Microbes and Markets: Was the Black Death an Economic Revolution?

Microbes and Markets: Was the Black Death an Economic Revolution?

By Gregory Clark

Published Online (2001)

Abstract: Did the Black Death have any effects on the medieval economy beyond what would be expected from the population losses? I test this by constructing measures of real wages, real land rents, and rates of return on capital from 1210 to 1500. These reveal first that there is no sign the Black Death had any effect on the efficiency of agriculture. Indeed efficiency changes little all the way from 1210 to 1500. Second the return on capital did fall from 10% around 1300 to about 5% by 1400, the biggest change in English history. But this decline seemingly began around 1300, long before the Black Death, and so was probably unconnected. Third the measured efficiency of the agricultural sector in 1210 is little below the efficiency measured in the same way in 1600-49. Only after 1650 is there sign of growth in the efficiency of agriculture. The growth of the medieval economy in the thirteenth century, by implication, must have come from demographic factors and not technological advance.

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