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This chapter discusses the consequences of industrialization and growth for the standard of living of the world’s population. The estimates concerning GDP growth, life expectancy, and educational attainment are discussed and an inequality-adjusted human development index is constructed and presented. At the onset of the process of modern economic growth in 1800 there were already large differences in well-being between the advanced economies in Europe and North America and the rest of the world, which further widened during the ninteenth century. This widening was the result of faster growth of the core economies; only rarely did countries show a substantial decline. The decrease of GDP per capita in China between 1700 and 1900 is a rare exception to this rule.
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.
For better or for worse, in recent times the rapid growth of international economic exchange has changed our lives. But when did this process of globalization begin, and what effects did it have on economies and societies? Pim de Zwart and Jan Luiten van Zanden argue that the networks of trade established after the voyages of Columbus and Da Gama of the late fifteenth century had transformative effects inaugurating the first era of globalization. The global flows of ships, people, money and commodities between 1500 and 1800 were substantial, and the re-alignment of production and distribution resulting from these connections had important consequences for demography, well-being, state formation and the long-term economic growth prospects of the societies involved in the newly created global economy. Whether early globalization had benign or malignant effects differed by region, but the world economy as we now know it originated in these changes in the early modern period.