Escaping the Malthusian Trap


Chile had escaped the Malthusian trap around the early 20th century. In this I will examine the factors that had enabled substantial growth in the Chilean economy including geography and trade, population, and institution within the period 1840-1930. The Chilean War of Independence against Spanish control began in 1810 with it ending in an independent republic being declared in 1818. From this point onwards Chile began to expand its territorial holdings in regards to assimilating the Mapuche population and gaining Northern territory, but it was only in 1840 that the economy had truly opened (Mamalakis, Markos J).Chile has a diverse regional market due to its geographic nature, as the country spans 6435 km of coastline going from desert in the North to arctic conditions in the South. (Please click to expand images!)

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As Chile lies upon the North-South axis it has distinct diversity in climate and geography, the economy had been able to surpass the Malthusian trap as a consequence of this rather than be limited by it. This diversity enabled trade, demand for its exports, and increasing market integration. Chile had a particular trade advantage due to access to the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean through the Drake Passage, and the Strait of Magellan (The World Factbook). This was to prove pivotal for the export of the factor endowments present in Chile. In the central and southern zones there is particularly fertile soil for wheat production and grazing. Then in the northern zone there is the Atacama Desert, which is the source of Nitrate and Copper (The World Factbook). While the border to Argentina is defined by the Andes Mountain range providing Chile with access to natural minerals (The World Factbook). 

Trade routes proved to be integral to the growth of the export and import market that drove forward Chilean growth, which is exemplified by their increasing rate in growth rate of exports considering the data for 1850-1900, 1870-1920, and 1890-1900 shown in the table.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 14.04.58Further examining exports Chile had an absolute advantage in the production of wheat during what was noted as the Great Wheat Trade between 1865 and 1900 (Mamalakis, Markos J).This wheat boom had begun in 1850 as a consequence of demand from the Californian and Australian gold rushes, as exports peaked at 276,664 qq.m (quintals) for California in 1850, then 323,607 qq.m for Australia in 1855 (Mamalakis, Markos J). This highlighted Chile’s advantage due to the pacific trade routes and fertile soil, while the wheat trade was to become global with England becoming a central importer, as production between 1867 and 1900 did not fall below 800,000 qq.m (Mamalakis, Markos J). This absolute advantage in wheat production attracted foreign investment, and led to the introduction of steam ship use in Chile (Mamalakis, Markos J). The wheat trade began to decline by 1900, due to California and Australia producing their own wheat (Mamalakis, Markos J). This decline in the pacific export market for wheat did not hinder Chile’s growth due to the export of copper and nitrate.


The nitrate boom began after the War of the Pacific in 1880-82, as Chile had gained the entire Atacama Desert region from Bolivia and Peru (Hutchison, Elizabeth Q., Thomas M. Klubock, Nara B. Milanich, and Peter Winn). This had also landlocked Bolivia, resulting on a trade dependence on Chile. Between 1900 and 1930 more than 50% of government revenue came from nitrate and iodine export taxes (Mamalakis, Markos J), with the nitrate sector resource surplus averaging 14% of GDP between 1882 and 1930 (Mamalakis, Markos J). In regards to helping Chile escape the Malthusian trap the nitrate boom was far more important in regards to it being a source of modernization. Integrally, bringing it closer towards modern capitalism and into contact with the United States and the United Kingdom. However, due to the synthetic production of nitrate, Chile had experienced a rapid boom and bust cycle (Mamalakis, Markos J). In this the greater move towards capitalism became the main benefit of the nitrate boom, as the nitrate bust left behind it ghost mining towns and structural unemployment showing an example of mineral theory (Adelman, M. A., and G. C. Watkins). This left copper as the most sustained specialized export, ensuring growth.

It was specialisation in the extraction of copper that was to lead to sustained growth, institutional development, and greater market integration within the Chilean economy. Until 1880 Chile had been the world’s largest copper producer, but it experienced a rapid decline in easily available stocks as production fell (Mamalakis, Markos J).

