I might end up with criticism of this post once I read the details in the WP and forthcoming article. There is a certain amount of ideological glee here that I find troubling.
But it is undeniably important to remember that long-term average wage or GDP per capita “reconstructions” are just that. One doesn’t need to take side in the models vs. details debate in EH to recognize – or benefit from recognizing – this fact. Kudos to O’Brien, Humphries, Stephenson and others who are keeping this issue to the fore.
Everything (well,… most things) you know about wages 1650 -1800 is wrong. That’s a great opportunity for historians
by Judy Stephenson (University of Oxford)
My forthcoming paper in the Economic History Review (abstract available here) makes some big claims about the level of nominal and real wages in urban England before industrialization. There is an early working paper version here
Specifically, I argue that the data used for the years between 1650 and 1800 are completely wrong because the people who compiled them (who go back in some cases to the 1930s and late nineteenth century) took figures from bills for construction services rather than actual wage books. As an actual wage book from the contractor who built the South West Tower of St Paul’s shows, men were not paid these charge out rates, they were paid considerably less.
This has some big ramifications for some influential economists and…
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