All posts by npalma

About npalma

I am a faculty member at the Department of Economics, University of Manchester. My personal website is:

Visit to the Quarry Bank Mill

As previously mentioned in this blog, every year I take my “Topics in Economic History” students to see the Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, close to Manchester. This year we visited under the expert guidance of Jamie Farrington, a History PhD student who specializes in the history of the Mill, and Anna-Maria Kohnke, who both joined us under my invitation (thanks Jamie and Anna!). Here are a few pictures of this year’s visit, which I post with the permission of the students who appear.

We started by visiting the environment around the mill, including the cottages where workers lived; look at how tiny was the space where an entire family lived:


We also saw where workers went to school (the primary school is still functioning as such today), and where they went to Church:


Look at how small were the beds in which the children lived (there would be 2 children per bed) and about 60 in a not-so-large room (without toilets of course; notice the potty below each bed):


We saw how children were treated when they were ill, including a live demonstration with leeches:


We then finally visited the Mill. We saw how technology evolved, from a spinning wheel:


to more advanced machines, such as the spinning jenny, and those for weaving:


the staff was helpfully demonstrating how the machines worked:


We saw how power was produced – mostly a giant waterwheel (100 horsepower), though a (mcuh less potent) Watt steam machine was also present for the days when the water flow wasn’t sufficiently strong (later, more advanced steam engines were also installed, but they were always less powerful than the waterwheel). Here, we are looking at one of the steam engines:



We then walked a bit on the outside, from where we could see the general view of the mill:




The yellow house above at the left is the home of the Gregs, the owners of the factory. We visited their home, which has recently opened. Check out their curved door (it was steamed so that this effect was achieved):




Student post: Work as a measurement of wellbeing

Every year, I have been taking my 3rd-year economic history students to the Quarry Bank Mill in Styal.  My goal is that the students can actually see a bit of the the First Industrial Revolution, rather than just hear about it.

Last year, one of my best students, Anna-Maria Kohnke, liked the visit so much that she decided to write her undergraduate thesis about it. And so she did, supervised by me. I then invited her to write a short summary to post in this blog.

In what follows, Anna writes about the content of her dissertation, gives information about life at the mill, and about her experiences studying economic history. What follows has been written by Anna-Maria Kohnke.

IMG_20181013_133750 (1)

Work as a measurement of wellbeing – What the early industrial cotton factories of Manchester can tell us about the importance of workplace relationships

The question of what wellbeing is and how we ought to measure it has been a central source of disagreement within all social sciences. There have been countless approaches – objective accounts, subjective accounts, resource-based approaches, approaches based on capabilities – but they all aim to identify aspects that are universally fundamental to all people’s welfare, in all societies, at all times. Manchester’s rich industrial history is the ideal starting point for the study of one of those fundamental indicators of wellbeing: working conditions.

When I first started thinking about writing my undergraduate dissertation, knowing that I wanted to explore the idea of work as a measurement of wellbeing, I tried to find the perfect framework for this project. I looked into macroeconomics, labour economics, and development economics; I talked to people from various different departments, but, to my surprise, nothing seemed quite right for what I wanted to do. Then, with my course mates from Topics in Economic History, we went on a trip to Quarry Bank Mill. This made me realise that it was not necessary for me to construct an international comparison concerning places I have no connection to at all; approaching my topic from a historical perspective meant that I could start with local sources and conduct my analysis in a much more detailed way.

Quarry Bank Mill is particularly interesting as a case study because it exposes the nature of the relationship between employers and workers prevalent in the first places of industrialised production. To make Styal attractive to workers, Samuel Greg, the owner of the mill, built cottages and organised the distribution of essential commodities. This meant he was not only employer, but also landlord and local shop-owner. Under what is now known as the ‘truck system’ and the ‘cottage system’, the cost of accommodation and commodities is deducted directly from the employees’ wages before they were paid.

While this was an expression of the employers’ responsibility for their workers’ wellbeing, factory owners also gained a great deal of control over their workers. Workers had no opportunity to buy goods from competitors, or to withhold payment in the case of disputes; prices were set by the factory owner and employees were left with little bargaining power. This was the case at Quarry Bank Mill, but many other factories across Lancashire, particularly in the cotton industry, operated under the same paternalistic system. As a result, the main differences between the wellbeing of workers in different factories were primarily due to the differences in employer-employee relationships. Comparing paternalist factories like Quarry Bank Mill to factories in Central Manchester shows very little difference in working conditions within factories, such as poor occupational health and long working hours. However, due to a lack of central regulation, significant differences in living conditions existed between the paternalistic factories surrounding Manchester and the non-paternalistic ones in Central Manchester, where labour was easy to find. For example, workers in paternalistic factories could expect greater standards of hygiene in their accommodation and more secure access to food – particularly in times of war.

