"In modern economic thinking, peace and prosperity go hand in hand. However, there are good reasons why in pre-modern societies, the opposite relationship held true war, disease, and urban death spelled high incomes. This column explains why Europe's rise to riches in the early modern period owed much to exceptionally bellicose international politics, urban overcrowding, and frequent epidemics."
Nico Voigtländer Hans-Joachim Voth
Cruel windfall: How wars, plagues, and urban disease propelled Europe's rise to riches
Vox 29 July 2009
"In the "Three Horsemen of Riches", we ask how Europe got to be rich in the first place. Our answer is best summarised by the smuggler Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles in the 1948 classic "The Third Man": "In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
[VoxEU.org is a policy portal set up by the Centre for Economic Policy Research (www.CEPR.org) in conjunction with a consortium of national sites. Vox aims to promote research-based policy analysis and commentary by leading scholars. The intended audience is economists in governments, international organisations, academia and the private sector as well as journalists specializing in economics, finance and business]