Happy in the service of the Company: the purchasing power of VOC salaries at the Cape in the 18th century

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP01/2012
 
Publication date: 2012
 
Author(s):
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)
 
Abstract:

This paper contributes to the debate on the level and trajectory of welfare at the Cape of Good Hope during the 18th century. Recent scholarship (for example, Allen 2005) has calculated and compared the levels and evolution of real wages in various European and Asian economies since the early modern period. To this lit-erature we add evidence for unskilled and skilled workers of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope during the 18th century, following De Zwart (2009; 2011), who recently presented evidence for unskilled workers in the Cape for the latter half of the 17th century and the 18th century. We calculate job-specific real wages in a three-step argument; from the narrowest international comparison of wage rates in terms of silver content to one based on a basket of widely consumed goods. The paper’s contributions lie in the breadth of the com-parisons, the inclusion of skilled workers in the comparison and the adaptation of the consumption basket to local conditions and relative prices at the Cape. The results support the hypothesis that at the start of the 18th century, the Cape Col-ony was relatively poor on an international comparison, but as the century un-folded, gained considerably on even the richest contemporary societies.

 
JEL Classification:

N37, N97, E31

Keywords:

Real wages, Dutch East India Company (VOC), Cape Colony, Compari-sons of living standards, Economic history of South Africa, Economic history of the Cape Colony

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BER Weekly

11 November 2019
Notwithstanding the apparent optimism surrounding President Cyril Ramaphosa's second Investment Conference last week, economic data released for Q3 disappointed. The consumer turned notably more pessimistic during the quarter, while the latest activity data from the country's secondary sector also paints a dismal picture for GDP. On the global front,...

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