In the context of my theory of work as fundamental to wellbeing, this was particularly interesting as it shows that work encompasses a broad range of factors beyond those immediately prevalent in the factory, and that these factors are hugely influential for the lives of employees. Choosing a historical approach to explore the universal significance of working conditions has an effect on which aspects of work we deem important – the example of Quarry Bank Mill emphasises workplace relationships and hierarchies. This can then be applied to the study of work in other social contexts, say, sweatshop labour in developing countries; modern sweatshop conditions exhibit similarities to industrialised labour in Lancashire, such as hazardous workplaces, poor occupational health due to either a lack of legislation or insufficient enforcement, and finally a relationship of dependence and asymmetry between workers and their employers.

Overall, looking at topics of interest in economics through a historic lens appears to be both insightful and feasible for a piece of undergraduate research. Learning about the very origins of the industrial revolution opens doors to a huge range of unique research questions – students are well advised to pick up this opportunity and engage with Manchester’s history.

Relevant literature on Quarry Bank Mill, the cotton industry, and early industrial working conditions in Manchester:

Ashton, T. S. (1997). Economic and Social Investigations in Manchester, 1833-1933: A Centenary History of the Manchester Statistical Society. New York: A. M. Kelley.

Aspin, C. (1981). The Cotton Industry. Oxford: Shire Publications Ltd.

Babbage, C. (1832). On the economy of machinery and manufactures, 3rd edn. London: C. Knight.

Cooke Taylor, W. (1842). Notes of a tour in the manufacturing districts of Lancashire; in a series of letters to His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin. London: Duncan and Malcom.

Gaskell, P. (1833). The manufacturing population of England, its moral, social and physical conditions, and the changes which have arisen from the use of steam machinery: with an examination of infant labour. London: Baldwin and Cradock.

Greenlees, J. (2016). “Workplace Health and Gender among Cotton Workers in America and Britain, c. 1880s-1940s”, International Review of Social History, 61(3).

Hammond, J. L. & Hammond, B. (1917). The Town Labourer 1760-1832: The new civilisation. London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

National Trust (2013a). “Apprentice life at Quarry Bank”, Quarry Bank Revealed, 29 July. Available at:, (Accessed: 22 April 2019).

National Trust (2013b). “A brief history of Quarry Bank Mill”, Quarry Bank Revealed, 25 October. Available at:, (Accessed: 10 April 2019).

National Trust (2013c). “The fact that inspired the fiction…”, Quarry Bank Revealed, 6 August. Available at:, (Accessed: 27 April 2019).

National Trust (2014). “Through the Keyhole in Styal Village”, Quarry Bank Revealed, 2 April. Available at:, (Accessed: 18 April 2019).

Quarry Bank Mill podcast – collection of short memories from those who grew up in Styal. Available at:, (Accessed 27 September 2019).

Quiller-Couch, A. (1925). Charles Dickens and Other Victorians. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rose, M. B. (1986). The Gregs of Quarry Bank Mill: The Rise and Decline of a Family Firm, 1750-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Senior, N. W. (1844). Letters on the Factory Act, as it affects the Cotton Manufacture, 2nd edn. London: B. Fellowes.

Wingerd, M. L. (1996). “Rethinking Paternalism: Power and Parochialism in a Southern Mill Village”, The Journal of American History, 83(3), pp. 872-902.


“Understanding state capacity” conference program now avaliable!

There was an incredible response to the call for papers for the state capacity conference that we will have at the University of Manchester.

Updated (23/11/2019). Here is the latest program, after a few last-minute changes.


