Tag Archives: Europe

Why did premodern Poland fail? (Highlight II)

Mikołaj Malinowski (Lund) is a quantitative economic historian. His expertise is in quantitative analyses of the role of markets and institutions in long-term economic growth of Eastern Europe. He has already constructed long-term series of real wages, GDP, and market conditions in Poland between the late middle ages and the early 19th century. This investigation revealed that the Polish economy expanded in the late middle ages and the 16th century but then contracted in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Further, Malinowski put forth the hypothesis that the economic contraction might have been a result of market segmentation. Building on a large body of price data, he showed that market conditions in Poland were improving in the 16th century but then declined in the 17th and 18th centuries. He proposed that the market crisis affected Polish economic development via two channels. First, the market segmentation led to an increase in the Malthusian pressure and, subsequently, to the decline in real wages. Second, he demonstrated that the adverse market conditions reinforced serfdom, which in the short term made the urban sector more resilient to the adverse conditions, but in the long term consigned the region to backwardness.


This research has been published in top peer-reviewed journals in Economic history. His article ‘Serfs and the city: market conditions, surplus extraction institutions, and urban growth in early modern Poland’ has been awarded the Figuerola Prize for the best article published in the European Review of Economic History.

Currently, Malinowski researches the impact of political centralization and legal state capacity on economic development. States can either stimulate or inhibit economic performance. Proponents of the free-market see the coercive nature of states as a factor contributing to economic stagnation. New Institutional Economics argues for constraining governments to avoid harmful predation. However, states can also provide the institutional framework necessary for sustained economic growth. Malinowski analyses the role the parliament played in developing a domestic commodity market in the First Republic of Poland. His results indicate that legal state capacity was positively associated with domestic market integration. Conversely, anarchy, understood as executory, judiciary, and regulatory inaction of the central government was associated with a rise in the exchange costs.

Malinowski is also one of the founders of WEast: The Eastern European Economic History Initiative. He has developed a well-established series of periodic workshops in economic and social history that has received financial support of the European Society of Historical Economics. Information about WEast can be found on weast.info.


Income and its distribution in preindustrial Poland. Cliometrica 11(3), 2017 (With Jan Luiten van Zanden)

Serfs and the city: market conditions, surplus extraction institutions and urban growth in Poland, 1500-1772. European Review of Economic History 20(2), 2016: 123-146

Little Divergence revisited: Polish living standards in a European perspective, 1500-1800. European Review of Economic History 20(3), 2016: 345-367

Market conditions in preindustrial Poland, 1500-1772. Economic History of Developing Regions 31(2), 2016

Economic consequences of anarchy; Legal state capacity and market integration in early modern Poland, mimeo.


Ridolfi on premodern France (Hightlight I)

As announced in the previous post, there will be from now on once in a while posts written by guest scholars, both junior a senior. This post has been written by Leonardo Ridolfi of the IMT School for Advanced Studies, Lucca. You can find Leonardo’s most recent working paper here.


The French economy in the longue durée. A study on real wages, working days and economic performance from Louis IX to the Revolution (1250-1789)

This work addresses a gap in the literature concerning living standards in pre-industrial France.

While traditionally research had an eminently localized character, focusing on the experience of specific regions or what might be called “local economics,” still to date, there is no consolidated understanding of the long-term development of wages and prices from a broader national perspective.

Building and improving upon the precious contributions offered by the many compilers of wage and price data in France, this study is an attempt to provide a solid empirical characterization of the principal macro-economic aggregates of pre-industrial France and trace the main contours of economic growth in the country from the phase of early state formation to the Revolution.

Delving into the vast set of secondary and printed primary sources, the first section presents new series of real wages for male agricultural and construction workers in France from 1250 to 1789 (now updated to 1860) following Allen (2001)’s barebones basket methodology.

The analysis highlighted three main issues.

First, our series offer little support to the argument that there were appreciable long run improvements in living standards for French wage earners before the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, real wages displayed no substantial trend improvement between the thirteenth and the mid-nineteenth century.

