Modelling Population and Resource Scarcity in Fourteenth-century England

Modelling Population and Resource Scarcity in Fourteenth-century England

Jean-Paul Chavas and Daniel W. Bromley (Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Taylor Hall, University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 56, No. 2, 2005, 217–237    


This paper examines the empirical data relevant in the analysis of the agrarian transformation of England in the Middle Ages. It presents an empirical analysis of available data that investigates the role and extent of resource scarcity in 14th-century England. The analysis offers a way forward for economists and historians to reach a plausible consensus about the reality of what may be one of the most important transition periods in European economic history. The insights gained throw useful light on the processes whereby agricultural relations evolved from ancient feudal structures. 

Many studies have examined the evolution of the agrarian economy in England during the Middle Ages. There are two general theories about the 13th and 14th centuries. The account starting with M. M. Postan developed the dominant theory firmly grounded in Ricardian economics. The ‘Postan Thesis’ regarded these two centuries in quite pronounced Malthusian terms (Postan, 1973a,b). This account is one of continued population growth, increased pressure on agricultural resources, soil exhaustion, declining yields, increased immiserization and the encroachment of arable on pastures in the relentless quest for more grain (Campbell, 1983). This set of circumstances is claimed to be unprecedented in English history.

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