African economic growth in a European mirror: a historical perspective
New research on historical national accounting has provided a more comprehensive picture of European economic performance from the medieval period through industrialization and the transition to modern economic growth. These data confirm anecdotal arguments that pre-industrial economies were not stagnant but rather experienced periods of growth followed by reversals which erased gains in living standards. They also provide a framework for comparing the absolute level of economic development in different times and places, using a common unit of account. These data are used here to re-assess the economic performance of African economies during the twentieth century. While African economies have been growing rapidly in recent decades, levels of per capita income remain low and this growth has not always been accompanied by the institutional and structural change witnessed in Europe during the transition to modern economic growth. As a result, growth reversals continue to pose a serious threat to African prosperity, and measures of structural change and institutional quality should be given more weight in assessing the extent to which individual countries have moved closer to achieving sustained economic growth.
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