Second, the estimates reveal that the period 1350-1550 saw the rise and consolidation of a real wage gap between France and England as well as other leading European cities. Still in the decade prior to the Black Death the real wage differential between French and English workers of the construction sector was remarkably low. A century later, in the 1450s, French building labourers had between about 25 and 40 percent less of the income of their European counterparts.

Comparing real wages of French farmers to those of their English counterparts I found a similar pattern and few traces of a French “golden age” of labour. Indeed, after a first phase of rapid expansion following the Black Death, by the1370s real wages grew less and for a shorter period than elsewhere in Europe where the welfare gains consolidated almost until up the 1450s. At a more disaggregated level, similar trends are discernible by comparing Paris to London.

As a first step, I decomposed the proximate causes of this gap between prices and wages. I found that France and England witnessed similar deflationary trends between the 1370s and the 1450s. Yet, it was the decline of French silver wages (apparently driven by falling production and reduced labour demand especially during the worst phases of the Hundred Years War) and the contemporaneous increase of English salaries, that explain the “dampened” Malthusian cycle of real wages in France as opposed to the “full” Malthusian cycle experienced by England and Central-Northern Italy.


Figure 1: Real wages

Notes and Sources:  French labourers: this study (updated version of the thesis). England: Clark (2005).

Finally, even if demographic data before the 1550s are fragmentary, it is possible to argue, consistently with the Malthusian interpretation, that the dynamics between real wages and population was characterized by a long-lasting inverse relationship. Nevertheless, while this mechanism appears to hold in general, at least by the mid-seventeenth century one can detect a weakening of the inverse relationship. Indeed, the long phase of demographic expansion that brought population almost to triple between the 1600s and the mid-nineteenth century, was paralleled by a mild decrease or a substantial stagnation of real wages.

The second section provides a broad characterization of working time in pre-industrial Europe concentrating on three dimensions of time: the calendar working year corresponding to the calendar year net of general holidays and religious festivities; the actual working year and the implied working year defined as the annual number of days of work required by a male breadwinner to provide for a notional family of five components (Allen and Weisdorf 2011).

Due to the dearth of compelling evidence on work intensity for workers employed in agriculture, I looked at the experience of construction workers on site providing new estimates of trends in calendar, actual and implied working year in France and England from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century.

By analyzing the joint evolution of these three dimensions of time and comparing the patterns of change of time-use, and their response to variations in the institutional and market conditions, I identified two distinct regimes of industriousness featuring France and England in the pre-industrial era.

In France, the annual number of days required by a male breadwinner to provide for his family (the implied working year) was greater than the actual number of days worked per year, meaning that women and children’s labour force participation as well as the presence of additional sources of non-labor income were necessary to assure the basic levels of consumption. This implies that expansions in the offer of labour were primarily driven by raising inflation and economic hardship (Figure 2).


Figure 2: The French case

Sources: Calendar, actual and implied working year: this study.

Notes: Surplus (deficit) labour input: The positive (negative) difference between actual and implied working year (shaded area).

By contrast, I found evidence of the existence of two phases where English regular construction workers supplied more days of work to the market than required by basic household subsistence (Figure 3).

The first episode occurred between 1400 and 1500, while the second corresponds to the industrious revolution originally described by De Vries (2008).

Several hypotheses are discussed to shed light on the origin of these phases of surplus labour input and their implications on the structure of consumption and production. These episodes differed in two fundamental ways.

First, they originated from different dynamics.

Indeed, the episode of surplus labour input located by De Vries in the seventeenth century England and the Low Countries, derived from an upsurge in actual workloads and a contemporary drop of work requirements necessary for family subsistence in a context of progressive expansion of the frontier of working possibilities.

On the contrary, the episode of surplus labour input detected in the post-plague period was characterized by the contemporary reduction of actual, calendar and implied working year.

