Monthly Archives: February 2013

Do banks facilitate economic growth? If so, what type?

Banks, free banks, and U.S. economic growth

Matthew Jaremski (Colgate University)
Peter Rousseau (Vanderbilt University)


The “Federalist financial revolution” may have jump-started the U.S. economy into modern growth, but the Free Banking System (1837-1862) did not play a direct role in sustaining it. Despite lowering entry barriers and extending banking into developing regions, we find in county-level data that free banks had little or no effect on growth. The result is not just a symptom of the era, as state-chartered banks seem to have strong and positive effects on manufacturing and urbanization.

Review by Chris Colvin

Do banks facilitate economic growth, and if so, what type of banks do so best? Matthew Jaremski and Peter Rousseau attempt to answer this question by looking at the economic impact of the entry of “free banks” to the US market for banking services in the mid-nineteenth century.

Free banks, so called because they required no charter, were an early form of financial liberalisation which in the long-run proved to be unsuccessful; by 1863, one third of all the free banks ever created had closed.

The advent of free banking laws lowered entry barriers because any group of individuals could establish a bank, as long as they fulfilled certain requirements set down by the state in which they operated. The incumbent charter banks, by contrast, required significant political lobbying before they were permitted to open.

Jaremski and Rousseau look at a period of US history in which both types of bank operated side-by-side. Using county-level social, financial and economic data, they are able to track the impact, if any, of a bank opening on its locality.

Jaremski and Roussasu find that free banking had little effect on growth

Jaremski and Roussasu find that free banking had little effect on growth

Overall, they find that banks of any kind had a strong effect on local growth, especially in manufacturing. But when differentiating the impact by bank type (charter versus free), charter banks had a positive effect while free banks had little or no effect on growth.

So in conclusion, banks appear to facilitate economic growth, but free banks not so much. Why? The authors reckon it has something to do with: (1) what they were investing in (agriculture rather than manufacture); (2) what backed their note issues (some states required very little stable collateral); and (3) new banking legislation in the 1860s (which saw the advent of national banking).

The Open Access Debate and Economic History

This paper, which was distributed by NEP-HIS 2013-02-03, is an example of an alternative use of working paper series: the distribution of soon-to-be-published journal articles that have already gone through peer review. Jaremski and Rousseau are about to have this article published in Economic Inquiry; it is already available there on Early View.

Why do authors use working paper series for this purpose? Well, probably to improve the access to their work.

Improving access to academic work is a very live political issue here in the UK. There is much talk about ways to make academic research available to the general public. The UK government seems to be in favour of something called Gold Access, where researchers pay to have their work published in journals (see here). This strikes me as a way to prop up the status quo, to support publishers’ existing business models, which in my opinion have come under incredible pressure from digital paper archiving and distribution services like RePEc.

An alternative mooted by others has been dubbed Green Access, and is very much the spirit of what Jaremski and Rousseau do here: in addition to publishing work in the standard way, through an established journal with peer review, academics make a version of their article available free-of-charge through their own website or their institution’s online archive, perhaps after some time delay. Many publishers seem dead against this route, perhaps because it threatens their business model more than Gold Access would. But I think putting pressure on their business is a good idea; I reckon that the likes of Elsevier need this pressure in order to curb their market power.

The Economic History Society has recently sent at letter to the UK government committee tasked with looking into the issue of Open Access (see here). It is written from the perspective of not-for-profit academic publisher, and has a different assessment of the situation than me. I urge economic historians to read it and debate its implications, also those located outside of the UK.

To Get Published or Not to Get Published: Challenges and Opportunities in Economics from 1970 to Present.

