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Education and Economic Growth in Historical Perspective

David Mitch, University of Maryland Baltimore County

In his introduction to the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1776, p. 1) states that the proportion between the annual produce of a nation and the number of people who are to consume that produce depends on “the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which its labour is generally applied.” In recent decades, analysts of economic productivity in the United States during the twentieth century have made allowance for Smith’s “skill, dexterity, and judgment” of the labor force under the rubric of labor force quality (Ho and Jorgenson 1999; Aaronson and Sullivan 2001; DeLong, Goldin, and Katz 2003). These studies have found that a variety of factors have influenced labor force quality in the U.S., including age structure and workforce experience, female labor force participation, and immigration. One of the most important determinants of labor force quality has been years of schooling completed by the labor force.

Data limitations complicate generalizing these findings to periods before the twentieth century and to geographical areas beyond the United States. However, the rise of modern economic growth over the last few centuries seems to roughly coincide with the rise of mass schooling throughout the world. The sustained growth in income per capita evidenced in much of the world over the past two to two and a half centuries is a marked divergence from previous tendencies. Kuznets (1966) used the phrase “modern economic growth” to describe this divergence and he placed its onset in the mid-eighteenth century. More recently, Maddison (2001) has placed the start of sustained economic growth in the early nineteenth century. Maddison (1995) estimates that per capita income between 1520 and 1992 increased some eight times for the world as a whole and up to seventeen times for certain regions. Popular schooling was not widespread anywhere in the world before 1600. By 1800, most of North America, Scandinavia, and Germany had achieved literacy rates well in excess of fifty percent. In France and England literacy rates were closer to fifty percent and school attendance before the age of ten was certainly widespread, if not yet the rule. It was not until later in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century that Southern and Eastern Europe were to catch up with Western Europe and it was only the first half of the twentieth century that saw schooling become widespread through much of Asia and Latin America. Only later in the twentieth century did schooling begin to spread throughout Africa. The twentieth century has seen the spread of secondary and university education to much of the adult population in the United States and to a lesser extent in other developed countries.[2] However, correlation is not causation; rising income per capita may have contributed to rising levels of schooling, as well as schooling to income levels. Thus, the contribution of rising schooling to economic growth should be examined more directly.

Estimating the Contribution of the Rise of Mass Schooling to Economic Growth: A Growth Accounting Perspective

Growth accounting can be used to estimate the general bounds of the contribution the rise of schooling has made to economic growth over the past few centuries.[3] A key assumption of growth accounting is that factors of production are paid their social marginal products. Growth accounting starts with estimates of the growth of individual factors of production, as well as the shares of these factors in total output and estimates of the growth of total product. It then apportions the growth in output into that attributable to growth in each factor of production specified in the analysis and into that due to a residual that cannot otherwise be explained. Estimates of how much schooling has increased the productivity of individual workers, combined with estimates of the increase in schooling completed by the labor force, yield estimates of how much the increase in schooling has contributed to increasing output. A growth accounting approach offers the advantage that with basic estimates (or at least possible ranges) for trends in output, labor force, schooling attainment, and preferably capital stock and factor shares, it yields estimates of schooling’s contribution to economic growth. An important disadvantage is that it relies on indirect estimates at the micro level for how schooling influences productivity at the aggregate level, rather than on direct empirical evidence.[4]

Back-of-the-envelope estimates of increases in income per capita attributable to rising levels of education over a period of a few centuries can be obtained by considering possible ranges of levels of schooling increases as measured in average years of schooling along with possible ranges of rates of return per year of schooling, in terms of the percentage by which a year of schooling raises earnings and common ranges for labor’s share in national income. By using a Cobb-Douglas specification of the aggregate production function with two factors of production, labor and physical capital, one can arrive at the following equation for the ratio between final and initial national income per worker due to increases in average school years completed between the two time periods:

1) (Y/L)1/ (Y/L)0 = ( (1 + r )S1 - S0 )α

Where Y = output, L = the labor force, r = the percent by which a year of schooling increases labor productivity, S is the average years of schooling completed by the labor force in each time period, α is labor’s share in national income, and the subscripts 0 and 1 denote the initial and final time period over which the schooling changes occur.[5] This formulation is a partial equilibrium one, holding constant the level of physical capital. However, the level of physical capital should be expected to increase in response to improved labor force quality due to more schooling. A common specification of a growth model that allows for such responses of physical capital implies the following ratio between final and initial national income per worker (see Lord 2001, 99-100):

2) (Y/L)1/ (Y/L)0 = ( (1 + r )S1 - S0 )

The bounds on increases in years of schooling can be placed at between zero and 16, that is, between a completely unschooled and presumably illiterate population to one in which a college education is universal. As bounds on returns to increasing earnings per year of schooling, one can employ Krueger and Lindahl’s (2001) survey of results from recent estimates of earnings functions, which finds that returns range from 5 percent to 15 percent. The implications of varying these two parameters are reported in Tables 1A and 1B. Table 1A reports estimates based on the partial equilibrium specification holding constant the level of physical capital in equation 1). Table 1B reports estimates allowing for a changing level of physical capital as in equation 2). Labor’s share of income has been set at a commonly used value of 0.7 (see DeLong, Goldin and Katz 2003, 29; Maddison 1995, 255).

Table 1A
Increase in per Capita Income over a Base Level of 1 Attributable to Hypothetical Increases in Average Schooling Levels — Holding the Physical Capital Stock Constant

Percent Increase in Earnings per Extra Year of Schooling
Increase in Average
Years of Schooling
5% 10% 15%
1 1.035 1.07 1.10
3 1.11 1.22 1.34
6 – illiteracy to
universal grammar school
.23 1.49 1.80
12 – illiteracy to
universal high school
1.51 2.23 3.23
16 – illiteracy to
universal college
1.73 2.91 4.78

Table 1B
Increase in per Capita Income over a Base Level of 1 Attributable to Hypothetical Increases in Average Schooling Levels — Allowing for Steady-state Changes in the Physical Capital Stock

Percent Increase in Earnings per Extra Year of Schooling
Increase in Average
Years of Schooling
5% 10% 15%
1 1.05 1.10 1.15
3 1.16 1.33 1.52
6 – illiteracy to
universal grammar school
1.34 1.77 2.31
12 – illiteracy to
universal high school
1.79 3.14 5.35
16 – illiteracy to
universal college
2.18 4.59 9.36

The back-of-the-envelope calculations in Tables 1A and 1B make two simple points. First, schooling increases have the potential to explain a good deal of estimated long-term increases in per capita income. With the average member of an economy’s labor force embodying investments of twelve years of schooling and a moderate ten-percent rate of return per year of schooling and no increase in the capital stock, at least 17 percent of Maddison’s eight-fold increase in per capita income can be accounted for (i.e. 1.23/7) by rising schooling. Indeed, a 16 year schooling increase allowing for steady-state capital stock increases and at 15 percent per year return overexplains Maddison’s eight-fold increase (8.36/7). After all, if schooling has had substantial effects on the productivity of individual workers, if a sizable share of the labor force has experienced improvements in schooling completed and with labor’s share of output greater than half, then the contribution of rising schooling to increasing output should be large.

