Ancient Infrastructure and Economic Activity


Roman Roads to Prosperity: Persistence and Non-Persistence of Public Goods Provision

Carl-Johan Dalgaard (University of Copenhagen and CEPR), Nicolai Kaarsen (Danish Economic Council), Ola Olsson (University of Gothenburg) and Pablo Selaya (University of Copenhagen)

Abstract: How persistent is public goods provision in a comparative perspective? We explore the link between infrastructure investments made during antiquity and the presence of infrastructure today, as well as the link between early infrastructure and economic activity both in the past and in the present, across the entire area under dominion of the Roman Empire at the zenith of its geographical extension. We find a remarkable pattern of persistence showing that greater Roman road density goes along with (a) greater modern road density, (b) greater settlement formation in 500 CE, and (c) greater economic activity in 2010. Interestingly, however, the degree of persistence in road density and the link between early road density and contemporary economic development is weakened to the point of insignificance in areas where the use of wheeled vehicles was abandoned from the first millennium CE until the late modern period. Taken at face value, our results suggest that infrastructure may be one important channel through which persistence in comparative development comes about.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2018-03-26

Revised by: Martin Söderhäll (Uppsala University)


In the paper Roman Roads to Prosperity: Persistence and Non-Persistence of Public Goods Provision the question “How persistent is public goods provision in a comparative perspective?” is examined by estimating the impact of Roman road-density on various proxies for economic activity today (modern roads, night-lights and population density) and in 500 CE (roman settlements). This is done for areas of Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa covered by Roman roads in 117 CE. The authors argue that the Roman roads “almost presents itself as a natural experiment” since the main purpose of the roads was to simplify military logistics during Roman times. This led to a road network with roads constructed as straight as possible between nodes, especially in newly conquered and undeveloped areas of the Roman Empire.

roman roads_paris

Figure 1: Roman Roads and Night Lights around Paris

The main findings in the paper are that Roman road density in 117 CE has a statistically significant positive effect on all of the above-mentioned dependent variables, suggesting that the spatial distribution of ancient infrastructure still affects the location of economic activity almost 2000 years later. However, the historical density of ancient infrastructure is not enough to explain the density of modern infrastructure as well as economic activity. The authors hypothesize that persistent use and maintenance of said infrastructure is a necessary condition for the link. To examine the hypotheses the authors’ exploit regional variation in the use of wheeled transport during the first millennia CE. This historical natural experiment is made possible since the Middle East and North Africa abandoned wheeled transport during this period, most probably due to the use of camels, which became a more efficient means of transportation in the region some time during the first millennia (Bulliet 1990).


Figure 2: Roman Roads Network in 117 CE

The developments in the Middle East and North Africa during the first millennia CE led to ancient Roman roads being used to much lesser extent than in Europe were wheeled vehicles (drawn by horses or oxen) continued to dominate among land-based means of transportation up until the nineteenth century. Thus, the authors’ claim, “one should expect influence of Roman roads today only where persistence in infrastructure is found.” In other words, the effect of Roman roads on economic activity today should be insignificant within the Middle East and in North Africa while it should have a positive effect within Europe. However, one should also expect that the density of Roman roads had a positive effect on economic activity in all studied regions before the abandonment of the wheel and the subsequent loss of interest in the use and maintenance of Roman roads in the Middle East and in North Africa.


Figure 3: Relationship between Roman Road Density in 177 CE and Modern Road Density

Econometrically, the hypotheses set by the authors are examined by a cross-sectional specification where the parameter of interest is the influence of Roman road density on various measures of economic activity today and in 500 CE, controlling for (primarily) geographic traits of the grid cells where road density are measured as well as country and language fixed-effects. The empirical results are in line with those hypothesized by the authors. The density of Roman roads had a statistically significant positive effect on economic activity in all specifications except the ones where the modern day variables capturing the degree of economic activity “today” is regressed on Roman road density in the Middle East and North Africa, further strengthening the argument that persistence in infrastructure can explain comparative development over a period of 2000 years.


The interpretation and implication of the empirical result is quite straightforward. It is clearly a good idea to keep investing in infrastructure as long as the infrastructure has an economic value, something the authors show was the case in Europe but less so in the Middle East and North Africa where the value of Roman infrastructure dropped. At first sight, one potential remark is the large time gap between the cross sections. How would the interpretation of the results look like if the link between Roman roads and economic activity disappeared in large parts of Europe some time during the period 500-2010 CE? Results from previous research (Bosker et. al. 2013; Bosker & Buringj 2017) ease the worry of this question slightly, since they have shown a relationship between Roman road-hubs and city sizes during the period 800-1800. However, it would have been nice to see some specifications for the years between 500 CE and 2010 CE in this paper as well, possibly using city sizes from DeVries (2013) or Bairoch (1991) as a proxy for economic activity. Especially since the scope differs a bit from that in Bosker et. al. (2013) where the estimation (to my knowledge) is done in a panel setting and in Bosker & Buringj (2017) where only Europe is studied.

