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An Agrarian History of South Asia

Author(s):Ludden, David
Reviewer(s):Frost, Marcia J.

Published by EH.NET (June 1, 2000)


David Ludden, An Agrarian History of South Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. xiii + 261 pp. $64.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-521-36424-8

Reviewed for EH.NET by Marcia Frost.

David Ludden’s An Agrarian History of South Asia is the fourth volume in The New Cambridge History of India, Part IV: The Evolution of Contemporary South Asia. Ludden is Professor of History and member of the graduate group in South Asia Regional Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and perhaps the foremost contemporary authority on the historical development of agrarian institutions of the South Asian subcontinent. While his primary inscriptional and documentary research has focused on the southern Indian region of the Tamils, his publications range widely across time, the sub-continent and disciplines to explore the development of societies that have been and largely remain intimately tied to the land.

In this volume Ludden brings together research from historians, economists, anthropologists, geographers, political scientist and, rural sociologists to create “a comprehensive framework” for an understanding of the forces which have created the contemporary “patchwork of agrarian regions” which extend from Afghanistan to Myanmar, and Nepal to Sri Lanka. Although agrarian life in this large geographic area connecting arid west Asia to wet southeast Asia was in the past and continues today to be hugely diverse, Ludden seeks the common experiences that make South Asia a distinct region in world history and agrarian development.

There is little in this volume to satisfy a lust for numerical facts — beyond a few estimates of the expansion of the area under cultivation in the 16th, 19th and 20th centuries there are none. What is here, however, is a rich, dense and wonderfully multi-disciplinary exploration of the evolution of agrarian society from the 3rd millennium BC to the present, and the way in which agrarian history has been perceived by historians, politicians and social reformers. Throughout there is an emphasis on the cultural context of agrarian life. Farming and agricultural institutions have a cultural context that cannot be ignored, and Ludden observes, “Modern mentalities may assign prayer, worship, myth, marriage and pilgrimage to the realm of religion; genetics, hydrology, engineering, medicine, meteorology, astrology, and alchemy to the realm of science; metal working, carpentry, spinning, weaving, and pot making to the realm of manufacturing; and trade, banking, war, herding, migration, politics, poetry, drama, adjudication, administration, and policing each to their separate realms of social activity. But all these are parts of agriculture. They contain essential agricultural activity” [p. 31].

Although the development of the text does in fact follow the historical periodicity to which we are accustomed, the chapter titles do not reveal this, but rather reinforce the importance of words, concepts and territoriality that Ludden explores. Chapter 1, “Agriculture,” begins with a discussion of the historiography of the agrarian experience, and emphasizes that “rulers and farmers, state power and agrarian social forces interact historically and shape one another” [p. 6]. This is a common theme that runs throughout the text, as Ludden traces the increasing role the state, its power and rules exerted on agrarian institutions and development. In the subsection entitled “Seasons,” the fundamental environmental resources and constraints of the subcontinent are described, and themes (which continue throughout the text) of conflict and competition, negotiation and exchange are introduced. In the final two sections of this chapter, “Maps and Landscape,” we read of “interlaced trajectories, networks, circuits, zones and regions of mobility,” and of territories — all repeatedly reappearing throughout the text. Ludden’s agrarian landscape is like a multi-layered GIS map with variables, institutions, peoples, etc. overlapping boundaries in both time and space.

Chapter 2, “Territory,” explores the evolution of agriculture and agrarian institutions from the first evidence of farming ca. 7500 BC through the 13th century AD. These millennia saw the expansion of social — not state — power over the agro-pastoral peoples who spread east and south from the Indus River (in modern day Pakistan) across the Gangetic plains to Bengal/Bangladesh and down the peninsula to its very tip at Kanya Kumari. These centuries were (as were those that followed) ones in which i) cultures met, mixed and competed, ii) land use intensified with new methods of metalworking and assuring water supplies, and new seeds and farming techniques, iii) pastoralists, nomads and forest cultivators were pushed to the margins, up the mountains and into the jungles, away from the routes of trade and conquest that linked more sedentary agrarian territories, and iv) both ritual and war played central roles in the negotiation and exchange that mediated conflict and competition. From the middle of the 1st millennium AD Brahmanical influence increased, kings enforced their religious duty (dharma) by upholding the right of first possession to those who cleared the land, patriarchal authority and social rankings into caste were extended and formed the basis of alliances and transaction networks, and conquest colonization began. In Ludden’s view ca. 550-1250 was the formative period of South Asia’s agrarian history and its agrarian regions. To the north, west and in the high mountains, warrior lineages joined local leaders, pastoralists and hunters “by imitation, alliance, genealogical invention [and] intermarriage” [p. 89] to form Rajput clans whose power was based on martial might and whose dharma did not include the act of farming. In contrast south of the Vindhya Mountains down the peninsula warrior lineages joined with agricultural communities and new castes of dominant warrior-cultivators arose. These broad divisions were reflected in kinship practices, women’s land rights and agrarian alliances that continue to the present.

Chapter 3, “Regions,” focuses on the late medieval, early modern centuries (14th-19th) as agrarian institutions and landscapes evolved towards those we recognize today. As world trade across Eurasia by land and sea became more closely integrated from the 14th century onwards, “new technology, ideas, habits, language, people and needs came into farming communities” [p. 113], agriculture further intensified, and states through their institutions of money and taxation encouraged the cultivation of crops for sale and penetrated more intimately than before into agrarian life. Across the subcontinent i) transportation networks expanded, ii) urbanization (measured by both number and size of towns and cities) speeded up, iii) new and more intrusive accounts of people, production and trade evolved, iv) agrarian taxation was systematized and its burden increased, and v) entitlements to land use and power shifted from social to financial obligations. Under the East India Company discontinuities were introduced: land was no longer the property of its clearer and user, but of the state; hereditary property rights to cultivated land were converted into use rights subject to payment of land taxes; bureaucratic regulation replaced negotiation, exchange and dharma; and caste rank, status, entitlements and income were both codified and threatened. The final chapter, “Modernity,” explores the role of the state in agrarian life and struggles against the state and its interruption of old patterns of agrarian intercourse. The armed rebellions of 1857, the partitions of British India in 1947 and of Pakistan in 1971, the post-independence struggles for regional sovereignty, the social movements for the rights of the marginalized, and the political power of warrior-cultivator descendants are all shown to have historic roots in the agrarian structures and identities formed over the previous centuries.

The rhetoric of historical knowledge, the evolution of agrarian social, political and economic institutions, the interplay of sedentary peoples and those on the move, the tension of conflict and negotiation are all themes which run throughout this book. There are, as the secondary literature allows, discussions of particular regions and regimes, of the intellectual tradition of discourse and policy debates, and of the organization of agrarian life — its farming, manufactures and trade. This is, however, a book that focuses on the forest, not its individual trees; its purpose is to describe and analyze the whole of the agrarian experience of South Asia, not to focus on the particulars of any one or few specific regions. For those wishing to use this text as a reference for specific events or regimes, the index is detailed and exhaustive.

The “Bibliographical Essay” runs 18 pages of citations organized into five sections: intellectual history, approaches to agriculture, long-term history, early modern themes and modern issues. An updated bibliography can be found at Ludden’s homepage The bibliography includes only English language books, monographs, articles and a few Ph.D. dissertations, and excludes work that has been superseded by more recent scholarship; a number of citations appear as footnotes but not in the bibliographic essay.

This is a fine source for anyone interested in the evolution of South Asia’s agrarian systems and institutions. Its multi-disciplinary approach should be familiar to anyone with knowledge of other predominately agrarian societies, particularly those where religious ideas and practices are intimately interwoven with all aspects of human activity. For those without a knowledge of South Asian geography or political history, however, an historical atlas will be a useful supplement; there are no maps in this volume and little background information on many of the referenced pre-modern regimes.

Marcia Frost, recently returned from a Fulbright research grant in India, is currently working on a project “Coping with Scarcity: Kheda District (Gujarat, India), 1824/5,” and will resume teaching economics in the fall at Grinnell College.


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

The Rise of Capitalism on the Pampas: The Estancias of Buenos Aires, 1785-1870

Author(s):Amaral, Samuel
Reviewer(s):Beatty, Edward

Published by EH.NET (June 1, 2000)

Samuel Amaral, The Rise of Capitalism on the Pampas: The Estancias of Buenos

Aires, 1785-1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. xviii + 290

pp. $64.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-521-57248-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Edward Beatty, Department of History, Duquesne


The large rural estates of Latin America have long attracted the attention of

historians, placed at the center of debates concerning social inequities,

political influence, and economic growth and development. Whether labeled

haciendas, fazendas, latifundia, or estancias, the large estate has often been

identified with social inequity, coerced labor, productive autarchy and

inefficiency, and technological backwardness. In short, the landed estate of

the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has been seen as one locus of feudal

persistence in Latin America. Although many studies over the past two decades

have offered a more nuanced and largely revisionist view, only a handful have

provided systematic examinations of the internal dynamics of estate operation.