Second, the contribution of schooling increases that have actually occurred historically to per capita income increases is more modest accounting for at best about one fifth of Maddison’s one-fold increase. Thus an increase in average years of schooling completed by the labor force of 6 years, roughly that entailed by the spread of universal grammar schooling, would account for 19 percent (1.31/7) of an eight-fold per capita output increase at a high 15 percent rate of return allowing for steady state changes in the physical capital stock (Table 1B). And at a low 5 percent return per year of schooling, the contribution would be only 5 percent of the increase (0.34/7). Making lower-level elementary education universal would entail increasing average years of schooling completed by the labor force by 1 to 3 years; in most circumstances this is not a trivial accomplishment as measured by the societal resources required. However, even at a high 15 percent per year return and allowing for steady state changes in the capital stock (Table 1B), the contribution of a 3 year increase in average years of schooling would only account for 7 percent (0.52/7) of Maddison’s eight-fold increase.

How do the above proposed bounds on schooling increases compare with possible increases in the physical capital stock? Kendrick (1993, 143) finds a somewhat larger growth rate in his estimated human capital stock than in the stock of non-human capital for the U.S. between 1929 and 1969, though for the sub-period 1929-48, he estimates a slightly higher growth rate for the non-human capital stock. In contrast, Maddison (1995, 35-37) estimates larger increases in the value of non-residential structures per worker and in the value of machinery and equipment per worker than in years of schooling per adult for the U.S. and the U.K. between 1820 and 1992. For the U.S., he estimates that the value of non-residential structures per worker rose by 21 times and the value of machinery and equipment per worker rose by 141 times in comparison with a ten-fold increase in the years of schooling per adult between 1820 and 1992. For the U.K., his estimates indicate a 15 fold increase in the value of structures per worker and a 97 fold increase in value of machinery and equipment per worker in contrast with a seven-fold increase in average years of schooling between 1820 and 1992. It should be noted that these estimates are based on cumulated investments in schooling to estimate human capital; that is, they are based on the costs incurred to produce human capital. Davies and Whalley (1991, 188-189) argue that estimates based on the alternative approach of calculating the present value of future earnings premiums attributable to schooling and other forms of human capital yield substantially higher estimates of human capital due to capturing inframarginal returns above costs accruing to human capital investments. For the growth accounting approach employed here, the cumulated investment or cost approach would seem the appropriate one. Are there more inherent bounds on the accumulation of human capital over time than non-human capital? One limit on the accumulation of human capital is set by how much of one’s potential working life a worker is willing to sacrifice for purposes of improving education and future productivity. This can be compared with the corresponding limit on the willingness to sacrifice current consumption for wealth accumulation.

However, this discussion makes no explicit allowance for changes over time in the quality of schooling. Improvements in teacher training and teacher recruitment along with ongoing curriculum developments among other factors could lead to ongoing improvements over time in how much a year of school attendance would improve the underlying future productivity of the student. Woessmann (2002) and Hanushek and Kimcoe (2000) have recently argued for the importance of allowing for variation in school quality in estimating the impact of cross national variation in human capital levels on economic growth. Woessmann (2002) makes the suggestion that allowing for improvements in the quality of schooling can remove the upper bounds on schooling investment that would be present if this was simply a matter of increasing the percentage of the population enrolled in school at given levels of quality. While there would seem to be inherent bounds on the proportion of one’s life that one is willing to spend in school, such bounds would not apply to increases in expenditures and other means of improving school quality.

Expenditures per pupil appear to have risen markedly over long periods of time. Thus, in the United States, expenditure per pupil in public elementary and secondary schools in constant 1989-90 dollars rose by over 6 times between 1923-24 and 1973-74 (National Center for Educational Statistics, 60). And in Victorian England, nominal expenditures per pupil in state subsidized schools more than doubled between 1870 and 1900, despite falling prices (Mitch 1982, 204). These figures do not control for the rising percentage of students enrolled in higher grade levels (presumably at higher expenditure per student), general rises in living standards affecting teachers’ salaries and other factors influencing the abilities of those recruited into teaching. Nevertheless, they suggest the possibility of sizable improvements over time in school quality.

It can be argued that implicitly allowance is made for improvements in school quality in the rate of return imputed per year of schooling completed on average by the labor force. Insofar as schools became more effective over time in transmitting knowledge and skills, the economic return per year of schooling should have increased correspondingly. Thus any attempt to allow for school quality in a growth accounting analysis should be careful to avoid double counting school quality in both school inputs and in returns per year of schooling.

The benchmark for the impact of increases in average levels of schooling completed in Table 1 are Maddison’s estimates of changes in output per capita over the last two centuries. In fact, major increases in schooling levels have most commonly been compressed into intervals of several decades or less, rather than periods of a century or more. This would imply that the contribution to output growth of improvements in labor force quality due to increases in schooling levels would have been concentrated primarily in periods of marked improvement in schooling levels and would have been far more modest during periods of more sluggish increase in educational attainment. In order to gauge the impact of the time interval over which changes in schooling occur on growth rates of output, Table 2 provides the change in average years of schooling implied by some of the hypothetical changes in average levels of schooling attainment reported in Table 1 for various time periods.

Table 2

Annual Change in Average Years of Schooling per Adult per Year Implied by Hypothetical Figures in Table 1

Time period over which increase occurred
Total Increase in
Average Years of
Schooling per Adult
5 years 10 years 30 years 50 years 100 years
1 0.2 0.1 0.033 0.02 0.01
3 0.6 0.3 0.1 0.06 0.03
6 1.2 0.6 0.2 0.12 0.06
9 1.8 0.9 0.3 0.18 0.09

Table 3 translates these rates of schooling growth into output growth rates using the partial equilibrium framework of equation 1) using a value for the share of labor of 0.7 as above. The contribution of schooling to growth rates of output and output per capita can be calculated as labor’s share times the percentage return per year of schooling on earnings times the annual increase in average years of schooling.

Table 3A
Contribution of Schooling for Large Increases in Schooling to Annual Growth Rates of Output

Length of time for schooling increase 6 year rise in average years of schooling 6 year rise in average years of schooling 9 year rise in average years of schooling 9 year rise in average years of schooling
5% return 10 % return 5 % return 10% return
30 years 0.7% 1.4% 1.05% 2.1%
50 years 0.42% 0.84% 0.63% 1.26%

Table 3B
Contribution of Schooling for Small to Modest Increases in Schooling to Annual Growth Rates of Output

Length of time for schooling increase 1 year rise in average years of schooling 1 year rise in average years of schooling 3 year rise in average years of schooling 3 year rise in average years of schooling
5 % return 10 % return 5% return 10% return
5 years 0.7% 1.4% 2.1% 4.2%
10 years 0.35% 0.7% 1.05% 2.1%
20 years 0.175% 0.35% 0.525% 1.05%
30 years 0.12% 0.23% 0.35% 0.7%
50 years 0.07% 0.14% 0.21% 0.42%
100 years 0.035% 0.07% 0.105% 0.21%

The case of the U.S. in the twentieth century as analyzed in DeLong, Goldin and Katz (2003) offers an example of how apparent limits or at least resistance to ongoing expansion of schooling have lowered the contribution of schooling to growth. They find that between World War I and the end of the century, improvements in labor quality attributable to schooling can account for about a quarter of the growth of output per capita in the U.S. during this period; this is similar in magnitude to Denison’s (1962) estimates for the first part of this period. This era saw the mean years of schooling completed by age 35 increased from 7.4 years for an American born in 1875 to 14.1 years for an American born in 1975 (DeLong, Goldin and Katz 2003, 22). However, in the last two decades of the twentieth century the rate of increase of mean years of schooling completed leveled off and correspondingly the contribution of schooling to labor quality improvements fell almost in half.

