Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Call for submissions: FIFTH EREH FAST TRACK MEETING, December 2020.

The previous fast track meetings were held in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2017 in Paris, Lisbon and London, organized by the European Historical Economics Society and the editors of the European Review of Economic History. They resulted in the publication of several high-quality papers in the European Review of Economic History. The idea of the meeting is to provide feedback and coaching to junior scholars (those no more than five years from completion of their PhD) working in any field of Economic History and to give them a chance to see their articles appear in print quickly.


Those interested should submit their papers to European Review of Economic History, via the manuscript central system -https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/ereh- no later than 30th November 2020. When submitting through manuscript central, please mention in the cover letter that you would like your paper considered for Fast Track.


The most promising papers will be selected for the Fast Track Meeting by the editors. This meeting will take place online between 15th and 22nd December (time/date for presentations will be adjusted to authors’ constraints). The presentations will be attended by the editors and a group of external referees. The objective of this meeting is to improve the quality of the submissions and to streamline the process of refereeing. We recognize that diverse ideas, experiences, backgrounds and perspectives are fundamental to successful publication and we are committed to ensuring that this panel is inclusive, diverse, and representative of the broad Economic History community.   

The editorial board commits to returning editorial decisions and referee reports to the authors by January 2021.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

The Past’s Long Shadow: Network analysis of Economic History

Author: Gregori Galofré-Vilà (Postdoctoral Researcher at Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Barcelona Institute of Political Economy and Governance).

This column uses network analysis to review the development of economic history over the last 40 years. It shows how economic historians are interconnected through their research, which scholars are most cited by their peers, and the main debates within the discipline. The survey also shows that after 2000, the number of publications rapidly accelerated. This rise has been driven by research conducted at continental European universities instead of those from the US and UK.

Economic history has emerged as a crucial discipline to understand how our past was shaped by the different economic trends and forces and, crucially, to inform our thinking about our present and future economic realities (Abramitzky 2015; Diebolt and Haupert 2018; Eichengreen 2018; Margo 2018). Therefore, as an academic field, it has an enormous potential to contribute to many crucial debates in economics and public policy. Hence, it is a matter of great interest to elucidate how this area of academic inquiry has evolved in terms of its central debates and publishing trends.
By using the details of articles published in the main eight journals in economic history since 1980 (Table 1), in this column I review the development of the discipline by using network analysis, mapping out disciplinary silos in authorship and areas of inquiry in economic history.[1] Although economic history goes beyond what is being published in economic history journals (of course, journals in economics, demography and sociology also publish the findings of economic historians),[2] it seems reasonable to focus on papers published by the top economic history journals, namely, those publishing articles in economic history broadly-construed and, hence, capturing the main debates and interests in the research area under scrutiny here.

Table 1. Journals included in the review

Network analysis in Economic History
Figure 1 shows the relatedness among economic history. Network analysis is based on the assumption that authors cited together share some kind of intellectual affinity. Hence, a network map captures how authors (and, consequently, the ideas and debates associated with them) sit in relation to each other across the field. In the network map, bubble sizes (nodes) correspond to the number of citations received by each author, while the distance between bubbles corresponds to the tendency for authors to be cited together within articles. Clusters (represented by different colors) group together bubbles (i.e. authors) that display some degree of similarity according to research topics or debates.
As reflected by the bubble size and position, the most important economic historian in the network is Jeffrey Williamson. Williamson is well-known for showing that globalization began in the early 19th century and not before (during the time of Columbus) and for exploring America’s income distribution since 1650. He is followed by Robert Allen, who defended a ‘high wage economy’ thesis for England to industrialize first; Nicholas Crafts, who conducted research on growth accounting and England’s industrialization; Richard Steckel, who shed new light on the health of the slaves in the US South and the development of well-being in America and Europe over the very long-run; and Peter Lindert, who explored the causes and effects of modern fiscal redistribution and the interaction between social spending and economic growth. From a list including 325 scholars, other well-positioned economic historians in the network are Gregory Clark, Jan Luiten van Zanden, Sara Horrell, Stephen Broadberry, Joerg Baten, Jane Humphries, Knick Harley, John Komlos, Robert Margo, Cormac Ó Gráda, David Jacks, John Turner, Kevin O’Rourke, Deborah Oxley, Price Fishback and Hans-Joachim Voth.

