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What'S Space Got To Do With It? Distance And Agricultural Productivity Before The Railway Age

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  • George Grantham


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    This paper argues that the conventional Malthusian account of pre-modern economies as constrained by diminishing returns resulting from a fixed land supplied is flawed because it does not recognize the importance of systematic indivisibilities in the production and distribution of farm produce that supported increasing return to additional inputs when the demand price of produce warranted them. Those indivisibilities locked in low-intensity farming practices in places where the demand for produce was diffuse. Most of pre-industrial Europe was in that situation, so average agricultural productivity was low. It was only in regions where urban concentrations of consumers aggregated demand to a level capable of inducing extra investment to exploit latent returns to scale in farming and transportation that the productivity of traditional mixed farming achieved its full potential.

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    Paper provided by McGill University, Department of Economics in its series Departmental Working Papers with number 2010-04.

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    Length: 59 pages
    Date of creation: May 2010
    Handle: RePEc:mcl:mclwop:2010-04
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    1. Olmstead, Alan L. & Rhode, Paul W., 2001. "Reshaping The Landscape: The Impact And Diffusion Of The Tractor In American Agriculture, 1910 1960," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 61(03), pages 663-698, September.
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    6. Robert C. Allen, 2003. "Progress and poverty in early modern Europe," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 56(3), pages 403-443, 08.
    7. Grantham, George W., 1980. "The Persistence of Open-Field Farming in Nineteenth-Century France," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 40(03), pages 515-531, September.
    8. F. M. L. Thompson, 1976. "Nineteenth-Century Horse Sense," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 29(1), pages 60-81, 02.
    9. John Komlos & Richard Landes, 1991. "Anachronistic economics: grain storage in medieval England," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 44(1), pages 36-45, 02.
    10. Michael Turner, 1982. "Agricultural Productivity in England in the Eighteenth Century: Evidence from Crop Yields," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 35(4), pages 489-510, November.
    11. van Zanden, Jan L., 1999. "Wages and the standard of living in Europe, 1500 1800," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 3(02), pages 175-197, August.
    12. A. S. Kussmaul, 1981. "The Ambiguous Mobility of Farm Servants," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 34(2), pages 222-235, 05.
    13. Munro, John H., 2004. "Spanish Merino wools and the Nouvelles Draperies: an industrial transformation in the late-medieval Low Countries," MPRA Paper 15808, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 22 Mar 2005.
    14. repec:cup:jechis:v:61:y:2002:i:03:p:663-698_03 is not listed on IDEAS
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