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Article

Anthropometrics: The Intersection of Economics and Human Biology  

John Komlos

Anthropometrics is a research program that explores the extent to which economic processes affect human biological processes using height and weight as markers. This agenda differs from health economics in the sense that instead of studying diseases or longevity, macro manifestations of well-being, it focuses on cellular-level processes that determine the extent to which the organism thrives in its socio-economic and epidemiological environment. Thus, anthropometric indicators are used as a proxy measure for the biological standard of living as complements to conventional measures based on monetary units. Using physical stature as a marker, we enabled the profession to learn about the well-being of children and youth for whom market-generated monetary data are not abundant even in contemporary societies. It is now clear that economic transformations such as the onset of the Industrial Revolution and modern economic growth were accompanied by negative externalities that were hitherto unknown. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that the Welfare States of Western and Northern Europe take better care of the biological needs of their citizens than the market-oriented health-care system of the United States. Obesity has reached pandemic proportions in the United States affecting 40% of the population. It is fostered by a sedentary and harried lifestyle, by the diminution in self-control, the spread of labor-saving technologies, and the rise of instant gratification characteristic of post-industrial society. The spread of television and a fast-food culture in the 1950s were watershed developments in this regard that accelerated the process. Obesity poses a serious health risk including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer and its cost reaches $150 billion per annum in the United States or about $1,400 per capita. We conclude that the economy influences not only mortality and health but reaches bone-deep into the cellular level of the human organism. In other words, the economy is inextricably intertwined with human biological processes.

Article

Commodity Market Integration  

Giovanni Federico

The literature on market integration explores the development of the commodity market with data on prices, which is a useful complement to analysis of trade and the only feasible approach when data on trade are not available. Data on prices and quantity can help in understanding when markets developed, why, and the degree to which their development increased welfare and economic growth. Integration progressed slowly throughout the early modern period, with significant acceleration in the first half of the 19th century. Causes of integration include development of transportation infrastructure, changes in barriers to trade, and short-term shocks, such as wars. Literature on the effects of market integration is limited and strategies for estimating the effects of market integration are must be developed.

Article

Creative Destruction, Technology Disruption, and Growth  

Thomas Clarke

The origins of modern technological change provide the context necessary to understand present-day technological transformation, to investigate the impact of the new digital technologies, and to examine the phenomenon of digital disruption of established industries and occupations. How these contemporary technologies will transform industries and institutions, or serve to create new industries and institutions, will unfold in time. The implications of the relationships between these pervasive new forms of digital transformation and the accompanying new business models, business strategies, innovation, and capabilities are being worked through at global, national, corporate, and local levels. Whatever the technological future holds it will be defined by continual adaptation, perpetual innovation, and the search for new potential. Presently, the world is experiencing the impact of waves of innovation created by the rapid advance of digital networks, software, and information and communication technology systems that have transformed workplaces, cities, and whole economies. These digital technologies are converging and coalescing into intelligent technology systems that facilitate and structure our lives. Through creative destruction, digital technologies fundamentally challenge existing routines, capabilities, and structures by which organizations presently operate, adapt, and innovate. In turn, digital technologies stimulate a higher rate of both technological and business model innovation, moving from producer innovation toward more user-collaborative and open-collaborative innovation. However, as dominant global platform technologies emerge, some impending dilemmas associated with the concentration and monopolization of digital markets become salient. The extent of the contribution made by digital transformation to economic growth and environmental sustainability requires a critical appraisal.

Article

Early and Medieval Periods in German Economic History  

Thilo R. Huning and Fabian Wahl

The study of the Holy Roman Empire, a medieval state on the territory of modern-day Germany and Central Europe, has attracted generations of qualitative economic historians and quantitative scholars from various fields. Its bordering position between Roman and Germanic legacies, its Carolingian inheritance, and the numerous small states emerging from 1150 onward, on the one hand, are suspected to have hindered market integration, and on the other, allowed states to compete. This has inspired many research questions around differences and communalities in culture, the origin of the state, the integration of good and financial markets, and technology inventions, such the printing press. While little is still known about the economy of the rural population, cities and their economic conditions have been extensively studied from the angles of economic geography, institutionalism, and for their influence on early human capital accumulation. The literature has stressed that Germany at this time cannot be seen as a closed economy, but only in the context of Europe and the wider world. Global events, such as the Black Death, and European particularities, such as the Catholic Church, never stopped at countries’ borders. As such, the literature provides an understanding for the prelude to radical changes, such as the Lutheran Reformation, religious wars, and the coming of the modern age with its economic innovations.