Understanding State Capacity Conference – University of Manchester, 28 and 29 Nov., 2019

Organized by Nuno Palma and Xiaobing Wang

THURSDAY – 28 November

Venue: Mansfield Cooper G.19 

8.50. Welcome & opening remarks

9.00 – 10.00 Debin Ma keynote – The Paradox of Power: Chinese State Capacity in long-term perspective

10.00 – 11.20 Session 1 (4 presentations – 20 mins each)

11.20 – 11.40 Coffee Break

11.40 – 13.00 Session 2 (4 presentations – 20 mins each)

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

14.00 – 15.00 Peer Vries keynote – The capacity and will to develop: State and economy in Japan, 1868-1937

15.00 – 15.40 Session 3 (2 presentations – 20 mins each)

15.40 – 16.00 Coffee Break

16.00- 17.00 POLICY SESSION – Vitor Gaspar, Tim Besley

17.00 – 18.00 Sevket Pamuk keynote – Annual Revenues of the States: Europe and the Rest since 1500

19.00 DINNER. Restaurant: Mr Cooper’s House and Garden

FRIDAY – 29 November

Venue: Mansfield Cooper G.19

9.00-.100 Tim Besley keynote – Norms, Institutions and State Capacity

10.00 – 11.20 Session 4 (4 presentations – 20 mins each)

11.20 – 11.40 Coffee Break

11.40 – 13.00 Session 5 (4 presentations – 20 mins each)

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

14.00 – 15.00 Patrick O’Brien keynote – The Wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France and the Consolidation of the Industrial Revolution

15.00– 16.40 Session 6 (5 presentations – 20 mins each)

16.40 – 17.00 Coffee Break

17.00 – 18.00 Noel Johnson keynote – State Capacity and the Rise Religious Freedom

18.00 End of conference

Detailed information about the sessions

THURSDAY – 28 November

10.00 – 11.20 Session 1 (4 people – 20 mins each) – Africa & Caribbean

Yannick Dupraz (Warwick), “Fiscal capacity and dualism in colonial states: The French Empire 1830-1962″ (Co-authors: Denis Cogneau and Sandrine Mespe-Somps)

Marvin Suesse (Dublin), “Taxation, Fiscal Capacity and Economic Development in Africa, c1890 – c2015: Lessons from a new dataset” (co-authors:  Thilo Albers. Morten Jerven)

Leigh Gardner (LSE), “African institutions under colonial rule” (co-author: Jutta Bolt)

Aaron Graham (UCL), “The rise and fall of colonial state capacity in Jamaica, 1655 to 1865, and its legacies”

 11.40 – 13.00 Session 2 (4 people – 20 mins each) – Europe & China

Yannay Spitzer (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Entrepreneurship and Communal Tax Liability: The Political Economy of the Early Modern Jewish-Polish Symbiosis”

Guido Alfani (Bocconi), “The distributive consequences of the rise of the fiscal state in Europe (ca. 1500-1800)”

Leonor F. Costa (Lisbon), “Portugal’s early modern state capacity: a comparative approach” (co-authors: António C. Henriques and Nuno Palma)

Tuan-Hwee Sng (National University of Singapore), “Did the Communists Contribute to China’s Rural Growth?” (co-authors: Yi Lu, Mengna Luan)

15.00 – 15.40 Session 3 (2 presentations – 20 mins each) – England

Tony Moore (Reading), “state (over)capacity in medieval England”.

Nuno Pama (Manchester). Not an ordinary bank but a great engine of state: the bank of England and the British economy, 1694-1821 (co-author: Patrick K. O’Brien)

16.00- 17.00 POLICY SESSION – What are the challenges for poor and rich countries to raising taxes?

Vítor Gaspar (Director of Financial Affairs, IMF), and Tim Belsey (LSE)

Note (23/11/2019): Paul Johnson (Director IFS) was scheduled to participate in the policy session but will not be able to come. Paul recently wrote to us, explaining that the IFS will lauch their manifesto analysis Thursday, the first day of the conference. He wrote that this is the most important thing they’ll do all year and this was the only possible day for them.