Maddison (1995) has compiled estimates of the average years of schooling completed for a number of countries going back to 1820. It is indicative of the sparseness of schooling completed by adult population estimates that Maddison reports estimates for only 3 countries, the U.S., the U.K., and Japan, all the way back to 1820. Maddison’s figures come from other studies and their reliability warrants further critical scrutiny than can be accorded them here. Since systematic census evidence on adult educational attainment did not begin until the mid-twentieth century, estimates of labor force educational attainment prior to 1900 should be treated with some skepticism. Nevertheless, Maddison’s estimates can be used to give a sense of plausible changes in levels of schooling completed over the last century and a half. The average increases in years of schooling per year for various time periods implied by Maddison’s figures are reported in Table 4. Maddison constructed his figures by giving primary education a weight of 1, secondary education a weight of 1.4, and tertiary, a weight of 2 based on evidence on relative earnings for each level of education.

Table 4
Estimates of the Annual Change in Average Years of Schooling per Person aged 15-64 for Selected Countries and Time Periods

Country 1913-1973 1870-1973 1870-1913
U.S. 0 .112 0.107 0.092
France 0.0783
Germany 0.053
Netherlands 0.064
U.K. 0.0473 0.0722 0.102
Japan 0.112 0.106 0.090

Source: Maddison (1995), 37, Table 2-3

Table 5
Annual Growth Rates in GDP per Capita

Region 1820-70 1870-1913 1913-50 1950-73 1973-92
12 West European Countries 0.9 1.3 1.2 3.8 1.8
4 Western Offshoots 1.4 1.5 1.3 2.4 1.2
5 South European Countries n.a. 0.9 0.7 4.8 2.2
7 East European Countries n.a. 1.2 1.0 4.0 -0.8
7 Latin American Countries n.a. 1.5 1.9 2.4 0.4
11 Asian Countries 0.1 0.7 -0.2 3.1 3.5
10 African countries n.a. n.a. 1.0 1.8 -0.4

Source: Maddison (1995), 62-63, Table 3-2.

In comparing Tables 2 and 4 it can be observed that the estimated actual changes in years of schooling compiled by Maddison (as well as the average over 55 countries reported by Lichtenberg (1994) for the third quarter of the twentieth century) fall within a lower bound set in the hypothetical ranges of a 3 year increase in average schooling spread over a century and an upper bound set by a 6 year increase in average schooling spread over 50 years.

Equations 1) and 2) above assume that each year of schooling of a worker has the same impact on productivity. In fact it has been common to find that the impact of schooling on productivity varies according to level of education. While the rate of return as a percentage of costs tends to be higher for primary than secondary schooling, which is in turn higher than tertiary education, this reflects the far lower costs, especially lower foregone earnings, of primary schooling (Psacharopolous and Patrinos 2004). The earnings premium per year of schooling tends to be higher for higher levels of education and this earnings premium, rather than the rate of return as a percentage costs, is the appropriate measure for assessing the contribution of rising schooling to growth (OECD 2001). Accordingly growth accounting analyses commonly construct schooling indexes weighting years of schooling according to estimates of each year’s impact on earnings (see for example Maddison 1995; Denison 1962). DeLong, Goldin and Katz (2003) use chain weighted indexes of returns according to each level of schooling. A rough approximation of the effect of allowing for variation in economic impact by level of schooling in the analysis in Table 1 is simply to focus on the mid-range 10 percent rate of return as an approximate average of high, low, and medium level returns.[6]

The U.S. is notable for rapid expansion in schooling attainment over the twentieth century at both the secondary and tertiary level, while in Europe widespread expansion has tended to focus on the primary and lower secondary level. These differences are evident in Denison’s estimates of the actual differences in educational distribution between the United States and a number of Western European countries in the mid-twentieth century (see Table 6).

Table 6

Percentage Distributions of the Male Labor Force by Years of Schooling Completed

Years of School Completed United States 1957 France 1954 United Kingdom 1951 Italy 1961
0 1.4 0.3 0.2 13.7
1-4 5.7 2.4 0.2 26.1
5-6 6.3 19.2 0.8 38.0
7 5.8 21.1 4.0 4.2
8 17.2 27.8 27.2 8.1
9 6.3 4.6 45.1 0.7
10 7.3 4.1 8.4 0.7
11 6.0 6.5 7.3 0.6
12 26.2 5.4 2.5 1.8
13-15 8.3 5.4 2.2 3.0
16 or more 9.5 3.2 2.1 3.1

Source: Denison (1967), 80, Table 8-1.

Some segments of the population are likely to have much greater enhancements of productivity from additional years of schooling than others. Insofar as the more able benefit from schooling compared to the rest of the ability distribution, putting substantially greater relative emphasis on expansion of higher levels of schooling could considerably augment growth rates over a more egalitarian strategy. This result would follow from a substantially greater premium assigned to higher levels of education. However, some studies of education in developing countries have found that they allocate a disproportionate share of resources to tertiary schooling at the expense of primary schooling, reflecting efforts of elites to benefit their offspring. How this has impeded economic growth would depend on the disparity in rates of return among levels of education, a point of some controversy in the economics of education literature (Birdsall 1996; Psacharopoulos 1996).

While allocating schooling disproportionately towards the more able in a society may have promoted growth, there would have been corresponding losses stemming from groups that have been systematically excluded or at least restricted in their access to education due to discrimination by factors such as race, gender and religion (Margo 1990). These losses could be attributed in part to the presence of individuals of high ability in groups experiencing discrimination due to failure to provide them with sufficient education to properly utilize their talents. However, historians such as Ashton (1948, 15) have argued that the exclusion of non-Anglicans from English universities prior to the mid-nineteenth century resulted in the channeling of their talents into manufacturing and commerce.

Even if returns have been higher at some levels of education than others, a sustained and substantial increase in labor force quality would seem to entail an egalitarian strategy of widespread increase in access to schooling. The contrast between the rapid increase in access to secondary and tertiary schooling in the U.S. and the much more limited increase in access in Europe during the twentieth century with the correspondingly much greater role for schooling in accounting for economic growth in the U.S. than in Europe (see Denison 1967) points to the importance of an egalitarian strategy in sustaining ongoing increases in aggregate labor force quality.

One would expect on increase in the relative supply of more schooled labor to lead to a decline in the premium to schooling, other things equal. Some recent analyses of the contribution of schooling to growth have allowed for this by specifying a parametric relationship between the distribution of schooling in an economy’s labor force and its impact on output or on a hypothesized intermediary human capital factor (Bils and Klenow 2000).[7]

Direct empirical evidence on trends in the premium to schooling is helpful both to obviate reliance on a theoretical specification and to allow for factors such as technical change that may have offset the impact of the increasing supply of schooling. Goldin and Katz (2001) have developed evidence on trends in the premium to schooling over the twentieth century that have allowed them to adjust for these trends in estimating the contribution of schooling to economic growth (DeLong, Goldin and Katz 2003). They find a marked fall in the premium to schooling, roughly falling in half between 1910 and 1950. However, they also find that this decline in the schooling premium was more than offset by their estimated increase over this same period in years of schooling completed by the average worker of 2.9 years and hence that on net schooling increases contributed to improved productivity of the U.S. workforce. They estimate increases of 0.5 percent per year in labor productivity due to increased educational attainment between 1910 and 1950 relative to the average total annual increase in labor productivity of 1.62 percent over the entire period 1915 to 2000. For the period since 1960, DeLong, Goldin and Katz find that the premium to education has increased while the increase in educational attainment at first increased and then declined. During this latter period, the increase in labor force quality has declined, as noted above, despite a widening premium to education, due to the slowing down in the increase in educational attainment.

