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Bruno Caprettini

Economic History and Economic Development

About me

I am a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Economics of the University of Zurich. I work on economic history and development economics

What is new?

Joachim and I are looking for bright and enthusiastic students who want to experience research first-hand before starting a PhD. Download the call here.

The key to unlocking prosperity

In August 2017, I received an SNF Ambizione grant for the project “Structural change: lessons from the present and from the past.” Structural change is the movement of labor out of agriculture (example): every rich country today went through this process at some point over the past 300 years. However, structural change has not happened everywhere, and this matters because people who live in rural areas and work in agriculture are not just poorer. They are also more likely to be illiterate, to have no access to medicines, to have starved at least once in their lives and in general they are more likely to report to be unhappy (data from the 6th wave of the World Value Survey). This is why understanding the causes of structural change has the potential to have great impact on human welfare.

In my research, I study episodes of structural change that happened in the past or in recent years. Here are two examples of my research, for more of my work see my research page.

From Welfare to Warfare

Why do ordinary citizens take up arms and fight for their nation? What turns normal folks into patriots? Joachim and I think that the answer lies in modern welfare states. Modern nation-states provide support to the old, to the sick, and to the needy. By helping in times of distress, these states acquire a moral claim on their citizens, and motivate them to fight in times of danger. In a new paper, we show the strength of this idea in the case of the US during the New Deal and World War II.


The Electoral Impact of Wealth Redistribution

After World War II, the Italian government of Alcide De Gasperi passes a major reform that redistributes land from large to small land-owners. In public, the Christian Democrat (DC) government declares that the objectives of the reform are efficiency and social justice. Behind the scenes however, DC politicians are worried about the spread of Communism in the countryside, and they see the land reform as a way stem the “Red Wave”. In a new paper with Lorenzo and Miriam, we show how the 1951 land reform benefited Christian Democrats for over 40 years.