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Lost Exceptionalism? Comparative Income and Productivity in Australia and the UK, 1861-1948

  • STEPHEN BROADBERRY
  • DOUGLAS A. IRWIN

Australia had one of the highest per capita incomes in the world in the late nineteenth century, although this exceptional position subsequently eroded over time. This paper compares national income and sectoral labour productivity in Australia and the UK between 1861 and 1948 to uncover the underlying sources of Australia's high income and the reasons for its subsequent relative decline. We find that the country's higher per capita income was due primarily to higher labour productivity, because labour force participation, although higher in Australia than in the USA, was lower than in the UK. Australia had a substantial labour productivity lead in agriculture throughout the period, due to the importance of high value-added, non-arable farming, and a smaller lead in industry before World War I. The early productivity lead in industry was largely based on the importance of mining, and disappeared as manufacturing became more important. There was little productivity difference in services. These results reaffirm the importance of Australia's successful exploitation of its natural resource endowments in explaining the country's high initial income. Copyright © 2007 The Economic Society of Australia.

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Article provided by The Economic Society of Australia in its journal Economic Record.

Volume (Year): 83 (2007)
Issue (Month): 262 (09)
Pages: 262-274

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Handle: RePEc:bla:ecorec:v:83:y:2007:i:262:p:262-274
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