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The Physiological Foundations of the Wealth of Nations

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  • Carl-Johan Dalgaard

    (Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen)

  • Holger Strulik

    (University of Hannover)

Abstract

Evidence from economics, anthropology and biology testifies to a fundamental trade-off between the number of offspring (quantity) and amount of nutrition per child (quality). This leads to a theory of pre-industrial growth where body size as well as population size is endogenous. But when productive quality investments are undertaken the historical constancy of income per capita seems puzzling. Why didn't episodes of rising income instigate a virtuous circle of rising body size and productivity? To address this question we propose that societies are subject to a “physiological check”: if human body size rises, metabolic needs - our conceptualization of “subsistence requirements” - rise. This mechanism turns out to be instrumental in explaining why income growth does not take hold and societies remain near an endogenously determined subsistence boundary. When we use the theory to shed light on pre-industrial cross-country income differences we find that 60-70% of the income differences in 1500 can plausibly be accounted for by variations in subsistence requirements.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics in its series Discussion Papers with number 10-05.

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Length: 39 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:kud:kuiedp:1005

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Keywords: Malthusian stagnation; Subsistence; Nutrition; Body size; Population growth;

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References

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  1. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2010. "Dynamics and Stagnation in the Malthusian Epoch," Department of Economics Working Papers 2010-01, Department of Economics, Williams College, revised Jul 2010.
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  18. Shekhar Aiyar & Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Omer Moav, 2008. "Technological progress and regress in pre-industrial times," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 13(2), pages 125-144, June.
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Citations

Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Physiology and Malthus
    by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2011-11-10 17:08:00
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Cited by:
  1. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2010. "The "Out of Africa" Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development," Center for Development Economics 2010-03, Department of Economics, Williams College, revised Jun 2011.
  2. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2010. "Dynamics and Stagnation in the Malthusian Epoch," Department of Economics Working Papers 2010-01, Department of Economics, Williams College, revised Jul 2010.
  3. Guzmán, Ricardo Andrés & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2011. "The Neolithic Revolution from a price-theoretic perspective," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(2), pages 209-219, November.
  4. Strulik, Holger, 2012. "Knowledge and growth in the very long run," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 145, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
  5. Sara LaLumia & James M. Sallee, 2011. "The Value of Honesty: Empirical Estimates from the Case of the Missing Children," NBER Working Papers 17247, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Sharp, Paul & Strulik, Holger & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2012. "The determinants of income in a Malthusian equilibrium," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(1), pages 112-117.
  7. Patricia Beeson & Lara Shore-Sheppard & Tara Watson, 2010. "Local Fiscal Policies and Urban Wage Structures," Public Finance Review, , vol. 38(5), pages 540-584, September.

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