Benefits of empire? Capital market integration north and south of the Alps, 1350-1800
David Chilosi (London School of Economics firstname.lastname@example.org)
Max-Stephan Schulze (London School of Economics email@example.com)
Oliver Volckart (London School of Economics firstname.lastname@example.org)
ABSTRACT: This paper addresses two questions. First, when and to what extent did capital markets integrate north and south of the Alps? Second, how mobile was capital? Analysing a unique new dataset on pre-modern urban annuities, we find that northern markets were consistently better integrated than Italian markets. Long-term integration was driven by initially peripheral places in the Netherlands and Upper Germany integrating with the rest of the Holy Roman Empire where the distance and volume of inter-urban investments grew primarily in the sixteenth century. The institutions of the Empire contributed to stronger market integration north of the Alps.
Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2016‒02‒29
Review by Anna Missiaia
The work by Chilosi, Schulze and Volckart deals with a fundamental issue in European economic history, namely ascertaining the level of capital market integration in different parts of the continent at a specific moment in time. The areas of interest in this case are Italy and the territories of the Holy Roman Empire. The aim is to test whether the Italian cities, that are often considered the front runners of modern finance in the medieval times, where enjoying a greater level of financial market integration compared to the cities that were part of the Holy Roman Empire.
The paper uses an impressive collection of some 30,000 interest rate records from 103 cities located both north and south of the Alps. The time span is 1350-1800, providing a very long run picture of the starting levels and evolution of the capital markets in pre-industrial times. The authors use nominal interest rate spreads across cities to assess the level of market integration. This is a standard procedure often used with price series and goes back to the concept of the law of one price: if two markets are well integrated, price (interest rates) differentials will merely reflect transport and other trade costs such as tariffs between the two markets, leaving no space for arbitrage.
The main result of the paper is that although Italy and the Holy Roman Empire started from similar levels of interest rate spread at the beginning of the period, they had very different dynamics. Capital markets in the Holy Roman Empire experienced an accumulated reduction in spreads during the period considered while the ones in Italy experienced an increase (-6 vs. +2.55 when perpetuities are compared).
The authors make an interesting case that the divergence observed is led by long-distance integration within the Empire. They do so by separating all the possible pairs that originate the spreads into two groups: those under 200 km of distance and those above. They find that the integration in the second group increased twice as fast compared to the first. The authors place this convergence of long-distance and short distance integration between 1500 and 1630.
The next step in the analysis is to study whether the integration was occurring between or within regions of the Empire. Using cluster analysis, the authors show that the Empire appeared as a “polycentic network” with several interconnected financial centers (such as Frankfurt, Leipzig, Nurmberg and Hamburg). These were developing in parallel in spite of the large distances between them. The evidence points to increased integration between rather than within clusters, opening the way to a fascinating discussion on the causes of this divergence between the Empire and Italy.
The imperial eagle
So why did the regions north of the Alps were able to achieve greater capital market integration in spite of less favorable geographic conditions (scarce access to sea) and a lower level of financial technology? According to Chilosi, Schulze and Volckart, the key factor lays into the different institutions that the two regions developed. Local authorities in Italy restricted the participation of foreigners to the capital markets and foreign investment was more costly than local. Quite differently, within the Empire foreign investment was favoured by several means: legal systems were much more similar within the Empire and collective liability was widespread. Moreover, the local authorities competed for capital, pushing them to increase the protection of foreign investors. The authors however are careful in stating that the Imperial institutions were the sole promoters of the integration. They are more inclined to grant them an indirect effect through the promotion of peace and the moderation of interstate rivalries. The lack of such institutions in Italy led on the other hand to much more fragmented capital markets.
This paper is very relevant for the current debate in many ways. It primarily addresses an issue that is fundamental to explain the very different economic development trajectories of two European regions that in medieval times had reversed positions, with the Italian city states forging ahead. The papers also uses a data set that is impressive both in its size and in its temporal extension, making the results very convincing from an empirical point of view. The discussion of the role of institutions in promoting exchange and therefore economic development is a classic one that goes back for instance to the work of Greif (2006) and Ogilvie (2011).
A step that would take the debate further would be to focus more on the Italian institutions, which in this paper seem to be somehow neglected compared to the imperial ones. In particular, it would be interesting to study whether all the Italian city states had institutions that were equally detrimental for capital market integration. If, for instance, northern Italian cities, having been part of the early Empire, had institutions that were more similar to the imperial ones, this could bring some insights into the different performance of the South in the 19th century and beyond. Such analysis could be useful in the debate on regional disparities in Italy and their determinants (for recent contributions see Daniele and Malanima, 2011 and Felice, 2015).
Daniele V. and P. Malanima (2011). Il divario Nord-Sud in Italia 1861-2011. Rubbettino (Soveria Mannelli).
Felice, E. (2015). Ascesa e declino. Storia economica d’Italia. Il Mulino (Bologna).
Greif, A. (2006). Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy. Lessons from Medieval Trade. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge).
Ogilvie, S. (2011). Institutions and European Trade. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge).