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The South, the Nation, and the World: Perspectives on Southern Economic Development

Author(s):Carlton, David L.
Coclanis, Peter A.
Reviewer(s):Phillips, William H.

Published by EH.NET (November 2003)

David L. Carlton and Peter A. Coclanis, The South, the Nation, and the World: Perspectives on Southern Economic Development. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2003. ix + 234 pp. $49.50 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8139-2184-8; $19.50 (paperback), ISBN: 0-8139-2185-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by William H. Phillips, Department of Economics, University of South Carolina.

In this work of collected essays, David Carlton of Vanderbilt University and Peter Coclanis of the University of North Carolina outline the Southern economy’s struggles since colonization. As history professors, they present an argument that Southerners had the same economic motivations as people anywhere, but faced constraints that conditioned their responses in ways detrimental to economic growth. They feel that this is a more satisfying assessment of the South’s past and present than using “pre-modern” or “pre-capitalist” mentality to explain Southern uniqueness. Although this approach will be more attractive to economics-trained economic historians, this is not a story in which every decision collectively made by the Southern economy worked out for the best. It is rather a tale of “lock-in” mechanisms, asymmetric information, unbalanced growth and risk aversion. Readers will likely judge the results based on how much they believe in “path dependence” versus comparative advantage.

After a brief introductory chapter, Coclanis presents an essay comparing Northern and Southern paths to economic development. Slavery and plantation agriculture was initially a profitable choice, but it subsequently locked the South into an economy of high income inequality. It encouraged an over-reliance on producing goods that did not require flexibility to meet changing market conditions. Finally, it discouraged investment in human capital, transportation, and vital urban centers. The next paper by Coclanis switches to the micro issue of why the production of rice in the Carolina and Georgia low-country used a different form of slave organization. The author turns to asymmetric information and high monitoring costs to explain the use of “task” labor rather than the more common gang system.

Carlton then contributes a chapter on Southern antebellum urbanization. The South was not only less urbanized than the North, its cities were different. They were organized around an exporting economy, and as a result, the major cities dwarfed other towns within the tributary area. Plantations did not need a small city nearby, because slave labor could make most of the needed provisions during off-season slack time. Notable is a comment by the author that the ability to expand output through additional slave labor discouraged the development of a Southern agricultural implement sector. One such industry that did develop, however, was the production of cotton gins. Of interest is the fact that the major producers of cotton gins in the South did not locate in the larger towns. Daniel Pratt, Samuel Griswold, and Benjamin Gullett all built factories in rural locations, importing Northern machinists as needed to supply their wares. It would seem that even if Southern plantations had demanded more manufactured goods, it may not have spurred urban growth.

In Chapter 5, Coclanis chronicles the decline of the Carolina-Georgia rice sector. In the vernacular of our time, it was a victim of globalization. British control of Bengal produced an increased supply of Asian rice into European markets that started to push North American exports to Latin America. After the Civil War, Asian rice poured into the Untied States, and survival of the domestic industry required a shift in production to Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and California. In contrast to the American low-country, Italian rice producers were able to expand in the face of these market developments, while production in South Carolina and Georgia ceased.

Carlton follows with a reprinting of his notable article on North Carolina industrialization. He argues that like the South in general, it followed an unbalanced growth path that concentrated on mature industries that were severely constrained by external markets. Lack of marketing expertise led to reliance on outside selling agents, such as occurred in textiles. A joint article then looks at capital mobilization in the Carolina Piedmont. The authors demonstrate the heavy burden placed on Southern entrepreneurs by the need to raise considerable funds from small local investors. This resulted in a premium placed on steady dividends and avoidance of risk. Industries meeting these criteria were not going to be major growth sectors in the American economy.

The eighth chapter is joint work in which Coclanis and Carlton compare Southern patents with its level of urbanization and share of capital goods manufacturing. As expected, the South is in the “periphery,” although in this instance joined by Maine and Vermont. The geographical approach continues in the next essay by Carlton on unbalanced growth in South Carolina. Just prior to the Southern textile boom, industrialization in South Carolina seemed concentrated along the coast, rather than inland. By 1930 however, the state had clearly formed its own “core” of Piedmont industrialization, while the low-country languished as one of the South’s poorest regions. Besides exogenous factors, Carlton adds the positive feedback of the Duke Power Company, whose search for a high load factor led it to build South Carolina power lines into the emerging core and avoid areas below the fall line.

The work concludes with two new papers by Carlton. First he looks at the historical origins and present-day impact of Southern entry into the American defense industry. The American military initially found the South as a convenient locale of large amounts of unproductive land that could be converted into training facilities. Over time, however, some major industrial contract centers have developed, with their accompanying jobs and spin-offs for the local economy. Finally, Carlton looks at the changing relationship between the Northern manufacturing belt and the South. Initially the manufacturing belt was a source of industrial goods with which Southern firms could not compete. Over time, the relationship evolved, and after World War II, was given the journalistic description of the “Sunbelt” versus the “Rust Belt.” Carlton argues that both regions now face similar problems, which leads to the ultimate question: is the American South still different?

It should be apparent, given the breadth of these essays, that the authors take the South seriously, and no doubt will have more to say on the subject in the coming years. In the meantime, the current book provides an example of a historical approach to the South that is not romantic and not accusatory.

William H. Phillips is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of South Carolina. He is currently researching the development of the Southern cotton gin manufacturing industry and more generally, patents issued to Southern inventors before World War I.

Subject(s):Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Allotment Movement in England, 1793-1873

Author(s):Burchardt, Jeremy
Reviewer(s):Afton, Bethanie

Published by EH.NET (August 2003)

Jeremy Burchardt, The Allotment Movement in England, 1793-1873. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press, 2002. xii + 287 pp. ?45 or $75 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-86193-256-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Bethanie Afton.

In his study of the allotment movement in nineteenth century England, Jeremy Burchardt, Lecturer in Rural History at the University of Reading, has entered the continuing debate on the condition of the laboring classes in rural society. The research is based on a dataset of 1971 records from 1641 different allotment sites across the country complied principally, it would appear, from printed primary sources including parliamentary papers, county reports of the Board of Agriculture and the publications of the Labourer’s Friend Society and the Society for Bettering the Conditions and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. Using these records Burchardt has provided a new and useful analysis of the spatial and chronological distribution of the allotments, of their size and rental value, of the crops grown, the cultivation practices adopted, and the yields obtained, of the occupational structure of the tenants and of the status and motivation of the landowners who made such provision. The material shows a slow spread between 1793 and 1805 in response to the harvest failures and high prices of the war years. Although relatively few allotments were established during the first phase between 1793 and 1829, the overall success of the early plots provided a model when crisis again struck in the form of the Swing Riots of 1830. During this second phase of the movement the popularity of this form of economic aid combined with social and moral control spread rapidly. By 1873 over 240,000 allotments, or one allotment for every three male agricultural laborers, were created.

A real strength of the book is the discussion of the relevance of the allotment movement to various rural social issues in Victorian England. It had an impact on both the rural laborer and the people providing the land. Where available, allotments were much in demand by rural laborers. The high yields obtained on the plots made a substantial contribution to the laborer’s family income. While not as valuable as the pre-enclosure right to graze a cow (a right not commonly held by the laboring poor), it was more beneficial than the more usual common rights to gather fuel, wood, and the like. Thus allotment provision did help to counter the losses brought about by enclosure and could significantly improve the standard of living of the agricultural laborer. The desire for allotments runs contrary to the notion that the proletarianized laborer had no interest in landholding. Working their own land gave laborers hope of a rise in status to that of the small tenant farmer. It made use of the time of the laborer’s wife and children in a period when employment opportunities were becoming more limited. However, the movement did not solely improve the economic status of the laborer. Through the provision of allotments an atmosphere of greater independence, industriousness, and self-help was encouraged. It focused the attention of those with allotments on the cultivation of their plots rather than on less socially acceptable activities including drunkenness, crime, and protest. Often the allotment rules were designed to reinforce the good behavior of the tenants. Landowners were willing to rent out allotments in part to benefit from this improved behavior. At the same time allotment provision was a means to enhance their own status — provision of allotments helped owners gain and maintain social approval. An unintended result of the movement was the impact it had on fostering and sustaining interest in agricultural trade unionism and Chartism. Thus, argues Burchardt, the movement should not be viewed as it often is as a return to traditional paternalism but instead as a movement that brought rural laborers more closely in line with respectable Victorian values.

Burchardt argues that the allotment movement was an essentially rural phenomenon until the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Where they occurred, domestic outworkers including the framework knitters around Leicester, Nottingham, and Derby, the shoemakers of Northamptonshire, and ironworkers from the area in north Worcestershire and south Staffordshire often outnumbered agricultural laborers as allotment holders. Because they faced growing competition from the more mechanized urban industrial sector, Burchardt argues, their depressed economic status was similar to that of the agricultural laborer. Like the agricultural laborer, they turned to allotments to improve their standard of living. In the book, apart from their link with the growth of Chartism, these groups receive limited attention and are treated as ‘rural’ industrial workers. This is somewhat problematic. Outworkers were often located in towns and larger villages. A number of cities including Nottingham, Sheffield and Birmingham had areas of urban allotments. This casts some doubt on just how ‘rural’ the movement was. How would the urban allotment holder fit into the analysis of rural social issues — rural protest, crime, reduction of the poor law, the rise of rural trade unionism — presented by the author? Would other conclusions have been reached if more attention had been paid to the urban aspect of allotment holding? The failure to acknowledge sufficiently the urban element of the movement does not negate the argument of the book. It does, however, leave it somewhat unbalanced.

Overall in his analysis of the importance of the allotment in rural society, Burchardt presents an interesting and well-argued case to show that by helping to alter the attitudes and status of the rural laborer, the movement had a significant impact on the nature of rural dissent and on the condition of the laborer in rural society. In this, the book makes a welcome contribution to the current debate.

Dr. Bethanie Afton is currently a Research Fellow investigating the Impact of Enclosure on the Berkshire Landscape as part of a New Opportunities Fund project held between the University of Reading and the Berkshire Records Office. Her past publications include Agricultural Rents in England, 1640-1850 and Farm Production in England, 1700-1914 (both with M.E. Turner and J.V. Beckett) and “The Statistical Base of Agricultural Performance in England and Wales, 1850-1914″ in E.J.T. Collins, editor, The Agrarian History of England and Wales, VII/2: 1850-1914 (with M.E. Turner).

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century

Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis

Author(s):Williams, Michael
Reviewer(s):Libecap, Gary

Published by EH.NET (August 2003)

Michael Williams, Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. xxvi + 689 pp. $70 (cloth), ISBN: 0-226-89926-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Gary Libecap, Department of Economics, University of Arizona.

Michael Williams is Professor of Geography at Oxford University and a Fellow of Oriel College. He is the author of numerous books and articles on forestry and historical geography.

Deforesting the Earth is valuable economic and environmental history. These two often do not go together, unfortunately. In much environmental history, humans (especially those from western industrial societies) are the problem. Nature in general and forests in particular, are often alleged to have been in a natural equilibrium with native peoples until both were ravaged by the onset of capitalist exploitation. With contemporary fears of globalization, global warming, species extinction, losses of biodiversity, deforestation, and depletion of many critical resources, advocacy groups and other special interests exaggerate environmental “crises” and fail to place them into their historical bases. In this setting it is difficult to find careful, reasoned examinations of key problems, their histories, complexities, and likely, long-term patterns and consequences. Deforestation, particularly of Amazon and other rainforests, certainly ranks at or near the top of any list of environmental crises. The issue is an impassioned one and a flood of alarmist books and articles have appeared on the subject, but they provide little understanding of the extent of deforestation, nature of regeneration, or of the underlying issues involved.

Michael Williams places deforestation into a broader historical and geographical context, and explores the linkages between forests and people since the end of the last Ice Age; identifies important economic forces; and provides estimates of the extent of forest clearing. He primarily examines Western Europe and North America, but also describes the extent and forces underlying deforestation in China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa and South America. There are extensive endnotes, figures, illustrations, and tables; an inclusive bibliography; and a complete index.