Aside from that, I have very little to remark on; I find the argumentation against potential threats to internal validity convincing, and find arguments against external validity quite irrelevant due to the exploratory nature of the paper. In a way, the paper can be summarized as both fun and fascinating.


Bairoch, P. (1991). Cities and Economic Development: From the Dawn of History to the Present. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Bosker, M., Buringh, E., & van Zanden, J. L. (2013). “From Baghdad to London: Unraveling Urban Development in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, 800–1800.” Review of Economics and Statistics, 95 (4), 1418-1437.

Bosker, M., & Buringh, E. (2017). “City Seeds: Geography and the Origins of the European City System.” Journal of Urban Economics 98, 139-157.

Bulliet, R. W. (1990). The Camel and the Wheel.  New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

De Vries, J. (2013). European Urbanization, 1500-1800. London: Routledge.


The Elephant (-Shaped Curve) in the Room: Economic Development and Regional Inequality in South-West Europe

The Long-term Relationship Between Economic Development and Regional Inequality: South-West Europe, 1860-2010

by Alfonso Díez-Minguela (Universitat de València); Rafael González-Val (Universidad de Zaragoza, IEB); Julio Martinez-Galarraga (Universitat de València); María Teresa Sanchis (Universitat de València); and Daniel A. Tirado (Universitat de València).

Abstract: This paper analyses the long-term relationship between regional inequality and economic development. Our data set includes information on national and regional per-capita GDP for four countries: France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Data are compiled on a decadal basis for the period 1860-2010, thus enabling the evolution of regional inequalities throughout the whole process of economic development to be examined. Using parametric and semiparametric regressions, our results confirm the rise and fall of regional inequalities over time, i.e. the existence of an inverted-U curve since the early stages of modern economic growth, as the Williamson hypothesis suggests. We also find evidence that, in recent decades, regional inequalities have been on the rise again. As a result, the long-term relationship between national economic development and spatial inequalities describes an elephant-shaped curve.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2018-02-26

Review by: Anna Missiaia

The relationship between economic development and inequality in a broad sense has been at the core of economic research for decades. In particular, the process of industrialization has been much investigated as a driver of inequality: Kuznets (1955) was the first to propose an inverted U-shaped pattern of income inequality driven by the initial forging ahead of the small high-wage industrial sector and a subsequent structural change, with more and more labour force moving out of agriculture into industry. The first to suggest that a similar pattern could take place in the spatial dimension was Williamson (1965), who showed that the process of industrialization could lead to an upswing of regional inequality because of the initial spatial concentration of the industrial sector, which eventually touches the less advanced regions. The paper by Díez-Minguela, González-Val, Martinez-Galarraga, Sanchis and Tirado circulated on NEP-HIS on 2018-02-26 deals with this latter inequality. The authors formally test what is the relationship between the coefficient of variation (in its Williamson formulation) of regional GDP per capita and a set of measures of economic development, most importantly the level of national GDP per capita. The authors use for the analysis four Southwestern European countries (France, Spain, Italy and Portugal).  The paper starts in 1860 and therefore takes a much appreciated multi-country and long-run perspective compared to the original work by Williamson, who was looking only at the 20th century United States.

The work by Díez-Minguela and co-authors also relies on the framework developed by Barrios and Strobl (2009), going from a merely descriptive interpretation of an inverted U-shape of regional inequality to a theoretically-founded one. In particular, Barrios and Strobl (2009) use a growth model that takes into account region-specific technological shocks and their later diffusion on the entire national territory; they also include measures of trade openness to test the hypothesis that more market integration leads to more regional inequality; they finally consider regional policies implemented by the State to even out regional disparities. The original paper by Barrios and Strobl (2009) was only considering a sample of countries from 1975 onwards, basically overlooking the whole post-WWII industrial boom in some more developed countries. In this respect, the contribution by Díez-Minguela and coauthors is fundamental, as it proposes a long-run regional analysis not only confined to one specific country as it is customary in the field, but on a group of countries. The paper also proposes a formal testing of the drivers of regional inequality, moving forward from a mere descriptive approach. In terms of methodology, the authors propose an approach that makes use of both parametric and semi-parametric estimations. This is to take into account that the relationship might be different for different levels of GDP.

