Chapter 3: Historical geographies of wealth: opportunities, institutions and accumulation, c. 1800–1930
Studies of long-run trends in the distribution of wealth have mainly focused on understanding and seeking to explain patterns of inequality. Since Simon Kuznets (1955) first explored the relationships between inequality and economic growth, a large and important body of research has sought to reconstruct and interpret the historical evidence for an ever-widening range of countries over ever-lengthening periods of time. The most recent addition to the pantheon of studies has been Thomas Piketty’s (2014) influential (and, for some, contentious) book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century – itself the culmination of a range of efforts to quantify both the extent and the sources of economic inequality. Between Kuznets and Piketty exists a very large number of studies of wealth and inequality, far too numerous to consider in detail here. The changing composition of wealth, however, is far less understood than its distribution. Indeed, according to Jesper Roine and Daniel Waldenström (2014, p. 69), ‘when it comes to historical evidence about wealth composition across the wealth distribution, we know almost nothing’.
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