Medieval Britons twice as rich as today's Third World poor?
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Mon Dec 6 19:38:27 GMT 2010
Maybe being a serf wasn't so bad after all!
Medieval Britons were twice as rich as the poor in the Third World today
By Daily Mail Reporter - 6th December 2010
Maybe being a peasant or a villein in the Middle
Ages was not such a grim existence after all.
Medieval England was not only far more prosperous
than previously believed, it also actually
boasted an average income that would be more than
double the average per capita income of the
world's poorest nations today, according to new research.
Living standards in medieval England were far
above the 'bare bones subsistence' experience of
people in many of today's poor countries, a study claims.
Research led by economists at the University of
Warwick shows that the average income per head
was £638 - double the average income of today's poorest nations.
In the paper, entitled British Economic Growth
1270-1870 and published by the Warwick's Centre
on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
The researchers found that living standards in
medieval England were far above the 'bare bones
subsistence' - a diet of grain products - of
people in modern struggling countries such as the
Democratic Republic of Congo (with an income of
£159) and Burundi in Africa (£306).
LIVING STANDARDS PAST AND PRESENT
On the eve of the Black Death in 1348/49 the per
capital income in England was today's equivalent of £510
The average income per head of some of the poorest countries today are
Central African Republic (£342),
Comoro Islands (£350),
Guinea Bissau (£394),
Sierra Leone (£438),
The figure of £255 per person annually was
previously believed to be the average income in England in the Middle Ages.
Even on the eve of the Black Death, which first
struck in 1348/49, the team found per capita
incomes in England of more than £510.
Their estimates for other European countries also
suggest that late medieval living standards were
well above the original estimate.
University of Warwick economist Professor Stephen
Broadberry, who led the research, pointed out
that this would mean people would be in a
position to afford a varied diet, rather than one
based largely on grains and oatmeal.
He said: 'What is unusual about England is that,
going back a long way, you wouldn't see people
getting all their calories and energy from a basic diet of grains.
'Instead, it was more varied with things that are
expensive to produce. The grains were processed;
some were brewed into ale and some were fed to
animals which in turn would produce dairy products or meat.
'It was early experience with the kinds of thing
that would eventually bear fruit in the industrial revolution.
'It was a system that was capital intensive and
there was a more sophisticated economic
superstructure built on top of agriculture.'
He continued: 'Our work sheds new light on
England's economic past, revealing that per
capita incomes in medieval England were
substantially higher than the "bare bones
subsistence" levels experienced by people living
in poor countries in our modern world.
"The majority of the British population in
medieval times could afford to consume what we
call a "respectability basket" of consumer goods
that allowed for occasional luxuries.'
Around 60 per cent of people in medieval England
were employed in agriculture and the rest in industry and services.
Professor Broadberry said: 'Of course this paper
focuses only on average per capita incomes.
'We also need to have a better understanding of
the distribution of income in medieval England,
as there will have been some people living at
bare bones subsistence and at times this
proportion could have been quite substantial.
'We are now beginning research to construct
social tables which will also reveal the
distribution of income for some key benchmark years in that period.'
The research was aided by a wide variety of
records that have survived since the Norman
conquest, which produced a literature and numerate society.
Professor Broadberry added: 'Our research shows
that the path to the Industrial Revolution began
far earlier than commonly has been understood.
'A widely held view of economic history suggests
that the Industrial Revolution of 1800 suddenly
took off, in the wake of centuries without
sustained economic growth or appreciable
improvements in living standards in England from
the days of the hunter-gatherer.
'By contrast, we find that the Industrial
Revolution did not come out of the blue.
'Rather, it was the culmination of a long period
of economic development stretching back as far as the late medieval period.'
The research provides the first annual estimates
of GDP for England between 1270 and 1700 and for
Great Britain between 1700 and 1870.
The average income per head of some of the
poorest countries are Niger (£328), Central
African Republic (£342), Comoro Islands (£350),
Togo (£387), Guinea Bissau (£394), Guinea (£401),
Sierra Leone (£438), Haiti (£438) and Chad (£451).
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