Article

Earnings Inequality in Latin America: A Three-Decade Retrospective  

Manuel Fernández and Gabriela Serrano

Latin American countries have some of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. However, earnings inequality have significantly changed over time, increasing during the 1980s and 1990s, declining sharply in the 2000s, and stagnating or even increasing in some countries since 2015. Macroeconomic instability in the region in the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the introduction of structural reforms like trade, capital, and financial liberalization, affected the patterns of relative demand and relative earnings across skill-demographic groups in the 1990s, increasing inequality. Significant gains in educational attainment, the demographic transition, and rising female labor force participation changed the skill-demographic composition of labor supply, pushing the education and experience premiums downward, but this was not enough to counteract demand-side trends. At the turn of the 21st century, improved external conditions, driven by China’s massive increase in demand for commodities, boosted economies across Latin America, which began to grow rapidly. Growth was accompanied by a positive shift in the relative demand for less-educated workers, stronger labor institutions, rising minimum wages, and declining labor informality, a confluence of factors that reduced earnings inequality. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, particularly after the end of the commodities price boom in 2014, economic growth decelerated, and the pace of inequality decline stagnated. There is extensive literature documenting and trying to explain the causes of recent earnings inequality dynamics in Latin America. This literature is examined in terms of themes, methodological approaches, and key findings. The focus is on earnings inequality and how developments in labor markets have shaped it.

Article

Economic Development in Spain, 1815–2017  

Leandro Prados de la Escosura and Blanca Sánchez-Alonso

In assessments of modern-day Spain’s economic progress and living standards, inadequate natural resources, inefficient institutions, lack of education and entrepreneurship, and foreign dependency are frequently blamed on poor performance up to the mid-20th century, but no persuasive arguments were provided to explain why such adverse circumstances reversed, giving way to the fast transformation that started in the 1950s. Hence, it is necessary to first inquire how much economic progress has been achieved in Spain and what impact it had on living standards and income distribution since the end of the Peninsular War to the present day, and second to provide an interpretation. Research published in the 2010s supports the view that income per person has improved remarkably, driven by increases in labor productivity, which derived, in turn, from a more intense and efficient use of physical and human capital per worker. Exposure to international competition represented a decisive element behind growth performance. From an European perspective, Spain underperformed until 1950. Thereafter, Spain’s economy managed to catch up with more advanced countries until 2007. Although the distribution of the fruits of growth did not follow a linear trend, but a Kuznetsian inverted U pattern, higher levels of income per capita are matched by lower inequality, suggesting that Spaniards’ material wellbeing improved substantially during the modern era.

Article

Economic Growth in the United States, 1790 to 1860  

Thomas Weiss

In the early 21st century, the U.S. economy stood at or very near the top of any ranking of the world’s economies, more obviously so in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), but also when measured by GDP per capita. The current standing of any country reflects three things: how well off it was when it began modern economic growth, how long it has been growing, and how rapidly productivity increased each year. Americans are inclined to think that it was the last of these items that accounted for their country’s success. And there is some truth to the notion that America’s lofty status was due to the continual increases in the efficiency of its factors of production—but that is not the whole story. The rate at which the U.S. economy has grown over its long history—roughly 1.5% per year measured by output per capita—has been modest in comparison with most other advanced nations. The high value of GDP per capita in the United States is due in no small part to the fact that it was already among the world’s highest back in the early 19th century, when the new nation was poised to begin modern economic growth. The United States was also an early starter, so has experienced growth for a very long time—longer than almost every other nation in the world. The sustained growth in real GDP per capita began sometime in the period 1790 to 1860, although the exact timing of the transition, and even its nature, are still uncertain. Continual efforts to improve the statistical record have narrowed down the time frame in which the transition took place and improved our understanding of the forces that facilitated the transition, but questions remain. In order to understand how the United States made the transition from a slow-growing British colony to a more rapidly advancing, free-standing economy, it is necessary to know more precisely when it made that transition.

