chapter  5
44 Pages

Agriculture

W e have already shown that between the late eighteenth century and the First World War labour productivity in British agriculture remained appreciably and consistently higher than productivity per worker employed in French agriculture (see Table 4.3) . In a taxonomic sense French retardation might be attributed or imputed entirely to the relative inefficiency of French agriculture, because if French farms had produced an output per worker similar in value to that produced on British farms then, ceteris paribus, the gap in total productivity would have disappeared ; commodity flow per capita in France would have been between 21 and 4 1 per cent higher (that is, above British levels throughout the n ineteenth century) and historians would be engaged in a discussion of British, not French, retardation, despite the tech­ nological superiority of British industry. 1

Of course statements of this kind, based upon imputed changes in agricultural productivities, ignore the fact (already discussed in Chapter 4) that France retained a relatively high share of its work force in a sector of low productivity. Such statements also beg the question whether French agriculture possessed the capacity to employ the extra 2 ·8 million workers it did absorb between the 1 780s and 1 9 1 3 (see Table 4. 5) and at the same time sustain the kind of increases in marginal and average product per worker that characterised agricultural development in Britain .