diminished considerably from 49 to 27 percent, and from 56 to 40 percent with

respect to the United States, pointing to the start of a very fast catch up and overtake

growth process.

4.2 Assigned Convict Living Standards in the 1830s

We now turn our attention to convict living standards, who represented around

56 percent of Australia’s workforce in 1830 and around 36 percent in 1840. 19 It is

what was called “assigned” convict labor that interests us (in 1827, 72 percent were

assigned, and in 1835 the figure was 66 percent: Coghlan 1918 vol. 1: pp. 180-181).

The rest of the convicts were employed on public works or incarcerated. The

assignment system was introduced to encourage private sector development by having

convicts hired out or “assigned” to private employers. 20 The assignment system was

introduced to reduce labor scarcity in the private sector, to lower the financial burden

on the colonial public purse and to encourage free migration to Australia (see, for

example, Coghlan 1918. vol. 1: Pt. II, Ch. II; Butlin 1994: pp. 46-55; Meredith and

Oxley 2015). Specifically, the system assigned non-violent convicts to work for

private sector masters at all skill levels and occupations. The colonial government

published requirements about “payments” under the system, and they allow us to

assess the amount of their marginal product that convicts were allowed to retain as

income for their own consumption and to compare their “earnings” with those of free

labor. Furthermore, estimating convict “retained” income invites a comparison with

19 See footnote 8 on the construction of convicts labor force participation shares.

20 1821 marks the colonial government’s determination to give priority to the private (over public)

employment of convicts.

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines