The diffusion of the printing press in Europe, 1450-1500

These maps are just too pretty not to re-post. They come from Jeremiah Dittmar’s fascinating new paper, Information Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of the Printing Press.

The diffusion of the printing press, 1450-1500. Source: Jeremiah Dittmar.

There’s a good summary of the paper at Vox, but the take-home message is probably in two parts. Firstly:

  • First, the printing press was an urban technology, producing for urban consumers.
  • Second, cities were seedbeds for economic ideas and social groups that drove the emergence of modern growth.
  • Third, city sizes were historically important indicators of economic prosperity, and broad-based city growth was associated with macroeconomic growth (Bairoch 1988, Acemoglu et al. 2005).

And secondly:

I find that cities in which printing presses were established 1450-1500 had no prior growth advantage, but subsequently grew far faster than similar cities without printing presses. My work uses a difference-in-differences estimation strategy to document the association between printing and city growth. The estimates suggest early adoption of the printing press was associated with a population growth advantage of 21 percentage points 1500-1600, when mean city growth was 30 percentage points. The difference-in-differences model shows that cities that adopted the printing press in the late 1400s had no prior growth advantage, but grew at least 35 percentage points more than similar non-adopting cities from 1500 to 1600.

Paul Romer on Elinor Ostrom

There’s been plenty of debate about the first female recipient of the Nobel prize for economics, Elinor Ostrom.

The first female winner of the Nobel prize for economics, Elinor Ostrom

The first female winner of the Nobel prize for economics, Elinor Ostrom

Now one of my favourite economists, Paul Romer, has written a perceptive blog post about her work, and what it tells us about the modern practice of social sciences:

Most economists think that they are building cranes that suspend important theoretical structures from a base that is firmly grounded in first principles. In fact, they almost always invoke a skyhook, some unexplained result without which the entire structure collapses. Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics because she works from the ground up, building a crane that can support the full range of economic behavior. Continue reading

The economic value of magazine street vendors

From today’s Brisbane Times comes an article reporting about a study of the economic value of The Big Issue street vendors:

The Economic Value of Street Vendor Program report released today estimates the concept – in which vendors sell the magazine for $5 and keep half for themselves – saves tax payers $20,000 per vendor per year in welfare services which the vendors would not otherwise have been able to pay for.

In addition to the $7 million saved in welfare services, the vendor program generates commercial benefits of $3 million from sales of the magazine.

It strikes me this strategy of street-level economic development may have wider implications for pubic and cultural policy. What do you think? 

I haven’t been able to find a copy of the report on the web, but I’ve put a request in with The Big Issue for a copy. Hopefully I will be able to profile it here in coming days.