Received wisdom would suggest that workers should have totally (or in large part) compensated the post-plague increases in real wage rates by reducing labour supply of approximately the same amount consuming a considerable proportion of their augmented purchasing power in the form of leisure (Blanchard 1994). However, actual workloads decreased much less than implied by the contemporary increase in real wage rates. This incomplete adjustment, that reflected a rather inelastic labour supply of construction workers, could depend on two main factors.

First, the existence of technical requirements and institutional settings, including the rhythm of the construction process, the rests dictated by calendar working year as well as the recruiting schemes of contractors and the organizational forms of entrepreneurs, limited voluntary reductions of actual workloads.

Second, the incomplete response of actual workloads could reflect the rise of a new attitude toward higher quality consumption from an increasing share of workers (seemingly skilled and urban) that was “aping the lesser gentry” (Dyer 1988).

In this respect, these episodes had different implications for the relationship between labour offer, consumption and production.

Indeed, the phase of surplus labour input in the seventeenth century England was seemingly related to a consumer revolution (Allen and Weisdorf 2011) and could be thought of as a transition from traditional consumption cluster to a broader and more modern one that included colonial products and luxuries (De Vries 2008).

The episode of surplus labour input in the late medieval England was not marked by more and new items entering the basket but seemingly ran in parallel with a relocation of consumption choices within the horizon of traditional consumption that reflected structural changes in the economy after the Black Death and the aspiration of a growing share of population for higher alimentary standards less dependent upon cereal-based and lower quality foodstuff (Dyer 1988).

From the production side, while the seventeenth century phase of surplus labour input saw the rise and consolidation of new sectors outside agriculture, the first episode (seemingly did not cause but) coincided in time with a shift of agriculture from arable to pasture. This process is consistent with a large body of empirical evidence documenting changes in alimentary regimes during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.


Figure 3: The English case

Sources: Calendar year: this study. Implied working year: Allen and Weisdorf (2011). Actual working year: Period 1300-1559: this study. Between 1560 and 1732, Clark and Van DerWerf (1998) and by 1750 Voth (2001) as reported in Table 2 of Allen and Weisdorf (2011).

Notes: Surplus (deficit) labour input: The positive (negative) difference between actual and implied working year (shaded area).

Finally, in the last section I present new estimates of agricultural and total output per capita in France between 1280 and 1789 using the demand side approach. The study suggests that GDP per capita displayed no substantial trend improvement over this period. At the death of King Philip the Fair in 1314, France was a leading economy in Europe and output per capita averaged 900 dollars per year. Almost five centuries later, at the beginning of the 18th century, this threshold was largely unchanged and GDP per capita was slightly above 1000 dollars, about half of the level registered in England and the Low Countries (Figure 4).

These estimates document quantitatively and in the aggregate what was previously known only qualitatively or for some regions by the classic works of the French historiography (Goubert 1960; Le Roy Ladurie 1966) thus offering support to Le Roy Ladurie (1977)’s characterization of the pre-industrial French economy as a stagnating, growthless system.

Nevertheless, GDP per capita was highly volatile and experienced multiple peaks and troughs alternating phases of economic crisis to periods of economic expansion. These include the “efflorescence” of economic growth that took place between the 1280s and the 1370s and the growth trend since the mid-16th century that ran in parallel with the consolidation of the French state and the opening of new trade routes from Europe to Asia and the Americas.

Overall, our estimates suggest that the evolution of GDP per capita in France can be suitably interpreted as an intermediate case between the successful example of England and the Low Countries and the declining patterns of Central-Northern Italy and Spain. Being neither a southern country nor a northern one, the growth experience of France seems to reflect this geographic heterogeneity.


Figure 4: GDP per capita in Europe

Sources: England: Broadberry et al. (2011); France: this study; Holland: van Zanden and van Leeuwen (2012); Italy: Malanima (2011); Portugal: Palma and Reis (2016); Spain: Álvarez-Nogal and Prados de la Escosura (2013); Sweden: Schön and Krantz (2012).


