The Wealth and Poverty of African States: Economic Growth, Living Standards, and Taxation Since the Late Nineteenth Century
By Morten Jerven
Cambridge University Press, 2022, 180 pp.
The economic and social data available on Africa are extremely poor. As Jerven makes clear, few reliable historical data series go back to the beginning of the colonial period, in the late nineteenth century. Data from the postcolonial era are riddled with missing values for key countries and years. Nevertheless, scholars and analysts still produce confident generalizations about African economic history and its implications for policy. Jerven succeeds in discussing a wide array of methodological issues regarding African data with instructive precision and nuance. He then undertakes some careful combining and massaging of both old and newly available data to create longer and more complete time series of economic data for the region, with a focus on state revenues and the growth of production. His new estimates show that analysts have underestimated the real growth of African economies in the past century and that the deep recession that hit the continent in the 1980s and early 1990s was an exception rather than the rule.