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What does the history of global trade look like? The collaborative database RICardo opens up trade data to shed light on this question

- February 21, 2018 in Digital Humanities, economics, historical data, Open Data, Open Humanities

RICardo (Research on International Commerce) is a project dedicated to trade between nations over a period spanning the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the eve of the Second World War. It combines a historical trade database covering all of the world’s countries and a website which invites to an exploration of the history of international trade through data visualizations. The project has recently released a web application and accompanying dataset, which is freely available under the Open Database License. In this blogpost, Beatrice Dedinger (economic historian) and Paul Girard (IT engineer) illustrate its’ use cases and background. The new RICardo web tool has been officially released in December 2017, on the occasion of the bicentenary of David Ricardo’s famous work, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. It is the achievement of an experiment to combine economic history with digital humanities. The RICardo project is devoted to bilateral and total trade of all the world’s countries over a period spanning from the beginning of the 19th century to 1938. Bilateral trade means the distribution of trade of a country by partners, on the export and the import side. Total trade is the sum of all bilateral flows. Notice that RICardo focuses on trade by countries; it does not provide statistics of trade by products and thus, does not allow for the analysis of trade specialization or comparative advantages. We purposefully assembled data from the 19th and early 20th century, as this database never existed as such before. Governments did not start to publish printed documents of official trade statistics before the end of the Napoleonic wars. This is mostly true for the European states but also for other areas in the world that were under European influence. Since the end of the Second World War, the International Monetary Fund is in charge of gathering bilateral trade statistics of all countries; they are now freely available on The RICardo database includes around 300.000 data points (December 2017 version) that have been collected by hand from archives found in French or foreign libraries. This is currently the most exhaustive trade database dedicated to historical bilateral trade statistics. Original data (trade flows, names of countries) being in different currencies and languages, they have been converted into a usable format by creating a relational database. The entire RICardo dataset is now freely available under the Open Database License in our versioned data repository described under the Data Package format.

Source: Estadística Comercial de la Republica de Chile (1845)

Source: RICardo_flows database

RICardo is meant for studying and discovering the history of trade and trade globalization. How did countries become economically interdependent? How did the trade volume and variety of exchanges of goods and services develop across nations? Trade databases are needed to address these and similar questions. As an example, economic historians, relying on limited trade datasets, have first demonstrated that a “First” globalization occurred over 1870-1914. When they were afforded with extended trade databases, they challenged this conclusion to now affirm that trade globalization started around the 1840s. But RICardo also allows for the study of neglected areas of the history of trade, largely because of the lack of data. It can help to explore the history of geopolitical trade relationships. If you are interested, for example, in the trade history of Chile over the 19th-mid20th century, RICardo provides you with visualizations and a dataset to describe Chile’s relationships with all its partners over the period of your choice. RICardo offers the opportunity to discover the history of international trade not only through aggregate world trade curves but also by looking at the details of bilateral trade flows: visual exploration is key to handle the complexity of trade data by switching from an aggregate to a detailed level, or from one country to another. To do so, the tool uses  a method developed at Sciences Po médialab called “datascape”. By considering data visualization from the very beginning, the research team can gain creative constraints that help to better design the dataset. Alternatively, data visualizations are a very efficient way to take care of the data, in particular, to check data integrity. This project was very enriching on a personal level in that it taught us to work in a new way. At the beginning, in 2004, the project was launched by a team of researchers at Sciences Po Paris working on financial and trade history and needing historical trade datasets to perform a research idea. It was (still is) usual that each researcher builds by him/herself a trade database for the needs of personal research, ever trying to do better than the other. This way of working points to a competitive state of mind from which we moved away. During more than ten years of work, we have faced a lot of problems that eventually led us to work in a more collaborative, creative, and challenging way. This was the driving force in the achievements of RICardo. That is why we are keen to open our data to everyone, to share the results of our work with the widest audience, to open it to contributions, to foster its usage by the community, and to arouse the curiosity of the public about a subject a priori austere but that we try to address in an enjoyable way.

