Hoisted From the Archives: How rich is Fitzwilliam Darcy?
He's very rich: certainly in the Forbes 400 of Napoleonic Britain. Figure that his £10,000 a year give him the rough equivalent of the purchasing power of $300,000 a year today, and the rough equivalent of the relative social status of $6,000,000 a year today--and he doesn't have to work for it. Figure him as a thirty-year-old retired dot-com millionaire with wealth of $150 million or so...
The mother of the bride-to-be says:
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XVII of Volume III (Chap. 59): Good gracious! Lord bless me! only think! dear me! Mr. Darcy! Who would have thought it! And is it really true? Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane's is nothing to it -- nothing at all. I am so pleased -- so happy. Such a charming man! -- so handsome! so tall! -- Oh, my dear Lizzy! pray apologise for my having disliked him so much before. I hope he will overlook it. Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Every thing that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted.... My dearest child.... I can think of nothing else! Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! 'Tis as good as a Lord! And a special licence. You must and shall be married by a special licence. But my dearest love, tell me what dish Mr. Darcy is particularly fond of, that I may have it tomorrow...
So how rich is Fitzwilliam Darcy, anyway? What does ten thousand (pounds) a year in the aftermath of the Napoleonic War mean, really?
I have two answers, the first of which is $300,000 a year, and the second of which is $6,000,000 a year.
Consider it first in relative income terms. Output per capita--annual GDP in America today divided by the number of people in America--is valued at some $36,000. Our crude estimates tell us that output per capita in Britain just after the Napoleonic Wars was valued at some 60 pound sterling a year.
Thus in relative income terms--relative to the average of disposable incomes in his society--Fitzwilliam Darcy's 10,000 pounds a year of disposable income gave him about the same multiple of average income in his society as an annual disposable income of $6,000,000 a year would give someone in our society.
On the other hand, my guess is that someone today with a disposable income of $300,000 a year can spend it to get the same utility as Fitzwilliam Darcy could by spending his disposable income of 10,000 pounds a year. This is a guess--a guess that our material standard of living today is some twenty times that of Mr. Darcy's England.
Nevertheless, it is an informed guess. By our standards, early nineteenth century Britain was desperately poor. There are lots of things we take for granted--and that are for us trivially cheap--that Fitzwilliam Darcy could not get at any price. Consider that Nathan Meyer Rothschild, richest (non-royal) man in the world in the first half of the nineteenth century, died in his fifties of an infected abscess that the medicine of the day had no way to treat.
Original comments in the extended post.
For the purpose of this exercise, though, what matters most is social status, which is an entirely relative affair. As such, the picture of Mr. Darcy as a 6-million-dollars-a-year man gives a rather more accurate portrayal of the motivation behind this gushing re-evaluation of Darcy's charms: tis as easy to love an extremely rich man as a poor one, nay, far easier. Posted by: Abiola Lapite on November 15, 2003 04:45 PM
The answer, of course, is filthy rich. Just out of curiosity, where did you get these figures? Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on November 15, 2003 04:51 PM
Please remember that Darcy's income is symbolic. It is literally as good as a lord's. There were no commoners at that income level then. And Darcy must be a commoner: "you are a gentleman and I am the daughter of a gentleman." That said, a good bit of the basket that a Darcy, had one existed, would have bought would have been personal service. You probably can't buy the sorts of levels of personal service nowadays that a rich man during the Napoleonic wars could. Certainly not for $300K. And Schumpeter reminds us that no labour saving device is as good as the attentions of one body-servant. I'd go with $6M. Posted by: jam on November 15, 2003 04:56 PM<
John McCusker, How Much Is That in Real Money?, says one pound after the Napoleonic Wars had the purchasing power of 70 dollars today. I think that economic growth over the past two centuries has been significantly faster than do the sources of McCusker's price indices: I think standard price indices overstate inflation over the past 180 years by almost half a percent per year... getting us down to a multiple of 30 in going from pounds in 1820 to dollars today in terms of real purchasing power. The jump from $300K to $6M comes from the guess that they were about 1/20 as well-off in a material sense as we are. But all of these numbers are nothing but benchmark guesses that give only rough orders of magnitude. Posted by: Brad DeLong on November 15, 2003 05:17 PM