FRIDAY – 29 November

10.00 – 11.20 Session 4 (4 presentations – 20 mins each) – Legacy of historical institutions

Leandro de Magalhães (Bristol), “War and the Rise of Parliaments” (co-author: Francesco Giovannoni)

António Henriques (Universidade do Porto), “Comparative European Institutions and the Little Divergence, 1385-1800” (co-author: Nuno Palma)

Daniel Oto (Universidad Pablo de Olavide), “Delegation of Governmental Authority in Historical Perspective: Lordships, State Capacity and Development”

David le Bris (Toulouse), “Constraints on the Executive: a Reappraisal of the French and English Old Regimes through Parliament Activities”

11.40 – 13.00 Session 5 (4 presentations – 20 mins each) – War, Trade, and Status

Massimiliano Gaetano Onorato (University of Bologna), “War, Trade, and the Origins of Representative Institutions” (co-authors: Gary W. Cox and Mark Dincecco)

Mattia Fochesato (Bocconi), “Exogenous shocks, political change and fiscal capacity: the case of Late Medieval Siena”

Yu Sasaki, “Ethnic Autonomy” (Waseda University, Japan)

Mark Koyama (GMU), “The Political Economy of Status Competition: Evidence from Pre-Modern Europe” (with Desiree Desierto)

15.00 – 16.40 Session 6 (5 presentations – 20 mins each) – Money and Finance

Kivanç Karaman (Boğaziçi University), “State and Money in Early Modern Europe” (co-authors: Sevket Pamuk, Secil Yildirim-Karaman)

Nuno Palma (University of Manchester), “Monetary capacity”, co-authors: Adam Brzezinski, Roberto Bonfatti, K. Kivanç Karaman

Carolyn Sissoko (University of the West of England), “The Monetary Foundations of Britain’s Early 19th Century Ascendancy.”

Queralt, Didac (Yale) “State Building in the Era of International Finance”

Qian Lu (Central University of Finance and Economics), “From Partisan Banking to Open Access: the emergence of free banking in early 19th century Massachusetts”.


In addition to all the sessions above, there will be (in both days) posters by the following early-career scholars:

Andersson, Per Fredrik (Lund), “Fiscal Capacity in Non-Democratic States”

Hanzhi Deng (LSE), The Merit of Misfortune: Taiping Rebellion and the Rise of Indirect Taxation in Modern China, 1850s-1900s

Meng Wu (LSE), “Adjustments and Vicissitudes: Indirect Notes Issuance System in the Republican of China, 1921-1936”, (co-author: Xin Dong)

Mikolaj Malinowski (Lund), “Republic of Clients. Patronage and power concentration in Poland-Lithuania”

Thilo Huning (York), You Reap What You Know: Origins and Dynamics of State Capacity (co-authors: Fabian Wahl of University of Hohenheim)

Oriol Sabaté Domingo, “Linking war, natural resources and public revenues: the case of the War of the Pacific (1879-1883)” (co-autor: José Peres-Cajías)

Ziang Liu (LSE), “Centralisation and Fiscal Patterns: Reassess State Capacity Paradigms in China between the 16th and 18th Century”

Comparative European Institutions and the Little Divergence, 1385-1800

Addendum (October 2019): We have an updated version of this paper, avaliable here.
The Black legend (leyenda negra) survives. Let’s destroy it (well, part of it).

Steve Broadberry calls the economic divergence which took place within Europe “little divergence”, in contrast to the “great divergence” of Europe vis-à-vis China and other parts of the world. Countries like Spain and Portugal became poorer than England and the Netherlands

But when exactly did this take place?

Let’s look at the comparative performance of England, Spain and Portugal during the 1500-1850 period:


As the graph shows, a divergence only starts after 1650 – in the case of Portugal, incomes continued to be comparable to those of England until around 1690.

Hence, we must not project England’s later success into the distant future.

A venerable historical tradition places political institutions at the root of the European divergence. For this tradition, diverging paths within Europe were already being trodden as far back as the Middle Ages and continued to be so during the early modern period, before accelerating in the nineteenth century.

For example (and they are just one example), Acemoglu, Jonhson and Robinson (2005) classify Portugal and Spain around 1500 as absolutist monarchies, which they contrast with the much more constrained institutions of England and the Netherlands. They also claim that Portugal and Spain grew less than England in the centuries after 1500, which we have already seen was not the case until the second half of the 17th century.

These authors argue that the executive power being less constrained in Portugal and Spain around the turn of the sixteenth century lead to subsequent institutional and economic divergence relative to England and the Netherlands. The latter countries’ initial institutions (around 1500) would have been beyond a critical threshold which allowed a virtuous circle of economic growth and positive institutional change to take place in interaction with the merchants of Atlantic trade. By contrast, the economic and institutional development of Portugal and Spain were supposedly held back by extractive institutions already in place by 1500.

