Oliver E. Williamson Best Conference Paper Award 2022

By Guido Friebel, for the committee (Bob Gibbons and Gillian Hadfield)

The Oliver E. Williamson Best Conference Paper award is given annually in recognition of the excellent work presented at our conference. In past years award winners have gone on to publication in top journals such as the Journal of Political Economy, the Review of Financial Studies, and the Review of Economic Studies. The award is open to all papers presented at SIOE’s annual meeting.

Members of the executive committee nominated around a dozen of papers. The award committee consisting of the President, President-Elect, and First Vice President selected a short-list of papers that reflect the wide scope of SIOE in terms of topics and methods. The final decision for the best paper was made unanimously.

The 2022 Oliver E. Williamson Best Conference Paper goes to The Dynamic Consequences of State-Building: Evidence from the French Revolution” and to the authors Cédric Chambru (University of Zurich), Emeric Henry (Sciences Po), Benjamin Max (Sciences Po).

In this inspiring paper, the authors look at the long-run effect of state-building on economic development. They look back to one of the most formative periods of modern Europe, the time after the French Revolution of 1789. In 1790, the Constituent Assembly had to decide how to organize government and they created the departmental structure of modern France. The Assembly met a massive challenge – how to decide on the capital of each department. While initially, because of equality concerns and political pressure, it was considered to rotate administrative functions across cities, this idea was dropped, making the temporary capital the permanent one.

Comparing the development of cities that were initially considered with the ones that were finally chosen the authors find moderate effects in the medium term, but strong long-term effects in terms of population growth, public goods and productivity. This is even more remarkable, because in the short run, cities chosen as capitals raised more taxes and conscripts., resulting in lower short-term growth.

The paper is based on a smart identification strategy, subtle theoretical arguments and a fascinating account of how political decision-makers tried to solve a complicated problem of state-building and how impactful their decisions turned out to be.