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Europe in the International Economy, 1500-2000

Author(s):Aldcroft, Derek H.
Sutcliffe, Anthony
Reviewer(s):Persson, Karl Gunnar

Published by EH.NET (August 2000)

Derek H. Aldcroft and Anthony Sutcliffe, editors, Europe in the

International Economy, 1500-2000, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing,

1999. xi + 289 pp. $90 (cloth), ISBN: 1-85898-670-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Karl Gunnar Persson, Institute of Economics, University

of Copenhagen.

This volume carries an endorsement on the book jacket by Peter Mathias saying,

“This will surely prove to be the definitive account — an authoritative text

by six leading authors. Well integrated, clearly written, objective and

balanced in judgment, excellently documented with key bibliographies — the

answer to the needs of all students of the subject.” This assessment sounds too

good to be true, but it is not completely wrong. Although the well-read in the

profession will learn little new from the book, it can be a very useful text

for a course in European economic history when little time can be devoted to

the subject and a comprehensive text is needed — say, at business schools or

at non-European universities.

The purpose of this book, according to the editors, is to explain the

pre-eminence of Europe and its impact on the international economy from the

early modern period, surveying the recent “rise of the west” literature in the

introductory chapter. There are few surprises here, but it gives a

comprehensive overview of the subject.

The first substantial chapter, by Jan L. Van Zanden and Edwin Horlings, offers

a balanced account of recent re-interpretations of early modern and

pre-industrial growth (c.1500 to c. 1800). It stresses the regional and

national differences in growth experiences and contrasts that story with the

traditional view of general stagnation in productivity levels before the

industrial revolution. Most of the quantitative results stem from van Zanden’s

recent research, most of which is not easily available, and the underlying

methodology is not extensively discussed. The results seem plausible, however,

with growth centers in the Low Countries, England and some parts of France as

suggested by other researchers such as Robert Allen, Philip Hoffman and myself.

Sidney Pollard, who died just before the book went to press and to whom the

book is dedicated, writes about the “Europeanization” of the international

economy from 1800 to 1870, giving a fair amount of attention to dissenting

voices when presenting the mainstream account. Like the preceding chapter, the

quantitative information is extensive and the focus is not only on Europe but

also its impact on the rest of the world.

The book proceeds chronologically to the 1870-1918 period, which James

Foreman-Peck describes as the “zenith” of European power. Although clearly the

most thought provoking of the contributions, it does not fit well into the

narrative stream of this volume. Where the rest of the book relies on main

economic indicators, this section concentrates on institutions and regulation

of the international economy. Foreman-Peck also returns to the discussion of

the costs and benefits of empire, offering something for all tastes.

Derek H. Aldcroft follows Foreman-Peck with his chapter on the disintegration

of Europe in the interwar period. Barry Eichengreen and others have made this

narrative familiar to us, and the reference list to this chapter, like most of

the others, is extensive and accurate, as is the survey of the topic. I am

surprised, however, that the excellent little textbook by Charles Feinstein,

Peter Temin and Gianni Toniolo (The European Economy between the Wars,

Oxford University Press, 1997), which is a more wide-ranging alternative to

this compact chapter, is missing from Aldcroft’s list.

The final two chapters by Anthony Sutcliffe and Steven Morewood deal with the

present and focus quite a bit on European institutional integration. By and

large I find these chapters rather less penetrating, and they do not satisfy

the quantitative economic historian’s appetite for numbers and rigorous

economic reasoning. However, both chapters survey the main issues discussed in

relation to the acceleration and decline in European growth rates.

All in all, this book can be useful as a comprehensive textbook on European

economic history since it surveys, over a limited number of pages, such an

extended period. It gives little specific information on national experiences,

so one must go elsewhere for that. If I were teaching this course I would

probably replace the final chapters with excerpts from Economic Growth in

Europe since 1945 (Cambridge University Press, 1996) edited by Nick Crafts

and Gianni Toniolo. I would also like to have a text on the European backlash

to free trade from the 1870s in the O’Rourke-Williamson vein.

The price of the hardcover version of the book might deter teachers from

recommending it. However, if the publisher decides to print a paperback

edition, it should urge the editors to add a workbook section that would assist

students in facing the issues and controversies surveyed in the main text.

K.G. Persson is professor at the Institute of Economics, University of

Copenhagen and co-editor of the European Review of Economic History. His

most recent book is Grain Markets in Europe, 1500-1900: Integration and

Deregulation, Cambridge University Press, 1999 and a recent article

(jointly with Mette Ejrn?s) is “Market Integration and Transport Costs in

France, 1825-1900: A Threshold Error Correction Approach to the Law of One

Price,” in Explorations in Economic History, Vol. 37, pp. 149-73, 2000.

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):General or Comparative