Allen, Robert C. “The great divergence in European wages and prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War.” Explorations in economic history 38, no. 4 (2001): 411-447.

Allen, Robert C., and Jacob Louis Weisdorf. “Was there an ‘industrious revolution’ before the industrial revolution? An empirical exercise for England, c. 1300-1830.” The Economic History Review 64, no. 3 (2011): 715-729.

Álvarez‐Nogal, Carlos, and Leandro Prados de la Escosura. “The rise and fall of Spain (1270-1850).” The Economic History Review 66, no. 1 (2013): 1-37.

Blanchard, Ian. Labour and Leisure in Historical Perspective, Thirteenth to Twentieth Centuries: Papers Presented at Session B-3a of the Eleventh International Economic History Congress, Milan, 12th-17th September, 1994. No. 116. F. Steiner, 1994.

Broadberry, Stephen et al. “British Economic Growth, 1270-1870: An Output-Based Approach”, London School of Economics, 2011. http://www2.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/whosWho/profiles/sbroadberry.aspx.

Clark, Gregory, and Ysbrand Van Der Werf. “Work in progress? The industrious revolution.” The Journal of Economic History 58, no. 3 (1998): 830-843.

Clark, Gregory. “The condition of the working class in England, 1209–2004.” Journal of Political Economy 113, no. 6 (2005): 1307-1340.

De Vries, Jan. The industrious revolution: consumer behavior and the household economy, 1650 to the present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Dyer, Christopher. “Changes in diet in the late middle ages: the case of harvest workers.” The Agricultural History Review (1988): 21-37.

Goubert, Pierre. Beauvais et le Beauvaisis de 1600 à 1730: contribution à l’histoire sociale de la France du XVIIe siècle: atlas (cartes et graphiques). Paris: SEVPEN, 1960.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. Les paysans de Languedoc. 2 vols. Paris: SEVPEN, 1966.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. “Motionless history.” Social Science History 1, no. 2 (1977): 115-136.

Malanima, Paolo. “The long decline of a leading economy: GDP in central and northern Italy, 1300-1913.” European Review of Economic History 15, no. 2 (2011): 169-219.

Palma, Nuno and Reis, Jaime. “From Convergence to Divergence: Portuguese Demography and Economic Growth, 1500-1850” (September 13, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2839971 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2839971

Schön, Lennart, and Olle Krantz. “The Swedish economy in the early modern period: constructing historical national accounts.” European Review of Economic History 16, no. 4 (2012): 529-549.

Van Zanden, Jan Luiten, and Bas Van Leeuwen. “Persistent but not consistent: The growth of national income in Holland 1347-1807.” Explorations in economic history 49, no. 2 (2012): 119-130.

Voth, Hans-Joachim. “The longest years: new estimates of labor input in England, 1760-1830.” The Journal of Economic History 61, no. 4 (2001): 1065-1082.



Introducing “highlights”: Ridolfi on premodern France and Jongman on the Roman empire

From now on there will be once in a while posts written by others in this blog. These will be written both by young scholars and by more senior, established scholars.

The idea is that these scholars will write short essays about the main conclusions (and possibly policy implications) from their overall work. Scholars will write about their work overall: the forest, not the trees. Speculation about future work and general considerations about the state of the field are welcome. Hence the logic is different (and a complement, not a substitute) from that of blogs such as EHES’s Positive Check or EHS’s The Long Run, where people write about one specific paper at the time.

Consistent with this policy, the two inaugural posts will be written by:


How important was colonial trade for the rise of Europe?

I recently gave an interview to Garret M. Petersen of the Economics Detective Radio where we discuss some of my work. You can listen to it in this link: Money, Trade and Economic Growth in the Early Modern Period (interview).