Article

Economic History of the Middle East, 622–1914  

Timur Kuran

In the Middle Ages, the Middle East was an economically advanced region. Driving its successes were an essentially uniform legal system that supported intra- and interregional commerce, partnership rules that supported commerce among nonrelatives, and a form of trust known as waqf, which served as both a wealth shelter and a vehicle for endowing social services with protections against state predation. These same institutions disincentivized the institutional advances needed to generate the modern economy’s infrastructure indigenously. Home-grown innovations, such as the tradable equity known as gedik and a form of waqf used for moneylending (cash waqf), were ill-suited to large-scale and perpetual enterprises. Partnerships used to form small and ephemeral enterprises did not spawn organizational forms conducive to pooling resources on a large scale and perpetually. The waqf’s rigidities led to increasingly serious capital misallocation and misuse with changes in relative prices and the emergence of new technologies. Thus, the Middle East reached the Industrial Era institutionally unprepared. Sensing an existential threat from the West, its ruling elites launched massive economic reforms in the 1800s. These reforms involved transplanting Western economic institutions to the West in a hurry. Although the Middle East’s economic performance improved greatly in absolute terms, it remained underdeveloped in 1914, and the catch-up process has continued. Until the 1700s, the economic fortunes of the Middle East’s religious minorities generally tracked those of its Muslims. Thereafter, non-Muslims pulled ahead. As the global economy modernized, they benefited from a right that, from the early years of Islam, was denied to Muslims: choice of law. With the development of modern economic institutions by Europeans, choice of law enabled non-Muslims to increase the efficiency of their business operations. In the century preceding the Industrial Revolution, non-Muslims benefited also from international treaties that strengthened their property rights vis-à-vis those of Muslims.

Article

Financial History of Sub-Saharan Africa  

Leigh Gardner

African financial history is often neglected in research on the history of global financial systems, and in its turn research on African financial systems in the past often fails to explore links with the rest of the world. However, African economies and financial systems have been linked to the rest of the world since ancient times. Sub-Saharan Africa was a key supplier of gold used to underpin the monetary systems of Europe and the North from the medieval period through the 19th century. It was West African gold rather than slaves that first brought Europeans to the Atlantic coast of Africa during the early modern period. Within sub-Saharan Africa, currency and credit systems reflected both internal economic and political structures as well as international links. Before the colonial period, indigenous currencies were often tied to particular trades or trade routes. These systems did not immediately cease to exist with the introduction of territorial currencies by colonial governments. Rather, both systems coexisted, often leading to shocks and localized crises during periods of global financial uncertainty. At independence, African governments had to contend with a legacy of financial underdevelopment left from the colonial period. Their efforts to address this have, however, been shaped by global economic trends. Despite recent expansion and innovation, limited financial development remains a hindrance to economic growth.

Article

The Growth of Health Spending in the United States From 1776 to 2026  

Thomas E. Getzen

During the 18th and 19th centuries, medical spending in the United States rose slowly, on average about .25% faster than gross domestic product (GDP), and varied widely between rural and urban regions. Accumulating scientific advances caused spending to accelerate by 1910. From 1930 to 1955, rapid per-capita income growth accommodated major medical expansion while keeping the health share of GDP almost constant. During the 1950s and 1960s, prosperity and investment in research, the workforce, and hospitals caused a rapid surge in spending and consolidated a truly national health system. Excess growth rates (above GDP growth) were above +5% per year from 1966 to 1970, which would have doubled the health-sector share in fifteen years had it not moderated, falling under +3% in the 1980s, +2% in 1990s, and +1.5% since 2005. The question of when national health expenditure growth can be brought into line with GDP and made sustainable for the long run is still open. A review of historical data over three centuries forces confrontation with issues regarding what to include and how long events continue to effect national health accounting and policy. Empirical analysis at a national scale over multiple decades fails to support a position that many of the commonly discussed variables (obesity, aging, mortality rates, coinsurance) do cause significant shifts in expenditure trends. What does become clear is that there are long and variable lags before macroeconomic and technological events affect spending: three to six years for business cycles and multiple decades for major recessions, scientific discoveries, and organizational change. Health-financing mechanisms, such as employer-based health insurance, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are seen to be both cause and effect, taking years to develop and affecting spending for decades to come.

