*The Changing Body*

The authors are Roderick Floud, Nobel Laureate Robert W. Fogel, Bernard Harris, and Sok Chul Hong, and the subtitle is Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World since 1700.  Here is one key sentence:

Chronically malnourished populations of Europe universally responded to food constraints by varying body size.

You can write an important and fascinating 400-page book around that sentence, although it will not hold the attention of all readers.  Here is a good summary article (1/20) on the book.  Here is another excerpt:

Even if it is assumed that the daily number of calories available for work was the same in the United States in 1860 as today, the intensity of work per hour would have been well below today’s levels, since the average number of hours worked in 1860 was 1.75 times as great as today.  During the mid nineteenth century, only slaves on southern gang-system plantations appear to have worked at levels of intensity per hour approaching current standards.

It is interesting to read the authors’ estimates of wage growth from 1750 to about 1820.  Some estimates suggest zero growth, while a more optimistic study shows that in Great Britain real wages rose about 12.5 percent between 1770 and 1818, and that was during the Industrial Revolution or should that be “during the so-called Industrial Revolution”?  Read this piece by Charles Feinstein; the standard of living for the average working class family increased by only 15 percent from the 1780s to the 1850s.  Here is an ungated paper with similar results.  Great Stagnation-like phenomena are not new and as Arnold Kling noted recently, theories of technological unemployment may yet make a comeback.

Here are two blue-footed boobies.


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