Most of the 19th century was a good time for equality (Department of Ahem…)

From “Real Inequality in Europe Since 1500,” (pdf) by Philip T. Hoffman, David Jacks, Patricia A. Levin, and Peter H. Lindert:

Introducing a concept of real, as opposed to nominal, inequality of income or wealth suggests some historical reinterpretations, buttressed by a closer look at consumption by the rich. The purchasing powers of different income classes depend on how relative prices move. Relative prices affected real inequality more strongly in earlier centuries than in the twentieth. Between 1500 and about 1800, staple food and fuels became dearer, while luxury goods, especially servants, became cheaper, greatly widening the inequality of lifestyles. Peace, industrialization, and globalization reversed this inegalitarian price effect in the nineteenth century, at least for England.

If you have been following the recent debates over Thomas Piketty, you might have come away with…um…the opposite impression.  The emphasis there is added by this blogger. As for other countries:

Thus the great grain globalization of the late nineteenth century favored workers’ relative purchasing power in food-importing Western Europe, though not in food-exporting areas.

By the way here is Scott Sumner on consumption inequality.

For the pointer I thank John Nye.


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