Monday, February 28, 2011

The Past Wasn't Completely Impoverished

In the first post my series against self-verification, I'd like to try and balance an argument I make regularly. Though like was significantly worse before the Industrial Revolution, in some places it wasn't as bad as I thought:
In the first, with Joseph Cummins and Brock Smith, he shows that England was surprisingly rich before the Industrial Revolution. This assertion is based on the fact the a small share of the population was engaged in farming. The primary sector accounted for 52% in 1817, and even 60% in 1560. These measurements are based on the occupations listed in men's wills and indicate that a substantial fraction of people living in rural areas were in fact not engaged in farming. Thus measuring the urban population share can be misleading in this respect.

In the second, Gregory Clark shows that there has been relatively little growth over these centuries, which means that way back in 1381, England was much richer than we thought. At that date, only 55% of the population was engaged in farming, based on records of the Poll Tax. This is very close to the number quoted above for 1817. Thus standards of living were not that different four and a half centuries apart.
I think I've also been guilty of ignoring the importance of intimate relationships when it comes to measuring wealth. Having enjoyable conversations with friends is one of many things that won't show up in GDP. And let's not forget, that like me, plenty of ancient cultures had time for games.

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