Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Economics of Christian Reformation

The social fabric of a country has a lot of inertia. It takes generations for norms to change, in large part because people rarely change during their lifetime, and if there is any change it is towards conservatism, that is, preserving the status quo. Yet sometimes change spreads quickly, like a revolution. In some sense we see this with the Arab Spring. All it needed was a small spark, and that spark may seem irrelevant at first. Another dramatic social change was the Christian Reformation that started with a simple priest in a completely irrelevant town of Saxony. Martin Luther was a spark that somehow set on fire an existing social norm, Catholicism, and set in motion a revolution that would keep Europe busy for centuries. How could this happen?

Philipp Robinson Rössner points out that central Germany suffered at the time from economic depression and deflation, at least partly as a consequence from a decline in silver supplies. This context deeply influenced Martin Luther's thinking, which found a receptive audience throughout the region. One thing that I take away from this is that the Reformation possibly happened because currency was tied to silver. Had the region had a modern central bank with fiat money, the money supply could have adapted to economic circumstances and the Reformation may have never happened. Europe would have suffered from much fewer wars, and the world's history (and economy) would have been quite different.

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