Samuel Amaral, who teaches history at Northern Illinois University and has

published extensively on Argentine rural and economic history, offers a long

overdue contribution to this subject. The Rise of Capitalism examines

the estancia, the large livestock ranch of the Argentine plains, during the era

of its critical reorientation toward the demand for cattle products generated

in the North Atlantic, circa 1780-1860. The importance of this contribution is

not so much the subject as the approach. Using detailed local sources,

including probate records, estate inventories, managers’ reports, travelers’

accounts, and agricultural surveys, Amaral presents an intensive and compelling

portrait of the internal operation of the Argentine estancia. His conclusions

– and the importance of this work –lie on two levels. First, Amaral shows

that the internal operations of the estancia were market oriented and profit

motivated. Owners and managers responded to market conditions and in their

daily behavior sought consistently to maximize efficiency and profit. Second,

Amaral shows that the estancia developed within an environment where

competitive pressures mattered more than political protection and social

privilege. This is not to say that the political environment did not matter,

for estancias evolved within a particular framework of formal law and informal

custom (and themselves helped alter that institutional context), but that

market-based allocation of the factors of production within the estancia “firm”

mattered more.

While the golden age of economic expansion in the Argentine pampas would not

come until the late nineteenth century, Amaral shows that extensive growth and

profitability were well underway in the first half of the century. The economic

foundations of the estancia lay in their use of land, capital, and labor, and

Amaral presents a systematic examination of each. Land was open and abundant

(chapters 2 & 3), estancias were capitalized largely in the cattle stock

(chapters 3 & 5), and labor consisted of relatively small numbers of slaves

(until after independence) and itinerant temporary free workers — the

Argentine gaucho (chapters 2 & 8). This last issue — labor instability in the

form of large numbers of temporary workers — receives careful treatment.

Neither labor scarcity nor cultural traits explain instability, he argues, but

rather the seasonal pattern of labor demand, patterns created by biological,

climatic, and environmental factors. Amaral is convincing here, although doubt

remains as we are given no view of the broader labor market, of gaucho society,

or of changes in labor’s price. Indeed, Amaral’s narrow focus on quantifiable

data and the dearth of reference to the broader political, social, and cultural

context throughout the book weakens and isolates the contributions that are

made here.

Perhaps the most interesting and important chapters of this work are those

which treat the environment (chapter 6), institutions (chapter 7), and

management (chapter 9). Moving beyond the more conventional issues like factors

of production and market conditions, Amaral shows convincingly that competitive

pressures and market signals mattered greatly, but mattered within a set of

environmental and institutional contexts that largely shaped their evolution.

The physical attributes of the Argentine pampas are well known. Fertile soil, a

broad frontier, and vast expanses of rolling grasslands provided an ideal

environment for grazing Old World cattle, with growing investment activity in

grain agriculture and, later, in sheep. Beyond this context, Amaral focuses on

the thistle, which grew prolifically after cattle disturbed the landscape,

providing a haven for rustlers and a constant aggravation for herders. Vast

“thistleries,” higher than a man’s head, spread across the pampas and shaped

the seasonal rhythm of estancia operations until the expansion of sheep grazing

and agriculture later in the century reduced their scope.

Like thistles, political institutions could also impinge on estancia operations

and productive growth. Both estancieros and the state had an interest in the

specification of property rights on the pampas, including survey and titling

provisions, herding conventions, stocking limits, brand management, the

depredations of wandering cattle, and law enforcement. Amaral shows that

estancieros lobbied for minimum restrictions on the full use of their property

rights (p. 150), but that they also sought increased regulation (or at least

enforcement) of their property rights (p. 147). The combination of wandering

cattle, game hunters, and unfenced lands created externalities against which

estancieros sought to rally protection. The outcome was largely a function of

estanciero’s demands, the physical environment of the pampas, and the limits

imposed on political institutions by the costliness of their enforcement in the

countryside. On most issues, all these worked in the same direction and favored

a competitive environment of private properties. Although this discussion could

use a more systematic comparison of pre-growth (circa 1780) institutional

conditions (including land grants, informal use, title legalization, and

emphyteusis) with the reforms considered in the 1850s and 60s, Amaral provides

an effective model for further work along these lines.

Management decisions were crucial to the estancia’s profitability. Allocating

the factors of production and adjusting to uncertainty required constant

vigilance and some expertise. An estancia’s success, Amaral writes, “was

guaranteed neither by vast tracts of land and large herds nor by the right

political connections. All those elements were necessary, but it was up to the

individual entrepreneur to combine them to make a profit” (p. 208). Indeed,

estancia management explains a central paradox of estancia expansion before

1860: that expansion occurred while the cost of inputs (principally land) was

rising and the price of outputs (principally cattle) was falling. Amaral argues

that estancieros succeeded in using resources more efficiently, allowing

survival, expansion, and profitability in the face of deteriorating relative


Although this book offers important evidence and insights into the formative

stages of the nineteenth century Argentine estancia, it comes at the price of

wading through pages of detailed evidence — often fascinating in itself but

also often tedious. Each chapter takes a narrative approach to the evidence,

and we get a step-by-step, at times disorderly, account of the author’s

exploration of historical minutia. It takes some effort to locate the

conclusions amidst the details (including over 120 tables and figures!),

although each chapter ends with a nice summation. The style is neither concise

nor always direct, and the historical evidence often stands alone. For

instance, Amaral’s extensive evidence on the relative costs and investments on

owned and non-owned lands (or, better put, on lands characterized by formal and

informal property rights) suggests that property right security affected

investment decisions, yet this important topic receives little direct comment

here (pp. 92ff and elsewhere).

For this reader, however, the price was well worth the effort. The Rise of

Capitalism on the Pampas is the result of intensive research, compelling

detail, sophisticated method, and convincing (if restrained) arguments and

insights. It makes a profound contribution to our understanding of this topic,

although it will not end historians’ debates on most of the subtopics. While

the book should appeal most to economic and Argentine historians, it should

also appeal to those interested in comparative agrarian history and in the role

of institutions in economic history.

Ted Beatty is author of Institutions and Investment: The Political Basis of

Industrialization in Mexico before 1911 (forthcoming from Stanford

University Press) and several articles on nineteenth century Mexican economic


Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):Latin America, incl. Mexico and the Caribbean
Time Period(s):19th Century

Economic Change in China, c. 1800-1950

Author(s):Richardson, Philip
Reviewer(s):Ma, Debin

Published by EH.NET (June 1, 2000)

Philip Richardson, Economic Change in China, c. 1800-1950. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1999. xii + 111 pp. $39.95 (hardback), $12.95

(paper), ISBN 0-521-58396-9 (hardback), 0-521-63571-3 (paper).

Reviewed for EH.NET by Debin Ma, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi

University, Tokyo, Japan and Department of Economics, University of Missouri,

St. Louis.

In a little over a hundred pages, Philip Richardson’s Economic Change in

China c. 1800-1950 provides a concise and excellent survey of current and

major English language scholarship. The book is part of a publication series

called the New Studies in Economic and Social History by Cambridge University

Press which is “designed to introduce (students and teachers) to fresh topics

and to enable them to keep abreast of recent writing and debates” (p. ii).

Measured by that objective, Richardson’s book fares very well.

The book has set a clear focus: “without seeking to deny the influence of

social, cultural and institutional factors, the focus of the inquiry here lies

with an exploration of economic variables. The concern is with the dynamics of

interplay between continuity and change which facilitated, inhibited and

determined not just the process of change but the emergence of modern features

within the Chinese economy and, perhaps, the development of a modern Chinese

economy” (p. 4).

Organized around this theme, the book first lays out the analytic frameworks

(chapter 1), then supplies a background picture on China’s eighteenth-century

legacy and the early nineteenth-century crisis (chapter 2). The third chapter

presents China’s growth and structural change within a national account

framework for the period between the 1890s and 1933. In the next three

chapters, Richardson individually examines China’s external, industrial and

agricultural sectors from the second half of nineteenth century to the 1950s.

The seventh chapter examines the relationship between the state and the


Overall, Richardson’s presentation of major hypotheses, theories, and debates

are comprehensive, balanced, lucid and largely accurate. Sources are very well

indicated. The bibliography, organized by topics, carefully numbered and

cross-referenced, is particularly useful. But the most commendable feature of

the book is Richardson’s consistent and able presentation and discussion of

quantitative evidence and economic statistics for almost all the major issues

on national income, agriculture, industry and international trade. This is no

easy task as Chinese statistics are a source of controversy.

As Richardson shows, there are relatively firm statistics indicating that

foreign trade and investment grew enormously in the nineteenth and twentieth

centuries. Industrial output, particularly the modern sector, also exhibited an

impressive growth record during the twentieth century. But these elements were

far from altering the basic structure of the economy dominated by the giant

agricultural sector where traditional technology prevailed and estimates of

per-capita output growth are dubious due to the lack of consistent aggregate

time series data.