Moving on to the results, the first thing to note is that three out of four countries in the sample present an inverted U-shaped pattern between GDP per capita and regional inequality (as can be seen in Figure 1).


Figure 1: Regional Income Dispersion and Per-Capita GDP in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal (1860-2010). Source: Díez Minguela et al. (2017)

As for France, the authors suggest that the lack of a U-shaped pattern could be due to its early industrialization that pre-dates the first benchmark year available (1860). The analysis could thus be still capturing the downward part of the U-shape. In terms of the econometric analysis, the OLS regression confirms the predicted pattern through the significance of GDP per capita both in their quadratic and cubic forms.

One interesting discussion is on the controls used in the model: here both openness to trade and public expenditure are not significant, in spite of both being strong candidates for explaining regional inequality in the economic geography literature (see Rodríguez-Pose, 2012 on trade and Rodriguez-Pose and Ezcurra, 2010 on public spending). For the first variable (openness of trade), the explanation could be that the detrimental effect of trade on regional inequality could well have been offset by the increased integration of the financial and labour markets during the First Globalization.

Regarding the second control variable, public intervention (measured as public spending as a share of GDP): the authors admit that having a large public sector does not necessarily imply implementing effective cohesion policies. The example of Fascist Italy on this point is very illustrative: the 1920s and 1930s witnessed rising inequality in Italy, in spite of a growing intervention by the State in the economy and an alleged intent to favor the most backward parts of the country. In general, the impression is that more than one mechanism that is well present in empirical studies after WWII, might not be so in earlier periods. Finally, the authors test for the role of structural change in shaping regional inequality, which was the original explanation by Williamson (1965). This is measured as the non-agricultural value added and it is positive and significant in explaining the coefficient of variation of overall GDP per capita.

Although the paper represents an important step forward for explaining historical regional divergence, several aspects could be addressed in the future by either the authors or by other scholars in the same field. For instance, the use of only four countries from a specific part of Europe does not yet allow drawing general conclusions on the relationship between economic growth and inequality in the long run. As mentioned in the paper, several case studies from other parts of Europe do not entirely fit in the same path: this is the case of Belgium (Buyst, 2011) or Sweden (Enflo and Missiaia, 2018). It is possible that including more advanced economies such as Britain or even some peripheral but Northern ones in the sample might lead to re-consider the increase of regional inequality during modern industrial growth as a golden rule.


Barrios, S., Strobl, E., 2009. “The Dynamics of Regional Inequalities.” Regional Science and Urban Economics 39 (5), 575-591

Buyst, E., 2011. “Continuity and Change in Regional Disparities in Belgium during the Twentieth Century.” Journal of Historical Geography 37 (3), 329-337

Díez Minguela, A., González-Val, R., Martínez-Galarraga, J., Sanchis, M. T., and Tirado, D. 2017. “The Long-term Relationship Between Economic Development and Regional Inequality: South-West Europe, 1860-2010.” EHES Working Papers in Economic History 119

Enflo, K. and Missiaia, A. 2017. “Between Malthus and the Industrial Take-off: Regional Inequality in Sweden, 1571-1850.” Lund Papers in Economic History

Kuznets, S., 1955. “Economic Growth and Income Inequality.” American Economic Review 45 (1), 1-28

Rodríguez-Pose, A., 2012. “Trade and Regional Inequality.” Economic Geography 88 (2), 109-136

Rodríguez-Pose, A., Ezcurra, R., 2010. “Does Decentralization Matter for Regional Disparities? A Cross-Country Analysis.” Journal of Economic Geography 10 (5), 619-644.

Williamson, J.G., 1965. “Regional Inequality and the Process of National Development: a Description of the Patterns.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 13 (4), 1-8


from VOX – The return of regional inequality: Europe from 1900 to today

by Joan Rosés (LES) and Nikolaus Wolf (Humboldt University)



via EHS The Long Run

Original post Here

A Conceptual Framework for New Entrepreneurial History

Reinventing Entrepreneurial History

By R. Daniel Wadhwani (University of the Pacific, USA) and Christina Lubinski (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark)

Abstract: Research on entrepreneurship remains fragmented in business history. A lack of conceptual clarity inhibits comparisons between studies and dialogue among scholars. To address these issues, we propose to reinvent entrepreneurial history as a research field. We define “new entrepreneurial history” as the study of the creative processes that propel economic change. Rather than putting actors, hierarchies, or institutions at the center of the analysis, we focus explicitly on three distinct entrepreneurial processes as primary objects of study: envisioning and valuing opportunities, allocating and reconfiguring resources, and legitimizing novelty. The article elaborates on the historiography, premises, and potential contributions of new entrepreneurial history.

