Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Debin Ma v. Kenneth Pomeranz: East Asia v. Europe   posted by Herrick @ 8/19/2008 04:29:00 PM

Debin Ma of the London School of Economics has spent time in the archives and has come to conclusions quite different from Pomeranz's.

Ma's recent papers (especially this one and this one) make archive-driven comparisons of European and East Asian living standards around the start of the industrial revolution. Both papers have coauthors, but I focus on Ma because he speaks and reads both Japanese and Chinese, something lamentably rare among economic historians at English-speaking universities.

One quote from the abstract of the first-linked paper:

Matching caloric and protein contents in our Japanese consumption baskets with those in European baskets, we compare Japanese and European urban real wages. Real wage rates in Kyoto and later Tokyo are about a third London wages but comparable to wages in major Southern and Central European cities for the 1700-1900 [period].

From the abstract of the second-linked paper:

In the eighteenth century, the real income of building workers in Asia was similar to that of workers in the backward parts of Europe and far behind that of workers in the leading economies in northwestern Europe. Industrialization led to rising real wages in Europe and Japan. Real wages declined in China in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries....

A lot of Ma's work is Japan v. China, not Asia v. Europe, so both lines of his agenda are likely of interest to GNXP readers. Given the overfishing in the pool of English-language economic history documents, Ma should be able to just throw his net overboard and pull in the big hauls for at least another decade.

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