In the interview, we discuss at one point the matter of how important was colonial (and otherwise intercontinental) trade for macroeconomic outcomes such as growth and urbanization in Europe. As I notice in the interview, my position on this (see my Cliometrica article for details) stands between two extremes:

  1. that of Eric Hobsbawm or Immanuel Wallerstein, who argue Europeans profited a huge deal from the colonies. This view is very prevalent in some political circles today, if not the person on the street, who often believes that “imperialism” or “colonialism” is what what made the West Rich, through exploitation of the rest of the world. It is related to “dependency theory”.
  2. by contrast, that of many if not most economic historians, who believe that such trade (and the violence that came with it) didn’t matter very much for outcomes back in Europe.

The latter view became the orthodoxy among economists and economic historians after Patrick O’Brien’s 1982 paper, which in one of many of Patrick’s celebrated phrases, claims that “”the periphery vs peripheral” for Europe. He concludes the paper by writing:

“[G]rowth, stagnation, and decay everywhere in Western Europe can be explained mainly by reference to endogenous forces. … for the economic growth of the core, the periphery was peripheral.”

This is the view that remarkable scholars such as N. Crafts, Deirdre McCloskey, or Joel Mokyr repeat today (though Crafts would argue cotton imports would have mattered in a late stage, and my reading of Mokyr is that he has softened his earlier view from the 1980s a little, specifically in the book The Enlightened Economy.) Even recently, Brad deLong has classifyied O’Brien’s 1982 position as “air tight”.

Among economists and economic historians more on the economics side, I would say that O’Brien’s paper was only one of two strong hits against the “Worlds-System” and related schools of thoughts of the 1970s, the other hit being Solow’s earlier conclusion that TFP growth (usually interpreted as technology, though there’s more to it than that) has accounted for economic growth a great deal more than capital accumulation, which is what Hobsbawm and Wallerstein, in their neo-Marxist framework, emphasize.

Let me be clear from the outset that the idea that it was European exploitation of foreign peoples that made it rich is, by itself, highly simplistic, and, in short, nonsense. The view held by many historians and members of the public, that colonialism essentially equals why the west is rich is evidently false. This view is seductive in part because of the nasty violent means and institutions (such as slavery), clearly immoral from the normative standpoint of our times, which was often associated with it. Even if partially true it fails to ask why was Europe the part of the world capable of doing this, which in turn raises the obvious suspicion that the deep causal factor lies elsewhere.

To a degree in the interview I react more against the opposite version, the point (2) above, the idea that it did not matter at all. But this is because I hold the fact that (1) is false as more evident.

One irony with all of this is that for more than a decade now, Patrick O’Brien has changed his mind. He has, indeed refereed to this in writing (as far back as 2006), and several people have witnessed seminars where the speaker mentions “as Patrick O’Brien has concluded, colonies didn’t matter for European development…” only to have Patrick raise and kindly but firmly inform the speaker of his change of heart.

Last year at the American Economic Association meeting in S. Francisco, my good friend Deirdre McCloskey even told me in disappointment how me she feels Patrick should go back to his old view! But I feel there’s good reason for his change of mind. Patrick certainly hasn’t adopted a Hobsbawm-Wallerstein type of position. He is now simply of the view that, at the margin, trade with other parts of the world did matter for European development. It’s does not explain everything, but it mattered a bit. This is what I find empirical support for in my own work.

My discussion has focused on the impact of trade for the European economy.  As Brad deLong notices, a different matter is that of whether such trade had an impact on other parts of the world (positive or negative). Patrick O’Brien sometimes refers to himself as a “mercantilist”. So I conclude by noting that some ideas related to the benefits of protectionism (once an idea almost banished from the realms of “serious” economics), especially as it applies to countries that are not at the frontier, has been taking hold among some young and very competent economic historians, such as Réka Juhász or Luigi Pascali. Perhaps I’ll write more about this in a future post.





Spending a Windfall


The paper “Spending a Windfall: American Precious Metals and Euro-Asian Trade 1531-1810”, by André C. Silva and myself, is now available as a GGDC working paper.