Article

The Indian Economy After Independence  

Tirthankar Roy

The Indian Union, from the time of independence from British colonial rule, 1947, until now, has undergone shifts in the trajectory of economic change and the political context of economic change. One of these transitions was a ‘green revolution’ in farming that occurred in the 1970s. In the same decade, Indian migration to the Persian Gulf states began to increase. In the 1980s, the government of India seemed to abandon a strategy of economic development that had relied on public investment in heavy industries and encouraged private enterprise in most fields. These shifts did not always follow announced policy, produced deep impact on economic growth and standards of living, and generated new forms of inequality. Therefore, their causes and consequences are matters of discussion and debate. Most discussions and debates form around three larger questions. First, why was there a turnaround in the pace of economic change in the 1980s? The answer lies in a fortuitous rebalancing of the role of openness and private investment in the economy. Second, why did human development lag achievements in income growth after the turnaround? A preoccupation with state-aided industrialization, the essay answers, entailed neglect of infrastructure and human development, and some of that legacy persisted. If the quality of life failed to improve enough, then a third question follows, why did the democratic political system survive at all if it did not equitably distribute the benefits from growth? In answer, the essay discusses studies that question the extent of the failure.

Article

Leverage Cycle Theory of Economic Crises and Booms  

John Geanakoplos

Traditionally, booms and busts have been attributed to investors’ excessive or insufficient demand, irrational exuberance and panics, or fraud. The leverage cycle begins with the observation that much of demand is facilitated by borrowing and that crashes often occur simultaneously with the withdrawal of lending. Uncertainty scares lenders before investors. Lenders are worried about default and therefore attach credit terms like collateral or minimum credit ratings to their contracts. The credit surface, depicting interest rates as a function of the credit terms, emerges in leverage cycle equilibrium. The leverage cycle is about booms when credit terms, especially collateral, are chosen to be loose, and busts when they suddenly become tight, in contrast to the traditional fixation on the (riskless) interest rate. Leverage cycle crashes are triggered at the top of the cycle by scary bad news, which has three effects. The bad news reduces every agent’s valuation of the asset. The increased uncertainty steepens the credit surface, causing leverage to plummet on new loans, explaining the withdrawal of credit. The high valuation leveraged investors holding the asset lose wealth when the price falls; if their debts are due, they lose liquid wealth and face margin calls. Each effect feeds back and exacerbates the others and increases the uncertainty. The credit surface is steeper for long loans than short loans because uncertainty is higher. Investors respond by borrowing short, creating a maturity mismatch and voluntarily exposing themselves to margin calls. When uncertainty rises, the credit surface steepens more for low credit rating agents than for high rated agents, leading to more inequality.. The leverage cycle also applies to banks, leading to a theory of insolvency runs rather than panic runs. The leverage cycle policy implication for banks is that there should be transparency, which will induce depositors or regulators to hold down bank leverage before insolvency is reached. This is contrary to the view that opaqueness is a virtue of banks because it lessens panic.

Article

Modern Finnish Economic History  

Jari Eloranta and Jari Ojala

The Finnish economy has experienced a relative late growth and catch-up process in relation to many other advanced Western economies. During this growth period, Finland also experienced a rapid structural change from an agrarian society to a developed service society. In a small open economy, the export industries have played a vital role in this development. Over several centuries, the forest industries have had a dominating impact in exports, along with the metal industries; however, the latter, as well as the electronics industry, with Nokia as the flagship company, gained more importance in the late 20th century in aggregate exports. The egalitarian educational system has to a large extent been pivotal respective of this change in the industrial structure and also in the growth of services. The demographic changes underlying these processes have been focal in these development processes, namely, the steady population growth in the 19th and early 20th centuries, followed by migration to urban centers, especially during the latter part of the 20th century; and, from the turn of the millennium, the emerging challenges of the welfare society followed by the aging of the population.

