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Early Public Banks
Publicly owned or commissioned banks were common in Europe from the fifteenth century. This survey argues that while the early public banks were characterized by great experimentation in their design, a common goal was to create a liquid and reliable monetary asset in environments where such assets were rare or unavailable. The success of these banks was however never guaranteed, and even well-run banks could become unstable over time as their success made them susceptible to fiscal exploitation. The popularization of bearer notes in the eighteenth century broadened the user base for the ...
An Early Experiment with \"Permazero\"
We investigate a monetary regime with persistent, near-zero policy interest rates ("permazero" in the terminology of Bullard 2015). This regime was implemented in 1683 by a prominent early central bank called the Bank of Amsterdam ("Bank"). The Bank fixed its policy rate at one-half percent and held it unchanged for more than a century. Maintaining the rate helped stabilize the value of Bank money. We employ archival data to reconstruct the Bank's activities during a portion of that interval (1736?91) for which data are most readily available. The data suggest that "permazero" worked ...
Early Public Banks
Publicly owned or commissioned banks were common in Europe from the 15th century. This survey argues that while the early public banks were characterized by great experimentation in their design, a common goal was to create a liquid and reliable monetary asset in environments where such assets were rare or unavailable. The success of these banks was, however, never guaranteed, and even well-run banks could become unstable over time as their success made them susceptible to fiscal exploitation. The popularization of bearer notes in the 18th century broadened the user base for the public banks' ...
Accounting for breakout in Britain: The Industrial Revolution through a Malthusian lens
This paper develops a simple dynamic model to examine the breakout from a Malthusian economy to a modern growth regime. It identifies several factors that determine the fastest rate at which the population can grow without engendering declining living standards; this is termed maximum sustainable population growth. We then apply the framework to Britain and find a dramatic increase in sustainable population growth at the time of the Industrial Revolution, well before the beginning of modern levels of income growth. The main contributions to the British breakout were technological improvements ...
The Neapolitan Banks in the Context of Early Modern Public Banks
I examine the Neapolitan public banks, a group of non-profit institutions that emerged in the late sixteenth century, in the context of the early public banks that existed elsewhere in early modern Europe. In terms of size and stability they compare well with their peers, in spite of a difficult political and economic environment. They were also remarkably financially advanced for their time. Their success is likely due to their ownership structure, governance, and well managed relationship with the monarchical authorities.
Death of a Reserve Currency
The Dutch bank florin was the dominant currency in Europe during much of the 17th and 18th centuries. The florin, a fiat money, was managed by an early central bank, the Bank of Amsterdam. Using a new reconstruction of the Bank of Amsterdam's balance sheet, we analyze the florin's loss of reserve currency status during the period 1781?92. The reconstruction shows that by 1784, accommodative policies rendered the Bank of Amsterdam "policy insolvent," meaning that its net worth would have been negative under continuation of its policy objectives. Policy insolvency coincided with the Bank of ...
Lottery Loans in the Eighteenth Century
In the 18th century Britain frequently issued lottery loans, selling bonds whose size was determined by a draw soon after the sale. The probability distribution was perfectly known ex-ante and highly skewed. After the draw the bonds were identical (except for size) and indistinguishable from regular bonds. I collect market prices for the lottery tickets and show that investors were paying a substantial premium to be exposed to this purely artificial risk. I show that investors were well-to-do and included many merchants and bankers. I turn to cumulative prospect theory to make sense of these ...
State Capacity and Public Goods: Institutional Change, Human Capital, and Growth in Early Modern Germany
What are the origins and consequences of the state as a provider of public goods? We study legal reforms that established mass public education and increased state capacity in German cities during the 1500s. These fundamental changes in public goods provision occurred where ideological competition during the Protestant Reformation interacted with popular politics at the local level. We document that cities that formalized public goods provision in the 1500s began differentially producing and attracting upper tail human capital and grew to be significantly larger in the long-run. We study ...