Losers of the Abolition: Ghana's Declining Living Standards After the Slave Trade in the Early Nineteenth Century
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Has sub-Saharan Africa always been poor or did it get poorer over time? This thesis contributes to this debate by looking at the living standard of indigenous laborers on the Gold Coast (current-day southern Ghana) in the early nineteenth century. Data on prices and wages from the Dutch colonial archives is employed to reconstruct welfare ratios of indigenous labourers, following the method by Robert Allen. This method entails calculating the annual, full-time earnings of one adult male, divided by the annual cost of maintaining a family at the minimum subsistence level. Subsequently, the results on welfare or ‘subsistence’ ratios are compared to previous research on welfare ratios in the eighteenth and late nineteenth century. The data indicates that although the living standard of labourers was low in the 1830s, it was not exceptionally low in international perspective. In contrast, the Gold Coast was relatively on par with East Asian and South American living standards and not far behind southern Europe. However, this study has found that living standards were much lower than in previous and later centuries. A major factor was the slave trade. By the time it was abolished in 1807, the economy of the Gold Coast had become too dependent on it. The abolition caused trade to decline and domestic slavery to rise, putting a downward pressure on wages. Only when Britain slowly extended its domain over the entire Gold Coast did living standards start to rise. The British abolished domestic slavery and brought peace and stability to an otherwise violent region, ushering in a period of unprecedented growth for the Gold Coast.