Was There a Crisis? A Human Development Index for Lower Canada, 1760 to 1848
24 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2022
The colony of Lower Canada, now the modern-day province of Quebec in Canada, is presented as having experienced a prolonged agricultural crisis (marked by the shift away from wheat-farming) during the first decades of the nineteenth century. During this crisis, living standards supposedly fell, but this is subject to a debate which persists to this day because of the absence of convincing data. In this paper, we use new data (real wages, literacy, and infant mortality) to provide quantitative evidence of living standards in the form of a Human Development Index (HDI) to study whether there was a crisis between 1760 and 1850 (and we extend the index to 1688 and 1911 in the appendix). Across multiple specifications of the HDI to account for non-linearity, we find no signs of a crisis. We find only signs of improvements during the period — driven largely by falling infant mortality rate and rising literacy rates. This new evidence should finally put to rest the claim that there was a crisis.
Keywords: Canadian economic history, agricultural crisis, economic growth, human development
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