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Income Inequality in Paris in the Heyday of the Commercial Revolution


  • Nathan Sussman


Rising inequality in recent decades in the U.S. and other developed economies has again focused attention on the relationship between inequality and growth, and the relationship between inequality and heterogeneity in abilities. This paper is a preliminary report based on the analysis of data extracted from the tax returns (the taille) imposed by Philip the Fair from 1292 to 1313 on the Parisian middle class. The major finding reported in this paper is that inequality in Paris in the heyday of the Commercial Revolution was very high – a Gini coefficient of 0.7. The medieval Gini coefficient is larger than values recorded for Latin American. Inequality was general and was not confined to one sector or the other. As theory would predict, this inequality was reflected also in large skill and ability premiums and was higher in the high return occupations. Inequality was also very high in skilled occupations controlled by craft guilds such as weaving or construction. I also focus on the very wealthy and show that the elite were very socially mobile. Studying death rates of tax payers accounted for in the tax rolls, I find the death rate to be comparable with that 19th century Europe. The overall picture that emerges is that the Parisian economy of the late middle ages provided ample incentives for the acquisition of human capital and rewarded ability and skill, and in that respect was closer into the information age economy of today.

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  • Nathan Sussman, 2006. "Income Inequality in Paris in the Heyday of the Commercial Revolution," DEGIT Conference Papers c011_043, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
  • Handle: RePEc:deg:conpap:c011_043

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Galor, Oded & Tsiddon, Daniel, 1997. "Technological Progress, Mobility, and Economic Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 363-382, June.
    2. Peter Gottschalk, 1997. "Inequality, Income Growth, and Mobility: The Basic Facts," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 21-40, Spring.
    3. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2000. "Ability-Biased Technological Transition, Wage Inequality, and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(2), pages 469-497.
    4. Hatton, Timothy J. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1998. "The Age of Mass Migration: Causes and Economic Impact," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195116519, June.
    5. Owen, Ann L. & Weil, David N., 1998. "Intergenerational earnings mobility, inequality and growth," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 71-104, February.
    6. Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1998. "Growth, Distribution, and Demography: Some Lessons from History," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 241-271, July.
    7. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
    8. J. L. Van Zanden, 1995. "Tracing the beginning of the Kuznets curve: western Europe during the early modern period," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 48(4), pages 643-664, November.
    9. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pellicer, Miquel, 2009. "Inequality persistence through vertical vs. horizontal coalitions," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(2), pages 258-266, November.
    2. Cliff T. Bekar & Clyde G. Reed, 2012. "Land Markets and Inequality: Evidence from Medieval England," Discussion Papers dp12-14, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.

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