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GDP in the Dutch Cape Colony: The national accounts of a slave-based society

  • Johan Fourie


    (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch, Utrecht University)

  • Jan Luiten van Zanden


    (University of Stellenbosch, Centre for Global Economic History, Utrecht University)

New estimates of GDP of the Dutch Cape Colony (1652-1795) suggest that the Cape was one of the most prosperous regions during the eighteenth century. This stands in sharp contrast to the perceived view that the Cape was an “economic and social backwater”, a slave economy with slow growth and little progress. Following a national accounts framework, we find that Cape settlers’ per capita income is similar to the most prosperous countries of the time – Holland and England. We trace the roots of this result, showing that it is partly explained by a highly skewed population structure and very low dependency ratio of slavery, and attempt to link the eighteenth century Cape Colony experience to twentieth century South African income levels.

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Paper provided by Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 04/2012.

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Date of creation: 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers156
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  1. Boshoff, Willem H. & Fourie, Johan, 2010. "The significance of the Cape trade route to economic activity in the Cape Colony: a medium-term business cycle analysis," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(03), pages 469-503, December.
  2. Johan Fourie & Dieter von Fintel, 2009. "The dynamics of inequality in a newly settled, pre-industrial society: The case of the Cape Colony," Working Papers 17/2009, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  3. Feinstein,Charles H., 2005. "An Economic History of South Africa," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521850919.
  4. Jan Luiten van Zanden & Bas van Leeuwen, 2011. "The Character of growth before 'modern economics growth'? The GDP of Holland between 1347 and 1807," Working Papers 0004, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
  5. Sophia du Plessis & Stan du Plessis, 2012. "Happy in the service of the Company: the purchasing power of VOC salaries at the Cape in the 18th century," Working Papers 01/2012, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  6. Feinstein,Charles H., 2005. "An Economic History of South Africa," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521616416.
  7. Willem Boshoff & Johan Fourie, 2008. "Explaining ship traffic fluctuations in the early Cape settlement: 1652–1793," Working Papers 01/2008, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  8. Johan Fourie, 2013. "The remarkable wealth of the Dutch Cape Colony: measurements from eighteenth-century probate inventories," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 66(2), pages 419-448, 05.
  9. Allen, Robert C., 2001. "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 411-447, October.
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