Commodity Exports, Invisible Exports and Terms of Trade for the Middle Colonies, 1720 to 1775
NBER Working Paper No. 14334
Economic historians of the eighteenth-century British mainland North American colonies have given considerable weight to the role of exports as a stimulus for economic growth. Yet their analyses have been handicapped by reliance on one or two time series to serve as indicators of broader changes rather than considering the export sector as a whole. Here we present new comprehensive export measures for the middle colonies. We find that aggregate exports in constant prices grew very quickly, but barely faster than population during the period under consideration. Furthermore, improvements in the terms of trade increased the colonists’ ability to buy imports over time, especially after 1740. Although the export sector performed well, it constituted a relatively small part of the region’s economy. It is uncertain if this export success was sufficient to propel the entire economy at a rate that exceeded the growth of population.
An online appendix is available for this publication.
This paper was revised on December 5, 2011