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Neither so low nor so short! Wages and heights in eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries colonial Hispanic America


Dobado González, Rafael and Garcia, Hector (2009) Neither so low nor so short! Wages and heights in eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries colonial Hispanic America. [ Working Papers; nº 14, 2009, ]


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Based on substantial empirical work, our paper contributes to the ongoing debate on the historical causes of contemporary Latin America problems of development (slow growth and high inequality). It shows solid quantitative evidence on wages and heights for Bourbon Hispanic America that, in our opinion, challenges mainstream assumptions about the –allegedly negative- effects of Spanish colonialism on the welfare of common people. Purchasing capacity of miners and labourers in terms of grain and, especially, of meat was generally equal to -or higher than- that in most parts of Europe and Asia. Heights of some 5000 recruits in the colonial army and militias show a significant inter-regional variance. In South-eastern New Spain they turn out to be slightly below Western standards whereas in Northern Mexico and Venezuela (Maracaibo) they are comparable to those of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. Thus, wages of ordinary Hispanic Americans in eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were not low by international standards. Neither were their physical statures always shorter than the European norm in the middle of the eighteenth century.
Our results might carry other far-reaching implications. On the one hand, an increasing and influent scholarship characterizes colonial Hispanic America as an extreme case of economy based on extractive institutions and inequality [Engerman and Sokoloff (1994, 2002, 2005); Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2002)]. Was it really the case? Our response is somewhat sceptical. On the other hand, calculating ratios of heights and real wages to GDP per capita estimates [Maddison (2009)] for 1820 converts Hispanic America into a clear outlier within a wide sample of countries. This finding suggests that available estimations on
Bourbon Hispanic America GDP per capita should be revised upwards.

Resumen (otros idiomas)

Basado en abundante trabajo empírico, nuestro papel contribuye al debate actual sobre las causas históricas de los problemas contemporáneos de desarrollo en Hispanoamérica (lento crecimiento y gran desigualdad). En él se muestran datos sobre salarios y estaturas en la Hispanoamérica borbónica que, en nuestra opinión, ponen en cuestión algunos supuestos mayoritarios sobre los supuestamente negativos efectos del colonialismo español sobre el bienestar de los grupos no privilegiados. La capacidad de compra de mineros y jornaleros en términos de grano y, especialmente, de carne era generalmente igual o mayor que en Europa y Asia. Las estaturas de unos 5.000 reclutas del ejército colonial y las milicias muestran diferencias interregionales significativas. En la Nueva España suroriental la estatura era algo menor que las media europea mientras que en el Norte novohispano y en Maracaibo son comparables a los de Europa central, oriental y mediterránea. Así, los salarios de los hispanoamericanos del común en el período borbónico no eran bajos. Tampoco sus estaturas estaban eran menores que la norma europea a mediados del siglo XVIII. Nuestros resultados podrían tener implicaciones de cierto alcance. Por un lado, una creciente e influyente corriente de pensamiento caracteriza a la Hispanoamérica virreinal como un caso extremo de economía basada en instituciones extractivas y de desigualdad [Engerman and Sokoloff (1994, 2002, 2005); Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2002)]. ¿Era realmente así? Nuestra respuesta es un tanto escéptica. Por otra parte, los ratios de estaturas y salarios reales respecto al PIB per capita estimado por Maddison (2009) para 1820 hace de Hispanoamérica un claro outlier dentro de una amplia muestra de países. Este resultado sugiere que las estimaciones disponibles del PIB per capita de la Hispanoamérica borbónica deberían ser revisadas al alza.

Item Type:Working Paper or Technical Report
Additional Information:

Clasificación JEL: Colonialism, Inequality, Latin America, Economic History, Development

Uncontrolled Keywords:Heights, Welfare, Colonialism, Development, Latin America.
Palabras clave (otros idiomas):Estaturas, Bienestar, Colonialismo, Desarrollo, América Latina.
Subjects:Social sciences > Economics > Economic history
Social sciences > Economics > Economic development
Series Name:Working Papers
ID Code:9762

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