Physical capital formation in Britain and Holland in the long run

Principal Investigator: Stephen Broadberry 

The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century is arguably the most important turning point in world history. For the first time in history the standard of living for the general population started to grow consistently. However, recent research studying patterns of per capita GDP between 1300 and 1900 has shown that in Holland and Britain the classic period of the Industrial Revolution was preceded by an earlier growth spurt.

Between 1300 and 1700, levels of per capita GDP had already doubled. According to economic theory this phase of pre-industrial growth should have been driven by the accumulation of physical capital, creating the foundations for technological change.

This project provides annual estimates of capital formation and the stock of physical capital in Britain during the period 1270-1870 and in Holland during the period 1500-1870, using the Perpetual Inventory Method. The capital stock data are combined with estimates of per capita GDP, human capital, and labour input to provide growth accounts for both countries over the very long run. These data and their analysis will underpin a new understanding of the conditions underpinning the Industrial Revolution, and shed new light on the sources of growth and development over the last millennium in the first economies to make the transition to modern economic growth.

The project builds on the results of earlier research funded by the Leverhulme Trust, that reconstructed national income for Britain and Holland back to 1270. It supports a postdoctoral fellowship for Sandra de Pleijt to undertake research in collaboration with Prof Stephen Broadberry at Nuffield College.

Supported by: Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

Duration: June 2017 - February 2019