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Gifts of Mars: Warfare and Europe's Early Rise to Riches

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  • Nico Voigtl?nder
  • Hans-Joachim Voth

Abstract

Western Europe surged ahead of the rest of the world long before technological growth became rapid. Europe in 1500 already had incomes twice as high on a per capita basis as Africa, and one-third greater than most of Asia. In this essay, we explain how Europe's tumultuous politics and deadly penchant for warfare translated into a sustained advantage in per capita incomes. We argue that Europe's rise to riches was driven by the nature of its politics after 1350 -- it was a highly fragmented continent characterized by constant warfare and major religious strife. No other continent in recorded history fought so frequently, for such long periods, killing such a high proportion of its population. When it comes to destroying human life, the atomic bomb and machine guns may be highly efficient, but nothing rivaled the impact of early modern Europe's armies spreading hunger and disease. War therefore helped Europe's precocious rise to riches because the survivors had more land per head available for cultivation. Our interpretation involves a feedback loop from higher incomes to more war and higher land-labor ratios, a loop set in motion by the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century.

Suggested Citation

  • Nico Voigtl?nder & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2013. "Gifts of Mars: Warfare and Europe's Early Rise to Riches," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(4), pages 165-186, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:27:y:2013:i:4:p:165-86
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.4.165
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.27.4.165
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Mark Dincecco & Massimiliano Gaetano Onorato, 2016. "Military conflict and the rise of urban Europe," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 21(3), pages 259-282, September.
    2. repec:eee:exehis:v:64:y:2017:i:c:p:1-20 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Ko, Chiu Yu & Koyama, Mark & Sng, Tuan-Hwee, 2014. "Unified China; Divided Europe," MPRA Paper 60418, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Mushed, Syed Mansoob & Tadjoeddin, Mohammad Zulfan, 2015. "Political economy of the Indonesian mass killing of 1965-1966," MPRA Paper 64878, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Cormac Ó Gráda, 2016. "“The Last, the Most Dreadful Resource of Nature”: Economic-Historical Reflections on Famine," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 44(2), pages 225-241, June.
    6. Traviss Cassidy & Mark Dincecco & Massimiliano Gaetano Onorato, 2015. "The Economic Legacy of Warfare: Evidence from European Regions," Working Papers 6/2015, IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca, revised Jul 2015.
    7. Ho, Chi Pui, 2016. "Industrious Selection: Explaining Five Revolutions and Two Divergences in Eurasian Economic History within a Unified Growth Framework," MPRA Paper 73862, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. Davide Fiaschi & Tamara Fioroni, 2014. "Transition to Modern Growth: the Role of Technological Progress and Adult Mortality," Discussion Papers 2014/186, Dipartimento di Economia e Management (DEM), University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N43 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence

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