Keywords: entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial processes, history, theory, temporality, uncertainty, agency, opportunity, resources, legitimation


Business History Review, 2017, 91 (4): 767-799 – doi:10.1017/S0007680517001374

Review by Nicholas D Wong (Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University)

This article by Wadhwani and Lubinski proposes the reinvention of ‘entrepreneurial history as a research field’ with the aim of promoting greater ‘conceptual clarity’ between comparative studies and dialogue amongst scholars in the field. This engaging and well-written paper provides a new way of considering entrepreneurial activities over time with the emphasis placed on the processes that drive entrepreneurship rather than the individuals or institutions. Following a call to arms for history to join other social sciences (“management, economics, sociology, finance and anthropology”) in developing a distinct sub-field for the study of entrepreneurship the authors provide a neat structure to the paper which begins by providing an historiographical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of what they term the “old entrepreneurial history”. This is followed by an insight into the parameters of the concept of “new entrepreneurial history”; one which considers the development temporally and defined succinctly as “the study of the creative processes that propel economic change”. This conceptualization foregrounds entrepreneurial processes rather than focusing on particular actors, institutions, or technologies.” The third section develops a set of core processes that frame the object of study in entrepreneurial history, “(i) envisioning and valuing opportunities, (ii) allocating and reconfiguring resources, and (iii) legitimizing novelty”. The paper concludes by highlighting the important contributions new entrepreneurial history can make to the field of business history.

‘So that’s my presentation. When do I get the half million dollars?’

In assessing the historical foundations of entrepreneurship, the authors follow the well-trawled path through the German Historical School of Schmoller and Weber and ultimately on to Schumpeter which, over time, helped promote the concept of “historical change focussed on entrepreneurial processes”. It was perhaps Schumpeter more than any other who ardently proclaimed the centrality of history in enabling the understanding the role of the entrepreneur as the driving force of capitalism and “central to the operation of markets and the dynamics of economies”. However, despite the strength of scholarship that developed during the immediate post-war period, the authors highlight how the field of entrepreneurial history dissipated in later decades being replaced by formulaic, normative and structured research that was “increasingly focussed on how norms, laws and other institutions shaped entrepreneurial roles and functions”. The authors highlight how this approach ultimately led to the demise of the field in the late 1960s as Chandlerian theory on organisational form and managerial hierarchies dominated business history. The 1970s and 80s saw entrepreneurship studies receive increasing attention from business-people and policy makers alike as a way of understanding how economies and markets operate (and what drives them). However, it was still largely ignored by business historians.

To demonstrate the difficulty for historically-orientated scholarship in defining and framing the concept of entrepreneurship, the authors provide some quantitative analysis of the number of articles published in Business History Review during the period 1954-2015 which mention entrepreneurship in the full text, including references. The figures are startling, with only 44 of 1044 featuring the term ‘entrepreneurship’ and when excluding the phrase appearing in citations this figure reduces to only twenty-six articles. This provides clear evidence of the lack of engagement with entrepreneurship by business history scholars. Moreover, of those articles that directly use the term, ‘entrepreneurship’, there is a general lack of clear definitions (most rely on Schumpterian definition, whilst more recently, Mark Casson’s definition has been widely-used). The authors use this evidence to demonstrate the lack of engagement in entrepreneurial studies (beyond the individual entrepreneur at least!) in business history. This is interesting research method although it could possibly have been improved by extending the analysis into other prominent business history journals such as Business History or Enterprise and Society – this would have strengthened the conclusions drawn from this section of the study. This section finishes by highlighting how historians have tackled entrepreneurship in recent years, with Popp, Raff, Amatori, Friedman, Jones and others using a variety of approaches including biography, microlevel process (such as agency over time) and macrolevel approaches which consider the consequences of entrepreneurship for structural change (such as the industrial revolution or globalisation).

“You told him he should start his own business.”

