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Are salaries a so useful tool to build up comparable standards of living? Some caveats concerning salary elements, available currencies, debts and credit in pre-modern Rio de la Plata region, 1770-1830
Congreso; XVIIth World Economic History Congress; 2015
Institución organizadora:
International Economic History Association
Through data fromvarious sources, this paper focuses on the deep contrasts between unskilledworker?s salaries in nearby rural areas of the Rio de la Plata region at theend of the colonial period. Those differences were not only due to aproductivity gap (although it existed and mattered a lot) but also todifferences in a wide range of phenomena: quality and quantity of availablecash currency, gains expected in trading highly mobile goods received as partof the payroll, additional salary elements, and access to credit for extendedfamily groups, secured through a salary-linked debt account. Therefore, thepaper seeks to stress some concerns that must be take into account to use thesalaries as a comparative variable. Workerswere usually part of family groups, more or less extended, not necessarilylocated in or nearby their workplace. Salaries were so only part of familyincome. But the rest weighted very differently in each place, due to distinctcultural traditions or economic reasons. This determined very different featuresfor salaries, and huge contrasts in nominal amounts, or in the part paid out incash, despite the relatively similar cost of living in this space. Thosecontrasts, also, warn us on the quality and usefulness of living standardcomparisons, when dealing with distant past societies: if even in nearby areasof the same region salary differences as expressed in cash payments were huge,what can be expected when confronting far away countries? How different wouldbe the buying power of an individual if we consider all those supposedly sidematters? Are we able to accept that cash wage (or salary) would be auniversally useful expression of purchasing power, or income?