Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 27 No. 4 (Fall 2013)


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Gifts of Mars: Warfare and Europe's Early Rise to Riches

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Voigtländer, Nico, and Hans-Joachim Voth. 2013. "Gifts of Mars: Warfare and Europe's Early Rise to Riches." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27(4): 165-86.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.4.165


Western Europe surged ahead of the rest of the world long before technological growth became rapid. Europe in 1500 already had incomes twice as high on a per capita basis as Africa, and one-third greater than most of Asia. In this essay, we explain how Europe's tumultuous politics and deadly penchant for warfare translated into a sustained advantage in per capita incomes. We argue that Europe's rise to riches was driven by the nature of its politics after 1350 -- it was a highly fragmented continent characterized by constant warfare and major religious strife. No other continent in recorded history fought so frequently, for such long periods, killing such a high proportion of its population. When it comes to destroying human life, the atomic bomb and machine guns may be highly efficient, but nothing rivaled the impact of early modern Europe's armies spreading hunger and disease. War therefore helped Europe's precocious rise to riches because the survivors had more land per head available for cultivation. Our interpretation involves a feedback loop from higher incomes to more war and higher land-labor ratios, a loop set in motion by the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century.

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Voigtländer, Nico (UCLA)
Voth, Hans-Joachim (U Pompeu Fabra)

JEL Classifications

D72: Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
D74: Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances
N13: Economic History: Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations: Europe: Pre-1913
N43: Economic History: Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation: Europe: Pre-1913
O33: Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
O47: Measurement of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence


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