Patrick O'Brien

Patrick OPatrick O'Brien, FBA is an emeritus Professor of economic history at LSE where he current covened a network investigating economic outcomes that flowed from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815. His research and publications have been concerned with comparative long term economic development for a wide range of European, Middle Eastern and Asian Economies.

Papers Published in World Economics:

Quantifying the Quantifiable

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Why Maddison was Wrong

Much academic debate in Western and Chinese universities has engaged in testing the hypothesis that standards of living in China did not fall behind those of the populations of the national economies of Western Europe until late in the eighteenth century Unfortunately, the data for China accessible in secondary sources do not provide historical runs of estimates either for GDP or for total population, let alone for any purchasing-power-parity rates of exchange estimates. Angus Maddison used short-cut methods to circumvent these difficulties, but a platoon of distinguished economists have found his methods and estimates to be conceptually and statistically unacceptable as historical evidence. The data currently available for China are and may well remain too fragmentary, ambiguous and insecure to sustain a Kuznetsian perception for investigation into the historical origins of the Great Divergence.

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China’s GDP Per Capita from the Han Dynasty to Communist Times

This article is a critical survey of the concepts and data utilized by economists and economic historians that purport to measure relative levels and long term trends in GDP per capita from the Han Dynasty to Communist times. We favour attempts to extend macro-economic analysis and its associated quantification to China’s long imperial history, but have concluded that estimates calibrated in international dollars for 1990, or 2005 or 2011 are not fit for that purpose. Furthermore, and after surveying recent endeavours to reconstruct the published secondary and official statistical sources available for the measurement of primary production for Ming and Qing China (1368-1911), we reluctantly suggest that Kuznetsian paradigms for empirical economics are probably not viable, either for the measurement of the empire’s growth over time or for reciprocal comparisons with European economies. This is because on both conceptual and statistical grounds the concept and associated metric for GDP per capita does not travel easily and securely between the fiscal systems of China and the West (Yun-Casallila and O’Brien 2012).

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