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After 1910 the Chilean copper sector experienced a massive transformation, as increasing foreign investment led to greater human and physical capital that resulted in large-scale mining. This had revived copper production, while emphasising an institutional and financial link with the United States (Mamalakis, Markos J). It is debated whether the foreign presence had upheld a weak Chilean economy, or whether it provided the backbone for the modernisation.


The geography of Chile proved to be vital in providing the correct environment for access to trade, as well as a diverse range of exports. Proving essential to an increase in economic growth and modernisation, in regards to escaping the Malthusian trap increasing income per capita was a result of this trade based growth. However, it is important to consider the demographic transition that occurred in the period.

The demographic transition in Chile took advantage of growth through trade, aiding in the escape of the Malthusian trap. In the table below we see a decreasing rate of increase in population for Chile during the period in question 1840-1930, with the authors estimates with a boom in population growth for 1915-1930. There was no dramatic change in population, with the main factor being the assimilation of indigenous Mapuche population through expanding the Chilean frontier in the south through war (Hutchison, Elizabeth Q., Thomas M. Klubock, Nara B. Milanich, and Peter Winn). Instead this demographic transition was based upon increasing urbanisation and a switch to more service based sectors. In 1930 49.4% of the country’s population was located in urban areas, and increasingly the capital Santiago (Mamalakis, Markos J).

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This was a consequence of the movement of employment from agriculture to industry and services, shown by the graph considering the production indices, as the public sector, and industry began to match then exceed agriculture in terms of production. This suggests that the Chilean economy had escaped the Malthusian trap between the period 1915-1930, especially considering the table below which considers the relative income and employment between 1907 and 1930, as 43% of the working population was employed in services which accounted for 50% of relative income, compared to 36% of the population being employed in agriculture (Mamalakis, Markos J).

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 10.40.54It is important to place the trade and demographic transition that allowed Chile to experience rapid levels of growth into context with the institutions that were available at the time. Having been a Spanish colony there was already the physical and human capital required to facilitate trade, moreover the Spanish had focused on the mining of silver and gold that was to benefit the Chilean economy in regards to the production of copper and nitrate (Hutchison, Elizabeth Q., Thomas M. Klubock, Nara B. Milanich, and Peter Winn). Chilean institution in relation to aiding the escape from the Malthusian trap may be more closely examined through considering capital accumulation through physical and human capital investment, this is a consequence of the government being able to focus on aiding the export sector. Travel was the greatest institutional issue as a result of the length of the country. Therefore, between 1888 and 1930 government development expenditure increased at a rate of 4% per year (Mamalakis, Markos J), this went towards the development of customs facilities, rail network, roads, and ports. Chile had effectively set up new institutions as a result of investment into human capital through education. The government realised that it had previously failed to spread education between 1840 and 1900 this was due to rural population, poverty, inequality, and inadequate enforcement. In 1900 the system was nationalised, creating a progression from primary education until university education. This also led to the rise of vocational education in agriculture, mining, industry, and trade (Mamalakis, Markos J). Therefore, Chile had inherited some degree of institution due to being a Spanish colony creating the base of development, but then was able to develop its own institutions enabling it to improve standards of living and aid in increasing wages beyond subsistence level.

The combination of geography, trade, population, and institution between 1840 and 1930 had placed Chile on the path to escape the Malthusian trap. Chile had a geographic advantage for trade with access to both the Atlantic and pacific oceans, while also being endowed with resources to export such as wheat, nitrate, and copper. Then due to the nature in which foreign investment defined the export sector there was a demographic transition, which resulted in increasing urbanisation. This was led with through the trading institution inherited from the Spanish colonialists. The economy was then transformed, as a strong government was able to build new institutions specifically education. Thereby, leading Chile out of the Malthusian trap by 1910-1920. Correlating to some degree with data map shown below:

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Chile was to go on to experience economic and political turmoil that would stagnate the economy, which meant that it didn’t follow a similar to path to other countries escaping the Malthusian trap until the era of neo-liberalist economics under Augusto Pinochet (Solimano, Andrés)


Adelman, M. A., and G. C. Watkins. Reserve Prices and Mineral Resource Theory. International Association for Energy Economics, 2008. Print.

Hutchison, Elizabeth Q., Thomas M. Klubock, Nara B. Milanich, and Peter Winn. The Chile Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Print.