Fair point about the utility, but wouldn't Pemberley and the vast lands attached to it give you a durable point of comparison? That is a property that would cost many, many millions today - although taxes and the end of the Corn Laws would long since have taken it out of the family's hands. Posted by: Dave Larson on November 15, 2003 05:18 PM
Well I think that in those days the wage for a live-in servant might be about 10 pounds/month. Applying the 600:1 ratio that would translate to $6,000 plus board but no other benefits. Sounds about right. Posted by: Alan on November 15, 2003 05:56 PM
Two points. The first is minor. P&P takes place in 1811-12. First Impressions, the original, probably took place in 1799; it's likely that Darcy's income, being such a round number, didn't change when Austen revised FI to P&P. So the basis for comparison is the high-price mid-war environment, rather than the low-price post-war slump. McCusker gives a little over $60 to the mid-war pound. The second is more serious. Historical price indices are based on the prices that (still) exist in series. Mostly agricultural. This works when we're considering the experience of labourers, most of whose income went on food. It's reasonable to say that a labourer earning 10s a week during the Napoleonic war had the equivalent of $3,000 a year. This, for us, is desperate poverty. But the upper classes (once you get above a couple of hundred a year) didn't live in a price regime dominated by food prices. Servant costs drove much of it: transport, housing, personal grooming and clothing maintenance, at least. What would be the modern equivalent of just the gardeners' bill to keep up Pemberley's grounds? We don't have good series for these prices. So they aren't incorporated into the indices. So the indices don't well reflect upper-class experience. Posted by: jam on November 15, 2003 06:21 PM
I always remind myself that, just one hundred years ago, I would have died from a ruptured appendix, at the age of 18. I'd pay quite a bit for the opportunity to breathe for the next 5 decades. Posted by: andrew on November 15, 2003 06:34 PM
From Auden's "Letter to Lord Byron":
"You could not shock her more than she shocks me:
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle class
Describe the amorous effects of "brass",
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society."
I'm trying to remember the title and author a book on Austen that includes a chapter on money/worth/value -- as I recall, it had a good discussion of the difficulties of arriving at contemporary equivalents. Very different price regime, as Jam points out. And it's hard to translate landed wealth into consumer spending power, in part because c. 1811 there simply wasn't (in relative terms) that much to buy (but service was obviously a major expenditure for those who lived high). Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on November 15, 2003 06:53 PM
The book I mentioned in my previous reply is Edward Copeland, Women Writing about Money: Women's Fiction in England, 1790-1820 (CUP, 1995) (http://books.cambridge.org/0521454611.htm) Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on November 15, 2003 07:05 PM
How did I not come across that Auden poem before? Brilliant and so true. One of my favorite papers ever in college was one discussing whether Austen was being conventionally romantic or coolly realistic about money and matrimony. I argued via Emma for coolly realistic; Emma is the one with the cash in that story, and just about every Austen trope gets upended. Posted by: tavella on November 15, 2003 07:28 PM
I had always wondered, while reading P&P, how their incomes translated into today's incomes, but was too lazy and stupid to figure it out. Brad DeLong comes through with the answer. Thanks for sharing! Posted by: Scot Johnson on November 15, 2003 08:19 PM
"And it's hard to translate landed wealth into consumer spending power, in part because c. 1811 there simply wasn't (in relative terms) that much to buy (but service was obviously a major expenditure for those who lived high)." It's not that there wasn't stuff to buy (although there was lots less stuff). Fitzwilliam Darcy buys the ornamental shape of his bushes, the depth of his lawns, the stocking of his ponds and streams, the polish of his silver and furniture, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. We--or, rather, today's rich--live in a world in which things are cheap and servants are expensive, and in which a host of things that Fitzwilliam Darcy would have liked were not available at all.
For example... Flash back to the late fall of 1993, outside the Roosevelt Room of the White House, where High Clinton Administration Officials and ex-investment bankers Roger Altman and Bob Rubin are talking after a meeting. One of them suggests that they both need to get out of Washington for a weekend, so why not charter a plane and a boat and fly down to the Caribbean and spend Saturday and Sunday doing some serious deep-sea fishing. That is, I think, today's equivalent of Darcy's pride in the formal gardens of Pemberley and in his own sartorial attainment of the standards set by Beau Brummel.