Richardson’s final assessment on the nature and magnitude of economic changes

in China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries being characteristically

well-balanced, remains also somewhat non-conclusive. “The major long-term

influences on the process and extent of economic change were the pressure of

population on the land, the intensification of commercialized market

mechanisms, contact with the outside world and the role of state. By the middle

of the twentieth century those factors had combined and interrelated to produce

an economy which contained significant elements of modernization but not an

economy which can be confirmed with certainty as having achieved the onset of

sustained growth. It was also, in the short term, an economy suffering the

effects of more than a decade of war and economic mismanagement” (p.101).

I believe there is still room for Richardson to push his assessment a little

bit. If modern economic growth may or may not have taken hold in China as whole

(p.99), it had clearly taken root in regions where modern industrial sectors

clustered and agriculture was most commercialized. The regional characteristics

of modern economic growth would give us new insights into the nature of

economic change in China. Furthermore, if we are willing to look beyond the

macroeconomic variables, we also find in the twentieth century the spread of

primary education, the growth of a modern scientific community, the beginning

of agricultural experimental station, and the rise of new industrial and

commercial organizations, as well as monetary and fiscal reform of the 1930s.

(Richardson mentions some of these factors in chapter 7.) These all meant that

China was farther along on the path toward modern economic growth in the 1930s

or 1950 than in 1890 or 1850.

I do have some reservations about Richardson’s assessment of Chinese

agricultural conditions in the 1930s. After giving a fairly objective summary

of the optimists’ and pessimists’ cases in the debate on Chinese rural income

and productivity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Richardson

leans towards the conclusion: “it is clear that the agrarian economy was in a

state of crisis” and this did not seem like a short-term problem brought on by

the world Great Depression (p. 81-82). This view of the 1930s “agrarian crisis”

(beyond the short term) comes about partly due the lack of historical

comparison in the China field — not necessarily comparing China with Europe,

as was most often done, but rather comparing China in the nineteenth and

twentieth centuries with other East Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan and

Korea. The relatively reliable data on rice yield per acre in the 1930s shows

that the Chinese level was still about 60-70% of the contemporaneous Japanese

level. This level was also equivalent to the rice yield level prevailing in

early Meiji Japan. Meanwhile, the average farm size in China was comparable to,

if not larger than that in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. Various sources also

clearly indicate that per-capita gross value added of farm output in the 1930s

represented one of the peak levels compared with most of the years in 1952-78

in China. The 1930s per-capita level was only surpassed after

de-collectivization and the diffusion of the household responsibility system in

the 1980s China.

Chinese farmers may have been poor in the 1930s, but they were not much poorer

than those in Japan, Taiwan and Korea in their early stages of development.

Very likely, they were just as well-off as the Chinese farmers in the late

1970s before the launching of the successful agricultural reform. Recognition

of these facts not only puts Richardson’s use of “agrarian crisis” (beyond the

short term) to describe the 1930s Chinese agriculture in serious doubt, but

also motivates us to reevaluate the connection between modern economic growth

and the state of Chinese economy in the pre-Communist era.

Debin Ma is the author of “Modern Silk Road: Global Raw Silk Market:

1850-1930″ Journal of Economic History (1996) and “Chinese Agricultural

Production in the Republican Period” (co-authored with Makino and Luo), in

Chinese Economic Statistics in the Republic Period (in Japanese and

Chinese), published by the Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi

University, Feb. 2000.

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Lawyering for the Railroad: Business, Law, and Power in the South

Author(s):Thomas, William G.
Reviewer(s):Childs, William R.

Published by EH.NET (May 2000)

William G. Thomas. Lawyering for the Railroad: Business, Law, and Power in

the South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999. xxii + 318

pp. Maps, photographs, notes, Note on Manuscript Sources, bibliography, and

index. $47.50 (cloth) ISBN 0-8071-2367-6; $24.95 (paper) ISBN 0-8071-2504-0.

Reviewed for H-Business and EH.NET by William R. Childs,,

Department of History, Ohio State University.

A Flawed Attempt to Synthesize Business, Legal, and Regional History

Focused on a topic which historians have not investigated in any depth–the

role of lawyers in the evolution of the railways in the South–this is a book

that scholars of business, the South, and the law should consult. But there are

problems with the book: It is not well-conceived or written and too often it is

not always clear in the footnotes what sources sustain the author’s assertions.

The major strength of the book lies in the sources that William G. Thomas

uncovered, particularly records of over 40 railway legal departments. He

supplemented these organizational records with another 20 manuscript sources,

mostly the papers of individuals, but also including the voluminous Baker &

Botts History Collection, which chronicles the important history of the

Houston, Texas, law firm. His short “Note on Manuscript Sources” furnishes a

concise overview and helpful comments on the significance of some of the

sources. Nonetheless, the manner in which Thomas conveys the results of his

research is disappointing.

Perhaps the problem lies in Thomas’s effort to meet too many purposes in

writing the book. Thomas, who studied at the University of Virginia, where he

is now director of the Virginia Center for Digital History, is interested in

lawyers (his family has many) and their work, in the South as a region, and in

how “monopoly power worked” (xi). He attempted an

“interactive” approach to the law and society in which “law and legal processes

both shape and derive from social and economic change” (xiiin1).

He also tried to write a social history of Southern lawyers, as well as a

business history of railroading from the perspective of the legal department.

So, he wanted to synthesize business, legal, and social history in a regional

setting, an endeavor that requires not only expertise in each field but also

facility in composition. Had Thomas been more careful in writing introductions

and conclusions to each chapter–helping the reader keep clear the many threads

of his complicated tale–he might have accomplished many of these goals.

Instead, anecdotes are not always clearly related to the larger themes;

repetition of evidence appears without reason; and themes (such as federalism)

are introduced and dropped without adequate development in the text or notes.

And, as those of us who have worked in Southern history understand only too

well, trying to generalize across the region holds numerous traps. While in

many ways southern, Texas,

for example, does not always fit the general economic and political patterns

found in the rest of the Old Confederacy; yet, much of Thomas’s key evidence

comes from Texas.

The book generally follows a chronological approach over nine chapters.

When railroads first appeared, Thomas argues, they hired local lawyers to help

in establishing rights-of-ways and to work with construction aspects of the

business. Once the railways were up and running, the need for a permanent legal

department emerged. In chapters 3, 4, and 5, he attempts to show how the growth

of railways changed the nature of legal departments

(they became more hierarchical and bureaucratic) and how litigation,

particularly personal injury lawsuits, evolved. Growth also forced railway

lawyers into the role of lobbyist in the state legislatures, and eventually in

congress. Thomas spends a lot of time focusing on personal injury litigation

(almost to the exclusion of the important work of regulation).

He indicates that tensions emerged as corporate managers attempted to demand

total loyalty from the hired hands; local lawyers had to weigh the balance

between the steady assignments associated with the interstate railroad legal

department and the negative impact that work would have on the rest of their

local practices.

In chapter 6, “Progressive Reform and the Railroads,” Thomas argues that the

consolidation movement in railroading at the turn of the century prompted many

Southerners to oppose the “monopoly” power of the railways.

The 1890s and first decade of the 20th century were busy times for railway

lawyer-lobbyists as they attempted to undermine legislative controls before

they were enacted and, if failing that, after they were enacted. Several

anecdotes indicate that the lawyers and the corporate managers sometimes took a

cost-benefit approach in deciding whether to fight legislation and complaints

from customers; sometimes it made more economic sense to clean up a work yard

in order to reduce the number of potential personal injury suits. Beyond the

anecdotes, however, Thomas does not indicate to what extent lawyers became

involved in the management decisions of the railways.

Meanwhile, lawyers began to engage in their own profession-specific

associational activities. They used this associational power to prepare for

appeals in the Federal court system and to lobby against bills in Congress,

but there remained tension among the members, for they often met one another as

adversaries in personal injury suits.

Chapters 7 and 8 continue the story of southern railway lawyers interacting in

the national arena. Chapter 7 is notable for its confusing narrative on

delaying tactics (see pp. 218-219 and the citations in 219n42, where Thomas

confuses state and national delay tactics). In Chapter 8, Thomas discusses the

liability issue as it relates to the Federal arena. Congressional legislation

in 1906 and 1908 prompted railway legal departments to move liability cases to

Federal courts in order to avoid more onerous state laws. The several pages at

the end of this chapter on the conflicts between state and Federal regulation

add nothing to what scholars already know on this subject. In fact, Thomas is

not very sure footed on the evolution of the regulation of railways. To cite

one example, he claims that Munn v.

Illinois (1877) was reversed in 1890 (p. 170) and does not seem to

understand that the U.S. Supreme Court waxed and waned on the issue of state

versus Federal regulation of railways before and after Munn nor that

Munn was more important for what it said about government regulation of

business than it was for state-Federal jurisdiction. Chapter 9, “The Changed

Law Business,” repeats too much information from earlier chapters,

yet fairly well summarizes the author’s overall argument. Still, Thomas relies

too heavily here on Texas (and on Baker & Botts) and Virginia to make the

generalizations that he does about the entire region.