Following the illuminating section on the historiography of entrepreneurship, the next section tackles the concept of entrepreneurship as it relates to field of history. Here the authors provide a succinct and applicable definition of entrepreneurial history: “the study of the creative processes that propel economic change”. Here they are keen to point out that, “the definition focuses on the study of entrepreneurial processes and their relationship to change”. They provide three key premises that link entrepreneurial history to historical change over time: the temporal foundations of agency; multiplicity in the forms of value; and the collective and cumulative character of entrepreneurship. With reference to the first premise, the authors cite the work of Popp et al., and Beckert, by suggesting that understanding entrepreneurial agency “hinges on examining the processes by which they envision and pursue futures beyond the constraints of the present context”. Here they are making clear linkages to the concept of forward projection, that being the idea that the study of entrepreneurial history requires the researcher to understand the necessity of entrepreneurs to think-forward and plan for an “unpredictable future”. This is a novel approach, although it is reliant on a particular set of sources that work as evidence for qualitative research that can enable the historian to penetrate the mindset of the entrepreneur. The two papers cited by Popp and Holt both rely on extensive sets of letters between entrepreneurs and their familial, social and business networks which help construct a picture of the entrepreneur and the strategic forward planning for key developments such as succession, diversification, or international expansion. The second premise, multiplicity in the forms of value, suggests that entrepreneurs can find value beyond baseline profitability. Here the authors infer that entrepreneurs can seek future forms of (non-economic) value such as civic, environmental, academic, and industrial. This again is linked to the idea that the pursuit (or accumulation) of intangibles such as reputational and social capital can provide competitive advantage in the market place and, perhaps, can be considered as entrepreneurial as innovation, expansion and diversification. The final premise, the collective and cumulative character of entrepreneurship, refers to the domino effect of entrepreneurial opportunities that provide the foundation for, and provoke, further streams of entrepreneurship. This is linked to the notion that entrepreneurs have a sense of collective identity and the idea that “they belong to a generation, group or epoch”. The importance of this premise is that it moves away from what the authors refer to as the “heroic individual”. Here, new entrepreneurial history calls for further analysis of “cumulative entrepreneurial processes across multiple actors over time that propel historical change”.

The third section of the article points to processes that act as primary objects of study in entrepreneurial history. The first of these, envisioning and valuing opportunities, is linked to the classical characteristics of entrepreneurship such as forecasting market changes, seeking new opportunities, accessing and creating new technologies, exploiting new markets/territories and developing new practices. However, the authors highlight how new entrepreneurial history deviates from the old forms by explaining how the new opportunities are enacted rather than discovered. This is because actors define value and worth in different ways and this changes over time. The second process is allocating and reconfiguring resources; here they suggest that entrepreneurial history can “explore the processes and mechanisms by which actors allocated and reconfigured resources towards uncertain, future ends”. This section highlights the value of history in analysing the process and motivation for entrepreneurs to influence macro-level developments in terms of institutional or societal change and how this influences their allocation of resources. The final process identified by the authors, legitimizing novelty, builds on the previous processes as, in their view, legitimacy can pose ‘a problem in the entrepreneurial process because the new forms of value and new combinations of resources entrepreneurs introduce often fail to conform to widely shared expectations regarding rules, norms, beliefs, and definitions. Legitimation processes thus form another important focus of research in entrepreneurial history”. The key contribution of the historian in this area is understand the process of legitimation and to analyse how and why societal or institutional change occurs over time.

Congratulations on starting your own firm.

In terms of the potential contributions that new entrepreneurial history can make the authors have compiled a helpful table that compares it to Chandlerian business history, new institutional business history, and new economic histories of business. This table, in part, helps reinforces the central tenets of new entrepreneurial history (such as the emphasis on the process of entrepreneurship, the cumulative and collective approaches, the impact on development of society and institutions, the methods of assigning value over and above profit etc.) and how it diverges or challenges traditional schools of business history. The eclectic approach to entrepreneurship as designed by the authors provides a framework for future research to follow in order to consider the development of entrepreneurship over time but also in understanding how entrepreneurship influences, and is influenced, by, individual, institutional and societal micro and macro-level factors. Perhaps the greatest contribution, as highlighted in the conclusion, is the implications or influence that new entrepreneurial history can have on entrepreneurs today. Here the authors demonstrate the strength of the historian in enabling entrepreneurs to understand the world and “acting in it”. By following the framework developed in this paper, business historians have opportunity to develop a richer and deeper insight into the core factors that influence and drive the process of entrepreneurship.

A couple of minor observations: the definition provided by the authors, in my opinion, could be broadened out slightly. In the case the authors raise the point that new entrepreneurial history focuses on the study of the creative processes that propel economic change, [my emphasis], however, this framework could be used to study processes far beyond the purely economic (including, for example, environmental, technological, cultural, management, social, political). Indeed, the section on ‘multiplicity in the forms of value’ highlights how value can be assigned to non-economic factors, such as the accumulation of social and cultural capital, environmental, civic, academic, esthetic, industrial etc. The definition in this instance seems too narrow in enabling the researcher to understand change and the authors themselves provide insight into factors beyond market forces. In terms of broadening out the concept, I feel this particular theme has potential to inform research beyond business history and could have relevance to research in other branches of management and organisational studies, and perhaps even other disciplines in social sciences. My second observation concerns the blurring or overlap between premises two and three concerning the recruiting and allocation of resources on one hand and gaining of legitimacy on the other hand. Both sections cover similar areas with regards to the winning institutional support or driving institutional change in order to gain support or enhance legitimacy. I feel there is scope to draw greater distinctions between these two processes.

