Fascinating new study show step function in growth among cities that adopted the printing press earlier versus those didn’t in the 1450-1500 period. Fully study follows (with permission):
11 February 2011
Despite the revolutionary technological advance of the printing press in the 15th century, there is precious little economic evidence of its benefits. Using data on 200 European cities between 1450 and 1600, this column finds that economic growth was higher by as much as 60 percentage points in cities that adopted the technology.
“Printing, lately invented in Mainz, is the art of arts, the science of sciences. Thanks to its rapid diffusion the world is endowed with a treasure house of wisdom and knowledge, till now hidden from view. An infinite number of works which very few students could have consulted in Paris, or Athens or in the libraries of other great university towns, are now translated into all languages and scattered abroad among all the nations of the world”. –Werner Rolewinck (1474)
The movable type printing press was the great revolution in Renaissance information technology and arguably provides the closest historical parallel to the emergence of the internet (see the recent column on this site, van Zanden 2010).
The first printing press was established around 1450 in Mainz, Germany. Contemporaries saw the technology ushering in dramatic changes in the way knowledge was stored and exchanged (Rolewinck 1474). But what was the economic impact of this revolution in information technology? By lowering the cost of disseminating ideas, did the explosion of print media erode the importance of location?