31750 (or perhaps even 1800). More importantly perhaps, he also argued that thisdivergence was not the product of fundamental differences between the two parts of Eurasia, but the to some extent fortuitous by-product of a developments whichhappened to take place in Western Europe during the 18
century: easy access to coal(at the right places), and the fact a few countries in Western Europe controlled hugecolonies.
A team of scholars led by Peter Lindert has recently been put together to find outif the study of relative prices and wages can contribute to this discussion. A first andhighly preliminary results of the ‘global history of prices and incomes’ presented inBuenos Aires in 2002, suggested that already during the Early Modern Period thestructure of relative prices in North-western Europe was distinctive in a number of respects. Lindert et.al. formulated the working hypothesis that ‘Northwest Europe led inthe development of non-agricultural productivity concentrated in the capital-goods andknowledge-intensive sectors’. The paper hypothesized that capital goods and knowledgeintensive products were relatively cheap in this part of the world (and interest rates wererelatively low), whereas foodstuffs/agricultural products (and land) were relativelyexpensive there.
This article investigates one aspect of this broader hypothesis, namelyconcerning the remuneration of human capital. It tries to elaborate the Lindert et.al ideathat northwest Europe had a comparative advantage in knowledge intensive sectors bylooking at the long-term development of the skill premium in Europe and parts of Asia.It takes a rather limited view at this ‘skill premium’ by focusing on the difference indaily wages between skilled craftsmen (carpenters and masons) and unskilled labourersin the construction industry, a skill premium about which we are relatively wellinformed. An added advantage of this skill premium is that technological change in the