The Logic of Malthusian Economy

The Logic of Malthusian Economy - A Farewell to Alms A...

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A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World Draft, 14 January 2007 Forthcoming, Princeton University Press, June 2007 He is a benefactor of mankind who contracts the great rules of life into short sentences, that may be easily impressed on the memory, and so recur habitually to the mind --Attributed to Samuel Johnson Gregory Clark
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20 2 The Logic of the Malthusian Economy No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. (Hobbes, 1651, ch. 13, 84). The vast majority of human societies, from the original foragers of the African savannah, through settled agrarian societies until about 1800, had an economic life that was shaped and governed by one simple fact: in the long run births had to equal deaths. Since this same logic governs all animal species, until 1800, in this “natural” economy, the economic laws for humans were the same as for all animal species. It is commonly assumed that the huge changes in the tech- nology available to people, and in the organizational complexity of societies, between our ancestors of the savannah and Industrial Revolution England, must have improved material life even before modern economic growth began. The estimates, for example, of Angus Maddison, the much-quoted creator of pre- industrial economic data, of income per person before 1820 are hazarded on this basis. 11 But in this chapter I show that the logic of the natural economy implies that the material living standards of the average person in the agrarian economies of 1800 was, if anything, worse than for our remote ancestors. Hobbes, in the quote above, was profoundly wrong to believe that in the state of nature man was any worse off than in the England of 1651. 11 Maddison, 2001, 28, for example, estimates GDP per capita in western Europe more than doubled from $450 in 1 AD to $1,232 by 1820 (in 1990 $), while for Japan the rise was from $400 to $669.
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21 This chapter develops a model of the pre-industrial economy, the Malthusian model, from three simple and seemingly innocu- ous assumptions. This model has profound implications about how the economy functioned before 1800, which are then tested and explored in the following three chapters. The Malthusian Equilibrium Women, over the course of their reproductive lives, can give birth to 12 or more children. Still in some current societies the average women gives birth to more than 6 children. Yet for the world before 1800 the number of children per woman that survived to adulthood was always just a little above 2. World population grew from perhaps 0.1 m. in 130,000 BC to 770 m. by 1800. But this still represents an average of 2.005 surviving children per woman before 1800. Even within successful pre- industrial economies, such as those in Western Europe, long run rates of population growth were very small. Table 2.1 shows for a number of European countries population in 1300 and 1800, and the implied numbers of surviving children per woman. None of these societies deviated far from two surviving children per woman.
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