living standard levels than any other country in 1871, even the United States, living

standard estimates are scarce or even absent for the decades before then. Specifically

we do not know whether Australia’s living conditions were already high shortly after

the penetration of the Blue Mountains in 1815, which granted access to an immense

pastoral interior triggering soaring labor scarcity and highly skewed land-labor ratios

(Coghlan 1918, vol. 1: pp. 155-72; Perry 1963, pp. 29-30; Meredith and Oxley 2015,

pp. 111-12; Seltzer 2015, p. 178); or whether Australia had to wait for a half-century

before exceptionally fast income per capita growth carried her to leadership in 1871.

Third, most literature investigating the distribution of the gains from Australia’s

growth during the nineteenth century is of a qualitative nature only. The most

egalitarian (measureable) place on the planet in 1800 was a very unequal United

States, but by 1860 it had joined the unequal European “club”. Was 1815 Australia as

egalitarian as 1800 America, even though both had a huge share of their labor force

coerced, America with its southern slavery (20 percent of the labor force in 1860),

and Australia with its convicts (55 percent of the 1825 labor force, but only 10

percent in 1850)? Did Australian inequality also rise steeply between 1815 and 1871,

following the same trajectory as the United States between 1800 and 1860? The

historical literature which stresses the rise of landed wealth says yes, but it fails to

note that the ratio of land rents to wages dropped considerably as labor scarcity was

augmented by exceptionally fast land growth. The argument put forward by the same

literature to explain Australia’s alleged unequal distribution of earnings and income

and its persistence over time stresses the existence of a lagging supply of skills

throughout the nineteenth century. Such speculation is vulnerable to two criticisms.

First, long distance, high transportation costs and government subsidies which

favored the best and brightest, selected more skilled migrants to go to Australia than

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