City Size as a Proxy for Economic Prosperity

DeLong and Shleifer use city size as a measure of economic prosperity in their test of the relationship between political institutions and economic growth in the pre-industrial era.53 They find that slow economic growth in the eight hundred years prior to the Industrial Revolution was associated with absolutist governments, whereas republican governments were more conducive to growth. The affinity of such correlation to the connection between religion and growth is strong, because the medieval Roman Catholic Church, by virtue of its central place in daily life and its monopoly position among institutional religions, functioned in many respects like an absolutist government. What, if anything, does the data on city size tell us about the (possible) connection between religion and economic growth after the Protestant Reformation?

In the year 1500, virtually all countries and cities in Europe were Roman Catholic. By 1650, large portions of Europe had become Protestant. By investigating changes in city size over this interval we might be able to infer something about the impact of Protestant religions on the emergence of market economies. The results, however, are inconclusive. At the dawn of the Reformation, only three cities that subsequently became Protestant were in the top thirty cities, ranked by population (i.e., London, Nuremberg, and Cologne). Over the next 150 years, eight "Protestant" cities made it into the top thirty. By 1650 the proportion of Europe's largest cities that were Catholic was reduced by approximately half, a ratio that remained the same in 1800.

Table 8.3 shows the thirty largest cities (by population) in Europe and their rates of population growth in three long intervals: 1500-1650, 1650-1800, and 1500-1800. While most cities grew over these three periods, some declined in population, and some dropped out of the top thirty as time elapsed. Newcomers to the top thirty list in 1650 included Amsterdam, Madrid, Vienna, Copenhagen, Antwerp, Brussels, Danzig, Leiden, and Hamburg—all except Brussels and Madrid were Protestant cities. Between 1500 and 1650, seventeen of the thirty largest cities in 1500 experienced positive average annual population growth rates. Of these seventeen, all but two, London and Nuremburg, were Catholic cities.

Table 8.4 shows the average annual population growth rates between 1500 and 1650 for the subset of the thirty largest European cities in 1500 that experienced positive growth rates. The four cities that experienced the most rapid increase in population were Marseille, London, Naples, and Lisbon. Except for London, these cities were Catholic, but they were also important seaports. Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson, for example, found that coastal cities grew at different rates after 1500: "Atlantic ports grew much faster than other European cities while

Table 8.3

The thirty largest cities in Europe by population in 1500 and population growth, 1500-1650, 1650-1800, and 1500-1800

Average annual compound growth rate Rank (%)

Table 8.3

The thirty largest cities in Europe by population in 1500 and population growth, 1500-1650, 1650-1800, and 1500-1800

Average annual compound growth rate Rank (%)

City

1500

1650

1800

1500-1650

1650-1800

1500-1800

Paris

1

1

2

0.3843

0.2125

0.2984

Naples

2

3

3

0.5854

0.2403

0.4127

Milan

3

6

13

0.1216

0.0786

0.1001

Venice

4

5

12

0.2246

-0.0096

0.1074

Granada

5

14

0.0000

Prague

6

26

30

-0.2241

0.2795

0.0274

Lisbon

7

4

7

0.5591

0.1751

0.3669

Tours

8

Genoa

9

17

21

0.0656

0.2275

0.1466

Ghent

10

30

-0.2121

Florence

11

12

25

0.1980

0.0603

0.1291

Palermo

12

10

11

0.3994

0.2246

0.3119

Rome

13

8

10

0.4632

0.2202

0.3416

Bordeaux

14

20

0.2177

Lyon

15

21

15

0.1216

0.3988

0.2601

Orleans

16

London

17

2

1

1.3057

0.6665

0.9535

Bologna

18

18

0.1542

Verona

19

Brescia

20

Cologne

21

27

-0.0785

Seville

22

11

19

0.3843

0.1216

0.2529

Marseille

23

15

17

1.8465

0.2447

0.2698

Malaga

24

Valencia

25

25

26

0.1163

0.3138

0.2150

Ferrara

26

Rouen

27

22

27

0.2707

0.1920

0.2313

Cremona

28

Nuremburg

29

29

0.0342

Bruges

30

Source: J. B. DeLong and Andrei Shleifer, ''Princes and Merchants: European City Growth before the Industrial Revolution,'' Journal of Law and Economics 36 (1993): 671-702, Table 1.

Table 8.4

European cities with positive population growth rates, 1500-1650

Table 8.4

European cities with positive population growth rates, 1500-1650

City

Rank by size

Average annual growth rate

1500

1650

1500-1650

Marseille

23

15

1.8465%

London

17

2

1.3057%

Naples

2

3

0.5854%

Lisbon

7

4

0.5591%

Rome

13

8

0.4632%

Palermo

12

10

0.3994%

Paris

1

1

0.3843%

Seville

22

11

0.3843%

Rouen

27

22

0.2707%

Venice

4

5

0.2246%

Florence

11

12

0.1980%

Bologna

18

18

0.1542%

Lyon

15

21

0.1216%

Milan

3

6

0.1216%

Valencia

25

25

0.1163%

Genoa

9

17

0.0656%

Nuremburg

29

29

0.0342%

Source: J. B. DeLong and Andrei Shleifer, "Princes and Merchants: European City Growth before the Industrial Revolution,'' Journal of Law and Economics 36 (1993): 671-702, Table 1.

Source: J. B. DeLong and Andrei Shleifer, "Princes and Merchants: European City Growth before the Industrial Revolution,'' Journal of Law and Economics 36 (1993): 671-702, Table 1.

Mediterranean ports grew at similar rates to inland cities.''54 As dramatic as London's growth was during this period, Marseille's was 41 percent greater. It would appear from this data, therefore, that while religion may be a force contributing to economic prosperity, it is clearly not the only one.

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