While Thomas ignores for the most part the role of lawyers in the development

of regulation, he does include helpful insights on a few key topics, including:

analysis of the free pass, which dominated much of the politics of railroading

at the turn of the century (I learned a lot from this; see especially pp.

92-96, 178-181); a useful overview of the railways’ attempts to sidestep Jim

Crow laws (219-225); and, interesting anecdotes on particular train wreck cases

(Chapters 3 and 4 especially).

Thomas occasionally alludes to the lawyers’ attempts to settle cases out of

court, but, as with much else in the book, he does not elaborate on this

important insight. In short, specialists interested in these topics should

consult the book. Other readers might benefit from reading Chapter 9 and the


Subject(s):Transport and Distribution, Energy, and Other Services
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century

Comparative Public Policy: Patterns of Post-war Transformation

Author(s):Castles, Francis G.
Reviewer(s):Couch, Jim F.

Published by EH.NET (May 1, 2000)

Francis G. Castles, Comparative Public Policy: Patterns of Post-war

Transformation. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 1998. xi

+ 352 pp. $30 (cloth), ISBN: 1-85898-816-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Jim F. Couch, Department of Economics, University of

North Alabama.

Professor Francis G. Castles of the Research School of Social Sciences,

Australian National University, has undertaken quite a task in his latest work

– that of explaining the growth of government. Castles investigates twenty-one

advanced countries that are all long-term members of the Organization for

Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which enables the author to obtain

standardized data. Data are from three periods — 1960, 1975, and the early


The pace of governmental growth among nations during this time was uneven.

Measuring “national trajectories of public expenditure growth in terms of their

changing share in GDP” between 1960 and 1995, “seven countries — Denmark,

Finland, Greece, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland-had experienced

growth of government in excess of 100 percent, whilst, at the other end of the

distribution, in the USA, outlays had grown by only 22 percent and, in the

United Kingdom, by only 35 percent” (p. 100).

Castles begins his analysis of the growth of government with World War II,

arguing that the war reshaped society. “Wartime experience had accustomed

governments to a more interventionist role, so that the task of running a

welfare state, which had seemed beyond most governments in the 1930s, now

seemed almost routine” (p. 28).

Next he investigates characteristics of the nations including their economies,

their societies, and their political systems and offers explanations for why

these characteristics may be related to public policy development. Castles

explores a wide variety of possible explanatory variables including voter

turnout, Catholicism, trade union membership, international trade, and the

seats held by left leaning and right leaning politicians. He provides a summary

of the independent variables (pages 106-108) and the justification for their

inclusion in the model.

Quantifying these variables, however, sometimes proves to be difficult. For

example, Castles calls World War II “the single most important precursor of

post-war outcomes” and defines a war impact variable ranging from 0 to 3 to

capture the severity of the wartime experience. While the extent of wartime

damage is certainly important, a scale with four values is unfortunately


Also included is the age of the population because “countries with a larger

proportion of old people are likely to have had higher levels of government

expenditures” (p. 107). Castles notes that researchers suggest that large

numbers of elderly people can form a powerful interest group that is able to

engage in successful rent-seeking. Thus, as the population grows older, seniors

can demand more services from government and the welfare state will grow.

Castles ignores Olson’s (1965) Logic of Collective Action which asserts

an optimal group size for cooperative action. Larger groups do not necessarily

have greater political clout. Richard McKenzie empirically tests this

proposition in his paper “The Retreat of the Elderly Welfare State” (Center for

the Study of American Business, Washington University in St. Louis, Publication

Number 102, December 1990). McKenzie finds that as the number of seniors in the

U.S. has grown expenditures have declined.

Castles rather abruptly changes directions in the later chapters of the book by

exploring the sources of cross-national variation in male and female labor

force participation, in unemployment rates, in home ownership, and in fertility

and divorce rates.

Returning to his original theme, he explains that readers hoping for a single

explanatory key to the growth of the welfare state will come away disappointed.

Instead, “the causes and consequences of the policy actions of the state differ

widely from one policy area to another and within particular areas over time”

(p. 300). However, he does identify some surprising relationships. For example,

economic development had a smaller than expected role in the growth of the

welfare state. Overall, Castles’ work is accessible and provides much data

regarding public policy after World War II.

Jim F. Couch is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of North

Alabama. His book, The Political Economy of the New Deal (Edward Elgar,

1998) co-authored with William F. Shughart, describes the political forces that

shaped much of the New Deal.

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector

Author(s):Salamon, Lester M.
Anheier, Helmut K.
List, Regina
Toepler, S. Stefan
Reviewer(s):Goldin, Milton

Published by EH.NET (March 2000)

Salamon, Lester M., Helmut K. Anheier, Regina List, Stefan Toepler, S.

Wojciech Sokolowski and Associates. Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the

Nonprofit Sector. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector

Project, 1999. Price (paper) $34.95. ISBN 1-886333-42-4.

Reviewed for H-Business and EH.NET by Milton Goldin

National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS)

The Global Associational Revolution

“…a veritable ‘global associational revolution’ appears to be underway, a

massive upsurge of organized private, voluntary activity in literally every

corner of the world. Prompted in part by growing doubts about the capability of

the state to cope on its own with the social welfare,

developmental, and environmental problems that face nations today, this growth

of civil society organizations has been stimulated as well by the

communications revolution….” (p. 4)

If these statements appear to be exaggerations–after all, how often do you

think of nonprofits in connection with revolutions?–brace yourself before

reading this book. Dr. Salamon and his co-authors will positively jolt you with

their conclusions based on data from 22 nations including Israel,

Japan, the United States, five countries in Eastern Europe, and five countries

in Latin America. All data relate to 1995.

Consider the following:

- “Even excluding religious congregations, the nonprofit sector…is a $1.1

trillion industry that employs close to 19 million full-time equivalent paid

workers. Nonprofit expenditures in these [22] countries…average 4.6 percent

of the gross domestic product, and nonprofit employment is nearly 5 percent of

all nonagricultural employment,” (p. 8)

- “… if the nonprofit sector in these countries were a separate national

economy, it would be the eighth largest economy in the world, ahead of Brazil,

Russia, Canada, and Spain.” (p. 9)

- “Nonprofit employment in the eight countries for which time-series data were

available grew by an average of 24 percent, or more than 4 percent a year,

between 1990 and 1995

. By comparison, overall employment in these same countries grew during this

same period by a considerably slower 8 percent, or less than 2 percent a year,”

(p. 29)

- “…the growth in nonprofit employment evident in these figures has been made


not chiefly by a surge in private philanthropy or public-sector support, but by

a substantial increase in fee income,” (p. 31)

- “…the relative size of the nonprofit sector varies greatly among countries,

from a high of 12.6 percent of total nonagricultural employment in the

Netherlands to a low of less than 1 percent of total employment in Mexico. The

overall 22-country average, however, was close to 5 percent.

This means that the U.S., at 7.8 percent without religious worship, lies

substantially above the global average. However, it falls below three Western

European countries the Netherlands (12.6 percent), Ireland (11.5 percent), and

Belgium (10.5 percent), as well as Israel (9.2 percent). (pp.


Despite the awesome data, Salamon writes in

his Preface that we are nowhere near having enough information to fully grasp

what is happening in America or elsewhere vis-a-vis nonprofits. For those of us

who closely follow the philanthropic literature, this is surely no

exaggeration: The IRS isn’t even certain how many private foundations or

nonprofits exist. Nor is lack of data the extent of the problem. Salamon and

his associates at the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project which

manages the research rightly seek in the long term not only to describe the

“basic scale,

structure, and revenue bases” of nonprofits around the world but hope, in later

volumes, to account “for the differences that exist” between nonprofits in

various countries, “the factors [that] seem to encourage or retard

their development,” and, finally (and perhaps most important of all), to

answer the questions, “what difference…these entities seem to make? What are

their special contributions?” (p. xvii)

The more philosophical among us might have preferred that Salamon and his

associates begin with a volume responding to the questions about economic

benefits that justify nonprofits and what expectations we should entertain for

their future. The purpose would be not only to provide intellectual

satisfaction but because of the gigantic transfer of wealth currently

underway, in America, from the World War II generation and baby boomers to

foundations and other tax shelters.

But to return to the present volume, someone somewhere once said there are no

specialists, only vested interests. When Salamon writes, “Traditionally,

the United States has been considered the seedbed of nonprofit activity,”

and then proceeds to write that Alexis de Tocqueville, “a keen 19th century

observer of American institutional life, aptly considered voluntary

associations a uniquely democratic response to solving social problems. . .”

