Between conquest and independence: Real wages and demographic change in Spanish America, 1530–1820
with Elwyn Davies and Jan Luiten van Zanden
Explorations in Economic History, 2012.


On the basis of a newly constructed dataset, this paper presents long-term series of the price levels, nominal wages, and real wages in Spanish Latin America – more specifically in Mexico, 13 Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina – between ca. 1530 and ca. 1820. It synthesizes 14 the work of scholars who have collected and published data on individual cities and periods, 1351 and presents comparable indices of real wages and prices in the colonial period that give a reasonable guide to trends in the long run. We show that wages and prices were on average much higher than in Western Europe or in Asia, a reflection o f the low value of silver that must have had consequences for competitiveness of the Latin American economies. Labour scarcity was the second salient feature of Spanish Latin America and resulted in real wages much above subsistence and in some cases (Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina) comparable to levels in Northwestern Europe. For Mexico, this was caused by the dramatic decline of the population after the Conquest. For Bolivia, the driving force was the boom in silver mining in Potosi that created a huge demand for labour. In the case of Argentina, low population density was a pre-colonial feature. Perhaps due to a different pattern of depopulation, the real wages of other regions (Peru, Colombia and Chile) were much lower, and only increased above subsistence during the first half of the 18th century. These results are consistent with independent evidence on biological standards of living and with estimates of GDP per capita at the beginning of the 19th century.

Persistent Inequality? Trade, Factor Endowments, and Inequality in Republican Latin America.
GPIH Working Papers, 12, Journal of Economic History 73(1): 38-78.

Using a new dataset, this paper presents new evidence on inequality in Latin America for the 19th century and studies the effects of factor endowments and trade on inequality. Recent research has highlighted the link between the colonial origins of inequality and its persistence in Latin America. We find that inequality varied substantially throughout the century and across the region. We identify and quantify the impact of changing factor endowments and trade on inequality using a theoretical model of intertemporal inequality transmission based on asset ownership in an open economy subject to shocks. The results indicate that inequality in the Southern Cone rose during the era of globalization while it decreased in Mexico and Venezuela. The rise in inequality in Argentina and Uruguay is explained by the impact of favorable terms of trade and international migration; however, the effect was dampened by significant land annexation. On the other hand, the decline in Mexican and Venezuelan inequality is related to decreasing terms of trade amplified by the expansion of available arable land.

Failure to Launch: Cost of Living and Living Standards in Peru in the 19th century. Forthcoming in Journal of Latin American and Iberian Economic History.

Based on a variety of archival sources, this paper presents estimations for cost of living and living standards for Lima, Peru during the 19th century. During this century Peru experienced deep swings in economic activity marked by the independence wars and the War of the Pacific and a commodity boom. These new series show that a sizable inflationary period during the guano age had dampening effects on the living standards of the popular class. While living standards peaked by mid 1850s, GDP per capita's maximum was achieved two decades later. These results suggest that the guano bonanza failed to lift the popular class living standards from subsistence level. Even though the living standards level climbed steadily almost reaching English levels, all these gains were lost by the end of the century.



Research in pictures: old accounting books, newspapers, and graphical representation of historical data.