The book is divided into three parts: Clearing in the Deep Past, Reaching Out: Europe and the Wider World, and the Global Forest. Part I explores timber cutting from the end of the Ice Age through the medieval period. Williams points out that the thinning, changing, and elimination of forests is not a recent phenomenon, but rather is as old as the human occupation of the earth. Clearing, and indeed, deforestation, has been intricately tied to conditions of population growth and economic development for the past 14 to 15,000 years. He states that the book “is about how, why, and when humans eliminated trees and changed forests, and so shaped the economies, societies, and landscapes that lie around us.” He also provides some measures of the magnitude of deforestation. Chapter 1 describes the return of the forest as the ice sheets retreated some 16,000 years ago. Not only were Europe and North America affected by changes in the climate, but tropical regions as well — although less is known about the latter. As humans migrated to newly forested areas, they would have nearly as much impact on the forest over the subsequent 10,000 years as the glaciers had for 100,000 years. Chapter 2 points to fire as the main vehicle used by primitive peoples for deforestation. Williams argues that the manipulation and taming of nature by prehistoric and native peoples is commonly ignored and underestimated. Their actions have been romanticized and asserted to have been ecologically benign. But, according to Williams, natives never were “in perfect harmony” with nature, but attempted to transform it, and fire was the first great force. The combination of human predation and destruction of habitat through burning led to the extinction of many species across the planet, and Williams provides examples from Europe, North America, and Polynesia. He argues that the first Europeans to visit North America likely observed a profoundly disturbed landscape. At their peak around 1492, the Indian population of North America had long been transforming the forest for agriculture and hunting. Chapter 3 turns to the rise of agriculture, which involved both the domestication of animals and plant species and the removal of forest. The examination begins with the Neolithic period in the Middle East, Europe, and North and South America, and moves on to describe the gradual expansion of agricultural methods and clearing practices. Chapter 4 looks at agriculture and deforestation in the classical world of Greece and Rome. By this time three other factors in forcing timber cutting were becoming important, shipbuilding, urbanization, and metal smelting, and these were to become even greater forces in the harvest of trees in Europe by the fifteenth century. Williams provides some estimates of the amount of timber harvest necessary for ship construction and metal smelting. Chapter 5 turns to the medieval world, which brought new onslaughts on the forest. Population increases in Europe and the introduction of new plows and horsepower speeded the pace and extent of deforestation. Williams describes the complex relationship that medieval peoples had with the forest as a source of food, firewood, and other products. Forests were closely bound to everyday lives of ordinary people. At the same time, the forests were the enemy with dangerous animals and trees that blocked the paths of roads and fields. The Plague and the fall in population in the fifteenth century gave European forests some respite. The chapter ends with discussion of clearing in fourteenth century China.

Part II covers more modern factors in deforestation. Chapter 6 beings with the internal and external economic expansion of Europe between 1500 and 1750, with associated changes in cultural and economic forces affecting the forest. This was the age of discovery, and discovery needed ships of wood. Technological change brought new products and means of production and communication. Population growth surged, trade increased, and new sources of power were required. All of these dramatic changes impacted the forest. New views of nature arose, whereby trees and other natural resources became seen as instruments of human development. As described in Chapter 7, clearing accelerated in Europe during this period. The prices of firewood, charcoal, and timber stores increased sharply as population densities grew. This forced a turn to new, more distant, sources of supply, and importantly, for the first time, to a new concern with conservation. Plunder, preservation, and planting went hand in hand. Chapter 8 extends the analysis of this critical time, as the age of discovery, from Europe to the Americas, China, and Japan. Trade in timber products and clearing for European settlement in North and South America profoundly altered the landscape. In Chapter 9, Williams explores underlying driving forces that were eliminating primary forests across the world. These forces included industrialization, mechanization and motive power, population growth and migration, colonization, and improvements in transportation and communication. He illustrates the effect on the forest with a discussion of new, large-scale processes in timber harvest and industrial sawmilling. Steam power for cutting trees, sawing lumber, and transporting timber products changed the pattern and process of deforestation. As the eighteenth century began to end, however, the sense of inexhaustibility of the forest, at least temperate forests began to disappear. A new emphasis on conservation in Europe began to rise. Chapter 10 follows temperate deforestation from 1750 through 1920. In Europe and especially, the Americas, agricultural clearing was still viewed as “improvements.” The demands for shipbuilding, home fuel, construction, and charcoal continued to encourage timber harvest. Williams spends considerable time describing the path of clearing in the United States as frontier settlement expanded. Estimates of the extent and geographic pattern of clearing are provided. Experiences in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan are also included. Chapter 11 turns to clearing of tropical forests through 1920, beginning with an overview of the use of forest by indigenous peoples. As populations grew, indigenous agriculture expanded, with associated burning and clearing. Gradually, more permanent agriculture emerged. Precolonial forests were not untouched Edens or community resources shared equitably by all. Societies were stratified and elites had more forest. In any event, tropical forests were under siege even before Europeans arrived, and with European colonization, pressures grew. Experiences in India and Brazil receive considerable discussion in the chapter.

Part III, the Global Forest, turns to contemporary forest issues. Chapter 12 begins with early twentieth century scares and solutions to “timber famine.” By the turn of the century, the process of deforestation had been so relentless in many areas that fears arose that timber supplies, along with supplies of other natural resources, were soon to be depleted. Advocates for greater government ownership and regulation, such as Gifford Pinchot manipulated concerns about “the coming timber famine.” In America the National Forests were established and expanded and the Forest Service was created. Publications, such as The Forest Resources of the World, painted a bleak picture, not only in North America, but also in the less-developed world. Laissez-faire capitalism and self-interest became viewed as threats to the remaining forest. But in the Soviet Union, which certainly was not laissez-faire capitalist, timber removal moved into new areas with increased levels of exploitation. Chapters13 and 14 attempt to summarize the magnitude of the onslaught on the forest between 1945 and 1995. This modern period brought greater population growth in many previously relatively forested areas, new technologies, higher incomes in the developed world with greater demand for forest products. As forest cover dwindled, concerns arose not only regarding the impact of scarcity on prices, but on broader climatic and ecological effects. Biodiversity became an objective to be pursued, at least by influential populations in rich countries. Williams presents data on global land use through 1985 and the distribution of remaining forests. While forest harvest is regulated and/or moderated in most developed societies, disturbing rates of deforestation occur in tropical regions due to demand for teak, mahogany and other valuable species and due to agricultural settlement and a shift to cattle raising. In the Epilogue, Williams places these current concerns with deforestation into the historical context he has described earlier in the book. There is some optimism as he notes that reforestation occurs without gaining media notice. Nevertheless, pressures on the remaining forest are intense, and he is wary of much of the current literature on the issue prepared not only by advocacy groups, but also by the scientific community, whose interests are molded by funding agencies. Williams concludes with a call for more dispassionate analysis of the problem of deforestation and potential solutions.

Deforesting the Earth is a work of first-rate scholarship. Parts I and II are particularly impressive. The discussion of the more modern period and trends is somewhat less satisfying, in part because the underlying issues have become so complex that to address them in any detail would involve additional material for an already large book. Even so, some attention to the role of prices to encourage conservation and reforestation on private forests, as compared to the public National Forests, would have been useful. Further, discussion of secure property rights — the absence of which so critically affects harvests of tropical forests — also would have added to the analysis of contemporary conditions. In the end, however, this is an important and valuable book for economic and environmental historians for gaining a clearer understanding of the historical complex human relationship with forests.

Gary D. Libecap is Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Arizona and Research Associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research. Having just completed (for now) a project on homestead settlement, dryland farming, farm failure and the Dust Bowl on the American Great Plains, he is now turning to water. The project focuses on the history, law, and economics of water transfers from agriculture to urban and environmental uses. The initial task is to re-evaluate the Owens Valley water transfer to Los Angeles, 1905-1940, which was the subject of the movie Chinatown and which casts a dark shadow on all efforts to transfer water today.

Subject(s):Historical Geography
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Corn and Capitalism: How a Botanical Bastard Grew to Global Dominance

Author(s):Warman, Arturo
Reviewer(s):Bogue, Allan G.

Published by EH.NET (August 2003)

Arturo Warman. Corn and Capitalism: How a Botanical Bastard Grew to Global Dominance. (Translated by Nancy L. Westrate). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003 (originally published in Spanish in 1988). xiii + 270 pp. $49.95 (cloth,) ISBN 0-8078-2766-5; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8078-5437-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Allan G. Bogue, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The distinguished Mexican anthropologist, Arturo Warman, published the Spanish language edition of this sweeping survey of the place of corn in world history since the sixteenth century in 1988. The colorful subtitle refers to corn’s disputed parentage and the fact that through history the crop has stayed outside “the system of accepted norms” (p. xiii). As a Mexican social scientist Warman became deeply interested in the social and economic significance of corn and planned a history of the crop’s place in Mexican life. Various scholarly projects prepared him for that work but he ultimately deferred it in favor of the current volume.

Several preliminary chapters lay a foundation for the book. Warman begins by describing the many useful American plants that have had major “repercussions” in “the development of the world economy, and the world market place.” At the heart of corn’s story, he writes, “lies the history of capitalism” (p. 11). The corn plant (Zea mays), Warman explains, has various amazing characteristics. Evolved from the grass teosinte, it does not propagate itself in nature, is self-pollenizing, is remarkably responsive to hybridization, is adaptable to a wide range of environments, has outstripped other food plants in its yields, is accommodative to complementary crops, is easily converted to edible form, and is capable of conversion into a myriad of derivative products ranging from bourbon to adhesives and automotive fuel, as well as providing livestock feed that enters the human diet as animal protein. Debate has raged as to whether the birthplace of corn was the Americas or Asia. Sketching the archeological evidence, Warman accepts Mexico as the place of origin.

Warman devotes most of the remainder of the book to tracing the history of corn in major areas of the world, dealing first with Asiatic locales. First introduced there in the early sixteenth century by the Portuguese, corn became a crop of the mountains and frontier regions and particularly a food of the poor. He links its history to the complex land tenures and labor intensive systems of cropping in that great region and the relation of this crop to other major crops including a number of other western immigrants. Corn, he explains, was an important part of the second great agricultural revolution that occurred in China during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He follows with an account of the place of corn in the Atlantic slave trade. Slaves endured their passage to the new world on a diet consisting almost solely of corn meal paste, the grain’s high vitamin content warding off scurvy. Introduced primarily by the Portuguese, corn became a major crop in the African slave shipping areas and their hinterlands to meet the provisioning needs of the slavers. The crop adapted well to slash and burn agriculture. By the seventeenth century, corn was well established on the Atlantic coast of Africa and probably in much of the interior. With the decline of the slave trade in Africa, European nations developed colonial relations with its peoples. Corn now became increasingly important as a subsistence crop grown by peasants. Colonial administrators and white settlers emerged as a ruling class in the colonial dependencies and a native worker class emerged to provide labor for extractive ventures and settler agriculture. Corn products also sustained this labor sector but corn’s resistance to disease, short growth cycle, versatility, low requirements of capital and labor, and high yields also commended it to white farmers. Colonial land policies, Warman explains, benefited white interests and confined native populations in restricted areas, thus limiting native livestock operations. Hampered by natural hazards and colonial policies, peasants used corn both as sustenance and to provide agricultural surplus. Corn became, Warman concludes “one of the secret weapons in peasant resistance to colonial rule” (p. 81). In the era of national independence that followed the colonial era in Africa growth in the volume of commercial export crops — coffee, tobacco, cacao, and cotton — far outstripped growth in domestic food crops; a condition of dietary dependence prevailed. Corn flour was one of the cheapest foods per thousand calories available in urban African markets. The hope for future growth in food production in Tropical Africa lies, Warman suggests, in land reform.