To conclude, this article presents a well-considered and well-structured contribution to the field of entrepreneurial history. The authors establish a real need for their approach and then provide a strong, clear and adaptable framework that can open the field to future researchers. As a business historian myself, I am always sympathetic to papers championing a historical or temporal approach and found this paper extremely useful to my ongoing research projects. I am sure it will make a strong contribution to the field and provoke much discussion and research in the years to come!


I am extremely grateful to Andrew Popp and Niall Mackenzie for their feedback on an earlier draft of this review.

Are businessmen from Mars and businesswomen from Venus?

by Jennifer Aston (Oxford University) and Paulo di Martino (University of Birmingham) The full paper was published on the Economic History Review, accessible here Do women and men trade in different ways? If so, why? And are men more or less successful than women? These are very important questions not just, or not only, for the academic […]

via Are businessmen from Mars and businesswomen from Venus? An analysis of female business success and failure in Victorian and Edwardian England — The Long Run

Under Siege and Under Fire: German Angst, the Second World War and the Long-Term Psychological Impact

Did Strategic Bombing in the Second World War lead to ‘German Angst’? A Large-Scale Empirical Test across 89 German Cities.

Martin Obschonka (Queensland University of Technology, Australia), Michael Stützer (Baden Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University and Ilmenau University of Technology, Germany) , P. Jason Rentfrow (University of Cambridge, UK), Jeff Potter (Atof Inc., USA), Samuel D. Gosling (University of Texas at Austin, USA, and School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia)

Abstract: A widespread stereotype holds that the Germans are notorious worriers, an idea captured by the term, German Angst. An analysis of country-level neurotic personality traits (Trait Anxiety, Trait Depression, and Trait Neuroticism; N = 7,210,276) across 109 countries provided mixed support for this idea; Germany ranked 20th, 31st, and 53rd for Depression, Anxiety, and Neuroticism respectively suggesting, at best, the national stereotype is only partly valid. Theories put forward to explain the stereotypical characterization of Germany focus on the collective traumatic events experienced by Germany during WWII, such as the massive strategic bombing of German cities. We thus examined the link between strategic bombing of 89 German cities and today’s regional levels in neurotic traits (N = 33,534) and related mental health problems. Contrary to the WWII-bombing hypothesis, we found negative effects of strategic bombing on regional Trait Depression and mental health problems. This finding was robust when controlling for a host of economic factors and social structure. We also found Resilience X Stressor interactions: Cities with more severe bombings show more resilience today: lower levels of neurotic traits and mental health problems in the face of a current major stressor – economic hardship.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2018-02-06

Review by: Mark J. Crowley (Wuhan University)

This paper is an interesting addition to the literature on the Second World War, and contributes to many areas concerning the impact of the war on civilian population. It builds on much of the British literature that has now served to coin the phrases “the people’s war” and the “stiff upper lip” to describe the way in which the British responded to the hardships caused by rationing and enemy bombings, and focuses on the nation that was seen as the aggressor in the conflict – Germany. While many studies have focused on the resistance of civilians against bombings and invasion, fewer have focused on the mental impact of such events on its citizens and future generations, least of all on the nation that was judged to be the loser in the conflict. The authors deftly trace how the impact of bombing could be traced to what is now commonly referred to as “German angst”– a phenomenon that is believed to have been created by the Second World War, but one that still endures today.



The bombing of Dresden was seen as a pivotal turning point in bringing a conclusion to the Second World War.


The authors clearly outline how the different strategies adopted by the varying militaries in the war led to different results. Their claim that the Americans used strategic bombing while the British indiscriminately targeted civilian areas is one that has received less attention in the historiography, especially among British military historians, but is one worth exploring further. While the bombing of Dresden is often seen as one of the last major raids of the Second World War, inflicting massive civilian casualties and effectively breaking the German resistance, the psychological impact on German citizens has received little attention. Moreover, the ensuing debates about national identity and nationhood that dominated German history in the post-1945 era have focused more on ideological and political factors rather than the perception of individuals and “the self” about their position in the nation, or indeed the position of their nation in the world.

dresden 2

Dresden in 2002 – some parts of the city were not reconstructed to serve as a reminder of the horrors of war


One very illuminating aspect of this article is how the authors trace that German angst can be correlated to regional and economic factors. Certain areas of Germany suffered disproportionately from the effects of bombing, and it is this, together with the impact of collective memory and the notion of national mourning that has affected the way in which angst is transmitted, perceived and perpetuated among communities. The decision for certain areas to preserve buildings in their damaged state from the war serves as a reminder of the horrors of war, while also serving to perpetuate the collective sense of angst and grief caused by the conflict. Furthermore, the correlation between economic hardship and sense is, according to the authors, influenced by region. It is clear that this argument has traction, and this can be correlated to other events, excluding war, where this phenomenon is clear. One need not look further than the impact of the mass closure of industries in Britain in the 1980s to witness the disparities among British regions caused by the anomie generated by the economic distress ensuing from the realignment of the economy to show how negative economic experiences can have a powerful impact on the human psyche.