Classifying the Range of Possible Relationships between Schooling and Economic Growth

In generalizing beyond the twentieth-century U.S. experience, allowance should be made both for the role of influences other than education on economic growth and for the possibility that the impact of education on growth can vary considerably according to the historical situation. In fact to understand why and how education might contribute to economic growth over the range of historical experience, it is important to investigate the variation in the impact of education on growth that has occurred historically. In relating education to economic growth, one can distinguish four basic possibilities.

The first is one of stagnation in both educational attainment and in output per head. Arguably, this was the most common situation throughout the world until 1750 and even after that date characterized Southern and Eastern Europe through the late nineteenth century, as well as most of Africa, Asia, and Latin American through the mid-twentieth century. The qualifier “arguably” is inserted here, because this view of the matter almost surely makes inadequate allowance for the improvements in informal acquisition of skills through family transmission and direct experience as well as through more formal non-schooling channels such as guild-sponsored apprenticeships, an aspect to be taken up further below. It also makes no allowance for the possible long-term improvements in per capita income that took place prior to 1750 but have been inadequately documented. Still focusing on formal schooling as the source of improvement in labor force, there is reason to think that this may have been a pervasive situation throughout much of human history.

The second situation is one in which income per capita rose despite stagnating education levels; factors other than improvements in educational attainment were generating economic growth. England during its industrial revolution, 1750 to 1840 is a notable instance in which some historians have argued that this situation prevailed. During this period, English schooling and literacy rates rose only slightly if at all, while income per capita appears to have risen. Literacy and schooling appears to have been of little use in newly created manufacturing occupations such as in cotton spinning. Indeed, literacy rates and schooling actually appears to have declined in some of the most rapidly industrializing areas of England such as Lancashire (Sanderson 1972; Nicholas and Nicholas 1992). Not all have concurred with this interpretation of the role of education in the English industrial revolution and the result depends on how educational trends are measured and how education is specified as affecting output (see Laqueur; Crafts 1995; Mitch 1999). Moreover this makes no allowance for the role of informal acquisition of skills. Boot (1995) argues that in the case of cotton spinners, informal skill acquisition with experience was substantial.

The simplest interpretation of this situation is that other factors contributed to economic growth other than schooling or human capital more generally. The clearest non-human capital explanatory factor would perhaps be physical capital accumulation; another might be foreign trade. However, if one turns to technological advance as a driving force, then this gives rise to the possibility that human capital — at least broadly defined — was if not the underlying force at least a central contributing factor to the industrial revolution. The argument for this possibility is that the improvements in knowledge and skills associated with technological advance are embodied in human agents and hence are forms of human capital. Recent work by Mokyr (2002) would suggest this interpretation. Nevertheless, the British industrial revolution does remain as a prominent instance in which human capital conventionally defined as schooling stagnated in the presence of a notable upsurge in economic growth. A less extreme case is provided by the post-World War II European catch-up with the United States, as Denison’s (1967) growth accounting analysis indicates that this occurred despite slower European increases in educational attainment due to other factors offsetting this. Historical instances such as that of the British industrial revolution call into question the common assumption that education is a necessary prerequisite for economic growth (see Mitch 1990).

The third situation is one in which rising educational attainment corresponds with rising rates of economic growth. This is the situation one would expect to prevail if education contributes to economic productivity and if any negative factors are not sufficient to offset this influence. One sub-set of instances would be those in which very large and reasonably compressed increases in the educational attainment of the labor force occurred. One important example of this is the twentieth century U.S., with the high school movement followed by increases in college attendance, as noted above. Another would be those of certain East Asian economies since World War II, as documented in the growth accounting analysis by Young (1995) of the substantial contributions of their rising educational attainment to their rapid growth rates. Another sub-set of cases corresponding to more modest increases in schooling can be interpreted as applying either to countries experiencing schooling increases focussed at the elementary level, as in much of Western Europe over the nineteenth century. The so-called literacy campaigns, as in the Soviet Union and Cuba (see Arnove and Graff eds. 1987) in the early and mid-twentieth century with modest improvements in educational attainment over compressed time periods of just a few decades could also be viewed as fitting into this sub-category. However, whether there were increases in output per capita corresponding to these more modest increases in educational attainment remains to be established.

The fourth situation is one in which economic growth has stagnated despite the presence of marked improvements in educational attainment. Possible examples of this situation would include the early rise of literacy in some Northern European areas, such as Scotland and Scandinavia, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (see Houston 1988; Sandberg 1979) and some regions of Africa and Asia in the later twentieth century (see Pritchett 2001). One explanation of this situation is that it reflects instances in which any positive impact of educational attainment is small relative to other influences having an adverse impact. But one can also interpret it as reflecting situations in which incentive structures direct educated people into destructive and transfer activities inimical to economic growth (see North 1990; Baumol 1990; Murphy, Shleifer, and Vishny 1991).

Cross-country studies of the relationship between changes in schooling and growth since 1960 have yielded conflicting results which in itself could be interpreted as supporting the presence of some mix of the four situations just surveyed. A number of studies have found at best a weak relationship between changes in schooling and growth (Pritchett 2001; Bils and Klenow 2000); others have found a stronger relationship (Topel 1999). Much seems to depend on issues of measurement and on how the relationship between schooling and output is specified (Temple 2001b; Woessmann 2002, 2003).

The Determinants of Schooling

Whether education contributes to economic growth can be seen as depending on two factors, the extent to which educational levels improve over time and the impact of education on economic productivity. The first factor is a topic for extended discussion in its own right and no attempt will be made to consider it in depth here. Factors commonly considered include rising income per capita, distribution of political power, and cultural influences (Goldin 2001, Lindert 2004, Mariscal and Sokoloff 2000, Easterlin 1981; Mitch 2004). The issue of endogeneity of determination has often been raised with respect to the determinants of schooling. Thus, it is plausible that rising income contributes to rising levels of schooling and that the spread of mass education can influence the distribution of political power as well as the reverse. While these are important considerations, they are sufficiently complex to warrant extended attention in their own right.[8]

Influences on the Economic Impact of Schooling

Insofar as schooling improves general human intellectual capacities, it could be seen as having a universal impact irrespective of context. However, Rosenzweig (1995; 1999) has noted that the even the general influence of education on individual productivity or adaptability depend on the complexity of the situation. He notes that for agricultural tasks primarily involving physical exertion, no difference in productivity is evident between workers according to education levels; however, in more complex allocative decisions, education does enhance performance. This could account for findings that literacy rates were low among cotton spinners in the British industrial revolution despite findings of substantial premiums to experience (Sanderson 1972; Boot 1995). However, other studies have found literacy to have a substantial positive impact on labor productivity in cotton textile manufacture in the U.S., Italy, and Japan (Bessen 2003; A’Hearn 1998, Saxonhouse 1977) and have suggested a connection between literacy and labor discipline.

