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Economic inequality and growth before the industrial revolution: A case study of the Low Countries (14th-19th centuries)

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  • Wouter Ryckbosch

Abstract

This paper studies a collection of data on economic inequality in fifteen towns in the Southern and Northern Low Countries from the late Middle Ages until the end of the nineteenth century. By using a single and consistent source type and adopting a uniform methodology, it is possible to study levels of urban economic inequality across time and place comparatively. The results indicate a clear growth in economic inequality in the two centuries prior to the industrial revolution and the onset of sustained economic growth per capita. The general occurrence of this rise throughout regions with dissimilar economic trajectories contradicts the existence of a straightforward trade-off between growth and inequality as conjectured by Simon Kuznets (1955). Instead, the results presented lend support to the ‘classical’ economists’ explanation of inequality as the consequence of a changing functional distribution of income favouring capital over labour in the long run.

Suggested Citation

  • Wouter Ryckbosch, 2014. "Economic inequality and growth before the industrial revolution: A case study of the Low Countries (14th-19th centuries)," Working Papers 067, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
  • Handle: RePEc:don:donwpa:067
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    File URL: ftp://ftp.dondena.unibocconi.it/WorkingPapers/Dondena_WP067.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Esteban A. Nicolini & Fernando Ramos Palencia, 2016. "Decomposing income inequality in a backward pre-industrial economy: Old Castile (Spain) in the middle of the eighteenth century," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 69(3), pages 747-772, August.
    2. Guido Alfani & Francesco Ammannati, 2014. "Economic inequality and poverty in the very long run: The case of the Florentine State," Working Papers 070, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    3. Guido Alfani & Wouter Ryckbosch, 2015. "Was there a ‘Little Convergence’ in inequality? Italy and the Low Countries compared, ca. 1500-1800," Working Papers 557, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    4. repec:spr:cliomt:v:11:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11698-016-0152-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Guido Alfani & Matteo Di Tullio, 2015. "Dinamiche di lungo periodo della disuguaglianza in Italia settentrionale: una nota di ricerca," Working Papers 071, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    6. Milanovic, Branko, 2016. "Towards an explanation of inequality in pre-modern societies:the role of colonies and high population density," MPRA Paper 74877, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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    Keywords

    Income Inequality; Pre-Industrial; Economic Growth; super Kuznets curve.;

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