What Makes Maddison Right: Chinese Historic Economic Data
Jan Luiten van Zanden
& Debin Ma
Published: September 2017
The ‘Great Divergence debate’ in economic history relates to the question of when China fell behind the levels of well-being in Western Europe. A recent paper published in this journal argues that existing historical data cannot answer this question and criticizes estimates of Angus Maddison of GDP per capita based on limited evidence. The authors believe, in contrast, that critiques, assessments and summaries on the state of the Great Divergence debate even if flawed are in the original spirit of the Maddison research. Maddison’s work is less about right or wrong than about trying to achieve better or best estimates by overcoming the current constraint on data and methodologies over time.