A more macro influence is the changing sectoral composition of the economy. It is common to suggest that the service and manufacturing sector have more functional uses for educated labor than the agricultural sector and hence that the shift from agriculture to industry in particular will lead to greater use of educated labor and in turn to require more educated labor forces. However, there are no clear theoretical or empirical grounds for the claim that agriculture makes less use of educated labor than other sectors of the economy. In fact, farmers have often had relatively high literacy rates and there are more obvious functional uses for education in agriculture in keeping accounts and keeping up with technological developments than in manufacturing. Nilsson et al (1999) argue that the process of enclosure in nineteenth-century Sweden, with the increased demands for reading and writing land transfer documents that this entailed, increased the value of literacy in the Swedish agrarian economy. The findings noted above that those in cotton textile occupations associated with early industrialization in Britain had relatively low literacy rates is one indication of the lack of any clear cut ranking across broad economic sectors in the use of educated labor.

Changes in the organization of decision making within major sectors as well as changes in the composition of production within sectors are more likely to have had an impact on demands for educated labor. Thus, within agriculture the extent of centralization or decentralization of decision making, that is the extent to which farm work forces consisted of farmers and large numbers of hired workers or of large numbers of peasants each with scope for making allocative decisions, is likely to have affected the uses made of educated labor in agriculture. Within manufacturing, a given country’s endowment of skilled relative to unskilled labor has been seen as influencing the extent to which openness to trade increases skill premiums, though this entails endogenous determination (Wood 1995).

Technological advance would have tended to boost the demand for more skilled and educated labor if technological advance and skills are complementary, as is often asserted.

However, there is no theoretical reason why technology and skills need be complementary and indeed concepts of directed technological change or induced innovation would suggest that in the presence of relatively high skill premiums, technological advance would be skill saving rather than skill using. Goldin and Katz (1998) have argued that the shift from the factory to continuous processing and batch production associated with the shift of power sources from steam to electricity in the early twentieth century lead to rising technology skill complementarity in U.S. manufacturing. It remains to be established how general this trend has been. It could be related to the distinction made between the dominance in the United States of extensive growth in the nineteenth century due to the growth of factors of production such as labor and capital and the increasing importance of intensive growth in the twentieth century. Intensive growth is often associated with technological advance and a presumed enhanced value for education (Abramovitz and David 2000). Some analysts have emphasized the importance of capital-skill complementarity. For example, Galor and Moav (2003) point to the level of the physical capital stock as a key influence on the return to human capital investment; they suggest that once physical capital stock accumulation surpassed a certain level, the positive impact of human capital accumulation on the return to physical capital became large enough that owners of physical capital came to support the rise of mass schooling. They cite the case of schooling reform in early twentieth century Britain as an example.

Even sharp declines in the premiums to schooling do not preclude a significant impact of education on economic growth. DeLong, Goldin and Katz’s (2003) growth accounting analysis for the twentieth century U.S. makes the point that even at modest positive returns to schooling on the order of 5 percent per year of schooling, with large enough increases in educational attainment, the contribution to growth can be substantial.

Human Capital

Economists have generalized the impact of schooling on labor force quality into the concept of human capital. Human capital refers to the investments that human beings make in themselves to enhance their economic productivity. These investments can take on many forms and include not only schooling but also apprenticeship, a healthy diet, and exercise, among other possibilities. Some economists have even suggested that more amorphous societal factors such as trust, institutional tradition, technological know how and innovation can all be viewed as forms of human capital (Temple 2001a; Topel 1999; Mokyr 2002). Thus broadly defined, human capital would appear as a prime candidate for explaining much of the difference across nations and over time in output and economic growth. However, gaining much insight into the actual magnitudes and the channels of influence by which human capital might influence economic growth requires specification of both the nature and determinants of human capital and how human capital affects aggregate production of an economy.

Much of the literature on human capital and growth makes the implicit assumption that some sort of numerical scale exists for human capital, even if multidimensional and even if unobservable. This in turn implies that it is meaningful to relate levels and changes of human capital to levels of income per capita and rates of economic growth. Given the multiplicity of factors that influence human knowledge and skill and in turn how these influence labor productivity, difficulties would seem likely to arise with attempts to measure aggregate human capital similar to those that have arisen with attempts to specify and measure the nature of human intelligence. Woessmann (2002, 2003) provides useful surveys of some of the issues involved in attempting to specify human capital at the aggregate level appropriate for relating it to economic growth.

One can distinguish between approaches to the measurement of human capital that focus on schooling, as in the discussion above, and those that take a broader view. Broad view approaches try to capture all investments that may have improved human productivity from whatever source, including not just schooling but other productivity enhancing investments, such as on-the-job training. The basic premise of broad view approaches is that for an aggregate economy, the income going to labor over and above what that labor would earn if it were paid the income of an unskilled worker can be viewed as human capital. This measure can be constructed in various ways including as a ratio using unskilled labor earnings as the denominator as in Mulligan and Sala-I-Martin (1997) or using the share of labor income not going as compensation for unskilled labor as in Crafts (1995) and Mitch (2004). Mulligan and Sala-I-Martin (2000) point to some of the major index number problems that can arise in using this approach to aggregate heterogeneous workers.

Crafts and Mitch find that for Britain during its late eighteenth and early nineteenth century industrial revolution between one-sixth and one-fourth of income per capita can be attributed to human capital measured as the share of labor income not going as compensation for unskilled labor.

One approach that has been taken recently to estimate the role of human capital differences in explaining international differences in income per capita is to consider changes in immigrant earnings between origin and destination countries along with differences between immigrant and native workers in the destination country. Olson (1996) suggested that the large increase in earnings of immigrants commonly observed in moving from a low income to a high income country points to a small role for human capital in explaining the wide variation in per capita income across countries. Hendricks (2002) has used differences between immigrant and native earnings in the U.S. to estimate the contribution of otherwise unobserved skill differences to explaining differences in income per capita across countries and finds that they account for only a small part of the latter differences. Hendricks’ approach raises the issue of whether there could be long-term increases in otherwise unobserved skills that could have contributed to economic growth.

The Informal Acquisition of Human Capital

One possible source of such skills is through the informal acquisition of human capital through on-the-job experience. Insofar as work has been common from early adolescence onwards, the issue arises of why the aggregate stock of skills acquired through experience would vary over time and thus influence rates of economic growth. Some types of on-the-job experience which contribute to economic productivity, such as apprenticeship, may entail an opportunity cost and aggregate trends in skill accumulation will be influenced by societal willingness to incur such opportunity costs.

Insofar as schooling continues through adolescence, this can interfere with the accumulation of workforce experience. DeLong, Goldin and Katz (2003) note the tradeoff between rising average years of schooling completed and decreasing years of labor force experience in influencing labor force quality of the U.S. labor force in the last half of the twentieth century. Connolly (2004) has found that informal experience played a relatively greater role in Southern economic growth than for other regions of the United States.

Hansen (1997) has also distinguished the academically-oriented secondary schooling the United States developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century from the vocationally-oriented schooling and apprenticeship system that Germany developed over the same time period. Goldin (2001) argues that in the United States the educational system developed general abilities suitable for the greater opportunities for geographical and occupational mobility that prevailed there, while specific vocational training was more suitable for the more restricted mobility opportunities in Germany.

Little evidence exists on whether long-term trends in informal opportunities for skill acquisition have influenced growth rates. However, Smith’s (1776) view of the importance of the division of labor in influencing productivity would suggest that the impact of trends in these opportunities may well have been quite sizable.

