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Happy in the service of the Company: the purchasing power of VOC salaries at the Cape in the 18th century

Sophia du Plessis () and Stan Du Plessis ()

No 01/2012, Working Papers from Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics

Abstract: This paper contributes to the debate on the level and trajectory of welfare at the Cape of Good Hope during the 18th century. Recent scholarship (for example, Allen 2005) has calculated and compared the levels and evolution of real wages in various European and Asian economies since the early modern period. To this lit-erature we add evidence for unskilled and skilled workers of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope during the 18th century, following De Zwart (2009; 2011), who recently presented evidence for unskilled workers in the Cape for the latter half of the 17th century and the 18th century. We calculate job-specific real wages in a three-step argument; from the narrowest international comparison of wage rates in terms of silver content to one based on a basket of widely consumed goods. The paper’s contributions lie in the breadth of the com-parisons, the inclusion of skilled workers in the comparison and the adaptation of the consumption basket to local conditions and relative prices at the Cape. The results support the hypothesis that at the start of the 18th century, the Cape Col-ony was relatively poor on an international comparison, but as the century un-folded, gained considerably on even the richest contemporary societies.

Keywords: Real wages; Dutch East India Company (VOC); Cape Colony; Compari-sons of living standards; Economic history of South Africa; Economic history of the Cape Colony (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: N37 N97 E31 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2012
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-afr and nep-his
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