The Three Horsemen of Growth: Plague, War and Urbanization in Early Modern Europe
How did Europe overtake China? We construct a simple Malthusian model with two sectors, and use it to explain how European per capita incomes and urbanization rates could surge ahead of Chinese ones. That living standards could exceed subsistence levels at all in a Malthusian setting should be surprising. Rising fertility and falling mortality ought to have reversed any gains. We show that productivity growth in Europe can only explain a small fraction of rising living standards. Population dynamics – changes of the birth and death schedules – were far more important drivers of the longrun Malthusian equilibrium. The Black Death raised wages substantially, creating important knock-on effects. Because of Engel’s Law, demand for urban products increased, raising urban wages and attracting migrants from rural areas. European cities were unhealthy, especially compared to Far Eastern ones. Urbanization pushed up aggregate death rates. This effect was reinforced by more frequent wars (fed by city wealth) and disease spread by trade. Thus, higher wages themselves reduced population pressure. Without technological change, our model can account for the sharp rise in European urbanization as well as permanently higher per capita incomes. We complement our calibration exercise with a detailed analysis of intra-European growth in the early modern period. Using a panel of European states in the period 1300-1700, we show that war frequency can explain a good share of the divergent fortunes within Europe.
Malthus to Solow, Long-run Growth, Great Divergence, Epidemics, Demographic Regime
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