Externalities from Education

Economists commonly claim that education yields benefits to society over and above the impact on labor market productivity perceived by the person receiving the education. These benefits can include impacts on economic productivity, such as impacts on technological advance. They can also include non-labor market benefits. Thus McMahon (2002, 11) in his assessment of the social benefits of education includes not only direct effects on economic productivity but also impacts on a) population growth rates and health b) democratization, political stability, and human rights, c) the environment, d) reduction of poverty and inequality, e) crime and drug use, and f) labor force participation. While these effects may appear to involve primarily non-market activity and thus would not be reflected in national output measures and growth rates, factors such as political stability, democratization, population growth, and health have obvious consequences for prospects for long-term growth. However, allowance should be made for the simultaneous influence of the distribution of political power and life expectancy on societal investments in schooling.

For the period since 1960, numerous studies have employed cross country variation in various estimates of human capital and income per capita to directly estimate the impact of human capital on levels of income per capita and growth. A central goal of many such estimates is to see if there are externalities to education on output over and above the private returns estimated from micro data. The results have been conflicting and this has been attributed not only to problems of measurement error but also to differences in specification of human capital and its impact on growth. There does not appear to be strong evidence of large positive externalities to human capital (Temple 2001a). Furthermore, McMahon (2004) reports some empirical specifications which yield substantial indirect long-run effects.

For the period before 1960, limits on the availability of data on schooling and income have limited the use of this empirical regression approach. Thus, any discussion of the impact of externalities of education on production is considerably more conjectural. The central role of government, religious, and philanthropic agencies in the provision of schooling suggests the presence of externalities. Politicians and educators more frequently justified government and philanthropic provision of schooling by its impacts on religious and moral behavior than by any market failure resulting in sub-optimal provision of schooling from the standpoint of maximizing labor productivity. Thus, Adam Smith in his discussion of mass schooling in The Wealth of Nations, places more emphasis on its value to the state in enhancing orderliness and decency while reducing the propensity to popular superstition than on its immediate value in enhancing the economic productivity of the individual worker.

The Impact of the Level of Human Capital on Rates of Economic Growth

The approaches considered thus far relate changes in educational attainment of the labor force to changes in output per worker. An alternative, though not mutually exclusive, approach is to relate the level of educational attainment of an economy’s labor force to its rate of economic growth. The argument for doing so is that a high but unchanging level of educational attainment should contribute to growth by facilitating creativity, innovation and adaptation to change as well as facilitating the ongoing maintenance and improvement of skill in the workforce. Topel (1999) has argued that there may not be any fundamental difference between the two types of approach insofar as ongoing sources of productivity advance and adaptation to change could be viewed as reflecting ongoing improvements in human capital. Nevertheless, some empirical studies based on international data for the late twentieth century have found that a country’s level of educational attainment has a much stronger impact on its rate of economic growth than its rate of improvement in educational attainment (Benhabib and Spiegel 1994).

The paucity of data on schooling attainment has limited the empirical examination of the relationship between levels of human capital and economic growth for periods before the late twentieth century. However, Sandberg (1982) has argued, based on a descriptive comparison of economies in various categories, that those with high levels of schooling in 1850 subsequently experienced faster rates of economic growth. Some studies, such as O’Rourke and Williamson (1997) and Foreman-Peck and Lains (1999), have found that high levels of schooling and literacy have contributed to more rapid rates of convergence for European countries in the late nineteenth century and at the state level for the U.S. over the twentieth century (Connolly 2004).

Bowman and Anderson (1963), a much earlier study based on international evidence for the mid-twentieth century, can be interpreted in the spirit of relating levels of education to subsequent levels of income growth. Their reading of the cross-country relationship between literacy rates and per capita income at mid-twentieth-century was that a threshold of 40 percent adult literacy was required for a country to have a per capita income above 300 1955 dollars. Some have ahistorically projected back this literacy threshold to earlier centuries although the Bowman and Anderson proposal was intended to apply to mid-twentieth century development patterns.

The mechanisms by which the level of schooling would influence the rate of economic growth are problematic to establish. One can distinguish two general possibilities. One would be that higher levels of educational attainment facilitate adaptation and responsiveness to change throughout the workforce. This would be especially important where a large percentage of workers are in decision making positions such as an economy composed largely of small farmers and other small enterprises. The finding of Foster and Rosenzweig (1996) for late twentieth century India that the rate of return to schooling is higher during periods of more rapid technological advance in agriculture would be consistent with this. Likewise, Nilsson et al (1999) find that literacy was important for nineteenth-century Swedish farmers in dealing with enclosure, an institutional change. The other possibility is that higher levels of educational attainment increase the potential pool from which an elite group responsible for innovation can be recruited. This could be viewed as applying specifically to scientific and technical innovation as in Mokyr (2002) and Jones (2002) — but also to technological and industrial leadership more generally (Nelson and Wright 1992) and to facilitating advancement in society by ability irrespective of social origins (Galor and Tsiddon 1997). Recently, Labuske and Baten (2004) have found that international rates of patenting are related to secondary enrollment rates.

Two issues have arisen in the recent theoretical literature regarding specifying relationships between the level of human capital and rates of economic growth. First, Lucas (1988) in an influential model of the impact of human capital on growth, specifies that the rate of growth of human capital formation depends on initial levels of human capital, in other words that parents’ and teachers’ human capital has a direct positive influence on the rate of growth of learners’ human capital. This specification of the impact of the initial level of human capital allows for ongoing and unbounded growth of human capital and through this its ongoing contribution to economic growth. Such ongoing growth of human capital could occur through improvements in the quality of schooling or through enhanced improvements in learning from parents and other informal settings. While it might be plausible to suppose that improved education of teachers will enhance their effectiveness with learners, it seems less plausible to suppose that this enhanced effectiveness will increase unbounded in proportion to initial levels of education (Lord 2001, 82).

A second issue is that insofar as higher levels of human capital contribute to economic growth through increases in research and development activity and innovative activity more generally, one would expect the presence of scale effects. Economies with larger populations holding constant their level of human capital per person should benefit from more overall innovative activity simply because they have more people engaged in innovative activity. Jones (1995) has pointed out that such scale effects seem implausible if one looks at the time series relationship between rates of economic growth and those engaged in innovative activity. In recent decades the growth of the number of scientists, engineers, and others engaged in innovative activity has far outstripped the actual growth of productivity and other indicators of direct impact on innovation. Thus, one should allow for diminishing returns in the relationship between levels of education and technological advance.

Thus, as with schooling externalities, considering the impact of levels of education on growth offers numerous channels of influence leaving the challenge for the historian of ascertaining their quantitative importance in the past.

Conclusion

This survey has considered some of the basic ways in which the rise of mass education has contributed to economic growth in recent centuries. Given their potential influence on labor productivity, levels and changes in schooling and of human capital more generally have the potential for explaining a large share of increases in per capita output over time. However, increases in mass schooling seem to explain a major share of economic growth only over relatively short periods of time, with a more modest impact over longer time horizons. In some situations, such as the United States in the twentieth century, it appears that improvements in the schooling of the labor force have made substantial contributions to economic growth. Yet schooling should not be seen as either a necessary or sufficient condition for generating economic growth. Factors other than education can contribute to economic growth and in their absence, it is not clear that schooling in itself can contribute to economic growth. Moreover, there are likely limits on the extent to which average years of schooling of the labor force can expand, although improvement in the quality of schooling is not so obviously bounded. Perhaps the most obvious avenue through which education has contributed to economic growth is by expanding the rate of technological change. But as has been noted, there are numerous other possible channels of influence ranging from political stability and property rights to life expectancy and fertility. The diversity of these channels point to both the challenges and the opportunities in examining the historical connections between education and economic growth.

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[1] I have received helpful comments on this essay from Mac Boot, Claudia Goldin, Bill Lord, Lant Pritchett, Robert Whaples, and an anonymous referee. At an earlier stage in working through some of this material, I benefited from a quite useful conversation with Nick Crafts. However, I bear sole responsibility for remaining errors and shortcomings.

[2] For a detailed survey of trends in schooling in the early modern and modern period see Graff (1987).

[3] See Barro (1998) for a brief intellectual history of growth accounting.

[4] Blaug (1970) provides an accessible, detailed critique of the assumptions behind Denison’s growth accounting approach and Topel (1999) provides a further discussion of the problems of using a growth accounting approach to measure the contribution of education, especially those due to omitting social externalities.

[5] By using a Cobb-Douglas specification of the aggregate production function, one can arrive at the following equation for the ratio between final and initial national income per worker due to increases in average school years completed between the two time periods, t = 0 and t =1:

Start with the aggregate production function specification:

Y = A K(1-α) [(1+r)S L]α

Y/L = A (K/L)(1-α) [(1+r)S L/L]α

Y/L = A (K/L)(1-α) [(1+r)S]α

Assume that the average years of schooling of the labor force is the only change between t = 0 and t =1; that is, assume no change in the ratio of capital to labor between time periods. Then the ratio of the income per worker in the later time period to the earlier time period will be:

(Y/L)1/ (Y/L)0 = ( (1 + r )S1- S0 )α

Where Y = output, A = a measure of the current state of technology, K = the physical capital stock, L = the labor force, r = the percent by which a year of schooling increases labor productivity, S is the average years of schooling completed by the labor force in each time period, α is labor’s share in national income, and the subscripts 0 and 1 denote initial and final time periods.

As noted above, the derivation above is for a partial equilibrium change in years of schooling of the labor force holding constant the physical capital stock. Allowing for physical capital stock accumulation in response to schooling increases in a Solow-type model implies that the ratio of final to initial output per worker will be

(Y/L)1/ (Y/L)0 = ( (1 + r )S1 - S0 ) .

For a derivation of this see Lord (2001, 99-100). Lord’s derivation differs from that here by specifying the technology parameter A as labor augmenting. Allowing for increases in A over time due to technical change would further increase the contribution to output per worker of additional years of schooling.

[6]To take a specific example, suppose that in the steady-state case of Table 1B, a 5 percent earnings premium per year of schooling is assigned to the first 6 years of schooling, i.e. primary schooling, a 10 percent earnings premium per year is assigned to the next 6 years of schooling, i.e. secondary schooling, and a 15 percent earnings premium per year is assigned to the final 4 years of schooling, that is college. In that case, the impact on steady state income per capita compared with no schooling at all would be (1.05)6x(1.10)6x(1.15)4 = 4.15, compared with the 4.59 in going from no schooling to universal college at a 10 percent rate of return for every year of school completed.

[7] Denison’s standard growth accounting approach assumes that education is labor augmenting and, in particular, that there is an infinite elasticity of substitution between skilled and unskilled labor. This specification is conventional in growth accounting analysis. But another common specification in entering education into aggregate production functions is to specify human capital as a third factor of production along with unskilled labor and physical capital. Insofar as this is done with a Cobb-Douglas production function specification, as is conventional, the implied elasticity of substitution between human capital and either unskilled labor or physical capital is unity. The complementarity between human capital and other inputs this implies will tend to increase the contribution of human capital increases to economic growth by decreasing the tendency for diminishing returns to set in. (For a fuller treatment of the considerations involved see Griliches 1970, Conlisk 1970, Broadberry 2003). For an application of this approach in a historical growth accounting exercise, see Crafts (1995), who finds a fairly substantial contribution of human capital during the English industrial revolution. For a critique of Crafts’ estimates see Mitch (1999).

[8] For an examination of long-run growth dynamics with schooling investments endogenously determined by transfer-constrained family decisions see Lord 2001, 209-213 and Rangazas 2000. Lord and Rangazas find that allowing for the fact that families are credit constrained in making schooling investment decisions is consistent with the time path of interest rates in the U.S. between 1870 and 1970.

Citation: Mitch, David. “Education and Economic Growth in Historical Perspective”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. July 26, 2005. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/education-and-economic-growth-in-historical-perspective/

History of Food and Drug Regulation in the United States

Marc T. Law, University of Vermont

Throughout history, governments have regulated food and drug products. In general, the focus of this regulation has been on ensuring the quality and safety of food and drugs. Food and drug regulation as we know it today in the United States had its roots in the late nineteenth century when state and local governments began to enact food and drug regulations in earnest. Federal regulation of the industry began on a large scale in the early twentieth century when Congress enacted the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. The regulatory agency spawned by this law – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – now directly regulates between one-fifth and one-quarter of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and possesses significant power over product entry, the ways in which food and drugs are marketed to consumers, and the manufacturing practices of food and drug firms. This article will focus on the evolution of food and drug regulation in the United States from the middle of the nineteenth century until the present day.1

General Issues in Food and Drug Regulation

Perhaps the most enduring problem in the food and drug industry has been the issue of “adulteration” – the cheapening of products through the addition of impure or inferior ingredients. Since ancient times, producers of food and drug products have attempted to alter their wares in an effort to obtain dear prices for cheaper goods. For instance, water has often been added to wine, the cream skimmed from milk, and chalk added to bread. Hence, regulations governing what could or could not be added to food and drug products have been very common, as have regulations that require the use of official weights and measures. Because the adulteration of food and drugs may pose both economic and health risks to consumers, the stated public interest motivation for food and drug regulation has generally been to protect consumers from fraudulent and/or unsafe food and drug products.

From an economic perspective, regulations like these may be justified in markets where producers know more about product quality than consumers. As Akerlof (1970) demonstrates, when consumers have less information about product quality than producers, lower quality products (which are generally cheaper to produce) may drive out higher quality products. Asymmetric information about product quality may thus result in lower quality products – the so-called “lemons” – dominating the market. To the extent that regulators are better informed about quality than consumers, regulation that punishes firms that cheat on quality or that requires firms to disclose information about product quality can improve efficiency. Thus, regulations governing what can or cannot be added to products, how products are labeled, and whether certain products can be safely sold to consumers, can be justified in the public interest if consumers do not possess the information to accurately discern these aspects of product quality on their own. Regulations that solve the asymmetric information problem benefit consumers who desire better information about product quality, as well as producers of higher quality products, who desire to segment the market for their wares.

