In Hackett-Fisher's The Great Wave, he notes that European material historians had long noted a cycle, perhaps 150-200 years long, of price stability and instability. Price stability is generally correlated with political stability, but there may be a Malthusian component since prices do not rise in unison. Prices for land rent, food and fuel tend to rise during periods of instability while prices of manufactured goods fall. Some historians argue that this is part of a population cycle. Turchin takes it further arguing that the thing to watch is the population of the elite with respect to available resources. One is more likely to have wars and associated plagues culling the population pressure than outright dying. I consider it an excellent crackpot theory which doesn't mean it is completely wrong.

If nothing else, you can see a slow ratcheting up of European productivity. The Dark Ages gave us things like chimneys, cheaper iron, better plows - originally developed in China and better ways to harness horses. Smil goes into this in some depth from a technologist's viewpoint. Greece did very well as a salt water power. Rome took its civilization inland. The Dark Ages created a civilization for the heavy wood forests of Northern Europe.

Economists tend to oversimplify matters historical. If that's the Malthusian trap, then it's simplistic.

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Interesting post - that urbanisation graph is remarkable!

I haven't tried to follow through the implications for your argument, but it's worth noting that the Malthusian trap you refer to here isn't the one that Clark models in Farewell To Alms. He argues that most historic cultures operated at well above subsistence level, and finds his Malthusian equilibrium at the intersection of culture-specific birth rate and death rate curves.

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