Mamalakis, Markos J. The Growth and Structure of the Chilean Economy: From Independence to Allende. New Haven: Yale UP, 1976. Print.

Solimano, Andrés. Chile and the Neoliberal Trap: The Post-Pinochet Era. New York: Cambridge UP, 2012. Print.

The World Factbook. “South America: Chile.” Central Intelligence Agency, 22 June 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

Staring, Chris. “The Nitrate Towns of Chile Photography.” Atlas Obscura.
Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

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South Africa: Sink or Swim

South Africa is currently suffering from a high rate of unemployment making it difficult for the economy to grow. Forecasted growth rates have already been downscaled as the largest economy in Africa is struggling to meet targets. The countries main contributor to GDP can be identified as consumer spending and this is why the persistent unemployment is having a considerable effect on growth forecasts.

Key Terms:

Unemployment – “Those out of work, actively seeking work at the current wage rate”

GDP/Growth – Measured by the output of an economy (gross domestic product)

Consumer Spending – Spending on retail goods, energy consumption, transportation, housing costs, and other areas where disposable income is spent.

Due to the high levels of unemployment it can be noted that there is a decline in aggregate demand within the economy. Colen Garrow states that the retail sector is weakening and there is going to be pressure overall as there is a lack of demand. It can be noted that to an extent the South African economy is contracting as there has been increased inflation as a result of a cost-push and fall in aggregate demand (shown below).


The shift for aggregate demand from AD to AD1 is a result of the rise in unemployment, the people have less spending power and therefore there is an overall decrease in consumer demand. The shift of aggregate supply is a result of the tightening credit environment as firms struggle to meet their costs. The red rectangle represents the inflationary response in the economy as a result of the shift in aggregate supply. So as a whole the South African economy has retracted as output has significantly decreased (resulting in forecasts for future growth to decline) and there has been an inflationary response, as the price level has increased.

There is also the factor of unemployment which is 24.9% falling from the peak during Q4 of 2012 at 25.5%.This is shown simply below with a demand and supply relationship of labour in South Africa.


Currently in the market labour is only being demanded at the point of LD but the supply is at LS. This surplus of labour is the current unemployment. With so many out of work and seeking work it is clear that economy is not working to full capacity. If a production possibility frontier for the economy was shown it would be operating within the curve. This further explains the economies inability to have substantial growth.

Consumer spending has radically decreased, making it difficult for the economy to grow and therefore attempt to combat the unemployment. This is realised by the fact that private sector demand for credit dropped from 10.09% to 8.64%. This is why the retail sector is struggling, as the unemployment and inflation has led to the decline of demand.

The unemployment in South Africa can be seen as a combination of structural and cyclical unemployment. Mining has been one of the major consumers of labour in the region, and recent closing of mines and movement by companies to other African regions for mining has meant a structural change in labour demand. The cyclical unemployment is a result of the struggling economy, as different firms reduce the amount of people they employ to meet the higher costs of production.

In the short run the economy is not likely to recover, growth is a must if the government aims to combat the high rate of unemployment. It is essential to restore consumer confidence in the economy, and also enable people to obtain credit more easily as to restore the aggregate demand of the economy.

In the long run for the economy to attempt to maintain growth, eliminating unemployment is essential to attempt to get the economy working back at a point of the PPF. However this could lead to an inflationary response in the form of a demand pull, and the government will need to begin considering how to reduce already increasing inflation as a result of increasing production costs.

Currently in the South African economy the rate of unemployment is pulling it down, in this situation there are no winners within the country. Exports may become more favourable as the inflation will weaken the South African Rand, but make investing in South Africa unlikely. To solve the unemployment in South Africa is difficult as a result of its cyclical and structural qualities; the first step would be to create more job opportunities. However, it is also essential that a greater majority of people achieve education and training whether it is academic or vocational to help improve employability prospects.

Expected growth by 2014 is forecasted at around 3.4% which is still considerable in comparison to some countries in the EU. There is still risk though investing within the country and the government must do more to encourage foreign investment and begin a round of serious structural investment such as roads to create jobs and spur on growth.

