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Output per head in pre-independence Africa : quantitative conjectures


  • Prados de la Escosura, Leandro


GDP figures for Africa are unreliable. More dependable information can be found in government expenditure and international trade records. These records, though, provide little insight into non-market output. In this paper an attempt is made to draw explicit conjectures on real output per head in preindependence Africa on the basis of trade data so that conjectures can be established about Africa’s long-run growth. Two alternative approaches are considered. One estimates per capita GDP by assuming no increase in output per head outside the tradable sector, for which the purchasing power of per capita exports is accepted as a proxy. Another approach establishes an econometric association between real per capita GDP and the income terms of trade per head for 1950-1990 and, on the basis of the prediction equation’s parameters and the values of the RHS variables, infers real output per head for 1870-1938. Trends in real output per head are then drawn for Africa (and its main regions). By comparing these trends with those from other developing regions, some conjectures about Africa’s relative position over time are put forward. It emerges that economic growth started earlier than usually assumed and there is continuity in growth before and after colonial independence. Sub- Saharan Africa’s retardation is a gradual process, as growing and falling behind took place simultaneously. But it is in the period 1975-1995 when the worst setback in modern Africa’s history took place

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  • Prados de la Escosura, Leandro, 2012. "Output per head in pre-independence Africa : quantitative conjectures," IFCS - Working Papers in Economic History.WH wp12-11, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Instituto Figuerola.
  • Handle: RePEc:cte:whrepe:wp12-11

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bates, Robert H. & Coatsworth, John H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 2007. "Lost Decades: Postindependence Performance in Latin America and Africa," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(04), pages 917-943, December.
    2. Morten Jerven, 2013. "Comparability of GDP estimates in Sub-Saharan Africa: The effect of Revisions in Sources and Methods Since Structural Adjustment," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 59, pages 16-36, October.
    3. R. C. Allen & J. L. Weisdorf, 2011. "Was there an ‘industrious revolution’ before the industrial revolution? An empirical exercise for England, c. 1300–1830," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64(3), pages 715-729, August.
    4. Pamuk, Sevket, 2006. "Estimating Economic Growth in the Middle East since 1820," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(03), pages 809-828, September.
    5. Leander Heldring & James A. Robinson, 2012. "Colonialism and Economic Development in Africa," NBER Working Papers 18566, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Facundo Alvaredo & Anthony B Atkinson, 2010. "Colonial Rule, Apartheid and Natural Resources: Top Incomes in South Africa 1903-2005," OxCarre Working Papers 046, Oxford Centre for the Analysis of Resource Rich Economies, University of Oxford.
    7. Jerven, Morten, 2012. "An unlevel playing field: national income estimates and reciprocal comparison in global economic history," Journal of Global History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(01), pages 107-128, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Guido Alfani & Federico Tadei, 2017. "Income Inequality in Colonial Africa: Building Social Tables for Pre-Independence Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, and Senegal," Working Papers 594, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    2. Broadberry, Stephen & Gardner, Leigh, 2016. "Economic Development In Africa And Europe: Reciprocal Comparisons," Revista de Historia Económica, Cambridge University Press, vol. 34(01), pages 11-37, March.
    3. Broadberry, Stephen & Gardner, Leigh, 2014. "African economic growth in a European mirror: a historical perspective," Economic History Working Papers 56493, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    4. Broadberry, Stephen & Gardner, Leigh, 2013. "Africa's Growth Prospects in a European mirror: a Historical Perspective," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 172, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).

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    JEL classification:

    • E01 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - Measurement and Data on National Income and Product Accounts and Wealth; Environmental Accounts
    • N17 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Africa; Oceania
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
    • O55 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Africa

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