Throughout history, it has always been true that if you have the money you can find something to spend it on (unless, of course, it is entailed). And it has also been true that the line between pleasurable convenience and pointless decadent luxury lies at about three times one's current standard of living, and that the line between respectability and unbearable poverty lies at half one's current standard of living--whatever one's current standard of living may be. Posted by: Brad DeLong on November 15, 2003 09:16 PM
Of course, the other thing you can buy with really serious money is an independant foriegn policy. The Alberti had one, the Medici had one, and now George Soros has one as well. Posted by: Ian Whitchurch on November 15, 2003 09:30 PM
Minor, inconsequential correction: you say "I have two answers, $300,000 first, and $6,000,000 second." (paraphrasing) Then, you first give your rationale for him making $6,000,000 a year, then second give your rationale for $300,000. Posted by: Julian Elson on November 16, 2003 05:56 AM
This is an amusing and useful discussion. Keynes mentions somewhere that long-term comparisons of standards of living and of the purchasing power of money are practically impossible because of the change in products and in their quality and because of changes in production technology. At best, one could investigate how much unmilled grain would one hour of unskilled labour buy; but even this is dicey, because both the importance of such grain and the importance of such labour has changed tremendously over time. Still, I shall risk a back-of-the-envelope calculation. According to John J. McCusker (How Much Is That In Real Money?, American Antiquarian Society, 2001 pp. 93 - 105) the Composite Commodity Price Index of Great Britain stood at 143 (1860=100), the year of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. However this was a very high value, due to the climax of the Napoleonic Wars. The average for, say, the 1804 - 1813 period was 126. The corresponding value for 2001, the most recent one quoted by McCusker is 4,682. I don't have the Purchasing Power Parity value of the British Pound in U.S. dollars handy, but the exchange rate is now close to 2. On this basis Darcy's annual income of 10,000 pounds is worth about 10,000(4682/120) 2 = US$ 780,333. On the other hand, Schumpeter pointed out in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, that most of the long-term improvement in the standard of living accrued to the lowest income groups. Queen Elizabeth the First already had silk stockings, but Henry VIII would probably have given a king's ransom for modern dental treatment. Saint Simon mentions marshall Villars as giving the perfect courtier's answer to Louis XIV, the Sun King, when Louis complained that he had no teeth anymore: "Ah, Sire, who has teeth anymore?" The joke was, that in all Versailles only Villars had a perfect set of teeth. Indeed, any of us old enough to have had experienced the agony of treatment of tooth cavities in the days before the introduction of the high-speed, water cooled tooth drill, knows that my above-performed calculation omits the most important features of the rise in living standards. Posted by: Thomas T. Schweitzer on November 16, 2003 10:11 AM
Ninetheenth-century Britain was desperately poor, and not just in terms of advanced medical treatment. This is an anecdote, but I find it illustrative: For example, in New York City, in 1933, seven or eight people were recorded as having died from starvation, pure and simple (as opposed to disease exacerbated by malnutrition). In "Our Mutual Friend," written by Dickens in the 1860's, at a dinner party given by the very newly rich Veneerings, someone makes an impolite "reference to the fact that some half-dozen people had lately died in the streeets, of starvation." That character is roundly castigated for not adding that the poor are responsible for their own starvation, but it does suggest that ordinary living in London in the 19th century was as difficult as in the Depression. This is what makes the numbers so hard to compare to today's American money: London then was like New York in the worst of the 30's and like the worst of third-world cities today. I say the relative inequalify would have given Darcy's money a social status equivalent to $6 million, even though (land values excepted) the actual pounds probably would have bought only about $300,000 a year in goods and services. Another interesting historical point (if Brad ever feels like bringing it up) is the effect of inflation. I think there as George Bernard Shaw play where a character is getting $10,000 a year and he's complaining that it's not enough for a gentleman to live on. Posted by: Diana on November 16, 2003 11:17 AM
A Chinese novel "The Scholars". The protagonist is a poor, rather ineffectual scholar who is held in generally low regard and treated with polite condescension. But when he finally passes his government test (on the umpteenth try, very late in the game) and becomes eligible to hold office, he starts getting marriage proposals and dinner invatations from people who had scorned him only a few days earlier. The differences in the dynamic are big, though. The protagonist is neither bourgeois nor landed nobility. but a literati (literatum?), comparable to European clergy and poor gentry in some respects but now headed for power (and graft) in government. I read a decade ago that in India a family netting $350 a month could keep a servant. I imagine that's gone up a bit. And frankly, having people catering to you in various ways (not just servants, but people who you run into and want you to marry their daughters) is worth a ton of money even if you can't get fruit out of season. Posted by: Zizka on November 16, 2003 03:26 PM