This article is deeply researched, and seeks to make many connections across a range of different possibilities for the rise and incidence of depression, together with its consequent impact on the supposed notion of German angst. However, the authors concede that while it is possible to surmise that a connection exists, the lack of data suggests that it is not possible to prove definitively. In this respect, this article will hopefully provide fertile ground for further research and debate. The references to other countries that experienced bombings in wartime are apposite, and could be explored further in additional research. Moreover, the correlation between the end result of war and the long-term psychological effect could be the subject of further analysis. For example, propaganda both during and after the Second World War enforced the belief, in Britain at least, that the armed forces were fighting for freedom and were on the “right side” of the conflict. However, the post-war situation enforced the belief among the international community that the Germans were the aggressors and the guilty party. The annexation of the country at the end of the war was symptomatic of the international community’s response, and how, to a great extent, their punishment and future destiny was in the hands of other international actors. Thus, while the British could couch their feelings of anxiety within the larger national narrative that they had undergone their struggles to secure national freedom, and were operating within a framework of righteousness, the Germans, adjudged as the evil party at the end of the war had to deal with two difficult realities. The first being that they had lost the war, and the second that suggested the German “Sonderweg” and “Weltanschauung” was one that led it on a path to its own destruction, and one that would leave the rest of the international community seeing Germany as a negative force for some time.


  • Brakman, Steven, Harry Garretsen, and Marc Schramm. “The Strategic Bombing of German Cities during World War II and its Impact on City Growth.” Journal of Economic Geography 4.2 (2004): 201-218.
  • Tiratsoo, Nick. Reconstruction, Affluence, and Labour Politics: Coventry, 1945-1960. Routledge, 1990.
  • Schaffer, Ronald. “American Military Ethics in World War II: The Bombing of German Civilians.” Journal of American History (1980): 318-334

Note of the Deputy Editor: This post was originally called “The Spitfires are Coming! German Angst, the Second World War and the Long-Term Psychological Impact.” Alain Guery (EHESS) and Avner Offer (Oxford) kindly told us the Supermarine Spitfire was a plane that could escort bombers, but did not have the range to get to Germany. Accordingly, Mark Crowley changed the title of the post.

The Middle Income Trap

Development State Evolving: Japan’s Graduation from a Middle Income Country

By Tetsuji Okazaki (University of Tokyo)

Abstract: This paper reexamines the industrial policy in postwar Japan from perspectives of the literature on a “development state” and a “middle income trap”. Japan transited from a middle income country to a high income country in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s. This process was characterized by a large structural change, such as resource reallocation from the primary industry to the secondary and the tertiary industries as well as resource reallocation within the secondary industry. Transition to a high income country is a challenging task for a middle income country. With respect to Japan, the industrial policy played a positive role in the transition. This was achieved by interactions between MITI and other related actors, who constrained and corrected MITI’s attempts of excess intervention.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2017‒09‒03

Review by: Joyman Lee (University College London)


Students of modern Japanese economic history are familiar with the work of Chalmers Johnson (1982) on the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). In that work Johnson argued that MITI was the leading state actor in Japan’s economic miracle, playing a vital coordinating role between policymakers and the private sector. Johnson’s emphasis on the role of the state in the East Asian experience has triggered similar studies on the development state in Korea (Alice Amsden) and Taiwan (Robert Wade).

As Okazaki notes, the emergence of newly industrialising economies facing the challenges of globalisation and democratisation has led to a renewed interest in the development state. Okazaki argues that rather than constituting a static set of policies, Japan’s developmental state was highly dynamic and adaptive, echoing Douglass North’s idea of “adaptive efficiency” (North 2005). Significantly, this ceased to be the case in Japan after the 1990s. A second strand of literature that informs the paper is the idea of the “middle income trap” (Gill and Kharas 2007), which highlights a particularly challenging transition which middle-income economies face, as the policies that have fueled the initial stages of growth are no longer appropriate for continued growth. The idea has gained considerable traction among commentators in China.

china middle income

The fear of the “middle income trap” has been particularly acute in China.

