The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Sunday, January 23, 2005
So just when was Britain Great?
The First Plawg Rule of the Internet is It's serendipity, not search.
You could look for a hundred years on Google and not find the Open, sesame to unlock this little baby (PDF): Relative British and American Income Levels during the First Industrial Revolution by Marianne Ward and John Devereux.
There's a Queen Victoria's dead quality to my elation at this discovery: I'm sure that, for anyone in the biz, it's old hat. But, for civilians to snag this stuff free and online - therein lies the specialness.
Cliff Notes: the popular story arc of the US sorpasso of the UK - the effect of better technology and industrial methods, especially in the iron and steel industry, happening around 1890 - is completely wrong: Britain was always behind, the only question being, By how much?
In 1831 (p7), UK per capita income was 68% of that in the US ; it rose as high as 90% in 1869 (105% in GB) - but only because the Americans had treated themselves to a civil war in the interim, and written off $4 billion or so by emancipating the slaves : a chart on p17 shows that that was the peak; the UK number slid back to plateau at around 85% from 1887 to 1907, a gentle slide to 1929, followed by an uptick  in the 1930s; World War 2 took the relative down to 46% , from which it crawled up to around 67% in 1990.
Workshop of the world? Whether it's current affairs or ancient history, the watchword is,
It ain't necessarily so.
Some historical stats on the Irish economy in Ireland: Economics and the Reinventing of a Nation by William Crotty. Some UK economy stats and charts (PDF).
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