Turning to Europe, Warman reviews the treatment of corn in European publications from the sixteenth century to the modern era. First grown as a curiosity in Andalusia and later as an agricultural crop, by the eighteenth century it had displaced long established cereals both in irrigated areas and in the subsistence peasant economy of northern Spain. By the end of that century corn was planted from the Black Sea to Gibraltar and, it was said, south of a line from the mouth of the Garonne to the Rhine above Strasbourg. It was often planted on land that formerly had been fallowed. Ripening at a time that had typically been one of food scarcity, it reduced the threat of famine and became the food of those who lived in “poverty, rural deprivation, and primitive … conditions.” Corn contributed vitally to the ongoing, “intellectual, political, industrial, and agricultural revolutions” then underway (p. 111). Finding no “ubiquitous and precise cultural agent” that accounted for the diffusion of corn growing through much of early Modern Europe, Warman identifies four “natural and social factors”: “growing conditions and the agricultural systems or their associated methods: population dynamics; trade, prices, and markets; and landownership and the relations of domination existing between landowners and direct producers” (p. 112). Their interaction, sometimes affected by more subtle influences, made corn “the bread of southern Europe’s poor.” But it also “generated wealth for landowners, shopkeepers and money lenders, overlords, and the new middle class,” who, ironically, ate wheat bread (p. 131). This occurred as an agricultural revolution took place between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries involving more intensive cultivation of the land and dwindling use of fallow.

Two American agricultural exports had tragic consequences — the potato famines of the mid nineteenth century and the widespread incidence of pellagra in southern Europe and later in the southern United States. Those highly dependent on corn as a food might develop pellagra and this chronic disease, causing dermatitis, diarrhea, and ultimately dementia, battered the population of European corn growing regions during the nineteenth century. Warman describes the various efforts to explain the disease and the developing conviction that diets heavily dependent on corn were responsible. Such dependence was usually associated with poverty and such onerous rents that peasants could not eat a balanced diet. Pellagra was “a symptom of a process of fierce modernization in peripheral areas” (p. 150).

In telling the story of corn in the United States, Warman stresses the importance of Native American tutelage. “Once the settlers had fully grasped the secrets and potential of corn, they no longer needed the Native Americans. Indigenous peoples were wiped out, scattered or relocated as settlers penetrated even further inland” (p. 155). Warman’s discussion of American economic development sketches many of the familiar facts of that story. Corn was a basic crop in the long continuing American frontier experience but played “its most important and long-lasting role,” he writes, ” in the predominantly rural world of the American South” (p. 159). It was a staple of slave diets but these were apparently sufficiently varied that the slaves did not suffer from nutrition deficiency diseases. Corn cultivation was far more extensive than cotton in the South but the latter produced the wealth and contributed most to the development of class differences. Sharecroppers became so hard pressed that pellagra was endemic by the early twentieth century. U.S. Public Health Service researchers discovered that a diet rich in milk, meat, and beans countered the disease. In the 1930s the University of Wisconsin’s Conrad A. Elvehjem showed that nicotinic acid deficiency was the specific cause. The human digestive process failed to unlock corn’s content of this vitamin when it was prepared as food in certain ways. Warman here comments that “pellagra was a disease born of development, a product of a type of progress that was imposed, unjust, and unequal”(p. 173).

Prior to the nineteenth century corn’s history was “tied directly to human nutrition.” In the expanding, industrializing, railroad-building United States, however it also became “the raw material for the production of meat and dairy products” and in the first half of twentieth century the U.S. crop accounted for half of the world’s production. It was the “very backbone” of American agriculture (pp. 181, 183). During that era U.S. corn production was more or less stable. The successful development of hybrids, however, along with improvements in mechanization, and fertilizer and herbicide use resulted in unprecedented yields of the crop after World War II. Now American corn became a significant factor in the world trade in cereals. By the beginning of the twentieth century U.S. pioneer subsistence agriculture had been replaced by commercial farming but farmers still continued “to supply the largest part of the means of production”– “labor, motive power, seeds, organic fertilizers.” Now the farmer became increasingly dependent on the market for these things. A massive institutional framework developed to sustain and direct agriculture and agribusiness became the “dominant force” in American agriculture (pp. 186, 188). In 1954 the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954 was designed “to use U.S. agricultural surpluses abroad in the effort to eradicate world hunger” (p. 190). Related programs followed and corn was a major element in the U.S. contribution. Because “corn entered the world market … as a food stuff for the poor and as forage for the rich it surmounted the inelasticity of demand typically associated with cereals” (p. 192).

In a final substantive chapter Warman describes the world market for food as it developed between the 1950s and the mid 1980s. Prior to World War II, Western Europe was the only major agricultural region that did not meet its own needs and also provide some export grains. By the 1960s only the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada were independent producers. U.S. aid programs exacerbated this trend and “food dependence became a chronic and widespread phenomenon in many Third World countries” as did population explosions (p. 203). Wheat dominated in U.S. exports until the 1970s and then corn became increasingly important. American aid had generated “an entirely new market, whether by introducing the consumption of wheat or by displacing existing domestic production” (p. 205). The U.S., charges Warman, distributed aid with a view to its strategic political impact. The political considerations of the United States and its allies dictated the magnitudes of supply and demand, prices and the conditions of sale, that defined the world cereal market and interacted with domestic tariffs, subsidies, and other production controls (p. 209). By the 1970s five great multinational grain handling companies dominated world trade in cereals. After a food production crisis in Russia and a failure of the hybrid corn crop in the U.S. during the early 1970s, however, food production outpaced population growth. Although “corn’s incredible growth as a commodity for reexport was the most outstanding phenomenon.” most third world countries had entered a condition of dietary dependence (p. 212). Despite adequate world supplies of food at the time of writing, Warman identifies a major problem of distribution and future vulnerability to shortages.

In two concluding chapters Warman discusses the recent phenomenal expansion of food production in which corn has been an important part and the possible ways in which growth in food production may be sustained. He sees two available agricultural modes — “capitalized intensive agriculture, also known as scientific agriculture or production by the wealthy.” The other is traditional peasant agriculture, utilizing few resources beyond those readily available and controlled by the production unit. This is farming by the poor” (p. 218). The first of these, he argues, has not improved world diets in the past nor solved the problem of distribution. Advocates of the Green Revolution tried to increase production in peasant agriculture by the use of hybrid crop varieties but had very limited success because of the high costs involved. Warman identifies less expensive ways of increasing peasant production — reduction of fallowing, bringing marginal lands into production and land reform. “The only way to confront the problem of world hunger,” he argues, “is to increase peasant production, using the many and at times unimaginable means to achieve that goal” (p. 231).

In the final chapter “New Reflections on Utopia and the New Millennium,” Warman explains that he has attempted “to analyze some social processes in which corn has played an important role” (p. 232). From one perspective his book is a sweeping historical survey of the adoption of corn as a major food and feed crop in much of the world. In this respect it is a fascinating compendium of thought-provoking facts and illustrative statistics. The volume is also a somewhat sour Marxist critique of modernization and, one may argue, a defense of peasant agriculture. A few passages illustrate Warman’s perspective. Concluding his discussion of the Chinese case, he writes “Growing rural surpluses did not remain in the rural countryside or even in China itself. … They were transferred to foreign powers’ spheres of economic influence and accumulated there. Peasants were the source of agricultural know-how and labor, yet they were increasingly threatened … settling marginal lands on the nation’s domestic frontier. For many decades they accepted the destiny of peasants everywhere, unable to eat what they produced because it was prohibitively expensive. Thus they transformed corn and other American plants, previously foods for the poor, into essential resources for their very survival. They did even more, they carried out a [social] revolution” (p. 50). He summarizes the slave trade this way: “the slave trade was not destiny or fate, but a series of opportunities and limitations.” Those “opposed to slavery … were social groups with the emerging power and will to confront that circumstance. The slave trade was an aberration, but neither was it the result of a general law of historical development. Rather, it was history; something that happened, but that just as easily could not have taken place at all” (p. 65). In considering the European agricultural revolution of 1600 to 1800, Warman rejects the common assumption that it was “the result of the application of scientific knowledge to production, diffused by elites and intellectual vanguards,” preferring instead “the idea of revolution as a result of collective knowledge and collective action” (p. 119). Leaving discussion of pellagra, he argues, “Change was promoted in the periphery from above and from abroad in order to recreate society in accordance with an ideological model; the industrial millennium that sought to establish a homogenous world. … Pellagra was not simply a disease of poverty and deficiencies, but one of the many diseases of modernization, of development, of prodevelopment capitalism” (p. 150). And finally, the history of U.S. agriculture is a process of accumulation with very different and increasingly accelerated rhythms. It is also a history of inequality, of exclusion, and of subjugation. Each process created its own marginal groups” — Native Americans, rural poor, urban poor, migratory workers, food stampers (p. 193). “Marginalization threatens the American farmer, the most outstanding product of the U.S. democratic ideal” (p. 194). He contrasts these developments with the diversity, stability, community reinforcement, and population controls found in peasant societies.

Although the principle of comparative advantage was at work in the spread of corn, it was conditioned by relations of power and dominance, argues Warman; accumulated wealth put less powerful groups at severe disadvantage. He was apparently unaware of ongoing cliometric research on the profits of imperial enterprise. He does not offer a rigid formula of class differentiation; to him the process was one of diverse conditions and forces but invariably involved exploitation. In considering the sections dealing with corn’s history in the United States, Americanists will consider some of his judgments to be overstated. The achievements of American plant scientists are brushed aside in a sentence, and the mechanics of diffusion are described in terms more general than modern scholarship has achieved. Warman emphasizes the need for increasing the effectiveness of peasant agriculture’s national or regional dietary independence but he gives much less attention to the issue of population control. Warman’s translator has produced a lucid, stimulating, and informative narrative but the reviewer remains happy that he is not one of Warman’s peasants nor sentenced to relive the existence that he, himself, experienced as a farm boy, living the democratic ideal.

Allan G. Bogue is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and has published widely in American agricultural and political history. His most recent book is The Farm on the North Talbot Road (University of Nebraska Press). His next article, “Oxen to Organs: Chattel Credit in Springdale Town, 1849-1900,” will appear in the forthcoming summer number of Agricultural History.

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Weathering the Storm: The Economies of Southeast Asia in the 1930s Depression

Author(s):Boomgaard, Peter
Brown, Ian
Reviewer(s):Drabble, John

Published by EH.NET (July 2003)

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Peter Boomgaard and Ian Brown, editors, Weathering the Storm: The Economies of Southeast Asia in the 1930s Depression. Leiden: KITLV Press and Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000. xiv + 332 pp. US$39.90 or S$65.90 (hardcover), ISBN: 981-230-079-1.

Reviewed for EH.NET by John Drabble, Economic History, University of Sydney.

Peter Boomgaard is Director, Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology (KITLV), Leiden and Professor at the University of Amsterdam. Ian Brown is Professor of the Economic History of Southeast Asia, School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. The contributors are an eclectic mix of European, American, Australian and Southeast Asian scholars. This volume is the outcome of a panel on “Short- and Long-Term Cycles in the Southeast Asian Economy: Historical Perspectives” at the First Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Studies, Leiden, 1995. It contains thirteen papers preceded by an editorial introduction identifying four principal themes, which constitute the headings under which the papers are grouped. These are; changes in material conditions during the slump (four papers), agricultural strategies adopted by small farmers in the face of these changes (five papers), the experience of particular local trading groups (one paper), and the response of the state (three papers). The impact of the slump on large capitalistic (primarily western) enterprises in the region receives relatively little comment. Most papers have a single country focus with, inevitably, some imbalance: Indonesia (four), Philippines (two), French Indo-China (two), Burma, Thailand, and Malaysia (one each). One paper covers Indonesia/Malaysia, and another the Philippines, French Indo-China and Indonesia.

Part 1 (Material Conditions) focuses on the question of the effects of the depression on the standard of living. Thus the prime task for each writer is to formulate the relevant criteria. P. Boomgaard (Indonesia, principally Java) presents various indices of macroeconomic data; indigenous real incomes, food consumption, crude death rates etc. J. Touwen (Outer Islands, Indonesia) argues that real incomes there were slightly lower than in Java, but the local subsistence economy was generally a stronger support network in such times. D. Doeppers (Philippines), confines himself to a single indicator, the annual numbers paying the tax to obtain the cedula personal, a type of personal registration and identity certificate. W. Wolters (Philippines) looks at conditions in four regions, each with a different major commercial crop (abaca, coconut, sugar, rice) with the indicators of welfare being food availability and merchandise sales, both per capita. I. Brown (Burma) also adopts a single measure, imports of cotton textiles. While the diversity of these criteria reflects to a large degree the availability of historical source materials for each country, the conclusions arrived at by these four scholars show a considerable degree of agreement. Despite the severity of the depression in the international economy, standards of living did not show correspondingly steep falls. Resourceful small producers developed countervailing strategies such as product diversification, a switch towards subsistence farming, notably rice, cottage industries etc. Prices of imported goods fell substantially which helped to cushion standards of living.