(p. 261), you have to wonder exactly which vested interests de Tocqueville

thought were being served. But had de Tocqueville attempted to address this, he

would have come across immediate, knotty problems, including how,

exactly, to define “nonprofit” or “charity” or “philanthropy” in an American


Definition is no easier 150 years after de Tocqueville’s visit. Annual salaries

of some nonprofit executives now exceed $1 million; this suggests that

nonprofit is not non- profit for them. Benjamin Franklin, the patron saint of

American philanthropy, thought charity (meaning welfare) should be the business

of churches and never of government. To him, philanthropy meant community

advancement, and community advancement must be the business of all citizens. To

put the matter bluntly, successful entrepreneurs could only do well if they did

some local good, but finding shelter for the homeless was not the kind of good

in which they should be involved.

As Global Civil Society

makes clear, one of the most remarkable aspects

of post-industrial philanthropy is the degree to which systems in various

countries throughout the world have come to resemble each other.

In Western Europe, “On average, three-fourths of all nonprofit employees…work

in education, health or social service organizations. This reflects the

historic role that the Catholic and Protestant churches have long played in the

education and social service field.” (p. 16). In America, “…almost half of

all nonprofit employment…is in the health field. This is more than twice as

high as the global average of 19.6%….” (p. 269) (On the other hand, it should

be pointed out, as Salamon does, that “one

out of every five nonprofit employees in the United States works in the

educational field. This is proportionally well below the all-country average

and also falls below the developed country average. The principal reason for

this is that the tradition of

separation of church and state in the U.S. has limited the growth of public

funding of religiously affiliated education institutions in the country….”)

(p. 270)

But in America, as in the other 22 countries during the past two decades,

financing nonprofits has had less and less to do with philanthropic giving and

more and more to do with fees paid for services by governments. In this

connection, Catholic Charities of America receives some 62 percent of its

annual $1.9 billion operating income from eight national agencies as well as

local and state governments, to provide home care for the elderly,

battered-women’s shelters, foster care, and other essential services.[1]

Global Civil Society was published at a time when the American economy


as no one had ever imagined it could. But not in Washington or in any other

world capital were those officials concerned with welfare policy over- curious

about what might happen if the global economy falters and a depression

threatens. Hopefully, a succeeding volume in this series will include a “What

If” chapter. We badly need thinking in this area.

[1] David Van Bema, “Can Charity Fill the Gap?” Time (December 4, 1995),

pp. 44-46, 53.

Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Production Efficiency in Domesday England, 1086

Author(s):McDonald, John
Reviewer(s):Botticini, Maristella

Published by EH.NET (March 2000)

John McDonald, Production Efficiency in Domesday England, 1086. London

and New York: Routledge, 1998, xiv + 240 pp. $85 (cloth), ISBN:


Reviewed for EH.NET by Maristella Botticini, Department of Economics,

Boston University.

On the cover page of John McDonald’s Production Efficiency in Domesday

England, 1086 it might be appropriate to include a warning label: “Reading

this book may have fatal consequences for certain scholars.” The reason is

simple: it takes a lot of energy and passion for a medievalist to keep reading

the book after page

14 when the author starts employing high-tech economic models (chapters 2 and

3) and fancy regressions (chapters 4). On the other hand, patient medievalists

(and other scholars as well) will be rewarded by learning that scholars have

been basically wrong

in arguing that English estates were run inefficiently by Norman conquerors.

According to McDonald (Professor of Economics at Flinders University of South

Australia) these estates were run at similar efficiency levels to comparable

production units in more modern economies, such as farms in the postbellum

U.S. South, farms in contemporary California, and surface coalmines in the U.S

(p. 137).

After a clear and insightful introductory chapter that describes the main

features of the English economy at the

time of the Norman conquest,

elucidates the data of the Domesday Book, and outlines the main themes of the

book, the reader enters with chapters 2 and 3 into a “jungle” of technical

models that explain the techniques used by the author to measure production

efficiency in agriculture. The core of the book is in chapters 4 and 6 where

McDonald applies these techniques to a sample of estates surveyed in the

Domesday Book (those of Essex lay estates).

The book addresses important questions such as: Which ten ants-in-chief ran

efficient estates? How was productivity affected by soil type, the size of the

estate, the tenancy agreement, the institutional framework of the time and the

proximity of a market center? Which inputs made the major contribution to the

net value of output? Did slaves make a greater contribution to the manorial

lord’s net income than peasants? What was the effect of feudal and manorial

systems, which discouraged mobility of inputs, on the system of production,

input productivities and total output produced? Given technology and the

institutional framework, were estates run efficiently?

Multivariate regression analysis carried out in chapter 4 indicates that

efficiency depended on the spatial location of the farm (in which hundred the

farm was located), but was not affected by the type of soil and proximity to

urban economies. Larger farms tended to be more efficient suggesting that

economies of scale were at work. Efficiency was influenced by whether an estate

was held in demesne by the

tenant-in-chief (estates being held in demesne tended to be more efficient) and

who the tenant-in-chief was. Estates with relatively more grazing were more

efficient than estates with relatively more arable or mixed farming. The

existence of some ancillary resources on the farm (beehives, mills, or

saltpans) seems to have made estates less efficient, whereas fisheries and

vineyards do not seem to have had any effect. Overall, English estates were run

efficiently by Norman conquerors. Yet the restrictions

and rigidities imposed by feudal and manorial systems had a negative impact on

agricultural efficiency (pp. 140-143).

While I highly recommend this book to both economists and historians, I think

it is worthwhile to stress some weaknesses. The first issue is why the author

does not compare medieval English agriculture to English agriculture in later

centuries. This would have been even more interesting than comparing Domesday

England to contemporary California farms or U. S.

surface coalmines. We could learn, for example, how the demise of the feudal

and manorial systems of production affected agricultural production in England,

or how the development of more important and significant urban centers

(compared to Maldon and Colchester in 1086) influenced agricultural

efficiency. Second, given that it is not always clear whether the annual value

of an estate included ancillary resources, one wonders if this can make the

comparisons of the efficiency of various estates meaningless. The author

dismisses the argument by arguing that the existence of ancillary resources

would have had opposite effects and that therefore their overall impact on

efficiency was probably minimal. But what about other incomes from feudal

rights that could have entered into the annual values of estates?

Another critical point is the organization of the book. The technical chapters

2 and 3 should have gone into large appendices. Those who know the frontier

technique are bored by reading these chapters; those who do not have the

knowledge to understand these chapters can be really discouraged from reading


book. A further minor criticism is of technical nature and has to do with the

multivariate regressions. The question is why the author does not include fixed

or random effects to

account for variables that do not vary across a tenant-in-chief or whoever was

running the farm. His abilities, experience, and other unobservable variables

could have affected the way he ran his estates.

The book requires a lot of patience and passion

for high-tech economy history. If one is willing to persevere and arrive at the

end of the book,

the effort is rewarded. Someone else can apply the same frontier technique to

Norfolk and Suffolk, for which, together with Essex, the Domesday Book provides

the most detailed information, and check whether McDonald’s findings still hold

for these counties. More importantly, someone can do the same exercise on

English agriculture for later periods and tell us whether and how the demise of

the feudal system affected agricultural efficiency.

Maristella Botticini’s research focuses on marriage markets, dowries,

intergenerational transfers, credit markets and Jewish lenders, and agrarian

contracts in medieval and Renaissance Tuscany. Her recent work includes “A

Tale of ‘Benevolent’ Governments: Private Credit Markets,

Public Finance, and the Role of Jewish Lenders in Medieval and Renaissance

Italy,” Journal of Economic History 60 (March 2000): 164-89 and “A

Loveless Economy? Intergenerational Altruism and the

Marriage Market in a Tuscan Town, 1415-1436,” Journal of Economic

History 59 (March 1999):


Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval

The Japanese Conspiracy: The Oahu Sugar Strike of 1920

Author(s):Duus, Masayo Umezawa
Reviewer(s):Beechert, Edward D.

Published by EH.NET (February 2000)

Masayo Umezawa Duus, The Japanese Conspiracy: The Oahu Sugar Strike of

1920. (Translated by Beth Cory and adapted by Peter Duus.) Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1999. xiii + 375pp. $55 (cloth),

0-520-20484-0: $18.95 (paper), 0-520-20485-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Edward D.

Beechert, Professor Emeritus of Labor History, University of Hawaii.

In early 1920 in Hawaii, Japanese sugar cane workers, who made up nearly half

of the work force on Hawaiian sugar plantations, struck for a wage increase.

Although the strikers eventually capitulated, the Hawaiian territorial

government cracked down on the strike leaders, bringing them to trial for

conspiracy to dynamite the house of a plantation official.

Afterward, to end dependence on Japanese immigrant labor,

the planters lobbied in Washington to lift restrictions on the immigration of

Chinese workers. Instead, the clash helped secure that passage of the

Immigration Act of 1924 (often called Japanese Exclusion Act). Originally

published in Japan in 1991, Masay o Umezawa Duus’s narrative of these events

presents a complex picture of the Oahu sugar strike tailored to the Japanese

audience. (In fact, the book won the Oya Prize and the Sincho Gakugei Prize,

the two most distinguished nonfiction prizes in Japan.) The author tries to

remedy a limited knowledge in Japan regarding Hawaii in 1920 by surrounding

the details of the strike and its aftermath with a variety of details and

material not immediately relevant to Hawaii, such as comments on the

Sacco-Vanzetti case to

illustrate the fear of radicals then prevalent.