Okazaki’s paper shows that Japan’s successful voyage through the “trap” was partly facilitated by its success in resource allocation across industries, in addition to well-known increases in the intra-sector productivity. Between 1955 and 1975, Okazaki attributes 29% of the increases in labour productivity to resource allocation, which he stresses was “substantial” (p. 4).

Okazaki traces the evolution of policies from the American occupation period, when U.S. advisor Joseph Dodge initiated the abolition of strict wartime controls. A 1953 government report was followed by the Five Year Plan of 1955, which highlighted the need to transition from light to heavy industries. MITI was formed in 1949 to pursue the policy of “industrial rationalization”. Formal economic controls were replaced by a portfolio of public financial institutions, including the Japan Development Bank (1951), tax relief, and foreign exchange allocation, and a central coordinating Council for Industrial Reorganisationolic . The government promoted new sectors, particularly the machinery and the automobile industries within it, which included the use of cultural strategies such as a campaign to promote the purchase of domestic cars at the same time as regulating foreign direct investment (1952) and curtailing the foreign exchange available for car imports (1954). The government also actively implemented policies concerning the automobile parts industry, which was quite atypical given the miscellaneous and low tech nature of that sector.

japan car industry

A Toyota factory in 1948. MITI’s policy in supporting the automobile parts industry which supplied major manufacturers such as Toyota was particularly distinctive.

At the same time as developing the domestic economy, MITI also foresaw foreign pressure on trade liberalisation, and formed a committee to formulate its strategy in 1959. While the ministry remained ambivalent with respect to its effects, it nonetheless adopted a sequential programme of liberalisation that was intertwined with plans to upgrade the industrial infrastructure. The high level of alert to likely external treasures had a direct effect on the government’s sector-specific strategies, e.g. to focus on passenger cars in the automobile sector. However, MITI’s more radical plans to consolidate the industry by policy intervention were not adopted, and instead the government aided the industry through JDB loans and low interest loans to small and medium-sized suppliers. MITI also successfully resisted IMF pressures to remove the industry from the foreign exchange system until Japan was well established in the world market (1963). Meanwhile, the government conceded that the coal industry would be uncompetitive and adopted a programme of gradual phasing out.


Okazaki’s study provides a timely, quantitative and authoritative review on an important and relatively understudied topic (given the acceptance of Johnson’s view as orthodoxy among historians) by one of Japan’s leading economic historians, whose trans-war perspective is particularly useful in teasing out more subtle changes amidst MITI’s strong posture towards industrial policy. As Okazaki observes,  the difficulties that middle-income economies face are acute, as “one of the difficulties that middle income countries face is that they should compete with low income countries in the markets of labor-intensive industries as well as with high income countries in the markets of capital and technology intensive industries” (Bulman 2017). In this context, Japan’s success appears remarkable, perhaps no less than the historiographically well-recognised significance of Japan’s Meiji-period Westernisation.

However, the complexity of policies required for breaking the “middle-income trap” in Japan’s case may not provide much comfort for middle-income economies currently facing the challenge. Although Japan rejected centralised state controls, the Japanese example appears to require a complex set of policies that presupposes a high degree of political cohesion and long-range economic planning, which is often difficult in many middle income economies given various political and social challenges. It also requires a state that is highly persuasive to the populace with respect to its vision for economic development. These factors appear to mark Japan out as an exception rather than an example that can be easily perceived as immediately relevant by many developing countries.

Perhaps the most avid student of Japan’s experiences will be China, which possesses a similar state capacity for a coordinated industrial policy and a qualified commitment to the market, even if it may not enjoy the same degree of social cohesion. This likely Chinese interest may explain the timing of Okazaki’s paper. However, the requirement of a strong state may produce perverse incentives for middle-income countries to maintain authoritarian systems of government (even though Japan was not classically authoritarian in that period in its history), and reminds us of unresolved tensions between economic development and democratisation.

Additional References

Alice, A, 1992. Asia’s Next Giant: South Korea and Late Industrialization. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Bulman, D, Eden, M, Nguyen, H, 2017. “Transition from Low-Income Growth to High-Income Growth: Is there a Middle-Income Trap ?” Journal of the Asian Pacific Economy, 22(1): 5-28.

Gill, I, Kharas, H, 2007. An East Asian Renaissance: Idea for Economic Growth. Washington DC: The World Bank.

Johnson, C, 1982. MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925-1975. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

North, D, 2005. Understanding the Process of Economic Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wade, R, 2003. Governing the Market: Economic Theory and the Role of Government in East Asian Industrialization. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.