Medieval England More Prosperous Than Today’s Poorest Nations
When you consider the vast technological, social, cultural, and economic changes that have occurred over the past 650 years or so, this is pretty astounding:
In a paper entitled British Economic Growth 1270-1870 published by the University of Warwick’s Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) the researchers find that living standards in medieval England were far above the “bare bones subsistence” experience of people in many of today’s poor countries.
The figure of $400 annually (as expressed in 1990 international dollars) is commonly is used as a measure of “bare bones subsistence” and was previously believed to be the average income in England in the middle ages.
However the University of Warwick led researchers found that English per capita incomes in the late Middle Ages were actually of the order of $1,000 (again as expressed in 1990 dollars). Even on the eve of the Black Death, which first struck in 1348/49, the researchers found per capita incomes in England of more than $800 using the same 1990 dollar measure. Their estimates for other European countries also suggest late medieval living standards well above $400.
Now, let’s look at comparable per capita income figures for a few modern nations:
- Zaire $249
- Burundi $479
- Niger $514
- Central African Republic $536
- Comoro Islands $549
- Togo $606
- Guinea Bissau $617
- Guinea $628
- Sierra Leone $686
- Haiti at $686
- Chad $706
- Zimbabwe $779
- Afghanistan $869
And I think it’s fair to say that many people in these nations don’t have a quality of life that’s all that different from the people of 1300’s England. I’m not sure whether these figures say more about the unexpected prosperity of an era we typically think of being nasty and brutish, or about the nation’s that don’t compare favorable to a society that existed six centuries ago.
H/T: Andrew Sullivan