Let’s take a close look at political institutions. In the paper we show that parliamentary activity, coin debasement statistics, and long-run interest rates on first issues of public debt all suggest that a political divergence (England getting better, Iberian countries getting worse) only started after 1650.

This can be seen in terms of several indicators. One is the number of years with a parliamentary meeting. As we show in the paper, Castile (about 3/4 of Spain) kept up with England until late,  but from the second half of the 17th century onward, the parliaments of Castile and Portugal essentially stop meeting, while that of England becomes permanent.

It matters not only how many times where parliaments meetings but also about what. We discuss this in detail in the paper.

In terms of frequency of extraordinary taxes collected, England was the undisputed champion in most periods. Furthermore, in the paper we show that England raised extraordinary taxes 62 times until 1700 in years with no war, more much more often than Castile (16 times) or Portugal (18 times). This suggests less checks to executive power.

The case of long-run interest-rates is also illustrative (see the full paper for details). Notice how England did issue long-run debt prior to the second half of the 17th century due to credibility problems:


Our paper is as much about England as it is about Iberia. Overall, we do not find support for the viewpoint of North and Weingast (1989) that the Glorious Revolution was the single decisive moment for England – though we find that in the margin, it helped driving forward a process that had been under way. Instead, the timing of the institutional divergence of England relative to the Iberian nations coincides approximately with the former’s Civil War.

Our argument that the mid seventeenth-century is when English political divergence truly began gains support from the fact that this is also when English GDP per capita begins to grow persistently, structural change began, and fiscal capacity took off in comparative terms (see the papers cited in the text).

Call for Papers: National Systems of Economy or European Integration – What can we learn from List for today?

Call for Papers

National Systems of Economy or European Integration – What can we learn from List for today? A One-Day Symposium on the Bicentenary of Friedrich List’s Address to the German Federal Assembly (1819)

The University of Manchester, 18 October 2019


With support by the Manchester Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence (University of Manchester & Manchester Metropolitan University) and the University of Manchester (UK)

Keynote Speakers: Prof Erik Reinert (The Other Canon Foundation and Tallinn University of Technology) & Prof Markus Lampe (Wirtschaftsuniversitaet Wien/Vienna (AU)

“38 customs frontiers cripple domestic exchange within the German nation, with the same effect that a total suppression of blood flow between each individual limbs of the human body would have.” Thus began the 1819 Petition to the German Federal Assembly drafted by Friedrich List, on behalf of the newly founded Allgemeine Deutsche Handels- und Gewerbeverein (General German Association of Industry and Commerce). List the economic nationalist is well known, a protectionist and supporter of tariffs. Much less less-well known is his love of free trade and political integration. What can we learn from List today, particularly in the face of rising nationalism, Brexit and Trump, but also the fear of European disintegration and a common public delusion which still throws economic nationalism into the same dark pot as political nationalism and chauvinism? The proposed workshop invites answers by scholars on List, economic and political nationalism and the history of political economy, the role of the state in economic development, and political as well as economic integration as sources of economic development.

Presentations by postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers are specifically encouraged. There is no conference fee; participants are expected to make their own travel arrangements. We provide lunch and drinks during the conference. Scholars are invited to submit paper abstracts of no more than 500 words to by 30 August 2019.

Conference chairs: Phil Roessner & Nuno Palma (University of Manchester)

UPDATE (04/10/2019): the final program is avaliable:

“National Systems of Economy or European Integration – What can we learn from List for today?
A One-Day Symposium on the Bicentenary of Friedrich List’s Address to the German Federal Assembly (1819)”
Friday, 18 October 2019, 11am-6pm, Ellen Wilkinson A2.6 & B2.4
Sponsored by JMCE, hosted by History (SALC) and Economics (SoSS)
Location: Ellen Wilkinson A2.6 
11am Keynote (I)
•             Markus Lampe, Wirtschaftsuniversitaet Vienna (AUS), Developmental or defensive protectionism? A look at the tariff structures of 16 European countries, 1846-1910
12am-1pm light lunch
Location: Ellen Wilkinson B2.4
1pm-2.30 pm First Session: List and his legacy
•             Marvin Suesse (Trinity), Friedrich List, Romantics, and the Quest for Universal Harmony
•             Thilo Huning (York) & Nikolaus Wolf, How Britain Unified Germany: Endogenous Trade Costs, and the Formation of a Customs Union
•             Xuan Zhao (Ph.D. candidate, History/SALC), The Economics of Johann Heinrich Justi (1717-1771): Economy, Enlightenment and List’s Idea of Productive Forces Prefigured
2.30 pm-3pm coffee break
3pm-5 pm Second Session: Protectionism in Historical Perspective
•             Julia Eder (Linz) & Klemens Kaps (Mainz), Progressive Protectionism – An Oxymoron or a Viable Strategy to reduce Uneven Development in Europe? A Current Debate and its Historical Context
•             Georg Christ (University of Manchester), Free trade among free communities – multi-layered customs and imperfect market integration (Venetian realm and Mamluk Empire)
•             Nuno Palma (Lecturer in Economics, Economics/SoSS), Comparative European Institutions and the Little Divergence, 1385-1800
5pm Keynote (II)
Professor Erik S. Reinert, Tallinn University of Technology (EST) and Chairman, Other Canon Foundation (NOR), Europe’s lost lessons from Friedrich List (1819) to Paolo Cecchini (1988): What went wrong after Maastricht?

Call for Papers: Understanding State Capacity


The University of Manchester

Thursday 28th and Friday 29th November 2019

With support by Hallsworth Conference Fund

The importance of state capacity to economic development is increasingly recognized in the economics literature. However, despite recent theoretical work analysing the origins of state capacity, few studies have empirically examined the processes through which that capacity has developed. Further, the work that does exist focuses predominantly on one dimension of state capacity, “fiscal capacity”—the ability of a state to raise tax. The state’s ability to enforce property rights—its “legal capacity”—has received relatively little attention, despite being critical to the functioning of markets and hence growth. The same is true of monetary capacity: the ability of states to provide liquid means of exchange which lead to low transaction costs. The interrelationships between these different dimensions of capacity and growth thus remain poorly understood at yet it is critical for development.

To address many of the important issues concerning the state capacity, this conference will bring together some of the most prominent scholars in the world who have written on state capacity, as well as participants across academia and the policy world. The main task will be to study how poor countries can develop, and how failing nations can succeed.

Confirmed speakers include Tim Besley (LSE), Leigh Gardner (LSE), Noel Johnson (GMU), Debin Ma (Hitotsubashi), Mark Koyama (GMU), Patrick O’Brien (LSE), Şevket Pamuk (Bogaziçi), Peer Vries (International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam) and Yi Wen (St Louis Fed). There will be also a policy session with Vítor Gaspar (Director, Fiscal Affairs Department of the IMF).

Scholars are invited to submit papers on state capacity.

Submissions should be made via email:

Deadline for submissions: 15th September 2019.

Notification of acceptance: over the second half of September.

We have limited funding for paper presenters, with priority to PhD students. We do not charge any conference fees and we will provide lunch and drinks during the conference. We may have some student poster presentations but there will be no parallel sessions.

All accepted presenters and conference attendees must confirm their attendance for the Conference before 7th of October, 2019.

Conference Chairs:

Nuno Palma and Xiaobing Wang

Department of Economics, The University of Manchester

On the discrepancies between the original Maddison dataset and more recent GDP reconstructions

Angus Maddison was one of the most cited economists of the 20th century.

I often get emails asking me about Maddison’s figures, because I have worked a lot on historical national accounts reconstructions (see here, here, or here), and I was for 2 years faculty in the University of Groningen, where Maddison worked, and this is a justifiably renowned place for this type of work.

As an example, I copy here the relevant bits from an email that a friend and colleague recently wrote me. This colleague is asking about Portugal’s figures, but notice that a lot of what I will have to say can be generalized to other regions:

“The updated Maddison dataset has Portuguese GDP per person at 985 in 1530 (I assume in 1990 dollars).  1239 in 1600.  1192 in 1700, 1614 in 1750, 1330 in 1800 and 1225 in 1850.

The original Maddison dataset has Portuese GDP per person as 425 in 1000, 606 in 1500, 740 in 1600, 819 in 1700, and 923 for 1820.

Do you have any insight into these discrepancies?”

I do. In short, for this and many other cases, Maddison’s figures are simply made up. Read more below.

(Also, do notice that the modern Maddison project database is using 2011 prices, not 1990 ones, so for instance Jaime Reis’ and my own figures for Portugal, 1527-1850, are presented in 1990 prices in our paper, but the Maddison project pushed this into 2011 prices, so the levels may look different but they are not; the underlying real indexes are the same; our figures are the ones included in the Maddison project.)


