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CEP discussion paper
Media, markets and institutional Change: evidence from the protestant reformation
Jeremiah Dittmar and Skipper Seabold
August 2015
Paper No' CEPDP1367:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: D02; O3; N33; N94; P48; Z12; L82; C55

Tags: competition; firms; media; technology; institutions; religion; politics; high-dimensional data

This research studies the role of competition in the diffusion of radical ideas and institutional change during the Protestant Reformation. We construct a new measure of religious content in the media using data on all known books and pamphlets printed in German-speaking Europe 1454-1600. We find that Protestant content was produced in greater quantity in local media markets with more competing firms when Martin Luther circulated his initial arguments for reform in 1517. We find that competition mattered differentially more for the diffusion of Protestant ideas and for institutional change where city governments had the least legal autonomy from feudal lords. We document the relationship between competition and diffusion directly and using the deaths of printers to isolate plausibly exogenous variation in competition. We show that cities where initial competition was greater, and which were more exposed to Protestant ideas, were more likely to adopt the legal institutions of the Reformation.