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The Economic History Podcast
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The Economic History Podcast

Author: Seán Kenny

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The Economic History podcast is a platform for sharing knowledge, ideas and new research with a general interest audience. Each fortnight, we meet leading academics in the field and discuss a range of topics, including pandemics, long run economic growth, gender issues, financial crises, inequality, sustainable development and a number of weird and fun economic experiments in history. There is no time like the past to help us understand the present.
33 Episodes
In this episode, Prof. Robert Gordon walks us through the U.S. growth record since the Civil War. We discuss some key takeaways from his monumental 2016 book (which lends its name to this episode). We cover some key drivers of changes in standard of living, not all of which are captured in economic statistics. We contrast the technological breakthroughs in the period 1870-1940 with 1940-2010 and consider the varying productivity impacts of each. Finally, we review the major headwinds facing the US economy in the coming decades.
In this episode, we sit down with Assoc. Prof. Kirsten Wandschneider to talk about the monetary disintegration that plagued the interwar period. How did countries choose to go back on the Interwar Gold Standard? How did this constrain policy choices? Why did countries eventually leave and why was the interwar standard so shortlived? We also review the performance of countries who remained on gold compared with those who imposed various types of capital controls based on Kirsten's work. We finish by considering her recent efforts to quantify the effects of the 1930s currency wars on international trade.
Prof. Peter Lindert discusses the evidence on social spending and the economy since the nineteenth century summarized in his new book- 'Making Social Spending Work'. Why did it take so long? What are the effects of social spending on growth? What are the threats to the welfare state?  We finish by covering the reformers and non-reformers in tackling the looming pension crisis, as population ageing  appears in many of the world's economies.
In this episode, we chat with Prof. Tamás Vonyó about the long run variation in the impact of World War II across a range of European economies. We begin with discussing the comparative wartime destruction across regions (using Tamás' "5 D's") and then move on to contrast the growth experiences of Western Europe and Eastern Europe with these initial starting points in mind. We also revisit the 1980s collapse of the Eastern Bloc and reconsider the role of factor inputs as a cause of socialism's failure, as an alternative to the traditional narrative, which places the blame on productivity/innovation deficiencies.
The Great Enrichment

