On Bank Underground, Paul Schmelzing looks at real interest rates over the last 700 years and finds that
… the past 30-odd years more than hold their own in the ranks of historically significant rate depressions. But the trend fall seen over this period is a but a part of a much longer ”millennial trend”. It is thus unlikely that current dynamics can be fully rationalized in a “secular stagnation framework”.
In a paper, Davide Cantoni, Jeremiah Dittmar, and Noam Yuchtman argue that the Protestant reformation after the year 1517 triggered major reallocation, due to religious competition and political economy.
[T]he Reformation produced rapid economic secularization. … shift in investments in human and fixed capital away from the religious sector. Large numbers of monasteries were expropriated … particularly in Protestant regions. This transfer of resources shifted the demand for labor between religious and secular sectors: graduates from Protestant universities increasingly entered secular occupations. … students at Protestant universities shifted from the study of theology toward secular degrees. The appropriation of resources by secular rulers is also reflected in construction: … religious construction declined, particularly in Protestant regions, while secular construction increased, especially for administrative purposes. Reallocation was not driven by pre-existing economic or cultural differences.
In The Great Leveler, Walter Scheidel argues that over thousands of years, only mass violence and catastrophes have triggered significant reductions in inequality.
From the book’s introduction:
For thousands of years, civilization did not lend itself to peaceful equalization. … stability favored economic inequality. This was as true of Pharaonic Egypt as it was of Victorian England, as true of the Roman Empire as of the United States. … Four different kinds of violent ruptures have flattened inequality: mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state failure, and lethal pandemics.
… there is no compelling empirical evidence to support the view that modern economic development, as such, narrows inequalities. There is no repertoire of benign means of compression that has ever achieved results that are even remotely comparable to those produced by the Four Horsemen.