Figure 1. Authors’ publications

Network analysis also allows us to visualize what economic historians are doing research on and the main debates within the discipline. Figure 2 maps the keywords listed in the articles studied. Research on economic growth (yellow bubbles), i.e. exploring why some countries became rich while others stayed poor, has been the most important area in terms of publications. Another vigorous area of research has been the social history of demography (blue bubbles), that is, exploring changes in fertility, health and mortality. Green bubbles correspond to papers devoted to changes in inequality driven by wealth, labor markets and migration; while bubbles in turquoise (tracking keywords such as ‘revolution’, ‘real wages’ and ‘property rights’) connect with yellow and blue bubbles at the crowded center of the network and with some thematic areas (red bubbles) such as market, economic depressions, the gold standard and the railroads. Red bubbles also include some statistical keywords such as ‘models’, ‘time-series’ and ‘cointegration’, which display the important component of statistics in the discipline.

Figure 2. Thematic areas

Recent trends in publications
Finally, a look at the number of publications in the main economic history journals (Figure 3), reveals that the number of publications was fairly constant between 1980 and 2000 and then rapidly accelerated after 2000. This rise after 2000 has been driven by a shift in publication distribution from the US/UK to continental Europe.[3]
The percentage of articles published in the top economic history journals by scholars working in US universities plummeted between 1980 and today (going from 60% to 30% of all scholars), whereas economic historians working in UK and non-European universities (chiefly, Canada, Australia and Japan) maintained their publication shares at 17% and 14%, respectively. Hence, the rise in the number of publications since the early 2000s appears to be due to continental European-based economic historians; countries most responsible for the change in the publication trend were Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy.
European universities are not only the ones leading the discipline in terms of quantity (number of publications), but also in terms of quality as measured by the adjusted number of citations.[4] For instance, since 2010, these universities received, on average, 5.5 citations for published paper, compared to 5.3 in the UK, 4.2 in the US, and 3.8 outside these three areas. This hierarchy differs from earlier periods. For 1980-1989, the US was the leader in accumulating citations (18.8 citations per paper), followed by the UK (15.0), Europe (13.0), and other areas (12.7). For the period 1990 and 1999, the UK received 17.6 citations per paper, compared to the US (15.7), Europe (14.6), and outside these three areas (11.6).[5]

Figure 3. Journal’s publications and publications by main continental areas

The present study shows that economic history is a dynamic discipline: the evolution of publication trends speaks to the changes in the distribution of academic excellence, and there is clear evidence that a healthy variety of topics capture the attention of researchers across the globe. We cannot know how the field will evolve but, as we enter the third decade of the 21st century, economic historians have every reason to look without complacency but with confidence and excitement at an increasingly open-ended and diverse future based on what we have learnt from our past.

Abramitzky, R., 2015. "Economics and the Modern Economic Historian," Journal of Economic History 75: 1240-1251.
Diebolt, C., Haupert, M., 2018. "We Are Ninjas: How Economic History has Infiltrated Economics," Unpublished manuscript.
Eichengreen, B., 2018. The Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in the Modern Era. Oxford University Press.
Galofré-Vilà, G., 2020. "The Past’s Long Shadow. A Systematic Review and Network Analysis of Economic History," Research in Economic History (Forthcoming in vol. 36).
Margo, R. A., 2018. "The Integration of Economic History into Economics," Cliometrica 12:3, 377-406.

[1] For more details see Galofré-Vilà (2020).
[2] For instance, economic history papers published in the top-five economic journals are narrowly focused on persistence studies that explain present outcomes as a function of events in the distant past. The paper from Acemoglu Johnson and Robinson ‘Reversal of Fortune’ is a good example of this practice.
[3] While the rise of publications by scholars in European universities correlates with the launch of two European journals (EREH and CLIO), the appearance of these two European journals does not seem to explain the success of European scholars. Nearly half of the articles published by these two journals were signed by non-European scholars and since 2000 European based scholars also increased their share in Anglo-Saxon journals.
[4] The EU-14 group consists of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
[5] Naturally, older papers are more likely to accumulate citations.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Secular stagnation and the global surge in house prices

by Julius Probst

The decline in global real interest rates

Back in 2013, Larry Summers started to believe that most advanced economies have entered a new macroeconomic regime, a prolonged period of lower economic growth as a result of insufficient aggregate demand. In a recent piece, I argued that Summers' revival of the secular stagnation hypothesis has been the most important contribution to modern macroeconomics (Probst, 2019a). According to the secular stagnation theory, a combination of macroeconomic factors have pushed down real interest rates on a global level. These forces include adverse demographics, falling productivity growth, and rising inequality. With the decline in interest rates, Central Banks increasingly struggle to keep the economy at full employment because they cannot reduce interest rates substantially below zero. Therefore, many countries will also have a higher risk of experiencing recessions and might suffer from prolonged negative output gaps when interest rates remain constrained by the so-called effective lower bound (Summers, 2015; 2016).

The chart below displays the secular downward trend of real interest rates for the Japan, the US, the UK, and the Eurozone. Most other rich economies have suffered the same fate since the 1980s. A lot of economic research has shown that global interest rates have declined significantly and that they are nowadays at record-low levels across advanced economies since the late 19th century (Probst, 2019c, Schmelzing, 2017). Some economists have even suggested that current interest rates have never been that low throughout human history since the early Antiquity (Haldane, 2015). The decline in interest rates also had the unintended side-effect of pushing up the price of financial assets around the world, both stock markets and real estate.

Figure 1: Real Interest rates
CB policy rates minus CPI, 1 year MA

Source: Macrobond

The global surge in real estate prices

The second figure below shows that inflation-adjusted house prices have almost tripled across many advanced economies since the end of Bretton Woods in the early 1970s. This has especially been the case for Anglo-Saxon economies, but the social-democratic economies of Scandinavia have been severely affected as well. While increasing financialization and the globalization of capital flows probably also played their part in pushing up local real estate prices in global cities like London, New York, and Paris, etc., researchers at the Bank of England have argued that a significant part of the increase is due to the decline in global real interest rates. The reason is simple. The value of any financial asset is simply the net present value of all its future cash flows discounted at the rate of interest. As interest rates decline, future cash flows become more valuable and therefore the fundamental value of the financial asset increases.

Figure 2: Real house prices, Dallas Fed Price Index
Source: Macrobond

A standard way of pricing financial assets is by using the dividend discount model, according to which the net present value (NPV) of a financial asset is given by the sum of all future cash flows (R) discounted by the rate of interest (i):

While the formula is usually applied to stock prices, it is equally valid to use it for housing or other investments. As inflation-adjusted interest rates have declined significantly across the world in recent decades (and the same is true for nominal interest rates), the price of real estate and other financial assets increases as future cash flows are now discounted at a lower rate of interest. Halving the rate of interest would roughly correspond to a doubling of financial asset prices. It therefore stands to reason that the secular downward trend of interest rates has indeed contributed to a large extent to the spectacular surge in house prices across advanced economies.

Germany and Japan are the outliers

However, the researchers from the Bank of England might have gone one step too far in attributing almost the entirety of the increase in house prices to falling interest rates. Dwellings are after all not only a financial asset, but they also provide us with one of the most important services in life, namely housing. The demand for housing in large metropolitan areas has increased significantly in recent decades as most jobs high-income jobs have been created in the large agglomerations. The forces of economic geography have increasingly favored big cities since the 1990s while more rural regions have largely lost out (Florida, 2016). This has been the case in the US, but also in most European countries like Germany, the UK, and Sweden. Consequently, house prices have performed extremely different across regions within countries. Furthermore, there also seem to be vast differences internationally. While some countries have seen their house prices explode in recent decades, mostly a combination of stronger population growth and restricted supply, other countries have experienced a very different trend. Most noticeably, real house prices in Germany and Japan have stayed relatively flat for a longer time period (see below). Japan has seen stagnating house prices for more than 2 decades since the explosion of its asset price bubble in the early 1990s while Germany’s house prices have only started to catch up to the international trend very recently. This suggests that supply-side factors are also extremely important in determining house prices. According to the following statistic, the metropolitan area of Tokyo added more individual housing units in 2014 than the entire country of England. Consequently, house prices in Tokyo have experienced a very different trend than most other metropolitan areas around the world where supply has been much more constrained.

Figure 3: Real house prices, Dallas Fed Price Index. Germany and Japan
Source: Macrobond


Summing up, the evidence for secular stagnation seems to be increasing as advanced economies continue to suffer from even lower interest rates and economic growth rates than what was widely expected just a few years ago (Probst, 2019a; 2019b). Moreover, this does not seem to reverse any time soon as financial markets have priced in low interest rates for the foreseeable future. Secular stagnation also had the undesirable side-effect of bidding up house prices around the world as a result of low interest rates. However, the financial blog by the Bank of England might have somewhat overstated its case. Dwellings are not only a financial asset, but also a real commodity. While the entire advanced world has suffered from low interest rates during the last decade, supply-side constraints can explain why San Francisco or New York have experienced exploding house prices whereas this has not been the case in Tokyo, for example.

·         Florida, R. (2016). Winner-take-all urbanism: Geographic divisions in the modern era. Brown J. World Aff., 23, 103.
·         Gordon, M. J. (1962). The investment, financing, and valuation of the corporation. Homewood, IL: RD Irwin.
·         Haldane, A. (2015). Stuck. Bank of England Speeches.
·         Probst, J. (2019a). Lawrence Summers Deserves a Nobel Prize for Reviving the Theory of Secular Stagnation. Econ Journal Watch, 16(2), 342.
·         Probst, J. (2019b). Secular stagnation: it’s time to admit that Larry Summers was right about this global economic growth trap. The Conversation.
·         Probst, J. (2019c). Global real interest rate dynamics from the late 19th century to today. International Review of Economics & Finance, 59, 522-547.
·         Schmelzing, P. (2017). Eight Centuries of the Risk-Free Rate: Bond Market Reversals from the Venetians to the ‘VaR Shock’.
·         Summers, L. H. (2015). Demand side secular stagnation. American Economic Review, 105(5), 60-65.
·         Summers, L. H. (2016). The age of secular stagnation: What it is and what to do about it. Foreign Aff., 95, 2.

Julius Probst is a Customer Specialist at Macrobond Financial, a macroeconomic search engine and analysis tool and provider of financial time series data. Previously, he was a PhD student at the Economic History Department at Lund University and a PhD trainee at the ECB. He also has a blog on macroeconomics at macrothoughts.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Sex ratios and missing girls in 19th-century Greece

The “missing girls” phenomenon, arising from discriminatory practices that result in excess female mortality early in life, has been especially dramatic in China and India. Analyzing sex ratios, the number of boys per hundred girls, in 19th-century Europe, recent research suggests that these practices could have also been present in some European regions. One of the countries where the relative number of boys was more extreme is Greece, so our current work sheds more light on this particular case.

The previous images refer to The Murderess, a short story written by Alexandros Papadiamantis in 1903, that provides a bleak picture of the fate of Greek women at that time. Reflecting on her own life, the central female character realizes that there is nothing worse than being born a woman and this thought leads her to kill a series of young girls, including her new-born niece, almost as a mercy to save them from a gloomy future. This story is probably an exaggeration but the evidence we have gathered suggests that the mortality rates of Greek girls was much higher than what would have been normal in the absence of discriminatory practices.

Apart from abundant anecdotal evidence on son preference and the discrimination suffered by many girls, the Greek population censuses in the late-19th- and early-20th-century clearly point to the existence of “missing girls”.  During the period 1879-1920, the sex ratio under 5 years old ranged between 106.7 and 109.5 boys per hundred girls. These figures are abnormally high because, as explained here, the gender-neutral sex ratio should be lower than 101-102. The quality of Greek birth registers was lacking but this source also points in the same direction: the sex ratio at birth was around 111 and 119 boys per hundred girls in 1860 and 1884, respectively. Greek families also seem to have abandoned many more girls than boys, at least in the foundling hospitals studied in Athens, Hermoupolis and Kephallenia.

Although it is plausible that the under-reporting of girls might be behind these figures, there are different reasons that preclude this possibility. Firstly, as already mentioned, there is abundant qualitative evidence suggesting that discriminatory practices were not exceptions but the norm. Moreover, the 1880 census itself explains that the statistical authorities were expecting boys, not girls, to be under-reported due to the military purpose of the census. In addition, if under-registration was an issue, it was surely more important at birth or during the first year of life. The Greek sex ratios, however, increased as children grew older. The next figure shows how the sex ratio of children aged 5-9 was higher than that of younger children (aged 0-4), especially up to 1920. This evidence not only suggests that female under-reporting was not an issue, but also that gender discrimination continued unduly increasing female mortality rates as girls got older.

Sex ratios at age 0-4 and 5-9, 1879-2001

The sex ratios of different age-groups also correlate quite well at the province level. If under-registration was affecting some areas, girls would eventually show up in the census when older, thus reducing the correlation coefficient. This was not the case. Lastly, the contemporaneous US censuses (where most Greeks migrated during this period) also confirmed that the relative number of boys and girls born in the US from Greek parents was very similar to the figures found in the motherland censuses. 

What was happening? It is difficult to be precise but it is likely that both female infanticide and different degrees of neglect during infancy and childhood unduly increased female mortality early in life. Regarding the latter and in a context of generalized poverty where infant and child mortality was really high, an unequal allocation of resources within the household in the way that young girls were fed or treated when ill, as well as in the amount of work which they were entrusted with, was likely to have resulted in more girls dying from the combined effect of malnutrition and illness. It seems also that discriminatory practices were stronger (or had a clearer effect due to lack of resources) in large families.

Why were Greek girls discriminated? Although there is not just one factor behind this behaviour, the most important one is probably the dowry. Marrying their daughters was one of the main duties of Greek parents and this was connected to how generous the dowry was. In poor families, and especially in those with several daughters, girls were a heavy burden. The analysis of the regional variation in sex ratios also indicates that excess female mortality was higher in those areas where female labour opportunities were scarce. In any case, our work stresses that gender discrimination constituted an important problem in 19th-century Greece, an issue that has long been neglected despite all the hints that pointed in that direction.

Beltrán Tapia, F.J. and Raftakis, M., ‘All little girls, the bad luck!’ Sex ratios and gender discrimination in 19th-century Greece, EHES Working Paper 172 (November 2019).
A Spanish versión of this post was published in Nada es Gratis in December 4, 2019.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

“Cholera Forcing” and the Urban Water Infrastructure: Lessons from Historical Berlin

Kalle Kappner

    Over the last decade, the role of modern water supply and sewage disposal infrastructure in the West’s 19th and early 20th century urban mortality transition has attracted renewed attention among economic historians and development economists (Harris and Helgertz, 2019). A robust conclusion of this literature is that access to tap water and sanitary sewers was crucial in turning cities from hotspots of infectious diseases to evermore healthy places. However, the causal mechanisms linking patterns of declining mortality and expanding access to modern water infrastructure are still poorly understood. In particular, should the emergence of urban sanitation be seen as a rational, indeed inevitable reaction to the 19th century’s recurrent epidemic shocks and elevated urban mortality rates, an idea that Christopher Hamlin (2009) termed “cholera forcing”?

    In a recent EHES working paper, I retrace Berlin’s long and bumpy road to safe water conditions, challenging popular narratives that interpret modern water infrastructure as an efficient, scientifically motivated answer to Europe’s recurrent cholera epidemics since 1831. To the contrary, Berlin’s experience suggests a highly complicated relationship between urban epidemics, their statistical, proto-epidemiological examination, and water management reform. Far from serving as “our old ally”, an attribute later assigned by urban hygienist Robert Koch, cholera turned out not only a weak motivator, but in fact an ambiguous one.

    “The Great World Pestilence” in Berlin

    Quite representative in the Western European context, 19th century Berlin suffered from a characteristic “urban mortality penalty”, partly fuelled by periodic outbreaks of epidemic diseases. Cholera was not the most fatal, but arguably the scariest and most unpredictable member of Berlin’s disease panorama, amounting to almost 19,000 documented deaths in between 1831 and 1873.

    figure 1 a

    figure 1 b
    Figure 1a and 1b: Cholera incidence and Crude Death Rates in Berlin, 1830-1880

    In hindsight, it is not hard to understand why cholera raged in a repeated, yet seemingly erratic fashion. Berlin had experienced rapid population growth since the 1850s, bringing about the typical problems of increasing density, pollution, congestion and the consequent spread of infectious diseases. Commercial travelers repeatedly carried vibrio cholerae from the East and introduced the bacillus into the local cesspools, which in turn contaminated the water of nearby wells, spreading the diseases among the population. Berlin’s international connections, dense living conditions and inadequate sanitary conditions rendered the city an ideal transitional habitat.

    On Unwanted Tap Water and Miasmatic Plague Tubes

    Roughly 25 years after its first acquaintance with cholera, Berlin began a lengthy path to safe water conditions, substituting an essentially medieval infrastructure based on pump wells, cesspits, open gutters and the river Spree’s natural absorption capabilities by relatively clean tap water and sanitary sewers that disposed waste in the rural hinterlands.

    figure 2a

    figure 2b

    Figure 2a and 2b: Share of lots connected to the tap water supply and sewers in Berlin, 1850-1900

    Initially, recurrent epidemic shocks played hardly any motivating role. By the 1850s, it was aesthetic rather than sanitary concerns that brought the construction of a modern tap water network on the municipal agenda. However, a combination of misaligned economic incentives, low public demand, conflict over fiscal and administrative responsibilities, and, crucially, a lack of understanding of cholera’s fecal-oral transmission route ensured that the spatial expansion of the network was slow, reaching full coverage only by the 1890s. Moreover, there is evidence that failure to understand the adverse repercussions that an ample tap water supply would have on an urban water cycle still lacking safe sewage disposal contributed to the urban health crisis and cholera’s incidence in particular, as suggested by the disease’s forceful comeback in 1866.

    It took another 25 years until the issue of complementary sewers would be tackled. Analysis of contemporary discourse reveals that, while cholera’s continued appearance clearly motivated some sanitary reform, physicians, public health advocates, urban planners, and the general public for a long time disagreed on the shape that such reforms should take on. Were sewers preferable to manual disposal via containers and haulers? Was the strict separation of liquid waste from excrement and other organic waste preferable to mixed sewers that promised dilution of the contaminated material? Should waste be left to the river’s natural cleaning capabilities or were sediments and the soil’s microorganisms a more reliable disinfector? And what about dangerous, disease-ridden “sewer gases” that could spread via underground plague tubes? Far from suggesting a straight road to a unique sanitary solution, prevailing miasmatic theories were vague enough to levy arguments for competing solutions to the mounting urban health crises.

