Introduction and Acknowledgements
Comparative economic history is conducted on the assumption that systematic comparisons of economic development across countries might help historians and economists to understand modern economic growth. Thus the contrasting history of British and French industrialisa tion over the nineteenth century has attracted considerable attention from scholars in Europe and America. There exists a rich and growing historiography and, what is more important, a serious controversy around the subject. This study, which is an exercise in measurement, is offered primarily as a contribution to that debate. It was inspired by the work of Jean Marczewski and his associates in France and the work of Deane, Cole and Mitchell on the quantitative history of Britain . It forms a preface to our own continuing research into productivity levels in European economies.*
The book is divided into three parts. Part One contains a historio graphical survey of recent writings on the comparative economic development of France and Britain from 1780 to 1 9 1 4 which leads conveniently into a discussion of the methods employed in this essay to measure the relative retardation of the French economy compared to that of Britain. Part Two offers two indicators of French 'backwardness' : domestic output per head and commodity flow per head, and explores hypotheses designed to explain the unexpectedly small gap in per capita incomes (or 'welfare') between the two countries. Part Three is concerned to measure and compare the productivity of labour employed in industry and agriculture and to account for the relatively low pro ductivity of workers engaged in French agriculture and the superior productivity of employees in French industry that, to our surprise, persisted for most of the nineteenth century.