Growth and inequality in the great and little divergence debate: a Japanese perspective

Osamu Saito
Published Online:
08 Aug 2014
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 68 Issue 2

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This article addresses the question of growth and inequality in the great and little divergence trajectories on both sides of Eurasia. A social table constructed for Tokugawa Japan in the 1840s is compared with two cases with high levels of inequality, Stuart England and Mughal India, and the subsequent changes in the three countries are traced to the modern era of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Japanese pattern in the early modern period can be characterized by comparatively modest growth with a relatively egalitarian distribution of income between the social classes, but the pattern changed during the subsequent half‐century to one with an increased tempo of growth and a substantial rise in the level of income inequality. The implications of this finding are discussed in terms of the concept of Smithian growth and are placed in the comparative context of the divergence debate.

© Economic History Society 2014

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