Part 2 (Agricultural Strategies) has some overlap with Part 1. In Besuki province, Sumatra (S. Nawiyanto), small tobacco farmers rode out the slump through strategies similar to those in Java. However, two other papers on leading rice producers, Thailand (S. Manarungsan) and French Indo-China (I. Norlund) highlight important regional differences. Thailand was not as deeply affected as its neighbor, Burma. Thai farmers were not as deeply involved in market relations, nor did they suffer comparably high levels of indebtedness and land loss as their Burmese counterparts. Government helped by reducing and finally abolishing rice field taxes altogether. French Indo-China lay somewhere in between, with farmer involvement in the export economy varying from area to area. The 1930s saw a clear trend towards diversification of exports. T. Lindblad, (Indonesia) stands somewhat apart in this section, focusing more on the macro-consequences of the slump for longer-term structural change in the national economy.

Part 3 (Trading Communities) has only a single paper, W. Clarence-Smith on Indonesia and Malaysia, describing the experience of the numerically small but relatively wealthy mercantile community of entrepreneurs of Hadhrami Arab origin. As with many primary producers, the qualities which enabled this group to survive the slump were adaptability and flexibility.

In Part 4 the role of the colonial state comes under examination. The central question asked here is whether the policies implemented were in the best (i.e. longer-term) interests of these countries. P. Brocheux (French Indo-China) finds that government action helped to stabilize the export economy but, through imperial preference, tightened trade ties with France and militated against any major moves to industrialize the colony. P. Kratoska (British Malaya) also looks at the trade effects of imperial preference, along with measures to reduce the country’s dependence on imported rice and immigrant labor. He considers the two latter to have improved local autonomy and smoothed the path to later independence in 1957. Rather surprisingly, though, he makes no mention of the government-imposed restriction of tin and rubber exports during the 1930s, a direct outcome of the slump, which had strong consequences for the subsequent pattern of structural change in the economy. A. Booth examines foreign trade and exchange rate policies in French Indo-China, Indonesia and the Philippines, concluding that these operated primarily to serve the economic interests of the colonial power when more concerted efforts to promote local industrialization might have served these countries better.

On the whole this collection of papers hangs together well. It achieves the aims of the editors (Introduction) to counter the view of earlier scholarship that the depression experience of Southeast Asia in the 1930s was a period of unrelieved and universal distress. We are given substantive evidence of the considerable variations in conditions throughout the region and, in particular, the resilience shown by small producers and some mercantile interests to ameliorate the consequences. The editors also offer some interesting comparisons with the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. Overall the volume is a welcome compendium of recent research and plainly presages much further research on the topic.

John Drabble was formerly Reader in Economic History, University of Sydney, Australia. He recently published An Economic History of Malaysia, c.1800-1990: The Transition to Modern Economic Growth (Basingstoke, Macmillan, and St Martin’s Press, New York, 2000).

Subject(s):Urban and Regional History
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How It Flourished and What It Cost

Author(s):Gardner, Bruce L.
Reviewer(s):Alston, Julian M.

Published by EH.NET (June 2003)

Bruce L. Gardner, American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How It Flourished and What It Cost. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002. x + 388 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-674-00748-4.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Julian M. Alston, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis.

At the turn of the twentieth century most Americans were farmers or came from farm families, and almost half of the U.S. population still lived on farms. The number of farms was almost six million, and still growing, and the amount of land in agriculture was still growing too, mainly through expansion in the west. The expansion of agricultural land and farm numbers continued well into the 1900s, but by mid-century both trends had been reversed. The 1930s saw the beginnings of large progressive changes in the farm economy; and by 2000, the picture was very different from one hundred years earlier. The total number of farms had shrunk to fewer than two million, only a very small share — less than two percent — of the total population lived on farms or worked in agriculture, and agriculture contributed a much smaller share to the total economy than in 1900. Yet with only one-third as much total labor as in 1900, at the end of the twentieth century U.S. agriculture was producing seven times as much output, and average farm family incomes had risen to equal or surpass non-farm family incomes.

These and other dramatic changes in the nature and structure of U.S. agriculture and its role in the economy represent an important element of the nation’s economic development. Much has been written about the causes and consequences of the transformation of American agriculture in the twentieth century, but mostly the literature relates to particular elements of the history — particular sub-periods, regions, industries, or issues. A coherent, complete, comprehensive, quantitative assessment has been lacking. Among economists, Bruce Gardner (Professor and Chair of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Maryland.) is a natural choice to address this deficiency. He is the leading agricultural economist of the age, has a longstanding interest in economic history, and has spent a lifetime — beginning on a dairy farm in Illinois — studying and thinking about the economics of agriculture and the role of government policy in it. Writing a book on American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century provides a context for Gardner to draw together his many well-founded and useful insights from various threads of his professional work on issues such as farm incomes, the “farm problem,” the structure of agriculture, agricultural technology, the relationship between agriculture and the broader economy, and the causes and consequences of government policy related to agriculture and the rural sector.

The book is targeted at a general audience, though it is not short on numbers and details, so that is has plenty to offer professional economists and even specialists in agricultural economics. It begins with an “Introduction” that sets the scene in terms of the broad sweep of major changes in the century. The meat of the book begins in Chapter 2, titled “Technology.” This is a most appropriate place to begin, given the pivotal role that technological change has played in the transformation of American agriculture, perhaps especially in the latter half of the twentieth century when agricultural productivity grew most rapidly and the pace of the other developments accelerated as a consequence. To this reviewer, at least, the technological story is the main story, and it is a strength of Gardner’s analysis of the economic history of American agriculture that he places technology at the forefront.

Chapter 3, “Farms” documents and discusses the early rise and subsequent slow decline in the quantity of farmland; the decline in the numbers of farms and their progressive growth in size and specialization; changes in input use and how farms are organized; and the roles of on-farm versus off-farm work. Much of these changes in farms and farming were fueled by changes in agricultural technology and productivity, as well as changes in the non-farm economy that drew labor away from farming. To conclude the chapter, Gardner compares income over time between farm and non-farm households and reports that, during the past fifty years in particular, farm incomes improved to achieve parity with non-farm incomes, and to achieve a more equal distribution among farm households. Later chapters demonstrate that these changes reflect, in part, a closer integration of the farm and non-farm economies such that farm and rural household incomes are determined for the most part by events outside agriculture. Similar findings are reported in Chapter 4, which extends the discussion to “Farm Communities.” As the farm population has declined and become older, so has the total rural population; many small towns have vanished and much of the infrastructure has declined as well. Gardner discusses the related issues of changing demographic characteristics of the rural population, out-migration and hired farm workers, rural poverty, schooling of farm people, quality of life and technological change, natural resources and the environment, and large farms and the rural community. He provides evidence on the declining incidence of rural poverty and income inequality, as well as documenting what many have perceived as a set of undesirable trends in rural America.

The next three chapters are devoted to the roles of changes in markets and government policy in the evolution of agriculture. Chapter 5, “Markets,” discusses changes in the markets for farm inputs and commodity outputs, and evidence on concentration and market power of agribusiness firms. Along with improvements in market efficiency for other reasons, technological change in food processing and marketing has contributed further productivity growth to the food industry, but at a slower rate than in the farming sector. A primary consequence of comparatively high productivity growth in the farming sector has been declining farmers’ terms of trade — prices received by farmers for their products not growing as fast as the prices they pay for their inputs. This fact, coupled with the observation of growing concentration of agribusiness, and a declining farmers’ share of the consumers’ food dollar, helps account for some of the government policies applied to agriculture, which are the subject of Chapters 6 and 7.

Chapter 6, concerns “Public Investment and Regulation,” including topics such as market institutions and infrastructure, and what Gardner terms “rural industrial policy,” as well as a host of regulatory interventions in agriculture, some of which may be seen as serving a public interest while others, such as some “marketing-order” regulations, clearly involve net social costs and are there to serve a narrower sectional interest. Information is presented on the net social costs of some of these interventions as well as on the net social benefits of public investments in agricultural research and development.

The evidence is generally less mixed on the net social consequences of the “Commodity and Trade Policy” interventions, which are the subject of Chapter 7. The chapter provides a very useful descriptive history of the farm commodity programs, which began in the 1930s, including trade policy as an essential element since most farm commodities are at least potentially traded goods. It also deals with food policy, the benefit-cost analysis of farm programs, and farm politics. Gardner is the authority on the economics of U.S. farm commodity programs and his opinion matters, but he presents a surprisingly equivocal view on the net social impacts of those policies, such as when he allows (p. 213) that “reasonable arguments have been put forward that U.S. commodity policies have been an important contributor to the growth of agricultural productivity.” Productivity growth since 1950 has averaged about 2 percent per year, and it is cumulative, yielding benefits in recent years worth about half of the value of annual agricultural output. Given that commodity programs involve deadweight losses of only a few percent of the total value of output, if the same programs accounted for only a small fraction of the total productivity growth, they could have yielded important net social benefits. Gardner does not go so far as to say this, but nor does he explicitly rule it out, and he provides supporting arguments for the possibility in Chapter 8.

Chapter 8 is devoted to “Explanations” of the economic development of U.S. agriculture, including the growth of output, productivity, and the per capita income of the farm household, but also the decline of agricultural GDP since the 1970s. Gardner reports that the evidence is not clear on the extent to which farmers have benefited from technological change, although the nation has reaped large benefits, and he discusses other — mostly non-farm — factors as sources of improvement in farm household incomes, for which he offers his own econometric findings using less-aggregative data in Chapters 9 and 10.

To this point the story has been told largely at a national level, but the agro-ecological conditions of climate, soil, and terrain, and infrastructure, as well as other relevant elements of the economy, are very diverse across the United States. Consequently the nature of agriculture and its economic history are very diverse among states and regions of the country, and a great deal of interesting detail is foregone when we consider just the national aggregate. Chapter 9, “Regions and States,” provides some more disaggregated details on states and regions, including some statistical analysis of patterns of growth and incomes among them. Chapter 10, “Counties,” reports results from further statistical analysis of data at a more-disaggregated level. A key finding is that growth in farm household income is explained mainly by market adjustments that brought farm labor earnings more nearly into line with the rest of the economy — by variables that are mostly exogenous to the agricultural sector.

Chapter 11, “Findings and Policy Implications” concludes the book. In this chapter Gardner reminds us of a recurring theme, that a host of conceptual and measurement issues must be dealt with even to begin to describe what has happened to “farms” and “farm incomes” and so on. Even still, the main story is clear enough in terms of the gross changes in numbers and sizes of farms and related rural populations, the nature of farms and farming, and the distribution of farm household incomes. To account for these changes is harder given the roles of multiple interacting possible causes, common trends, and data limitations. While technological change driven by private and public agricultural R&D was surely the primary driver of change on farms, its consequences were at least modified by the accompanying developments of infrastructure, education, markets, and government policies, and it was encouraged and its effects were reinforced by changes in the non-farm economy.

This is a valuable book, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the economics of agriculture and its history. It is both technically sound and of interest to specialists, but also accessible to a much broader audience, including non-economists. The scope of the book is ambitious, and we should keep its scope and broad intended audience in mind in deciding how and where to find fault. Keeping that dictum in mind, here are some observations. First, the style and technical content of the work varies among the chapters. The early chapters emphasize mostly verbal and some graphical analysis, and should be entirely accessible to a wide audience, but in some of the later chapters the work drifts towards a more technical and academic style.

