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Do radical reforms really matter? French revolution and German industrialization

Research domain:
Policies and institutions

Project duration:
since 2012

The "big-bang" approach features prominently in economic history, transition and development economics. The research project tests for the "big-bang" approach in which imposed institutional reforms are claimed to launch new durable economic behaviors.

The specific creation story challenged here is the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic occupation of a small portion of Germany. 19th century historiography claimed that in Germany only the radical reforms c. 1800-1815 had opened the door to modern growth and finally enabled industrialization. Subsequent comprehensive research has successfully challenged this approach to explain the extraordinary dynamics of German growth during the 19th century. However, just recently economists who adhere to the New Institutional Economics, namely Acemoglou, have reinstalled the old view using econometric models.


In their project Prof. Dr. Michael Kopsidis and Prof. em. Daniel W. Bromley analyze whether the rich empirical evidence supports this institution-fixed "big-bang" model of German industrialization. In addition, they test the elaborate econometric model behind this account and estimate an alternative econometric model focusing more on long-term economic and social trends.


Daniel W. Bromley is Anderson-Bascom Professor of Applied Economics (Emeritus) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. He was honoured with the
Reimar Lüst Award, jointly granted by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.