IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/afc/wpaper/08-06.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Measuring Ancient Inequality

Author

Listed:
  • Jeffrey G. Williamson

    (Harvard University and NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH)

  • Branko Milanovic
  • Peter H. Lindert

Abstract

Is inequality largely the result of the Industrial Revolution? Or, were pre-industrial incomes and life expectancies as unequal as they are today? For want of sufficient data, these questions have not yet been answered. This paper infers inequality for 14 ancient, pre-industrial societies using what are known as social tables, stretching from the Roman Empire 14 AD, to Byzantium in 1000, to England in 1688, to Nueva España around 1790, to China in 1880 and to British India in 1947. It applies two new concepts in making those assessments -- what we call the inequality possibility frontier and the inequality extraction ratio. Rather than simply offering measures of actual inequality, we compare the latter with the maximum feasible inequality (or surplus) that could have been extracted by the elite. The results, especially when compared with modern poor countries, give new insights in to the connection between inequality and economic development in the very long run.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey G. Williamson & Branko Milanovic & Peter H. Lindert, 2008. "Measuring Ancient Inequality," Working Papers 08-06, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC).
  • Handle: RePEc:afc:wpaper:08-06
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.cliometrie.org/images/wp/AFC_WP_06-2008.pdf
    Download Restriction: no
    ---><---

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Raymond W. Goldsmith, 1984. "An Estimate Of The Size Anl Structure Of The National Product Of The Early Roman Empire," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 30(3), pages 263-288, September.
    2. Deininger, Klaus & Squire, Lyn, 1996. "A New Data Set Measuring Income Inequality," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 10(3), pages 565-591, September.
    3. Gary S. Becker & Tomas J. Philipson & Rodrigo R. Soares, 2005. "The Quantity and Quality of Life and the Evolution of World Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 277-291, March.
    4. Thomas Piketty, 2005. "Top Income Shares in the Long Run: An Overview," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 382-392, 04/05.
    5. Samuel H. Preston, 1980. "Causes and Consequences of Mortality Declines in Less Developed Countries during the Twentieth Century," NBER Chapters, in: Population and Economic Change in Developing Countries, pages 289-360, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Lindert, Peter H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1982. "Revising England's social tables 1688-1812," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 385-408, October.
    7. Allen, Robert, 2001. "2000 Economic History Association Annual Meeting," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 61(02), pages 532-535, June.
    8. Paul Collier & Anke Hoeffler, 2004. "Greed and grievance in civil war," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 56(4), pages 563-595, October.
    9. Branko Milanovic, 2006. "An Estimate Of Average Income And Inequality In Byzantium Around Year 1000," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 52(3), pages 449-470, September.
    10. Deininger, Klaus & Squire, Lyn, 1996. "A New Data Set Measuring Income Inequality," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 10(3), pages 565-591, September.
    11. Kuznets, Simon, 1976. "Demographic Aspects of the Size Distribution of Income: An Exploratory Essay," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25(1), pages 1-94, October.
    12. R. V. Jackson, 1994. "Inequality of incomes and lifespans in England since 1688," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 47(3), pages 508-524, August.
    13. Goldsmith, Raymond W, 1984. "An Estimate of the Size and Structure of the National Product of the Early Roman Empire," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 30(3), pages 263-288, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Robert MacCulloch & Silvia Pezzini, 2010. "The Roles of Freedom, Growth, and Religion in the Taste for Revolution," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 53(2), pages 329-358, May.
    2. Guillermo Lezama & Henry Willebald, 2020. "Inequality in Pre‐Income Survey Times: A Methodological Proposal," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 66(4), pages 931-957, December.
    3. Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2013. "Demographic Dividends Revisited," Asian Development Review, MIT Press, vol. 30(2), pages 1-25, September.
    4. Bas van Leeuwen & Peter Foldvari, 2012. "The development of inequality and poverty in Indonesia, 1932-1999," Working Papers 0026, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
    5. Eric Neumayer, 2003. "Is Inequality really a Major Cause of Violent Crime? Evidence From a Cross-National Panel of Robbery and Violent Theft Rates," Law and Economics 0312002, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 10 Aug 2004.
    6. Justman, Moshe & Gradstein, Mark, 1999. "The Industrial Revolution, Political Transition, and the Subsequent Decline in Inequality in 19th-Century Britain," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 109-127, April.
    7. Branko Milanovic, 2014. "The Return of "Patrimonial Capitalism": A Review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 52(2), pages 519-534, June.
    8. Lessmann Christian, 2016. "Regional Inequality and Internal Conflict," German Economic Review, De Gruyter, vol. 17(2), pages 157-191, May.
    9. Oloufade, Djoulassi K., 2012. "Trade Openness, Conflict Risk and Income Inequality," MPRA Paper 40702, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Feb 2013.
    10. Ann-Sofie Isaksson, 2011. "Social divisions and institutions: assessing institutional parameter variation," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 147(3), pages 331-357, June.
    11. Baten, Joerg & Mumme, Christina, 2013. "Does inequality lead to civil wars? A global long-term study using anthropometric indicators (1816–1999)," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 56-79.
    12. Camille Laville, 2018. "The econometrical causal analysis of internal conflicts: The evolutions of a growing literature [L’analyse économétrique des conflits internes par l’approche causale : les évolutions d’une littérat," Working Papers hal-01940461, HAL.
    13. Ghimire, Ramesh & Ferreira, Susana & Dorfman, Jeffrey H., 2015. "Flood-Induced Displacement and Civil Conflict," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 614-628.
    14. Milanovic, Branko, 2013. "The return of “patrimonial capitalism”: review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st century," MPRA Paper 52384, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Gudrun Østby, 2013. "Inequality and political violence: A review of the literature," International Area Studies Review, Center for International Area Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, vol. 16(2), pages 206-231, June.
    16. Serrano, Joaquín & Benzaquén, Ivana, 2017. "La frontera de posibilidades de desigualdad en América Latina," El Trimestre Económico, Fondo de Cultura Económica, vol. 0(334), pages .427-461, abril-jun.
    17. Héctor Galindo Silva, 2007. "Polarización económica y emergencia de confilctos violentos internos un estudio empírico," Documentos de Economía 004449, Universidad Javeriana - Bogotá.
    18. Valpy FitzGerald, 2008. "Economic development and fluctuations in earnings inequality in the very long run: The evidence from Latin America 1900-2000," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(8), pages 1028-1048.
    19. Paul Collier & Anke Hoeffler, 2004. "Murder by Numbers: Socio-Economic Determinants of Homicide and Civil War," CSAE Working Paper Series 2004-10, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    20. repec:zbw:rwidps:0030 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. Branko Milanovic, 2002. "True World Income Distribution, 1988 and 1993: First Calculation Based on Household Surveys Alone," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(476), pages 51-92, January.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:afc:wpaper:08-06. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/afcccea.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/afcccea.html .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.