Nine Facts about Top Journals in Economics

David Card (University of California, Berkeley) (

Stefano della Vigna (University of California, Berkeley) (


How has publishing in top economics journals changed since 1970? Using a data set that combines information on all articles published in the top-5 journals from 1970 to 2012 with their Google Scholar citations, we identify nine key trends. First, annual submissions to the top-5 journals nearly doubled from 1990 to 2012. Second, the total number of articles published in these journals actually declined from 400 per year in the late 1970s to 300 per year most recently. As a result, the acceptance rate has fallen from 15% to 6%, with potential implications for the career progression of young scholars. Third, one journal, the American Economic Review, now accounts for 40% of top-5 publications, up from 25% in the 1970s. Fourth, recently published papers are on average 3 times longer than they were in the 1970s, contributing to the relative shortage of journal space. Fifth, the number of authors per paper has increased from 1.3 in 1970 to 2.3 in 2012, partly offsetting the fall in the number of articles per year. Sixth, citations for top-5 publications are high: among papers published in the late 1990s, the median number of Google Scholar citations is 200. Seventh, the ranking of journals by citations has remained relatively stable, with the notable exception of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which climbed from fourth place to first place over the past three decades. Eighth, citation counts are significantly higher for longer papers and those written by more co-authors. Ninth, although the fraction of articles from different fields published in the top-5 has remained relatively stable, there are important cohort trends in the citations received by papers from different fields, with rising citations to more recent papers in Development and International, and declining citations to recent papers in Econometrics and Theory.

Keywords: Publications, Top-5 Journals, Economics


Review by Anna Missiaia

This working paper was distributed by nep-his on 2013-01-12 and contains some information that might be of use to academics engaged in economics related disciplines. In particular, it should be read by young and mid-career academics whose future is still highly dependent on the number of their publications and the ranking of the journals where they publish. This survey by David Card and Stefano della Vigna, both from the Department of Economics of UC Barkeley, provides several facts and comments about articles published in top economics journals from 1970 to today.

The paper considers the top-5 economics journals, namely the American Economic Review (AER), Econometrica (EMA), the Journal of Political Economy (JPE), the Quarterly Journal of Economics (QJE), and the Review of Economic Studies (RES). All the articles published between 1970 and 2012 have been tracked looking at the number of authors, the length of the article and the number of citations. The number of submissions to each journal from 1990 onwards has been collected as well in order to compute acceptance rates.  The first two facts that emerge from this article are that the number of submissions per year almost doubled between 1990 and 2012 and that of articles published declined from 400per year to 300 per year. These first two facts will appear particularly grim to those who are in the early stages of their academic career, as they boil down to a decrease of acceptance rate from 16% to 6% today. However, this tendency is contrasted by a rise of the average number of co-authors from 1.3 to 2.3 in the same period. Finally, the length of the articles has increased three-fold from 1970 to today.

David Card – Class of 1950 Professor of Economics (UC Berkeley)

These first three facts are worth to be analysed together. It is the opinion of card and Della Vigna that the increase of the number of co-authors is a response to the more restrictive policy by journals on publication. The reason for teaming-up is that publications with one or multiple authors have the same weight in terms of career. Therefore, if acceptance rate decreased, the number of papers authored by each scholar has decreased less than that. The dramatic increase of the length of articles is interpreted by the authors as an improvement in the quality of research, which is due to both more selectivity and to joint work of scholars. Moving to the citations front, the readers will be glad to hear that whenever they will manage to get published on a top-5 journal,  this will make them extremely popular, although it will take a while. Papers published today have a lower number of citations compared to the ones published in the in the 1990s, which reminds us that it takes years to accumulate citations. However, if you compare the papers published in the 1970s to those of the 1990s, they have fewer citations. This is probably  a sign of the quality increase in papers that we have seen from the 1990s onwards. The ranking of journals in terms of citations has been fairly stable over the past decades, suggestion a sort of stickiness in the relative reputation of journals (the notable exception is the QJE that climbed four positions and became first). The last fact to report is that the number of citations depends on the field: more empirical fields (Development and International Economics) tend to have more citations from recent papers while more theoretical fields (Econometrics and Economic Theory) still have more citations from older papers.

Stefano Dellavigna – Professor of Economics (UC Berkley)

In conclusion, this survey on publications on the top-5 journals in economics tells us that publishing has become tougher,  it requires higher quality of the papers, longer papers and collaboration among scholars to pass the harsh judgements of referees and editors of these journals. However, the glory received from the publication in terms of citations and career seems to be worth the suffering.