I don't suppose there's any way of calculating the value of relative status itself, as a psychological good. But suppose the devil appeared to somebody in top one hundredth of one percent and said "If you give me half your current fortune, with no prospect of ever regaining it, I'll impoverish everybody above you on the social scale enough to make you THE wealthiest and most influential man in the world, and guarantee you keep that status till you die." Wouldn't most people jump at the chance? And if so, wouldn't that imply that a jump in status might in itself be "worth" up to hundreds of millions (or even billions) of dollars? Posted by: Jeffrey Kramer on November 16, 2003 06:59
Personally, I would rather follow this sort of discussion all week rather than another round of the "why are we ruled by idiots?" game. Other literary considerations, as you will, please? For openers: Agatha Christe once wrote that, as a girl, she (mis)estimated she would never be so rich as to be able to afford a motor car, but never so poor as to be unable to hire servants. (servantS in the plural, I emphasize, though Dame Agatha took that for granted.) Paralleling the reference to GB Shaw, above, one might note that Tom Wolfe in Bonfire of the Vanities suggests that one simply cannot exist in New York City on a salary of a mere million dollars per year. (It takes at least SIX, per Wolfe ... in despite of Brad's notion that "luxury" begins at a mild THREE times one's current income.) That in mind, is it worth noting that many of those who are constrained to earn their million (or more) per year may still be living "paycheck to paycheck" in much the same fashion as any of our middle-class wage earners? Alternately, those who might derive a moderate income of some $40,000 annually, but purely from dividends and interest on investment, might live quite leisurely and comfortable lifestyles in rural areas. What is "not having to get up for work every Monday morning" worth? Posted by: Pouncer on November 17, 2003 06:11 AM
Class status in early 19th century Britain was not merely a psychological good but an opener of doors that someone with equivalent funds but who was not " a gentleman " could not possibly expect to access. More or less, 200 - 300 aristocratic and gentry families dominated Great Britain until this demographic group was decimated by the Great War and electoral reform. Posted by: mark safranski on November 17, 2003 09:42 AM
There's a point made earlier about the the virtue of a body servant in term of labour saving. "Schumpeter reminds us that no labour saving device is as good as the attentions of one body-servant" Does this provide the basis of a unity of labour saving utility? I propose the Jeeves. A single jeeves would remove even the need for sentient thought on the behalf of the principal. All labour saving devices could be ranked in micro-Jeeves. Of course, Others may have alternate suggestions. Posted by: British Spin on November 17, 2003 10:46 AM
"Fitzwilliam Darcy buys the ornamental shape of his bushes, the depth of his lawns, the stocking of his ponds and streams, the polish of his silver and furniture, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera." Which may prompt reference to an earlier literary commentary: Pope's Epistle to Bathurst, 'On The Use Of Riches'. Posted by: nick sweeney on November 17, 2003 01:45 PM
I researched the pound at www.1911encyclopedia.org, which is an optical scan of the 1911 (last full British) Encyclopedia Britanica. The Money article said that the pound was 123.27447 grs. of gold. 10,000 pounds would be 2568.22 troy ounces of gold. At today's market price of $395, that would be a little bit more than $1 million. However, gold seems to be spiking a fever right now and the trading range for the last few years has been $250 -- $350/oz. These numbers would favor the low end of Brad's range. However, I tend to think that a higher estimate is in order because such incomes were comparativley rare then and there and the political and social power that would accrue to its possesor would be much greater than the lower numbers, which all sorts of random cardiologists and stockbrokers make today. The whole conversation brings to mind Locke's Second Treatise where he writes: "Sect. 41. There cannot be a clearer demonstration of any thing, than several nations of the Americans are of this, who are rich in land, and poor in all the comforts of life; whom nature having furnished as liberally as any other people, with the materials of plenty, i.e. a fruitful soil, apt to produce in abundance, what might serve for food, raiment, and delight; yet for want of improving it by labour, have not one hundredth part of the conveniencies we enjoy: and a king of a large and fruitful territory there, feeds, lodges, and is clad worse than a day-labourer in England." Posted by: Robert Schwartz on November 20, 2003 03:17 PM
I remember from the novel that Mr. Darcy's wealth came entirely from his land. He was still part of the declining aristocracy, and, as such, did not engage in trade and commerce (vulgar matters like those were left to the nouveau-riche like Bingley) His vast fortune, then, was really his land and house, from which he derived all his income. His land supplied him with roughly twice as much annual income as Bingley, who's trading had allowed him to buy his way into the upper class. Given all this, $300,000 sounds fine to me as a conversion of his wealth.
It is a second question I think as to how much money someone would need to make today in order to have the social status that Mr. Darcy's "300,000" bought him back then. In this light, I'd tend to favor the higher number. Posted by: Michael on December 16, 2003 08:01 AM