Nothing I say here means to disparage Angus Maddison. He was a pioneer in these things (especially in so far as putting together in one place many estimates which in fact were often produced by many people – this had a lot of merit, though he’d very frequently get the citations that truly belonged to those who did the original work, but that’s is another story). He did stimulate many of us to continue these lines of inquiry, and do a better job. He was great.

But do notice that in one of the first posts in this blog, I did write,

“Despite the importance that Maddison’s GDP and population figures had in stimulating our thinking about economic history and development, it is fair to say that his pre-1820 figures were less than solid.”

The best way to think about Maddison’s estimates, especially for the period before 1820, is: when estimates did not exist (and they usually did not), he’d make very strong assumptions.

If you are an economist working on long-run growth you need to be wary of these assumptions. For China, real income per capita was stuck at exactly $600 “international” 1990 GK dollars between 1300 and 1850, according to Maddison in his late “Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run” book (p. 157). Does this show that China was Malthusian? no, because Maddison effectively assumed China was Malthusian, and this is why he chose these numbers. I once saw an economist present at a conference and looking frankly ridiculous by claiming he had found that China was Malthusian for most of its history by using Maddison’s numbers. And, by the way, we now know that Maddison was not quite right, as you can read here.

Part of the problem is that Maddison often presents Tables in a way that makes it difficult to trace the original sources (this, I dare say, often made scholars un-aware that those were not his actual estimates, but those of others, which let to the citations problem I mentioned above).

How did he get to those figures? If you look into Volume 2 of his “World Economy” books, which is where most figures are put in Tables together and hence where typically people look first, or if you look online, in this original page, there are none listed. The historical statistics excel file avaliable even says “Copyright Angus Maddison” once you open it…

If you dig deep in his book, however, you do find some info. For population, continuing with the Portugal example, you find in Volume 1, p. 230 that “Population of 13 small West European countries assumed to move parallel to the total for the 12 countries above“. The latter were bigger countries, but the source of most of those is given as Maddison (1991), so you’d have to keep tracking other references to see how even those were actually done. Once you find the answer you will see that the evidence is rather thin. Needless to say, modern reconstructions are much more careful than this.

As for GDP per capita, in Volume 1, p. 249 he writes:

“I assumed a growth rate of Spanish GDP per capita of 0.25 per cent a year from 1500-1600, no advance in the seventeenth century, and some mild progress from 1700 to 1820. I adopted a similar profile for Portugal”.

That’s it. He simply assumed the numbers — vaguely citing only the following as inspiration, though not using it directly and citing with the following caveats (notice his own choice of words): “Yun’s (1994) rough per capita GDP estimates for Castile (about three-quarters of Spain) … his indicators for secondary and tertiary activity are weak“.

So, Maddison’s Portugal GDP per capita numbers are hence simply assumed to behave similarly to those of Spain, which are simply assumed by himself.

By contrast with this, here are the primary, archival sources that Jaime Reis and I use in our recent reconstruction of Portuguese per capita GDP, 1527-1850, which is forthcoming in the June edition of the Journal of Economic History. I list these here as an example, so you can see how much more exhaustive modern work is that what Maddison did. You can see a picture of what these account books look like if you click in our appendix, here.

I hope this discussion has been sufficiently clear on the origins of the differences between modern estimates vis-a-vis those of Maddison. It should be by now clear why they are considerably different at times. And furthermore – if you read our article, you will see that Portugal does not behave like Spain at all…

Primary Sources

We have collected both prices and wages from account (receipts and expenditures) books of the institutions listed below. Almost all were purchasers both of commodities and labor services. Some of them were also sellers of certain commodities produced by them. The account books of these institutions always display: the date of the transaction, the gross and unit value of the commodity, the unit of measurement employed, the quality of the product (e.g., coarse or fine paper, mutton, pork, or beef), and particular features of the transaction.

In order to proxy missing values we sometimes used a similar product or labor type (e.g., tallow candles for wax candles or carpenters for masons, both being skilled workers) by adjusting its price using a price ratio with the original product at a nearby year. Furthermore, to complete our Linen series for Lisbon during 1766–1829, we relied on Madureira (1997), listed in the secondary sources section.