Using newspaper sources, Japanese Foreign Office correspondence and reports and

Hawaii court records, Duus gives a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the

strike, the dynamite case which occurred after the strike, and the trial of

fifteen of the alleged conspirators. This narrative leads to the conclusion,

which examines the 1924 Immigration Act sponsored by Senator Hiram Johnson of

California. The bill added Japanese to the excluded category — now all

Asians were excluded and lower quotas were put in place for southern and

eastern Europeans. The legislation reflected the views of residents of the

Pacific coast states and was bitterly resented in Japan.

The “conspiracy” of the title stems from the news paper and sugar planters’

propaganda developed to fight the strike and the campaign to persuade Congress

to admit Chinese workers on an indenture contract to counter the perceived

dominance of Japanese workers. Hawaiian planters had been searching for the

proverbial ideal worker — cheap, docile and plentiful since 1850. Hawaiians,

Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, eastern Europeans,

Puerto Ricans, African-Americans, poor white Americans, and Filipinos made up

the list of trials; each in turn had been found

to be unreliable,

expensive, truculent and generally unworthy. Each new group in turn was praised

as the “final solution’ to Hawaii’s “Labor Question.”

While Duus’s narrative is interesting and somewhat informative, the

conspiratorial approach results in

a misleading picture. Despite the erratic documentation, the author presents

an interesting and useful picture of the important event from a Japanese

perspective. The intense focus on actions of Japanese workers tends to obscure

the Hawaiian elements of

the situation. There is considerable confusion in the story about the events of

the Kingdom of Hawaii, its overthrow and the establishment of the Republic of

Hawaii and its subsequent annexation. Thus, chapter one is good in showing the

flow of ideas between Japan and the United States but is weak on Hawaiian

details. There is no recognition of the fact that Japanese men had been barred

from emigrating to Hawaii since 1906 and that a large percentage of the

plantation workers were born in Hawaii. The lack

of knowledge of the labor movement results in a telescoping of the labor

structure. The American Federation of Labor is described as the “largest union”

(p. 23). In an attempt to set the scene, the author describes the IWW on the

mainland as being identified as “bomb throwers,” drawing on the Haymarket

affair. A meeting at Waialua Plantation in 1913 is described as a

“meeting of white telephone operators from the mainland urging the Japanese to

join the IWW” (p. 44). A Hawaiian Sugar Producers Association (HSPA)

transcript of the IWW meeting describes one A. V. Roe, a telegraph operator,

addressing the Portuguese Camp workers at Waialuas (Beechert,

Working in Hawaii, p. 153). Lurid descriptions of the Filipino workers

being imported to Hawaii are based

on stereotypical newspaper accounts. The author seems unaware that the

Hawaiian sugar industry was desperately seeking a new supply of labor. Cut off

from Japan in 1906 and barred from China as a source, the Philippines was the

sole remaining source of cheap labor. The industry had tried to meet U.S.

objections to Asian labor by importing a variety of Europeans. The high cost

and the refusal of these to submit to the conditions of sugar employment led to

the elaborate scheme to import indentured Chinese

workers. The Hawaii Emergency Labor Commission,

formed in 1921, launched a massive campaign to persuade Congress to grant an

exemption to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The Japanese sugar workers’ strike of 1920 had its origins in World War I

inflation. As early as 1917, the Young Men’s Association of Hawaii, a Buddhist

organization, began to hold meetings on the issue of the cost of living and the

wage scale. Made up largely of young men born in Hawaii,

these workers communicated through the Buddhist organization. Beginning in

Hilo in 1919, the Young Men’s Association issued demands for a higher wage.

“Within ten weeks organization ran like a cane fire through the four major

islands.” (John E. Reinecke: Feigned Necessity: Hawaii’s Attempt to Import

Chinese Contract Labor, 1921-1923, 1979, pp. 98-99) The HSPA issued a

warning in early 1917 to its managers that wage demands of Japanese

organizations could lead to trouble. Nowhere in the text is there any awareness

of this development. The younger workers, recalling the results of the 1909

strike, were determined not to allow the Honolulu Japanese business and

intellectual community to dominate the issue. Plantation unions, based on the

AF of L model were set up through 1919-1920.

Local leaders formed an executive committee. As negotiations broke down,

the need for planning resulted in the appointment of spokesmen. The book

focuses on these spokesmen to the exclusion of the local leadership. The

emphasis is placed on the propaganda generated by the

Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association and the two main Honolulu newspapers. The

Honolulu Advertiser was hysterical in its denunciation of the strike as

a plot by Japan “to take over Hawaii” as an outpost of Japan. No evidence is


nor is there any explanation of how such an action could occur without U.S.

response. The lack of citation throughout lends an air of popular journalism to

the book. Conversations are laid out at length, thoughts and mindsets are

described in vivid terms, all without documentation. Then at other points, the

author is lavish in documentation, as in the blow-by-blow account of the

dynamite conspiracy trial.

The problem of translation and “adaptation” is evident in a number of ways.

The leading defense attorney is misidentified. William B. Lymer is

consistently cited as Lymar. J. Edgar Hoover is listed as the Director of the

Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1920. The Bureau of Investigation,

the predecessor of the FBI, produced a report in 1921 describing the strike as

“a weapon in Japan’s strategy to take over Hawaii.” The Bureau cited the

Japanese Federation of Labor as an example of the frightening unity and

teamwork of the Japanese (pp. 220-221). The author correctly doubts that the

Japanese translator at the trial had

a sufficient command of English to produce intelligible translations for the

all-English speaking jurors. At one point prosecutor Heen is described as

objecting to a witness’ testimony on the grounds of “hospitality” rather than

hostility (p. 210). Numerous errors of Hawaiian sugar industry detail detract

from the authority of the narrative. For example, Waikiki is described as an

“uninhabited swamp”

until developed by Gov. McCarthy (p. 234). Likewise, people in Hawaii are

incorrectly described as being unable to afford white sugar because of the

high prices prevalent in 1920-1922.

The work concludes with a detailed examination of Hiram Johnson’s immigration

bill in 1923-1924 and the efforts of the Hawaii Emergency Labor Commission to

deflect the exclusion of Japanese. The chapter is entitled

“The Japanese Exclusion Act.” For a Japanese audience, the focus makes sense.

The desperate efforts of the Commission to win an exemption for Chinese

workers, the opposition of organized labor and the widespread anti-Asian

sentiment of the Pacific Coast were too much for the limited political

influence of the Hawaiian planters. However, the book does considerable

violence to an understanding of the basic issues. Although the author quotes

extensively from Reinecke’s

Feigned Necessity, the clear focus of Reinecke’s work on the labor

aspects of the situation is lost. A large part of Duus’s effort is taken up in

a minute examination of the spokesman for the Japanese Federation of Labor,

Noboru Tsutsumi. This obscures

the fact that the Federation was organized by plantation unions,

coming together only at the executive board level. Inexperience and poor

communication complicated and hindered their efforts. Despite this, the local

unions raised significant amounts of money. The fact that a majority of

Hawaii’s plantations continued production unabated and had a loss sharing

agreement through the HSPA and their insurance policy, the workers faced a

difficult barrier. The industry made extensive changes in their organization

as a result of the strike. The HSPA emerged as the dominant factor in

plantation policy, shifting the center of power from the managers to the

agency. An extensive social welfare program was initiated to alleviate some of

the worst features of plantation life. In that sense, the strike succeeded,

despite the appearance of defeat.

Edward D. Beechert is the author several books and articles on Hawaiian labor

history including Working in Hawaii-: A Labor History (1986);

“Mechanization and the Plantation Labor Supply” in S. Eakin and J. Tarver:

One World, One Institution: The Plantation (1989): and Honolulu:

Crossroads of the Pacific (1991). He is the editor (with Brij Lal and

Douglas Munro) of Plantation Workers: Resistance and Accommodation (


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

Learning by Doing in Markets, Firms, and Countries

Author(s):Lamoreaux, Naomi R.
Raff, Daniel M. G.
Temin, Peter
Reviewer(s):Gemery, Henry A.

Published by EH.NET (February 2000)

Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Daniel M.G. Raff, and Peter Temin, editors, Learning by

Doing in Markets, Firms, and Countries. Chicago: University of Chicago

Press (National Bureau of

Economic Research Conference Report), 1999. vii +

347 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN: 0-226-46832-1; $22.50 (paper), ISBN:


Reviewed for EH.NET by Henry A. Gemery, Department of Economics, Colby College.

The “learning by doing” in the title of this NBER volume has little to do with

the classic case of the Horndal effect or with the productivity effects of

learning associated with the long production runs of aircraft or ship

construction. Instead, this volume deals with “scaled-up” learning by doing

concepts with an analytical reach that extends to a number of forms of

organizational learning and, in Gavin Wright’s concluding chapter, to learning

as a “national network phenomenon” (p. 296). The volume, drawn from an

interdisciplinary conference of business and economic historians,

is premised on the notion that information – its acquisition and use –

“effectively determines whether firms, industry groups, and even nations will

succeed or fail” (p. 15). Thus the learning examined in these studies falls

within that broad compass.

