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Sweet Diversity: Colonial Goods and the Rise of European Living Standards after 1492

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  • Hersh, Jonathan
  • Voth, Hans-Joachim

Abstract

Did living standards stagnate before the Industrial Revolution? Traditional real-wage indices typically show broadly constant living standards before 1800. In this paper, we show that living standards rose substantially, but surreptitiously because of the growing availability of new goods. Colonial luxuries such as tea, coffee, and sugar transformed European diets after the discovery of America and the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope. These goods became household items in many countries by the end of the 18th century. We use the Greenwood-Kopecky (2009) method to calculate welfare gains based on data about price changes and the rate of adoption of new colonial goods. Our results suggest that by 1850, the average Englishman would have been willing to forego 15% or more of his income in order to maintain access to sugar and tea alone. These findings are robust to a wide range of alternative assumptions, data series, and valuation methods.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 7386.

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Date of creation: Jul 2009
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:7386

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Keywords: Age of Discoveries; First divergence; new goods; standard of living indicators; unified growth;

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Cited by:
  1. Karen A. Kopecky & Jeremy Greenwood, 2011. "Measuring the welfare gain from personal computers: a macroeconomic approach," Working Paper 2011-05, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  2. Broadberry, Stephen & Campbell, Bruce M.S. & van Leeuwen, Bas, 2013. "When did Britain industrialise? The sectoral distribution of the labour force and labour productivity in Britain, 1381–1851," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 16-27.
  3. Koyama, Mark, 2012. "The transformation of labor supply in the pre-industrial world," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 505-523.
  4. Meissner, Christopher M., 2014. "Growth from Globalization? A View from the Very Long Run," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 8, pages 1033-1069 Elsevier.
  5. Stephen Broadberry & Bruce Campbell & Alexander Klein & Mark Overton & Bas van Leeuwen, 2012. "British Economic Growth, 1270-1870: an output-based approach," Studies in Economics 1203, Department of Economics, University of Kent.
  6. Nunn, Nathan, 2014. "Historical Development," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 7, pages 347-402 Elsevier.
  7. Tim Leunig & Joachim Voth, 2011. "Spinning Welfare: the Gains from Process Innovation in Cotton and Car Production," CEP Discussion Papers dp1050, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.

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