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Savings and economic growth: A historical analysis of the relationship between savings and economic growth in the Cape Colony economy, 1850 – 1909

The sub-optimal savings propensity in South Africa the past three decades causes concern for the ability of the country to support its economic development. An historical analysis of the development of the savings’ trends in South Africa may assist in understanding the historical roots of the phenomenon. Apart from general descriptions of the nature of economic activity in the Cape Colony very little is known about the role financial sector development and savings played in the growing colonial economy. This paper explores the performance of the economy of the Cape Colony between 1850 and 1909, through the business cycles, financial sector stability, the nature and extent of economic activity and seeks to explain the relationship between savings and economic growth. The question is whether the general view that ‘financial development is robustly growth promoting’ can be substantiated in the last half of the nineteenth century Cape Colony? It contributes to the economic history literature on the colonial past of South Africa by using newly compiled data on the GDP of the Cape Colony during the last half of the nineteenth century. The paper finds that despite the expectations in the literature that financial deepening contributes to economic growth; the Cape Colony did not display such causal relationship between savings and economic growth in the period under review. The paper shows the different forms of savings in the colony and the trend of savings behavior in the period amidst the development of a relatively robust financial sector.

Working Paper 408
1 January 2014
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