    The Data Did Not Speak

    In hindsight, it is tempting to interpret this lengthy transition phase as a result of technical, financial and political hurdles counteracting the inevitable triumph of rational approaches to the problems of cholera and infectious disease. However, a closer look at the epistemological struggles of contemporary Berlin’s health officers and medical statisticians suggests that the relationship between the extensive proto-epidemiological analysis of infectious diseases and efficient sanitary reform was highly ambiguous.

    Not only did the collection of ever larger amounts of data fail to yield any compelling reasons to rely on clean drinking water and sanitary sewers, as opposed to a myriad of competing policy recommendation focussing on ventilation, cleansing of the soil or quarantine. Moreover, the lack of adequate mathematical and statistical tools proved fatal for the proto-epidemiological approach to unraveling cholera’s complex properties. Well into the 1880s, Berlin’s health statisticians were forced to retreat to the role of mere documenters as prevailing miasma theories proved too blunt an instrument to cut through the jungle of cholera’s complex spatiotemporal patterns. The “myth of John Snow” (McLeod, 2000) notwithstanding, Berlin’s experience suggests that observational data and inductive logic did not suffice to set the urban health community on the right track and induce crucial investments into the urban water infrastructure. To the contrary, unable to free itself from the vagueness of miasma theory, proto-epidemiology turned out more an obstacle, rather than a driver of knowledge generation.

    “Cholera Forcing”: Tales, Realities, and Implications

    What lessons does a careful reinterpretation of the Western urban sanitation transition promise? Of course, there is no immediate danger of history repeating itself, as comprehension of both cholera’s etiology and the importance of safe water systems dramatically improved. Still, the absence of any automatisms in the Western cholera-sanitation-nexus at the least suggests a cautious interpretation of the disease’s potential to induce change.

    Powerful narratives of the West’s past struggle are highly consequential regarding the attitudes, recommendation, and modes of assistance that today’s developing world receives (Konteh, 2009). While it originates from a misleading backward extrapolation of modern technocratic approaches and scientific knowledge to the past, the real danger of the “cholera forcing” narrative arises when extrapolation of an imagined Western past serves as the basis for present policy recommendations.


    Hamlin, Christopher, 2009: “Cholera Forcing”. The Myth of the Good Epidemic and the Coming of Good Water, American Journal of Public Health 99(11), 1946-1954, doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.165688
    Harris, Bernard & Jonas Helgertz, 2019: Urban Sanitation and the Decline of Mortality, The History of the Family 24(2), 207-226, doi: 10.1080/1081602X.2019.1605923
    Kappner, Kalle, 2019: “Cholera Forcing” and the Urban Water Infrastructure: Lessons from Historical Berlin, EHES Working Paper 167
    Konteh, Frederick Hassan, 2009: Urban Sanitation and Health in the Developing World: Reminiscing the Nineteenth Century Industrial Nations, Health & Place 15(1), 69-78, doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2008.02.003
    McLeod, Kari S., 2000: Our Sense of Snow: The Myth of John Snow in Medical Geography, Social Science & Medicine 50(7-8), 923-935, doi: 10.1016/S0277-9536(99)00345-7

    Kalle Kapner is currently at Humboldt University of Berlin. Find more of his work here: https://hu-berlin.academia.edu/KalleKappner

    Wednesday, 8 January 2020

    From West to East: Bolivian regional GDPs since the 1950s

    José Peres-Cajías
    Universitat de Barcelona

    The political disruption that is taking place worldwide during the last years has prompted the proliferation of analyses (in academia and beyond) that link current vote decisions with particular regional economic and political legacies. Economic historians can offer critical insights to this public debate and the reconstruction of regional GDPs is one alternative of doing so (see here for a discussion on the European case).

