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Economic Growth Before 1860: Revised Conjectures

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  • Thomas Weiss

Abstract

The current view of U.S. economic growth before 1860 is based on the conjectural estimates of output made by Paul David (1967). This paper sets forth new estimates of the farm labor force for the period 1800 to 1860 and uses them to revise those conjectures about growth of per capita output. An additional conjectural estimate is produced based on recent evidence about manufacturing productivity. The new estimates lower the farm labor forces in the years before 1830 by 10 to 15 percent, while raising the figures for 1840, 1850, and 1860 by 5 to 9 percent. As a consequence the farm work force grew more rapidly than was previously believed, and farm productivity grew more slowly. The impact of the revisions varied by subperiod, and is concentrated almost entirely in the middle 20 years. Because the advance in farm productivity was the major determinant of change in the conjectural estimates of per capita output, that series shows a slower rate of growth as well, especially over the period 1820 to 1840. A refined estimate, which incorporates the recent evidence on manufacturing productivity, alters the picture somewhat, but still shows slower growth and more gradual acceleration of output per capita than is revealed in the David series.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Weiss, 1989. "Economic Growth Before 1860: Revised Conjectures," NBER Historical Working Papers 0007, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0007
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    1. Michael R. Haines, 1989. "Consumer Behavior and Immigrant Assimilation: A comparison of the United States, Britain and Germany, 1889/1890," NBER Historical Working Papers 0006, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. David, Paul A., 1977. "Invention and accumulation in america's economic growth: A nineteenth-century parable," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 179-228, January.
    3. Thomas Weiss, 1987. "The Farm Labor Force by Region, 1820-1860: Revised Estimates and Implications for Growth," NBER Working Papers 2438, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. David, Paul A., 1967. "The Growth of Real Product in the United States Before 1840: New Evidence, Controlled Conjectures," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 27(02), pages 151-197, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. José Díaz & Rolf Lüders & Gert Wagner, "undated". "Economía Chilena 1810-1995: Evolución Cuantitativa del Producto Total y Sectorial," Documentos de Trabajo 186, Instituto de Economia. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile..
    2. Rosenbloom, Joshua L. & Weiss, Thomas, 2014. "Economic growth in the Mid-Atlantic region: Conjectural estimates for 1720 to 1800," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 41-59.
    3. Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman, 2000. "Downtime in American Manufacturing Industry: 1870 and 1880," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0048, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    4. Jeremy Greenwood & Gokce Uysal, 2005. "New Goods and the Transition to a New Economy," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 99-134, June.
    5. Peter H. Lindert & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2012. "American Incomes 1774-1860," NBER Working Papers 18396, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Komlos, John & Baten, Jörg, 2003. "Looking Backward and Looking Forward: Anthropometric Research and the Development of Social Science History," Discussion Papers in Economics 59, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    7. Rousseau, Peter L. & Sylla, Richard, 2005. "Emerging financial markets and early US growth," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 1-26, January.
    8. Lindert, Peter H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 2013. "American Incomes Before and After the Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 73(03), pages 725-765, September.
    9. Robert A. Margo, 1995. "The Farm-Nonfarm Wage Gap in the Antebellum United States: Evidence fromthe 1850 and 1860 Censuses of Social Statistics," NBER Historical Working Papers 0072, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Gary Gorton, "undated". "The Enforceability of Private Money Contracts, Market Efficiency, and Technological Change," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 19-90, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
    11. Mancall, Peter C. & Rosenbloom, Joshua L. & Weiss, Thomas, 2002. "Agricultural labor productivity in the Lower South, 1720-1800," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 390-424, October.
    12. Peter C. Mancall & Joshua L. Rosenbloom & Thomas Weiss, 2000. "Conjectural Estimates of Economic Growth in the Lower South, 1720 to 1800," NBER Historical Working Papers 0126, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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