Comparing Productivity in the UK, Netherlands, France and the US: A new 1910 benchmark of industry-of-origin PPPs and its implications for 19th century economic leadership


This paper presents a new benchmark of fisher weighted sector PPPs for agriculture, mining and five manufacturing branches in the US, UK, France and the Netherlands around 1910. The PPPs are constructed according to an industry-of-origin approach in order to assess comparative levels of labour productivity at a sector level. The estimates are subsequently used to build up a comparison of total labour productivity and GDP per capita. Our main findings are that the relative levels of labour productivity and per capita GDP in the Western European countries have been overestimated in the literature so far. A backward projection of our productivity estimates into the nineteenth century sheds new light on the timing of the take-over in productivity and income leadership between the Netherlands, UK and US. The US-UK take-over occurred between 1879 and 1899 in terms of GDP per capita, but we show that in terms of aggregate labour productivity the US was already world leader around 1850. The Dutch economy seems to have lost its economic leadership earlier than hitherto has been assumed.