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Entertaining Malthus: Bread, Circuses, And Economic Growth

Author

Listed:
  • Rohan Dutta
  • David K. Levine
  • Nicholas W. Papageorge
  • Lemin Wu

Abstract

Motivated by the basic adage that man does not live by bread alone, we offer a theory of historical economic growth and population dynamics where human beings need food to survive, but enjoy other things, too. Our model imposes a Malthusian constraint on food, but introduces a second good to the analysis that affects living standards without affecting population growth. We show that technological change does a good job explaining historical consumption patterns and population dynamics, including the Neolithic Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Great Divergence. Our theory stands in contrast to models that assume a single composite good and a Malthusian constraint. These models generate negligible growth prior to the Industrial Revolution. However, recent revisions to historical data show that historical living standards—though obviously much lower than today's—varied over time and space much more than previously thought. These revisions include updates to Maddison's dataset, which served as the basis for many papers taking long‐run stagnation as a point of departure. This new evidence suggests that the assumption of long‐run stagnation is problematic. Our model shows that when we give theoretical accounting of these new observations the Industrial Revolution is much less puzzling. (JEL B10, I31, J1, N1, O30)

Suggested Citation

  • Rohan Dutta & David K. Levine & Nicholas W. Papageorge & Lemin Wu, 2018. "Entertaining Malthus: Bread, Circuses, And Economic Growth," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 56(1), pages 358-380, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ecinqu:v:56:y:2018:i:1:p:358-380
    DOI: 10.1111/ecin.12479
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • B10 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - General
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • N1 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General

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