Article

Modern Norwegian Economic History  

Ola Honningdal Grytten

Since Norway’s formation as an independent sovereign state in 1814, its small open economy has, like its neighboring countries, experienced significant economic growth. During the last several decades petroleum has made the country one of the wealthiest in the world. The main reason for the long-term growth seems to have been the ability to meet international demand by utilizing rich natural resources, adopting efficient technology, and drawing on the labor force in order to gain high productivity. Historical national accounts reveal that Norway’s wealth was close to the Western European average during the early 19th century. From the 1840s to the mid-1870s, Norwegian growth rates were clearly better than average. This period was followed by relative stagnation until the 1890s, when the country saw rapid industrialization based on hydroelectricity. After the two World Wars Norway adopted a social democratic rule, with a high degree of economic planning, called the Nordic model. This has contributed to a large public sector and evenly distributed wealth and resources. The discovery of oil and gas on the Norwegian continental shelf marked a new era, when Norway experienced higher growth rates than most Western economies. This has made it the country with the highest score in the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) during the two first decades of the 21st century, despite a slowdown in growth after the financial crisis in 2008.

Article

Religiosity and Development  

Jeanet Sinding Bentzen

Economics of religion is the application of economic methods to the study of causes and consequences of religion. Ever since Max Weber set forth his theory of the Protestant ethic, social scientists have compared socioeconomic differences across Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, and Christians, and more recently across different intensities of religiosity. Religiosity refers to an individual’s degree of religious attendance and strength of beliefs. Religiosity rises with a growing demand for religion resulting from adversity and insecurity or a surging supply of religion stemming from increasing numbers of religious organizations, for instance. Religiosity has fallen in some Western countries since the mid-20th century, but has strengthened in several other societies around the world. Religion is a multidimensional concept, and religiosity has multiple impacts on socioeconomic outcomes, depending on the dimension observed. Religion covers public religious activities such as church attendance, which involves exposure to religious doctrines and to fellow believers, potentially strengthening social capital and trust among believers. Religious doctrines teach belief in supernatural beings, but also social views on hard work, refraining from deviant activities, and adherence to traditional norms. These norms and social views are sometimes orthogonal to the general tendency of modernization, and religion may contribute to the rising polarization on social issues regarding abortion, LGBT rights, women, and immigration. These norms and social views are again potentially in conflict with science and innovation, incentivizing some religious authorities to curb scientific progress. Further, religion encompasses private religious activities such as prayer and the particular religious beliefs, which may provide comfort and buffering against stressful events. At the same time, rulers may exploit the existence of belief in higher powers for political purposes. Empirical research supports these predictions. Consequences of higher religiosity include more emphasis on traditional values such as traditional gender norms and attitudes against homosexuality, lower rates of technical education, restrictions on science and democracy, rising polarization and conflict, and lower average incomes. Positive consequences of religiosity include improved health and depression rates, crime reduction, increased happiness, higher prosociality among believers, and consumption and well-being levels that are less sensitive to shocks.

Article

Studying Long-Term Changes in the Economy and Society Using the HISCO Family of Occupational Measures  

Marco H.D. van Leeuwen

Occupations are a key characteristic for analyzing momentous changes in economy and society. Classical economists rooted their analyses in occupational divisions, emphasizing the division of work and its continuous evolution. Modern economists and economic historians also debate the wealth of nations by looking at the global changes in the labor force, at changing labor force participation rates, at winners and losers in the class structure, and in variations in this across the globe—stressing the importance of human capital for work and of changes therein for economic growth. To study such momentous changes over past centuries, historical occupational data are needed as well as measures and procedures to work with these data systematically and comparatively. The Historical International Standard Classification of Occupations (HISCO) maps occupational titles into a common coding scheme across the globe. HISCO-based measures of economic sector and economic specialization have been derived. To answer a number of interesting questions, the HISCO family has been extended to include HISCO-based measures of social status (HISCAM) and social classes (HISCLASS). Armed with his toolbox, scholars are able to study the development of the economy and society over past centuries.