Lisbon and Its Hinterland

Casa da Congregação do Oratório, Casa da Saúde, Lº 1º Receita e Despesa (Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa)

Casa dos Contos: Archive of the Court of Auditors

Convent of Nossa Senhora da Luz: National Archive

Convent of Santa Marta de Jesus: National Archive

Convent of Santo Alberto: National Archive

Convent of São Domingos de Lisboa: National Archive

Convent of Carmo, Expenses of the Sacristy: National Archive

Hospital of S. José: National Archive

Hospital of All Saints: National Archive

Holy House of Mercy of Almada: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Almada

Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon

Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon, Shelter: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon

Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon, Foundlings: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Lisbon

Monastery of Chelas: National Archive

Monastery of S. Dinis de Odivelas: National Archive

Convent of Santo António da Convalescença: National Archive

Fabric of the See of Lisboa: National Archive

Seminary of Santa Catarina: National Archive

Administration of the Royal Household, Kitchens: National Archive

Porto and Its Hinterland

For Porto, we rely on Godinho (1955) as a secondary source plus the following primary sources:

Casa Pia Orphanage (administration): Porto District Archive

The See of Porto (revenues and expenditure): Porto District Archive

Colégio dos Órfãos, Daily Expenditure: Porto Municipal Archive

Porto Holy House of Mercy, Jailhouse Expenditure: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, General Hospital: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, Interments: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, Hospice for the Homeless: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, D. Lopo Hospital: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Porto Holy House of Mercy, Foundling Home: Archive of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia do Porto

Municipality of Porto, Palace of the Municipality: Porto Municipal Archive Municipal Abattoir, Porto Municipality: Porto Municipal Archive

Coimbra and Its Hinterland

University of Coimbra, Refectory: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Hospital of the University, Accounts and Administration: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Hospital of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, Accounts: Archive of the University of Coimbra

College of São Pedro, Kitchen: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Colégio de São Pedro, Book of purchases: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Expenditure on the Churches of the Reverend Chapter of the See of Coimbra: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Chapel of S. João da Sé, Revenue and Expenditure: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Chapter of the See, register of expenditures: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Fabric of the College of São Pedro, Register of Expenses: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Municipal Council of Coimbra, Revenue and Expenditure: Archive of Coimbra

Municipality Works of the Church of the See of Coimbra, Expenses: Archive of the University of Coimbra

University of Coimbra, Receipts and Expenditure: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Hospital of São Lázaro, Receipts and Expenditure: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Holy House of Mercy of Coimbra, Income and Expenditure: Archive of the Holy House of Mercy of Coimbra

Episcopal Mitre of Coimbra, Expenses: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Register of the Granary of the Chapter of Coimbra: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Royal Hospital of Coimbra, Registers of Expenditure: Archive of the University of Coimbra

Évora and Its Hinterland

For Évora, we rely on Santos (2003) and Godinho (nd) secondary sources plus the following primary sources:

Royal Public Granary of Évora, Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

Évora Aqueduct, Accounts of the Repairs and Maintenance: Archive of the District of Évora Repairs of Évora City Streets ,Wages and other Expenditure: Archive of the District of Évora

Casa Pia Orphanage, Revenues and Expenditures: Archive of the District of Évora

Casa Pia, Hospice of Nossa Senhora da Piedade, Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

Holy House of Mercy, Books and Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

Convent of Paraiso, Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

Convent of the Saviour, Accounts: Archive of the District of Évora

College of Nossa Senhora da Purificação: Archive of the District of Évora

Secondary Sources

Costa, Leonor, and Jaime Reis. “The Chronic Food Deficit of Early Modern Portugal: Curse or Myth?” Análise Social LII (2017): 416–29.

Godinho, Vitorino Magalhães. Introdução à história económica. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, n.d.

———. Prix et monnaies au Portugal 1750–1850. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1955.

Madureira, Nuno. Mercados e Privilégios. A Indústria Portuguesa entre 1750 e 1834. Lisboa: Estampa, 1997.

Santos, Rui. Sociogénese do Latifundismo Moderno: Mercados, Crises e Mudança Social na Região de Évora, Séculos XVII a XIX. Lisboa: Banco de Portugal, 2003.


addendum: I originally wrote in this post, a few hours ago, that the Maddison project now corrects for inflation by expressing variables in 2015 dollars, but this should be 2011. I heard they were thinking of changing to 2015 in the next version.