Second, like much of U.S. agricultural economics, the book is somewhat U.S. centric (which might seem to be an odd comment to pass on a book that is specifically about American agriculture). The book does deal with international trade in agricultural commodities, mainly in relation to trade policy, but it does not go very far to contemplate American agriculture in the context of global agriculture. Importantly, most agricultural commodities are tradable and traded, and growth in international trade and evolving comparative advantage have been important elements of the history. Through commodity markets, changes in the United States reflect and are reflected in changes in agriculture in other countries. Further, agricultural technologies are internationally mobile. It is no coincidence that, around the world, similar changes were taking place in agriculture in many countries at the same time as they took place in the United States, or soon after. To understand both the causes and the consequences of changes in American agriculture it is appropriate to recognize these international linkages. For instance, the consequences for American agriculture from technologies developed as a result of U.S. public agricultural R&D depend importantly on the extent to which increased U.S. supplies are absorbed in international versus domestic markets, tempered by commodity policies, and the extent to which the same technologies can be adopted by international competitors. Defining the relevant counterfactual is tricky when we have to contemplate international interdependencies in policies as well as technologies. If another chapter or two could be added to the next edition of this book, I would propose using them to contemplate international comparisons, and the causal connections among the agricultural histories of nations.

Finally, it would have been nice if Gardner had presented a more conclusive analysis of government intervention in agriculture and its net consequences. He leaves us wondering where he stands on whether U.S. farm commodity policy has imposed a net drain on the economy. Over many years, legions of agricultural economists have presented analyses that stressed deadweight losses from farm programs, but these studies did not make any allowance for the possibility that the stabilizing effect of farm commodity programs might have stimulated investment in productivity-enhancing technological change that offsets the conventional static deadweight losses. Gardner’s personal, view not just of the possibility but also of the likelihood of this outcome, would have been very welcome. On the other hand, by playing the devil’s advocate and raising this question, the author has given us a reason to reflect on the conventional economist’s (perhaps ideological) view of the deadweight burden of farm commodity programs, which might not be fully supported by evidence from past analysis, and an agenda for research to develop the evidence. The book is provocative on other subjects, too, as Gardner makes a consistent effort to present both sides of issues, drawing attention to some oft-neglected costs associated with an economic history that has been by most measures one of remarkable positive achievement.

Julian Alston is a co-author of Making Science Pay: The Economics of Agricultural R&D Policy (with P. Pardey), AEI Press, 1996, and “The Incidence of Agricultural Policy” (with J. James), Chapter 33 of the Handbook of Agricultural Economics, B. Gardner and G. Rausser, editors, 2002.

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

A History of the Federal Reserve, Vol. I: 1913-51

Author(s):Meltzer, Allan H.
Reviewer(s):Wood, John H.

Published by EH.NET (June 2003)

Allan H. Meltzer, A History of the Federal Reserve, Vol. I: 1913-51. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. xiii + 800 pp. $75 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-226-51999-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by John H. Wood, Department of Economics, Wake Forest University.

Allan Meltzer has given us a thorough history of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy from its founding in December 1913 to the Treasury-Federal Reserve Accord in the spring of 1951. Several excellent descriptive and critical studies of various parts of this period of the Fed are available, led by a considerable portion of Friedman and Schwartz’s Monetary History. But Meltzer advances our understanding of the Fed in two respects that that I explore in this review: First, he considers all the significant episodes of monetary policy, usually in more detail than can be found elsewhere. This book must be the starting point for future studies of Federal Reserve monetary policy, not only for the period covered by the book, but also for the succeeding fifty years because the Fed’s organization and most of its beliefs and procedures were developed in the earlier period. The second main contribution is an extension of the first. Meltzer makes unequalled use of the unpublished minutes, correspondence, and other internal papers of the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He takes us further behind the scenes of policymaking.

This review seeks to locate the book in the literature on the Fed, a task made easier by Meltzer’s recognition of previous work and the absence of radically new interpretations. He supports the positions that have been associated with monetarist criticisms by Friedman and Schwartz and his work with Karl Brunner since the 1960s, especially the Fed’s lack of understanding of its role in the economy and its obsession with financial markets, commercial bank free reserves in particular. His support is in the form of information about the ideas, institutions, and personalities behind actions and inactions that are well known. We are told that the inflation and deflation of 1919-21, the Great Depression of 1929-33, the recession of 1937-38, and the post-World War II inflation would have been avoided or greatly moderated if the Fed had make money grow at a constant rate, as Friedman proposed (1959, 92) or as adjusted for velocity and inflation as Meltzer proposed (1984). Whether or not we accept these conclusions, Meltzer enables us to increase our understanding of the Fed’s intentions, or rather the intentions of different parts of an institution that was at war with itself.

The new material may be the book’s most important contribution to research because it adds to the information available for the study of the policy preferences of different interests in the Federal Reserve and their effects on decisions. Internal conflicts often involved battles for control between the Board in Washington and the regional Reserve Banks. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was vague about control. The powers of the Fed — particularly discounting and open-market operations — were vested in the Banks under the Board’s supervision. The extent of this supervision — broad or, as the Banks complained, amounting to the micro-management of a central bank from Washington — was the main source of these conflicts, which spilled over into policy decisions. It is also possible that policy differences between the Board and the Banks, especially New York, were partly due to the knowledge and interests arising from their political and economic environments. Given the importance attached to these differences, I would like to have seen more attention paid to their possible reasons beyond institutional grasps for power. It is no surprise to find the Board more sympathetic to (or under the thumb of) the Treasury during the latter’s pressures for continued bond supports after the two world wars. Less expected, perhaps, was the Board’s greater skepticism of market forces. Its preference for controls over interest rates helped to rationalize its support for Treasury low-interest programs. But the Board also differed from New York in believing that controls could control stock speculation in 1928-29 without impinging on “legitimate” credit. Havrilesky (288-331) found that the Banks’ greater reliance on interest rates continued in the second half of the century. Might those, like the New York Fed, who are immersed in the financial markets repose more trust in their operation, specifically in the efficacy of interest rates as rationing devices, compared with credit controls? On the other hand, this tack may not be appealing to monetarists who already find the Fed too sensitive to markets and interest rates. Meltzer finds that a good deal of the Board’s criticism of the New York Bank after the Crash was motivated more by concern for control than different perceptions of economic relations (289).

Meltzer confirms the charge that the Fed neglected to develop a model, or guide, to policy. This neglect can be interpreted with more sympathy than Meltzer and other critics have shown, although they recognize the Fed’s difficulties, because important conditions assumed by the Fed’s creators quickly disintegrated with war and its aftermath. They were adrift without a destination, compass, or anchor. The great inflow of gold caused by European inflations and other disorders divorced the Fed’s actions from the historic central bank concern for its reserve. The Fed’s timid support of credit during the Great Depression may have been partly due to a desire to preserve the gold standard (Eichengreen; Meltzer is doubtful, 405), but its interest in price stability between 1921 and 1929 prevented it from taking full advantage of its more-than-ample reserves.

We must also realize that prevalent economic models did not imply the countercyclical policy to which economists were converted a decade later. An influential theory that implied “liquidation” in depression stemmed from the belief that deflations are reactions to inflations that had been driven by speculations in inventories and fixed assets. These should be allowed to return to normal levels. Deflations must be allowed to run their course (Hayek; Treasury Secretary Mellon, discussed by Meltzer, 400). Attempts to force money into paths “where it was not wanted” merely sow the seeds of future inflation. We can see where this policy was conducive to long-run price stability under the gold standard — price indexes in 1933 still exceeded those of 1914. Even if Meltzer, like Friedman and Schwartz, is right that the Fed should have tried for constant money growth or at least a stable price level, the application of such a policy would have required remarkably prescient theoretical sophistication by a group of committees of mainly conventional businessmen unused to abstractions.

Irving Fisher was a notable exception in his resistance to conventional sound money. But his “compensated dollar” plan for stabilizing the price level by adjusting the price of gold (182) was ridiculed as “a rubber dollar” (Hoover, 119) and dismissed by the New York Fed’s Benjamin Strong as the work of “extreme quantity theorists” (Chandler, 203).

Meltzer’s criticisms of the Fed, like Friedman and Schwartz’s, are meant to be lessons for policy. In its theoretical and policy implications, the book is mainstream monetarism, deserving of the usual plaudits and criticisms: money and output are correlated, so that money must be important, but no convincing evidence of the direction of causation is offered.

Prospective buyers should note that the book is not about Federal Reserve activities that are not directly part of monetary policy. Check clearing and other parts of the payments system, on which most Fed employees work, are ignored, and the structure and regulation of banking receive little attention. The last omission is more the Fed’s than Meltzer’s. The Fed recognized the weakness of the banking system as evidenced by the high failure rate of banks during the 1920s, but it did not work towards an improvement — unlike President Hoover (121-25), who tried unsuccessfully for a system of larger and stronger banks. When Board Chairman Marriner Eccles (266-69) sought measures similar to Hoover’s in 1936, he was rebuffed by President Roosevelt. The Fed’s lack of attention to the banking structure is striking in light of England’s experience, where the encouragement of amalgamations after the Panic of 1825, which was attributed to the fragility of small banks, contributed to the decline in the frequency and severity of panics as the nineteenth century progressed (none after 1866). On the other hand, the Fed might have followed Congress in taking the banking structure as given because the protection of local banks had been a political condition of the Federal Reserve Act.

Returning to the Fed’s model, or lack thereof, Meltzer agrees with his predecessors that monetary policy was an irregular mix of the gold standard rules of the game, the real bills doctrine, and a concern for price stability that seemed important only when inflation threatened. The place of the real bills doctrine in Fed thinking is unclear. The Federal Reserve Act has been interpreted as a legal implementation of the doctrine by its limitation of private discounting to real bills of exchange, that is, short-term lending secured by inventories. This had always been regarded as sound practice for commercial banks, and the Fed favored it in aggregate because lending for productive purposes was more conducive to economic activity and price stability than “speculative” lending on securities. But favoring real bills is not the real bills “doctrine,” as Meltzer would have it. The doctrine’s fallacies had often been shown, particularly the indeterminacy of the price level when credit is linked to expected prices (Thornton, 244-59), and monetary policy (as opposed to rhetoric, for example, Senator Glass; Meltzer, 400) did not suggest that the Fed believed it. If it had, there would have been no role for interest rates. In the closest it came to expressions of policy guides, in the Board’s 1923 Annual Review and statements by Benjamin Strong (Chandler, 188-246), the Fed indicated less fear of inflation from real bills than other lending. But it depended on interest rates to rein in excessive borrowing, whatever the purposes. Whether credit was “excessive” tended to depend on what was happening to the price level, although this connection was cloudy in Fed statements at least partly because it did not wish to be held responsible for price stability. The reasons for the Fed’s opposition to an official goal of price stability probably included its constraints on the pursuit of other goals, such as the alleviation of financial stress, and the fact that its proponents in Congress (especially James Strong of Kansas) were most interested in restoring agricultural prices to previous heights.

Touching on Meltzer’s relations to other controversies: He continues to differ from Friedman and Schwartz (692) in his argument (with Brunner, 1968, and agreed by Wicker, 1969, and Wheelock, 1991) that the Fed’s actions during the Great Depression would have been approximately the same if Benjamin Strong (who died in 1928) had continued at the helm of the New York Bank. Meltzer believes that Strong’s “attachment” to commercial bank borrowing from the Fed and free reserves as policy guides continued after 1928, and were responsible for its failure to increase credit between 1929 and 1933 and its doubling of reserve-requirements ratios in 1936-37. This position dates at least from the 1960s, when he and Brunner assisted Congressman Patman’s investigation of the Fed that initiated the work leading to the book under review.

It was a common belief in government and Congress that “international cooperation,” specifically the creation of inflation in the interests of European currencies (Hoover, 1952, 6-14), interfered with domestic goals. Meltzer agrees with Hardy (228-32) and Friedman and Schwartz that the accusation is unsupported. Quoting the latter: “foreign considerations were seldom important in determining the policies followed but were cited as additional justification for policies adopted primarily on domestic grounds when foreign and domestic considerations happened to coincide” (279).

