Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Sometimes, I wonder about the disconnect between the time-scale of human life on the one hand, and of academia on the other. I have one paper that's been with a journal for 14 months now; some 3 months ago, I asked the editor about the state of play, and heard that he will make a decision "soon" [economists can probably guess which journal I am talking about - I hear a lot of really awful moaning and groaning about the very same journal from a lot of other people]. And there are papers that spent more years under submission and r+r [admittedly, at more than one journal] than it took to fight World War II...

Of course, many a paper improves immeasurably during the refereeing process. Now, Nico and I finally got our article about the Three Horsemen of Riches into the Review of Economic Studies:
How did Europe escape the "Iron Law of Wages?" We construct a simple Malthusian model with two sectors and multiple steady states, and use it to explain why European per capita incomes and urbanization rates increased during the period 1350-1700. Productivity growth can only explain a small fraction of the rise in output per capita. Population dynamics -- changes of the birth and death schedules -- were far more important determinants of steady states. We show how a major shock to population can trigger a transition to a new steady state with higher per-capita income. The Black Death was such a shock, raising wages substantially. Because of Engel's Law, demand for urban products increased, and urban centers grew in size. European cities were unhealthy, and rising urbanization pushed up aggregate death rates. This effect was reinforced by diseases spread through war, financed by higher tax revenues. In addition, rising trade also spread diseases. In this way higher wages themselves reduced population pressure. We show in a calibration exercise that our model can account for the sustained rise in European urbanization as well as permanently higher per capita incomes in 1700, without technological change. Wars contributed importantly to the 'Rise of Europe,' even if they had negative short-run effects. We thus trace Europe's precocious rise to economic riches to interactions of the plague shock with the belligerent political environment and the nature of cities.

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