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New publication | Catholic Censorship and the Demise of Knowledge Production in Early Modern Italy

Censorship hampers new ideas, affects knowledge growth, and redirects talents toward compliant activities, resulting in a 43% decrease in scholarly publication. Fabio Blasutto, Assistant Professor at the Department of Economics at SSE, and co-author publish new article in The Economic Journal.

Censorship affects the availability of new ideas and reduces non-compliant idea development. A new method is proposed to measure censorship's impact on knowledge growth, revealing that while censored authors were initially of higher quality, the censorship's intensity and the quality gap decreased over time. This informs a model that shows censorship significantly hindered knowledge diffusion and occupational choices, leading to a 43% lower average scholar publication in Italy, with compliant activities explaining half of this effect.


Censorship makes new ideas less available to others, but also reduces the number of people choosing to develop non-compliant ideas. We propose a new method to measure the effect of censorship on knowledge growth, accounting for the agents’ choice between compliant and non-compliant occupations. We apply our method to the Catholic Church’s censorship of books written by members of Italian universities and academies over the period 1400-1750. We highlight new facts: once censorship was introduced, censored authors were of better quality than the non-censored authors, but this gap shrank over time, and the intensity of censorship decreased over time. We use these facts to identify the deep parameters of a novel endogenous growth model that links censorship to knowledge diffusion and occupational choice. We conclude that the average log publication per scholar in Italy would have been 43% higher if censorship had not been present, while the effect of adverse macroeconomic processes is almost four times smaller. The induced reallocation of talents towards compliant activities explains half the effect of censorship.

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