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All that glitters: Precious metals, rent seeking and the decline of Spain

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  • DRELICHMAN, MAURICIO

Abstract

I argue that Spain s long-term economic stagnation in the seventeenth century and beyond was the result of a process triggered by the windfall acquisition of precious metals from American mines, and driven by the consolidation of absolutist rule and the peculiar privilege structure of Spanish society in the sixteenth century. American treasure allowed the Spanish monarchs to command large amounts of credit and pursue an expansive imperial policy unlike that of any other Early Modern nation; when the cost of the Empire increased and mineral rents fell, the Crown increased the fiscal pressure while allowing skilled human capital to migrate into the tax-sheltered but largely unproductive nobility. I first provide evidence on the role of the silver windfall and the acquisition of nobility titles in the sixteenth century; of particular interest is a new data series of nobility lawsuits constructed from the population of cases housed at the Archive of the Royal Chancery Court in Valladolid. I then develop a unified theoretical framework that explains imperial policy as an optimal response given the existing institutions and the natural resource windfall, recreates the rent-seeking path followed by the Spanish Crown when mineral rents proved insufficient, and accounts for the long-term economic backwardness that Spain experienced in the following centuries as the result of an institutional lock-in.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal European Review of Economic History.

Volume (Year): 9 (2005)
Issue (Month): 03 (December)
Pages: 313-336

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Handle: RePEc:cup:ereveh:v:9:y:2005:i:03:p:313-336_00

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  1. Kevin M. Murphy & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1990. "The Allocation of Talent: Implicationsfor Growth," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 65, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  2. Mauricio Drelichman, 2004. "The Curse of Moctezuma: American Silver and the Dutch Disease, 1501-1650," Economic History 0404001, EconWPA.
  3. Asea, Patrick K. & Lahiri, Amartya, 1999. "The precious bane," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 23(5-6), pages 823-849, April.
  4. Murphy, Kevin M & Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1993. "Why Is Rent-Seeking So Costly to Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 409-14, May.
  5. Baland, Jean-Marie & Francois, Patrick, 2000. "Rent-seeking and resource booms," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(2), pages 527-542, April.
  6. Torvik, Ragnar, 2002. "Natural resources, rent seeking and welfare," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 455-470, April.
  7. North, Douglass C. & Weingast, Barry R., 1989. "Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(04), pages 803-832, December.
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Cited by:
  1. Vidal-Robert, Jordi, 2014. "Long-run effects of the Spanish Inquisition," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 192, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  2. Berumen, Sergio A., 2012. "Evaluación del impacto de la política de incentivos sectoriales en el desarrollo de los municipios mineros de Castilla y León," Journal of Economics, Finance and Administrative Science, Universidad ESAN, vol. 17(33), pages 15-30.
  3. repec:cge:warwcg:118 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Nils-Petter Lagerlöf & Thomas Tangerås, 2008. "From rent seeking to human capital: a model where resource shocks cause transitions from stagnation to growth," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 41(3), pages 760-780, August.
  5. Vidal-Robert, Jordi, 2013. "War and Inquisition: Repression in Early Modern Spain," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 119, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).

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