2010 December 08 Wednesday
Medieval England Higher Living Standards Than Africa Today

Better to live in Medieval England than Zaire of today. Higher living standards, the castles were in much better shape than they are today, and the population wasn't growing rapidly.

New research led by economists at the University of Warwick reveals that 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.

In a paper entitled British Economic Growth 1270-1870 published by the University of Warwick’s Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) the researchers find that living standards in medieval England were far above the “bare bones subsistence” experience of people in many of today’s poor countries.

The figure of $400 annually (as expressed in 1990 international dollars) is commonly is used as a measure of “bare bones subsistence” and was previously believed to be the average income in England in the middle ages.

However the University of Warwick led researchers found that English per capita incomes in the late Middle Ages were actually of the order of $1,000 (again as expressed in 1990 dollars). Even on the eve of the Black Death, which first struck in 1348/49, the researchers found  per capita incomes in England of more than $800 using the same 1990 dollar measure. Their estimates for other European countries also suggest late medieval living standards well above $400.

These results provide further support for the evidence that Gregory Clark lays out in his book A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. The pre-industrialization Malthusian Trap had such high death rates from disease and influences reducing fertility that human populations lived less resource-poor lives than people in Malthusian Trap nations in Africa today.

This new figure of $1,000 is not only significantly higher than previous estimates for that period in England – it also indicates that on average medieval England was better off than some of the world’s poorest nations today including the following (again average annual income as expressed in 1990 dollars).

  • Zaire $249
  • Burundi $479
  • Niger $514
  • Central African Republic $536
  • Comoro Islands $549
  • Togo $606
  • Guinea Bissau $617
  • Guinea $628
  • Sierra Leone $686
  • Haiti $686
  • Chad $706
  • Zimbabwe $779
  • Afghanistan $869

It is worth noting that the efforts of Bill Gates to cure the many diseases of Africa will increase poverty. Weakened immune systems due to malnutrition lead to more disease. If people get their diseases cured they will live longer to compete more with each other for limited food spread out over even more people. The result: lower living standards.

Africa can not rise up without huge increases in average skill levels and productivity combined with equally large declines in fertility. Curing diseases will just make the already severe poverty worse.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 December 08 11:01 PM  Economics Development

Jeff Maylor said at December 9, 2010 12:05 AM:

Amazing set of facts. It's a hard truth to face that Leftists like Bill Gates may actually be doing more harm than good with poverty programs. If there is truth to HBD, then have we may have done the greatest disservice by trying to help Africa "progress" for the last 150 years.

Andrew Neather said at December 9, 2010 12:18 AM:

Strategists must NOW right at this present moment devise policies to wall-off black Africa and do everything humanly possible to keep black Africans out of the west.

Stephen said at December 9, 2010 12:57 AM:

I despair of Africa ever rising out of the muck. If one part of the continent does manage it, then they'll soon be dragged down by tribalism. Its the scourge of machismo - males see it as weakness to cooperate and think longer term, while females haven't managed to create a social environment where they can humiliate a male who doesn't behave.

Oh, since when has Haiti and Afghanistan been in Africa?

Azriel said at December 9, 2010 2:08 AM:

"Afghanistan $869"

It's really sad they are that level. From my readings about Zoroastrian Iran (which the 'country' of Afghanistan was mainly part of) they appear very wealthy based on the technology that they had. Maybe this is a case of the wrong memes becoming a bad cognitive behavioural 'therapy' and destroying the populations wealth producing habits.

Joe said at December 9, 2010 5:52 AM:

Curing diseases will almost certainly help africans. Malaria was cured almost everywhere else in the world and those people are better off for it.

Have you read any negative reviews of "Farewell to Alms"? Here's one: http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/users/Allen/clarkreview-jel.pdf

Jeff Maylor said at December 9, 2010 10:30 PM:

So when will we get our 'thank you' from black Americans for the practice of slavery that brought them over? Per capita income for blacks in America is literally 50 to 100 times that of many places in Africa. Just a nice card would be nice.

Engineer-Poet said at December 10, 2010 11:23 AM:

Let's see... their "tribe" is among the richest of the diaspora, but it's among the poorest of the USA.

Can you expect thanks from people who are consumed by envy?

salman said at March 1, 2015 8:49 AM:

Per capita income for blacks in America is literally 70 to 120 times that of many places in Africa.
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