I do not think that Meltzer’s treatment of bank failures during the Great Depression adequately reflects Wicker’s (1996) investigations that seriously undermine Friedman and Schwartz’s interpretations and suggest that the name “runs” is inappropriate. The three banking crises of 1930-31 identified by Friedman and Schwartz (and accepted by Meltzer, 323, 731) involved mostly small banks that were insolvent. Farm and real estate prices had fallen drastically, and banks failed because their customers failed. The frequency of failures in the “crisis periods” was only slightly greater than in the period as a whole, and were geographically concentrated. None became national in scope or exerted pressure on, not to say panic in, the New York money market. The first consisted largely of the collapse of the Caldwell investment banking firm of Nashville, Tennessee, which controlled the largest chain of banks in the South and was heavily invested in real estate. There is no evidence of contagion. The “crisis” of mid-1931 was concentrated in northern Ohio and the Chicago suburbs, where small banks had multiplied with the real estate boom. The crisis of September-October 1931was wider, but concentrated in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.

This brings us to Meltzer’s (and Friedman and Schwartz’s) criticism of the Fed’s failure to apply Bagehot’s proposal that the central bank act as lender of last resort. That is, as holder of the nation’s reserve it should stand ready to supply the cash demanded in times of panic. Meltzer contends that “Most of the bank failures of 1929 to 1932, and the final collapse in the winter of 1933, could have been avoided” (729) if the Fed had applied Bagehot’s rule. However, as he (283-91) and Friedman and Schwartz (335-39) recognize elsewhere, the New York Fed actively assisted the financial markets during and after the Crash, and withdrew when there was no evidence of panic in New York, that is, “once borrowing and upward pressure on interest rates” declined (Meltzer, 288). I find Meltzer convincing when he suggests that this “was consistent with the Riefler-Burgess [free reserves] framework,” as opposed to Friedman and Schwartz’s argument that New York eventually yielded to the Board’s opposition to its open-market purchases. “The dispute was mainly about procedure, not about substance,” Meltzer (289) argues. “They [the Board] disliked New York’s decision to act alone.” It appears to this reviewer that the Fed’s actions as described by Meltzer and Friedman and Schwartz, generally conformed with Bagehot’s advice to relieve illiquidity in the money market in times of panic. He had not recommended the rescue of insolvent banks in the hinterlands that did not threaten the money market. This includes at least the beginnings of the nationwide closures of 1933 that were precipitated by the Michigan governor’s decision to close the banks in his state to protect them from the possibility of a run when the failure of Ford’s bank in Detroit (which was also heavily invested in real estate) was announced.

I end with comments that are more differences of emphasis than of substance: The Fed’s irrelevance in planning postwar financial arrangements is interesting, although Meltzer may exaggerate its significance. He wrote: “In the 1930s, the Treasury replaced the Federal Reserve as the principal negotiator on international financial arrangements” (737). In fact, governments have always, directly and firmly, controlled monetary arrangements. Their seizures of the details of monetary policy in the U.S. and U.K. in the early 1930s were remarkable, but the U.S. government’s control of changes in the monetary system as exemplified by the devaluation of 1933, Bretton Woods in 1944, and the Nixon suspension of 1971 had also been the practice of Parliament, which decided (with more or less advice from the Bank of England) suspensions, resumptions, legal tender, and other trade and financial arrangements. The irrelevance of the Fed in the negotiation of post-World War II financial agreements was shared by the Bank of England. Their places in the row behind finance ministers during negotiations continued an age-old practice. It is interesting in light of the high visibility of central banks in the operation of monetary systems that the structures of those systems belong to governments. Without defending the Fed, which ought to have behaved better within the framework that it was given, the real failure to respond to the catastrophe should be laid at the feet of the government. Herbert Hoover was more active than he is often given credit for, but he departed from tradition in leaning on the “weak reed” that was the Federal Reserve (1952, 212; Meltzer, 413).

Meltzer suggests that the Great Depression was not considered a failure of monetary policy at the time (727). He refers to the Federal Reserve and economists, and I agree. But this was not true of the public or of substantial parts of Congress (which he acknowledges on p. 427). Carter Glass was a powerful defender of the Fed in the Senate, but the House passed the Goldsborough Bill directing the Federal Reserve “to take all available steps to raise the present deflated wholesale commodity level of prices as speedily as possible to the level existing before the present deflation” by a vote of 289-60 in 1932, before it was watered down into a meaningless resolution in the Senate. The 72nd Congress (1931-33) introduced more than fifty bills to increase the money supply, which came closer to passage as the depression worsened (Krooss, 2662). It would be difficult to imagine a more damaging commentary on Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic expert (read “remote”) institution than Chicago Congressman A.J. Sabath’s question to Chairman Eugene Meyer in 1931: “Does the board maintain that there is no emergency existing at this time” (letter entered into the Congressional Record, Jan. 19) — or a similar lack of sensitivity of legislators in a democracy. The monetary authority supplanted by the Fed — the Treasury with an attentive Congress — might have done no better. But the sharp actions in 1865 (when Congress reversed its decision to retire the greenbacks after voters complained) and 1890 and 1893 (when it increased and then reduced the monetization of silver during recession and then gold flight) suggest that it would not have stayed on the sidelines if it had not been inhibited by (and waiting for) its expert creation. This is not (necessarily) a plea for free banking, but at least for monetary authorities that are closer to the effects of their actions.

I would have liked to see Meltzer subject the Fed’s existence to a little scrutiny, and to consider what kinds of institutions might have better responded to events or (this is surely an oversight) been more likely to adopt his preferred policy model. My guess is that he, Friedman and Schwartz, and most of the rest of the economics profession share Woodrow Wilson’s desire for experts: The Fed should be independent but use the right model.

References:

Karl Brunner and Allan H. Meltzer. The Federal Reserve’s Attachment to the Free Reserve Concept. For Subcommittee on Domestic Finance, The Federal Reserve after Fifty Years. House Committee on Banking and Currency. Washington, 1965.

Karl Brunner and Allan H. Meltzer. “What Did We Learn from the Monetary Experience of the United States in the Great Depression?” Canadian Journal of Economics, May 1968.

W. Randolph Burgess. The Reserve Banks and the Money Market. New York, 1927.

Lester V. Chandler. Benjamin Strong, Central Banker. Washington, 1958.

Marriner Eccles. Beckoning Frontiers. New York, 1951.

Barry Eichengreen. Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919-39. New York, 1992.

Milton Friedman. A Program for Monetary Stability. New York, 1959.

Milton Friedman and Anna J. Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960. Princeton, 1963.

Charles O. Hardy. Credit Policies of the Federal Reserve System. Washington, 1932.

Thomas Havrilesky. The Pressures on American Monetary Policy. Boston, 1993.

Freidrich A. Hayek. Prices and Production. London, 1931.

Herbert Hoover. Memoirs: The Great Contraction, 1929-41. New York, 1952.

Herman E. Krooss, editor. Documentary History of Banking and Currency in the United States. New York, 1969.

Allan H. Meltzer. “Overview,” in Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Price Stability and Public Policy, 1984.

Winfield W. Riefler. Money Rates and Money Markets in the United States. New York, 1930.

Henry Thornton. An Inquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain. London, 1802.

David C. Wheelock. The Strategy and Consistency of Federal Reserve Monetary Policy, 1924-33. Cambridge, 1991.

Elmus Wicker. “Brunner and Meltzer on Federal Reserve Monetary Policy during the Great Depression,” Canadian Journal of Economics, May 1969.

Elmus Wicker. Banking Panics of the Great Depression. Cambridge, 1996.

John Wood’s main research interest is a history of the ideas and behavior of British and American central bankers since 1694. Recent articles include “Bagehot’s Lender of Last Resort: A Hollow Hallowed Tradition,” Independent Review (Winter 2003), and “The Determination of Commercial Bank Reserve Requirements” (with Cara Lown), Review of Financial Economics (December 2002).

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture

Author(s):Fitzgerald, Deborah
Reviewer(s):Gardner, Bruce

Published by EH.NET (June 2003)

Deborah Fitzgerald, Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. xi + 242 pp. $45 (cloth), ISBN: 0-300-08813-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Bruce Gardner, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Maryland, College Park.

Deborah Fitzgerald, Associate Professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, investigates ideas about agricultural industrialization in the post-World War I era, promoted as the way forward for U.S. farming by a fascinating cast of characters. Her book takes the common core of their thinking as underpinning the technological and economic changes that transformed American farming in the twentieth century. She states that while many historians have addressed these changes, prevailing thought misses “the emergence of an industrial logic or ideal in agriculture” (p. 3). She documents the emergence of both the ideal and its implementation beginning in the late 1910s. Although the book draws on a wide range of agricultural experience, the major focus is on wheat farming in Montana, because “Wheat was the first agricultural product to be successfully industrialized, and it served as a model for all other farm products” (p. 8); and because the Campbell Farming Corporation, a paradigmatic instance of industrial practice, and M.L. Wilson, whose ideas about land use and mechanization commanded wide attention, both had strong Montana connections.

The book’s treatment is episodic and descriptive rather than comprehensive and analytical. Following an introduction setting out the agenda, five chapters cover distinct sub-topics. Chapter 2 reviews the development and dissemination of quantitative farm management principles. The leading characters here are Henry C. Taylor and George Warren among other USDA and Land-Grant University agricultural economists who played a much more hands-on role in the business of farming than their counterparts do today. Chapter 3 moves on to the role of agricultural engineers, principally in universities and farm implement companies, in inventing and marketing equipment for mechanized farming. Chapter 4 traces the emergence of “chain farms,” and other schemes for large-scale agriculture in 1915-1930. The chief characters here are farming entrepreneurs such as Howard Doane, one of several talented farm managers Fitzgerald discusses who directed operations on up to forty farms. Other multi-farm operations were established as cooperatives. With respect to these developments academic experts and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were as notable for being skeptics as for being boosters. And indeed the Great Depression appears to have wiped out most of these farms, although Fitzgerald does not document their overall success or failure quantitatively. Chapter 5 is an extended case study of the Campbell Farming Corporation, the creation of Thomas D. Campbell, whose story is well worth reading. His ideas were successful in maintaining a truly enormous farming operation for a long period of time, until the 1960s. Finally, Chapter 6 assesses the reactions of American observers to Soviet collective farms in the late 1920s, and the role of some notable U.S. farming entrepreneurs as advisors to the Soviets on agricultural development.

These chapters contain a wealth of information, well documented and tied together in a reasonably argued package showing how enthusiastic experts and farming entrepreneurs saw and acted upon opportunities to turn U.S. farming from what they saw as a backward, poverty-stricken sector of the economy into a progressive, prosperous engine of economic growth. But Fitzgerald does not neglect the many nay-sayers who saw industrialization of farming as a most risky venture or even a menace, a road to serfdom for farm people. The strength of expressed convictions both pro and con is similar to more recent debates about organic farming and agricultural biotechnology.

For me, the most surprising element of the story, given the well-reasoned and enthusiastic advocacy of industrialization by knowledgeable people, is how many of the twentieth century’s early experiments in agricultural industrialization came to grief, and how few ultimately survived. It is not, of course, the case that mechanization itself was a flash in the pan, or that increased farm size and new technology failed to transform much of U.S. agriculture. Rather the particular forms that transformation took turned out differently from what the early visionaries of the 1920s foresaw. Thus, while the original focus was heavily on grain growing in semi-arid conditions, the large and lasting changes in economic organization occurred in livestock feeding. While mechanization in field crops resulted in greatly increased acreage by farmer, grain growing remains today, as traditionally, the province largely of single-operator farms or family partnerships. And, while large cooperatives still flourish in rice, cotton, and dairy production, they function as collective marketing mechanisms, not on the level of farm management.

The book concludes with a chapter providing an overall assessment of agricultural industrialization in the United States which, while sensible, is not specifically grounded in findings from the earlier chapters. Developments up to the present day, including the “Green Revolution” that transformed parts of the developing world in the 1960s, are taken to be the legacy of the ventures described in those chapters. This is a stretch too far. Fitzgerald’s case studies, seen from today’s perspective, can as well be taken as lessons in how the best information available about possibilities for agricultural development, including ones that seemingly prove themselves in real-world tests and pilot projects, can nonetheless over the long term lead to dead-ends and insolvency.