The Great Enrichment


Prof. Deirdre McCloskey has written prolifically on a wide range of topics. In this episode, she discusses her trilogy of books which attempt to explain what she coined 'The Great Enrichment' since the nineteenth century. We discuss the use of language in economics, the potentially overstated role of physical capital, how liberalism spawned innovation and fostered ideas, as well as comparing some historical living standard examples throughout.
Today, we meet Professor Hans-Joachim Voth to discuss some of his work on the economic forces around religious and political epochs characterised by extremism. We begin by reviewing the long term economic effects of the Spanish Inquisition and consider the historical  roots of anti-semitism  in explaining Nazi support centuries later. Finally, we look at how "social capital" may have negative effects in garnering support for extremist movements and look at the effects of road building on political votes for the Nazi party.
Professor Peter Temin's 'Lessons from the Great Depression' remains a standard classic three decades since its publication. In today's episode, Peter talks about the Great Depression's lessons for today's policy makers and the use of fiscal policy with and without a gold standard. We also consider how the existing theories available to each generation influence their policy makers in their choices.
This week, we hear from Prof. Naomi Lamoreaux on her work on the evolution of the corporation through time. We start with trying to define what a firm is, cover the motivations behind and the consequences of mergers. We look to a past example of a giant corporation and put it in the context of the present. Is "bigness" of some firms a problem and if so, how might we attempt to deal with it?
This week, Prof. Karol Jan Borowiecki discusses his research on composers' creativity and consider some of the factors that influence the process: emotions, geography and instruction. We review some of the most innovative ways that Karol's work in economic history measures emotions, creative output and the transmission of ideas and consider the relevance of these to our understanding of long term economic growth. 
Today, we meet Prof. Eric Monnet of the Paris School of Economics and discuss the monetary system that emerged after World War II- Bretton Woods. After covering how it theoretically operated, Eric takes us through the details of how it functioned in reality. We look at the nostalgia for gold amongst some central bankers, the co-operation that distinguished the BW system from the Gold exchange standard and consider new interpretations on the underlying causes of the system's ultimate demise. 
In this episode, we meet Prof. Jutta Bolt to discuss the collaborative effort of the Maddison project, which standardizes  international income statistics to compare living standards over time and space. We look at some of Jutta’s research on the relationship between slavery and economic growth, as well as discussing how pre-colonial institutions influenced colonial institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. We finish with a review of some of her new work on historical income inequality in sub-Saharan Africa.
Professor Nicholas Crafts discusses some important developments in our interpretations of the Industrial Revolution over recent decades. We discuss how Nick's work, along with that of others, has led to a more sober interpretation of the productivity performance of the British economy during the first Industrial Revolution.  Some of the most prominent theories of the  root causes of the Industrial Revolution are covered as well as potential "disadvantages" of being the first country to experience modern economic growth.
In this episode, we meet Dr. Leigh Gardner to consider the experience of a number of former British colonies in Africa. We review the literature and Leigh's work on the cost of financing and operating former colonies and compare their debt and borrowing experiences  with other regions. We also discuss her recent work on constructing national accounts for eight African economies 1885-2008 and review their experiences over the long run.  The magnitude and frequency of economic shrinking stands out as a major brake to economic convergence in the cases considered.
In this episode, we speak with Professor Richard Steckel on his extensive work using height, nutritional, fertility and mortality data to explain the tragic outcomes of American slave health. We discuss the marriage and fertility patterns of slaves and consider what these implied for their children. After slave liberation, we look at the potential labour market facing freed slaves and the legal and violent backlash visited upon their children's generation. 
In this episode, Prof. Richard Sylla talks us through the process of building up a currency union in the U.S. following independence in 1776. We also consider the key ingredients for a successful "financial revolution", drawing on international examples from economic history. In addition, the relationship between modern financial systems and subsequent economic growth is discussed with reference to Sylla's own work. 
In this episode, we discuss the subtitle of Professor Jared Rubin's book: 'Why the West got Rich and the Middle East did Not.' We consider the Golden Age of Islam against the Western European backwater, facing its long dark age. Jared offers an original political economy framework to help understand why the latter eventually pulled ahead, in terms of economic performance. We look at the context of the birth of both religions and their subsequent relationships with contemporary political elites and legal systems. We also review how the path dependent processes emanating from these had long lasting economic effects. Finally, we discuss the divergence in the political cultures of some Catholic and Protestant states in post reformation Europe and reflect on some current parallels in the Middle East.
In this episode, we meet with the eminent Prof. Diane Coyle to discuss the evolution of measuring economic activity through time. When and why did the process begin and how did it evolve? What were the political motivations that drove the changes regarding how and what we recorded? How does it measure what we value and does it place appropriate value on what we measure?
Why Economic History?

Why Economic History?


In this episode, we meet 'the guy who wrote the book on' why economists need economic history, Dr. Chris Colvin (Queen's University Belfast). We discuss the importance of the subject for policy makers, economists and the additional tools economic historians bring to their research.  From panics to pandemics, we can only learn from the past.
In this episode, we meet Professor Nikolaus Wolf discuss Germany's economic development since the Napoleonic Wars with a particular focus on Regional development. We discuss trends in German economic integration, the division after World War II and the consider the regional economic differences since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (Reunification in 1990). 
In this episode we look at the long run development of India's Economy (1700-2010) with Professor Bishrupniya Gupta. We consider the institutional legacy of Colonialism on matters such as education and agricultural productivity. We also discuss the effects of economic policy shifts in independent India and consider some of the historical roots of sectoral productivity.
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