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You Reap What You Know: Observability of Soil Quality, and Political Fragmentation

Author

Listed:
  • Thilo R. Huning

    (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

  • Fabian Wahl

    (University of Hohenheim)

Abstract

We provide a theoretical model linking limits to the observability of soil quality to state rulers’ ability to tax agricultural output, which leads to a higher political fragmentation. We introduce a spatial measure to quantify state planners’ observability in an agricultural society. The model is applied to spatial variation in the 1378 Holy Roman Empire, the area with the highest political fragmentation in European history. We find that differences in the observability of agricultural output explain the size and capacity of states as well as the emergence and longevity of city states. Grid cells with higher observability of agricultural output intersect with a significantly lower number of territories within them. Our results highlight the role of agriculture and geography, for size, political, and economic organization of states. This sheds light on early, though persistent, determinants of industrial development within Germany, and also within Central Europe.

Suggested Citation

  • Thilo R. Huning & Fabian Wahl, 2016. "You Reap What You Know: Observability of Soil Quality, and Political Fragmentation," Working Papers 0101, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
  • Handle: RePEc:hes:wpaper:0101
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    File URL: http://www.ehes.org/EHES_101.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Gunes Gokmen & Wessel N. Vermeulen & Pierre-Louis Vézina, 2020. "The imperial roots of global trade," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 25(1), pages 87-145, March.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Principal-agent problem; soil quality; urbanization; political fragmentation; Holy Roman Empire;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • O42 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Monetary Growth Models
    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • N93 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design

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