    Taking into account recent methodological advances and the long-standing importance of the spatial dimension (both in economic and political terms) in the Latin American literature, a group of scholars lead the reconstruction of regional GDPs in the region. Part of the outcomes of this collective effort will be published in a volume this year, which includes the working paper that I published in the European Historical Economics Society (EEHS).

    The paper reconstructs the evolution of Bolivian regional GDPs from the 1950s onwards. Beyond the contribution to the Bolivian historiography, I suggest that the study of the Bolivian case may offer alternative insights to the international debate because of the landlocked nature of the country. Indeed, because of this feature, the location of economic activity can be highly influenced by investments in public infrastructure. 

    The study shows that, in contrast to most of Latin American experiences, the relative importance of Bolivian regions varied importantly throughout time. Initially, I prove this idea through the analysis of regional population data, which is available since 1846 (two decades after Independence, 1825). For instance, whereas the relative importance of the department of La Paz maintained somehow stable around 30% of total Bolivian population since 1846 to 2012, there is a clear reversal of fortune between Potosi (seat of the famous colonial mining center) and Santa Cruz: the relative importance of the former dropped from 16% (1846) to 8% (2012) and that of the latter increased from 6% (1846) to 26% (2012).

    Map 1. The Relative Importance of Bolivian Departments
    (Bolivian pc GDP=1), 1950
    Thereafter, the analysis focuses on regional GDPs. The study starts in 1950 given the lack of reliable and sufficient information that allows estimating regional agriculture GDPs. When we look at regional GDP pc as a fraction of the national GDP pc, there is a clear change in the relative importance of Bolivian regions (see Maps 1 and 2). For instance, the GDP pc of the southern department of Tarija was well below the national average in 1950 but became the highest during the last years.

    Changes are also noticeable when the relative importance of regional GDP to national GDP is evaluated. For instance, the relative importance of the western departments of La Paz, Oruro, and Potosí decreased from 35%, 10% and 18% of GDP in 1950, to 25%, 6%, and 8% during the last years. By contrast, the size of the economy of Santa Cruz was less than 10% of total GDP in 1950, became the second most important in the 1960s, and the biggest since the mid-1990s, absorbing almost 30% of the Bolivian GDP in recent years. Thus, since the 1950s, there has been a progressive change to the center of gravity of the Bolivian economy, from a north-south axis located in western departments to a west-east axis where La Paz and Cochabamba remain critical but Santa Cruz consolidated as the most dynamic.

    Map 2.  The Relative Importance of Bolivian Departments 
    (Bolivian pc GDP=1), 2012

    In contrast to the European experience or other cases in Latin America, the location of industries hardly is the driving force of these changes. Indeed, the relative importance of manufacture production in Bolivia remained stagnant around 15% of total GDP from the 1940s onwards. By contrast, the evolution of Bolivian regional economies seems to be more connected with the existence of particular natural resources endowments: mineral resources in the case of western economies, fertile lands and oil reserves in Santa Cruz and oil reserves in Tarija.

    However, these natural resources became economically significant thanks to public infrastructure and some institutional arrangements. Indeed, the prevalence of western departments during the first half of the 20th century is linked to the solution of border controversies with neighboring countries and the construction of a railways network that allowed to export minerals through the Pacific Ocean. Similarly, it was thanks to the National Agrarian Reform of 1953 and the inauguration of the highway between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz in 1954 that migrants could move from west to east and agriculture products from east to west. Likewise, the consolidation of Tarija is related with the long negotiation process between Brazil and Bolivia (early 1970s-early 1990s) and the construction of a gas pipeline between these two countries. In the end, this is good news: the economic fate of Bolivian regions is highly interrelated with natural resources endowments…but not only, so there is space for public policies.

    José Peres-Cajías is Beatriu de Pinós Research Fellow at the Economics History Department, Universitat de Barcelona; more about his research can be read on his personal website.