Discussion paper

DP16212 The Impact of Institutions on Innovation

We study the impact of inclusive institutions on innovation using novel, hand-collected, county-level data for Imperial Germany. We use the timing and geography of the French occupation of different German regions after the French Revolution of 1789 as an instrument for institutional quality. We find that the number of patents per capita in counties with the longest occupation was more than double that in unoccupied counties. Among the institutional changes brought by the French, the introduction of the Code civil, ensuring equality before the law, and the promotion of commercial freedom through the abolition of guilds and trade licenses had a stronger effect on innovation than a reform that increased labor market mobility and an agricultural reform that broke up the power of rural oligarchs. We also document that the effect of institutions on innovation was particularly pronounced for high-tech innovation and that the increase in patenting activity due to better institutions translated into higher economic growth. Our findings highlight inclusive institutions as a first order determinant of innovation.


Donges, A, J Meier and R Silva (2021), ‘DP16212 The Impact of Institutions on Innovation‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16212. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16212