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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 1-2 of Deirdre McCloskey’s pioneering 2010 volume, Bourgeois Dignity (footnote omitted):

Two centuries ago the world’s economy stood at the present level of Bangladesh.  In those good old days of 1800, furthermore, the average young person in Norway or Japan would have had on past form less rational hope than a young Bangladeshi nowadays of seeing in her lifetime the end of her nation’s poverty – or at least the beginning of the end.  In 1800 the average human consumed and expected her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to go on consuming a mere $3 a day, give or take a dollar or two.  The figure is expressed in modern-day, American prices, corrected for the cost of living.  It is appalling.

By contrast, if you live nowadays in a thoroughly bourgeois country such as Japan or France you probably spend about $100 a day.  One hundred dollars as against three: such is the magnitude of modern economic growth.  The only people much better off than $3 or so up to 1800 were lords or bishops or some few of the merchants.  It had been this way for all of history, and for that matter all of prehistory.  With her $3 a day the average denizen of the earth got a few pounds of potatoes, a little milk, an occasional scrap of meat.  A wool shawl.  A year or two of elementary education, if lucky and if she lived in a society with literacy.  She had a 50-50 chance at birth of dying before she was thirty years old.  Perhaps she was a cheerful sort, and was “happy” with illiteracy, disease, superstition, periodic starvation, and lack of prospects.  After all, she had her family and faith and community, which interfered with every choice she made.  But at any rate she was desperately poor, and narrowly limited in human scope.