Fitzgerald lists the benefits of industrialization as it has developed to the present as “a more plentiful food supply, tremendous food variety, a less physically taxing workload for farmers, a higher standard of living in the countryside,” and the costs as “continuing food distribution problems, both domestically and internationally, an increasing problem ensuring and regulating food safety, a chronic decrease in the number of farm families, a flow of people and capital from rural to urban areas, and an incomprehensible set of deals between federal officials and farmers that make little sense and potentially do as much harm as good” (p. 189). Those assertions might be viewed as suggestions for further investigation, except that they appear in the book’s concluding paragraph and may be read by casual readers as following from its evidence and arguments. Actually the book provides virtually no support for conclusions about the relationship between industrialization and food variety, the standard of rural living, food distribution, food safety, or capital flows from rural to urban areas. Fitzgerald’s accomplishments are further obscured by the back-cover blurb’s statement that the book addresses “a system of agriculture that has never served the best interests of farmers or farmland but that has always been presented to the public as necessary and inevitable.” That statement exhibits a level of tendentiousness that the book itself does not approach. In fact, fair use of the book’s content will provide many illuminating facts and vignettes about U.S. agricultural history, but will not prove a source of ammunition for either its celebrators or denigrators.

Bruce Gardner, Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland, College Park, recently published American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How It Flourished and What It Cost, Harvard University Press, 2002.

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

The Record of Global Economic Development

Author(s):Jones, Eric L.
Reviewer(s):Altman, Morris

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

Eric L. Jones, The Record of Global Economic Development. Cheltenham, UK

and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2002. xviii + 226 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN:

1-84064-806-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Morris Altman, Department of Economics, University of

Saskatchewan.

Throughout his illustrious scholarly career, Eric Jones has made significant

contributions to both world and English economic history. In this vein, this

book contains contributions to both general and local economic history, albeit

the bulk of this text deals with issues raised in his European Miracle

(1981), relating to world economic development. This discourse on questions is

here further contextualized by more contemporary English and Australian

economic history.

A key objective of this book is to show that (p. vii) “plain economic history

can help pick out the more durable of the arrangements that favour growth.” He

argues that the conditions favoring long run growth are largely political and

include competitive markets, free trade, decentralized institutions, democracy,

the rule of law, and property rights. These themes surface throughout the text,

although free trade and anti-protectionism are the more dominant ones. This is,

in part, a response to the contemporary anti-free trade and anti-globalization

‘populism’ that has gained force in recent years. In his focus upon the

importance of political factors to the growth and development process, Jones

joins a growing literature on the subject exemplified in the work of North

(1990), Olson (2000) and, of course, Jones (1981). Additionally, Jones takes

aim at the thesis that ‘culture matters’ with regards to either promoting or

impeding long run economic growth. Culture, he contends, ultimately adjusts to

economic change. Jones’ critique of the ‘culture matters’ perspective, however,

is largely focused upon a critique of Deepak Lal-type (1998) theses that East

Asian values are superior to ‘Western’ values in terms of facilitating,

fostering, and maintaining socio-economic development.

More generally, Jones critiques the view that the development of the West was

and is a product of ripping-off the rest of the world and related to this view,

that free trade, markets, and capitalism are bad for growth, socio-economic

development and, more generally, for improving the well-being of all members of

society, including workers and peasants. Development, argues Jones, is a

product of the right institutions, just as development failure is largely a

product of failures in constructing institutions that are conducive to the

process of growth and development. This book makes for a provocative read,

raising important questions for all who are interested in questions of

contemporary economic development.

The Preface to this book serves as an excellent introduction to what is

discussed in the text, as Jones succinctly summarizes the thrust of each

chapter. The book is divided into four parts. The first deals with long-term

economic development, the second with protectionism and free trade, the third

with East Asian Development (where the culture-related discourse is focused),

and the fourth deals with adjustments to more recent global economic changes,

with a focus on the Australian experience.

Jones argues, in Chapter One, that economic history of the long dur?e-type has

a lot to teach us about those conditions that facilitate the process of both

extensive and intensive economic growth. Thus, economic history is not simply

of esoteric scholarly interest, but should also be of vital interest from a

public policy perspective. He raises concerns about most quantifiers — Angus

Maddison being the clear exception — as greatly exaggerating the importance of

nineteenth century growth and of those who maintain that the West developed

first fortuitously or because of its exploitation of the less developed

economies, causing the actual underdevelopment of the latter. Jones argues that

it is important to note that extensive growth — output simply keeping pace

with population growth and some urbanization — was and is an important facet

of growth since it indicates important changes in economy and society, such as

investment in infrastructure, new technology, and new crops, which served to

avoid Malthusian crises. Such growth has taken place for centuries prior to the

dramatic tipping over into intensive growth in the West during the nineteenth

century. Thus, intensive growth flowed from the far-from-static extensive

growth societies. However, for intensive growth — increasing per capita output

– to occur and be sustained required, as ‘first order conditions,’ political

stability and the security of property. Also of importance were the rule of law

(and the related decrease in arbitrary and royal power) and good information

markets (and the related decrease of censorship). For intensive growth to

occur, elites could no longer engage in taxing the marginal product at high

rates, thus shifting from a regime of rent seekers to a regime that accrues

income from the increasing marketization of society.

Chapters Two and Three further elaborate upon the themes planted in Chapter

One, pointing out in the process that finding that the West developed first is

not indicative of Western triumphalism and chauvinism as some of the critics of

Jones’ European Miracle would have it. Rather, understanding and

recognizing the fact that the West was the first to engage in sustained

intensive growth, to be followed by Japan, allows us to glean some of the

general conditions necessary for the process of sustained socio-economic

development. He points to the importance of decentralized political

institutions which allowed for the politically and economically oppressed to

flee (thus the importance of labor mobility) and the importance of increasing

markets which allowed for significant ‘Smithian’-based intensive growth. He

points out, for example, that China blocked exploratory market expanding and

enhancing activities. Such negative state intervention was not possible in the

much more decentralized Western Europe. Jones also underlines the importance of

political pluralism, the rule of law (equality before the law) and a free press

for sustained intensive growth. Only under such an institutional regime can

systematic economic and political errors be critiqued and corrected. Also of

importance are the incentives for growth provided by a regime wherein

individuals have a right to retain the fruits of their labors. Jones also

maintains that culture, in terms of particular values, was not important to the

rise of the West. Rather values change to accommodate economic development.

However, this rather dismissive perspective on culture pays little heed to the

contemporary ‘culture matters’ literature (Harrison 1992; Harrison and

Huntington 2000), which points to the importance of institutional change as

necessary to the development process, where the latter is affected by the norms

and mores of society, especially by the decision makers of society.

Long run agricultural development is the focus of Chapter Four. Jones argues

that agricultural growth was a product of both supply and demand changes, very

often a product of independent changes in supply, related to intercontinental

crop and animal transfers, new methods of farming, trade flows, and

institutional innovations. Agricultural progress is also related to the

breaking up of large estates into smaller units thereby releasing

entrepreneurial energies, mechanisms for facilitating the transfer of new ideas

(including education), and incentives to adopt new ideas. Jones critiques the

view that the importance of long run world agricultural exchange should largely

be measured in terms of the convergence of agricultural prices. Rather, he

argues one has to determine counterfactually what might have occurred to

agricultural prices, population growth, and standards of living in the absence

of the type of international agricultural exchanges that transpired from the

sixteenth century. He argues that these exchanges allowed for an unprecedented

increase in population, which marked a significant economic achievement. Thus,

the ‘Age of Discovery’ was not an era dominated by rent seeking, but rather of

highly significant economic advance. Jones views agricultural protectionism as

a key deterrent to further agricultural progress and views the agricultural

protectionism in the contemporary West as damaging the economic well-being of

the population of both developed and less developed economies.

Chapters Five and Six focus on different aspects of protectionism. In Chapter

Five, focusing on contemporary England, Jones addresses the issue of

multifunctionality — unpriced positive spillovers from agricultural production

– as a raison d’?tre for the protection of uncompetitive agricultural sectors.

Jones argues that, on the contrary, there is no evidence of such positive

externalities. Indeed, farmers tend to generate significant negative

externalities, which are only exacerbated by protectionism. Moreover,

protectionism itself comes at a huge direct public expense, including keeping

too much land in agriculture as opposed to providing more tourist space —

urbanites escaping to ‘pristine’ rural settings — which is what the market

demands but which protected farmers will not provide. Resources are

misallocated at the expense of the general public. In Chapter Six Jones argues

against linguistic protection wherein society subsidizes the learning and

spread of ‘dead’ or dying languages at the expense English, which has become,

for historical reasons, the lingua franca, of the world economy. Jones argues

that linguistic nationalists are largely rent seekers who pay little attention

to the opportunity costs incurred by the larger society by their policies. He

argues, for example, that efforts to dissuade the use of English are

particularly damaging in terms of reducing the mobility of labor, increasing

transaction costs, and negatively impacting productivity. The losers in the

game of linguistic nationalism are the people at large — not the elites. Jones

does not argue against the preservation of local cultures and languages per se

as much as critiquing such policies when they interfere with learning proper

internationally understood English where the latter enhances the capacity of a

society as a whole to develop and prosper.

At this point it is important to note that Jones’ critique of protectionism is

narrowly focused on agriculture and language, although he maintains that the

absence of protectionism is a key cause of growth and development. He pays no

heed to the literature which points to the potential importance of selective

protection in newly developing economies to their development process and to

the clear positive correlation, pre-World War Two, between protection and

intensive growth (Bairoch 1993; O’Rourke 2000). The same can be said for the

rapidly developing East Asian economies after the Second World War. In a world

where comparative advantage is dynamically affected by learning-by-doing, for

example, temporary protection can serve as a development tool (Altman 1999).

Related to this is the unanswered question of how should less developed

economies respond to the protectionism of the more developed economies? Should

the less developed world choose the route of unilateral free trade or should it

use its own protectionism, in certain instances, as a tool for bargaining for a

more even tariff-related playing field?

In Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine Jones critiques the perspective that culture

matters to the process of economic development in the context of East Asian

development. He intends to critique the view that culture either impeded or

caused economic development as opposed to political factors. Moreover, Jones

apparently identifies the ‘culture matters’ perspective with the notion that

culture is immutable. Instead he argues that culture can changes and does as

economic variables change. Economic change yields cultural change and ‘good’

culture can be learnt. Once again, Jones’ views do not contravene the

contemporary culture matters school which views cultural change as possible and

institutional change as key to economic change. In these chapters Jones argues

that for contemporary East Asia to flourish economically requires a more

pluralistic society, with a freer press, and a more independent judiciary — in

a word to be less authoritarian. This increases the capacity for society to

self-correct. He argues that one reason for the current crisis in East Asia has

been that these economies have not gone far enough down the road towards a more

pluralistic and less authoritarian society. He also maintains that the current

crisis demonstrates the failure of the statist approaches to development

adopted in many of the East Asian economies, inclusive of Japan. However, can

one important (financial) crisis, in itself, undermine the hypothesis that an

activist state in a mixed market economy can play a positive role in the

process of economic development, where such activism is positively related to

decades of unprecedented intensive economic growth in key East Asian Economies?

Should one pay heed to the policies of the IMF which, some have argued, played

a critical role in causing and exacerbating the recent East Asian crisis

(Stiglitz 2002)?

In Chapter Ten, Jones discusses the failure of the Australian economy to move

fast enough into the service sector as compared to other developed economies

and relates this to protection and inadequate investment in education. Chapter

Eleven, exploits a narrative on the rise of the supermarket in Australia to

discuss the hypothesis that structural change involving the destruction of the

smaller shop is somehow bad for society and economy. Jones argues that the rise

of the supermarket is in part a product of consumers choosing to shop at these

food retail outlets, which have dramatically increased the quantity and quality

of choices afforded to consumers. He also argues that the supermarket has

changed in response to dramatic shifts in consumer tastes over time. Efforts to

protect the old forms of food retailing would, Jones argues, only negatively

impact upon consumer well-being.