Here’s the abstract:

During the early modern period, Asia ran a large current account surplus with Europe. We show that the critical factor to stimulate Euro-Asian trade was not the new trading routes to Asia, but the European access to American precious metals. We use a dynamic general equilibrium model to reproduce historical data and calculate alternative scenarios. We find that European imports of Asian goods were up to thirteen times higher than they would have been without new routes and without precious metals. The effect of American precious metals is six times larger than that of the discoveries of new trading routes.

90% of the European imports of porcelain, silk, tea, and other luxuries from Asia during the early modern period were paid for in silver. The traditional and still currently accepted explanation by most historians for this imbalance of early modern Euro-Asian trade relies on cultural factors. It is said that Asians have always had a penchant for hoarding treasure (this is the view of Hamilton, Keynes, Kindleberger, and Maddison). By contrast, our explanation for the patterns of Euro-Asian trade in the early modern period does not rely on different preferences for Asians. Instead, the observed trade patterns emerge as a natural consequence of rational agents taking decisions in a dynamic general equilibrium context.

Our model of international trade has two “countries”, two goods and money. The demand for money is obtained with a money-in-utility specification. The two agents, denoted Europe and Asia, have identical preferences. Each agent produces a domestic good. All of the silver windfall is given to the European agent. There are also transaction costs, which apply to international transactions only.

We feed the historical data to the model. The windfall is given to the European agent. From 1500 to 1800, 85% of the world’s silver and over 70% of world’s gold came from America. The following figure (taken from Figure 4 in the paper) shows, in blue, the annual amount of “discoveries” of precious metals in America during 1531-1810, expressed in grams of silver per capita. In red, in shows our counterfactual: a world where new routes to Asia were found, but no precious metals existed in America.


The following figures (also taken from Figure 4 in the paper) then decouple the results of the historical and counterfactual scenarios for consumption and trade between Europe and Asia. In this one we can see that thanks to the new routes and the precious metals (mainly silver), European consumption of Asian goods was about 13 times what it would have been by the second quarter of the seventeenth century. However, most of that effect was due to the availability of American precious metals and not to the new trade routes themselves (note that two new routes to Asia were found, one through the Cape of Good Hope and the other through the Pacific). The new routes (and its associated technical and organizational change) would have at most doubled the previous trade levels.


Not only did the new routes have a much smaller economic impact on trade than did American precious metals, but the sign of their effect on trade patters was also different. This is clear if we look at what happens to net exports of European goods to Asia: in the counterfactual world of no precious metals existing, they increase. Historically,  we know that this wasn’t the case.



As the figures suggest, our simulations show that the combined effect of the discovery of precious metals in America plus new trade routes to Asia led to Euro-Asian trade volumes that were up to 13 times what they would have otherwise been. After peaking in the second quarter of the seventeenth century the effect diminishes over time as the early modern period advances but is still over 10 times as late as 1750.

In the paper, we also consider the effect of rising incomes in Europe, and show that its effect was marginal relative to what can be attributed to the windfall of precious metals.

Early modern Euro-Asian trade started off a historical dynamic process with broad consequences for Europe. While foreign trade accounted for a small percentage of European GDP at this time, it provided dynamic expansion opportunities. Early modern trade with Asia led to the emergence of mercantile companies such as the Dutch VOC and the English East India Company, which in many ways were the prototype for modern multinationals.71 It permitted the development of modern financial markets in Amsterdam and London. It induced an industrious revolution which encouraged additional labor input and market participation in Europe, necessary preconditions for the process of modern economic growth and for the industrial revolution itself. It stimulated economic growth and urbanization, through a process of spillovers and agglomeration economies. Trading with Asia (and America), may have also induced a shift in the wealth and political power from the land-owning elite to the hands of a merchant, entrepreneurial class. Positive spillovers also resulted from the increased inter-continental exchange of ideas. Finally, international trade and war always came together, and external warfare was one of the most powerful drivers behind European state-building.