Seeds of divergence: living standards in French North America, 1688 to 1760

This paper, which has been in the making for the last three years, is the most important of all my papers. It capitalizes on a new dataset of prices and wages collected from religious congregations to link with censuses of the French colony of Quebec from 1688 to 1760 in order to measure real wages and incomes.  The aim is to create a measure of living standards for this colony while it was under French rule and compare with the American colonies to the south, the mother country of France and Great Britain. This would be the first estimate of Canadian living standards prior to the mid-19th century. These results are relevant to studying divergence across the Americas and Europe and to Canadian historians who strive to make sense of the importance of the conquest of Quebec by the British in 1760 by supplying an estimate of living standards before the conquest. Using the standardized real wages approach expressed as welfare ratios (Allen 2001; Allen et al. 2012) to a basket of goods, we find that there was very little growth between 1688 and 1760. At the bare bones level (poor diet, few luxuries and few manufactured goods), the French colonists in the New World were slightly richer than their counterparts in France. They were poorer than the British inhabitants (using southern England wages) and considerably poorer than the American colonists. Switching to a more respectable basket of goods, the gap with England and the American colonies widens considerably while the advantage relative to France vanishes to be transformed into a small negative gap.

The paper can be read in full here at ACADEMIA


How bad were Quebec’s French farmers in the 1830s? (With M. Hinton and V. Kufenko)

My most recent paper on farming in Canada in the 19th century. It concerns the “agricultural crisis” of the early decades of the century which has often been blamed on the cultural peculiarities of the French-Canadian population (which formed the majority of the population of Lower Canada). We find that the few who did stress that culture was not an issue were correct, even if they had used data which was not the best suited to make the claims they made. We also find that, hidden behind noise in the raw data, there is a gap in TFP between areas living under French laws and British laws (with the latter having an advantage).

You can read the paper here and the abstract below

Abstract: This paper uses a novel dataset drawn from the census of 1831 for Lower Canada to question the conventional view that French-Canadian culture was to blame for a prolonged economic crisis. The new evidence shows that there were no important differences in farming efficiency across cultural lines. However, using an instrumental variable approach, we find that productivity differences did exist along institutional lines. (K11, K20, N11, N51, O4)

Why was flour of poor quality? The impact of seigneurial laws and price controls on flour in colonial Quebec (with Alexis Lacombe)

After much work and re-do on my part regarding the details of the milling regulations in Canada and thanks to the help of my co-author, Alexis Lacombe (University of Sherbrooke, Collège de Granby), who conceived the mathematical model, we have finished our paper on the quality of flour in Canada. Prior to 1850, we argue that the sets of price controls and milling monopolies created a system in which consumer welfare was hurt considerably. More precisely, we argue that the regulations in place incited millers to produce low quality flour which was often uncleaned and very coarse.

The paper can be found here and the abstract is below.

Abstract: The literature on Quebec’s economic history often portrays its agriculture during the Pre-Confederation era as poor. This is believed to be true from the beginnings of the colony when it was settled by France. Most of the people who took up farming when they arrived in the colony had not been familiar with this type of work when they were in France. One recurrent problem mentioned in the literature is that the flour produced in the colony was of very poor quality. This judgment was only extended towards flour found within the colony, not on foreign markets where Canadian flour seems to have enjoyed a slightly better reputation even if exports were quite small in terms of volume. This paper tackles the sources of this problem of quality on the domestic market and argues that a compilation of land tenure regulations under the system of seigneurial tenure and of price regulations led to this situation.