Author: Tom Westland
How far were local goods transported by rail in colonial Africa?
I’m working on a major new project measuring market integration and food markets in tropical Africa and Southeast Asian in the colonial period, and in particular on the integration of grain and salt markets in French West Africa. Though a great deal has been written both about railways and their impact on the one hand…
The contested real estate empire of a colonial Senegalese businessman
While looking for information on Dakar’s mid-century housing crisis, I came across a little legal story that played out in the pages of the newspaper Paris-Dakar in 1948. This was the year of the death of Alassane N’Dir, a major landowner in Dakar and a prosperous businessman and philanthropist. By the time he died, N’Dir…
Transport of crops to market — a little fact
In the 1970 world census of agriculture, seven countries asked farmers how they transported their crops to the first point of sale (to a market, or a trader, etc.). All seven countries were reasonably poor (under US$1000 per capita GDP) but it is striking how common transporting crops to market by foot was in the…
The Xi-Biden summit and the global economy
I have a column in the Australian Financial Review on the US–China summit and the lack of leadership in the global economy.
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 and…
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 proposition…
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,…
New working paper: the long shadow of history in international trade
Along with coauthors Isabella Weber, Gregor Semieniuk and Junshang Liang, I have a new working paper out at Rebuilding Macroeconomics, drawing on a new database of global commodity-level exports in the period of the ‘first globalization’.
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 resource…
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 markets…