Agricultural production, the timber trade and living standards in Lower Canada, 1831

Below is the abstract of a recent working paper I have uploaded on my academia page which studies living standards and labour market decisions in Lower Canada in the early 1830s when the timber trade was beggining its boom. It can be consulted here on my academia page.

ABSTRACT: From 1800 to 1840, the economy of Quebec (then called Lower Canada) is normally described as experiencing either a “malaise” or an outright crisis. Yet, the data do not support a decline in living standards. Such claims result from a fixation on agricultural production, and a failure to notice the interaction between agricultural production and other – chiefly rural – industries. I propose that peasants attempted to optimize the use of their factor endowments, hence exhibiting no signs of irrationality, by shifting their supply of labour between different activities at the expense of agricultural activities. Using parish-level data from the 1831 census of Lower Canada, I conclude that the timber trade had a large and negative effect on agricultural production. This indicates that peasants diverted labour inputs away from agriculture when the timber trade became a more remunerative alternative. Variables linked to ethnicity are not significant. These results have serious implications on estimates of living standards in the colony prior to Confederation and suggest that they may have been underestimated. The economic approach used and the results generated also has important implications for the study of the institution of seigniorial tenure and suggests that it may have hindered industrial development.


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