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The Three Horsemen of Riches: Plague, War, and Urbanization in Early Modern Europe

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  • Hans-Joachim Voth

Abstract

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. Copyright 2013, Oxford University Press.

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Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Review of Economic Studies.

Volume (Year): 80 (2013)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 774-811

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Handle: RePEc:oup:restud:v:80:y:2013:i:2:p:774-811

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  1. War was good
    by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2008-11-11 11:26:00
  2. “The Three Horsemen of Riches: Plague, War and Urbanization in Early Modern Europe,” N. Voigtlander & H.-J. Voth (2012)
    by afinetheorem in A Fine Theorem on 2012-05-30 05:02:00
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Cited by:
  1. Holger Strulik, 2012. "From Worship to Worldly Pleasures: Secularization and Long-Run Economic Growth," Courant Research Centre: Poverty, Equity and Growth - Discussion Papers, Courant Research Centre PEG 116, Courant Research Centre PEG.
  2. Strulik, Holger, 2012. "Knowledge and growth in the very long run," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics 145, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
  3. Cogneau, Denis, 2010. "The political dimension of inequality during economic development," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Docweb), CEPREMAP 1013, CEPREMAP.
  4. Nicola Gennaioli & Joachim Voth, 2011. "State capacity and military conflict," Economics Working Papers, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra 1294, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 2013.
  5. Michael Bar & Oksana Leukhina, 2009. "The Role of Mortality in the Transmission of Knowledge," DEGIT Conference Papers, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade c014_021, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
  6. Lagerlöf, Nils-Petter, 2014. "Population, technology and fragmentation: The European miracle revisited," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 87-105.
  7. Voigtländer, Nico & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2009. "The Three Horsemen of Growth: Plague, War and Urbanization in Early Modern Europe," CEPR Discussion Papers, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers 7275, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. Lemin Wu & Rohan Dutta & David K Levine & Nicholas W Papageorge, 2014. "Entertaining Malthus: Bread, Circuses and Economic Growth," Levine's Bibliography 786969000000000853, UCLA Department of Economics.
  9. repec:got:cegedp:145 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Emilio Depetris-Chauvin & David N. Weil, 2013. "Malaria and Early African Development: Evidence from the Sickle Cell Trait," NBER Working Papers 19603, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Dietrich Vollrath, 2011. "The agricultural basis of comparative development," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, Springer, vol. 16(4), pages 343-370, December.

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