When it comes to comparing economies, 'medieval' may not mean what you think it means.
- By Joshua E. KeatingJoshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Shocked observers often refer to conditions in the world’s poorest countries as "medieval." It turns out that may be generous.
A new study led by economists at the University of Warwick shows that life under the feudal system wasn’t as dire as Monty Python made it out to be. The researchers used measures of output such as agricultural yields and the productivity of early industries like textiles to estimate economic growth in England between 1270 and 1700 and found that the average annual income there was closer to $1,000, expressed in 1990 dollars. That’s still way below incomes in the modern developed world, but well above current incomes in places like Zimbabwe ($779), Haiti ($686), and Afghanistan ($869). Even on the eve of the Black Death, incomes in England averaged around $800.
Sadly, it seems the question is not when the world’s poorest countries will escape the Dark Ages; it’s when will they catch up with them.