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 ...
Following the yellow brick road: how the United States adopted the gold standard
The United States, with some difficulty, adopted the gold standard in the late nineteenth century, thus pegging the dollar to the pound sterling and other currencies. Some have argued it was mistake, others that it was inevitable. This article recounts the historical background and uses a model to shed light on the choices faced by policymakers of the time.
The case of the undying debt
The French government currently honors a very unusual debt contract: an annuity that was issued in 1738 and currently yields ?1.20 per year. I tell the story of this unique debt, which serves as an anecdotal but symbolic summary of French public finances since the 18th century.
What Happened to the US Economy During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic? A View Through High-Frequency Data
Burns and Mitchell (1946, 109) found a recession of “exceptional brevity and moderate amplitude.” I confirm their judgment by examining a variety of high-frequency data. Industrial output fell sharply but rebounded within months. Retail seemed little affected and there is no evidence of increased business failures or stressed financial system. Cross-sectional data from the coal industry documents the short-lived impact of the epidemic on labor supply. The Armistice possibly prolonged the 1918 recession, short as it was, by injecting momentary uncertainty. Interventions to hinder the ...
Poor hand or poor play? the rise and fall of inflation in the U.S.
Inflation in the U.S. rose in the 1970s and fell in the 1980s and 1990s. The conventional story attributes this pattern to changes in monetary policy. Policymakers made errors and learned from them. This article presents the story and existing alternatives that emphasize instead changes beyond the Fed's control. The author also reviews the recent empirical literature on the role played by changes in luck versus changes in policy and finds substantial evidence for both.
The household balance sheet: too much debt?
The recession of 1937 - a cautionary tale
This article reviews the competing explanations offered for the recession of 1937, which interrupted the recovery from the Great Depression. One explanation, increases in labor costs due to the New Deal's industrial policies, fails to account for the full extent of the downturn and for the ensuing recovery. In contrast, monetary policy and fiscal policy seem to capture the downturn?although not its precise timing?and the recovery.
Bitcoin: a primer
Bitcoin is a digital currency that was launched in 2009, and it has attracted much attention recently. This article reviews the mechanics of the currency and offers some thoughts on its characteristics.
The life and times of Nicolas Dutot
Nicolas Dutot (1684?1741) is an important figure for the history of economic thought, as a pioneer in monetary theory and price statistics, and for economic history as a chronicler of John Law?s System. Yet until recently very little about him was known, some of it incorrect. I present extensive research that reveals a remarkable career rising from humble origins and full of surprises. He spent his formative years in the ranks of the ?ancienne finance? he was thought to despise, and then worked for the chamber of justice that he so decried in his writings, only to be sent to the Bastille for ...
The crime of 1873: back to the scene
Milton Friedman's (1990) counterfactual analysis of what would have happened if the United States had not abandoned bimetallism in 1873 is revisited in a general equilibrium model of bimetallism. I find that bimetallism would have survived and the gold-silver ratio would have remained stable for another twenty years. If countries such as India that abandoned silver because of its depreciation are assumed not to, bimetallism survives to World War I. But the United States would have experienced a sharp bout of inflation in the early 20th century, although milder if India stays on silver.