Discussion paper

DP14206 Atlantic Trade and the Decline of Conflict in Europe

We use over 200 years of conflict and wheat price data to provide the first quantitative evidence that Atlantic trade contributed to Europe’s pacification between 1640 and 1850. While the decline in conflict in Europe during this period has been well documented, the role of Atlantic trade has not been previously explored due to a lack of historical trade data. We overcome this constraint by using wheat prices to calculate
time-varying measures of price pass-through between Europe and the New World, which we use as a proxy for Atlantic trade. To identify the causal effects of Atlantic trade, we exploit exogenous changes in wind patterns and tropical cyclone activity over the Atlantic Ocean to instrument trade. Our results suggest that the growth in Atlantic trade between the mid-17th to the early 19th century lowered the likelihood
of intra-European conflict onset by 19.22 percent from the baseline onset probability of 2.30 percent. We find empirical support for two channels driving our results: first, Atlantic trade led to an increase in real wages and a reduction in military sizes in
Europe. Second, we show that the possibility of forgone Atlantic trade acted as a deterrent to conflict.


Ahsan, R, L Panza and Y Song (2022), ‘DP14206 Atlantic Trade and the Decline of Conflict in Europe‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 14206. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp14206