New article: How accurate are the British colonial Blue Books?

I have a new article out at the Economic History of Developing Regions on the British Blue Books, a staple source of statistical information for historians of the British Empire. In the article, I compare the retail prices listed in the Blue Books with market prices collected from African newspapers in the late nineteenth andContinue reading “New article: How accurate are the British colonial Blue Books?”

The rent was too damn high: Singapore edition

As my more devoted readers know, I am very interested in the relationship between housing costs and historical living standards and have shown that incorporating estimates of housing costs in a measure of the real wage in colonial Dakar makes a substantial difference to the story. I’m trying to accumulate more evidence for the propositionContinue reading “The rent was too damn high: Singapore edition”

Food prices and the Little Divergence

One of the less remarked upon ‘divergences’ in the economic history literature is the ‘Little’ Divergence between West Africa and Southeast Asia in the twentieth century. Up until around the 1970s, the differences in income between the two regions were not large. But after that point, Southeast Asia grew much quicker. Some Southeast Asian countries—Laos,Continue reading “Food prices and the Little Divergence”

Urbanisation without industrialisation

One of my favourite papers from the past 10 years is Gollin, Jedwab and Vollrath’s paper on ‘Urbanisation with and without industrialisation‘. They note the difference between ‘production cities’, where manufacturing dominates, and ‘consumption cities’, where the services sector rules. They connect this with natural resources, and with non-homothetic preferences in consumption: a natural resourceContinue reading “Urbanisation without industrialisation”

Gratuitous chart #3: integration in the market for enslaved labour

Recently Martin Klein wrote an interesting article suggesting that the functioning of urban slave labour markets in Africa require more theorising, and (fortunately, since a chapter of my dissertation is on precisely this subject) I agree. One question worth exploring is a subset of the more broader question of market integration: were domestic African marketsContinue reading “Gratuitous chart #3: integration in the market for enslaved labour”

Gratuitous chart #2: market integration in Lower Burma, and some quick thoughts on GDP reconstructions

Via a rather circuitous route, I’ve become extremely interested in domestic market integration: basically, I was thinking about the way we measure agricultural output in the past. Often, it’s a version of what we might call the “Malanima shortcut”; though he wasn’t the first to use the idea of a demand function to estimate agriculturalContinue reading “Gratuitous chart #2: market integration in Lower Burma, and some quick thoughts on GDP reconstructions”

The rent was too damn high!

Over the last ten years we have learnt a lot about living standards in the developing world. I won’t attempt to summarise every single paper here. Mostly these have come from a reconstructions of real wages, one of the easiest economic statistics to reconstruct in historical periods: all you need is information on the nominalContinue reading “The rent was too damn high!”

Gratuitous charts #1: social mobility in Dakar, c.1910

Part of my thesis is about the role of African cities in structural change in the colonial period, taking the Senegalese city of Dakar as an example. In particular, I look at the occupational attainment of rural-urban migrants compared to people born in Dakar—i.e., what kind of jobs do people get, conditioned on their humanContinue reading “Gratuitous charts #1: social mobility in Dakar, c.1910”