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Poverty has a long history in Africa. Yet, the most conventional and influential history of African poverty is a very short one. As told by the World Bank, the history of poverty starts in the 1980s with the first Living Standard Measurement Study. This history of poverty by numbers is also a very narrow one. There is a disconnect between the theoretical and historical underpinnings of how academics understand and define poverty in Africa, and how it has been quantified in practice. While it is generally agreed that poverty is multidimensional and has certain time- and location-specific aspects, the shorthand definition for poverty is the dollar-per-day metric. This article reveals how particular types of knowledge about poverty have gained prominence and thus shaped the dominant interpretation of poverty in Africa. It argues that, based on other numerical evidence, the history of poverty in Africa could be radically different from the dominant interpretation today.
This chapter provides first a central Asian perspective on the trans-Asian trade. It then focuses on the silk trade, although comparisons are provided with the more regional trades, from which comparisons are drawn to evaluate the economic importance of these various trades. The concept of ortaq is extremely important to link the tributary and commercial aspects of the Silk Road. More often than not, in the long run, China had to buy peace from its northern nomadic neighbors by paying heavy tributes to them, generally in silk rolls. Additionally, the payment for the maintenance of Chinese armies in Central Asia was made by transferring rolls of silk. The sending of silk to the West by the Chinese army or the Chinese diplomacy at a cost paid by the state could only destroy the trading networks between inner China and central Asia. Conversely, it created opportunities for traders operating further west, from Chinese-controlled central Asia to the Middle and Near East.
If we take recent income per capita estimates at face value, they imply that the average medieval European was at least five times ‘better off’ than the average Congolese today. This raises important questions regarding the meaning and applicability of national income estimates throughout time and space, and their use in the analysis of global economic history over the long term. This article asks whether national income estimates have a historical and geographical specificity that renders the ‘data’ increasingly unsuitable and misleading when assessed outside a specific time and place. Taking the concept of ‘reciprocal comparison’ as a starting point, it further questions whether national income estimates make sense in pre-and post-industrial societies, in decentralized societies, and in polities outside the temperate zone. One of the major challenges in global history is Eurocentrism. Resisting the temptation to compare the world according to the most conventional development measure might be a recommended step in overcoming this bias.
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