On VoxEU, Peter Lindert summarizes his recent work on long-term international comparisons of living standards. Lindert compares nominal incomes per capita, deflated by historical prices (for staple goods). He makes five points:
The real income gap between Northwest Europe and the major Asian countries was greater since the 1500s than even Maddison had estimated.
Contrary to all previous estimates, Mughal India around 1600 was already far behind both Japan and Northwest Europe.
Within Europe, the new estimation procedure shows little bias in Maddison’s estimates.
Average incomes in North America were already higher than in Britain or France in the late 17th century, long before Maddison’s c.1900 catching up date for the US versus Britain. A similar ‘frontier advantage’ has now emerged from estimates for Australia in 1870.
Adding what is known about the ability to buy luxuries and capital goods raises the income of Western Europe relative to all other regions, except possibly resource-rich North America.