Department of Economic History

Lund University School of Economics and Management

Economic inequality and social mobility in preindustrial Europe, ca. 1300-1800


The Cape of the Good Hope Panel (CGHP) research programme is happy to invite academics and the interested public to two public lectures which are part of a larger research workshop open for its members. This lecture by Professor Guido Alfani, deals with long-term inequality, with a focus on both empirics and theory.

Guido Alfani, Professor of Economic History at Bocconi University, Milan (Italy)

The lecture will be held via Zoom; please register here!
After registration, you will receive a confirmation e-mail with link to the event.

Recent research in economic history has unearthed previously unknown facts about the long-term trends in inequality. We now have, for at least some areas of Europe, continuous time series of key inequality indicators from ca. 1300. Most of these series have resulted from the research conducted by the ERC-funded project Economic Inequality across Italy and Europe 1300-1800 (EINITE). These new data are changing the way in which we perceive economic inequality not only in the past, but even today – as a key lesson from history, is that economic inequality (especially, but not only, of wealth) has a marked tendency for increasing over time, and only catastrophes on the scale of the Black Death or the World Wars managed to bring it down, albeit temporarily.

This new historical evidence is also relevant to the debate about the long-term determinants of inequality growth. For the early modern period, ongoing research is providing ever-stronger support to the view that institutional factors, namely the rise of the fiscal-military state, played a crucial role. After having provided an overview of recent findings about long-run inequality growth, this keynote will pay particular attention to the distributive consequences of the continuous increases in per-capita taxation characterizing early modern Europe, which happened in the context of regressive fiscal systems. Indeed, recent findings about the determinants of preindustrial inequality speak quite directly to current debates about tax reform in western countries.

This open lecture is held by Guido Alfani, Professor of Economic History at Bocconi University, Milan (Italy). He is also an Affiliated Scholar of the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, New York (U.S.). An economic and social historian and an historical demographer, he published extensively on inequality and social mobility in the long run, on the history of epidemics (especially of plague) and of famines, and on systems of social alliance. Recent works include The Lion’s Share. Inequality and the Rise of the Fiscal State in Preindustrial Europe (2019, with Matteo Di Tullio) and Famine in European History (2017, with Cormac Ó Gráda). During 2012-16 he was the Principal Investigator of the project Economic Inequality across Italy and Europe, 1300-1800 (EINITE), funded by the European Research Council (ERC), and from 2017 he is the Principal Investigator of a second ERC project, Social Mobility and Inequality across Italy and Europe 1300-1800 (SMITE).

The second lecture, Stories and Storytellers: A Narrative Relocation of the Cape in World History, will be held 19th August.

Learn more about The Cape of the Good Hope Panel. Recently, we also did an interview with Erik Green, Associate Professor of Economic History at Lund University School of Economics and Management, and Professor Johan Fourie at Stellenbosch University, about this interesting research project.

18 August 2021


This is an online meeting.


Madeleine Jarl