Now published: Escapre Underway — Malthusian Pressures in Late imperial moscow

A few weeks ago, Vadim Kufenko, Ekaterina Khaustova and myself received news from Explorations in Economic History that our paper on Malthusian pressures in Late Imperial Moscow/Russia had been accepted. The paper makes the following point: economies with weak land constraints (i.e., large land reserves relative to population) can have rising income per capita and rising population levels but still be in a Malthusian equilibrium. Normally, rising population and income per capita would mean an escape from the Malthusian world. However, this assumes strict land constraints. In the presence of weak constraints, an economy could still be converging towards the equilibrium but without having escaped the Malthusian world (i.e., limited technological gains). In the paper, we propose that the use of a cointegrated vector autoregression approach can disentangle the two possibilities (i.e., actual escape v. weak constraint). We apply it to the case of late Imperial Russia by using Moscow and find that the Russian economy was indeed transitioning away from the Malthusian world. However, that escape was weak and vulnerable to exogenous shocks.

The paper is here online now and the abstract is reproduced below:

Did late Imperial Russia suffer from Malthusian pressures? At first glance, with its rising levels of population and per capita income, it seems Russia was in a transition away from Malthusian equilibrium. However, the joint increase in population and per capita income could also have been the result of Russia’s high land-to-labor ratio. Which of the two is it? Such a problem is a frequent one in economic history, as many frontier economies have high land-to-labor ratios, which foil the researcher’s ability to determine whether an economy was transitioning or whether it was growing because of weak land constraints. In this paper, we use quarterly demographic and economic data from Moscow (which we take as a proxy for Russia) in conjunction with a Cointegrated Vector Autoregression approach to determine whether the Russian economy was transitioning away from a Malthusian equilibrium. We find signs of Malthusian pressures still operating while wages had stopped responding to changes in death and birth rates. This combination suggests that a vulnerable transition was truly underway even though a Malthusian shadow remained.

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