Witchcraft, Weather and Economic Growth in Renaissance Europe
Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter 2004
23 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2004
In the period between 1300 and 1800 as many as one million people were executed in Europe for the crime of witchcraft. Although a variety of theories about the witch-hunts have been put forward over time, little has been said about the possibility that the witch-hunts were motivated by a desire for vengeance in a time of misfortune. This paper connects the witch-hunts in Europe with deteriorating weather and slow economic growth during this period. The most intense period of witch-hunting coincided with a period of below-average worldwide temperatures known as the little ice age. I find that there is a statistically significant relationship between climate and number of trials: in times of worse climate there were more trials. This finding is robust to different measures of climate. In addition, I find that in periods of slower economic growth there were more witchcraft trials, even controlling for weather patterns. I argue that the two results together suggest that vengeance may have played an important role in witchcraft persecutions.
Keywords: Witchcraft, vengeance, growth
JEL Classification: I30, J16, N43, N53
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