chapter  1
4 Pages

2. Belgium: The First Industrializer on the Continent

One area in which more precise statements are possible is the course of real wages. It lies at the heart of the "standard of living controversy", on which an immense stream of literature has accumulated which shows no sign of abating. In terms of real incomes in the period c. 1790-c. 1840 (the beginning and end-dates are themselves subject to debate) the "optimists", believing in improvement, have rather the better of the argument, but the "pessimists" can point plausibly to the deteriorating living and working conditions, at least as perceived by those who lived through them. No general agreement seems in sight, though there is a certain consensus that after 1770 and up to about 1820, real wages stagnated and may even have declined, while thereafter a rise was much more evident. After the mid-forties all observers are agreed on a marked improvement in the standard of living of the mass of the population (Mokyr 1988; Crafts 1985 chapter 5; Lindert and Williamson 1985). Only after the industrial revolution was over, did the real benefits to the people at large become clearly observable.