Sorry, but I hate john Naughton

Estimates for private per-capita consumption from 1760 to 1831, for example, suggest that it rose only by about 22%.

I don’t think that’s true, I think we’ve a terrible mismeasurement problem there. But let us assume that it is and we can see why I hate John Naughton.

Because he’s diving into the economics meets technology bit, that’s fine, I do it a lot myself. But without understanding the economics he’s talking about, not fine. It’s the only there that grates.

Leaving aside the aftermath of the Black Death, fairly special circumstances, that’s the fastest growth in personal consumption per capita up to that date.That 70 years is almost certainly more than it rose in the previous 2 centuries.

And that’s a hugely important economics point. In fact, it’s the one we want to explain. 10,000 years of agriculture and the only time living standards rose was when everyone else die. Then something else happens an we get, for the first time, substantial, sustained growth in the living standards of everyman.

It’s actually “the” economic question. What the fuck happened and how do we make sure it doesn’t stop?

“Only”?

9 comments on “Sorry, but I hate john Naughton

  1. “[P]rofessor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University.”

    Hmmm, I wonder if he knows Ivan Borrocks.

  2. The Black Death reached England in the late 1340s so it must be tricky to evaluate its aftermath in 1760.

  3. The first British census (ignoring yer Romans) was in 1801. So a population number for periods before that is guesswork. Since the GDP figures are probably guesswork too, we end up with the ratio of two guesses.

  4. Wasn’t there a massive population increase in the early 19th century? That would dampen down per capita increases, wouldn’t it?

  5. It’s a slightly different period (1675 – 1725) and structured somewhat differently, but looking at just saucepans, earthenware and books in London, Major Town, Other Town and Rural Village during the period suggests that consumption was nearer to 30%

    https://www1.umassd.edu/ir/resources/consumption/ownershipconsumer.pdf

    Why should consumption fall from 30% in 1675 – 1725 to 22% in 1760 to 1831? I’m not sure that makes sense.

    Surely during the late 18th century and early 19th century, trade increased rapidly due to colonial and early US trade in North America and pre-imperial trading activities in India and the Far East.

    I’m not buying it.

  6. Wasn’t there a massive population increase in the early 19th century? That would dampen down per capita increases, wouldn’t it?

    Taking Liverpool as a reasonable example of urban populations rising because of rural migration, it looks like the population climbed rapidly after the Napoleonic Wars from 1815 through to 1880.

    Population Change as recorded in the UK Census

    NOTE: – That the graph shows the delta position (Δ) as in the population change from census to census, not the absolute population numbers.

  7. I also have a problem with ‘real ‘ wages,consumption etc when there was little in the way of accurate price measurement at that time. These chaps have a pretty good go at it pointing out of course that cost of living was heavily based to agriculture
    http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/Gilboy1936.pdf

    Also highlighting the great inflation that ran into the Napoleonic war and the importance of agricultural harvests, picking your index dates (check the PDF) would have a huge impact on your measured growth. Ironically, given the technology slant, the price index for cotton collapses during the 19th century thanks to the industrial revolution which had a major impact on the cost of living.

  8. I would have thought it matters not so much whether is is right or wrong about real incomes in 1800 or even the USA today. Isn’t the key concern here that his ‘solution’ is just plain wrong? Unfortunately this solution appears to be gaining traction. Couldn’t we just buy him a spinning wheel to smash up?

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