Some scholars maintain that pre-industrial England was held in a Malthusian ‘trap’, and that this trap prevented the sustained growth of real wages until as late as 1800. Opponents to this view argue that the structural transformations occurring in preindustrial England – urbanization, labour reallocation between sectors, and human capital investments – are features of development that are incompatible with the idea of Malthusian stagnation. These opponents also reject the idea that Malthusian forces drove English wage rates down to a biological minimum. The contest between the Malthusian and anti-Malthusian views is one of the key themes addressed in the present dissertation. Are the anti-Malthusian views entirely at odds with the idea of Malthusian stagnation? Or can they be understood in the context of an economy ruled by Malthusian forces? The dissertation offers two key contributions. The first is a theoretical demonstration that, even though a Malthusian society is inherently stagnant in the sense that sustained economic growth is absent, scattered advances in technology can permanently raise the long-term wage rate. The key reason why new technology can have a short-term as well as a long-term (i.e. permanent) effect on the wage rate is the fact that a technological development can influence the degree to which the standard of living impacts upon birth and death rates. The second contribution of the dissertation is the empirical illustration that pre-industrial England, in spite of its Malthusian demographic features demonstrated elsewhere, was not a subsistence economy but one that was characterized by surplus labour, human capital investments, and wages above the biological minimum.
Malthusian Progress / Weisdorf, JACOB LOUIS. - (2011), pp. 1-179.
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