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Happy in the Service of the Company: The Purchasing Power of VOC Salaries at the Cape in the 18th Century

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  • Sophia Du Plessis
  • Stan Du Plessis

Abstract

This paper contributes to the debate on the level and trajectory of welfare at the Cape of Good Hope during the 18th century. Recent scholarship (for example, Allen 2005) has calculated and compared the levels and evolution of real wages in various European and Asian economies since the early modern period. To this literature we add evidence for unskilled and skilled workers of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope during the 18th century, following De Zwart (2009; 2011), who recently presented evidence for unskilled workers in the Cape for the latter half of the 17th century and the 18th century. We calculate job-specific real wages in a three-step argument; from the narrowest international comparison of wage rates in terms of silver content to one based on a basket of widely consumed goods. This paper adds to this literature by adapting the consumption basket for local circumstances (due to both diet and relative prices) and the comparison for local demographics. We also provide a broader range of comparative statistics on real wages. Finally, we add the real wages of skilled workers to the comparison of unskilled workers offered in the literature to date. While the paper is based on real wages for VOC officials the mechanism we identify as the cause of this rising prosperity (sustained lower prices of consumption goods) would have raised the prosperity of all colonists at the Cape.

Suggested Citation

  • Sophia Du Plessis & Stan Du Plessis, 2012. "Happy in the Service of the Company: The Purchasing Power of VOC Salaries at the Cape in the 18th Century," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(1), pages 125-149.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:rehdxx:v:27:y:2012:i:1:p:125-149
    DOI: 10.1080/20780389.2012.682398
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Robert C. Allen & Jean-Pascal Bassino & Debin Ma & Christine Moll-Murata & Jan Luiten Van Zanden, 2011. "Wages, prices, and living standards in China, 1738–1925: in comparison with Europe, Japan, and India," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64, pages 8-38, February.
    2. Robert Allen & Robert C. Allen, 2007. "Wages, Prices, and Living Standards in China, Japan, and Europe, 1738-1925," Economics Series Working Papers 316, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    3. Allen, Robert C. & Bengtsson, Tommy & Dribe, Martin (ed.), 2005. "Living Standards in the Past: New Perspectives on Well-Being in Asia and Europe," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199280681, November.
    4. Pim de Zwart, 2011. "Real wages at the Cape of Good Hope: A long-term perspective, 1652-1912," Working Papers 0013, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
    5. Stephen Broadberry & Bishnupriya Gupta, 2006. "The early modern great divergence: wages, prices and economic development in Europe and Asia, 1500–1800," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 59(1), pages 2-31, February.
    6. Jean-Pascal Bassino & Robert Allen & Debin Ma & Christine Moll-Murata & Jan Luiten van Zanden, 2005. "Wages, prices, and living standards in China, 1738-1925," Post-Print hal-02872735, HAL.
    7. Allen, Robert C., 2001. "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 411-447, October.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Lessons from the Cape Colony
      by Johan Fourie in Johan Fourie's Blog on 2012-03-15 15:30:02
    2. Lessons from the Cape Colony
      by Johan Fourie in Johan Fourie's Blog on 2012-03-15 15:30:02

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Robert C. Allen, 2019. "Real wages once more: a response to Judy Stephenson," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 72(2), pages 738-754, May.
    2. Piraino, Patrizio & Muller, Sean & Cilliers, Jeanne & Fourie, Johan, 2013. "The transmission of longevity across generations: The case of the settler Cape Colony," SALDRU Working Papers 113, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    3. Johan Fourie & Nonso Obikili, 2019. "Decolonizing with data: The cliometric turn in African economic history," Working Papers 02/2019, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    4. J. Fourie, 2018. "Cliometrics in South Africa," Studies in Economics and Econometrics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(2), pages 1-14, August.
    5. Jerven , Morten & Austin , Gareth & Green, Erik & Uche , Chibuike & Frankema , Ewout & Fourie , Johan & Inikori , Joseph & Moradi , Alexander & Hillbom , Ellen, 2012. "Moving Forward in African Economic History: Bridging the Gap Between Methods and Sources," African Economic History Working Paper 1/2012, African Economic History Network.
    6. Johan Fourie & Jan Luiten Zanden, 2013. "GDP in the Dutch Cape Colony: The National Accounts of a Slave-Based Society," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 81(4), pages 467-490, December.
    7. Bokang Mpeta & Johan Fourie & Kris Inwood, 2017. "Black living standards in South Africa before democracy: New evidence from heights," Working Papers 10/2017, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    8. Johan Fourie & Kris Inwood & Martine Mariotti, 2022. "Living standards in settler South Africa, 1865-1920," Working Papers 06/2022, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    9. Johan Fourie & Dieter von Fintel, 2010. "A History with Evidence: Income inequality in the Dutch Cape Colony," Working Papers 23/2010, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    10. Sophia du Plessis & Ada Jansen & Dieter von Fintel, 2014. "Slave prices and productivity at the Cape of Good Hope from 1700 to 1725: did all settler farmers profit from the trade?," Working Papers 17/2014, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics, revised 2014.
    11. Willem H. Boshoff & Johan Fourie, 2015. "When did globalization begin in South Africa?," Working Papers 10/2015, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    12. Martins, Igor, 2019. "An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade: The Effects of an Import Ban on Cape Colony Slaveholders," African Economic History Working Paper 43/2019, African Economic History Network.
    13. Jörg Baten & Johan Fourie, 2015. "Numeracy of Africans, Asians, and Europeans during the early modern period: new evidence from Cape Colony court registers," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(2), pages 632-656, May.
    14. Pim de Zwart, 2011. "Real wages at the Cape of Good Hope: A long-term perspective, 1652-1912," Working Papers 0013, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N37 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Africa; Oceania
    • N97 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Africa; Oceania
    • E31 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Price Level; Inflation; Deflation

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