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Relative Per Capita Income Levels in the United Kingdom and the United States since 1870: Reconciling Time-Series Projections and Direct-Benchmark Estimates


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There are currently two ways of estimating relative levels of per capita income back to the nineteenth century. The most commonly adopted approach, popularized in particular by Angus Maddison and labeled long-span estimates by Marianne Ward and John Devereux, is to use time-series projection from a recent benchmark.Maddison, Monitoring; and Ward and Devereux, Measuring British Decline. The alternative procedure, labeled direct estimates by Ward and Devereux, is to use direct benchmark estimates for earlier years. Ward and Devereux provide some new direct estimates which they claim over-turn the conventional chronology of U.K. U.S. relative per capita income levels for the period 1870 1990, derived using long-span projections. One important purpose of this note is to dispute the new estimates, and hence to reassert the conventional chronology. Along the way, however, I wish also to make a more general methodological point about the use of time series projections and direct benchmark estimates of relative per capita income levels. In my view, it is unsatisfactory for researchers to note a large discrepancy and simply claim the superiority of one type of evidence over the other. Rather, a satisfactory account of the evolution of relative per capita incomes over a long period should be able to encompass both sorts of evidence.I am grateful to Nick Crafts, Douglas Puffert, Mark Harrison, Douglas Irwin, Angus Maddison, and Mary O Mahony for comments on an earlier version and to Knick Harley for editorial advice. Any remaining errors are my responsibility.

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Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal The Journal of Economic History.

Volume (Year): 63 (2003)
Issue (Month): 03 (September)
Pages: 852-863

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Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:63:y:2003:i:03:p:852-863_54

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Cited by:
  1. Broadberry, Stephen & Giordano, Claire & Zollino, Francesco, 2011. "A Sectoral Analysis of Italy's Development: 1861 -2010," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 62, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  2. Broadberry, Stephen & Gupta, Bishnupriya, 2007. "The Historical Roots Of India’s Service-Led Development : A Sectoral Analysis Of Anglo-Indian Productivity Differences, 1870-2000," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 817, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  3. Klasing, Mariko J. & Milionis, Petros, 2014. "Quantifying the evolution of world trade, 1870–1949," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(1), pages 185-197.
  4. Woltjer, P. & Smits, Jan-Pieter & Frankema, Ewout, 2010. "Comparing Productivity in the Netherlands, France, UK and US, ca. 1910:A new PPP benchmark and its implications for changing economic leadership," GGDC Research Memorandum GD-113, Groningen Growth and Development Centre, University of Groningen.
  5. Broadberry, Stephen N. & Irwin, Douglas A., 2006. "Labor productivity in the United States and the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 257-279, April.
  6. repec:cge:warwcg:80 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Broadberry, Stephen & Gupta, Bishnupriya, 2012. "India And The Great Divergence: An Anglo-Indian Comparison Of Gdp Per Capita, 1600-1871," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 81, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  8. Albrecht Ritschl, 2006. "The Anglo-German Industrial Productivity Paradox, 1895-1938: A Restatement and a Possible Resolution," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2006-048, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
  9. Robert Allen, 2013. "American Exceptionalism as a Problem in Global History," Economics Series Working Papers 689, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.


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