together. If the money supply doubles, prices should double too, because the quantity theory assumes income and velocity to be constant (at least in the long run).

Here I show just coin supply, so a very narrow measure of the money supply. Broader money supply must have increased even more, as forms of paper money and credit developed at this time. This makes things look even worse for the quantity theory.

While the Quantity Theory looks bad, there is no contradiction with the equation of exchange, which simply states that nominal GDP equals velocity times money. Nor could there be, as the equation of exchange just an accounting identity.

In my forthcoming Financial History Review paper, “Money and Modernization in Early Modern England”, I explain what was going on. I argue that monetization helped support economic growth and structural change. If real growth happens, money can increase without a response of prices.

If you are interested, you can read the paper here.