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Pre-modern economic growth revisited: Japan and the West


  • Saito, Osamu


In early modern north-western Europe, real wages declined while GDP per capita was on the increase. In contrast, wage growth in Tokugawa Japan went hand in hand with output growth. Based on this finding, the paper revisits Thomas Smith’s thesis on ‘Pre-modern Economic Growth: Japan and the West’. It is suggested that the common denominator found in both European and Japanese cases was market-led, ‘Smithian growth’. However, unlike north-western Europe, there was no room for mercantile or agricultural capitalism playing a part. Also, Tokugawa growth was not associated with increased income inequality. All this accounted for the slower pace of growth and the absence of any gap between real wage growth and per-capita GDP growth in Japan's pre-modern economic regime.

Suggested Citation

  • Saito, Osamu, 2005. "Pre-modern economic growth revisited: Japan and the West," Economic History Working Papers 22475, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22475

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mendels, Franklin F., 1972. "Proto-industrialization: The First Phase of the Industrialization Process," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(01), pages 241-261, March.
    2. Lindert, Peter H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1983. "Reinterpreting Britain's social tables, 1688-1913," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 94-109, January.
    3. Minami, Ryoshin, 1998. "Economic Development and Income Distribution in Japan: An Assessment of the Kuznets Hypothesis," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(1), pages 39-58, January.
    4. Saito, Osamu, 1989. "Bringing the Covert Structure of the Past to Light," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(04), pages 992-999, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Koyama, Mark, 2012. "The transformation of labor supply in the pre-industrial world," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 505-523.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • O52 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Europe
    • O53 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Asia including Middle East
    • B1 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925


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