Once the dataset is complete, our aim will shift to analysing it. The long-run Cape of Good Hope panel will open up two broad categories of research possibilities: questions related to South African history and questions related to economic theory.
Despite the profusion of records, the economic history of the Cape Colony remains largely unwritten. A panel dataset will allow us to trace the roots of what Fourie has described as ‘the remarkable wealth’ of the Cape settlers (Fourie, 2013). Moreover, we will be able to investigate the living standards and behaviour not only of the settlers but also of those at the bottom of society, the slaves and the servants. We will be able, for example, to extend the analysis by Fourie and Erik Green (2015) to quantify the density of the Khoesan population. In addition, we will be able to investigate how the abolition of slavery affected Cape production and how limitations on labour mobility (of the Khoesan) affected settlers’ economic decisions.
While we hope to contribute to a better understanding of South African history, we are primarily interesting in using history as a ‘laboratory’ for testing economic and social theories. The early Cape society provides an ideal setting, for example, to test the effects of institutional development on economic growth. This is particularly true because of the various legal and economic systems that governed activity at the Cape over this long period of time. We believe that the Cape of Good Hope panel will enable us to ask big questions with a novel dataset using advanced econometric techniques.