American Economic Review: Vol. 93 No. 2 (May 2003)
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Living Standards During the Industrial Revolution: An Economist's Guide
Voth, Hans-Joachim. 2003. "Living Standards During the Industrial Revolution: An Economist's Guide ." American Economic Review, 93(2): 221-226.
The Industrial Revolution is a topic of renewed interest for growth economists. After the first wave of "new growth" theory that addressed the causes of sustained increases in productivity, more attention has been given to an important additional stylized fact: that rapid growth itself is new in historical terms. A radical discontinuity separates thousands of years of by and large stagnant living standards from the industrial era. Increasingly in the last few years, models have attempted to capture these long-run dynamics to try to explain how the world changed from a state where growth was fleeting and limited to one where it has become permanent and decisive. At the same time, economic historians have re-evaluated changes in living standards during the British Industrial Revolution (the canonical case). The new picture that emerges has become increasingly consistent over the last decade, and it differs drastically from earlier descriptions. This paper briefly summarizes the two literatures, contrasts the results obtained, and makes suggestions for a new set of "stylized facts" that could usefully guide future theoretical and empirical work on the Industrial Revolution.
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