Entertaining Malthus : bread, circuses, and economic growth
Title: Entertaining Malthus : bread, circuses, and economic growth
Citation: Economic inquiry, 2018, Vol. 56, No. 1, pp. 358-380
ISSN: 0095-2583; 1465-7295
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.
Subject: Demographic-transition; Neolithic revolution; Population-growth; Great divergence; Ancient-world; Black-death; Innovation; Fertility; Urbanization; Stagnation
First published: 25 July 2017
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