The first two essays examine how firms learn of the technological frontier and,

as well, learn how to appropriate best-practice technologies for competitive

advantage. In “Inventors, Firms, and the Market for Technology in the late

Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” Naomi R. Lamoreaux and Kenneth L.

Sokoloff utilize patent data to develop a quantitative picture of the market

for technology. That market, they conclude, was well developed and thus

allowed firms to keep track of technological advances via intermediaries in the

market (patent agents and solicitors) or by direct contact with inventors. By

the beginning of the twentieth century,

however, firms increasingly attempted to move inventive activity within the

firm and that in turn required further learning on the part of the firm,

e.g., in minimizing employee turnover and insuring that patents received by

employees were assigned to the firm. The following essay by Steven W.

Usselman examines exactly this form of learning by American railroads and

their “internalization of discovery” (p. 63). Railroad managers from early in

the nineteenth century saw technical innovation in their industry as stemming

largely from “the efforts of ordinary

mechanics and engineers, not through discrete acts of patentable invention” (p.

63). Since railroads saw firm-specific knowledge as critical to the innovation

process, they not only attempted to internalize inventions but also attempted

to buffer the impact of external technical developments by forming railroad

associations and patent pools that insured patents would be cross-licensed to

the member firms. In a detailed and perceptive comment on the Usselman paper,

Jeremy Atack notes that such “… collusion stilled the winds of ‘creative

destruction’ that jeopardized the value of existing investment” (p. 101).

Forms of collusion or, more neutrally, institutionalized forms of information

interchange, were not confined to railroads. Avoiding the cartel label and yet

still providing interfirm coordination on pricing represents another form of

organization learning. In “The Sugar Institute Learns to Organize Information

Exchange,” David Genesove and Wallace P.

Mullin study a “technologically stagnant industry” (p. 106), U.S. sugar

refining from 1928 to 1936, where the learning question shifts away from

production technology to organizational innovation in interfirm information

sharing. The Institute did learn to organize and collect data while insuring

members’ confidentiality, thus allowing for “increases in the correlation of

firm decisions” (p. 133) as price and sugar stock data became available to all

members of the Institute. Not incidentally, the availability of common

information also precluded secret

price concessions.

A Supreme Court decision ended this particular form of organizational learning.

Kazuhiro Mishina’s paper on “Learning by New Experiences: Revisiting the Flying

Fortress Learning Curve” is the only paper in the volume that approaches

learning in its familiar learning curve form and the only one to draw on

econometrics in its analysis. The magnitude of the productivity increase in

Boeing’s B17 production from 1941 to 1944 was huge: the direct labor hours per

airframe dropped from 142,83 7 to 15,316, falling to nearly a tenth of the time

required at the beginning of the production run. What accounted for a

productivity increase of that size? Mishina rejects “the learning-by-doing

hypothesis that holds direct workers or engineers as the learning agent” (p.

175). Instead he finds the answer in the reduction in through-put time and “the

operating know-how that enabled it” (p. 175). No direct econometric test of

that conclusion is possible and the absence of learning taking place by direct

labor and engineers appears improbable. Not surprisingly then, Ross Thomson,

in his comment raises the question of whether the learning involved might have

been a cumulative process in which output growth, productivity growth, and

prior learning interacted.

The next two essays are intensive examinations of organizational

decision-making/learning. David Hounshell focuses on one critical meeting of

the Ford Motor Company Executive Committee on December 2, 1949. This is the

“Whiz Kid” era at Ford and Hounshell sees the meeting as defining a turning

point in Ford’s strategic course since the meeting reversed Ford’s strategy of

a decentralization of production. Hounshell asks how such a reversal came

about, explores several hypotheses, but concludes he can do no more than

speculate on the mechanisms that might have accounted for the Executive

Committee’s about-face on strategy.

Daniel M.G. Raff and Peter Temin’s essay also examines strategy decisions

within a firm, in this case two marketing decisions made by

Sears, one in the 1920s and a second in the 1980s. At the earlier date,

retailing channels were expanded from mail order operations to own retail

stores; in the latter case, financial services were added to the product array

in its retail stores. Again, as with Ford, the question is how these decisions

were made and whether they relied on the firm’s learning of its corporate

strengths and accurate perceptions of its competitive advantages in evolving

markets. Differences in leadership capability in the two eras were, in Raff

and Temin’s view, the critical variable at work. Leadership in the 1920s

focused on an attractive market that could be tapped by

“exploiting [the] firm’s existing competitive strength” (p 246). The 1980s

leadership failed in both learning the market and in recognizing Sears’

competitive strengths.

Perhaps of most interest methodologically is Leslie Hannah’s test of whether

the “lump of corporate capability” (p. 257) presumably possessed by the giant

corporations of 1912 grew or declined by 1995. Survivability to the 1995 date

is the first test, but Hannah also poses a second: among the survivors, how did

a given firm’s growth in market equity capitalization compare with a

price-deflated market index? Using those tests, Hannah notes that

“disappearance or decline was nearly three times more likely among the giants

than growth” (p. 271). Observing that high incidence of corporate decline and

failure, he turns to a consideration of what types of

“corporate architectures” and strategies

allowed large firms to “retain their position, continue to add value, and

expand their capabilities” (p.


In the final essay, Gavin Wright questions whether learning should be equated

solely with changes in total factor productivity. Rather, when looking at the

learning associated American economic growth in the nineteenth century, the

learning “was substantially a national network phenomena” (p. 296). As such,

“collective national learning may reside just as much in the discovery,

expansion, and accumulation of the factors of production as in their

productivity” (p. 296). To develop his point, he examines the U.S. mineral

industry, “one of the earliest and largest American technological networks,”

(p. 307) and the development of chemical engineering as it changed the way in

which chemical knowledge was acquired.

A collection of learning-by-doing studies as diverse as these serve to expand

definitions of the forms of learning. Can one measure the learning taking place

or generalize from the case studies, as Leslie Hannah and the editors attempt

to do? The answer would appear to be: with considerable difficulty. The problem

lies not only with the diverse definitions of learning employed, but also with

the difficulty of devising any empirical measures of the learning taking

place. Once one moves beyond the patent data of Lamoreaux and Sokoloff or the

production data of Mishina, measurement is elusive. One test would appear to

be success in the marketplace,

perhaps indicated by firm size and survivors hip – a measure that Hannah

attempts to make explicit. Market success may be an appropriate measure, if the

firm’s organizational capability, its use of patented technologies, or its

“ability to collect and use information effectively”

(p. 15) represent the major forms of learning occurring and can be linked to

market outcomes. However, as Bruce Kogut points out in his comment on Hannah’s

paper, there are more variables involved. “… a firm’s duration is contingent

on the evolution of its broader competitive and institutional landscape. This

broader landscape consists of firms, workers (sometimes organized in unions),

governments, political interests, research centers,

suppliers and buyers, idea merchants, and, of course, mechanisms of financial

intermediation and corporate governance” (p. 289). With that array of

variables at work, it may be that business and economic historians will not be

able to move significantly beyond case studies in examining these larger forms

of organizational and national learning. Or, as Leslie Hannah resignedly puts

it for the large corporation case: “To date, … we have made great strides in

storytelling, but a clearer, surer recipe for sustained success for large

corporations has remained elusive” (p. 270).

Henry A. Gemery is the author of “The Microeconomic Bases of Short-Run

Learning Curves: Destroyer Production in World War II,” (with Jan Hogendorn) in

Geoffrey Mills and Hugh Rockoff, editors, The Sinews of War:

Essays on the Economic History of World War II, Ames:

Iowa State University Press, 1993.

Subject(s):History of Technology, including Technological Change
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Domestic Goods: The Material, the Moral, and the Economic in the Postwar Years

Author(s):Parr, Joy
Reviewer(s):Brush, Pippa

Published by EH.NET (February, 2000)

Joy Parr. Domestic Goods: The Material, the Moral, and the Economic in the

Postwar Years. Toronto/Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

x + 368 pp. Appendices, notes, illustration credits, and index. ISBN


(paper), $21.95; ISBN 0802040977 (cloth), $60.00

Reviewed for H-Business and EH.NET by Pippa Brush,,

Calgary Institute for the Humanities, University of Calgary

“Getting and Spending…”

Joy Parr, in the introduction, describes her

book Domestic Goods as “an archeology of the material, moral, and

economic choices and constraints which formed Canadian commodity culture in the

two decades after the Second World War” (p.17). The title proclaims Parr’s

focus: she constructs her study

around the choices Canadian consumers made with regard to the furniture and

household appliances they bought – or chose not to buy, as in the case of

automatic washing machines [1] – in the decades of increased prosperity and

stability that followed the

austerity made necessary by the events of the war years. Her description of the

book’s project points to its methodological framework: Parr carefully and

painstakingly brings to light often-overlooked interrelationships between

female homemakers and male

designers and manufacturers, and places those complex and often contestatory

relationships within the context of governmental economic policies and the

postwar process of rebuilding the nation and securing its future stability. In

doing so, she offers a detailed and nuanced critique of Canadian material

culture from the end of the Second World War to the early 1960’s, and makes an

interesting and readable contribution to scholarship across a range of

disciplines and interests.

