April 2016

State Capacity and Public Goods: Institutional Change, Human Capital, and Growth in Early Modern Germany

Jeremiah E. Dittmar and Ralf R. Meisenzahl


What are the origins and consequences of the state as a provider of public goods? We study legal reforms that established mass public education and increased state capacity in German cities during the 1500s. These fundamental changes in public goods provision occurred where ideological competition during the Protestant Reformation interacted with popular politics at the local level. We document that cities that formalized public goods provision in the 1500s began differentially producing and attracting upper tail human capital and grew to be significantly larger in the long-run. We study plague outbreaks in a narrow time period as exogenous shocks to local politics and find support for a causal interpretation of the relationship between public goods institutions, human capital, and growth. More broadly, we provide evidence on the origins of state capacity directly targeting welfare improvement.

Accessible materials (.zip)

Keywords: Education, Growth, Human Capital, Institutions, Persistence, State Capacity

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2016.028

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: June 19, 2020