England was already a great success by the 1600s

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

An interesting bit of economic history:

There are some signs of changes in relative productivity that might undermine this assumption. In Clark’s
wage data, building workers’ incomes start to pull away from the 1620s, and from the 1680s masons
consistently earn around a fifth more than agricultural labourers. In Allen’s wage data, the early
seventeenth century is a period of relative prosperity for agricultural workers, and it is not until the 1680s
that their earnings fall below those of building labourers. However, it is hard to imagine that a twenty
percent shift in incomes, even if this mapped over onto the workforce more generally, would have a very
large effect on the relative distributions of wealth and capital at death. Moreover, the extent to which
these wages mirror incomes in other occupations within each sector is an open question. According to
Broadberry et al’s (2015: 365-7) figures between 1522 and 1801 industry’s productivity growth was about
the same as in services and lower than in agriculture. It is only in the nineteenth century that differences
in the rates of growth across sectors grew large.

To put this in another way, probate records allow us to see just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. And as
we all know, the form of the iceberg that we see tells us nothing about the shape of the part that lurks out
of sight. Maybe so. But because we do know the total volume of the occupational iceberg, then we can
infer something about how sectoral shares in the part ‘under the waterline’ would need to be changing if
the overall sectoral distribution was to remain stable. What is more, because we view many different
occupational icebergs across decades and counties, each floating at different levels, we can form expectations about their overall shape.

In this simple form, the evidence of both datasets agrees that England experienced a substantial
movement out of agriculture in the seventeenth century. Yet, as we stressed above, partial coverage in the
probate records implies that changes in the shares of the deaths covered could significantly affect trends.
We therefore econometrically estimate the effect of changes in these shares and use the results to examine
how the series might look like if all the deaths were recorded. This is a strong robustness check for the
indices just presented, as it estimates them keeping constant the share of deaths recorded across space
and time. However, as with all out of sample predictions, it should be taken as a best guess for the levels.

A Marxist might regard all of this as obvious. Starting in 1642, England gives the world the first bourgeois revolution. France waited till 1789. So obviously England was way ahead of everyone else. We already knew this, right?

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