Parr’s project necessitates

the integration of a wide range of material and ideas but she ties her

discussion together through a series of questions which she presents early in

the introduction. While the list is rather too long to quote here, but includes

questions such as those that follow:

How much does contemporary

technology constrain how goods are made? […] How much can citizens talk back

to manufacturers and the state about domestic

goods? What can and do citizens do when, by gender, class, or nationality, they

have little influence over the shape of the material world in which they must

live? […] If householders are moved to practice what might be described as a

briskly accommodating resistance in their daily lives among goods, what makes

this resistance plausible and necessary? (pp.3-4)

The questions themselves are not simple and do not allow for any easy answers –

and Parr does not offer any. Rather, she leaves the questions with the reader

and asks him or her to reflect on them while reading. Even in the conclusion,

Parr does not attempt to answer the questions directly but points, instead, to

the complexity of the history she has presented and the implications it can

have, when carefully considered, for choices and practices today. Questions of

the material and moral, of consumption and resistance, of pleasure and

prudence, are brought together in the essays that follow Parr’s excellent and

engaging introduction, and they remain at the heart of the book – as well as

being questions that deserve further critical attention in other contexts.

Parr’s attempt to outline a specifically Canadian history of consumption for

the two decades following the Second World War presents an account that differs

from the two existing and contradictory accounts that have, she points

out, dominated and influenced understandings and readings of the patterns of

consumption in Canada. First, there has been a tendency to assume that Canada

was part of a North American picture that has “read postwar standards and

practices off the Marshall

Plan intentions for the entire North Atlantic, and […] naturalize[d] these

hortatory American norms as the intrinsic qualities of ‘consumer society'” (p.

11). Second,

there is the account that positions Canada within a colonial context,

conceiving of Canadian consumption as “‘characteristically more subdued,'”

to quote, as Parr does, British geographers Peter Jackson and Nigel Thrift,

and casting Canadians as “the most earnest and cautious among the ex-colonials”

(p. 267). Parr charts a middle path between the two, pointing out the

specificities both of the Canadian experience within the larger context of

North America and of the colonial legacy of Britain. Parr retains her focus on

the Canadian experience while still understanding and incorporating the

influences of Britain – for example, during the foreign exchange crisis of the

late 1940s – and of the United States with its dominant mass production and

very different government policies on consumption and the acquisition of

household appliances. But

she moves beyond these competing narratives of international influence to

address representations of Canadian society and behavior. At the same time she

acknowledges a tendency towards “prudence and responsibility” in the Canadian

buying public, she insists that her book is also “about sensual delights, the

pleasures of using tools well suited to the task, and about building and

defining in a time when options might have seemed few and foreclosed” (p. 267).

This is a tricky balance and Parr, for the most part,

manages to maintain it both skillfully and convincingly.

The two decades following the Second World War were characterized, Parr

suggests, by political and economic concerns with shoring up heavy industry and

building strong export markets in order to rebuild the Canadian economy after

the changes wrought by the war. Deliberate decisions to focus on building a

strong national community, with investment in the welfare state and a

commitment to income redistribution, as well as to delay the gratification of

already deferred individual wants through limits on the production of household

goods and appliances, meant that the experience of Canadians in the postwar

years was very different to the experience of Americans whose government

actively encouraged consumerism. As Parr makes clear in her chapter on the

wartime economy, “[American] government propaganda” promised that “postwar

homes would be stocked with ‘all things material in a brave new world of

worldly goods'” (p.31); Canadian government policy, on the other hand,

“focused on private but social welfare spending as the means of averting

postwar calamity” (p.31). It was concern for future stability that guided the

Canadian political economy,

and Parr does a good job both of placing that in relation to the more

optimistic stance adopted south of the border and of suggesting how the

contrasting policies worked in relation to each other.

In Canada, debates in design and manufacturing circles over questions of

modernism and international aesthetics stood in uneasy relation to consumer

demand for stability and political concerns with reinforcing a distinct

Canadian nationalism. The National Industrial Design Committee (NIDC) took a

very different approach to questions of design, function, and manufacture from

either the Canadian Association of Consumers (CAC) or the Housewives’

Consumer Association (HCA), and Parr uses these differences of opinion and

priority between the NIDC and the CAC at several points in the book to

illustrate the frequent conflicts that arose between designers and consumers,

between style and function. Parr usefully makes explicit the gendered nature of

the histories of design, manufacturing, and consumption as she locates the

history of consumption as a history primarily of

women as consumers, in contrast to the male-dominated fields of design and


Parr’s book is divided into three sections, each taking as its primary focus a

different aspect of the production, consumption, and representation of material

culture: “the first focus[es] most upon economic policy, the second upon

industrial design, and the third on household technology”

(p.10). She describes the book’s organization within those sections as “a

series of relatively distinct, chronologically ordered

essays,” and goes on to point out that each of the chapters “builds in

sequence, one on another”


Chapters One through Five are devoted to the Canadian government’s political

and economic policies, beginning during the war and continuing into the postwar

years of the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. Parr reflects on consumer

organizations, on the role of government, on the failure of liberal economic

policymakers to acknowledge the “irrational” nature of the Canadian economy in

those years, and on other related issues including attitudes to consumer

credit and saving. In Chapter Two, which is for me perhaps the strongest

chapter of the book, she explores the differences between two exhibitions of

modern style and design that took place at the Toronto

Art Gallery and the Royal Ontario Museum in 1945 and 1946. Parr uses those two

exhibitions to open up her discussion of what “modern” was taken to mean in

relation to the design, manufacture, and consumption of household appliances

and furniture in postwar Canada.

Chapters Six, Seven, and Eight address questions of design and consumption,

with the focus again on modernism and the accommodations necessary to introduce

a modern or a so-called international style to Canadian women more concerned

with comfort and durability than with design principles. In Chapter Eight, she

moves on to discuss how Canadian women effectively remade the objects they

bought for their homes, and how their choices were often made without reference

to the criteria assumed to be appropriate or desirable by designers and


Chapters Nine, Ten, and Eleven present a series of tightly focused case studies

of women’s purchase decisions: Parr looks at buying a stove, a washing machine,

and a refrigerator in the early 1950s,

late 1950s, and early 1960s respectively. Each one presents an interesting and

useful case study but Parr could, I think, have spent a little less time

reiterating some of the broader ideas already well established in the earlier

chapters and focused more fully on issues specific to the decisions and

appliances in question: for example, the idea that designers and consumers

rarely agreed on what constituted a desirable product is one with which the

reader is already very familiar and of which s/he needs,

by the final section,

only a passing reminder..

The strength of Parr’s study undoubtedly lies in her ability to locate the

decisions of daily life (for example, the decision to purchase a specific kind

of washing machine) within a larger political and economic context without

losing the specificity of the experience itself. She deals with an enormous

range of material, from government policies and economic theory to sales

literature to interviews with individual women, and always maintains a coherent

and instructive narrative. In doing so, she constructs a detailed and

thoughtful history of everyday choices and practices, as well as of larger

questions of political economy, large-scale industrial production, the

aesthetics of design, and the role of gender in the acts of manufacture and

consumption. That it is located in the specificity of a Canadian context, while

taking careful account of different international influences and comparisons,

only adds to its usefulness, as the careful study of the local

helps illuminate our understanding of the global.

Parr succeeds in locating Domestic Goods within the context of existing

scholarship on the related histories of design, manufacturing, and consumerism.

In the introduction, she sets up her study in relation to other work and draws

from a variety of fields to construct her own reading of the complex

intersections between political economy, modernist aesthetics, manufacturing,

governmental organizations, and perhaps most importantly the lived experiences

of individuals and families. In her own words, Parr “puts studies of material

culture into unaccustomed company,

and therefore challenges certain disciplinary conventions” (p.3). In doing so,

she has produced an important text that has implications across a variety of

disciplines and sub-disciplines. Parr has also produced a work that challenges

us all to reconsider our own patterns of consumption and engagement with the

market economy in light of the questions she poses in her introduction, and to


on grounds of “reasoned and resisting hope”

to challenge the unquestioned supremacy of the market in the construction of

the world in which we now live (p.270).


[1] In Chapter Ten, Parr explores the fact that Canadian consumers were


slower than American consumers to accept automatic washing machines. They

preferred, instead, the wringer machines that were considered outdated in the

United States. Parr explains this through “the traits of the Canadian

manufacturing system, the intricacies of Canadian plumbing, and the ethics of

Canadian consumer culture” (p.16).

Subject(s):Household, Family and Consumer History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII