Abstract

Motivated by the basic adage that man does not live by bread alone, we offer a theory of historical economic growth and population dynamics where human beings need food to survive, but enjoy other things, too. Our model imposes a Malthusian constraint on food, but introduces a second good to the analysis that affects living standards without affecting population growth. We show that technological change does a good job explaining historical consumption patterns and population dynamics, including the Neolithic Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Great Divergence. Our theory stands in contrast to models that assume a single composite good and a Malthusian constraint. These models generate negligible growth prior to the Industrial Revolution. However, recent revisions to historical data show that historical living standards—though obviously much lower than today's—varied over time and space much more than previously thought. These revisions include updates to Maddison's dataset, which served as the basis for many papers taking long‐run stagnation as a point of departure. This new evidence suggests that the assumption of long‐run stagnation is problematic. Our model shows that when we give theoretical accounting of these new observations the Industrial Revolution is much less puzzling. (JEL B10, I31, J1, N1, O30)

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