Two concerns about the interpretation of the estimates of historical national accounts before 1850

Jan Luiten van Zanden*, Jutta Bolt

*Corresponding author for this work

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As contribution to the debate about the interpretation of the process of economic growth before the Industrial Revolution, we discuss two concerns about the currently available estimates of historical national accounts and the way in which these estimates should be interpreted. Firstly, we argue that estimates of the long-term trends of economic growth should make use of all information contained in time series of Gross Domestic Product (GDP henceforth), and therefore use standard regression analysis to establish those trends. Secondly, we point to the problem that the time series of historical GDP are based on very different estimation procedures, which probably affect the outcome in terms of the level of GDP per capita in the period before 1850. Both concerns imply that we do not entirely agree with Jack Goldstone's views of pre-industrial growth. In particular, his conclusion that growth was cyclical before 1800 is inconsistent with the available GDP estimates, which point to sustained growth, albeit at a very low rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-300
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Global History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2021


  • Industrial Revolution
  • Accounts
  • Goldstone
  • Economic Growth
  • Pre-1850
  • National Accounts

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