The welfare and quality of life of people in the past are among the most important areas of historical enquiry, and the standard of living of populations is one of the leading determinants of the economic performance of nations. Yet, the chapters in this volume argue that the long-run series of wages and real incomes that have for decades habitually provided the means by which these phenomena are measured, as well as the foundations of much of the writing of economic and social history across the centuries and the countries of the world, are extremely unreliable. One by one the authors systematically expose the multiple weaknesses, inaccuracies and misapprehensions of the standard wage and income data and expose the gulf that exists between the ever-increasing ability to process huge quantities of data, facilitated by spectacular advances in statistical techniques and computer technology, and the poor quality of most of the raw material that is routinely processed.
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