There is the potential for South Africa to climb out of the current situation, and unemployment stands at the centre of it. The country is still Africa’s biggest economy and will continue to be so if it can achieve consistency with its currency and sustained growth.

Minimum Wage (Harkness)


Discuss arguments for and against a national minimum wage


  • Sets the living standards for the country, and also establishes what should be expected from the state. It gives a representation of the type of income one needs to live within the country
  • Ensures that employees are not being exploited by private companies
  • Generally improve the income of workers
  • Does not rely on the demand  and supply of labour


  • National minimum wage may cost jobs, as employers may not be able to afford hiring as many employees as needed
  • Does not solve the issue of those unemployed whom are still a burden on welfare states
  • Difficult to decide what a national minimum wage should be in proportion to, as 50% of average income is not always a reliable indicator
  • If the minimum wage is too low it may undermine the employees ability to sustain a living

Should National Minimum wage be raised or lowered?


  • If the minimum wage was to increase this would lessen the burden on the state to give welfare.
  • The poor tend to spend a higher portion of their income, with the increase of minimum wage there can be increased savings, and greater monetary flexibility.
  • Since the state provides welfare for those unemployed and those with low-level salaries, it in a manner subsidises the businesses. If minimum wage were to be raised the employers owe more to the worker rather than the government.
  • People rather take benefits than an unsecure job at minimum wage, so if the minimum wage were increased there would be a greater incentive to get a job.
  • If it is lower than people will begin to struggle as almost all of their income is used up in basic necessities and families will have to have two working parents which may lead to the need for more welfare.

There is speculation that tighter control of wages simply means the economy is no longer as free and that labour within certain countries is less competitive, however it can be noted that countries such as China who have an export based market are increasing the minimum wage of employees considerably.

Discuss the possibility of an International Minimum Wage?

There are several problems with the concept of an international minimum wage. Firstly, the minimum wage would be subject to value of currencies and foreign exchange market. The second issue would be the fact that the cost of living is different in every country. Finally, not all countries offer welfare and the minimum wage set may not be enough to sustain a family or basic lifestyle.

If an international were to be set it would be as problematic as setting a single currency for multiple countries, there are both pros and cons. In the case of minimum wage it would become problematic if a certain currency was worth more than another currency which is the case globally when comparing all the varieties of currency.

The cost of living changes drastically from country to country, and even from state to state in the U.S. If a person were to move from San Francisco (CA) to Manhattan (NY) 28% increase in cost of groceries and a 57% increase in cost of utilities.[1] This is why in the United States there is a federal minimum wage, but states can increase the minimum wage e.g. Illinois, Connecticut, & Nevada. This current example clearly represents why it would be difficult to introduce an international minimum wage without effective policies to support it, which is difficult to do internationally.

Countries such as the United Kingdom offer a variety of welfare services, whether it is tax exemption or healthcare. The majority of countries outside of Europe don’t have such comprehensive welfare systems, therefore if an international minimum wage is set those in Europe on minimum wage are in a far better position than others. The concept of an international minimum wage is to increase equality, and stop exploitation in LEDs.  However it would be difficult to enforce, and on what factor would the wage be decided on.

While in class we brought up the issue of competition. If there was an international minimum wage then every country would be equally competitive for the price of labour. It is important to note that country’s do not want to move over to a high minimum wage as it may deter producers, as they rather produce for a cheaper price improving their profit margin on products. But if there was to be an international wage it would ensure that people were not being exploited in any specific region. It would be difficult to speculate what affects an international minimum wage would have on the global economy, as it could cause the creation of a black market for labour.

Discuss whether regional variations to the National Minimum Wage are a good idea

Politically it is difficult to explain variation of minimum wage within a country, as the argument would be that there is a greater cost of living within a certain area, therefore establishing that there is serious inequality within the country. Economically, variation to minimum wage with respect to region is logical. As noted in the example of the United States, were each state is allowed to set its own minimum wage as long as it is greater than the federal minimum wage. In England the cost of living is greater in remote areas due to the reliance on personal transportation (driving) and the lower supply of basic goods. Therefore, it would only make sense if the minimum wage for that area was increased.