In Chapter Twelve Jones presents a highly polemical critique of the

anti-globalization forces and, on the other side of the coin, a strong defense

of market capitalism. He argues that the available statistics clearly show that

over the course of the past one hundred years most of the world’s population

has seen its socio-economic position improve in absolute terms, indicated by

improvements in life expectancy for example, and the absence of major

Malthusian crises which had plagued the world in previous centuries. Jones

argues that free trade and globalization are the means to resolve the world’s

socio-economic problems. But undemocratic institutions, especially NGOs, led by

misguided individuals, have seriously damaged the capacity of markets to

resolve problems of poverty and overall economic underdevelopment, by attacking

growth and freer trade as unequivocal forces of evil. The anti-globalization

activists, argues Jones, effectively serve the interests of rent-seekers both

at home and abroad, not those of the poor and dispossessed. In this instance,

one must contextualize Jones’ polemic in terms of the narrative presented in

previous chapters wherein markets and trade yield widespread benefits, which

can be sustained only in the context of an appropriate institutional setting.

It would also be important to note that although the NGOs are undemocratic so

are the multinational corporations who are lobbying for a particular path of

competitiveness, which involves lower wages and related benefits to labor and

an overall deterioration in labor standards and working conditions. This is

deemed to be the only path possible for capitalist development to take. The

evidence clearly shows that this is not the case. There indeed exist multiple

paths to competitiveness (Altman 2002). But then the NGOs, however misguided

about the great potential contained in capitalism for fostering and promoting

the human good, serve as a countervail to those who would maintain that

capitalism and globalization require that the population at large must see

their socio-economic position deteriorate (Stiglitz 2002). Needless to say,

Jones makes an important point in underlining the dangers posed, from the point

of view of institutional design and long run intensive growth, by misinformed

and misguided critiques of capitalist production and trade.

Overall, Jones’ most recent book represents an important contribution to the

literature on the role of institutional design in economic growth and

development and the contribution which economic history can make in furthering

our understanding of some of the key forces underlying the process of economic

growth.

References:

Altman, Morris (1999), “Free Trade and Protectionism.” In P. O’Hara, ed.

Encyclopedia of Political Economy, vol. 1 (London: Routledge), pp.

372-375.

Altman, Morris (2002), Satisfaction and Economic Performance (Armonk,

NY: M.E. Sharpe Publishers).

Bairoch, Paul (1993), Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes

(Chicago: Chicago University Press).

Harrison, Lawrence .E. (1992). Who Prospers? How Cultural Values Shape

Economic and Political Success (New York: Basic Books).

Harrison, Lawrence E. and Samuel P. Huntington, eds. (2000). Culture

Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress (New York: Basic Books).

Jones, Eric L. (1981), The European Miracle: Environments, Economies, and

Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia (Cambridge/New York:

Cambridge University Press).

Lal, Deepak (1998), Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Factors

Endowments, Culture, and Politics on Long-Run Economic Performance

(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).

North, Douglass C. (1990), Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic

Performance (New York: Cambridge University Press).

Olson, Mancur (2000), Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and

Capitalist Dictatorships (New York: Basic Books).

O’Rourke, Kevin (2000), “Tariffs and Growth in the Late Nineteenth Century.”

Economic Journal, vol. 110, pp. 456-43.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. (2002), Globalization and Its Discontents (W.W.

Norton and Company).

Morris Altman is Professor and Head, Department of Economics, University of

Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He has published extensively in

both economic history and economic theory. His most recent article are: “Staple

Theory and Export-Led Growth: Constructing Differential Growth,” Australian

Economic History Review, 2004 (forthcoming) and, with Louise Lamontagne,

“On the Natural Intelligence of Women in a World of Constrained Choice: How the

Feminization of Clerical Work Contributed to Gender Pay Equality in Early

Twentieth Century Canada,” Journal of Economic Issues, 2004

(forthcoming).

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Modelling the Middle Ages: The History and Theory of England’s Economic Development

Author(s):Hatcher, John
Bailey, Mark
Reviewer(s):Richardson, Gary

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, Modelling the Middle Ages: The History and

Theory of England’s Economic Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press,

2001. xiii + 254 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-924411-1; $19.95 (paperback),

ISBN: 0-19-924412-X.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Gary Richardson, Department of Economics, University of

California, Irvine.

Modelling the Middle Ages, by John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, provides a

cogent and comprehensive survey of the history and economics of late medieval

England and an invaluable survey of the history of thought concerning those

topics. Scholars interested in these issues should read this book. It will be

especially valuable for graduate and undergraduate economic history courses,

where I expect it to be widely adopted, and for researchers, like myself, with

an interest in medieval England but who had to learn the material on their own,

because they studied at institutions that lacked leading (or any) scholars in

the field. I base my strong recommendation on three features of the text:

First, the book is insightful. It demystifies the beliefs underlying the

arguments of most economic historians — beliefs derived from intellectual

foundations established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by Adam

Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and other eminent scholars. It

explains how and why the work of those intellectual forefathers generated three

grand explanatory models, “population and resources,” “class power and property

relations,” and “commercialization,” and how those models influenced debates

among historians and social scientists concerning the causes and consequences

of economic development during the Middle Ages.

Second, the book is useful, in the most practical sense of the term. It

summarizes two hundred years of scholarly literature in a few hundred pages

while building a framework, a lexicon, and a syntax that will allow scholars to

compare and contrast their ideas more precisely than they currently can. It

will have wide applications in other fields, such as global history,

particularly global history, where similar models form the foundation of

similar debates.

Third, the book is clear, lucid, and accurate. In some cases, the book explains

author’s ideas better than the original expositors did themselves. The clarity

of the prose and the organization of the argument assure the material will be

accessible to students at all levels.

The foreword and introduction establish the motives of the authors and sketch

an outline of their argument. The authors hope to fulfill a “pressing need of

undergraduate students studying the medieval economy for an introduction to the

theory and practice behind the grand models of development which dominate the

subject (p. vii).” As I mentioned earlier, they more than accomplish that goal.

The authors also hope to contribute to the ongoing scholarly debates concerning

the economic development of medieval England. They plan to compare and contrast

the intellectual and empirical content of the methods and models used to study

medieval English economic history and in doing so shed light on the advantages

and disadvantages of each method as well as advance our knowledge of the Middle

Ages. They also accomplish this goal, as my description of the remainder of the

book, and hopefully your reading of the text, should demonstrate.

Chapter 1, Methods and Models, explains “why the medieval period has proved so

attractive to the builders of historical models, and theorizing so attractive

to medieval historians (p. 3).” The Middle Ages lasted for more than five

centuries. During that long era, transformations occurred in almost every area

of economic and social life. Merely describing these changes is a challenging

task. “Historians cannot hope to describe, analyze, and explain them by

gathering and narrating factual information alone (p. 4).” They must choose to

present certain facts and materials but not others. Their emphasize depends

upon their point of view, their prior beliefs, and the point which they wish to

make. Theory and speculation are therefore indispensable ingredients of any

grand survey. They impose a degree of coherence and clarity and force scholars

to fit the facts into a manageable working framework. In this way, order can be

imposed upon the chaos of vast numbers of pieces of information and answers

formulated to crucial questions. In addition, abstract concepts and formal

models help scholars explain why things happened as they did and what might

have happened in counterfactual cases. Explaining such things requires more

than mere narration. Historical changes lasting several centuries and

penetrating all spheres of economic, social, and political activity were the

culmination of an infinite number of individual events. No one can describe

them all. Comprehending them requires analysis, a systematic approach to the

material, the sorting and grading of information, and the weighing of the

relative merits of different concepts. Models, in other words, are needed to

seek the reasons behind vast historical processes such as the rise and decline

of serfdom and feudalism, the rise of the money economy and capitalism, the

rise and contraction of economic activity, and the growth of urbanization and

industrialization.

Chapter 2, Population and Resources, focuses on the first of the grand

supermodels, and the ways in which assumptions influence its results and in

which it impinges on historical analysis “in both a helpful and harmful

manner.” The population and resource model, also known as the demographic or

Malthusian model, stems from a core set of simple economic relationships. The

productivity of agriculture depends upon the relative scarcity of the two prime

factors of production: land and labor. As addition units of one input are

employed while the others are held constant, the output generated by each

additional unit will eventually fall (diminishing returns). Thus, when land is

abundant relative to labor, the productivity of the land will be low. The

productivity of labor will be high. Products of the land, like foodstuffs and

raw materials such as leather, wool, and wood, will be inexpensive. Wages will

be high. When labor is abundant relative to land, the productivity of the land

will be high. The productivity of labor will be low. Food and rents will be

expensive. Real wages will fall. There is clear potential for applying such

basic supply and demand analysis to conditions prevailing in medieval England.

“There is abundant evidence to show that over the longer term there was a

strong correlation between rising population, on the one hand, and increasing

land values and agricultural prices, and falling real wages, and, on the other,

between declining population, falling prices and land values, and rising real

wages. By this analysis the Middle Ages falls into two sharply contrasting

periods; with the broad experience of much of the era up until the fourteenth

century conforming to the former set of circumstances, and the later

characteristics persisting throughout much of the late fourteenth and fifteenth

centuries” (pp. 22-23).

Chapter 3, Class Power and Property Relations, examines the second grand

supermodel, which begins with the presumption that the keys to understanding

the economic development lie in the social relations and political and legal

institutions of society. Of particular importance are the “relations between

the leading classes and in developments of what are termed the ‘mode of

production'” (p. 67). The most popular models of this type are those

constructed by Karl Marx and his intellectual descendants. For Marxists,

“history is a dialectical process in which the future is shaped by the present,

just as the present was shaped by the past, and each distinct era of human

development — ancient, oriental, feudal, capitalist — generates from within

itself the conditions which will ultimately transform it” (pp. 67-8). Marxists

focus their attention on a limited range of issues, particularly relations and

conflicts among social classes as well as the mode, means, and relations of

production, as the main agents of social and economic change and development.

Thus, the dynamic for the transformation of medieval society lay primarily in

the relationship between lords and peasants, who were the two principle classes

of feudal society. The relationship was inevitably one of conflict, due to the

opposing interests of landlord and tenant, and eventually resulted in a ‘crisis

of feudalism,’ whose “onset is usually located in the late thirteenth and early

fourteenth centuries” (p. 71). At that time, the increasingly excessive

depredations of the landlord class undermined agricultural productivity,

plunged the peasantry into poverty, and inspired them to struggle against the

exploitative social system.

Chapter 4, Commercialization, Markets, and Technology, focuses on commercial

activity and technical progress. The bulk of the space is devoted to the

rapidly expanding evidentiary base and to the discussion of ways in which

markets and technology could overcome Malthusian, Ricardian, and Marxist

constraints on economic development. There are two basic theories. Improvements

in agriculture — such as improving land management, crop rotation, and

selective breeding of crops and animals — raised the productivity of land and

labor. Urbanization and commercialization expanded the scope of the market, the

division of labor, and the wealth of nations.

Chapter 5, The Importance of Time and Place, explores the weaknesses of the

models discussed in the previous chapters from three different perspectives.

The first exposes the difficulties that emerge when the models are applied to

both the early and later Middle Ages. In each case, assumptions needed to apply

and conclusions drawn from the application of a model to the earlier era

conflict with those from the later period. The second reviews the wide range of

alternative models that have been proposed and which illuminate inadequacies in

existing models. The third tests the validity of the assumptions and methods of

each of the major supermodels by applying them to a particular test case: the

rise and decline of serfdom in medieval England.

Chapter 6, Beyond the Classic Supermodels, stresses the limitations of the

models described during the previous chapters. The principal flaws are their

neglect of social factors, institutions, historical contingency, and the

uncertainties inherent in individual behavior and group dynamics. The chapter

ends on a hopeful note, by suggesting ways in which the limitations of these

models might be overcome historically, empirically, and theoretically.

Overall, the book does an excellent job of accomplishing its two goals. The

first was to provide a clear and accessible introduction to the conceptual

frameworks that have dominated this field for many decades. The second was to

assess the strengths, weaknesses, relevance, and credibility of the models. The

book itself has many strengths and few weaknesses. I think that in the future

students interested in this topic will read it.

Gary Richardson is Assistant Professor of Economics at UC-Irvine. His

dissertation, “Social Change and Industrial Expansion before the Industrial

Revolution” was completed at the UC-Berkeley.

Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval