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A golden age for labour? Economic inequality and labour income after the Black Death: Flanders and Tuscany compared (1350-1500).

Did the Black Death result in a golden age for labour? Killing almost one third of the population, the mortality crisis caused a radical change in the relative value of land, capital and labour. Indeed, no other time before Industrialisation would witness such a rapid increase in real wages. Consequently, generations of historians have characterised the period between 1350 and 1500 as a golden age for labour. However, recent literature on pre-modern income formation casts serious doubts on such a straightforward interpretation. The real wage series, on which the theory is based, are hardly representative for real income levels and ever since the 1970's-1980's no new approaches to this problem have been developed. This research project, therefore, introduces a creative solution that will allow us to retrace the impact of the Black Death on income distribution. On the one hand, the narrow focus of the real wage series is replaced with a socially more diversified framework, including the gains of self-employed middle groups. On the other hand, a comparative perspective between Flanders and Tuscany will question the universal effects of the mortality crisis, and instead highlight the role of regional and intraregional economic and institutional divergences. As a result, this research project will lead to a critical rethinking of the longstanding paradigm of a golden age for labour.
Date:1 Oct 2015 →  30 Sep 2017