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

Author

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  • Johan Fourie
  • Jan Luiten van Zanden

    (Universiteit Stellenbosch and Universiteit Utrecht)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Johan Fourie & Jan Luiten van Zanden, 2012. "GDP in the Dutch Cape Colony: The national accounts of a slave-based society," Working Papers 0030, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucg:wpaper:0030
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(1), pages 125-149.
    2. Johan Fourie & Dieter von Fintel, 2010. "A History with Evidence: Income inequality in the Dutch Cape Colony," Working Papers 23/2010, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
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    6. Johan Fourie & Stefan Schirmer, 2012. "The Future of South African Economic History," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(1), pages 114-124.
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    8. 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.
    9. 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(3), pages 469-503, December.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. Pim de Zwart, 2011. "Real wages at the Cape of Good Hope: A long-term perspective, 1652-1912," Working Papers 0013, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
    13. 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, May.
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    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Debt and development
      by Johan Fourie in Johan Fourie's Blog on 2012-05-04 18:24:39
    2. Debt and development
      by Johan Fourie in Johan Fourie's Blog on 2012-05-04 18:24:39
    3. Measuring progress
      by Johan Fourie in Johan Fourie's Blog on 2013-11-29 14:32:26

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Jeanne Cilliers & Johan Fourie, 2017. "Social mobility during South Africa’s industrial take-off," Working Papers 04/2017, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    2. Jörg Baten & Johan Fourie, 2015. "Numeracy of Africans, Asians, and Europeans during the early modern period: new evidence from Cape Colony court registers," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(2), pages 632-656, May.
    3. Leandro Prados de la Escosura, 2012. "Output Per Head In Pre-Independence Africa: Quantitative Conjectures," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(2), pages 1-36, December.
    4. Sumner La Croix, 2016. "The Decline of the Khoikhoi Population, 1652-1780: A Review and a New Estimate," Working Papers 201622, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    5. Broadberry, Stephen & Gardner, Leigh, 2016. "Economic Development In Africa And Europe: Reciprocal Comparisons," Revista de Historia Económica / Journal of Iberian and Latin American Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 34(1), pages 11-37, March.
    6. Stephen Broadberry & Leigh Gardner, 2019. "Economic Growth In Sub-Saharan Africa, 1885-2008," Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers _169, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    7. Ellen Feingold & Johan Fourie & Leigh Gardner, 2021. "A tale of paper and gold: The material history of money in South Africa," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 36(2), pages 264-281, May.
    8. Jerven, Morten & Austin, Gareth & Green, Erik & Uche, Chibuike & Frankema, Ewout & Fourie, Johan & Inikori, Joseph & Moradi, Alexander & Hillbom, Ellen, 2012. "Moving Forward in African Economic History. Bridging the Gap Between Methods and Sources," Lund Papers in Economic History 124, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
    9. S. La Croix, 2018. "The Khoikhoi Population, 1652-1780: A Review of the Evidence and Two New Estimates," Studies in Economics and Econometrics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(2), pages 15-34, August.
    10. Jörg Baten & Johan Fourie, 2012. "Slave numeracy in the Cape Colony and comparative development in the eighteenth century," Working Papers 270, Economic Research Southern Africa.
    11. Jerven, Morten, 2019. "African Economic Growth 1900-50: Historical National Accounts for British Colonial Africa," African Economic History Working Paper 50/2019, African Economic History Network.
    12. Abel Gwaindepi & Johan Fourie, 2020. "Public Sector Growth in the British Cape Colony: Evidence From New Data on Expenditure and Foreign Debt, 1830‐1910," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 88(3), pages 341-367, September.
    13. Ellen Feingold & Johan Fourie & Leigh Gardner, 2021. "A tale of paper and gold: The material history of money in South Africa," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 36(2), pages 264-281, May.
    14. Willem H. Boshoff & Johan Fourie, 2015. "When did globalization begin in South Africa?," Working Papers 10/2015, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    15. Broadberry, Stephen & Gardner, Leigh, 2014. "African economic growth in a European mirror: a historical perspective," Economic History Working Papers 56493, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    16. Feingold, Ellen & Fourie, Johan & Gardner, Leigh, 2021. "A tale of paper and gold: the material history money in South Africa," Economic History Working Papers 108574, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    17. Jeanne Cilliers & Johan Fourie, 2012. "New Estimates Of Settler Life Span And Other Demographic Trends In South Africa, 1652-1948," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(2), pages 61-86, December.
    18. Johan Fourie, 2011. "Slaves as capital investment in the Dutch Cape Colony, 1652-1795," Working Papers 21/2011, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    19. Stephen Broadberry & Leigh Gardner, 2019. "Economic Growth In Sub-Saharan Africa, 1885-2008," Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers _169, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    20. Johan Fourie & Dieter Fintel, 2014. "Settler skills and colonial development: the Huguenot wine-makers in eighteenth-century Dutch South Africa," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 67(4), pages 932-963, November.
    21. Johan Fourie & Nonso Obikili, 2019. "Decolonizing with data: The cliometric turn in African economic history," Working Papers 02/2019, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    22. La Croix, Sumner, 2018. "The Khohkoi Population: A Review of Evidence and Two New Estimates," African Economic History Working Paper 39/2018, African Economic History Network.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    South Africa; slave; income; growth; GDP per capita; production;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N37 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Africa; Oceania

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