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Global Disparities Since 1800: Trends and Regional Patterns

December 31, 2006 No Comment

By M. Shahid Alam

This paper reviews the growing body of evidence on the relative economic standing of different regions of the world in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In general, it does not find support for Eurocentric claims regarding Western Europe’s early economic lead. The Eurocentric claims are based primarily on estimates of per capita income, which are plagued by conceptual problems, make demands on historical data that are generally unavailable, and use questionable assumptions to reconstruct early per capita income. A careful examination of these conjectural estimates of per capita income, however, does not support claims that Western Europe had a substantial lead over the rest of the world at the beginning of the nineteenth century. An examination of several alternative indices of living standards in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries— such as real wages, labor productivity in agriculture, and urbanization—also fails to confirm claims of European superiority. In addition, this paper examines the progress of global disparities—including the presence of regional patterns—using estimates of per capita income.

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