Data Sharing: Poor Status Quo in Economics

- March 5, 2013 in data sharing, economics, EDaWaX, External Projects, Featured

hare_c_flickrThis article is cross-posted from the blog of the European Data Watch Extended Project In the context of our research project EDaWaX a new research paper has been published by Patrick Andreoli-Versbach (International Max Planck Research School for Competition and Innovation (IMPRS-CI), LMU Munich, Munich Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research (MCIER)) and Frank Mueller-Langer(Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property and Competition Law, IMPRS-CI, MCIER). The paper analyzes the data sharing behavior of 488 randomly chosen empirical economists. More specifically, the researchers under study were chosen uniformly across the top 100 economics departments and the top 50 business schools and randomly within the respective institution. Economics departments were chosen using the Shanghai Ranking 2011 in Economics and Business and business schools were chosen using the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2011. In a short description of their paper, Andreoli-Versbach and Mueller-Langer stated:
Data sharing is an essential feature for replication, self-correction and subsequent research. While most researchers principally embrace the idea of replicability and self-correction in science associated with data sharing, the wide majority of empirical work cannot be replicated as data and codes are not fully available. We provide evidence for the status quo in economics with respect to data sharing using a unique data set with 488 hand-collected observations randomly taken from researchers’ academic webpages. Out of the sample, 435 researchers (89.14%) neither have a data&code section nor indicate whether and where their data is available. We find that 8.81% of researchers share some of their data whereas only 2.05% fully share. We run an ordered probit regression to relate the decision of researchers to share to their observable characteristics. We find that three predictors are positive and significant across specifications: being full professor, working at a higher-ranked institution and personal attitudes towards sharing as indicated by sharing other material such as lecture slides. Andreoli Versbach, Patrick and Frank Mueller-Langer (2013), Open Access to Data: An Ideal Professed but Not Practised, RatSWD Working Paper Series No. 215.
In my opinion this paper is a valuable contribution to the discussion about data sharing incentives and practices in economics. It shows that there is still a long way to go to establish data sharing in this scientific discipline. Interestingly, the paper also suggests that the career concerns of young researchers might play a role in the decision to share data. Data sharing creates competition as it permits other researchers to use a data set before its creator can fully exploit it in further research. As an additional publication is arguably more valuable in terms of career concerns for (untenured) junior scholars than for full professors, it is not surprising that full professors share their data more frequently. This finding suggests that optimal mechanisms to incentivize data sharing may depend on the status of researchers. The full paper is available at SSRN. Picture: carlos maya (c!) /

Thank the Tyrants

- April 4, 2012 in economics, local, multinational, tyrants

The idea is an online platform that is in part a backlash to existing NGOs which concentrate on symbolic actions rather than actions that would have real impact on tyrannies by undermining their income and support. Tyrants cannot operate without the support of those who profit from the tyranny. These are public institutions and private corporations operating at a global level. Although global, they still have to function at a local level. The portal would clearly outline links of support between: • tyrannical regimes • multinationals • global & local institutions • local governments & businesses So that users can take appropriate actions in their local community to affect change. Support for tyrannies can come in many forms. The most direct is doing business and having relations with tyrannical regimes - thereby giving them legitimacy - to more sinister as bribing officials for illegal permits or over-riding the rights of their citizens. By entering local information (such as their postcode, government riding, etc.), users can see how elements in their own community can benefit these regimes through the direct or indirect profit of the supporting multinational organisations.
Users can then choose to act on this information by sending a letter to the leaders of these local organizations or government officials to thank them for their support on behalf of the tyrant in question. For each letter that is printed off, the user is added to a petition and when a critical number has been reached, various media outlets are informed of the embarrassing and critical “thank-you” letters on behalf of the tyrant, raising even more awareness. In addition, the portal will have full Web 2.0 functionality to allow for collaboration, forums, event organization and information exchange among it users so that traditional campaigns (demonstrations, boycotts, etc.) can be staged in addition to the “Thank-you" campaign. The single biggest hurdle in implementing this concept has been tying all the various information sources necessary to expose these support links. The links between tyrannies and multinational organisations would be globally consistent. How their products/services manifest themselves in a local community would need to be populated with local content. Thank the Tyrants Concept Video

Introducing the Open Knowledge Index

- August 26, 2011 in composite index, economics, Hackday / Code Sprint, Open Economics, open knowledge index, WG Economics, Working Groups

The following post is from Guo Xu, Coordinator of the Open Economics Working Group Despite the increasing efforts in opening data and making information and knowledge accessible to a greater audience, there has not been an explicit way to measure openess in knowledge creation and dissemination. This has made it very difficult to compare country performance as well as tracking one country’s progress over time. We at the Open Economics Working Group had a first attempt to create an “Open Knowledge Index” to fill this gap. Early this week during a virtual sprint, seven of our members worked together to create the conceptual framework, gather the data and construct a first version for the set of OECD + BRIC countries. Here are the (preliminary) results (a technical explanation of the construction is here): Not surprisingly, there is a high correlation between a country’s wealth and its rank in providing Open Knowledge (Iceland leads the list). But a large fraction of the variation in the Open Knowledge Index cannot be explained by wealth alone – a good example here is Estonia, still an emerging country but one with the highest internet penetration rates in the world. As this is only a first version, we would be happy for any comments and feedbacks you may have. We are also looking for more volunteers who might be interested in joining our project – this can be by helping to improve the conceptual part of the index, by gathering data or improving the visualization. If you are interested, please get in touch with our Working Group by signing up and writing to the mailing list.

Testing new toy economies/political structures in MMOGs

- April 30, 2011 in economics, game, mmog

The project is about using MMOGs within a flexible game engine environment (which was sofar dubbed MMOGEP- massively multiplayer online game for economic and political change) for testing toy versions of different economical/political schemes than the present one. There exists a very preliminary proposal for an example MMOG called Utopia. A discussion and more information can be found at [][] an article draft about the project is at [][]