Sweet Diversity: Colonial Goods and the Rise of European Living Standards after 1492
University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School
Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Centre de Recerca en Economia Internacional (CREI); Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Faculty of Economic and Business Sciences; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
July 17, 2009
Did living standards stagnate before the Industrial Revolution? Traditional real-wage indices typically show broadly constant living standards before 1800. In this paper, we show that living standards rose substantially, but surreptitiously because of the growing availability of new goods. Colonial luxuries such as tea, coffee, and sugar transformed European diets after the discovery of America and the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope. These goods became household items in many countries by the end of the 18th century. We use the Greenwood-Kopecky (2009) method to calculate welfare gains based on data about price changes and the rate of adoption of new colonial goods. Our results suggest that by 1850, the average Englishman would have been willing to forego 15% or more of his income in order to maintain access to sugar and tea alone. These findings are robust to a wide range of alternative assumptions, data series, and valuation methods.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 42
Keywords: Economics of New Goods, Age of Discovery, Consumption, Early Modern Europe, Living Standards, Unified Growth, “Malthus to Solow”
JEL Classification: D12, D60, F10, N33working papers series
Date posted: May 14, 2009 ; Last revised: July 16, 2009
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