For certain products, it may be relatively easy for consumers to know whether or not they have been deceived into purchasing a low quality product after consuming it. For such goods, sometimes called “experience goods,” market mechanisms like branding or repeat purchase may be adequate to solve the asymmetric information problem. Consumers can “punish” firms that cheat on quality by taking their business elsewhere (Klein and Leffler 1981). Hence, as long as consumers are able to identify whether or not they have been cheated, regulation may not be needed to solve the asymmetric information problem. However, for those products where quality is not easily ascertained by consumers even after consuming the product, market mechanisms are unlikely to be adequate since it is impossible for consumers to punish cheaters if they cannot determine whether or not they have in fact been cheated (Darby and Karni 1973; McCluskey 2000). For such “credence goods,” market mechanisms may therefore be insufficient to ensure that the right level of quality is delivered. Like all goods, food and drugs are multidimensional in terms of product quality. Some dimensions of quality (for instance, flavor or texture) are experience goods because they can be easily determined upon consumption. Other dimensions (for instance, the ingredients contained in certain foods, the caloric content of foods, whether or not an item is “organic,” or the therapeutic merits of medicines) are better characterized as credence goods since it may not be obvious to even a sophisticated consumer whether or not he has been cheated. Hence, there are a priori reasons to believe that market forces will not be adequate to solve the asymmetric information problem that plagues many dimensions of food and drug quality.

Economists have long recognized that regulation is not always enacted to improve efficiency and advance the public interest. Indeed, since Stigler (1971) and Peltzman (1976), it has often been argued that regulation is sought by specific industry groups in order to tilt the competitive playing field to their advantage. For instance, by functioning as an entry barrier, regulation may raise the profits of incumbent firms by precluding the entry of new firms and new products. In these instances of “regulatory capture,” regulation harms efficiency by limiting the extent of competition and innovation in the market. In the context of product quality regulations like those applying to food and drugs, regulation may help incumbent producers by making it more costly for newer products to enter the market. Indeed, regulations that require producers to meet certain minimum standards or that ban the use of certain additives may benefit incumbent producers at the expense of producers of cheaper substitutes. Such regulations may also harm consumers, whose needs may be better met by these new prohibited products. The observation that select producer interests are often among the most vocal proponents of regulation is consistent with this regulatory capture explanation for regulation. Indeed, as we will see, a desire to shift the competitive playing field in favor of the producers of certain products has historically been an important motivation for food and drug regulation.

The fact that producer groups are often among the most important political constituencies in favor of regulation need not, however, imply that regulation necessarily advances the interests of these producers at the expense of efficiency. As noted earlier, to the extent that regulation reduces informational asymmetries about product quality, regulation may benefit producers of higher quality items as well as the consumers of such goods. Indeed, such efficiency-enhancing regulation may be particularly desirable for those producers whose goods are least amenable to market-based solutions to the asymmetric information problem (i.e., credence goods) precisely because it helps these producers expand the market for their wares and increase their profits. Hence, because it is possible for regulation that benefits certain producers to also improve welfare, producer support for regulation should not be taken as prima facie evidence of Stiglerian regulation.

United States’ Experience with Food and Drug Regulation

From colonial times until the mid to late nineteenth century, most food and drug regulation in America was enacted at the state and local level. Additionally, these regulations were generally targeted toward specific food products (Hutt and Hutt 1984). For instance, in 1641 Massachusetts introduced its first food adulteration law, which required the official inspection of beef, pork and fish; this was followed in the 1650s with legislation that regulated the quality of bread. Meanwhile, Virginia in the 1600s enacted laws to regulate weights and measures for corn and to outlaw the sale of adulterated wines.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the scale and scope of state level food regulation expanded considerably. Several factors contributed to this growth in legislation. For instance:

  • Specialization and urbanization made households more dependent on food purchased in impersonal markets. While these forces increased the variety of foods available, it also increased uncertainty about quality, since the more specialized and urbanized consumers became, the less they knew about the quality of products purchased from others (Wallis and North 1986).
  • Technological change in food manufacturing gave rise to new products and increased product complexity. The late nineteenth century witnessed the introduction of several new food products including alum-based baking powders, oleomargarine (the first viable substitute for butter), glucose, canned foods, “dressed” (i.e. refrigerated) beef, blended whiskey, chemical preservatives, and so on (Strasser 1989; Young 1989; Goodwin 1999). Unfamiliarity with these new products generated consumer concerns about food safety and food adulteration. Moreover, because many of these new products directly challenged the dominant position enjoyed by more traditional foods, these developments also give rise to demands for regulation on the part of traditional food producers who desired regulation to disadvantage these new competitors (Wood 1986).
  • Related to the previous point, the rise of analytic chemistry facilitated the “cheapening” of food in ways that were difficult for consumers to detect. For instance, the introduction of preservatives made it possible for food manufacturers to mask food deterioration. Additionally, the development of glucose as a cheap alternative to sugar facilitated deception on the part of producers of high priced products like maple syrup. Hence, concerns about adulteration were increasingly felt. Curiously, however, the rise of analytic chemistry also improved the ability of experts to detect these more subtle forms of food adulteration.
  • Because food adulteration became more difficult to detect, market mechanisms that relied on the ability of consumers to detect cheating ex post became less effective in solving the food adulteration problem. Hence, there was a growing perception that regulation by experts was necessary.2

Given this environment, it is perhaps unsurprising that a mixture of incentives gave rise to food regulation in the late nineteenth century. General pure food and dairy laws that required producers to properly label their products to indicate whether mixtures or impurities were added were likely enacted to help reduce asymmetric information about product quality (Law 2003). While producers of “pure” items also played a role in demanding these regulations, consumer groups – specifically women’s groups and leaders of the fledgling home economics movement – were also an important constituency in favor of regulation because they desired better information about food ingredients (Young 1989; Goodwin 1999). In contrast, narrow producer interest motivations seem to have been more important in generating a demand for more specific food regulations. For instance, state and federal oleomargarine restrictions were clearly enacted at the behest of dairy producing interests, who wanted to limit the availability of oleomargarine (Dupré 1999). Additionally, state and federal meat inspection laws were introduced to placate local butchers and local slaughterhouses in eastern markets who desired to reduce the competitive threat posed by the large mid-western meat packers (Yeager 1981; Libecap 1992).

Federal regulation of the food and drug industry was mostly piecemeal until the early 1900s. In 1848, Congress enacted the Drug Importation Act to curb the import of adulterated medicines. The 1886 oleomargarine tax required margarine manufacturers to stamp their product in various ways, imposed an internal revenue tax of 2 cents per pound on all oleomargarine produced in the United States, and levied a fee of $600 per year on oleomargarine producers, $480 per year on oleomargarine wholesalers, and $48 per year on oleomargarine retailers (Lee 1973; Dupré 1999). The 1891 Meat Inspection Act mandated the inspection of all live cattle for export as well as for all live cattle that were to be slaughtered and the meat exported. In 1897 the Tea Importation Act was passed which required Customs inspection of tea imported into the United States. Finally, in 1902 Congress enacted the Biologics Control Act to regulate the safety of vaccinations and serums used to prevent diseases in humans.

The 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act and the 1906 Meat Inspection Act

The first general pure food and drug law at the federal level was not enacted until 1906 with the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act. While interest in federal regulation arose contemporaneously with interest in state regulation, conflict among competing interest groups regarding the provisions of a federal law made it difficult to build an effective political constituency in favor of federal regulation (Anderson 1958; Young 1989; Law and Libecap 2004). The law that emerged from this long legislative battle was similar in character to the state pure food laws that preceded it in that its focus was on accurate product labeling: it outlawed interstate trade in “adulterated” and “misbranded” foods, and required producers to indicate the presence of mixtures and/or impurities on product labels. Unlike earlier state legislation, however, the adulteration and misbranding provisions of this law also applied to drugs. Additionally, drugs listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) and the National Formulary (NF) were required to conform to USP and NF standards. Congress enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act along with the 1906 Meat Inspection Act, which tightened the USDA’s oversight of meat production. This new meat inspection law mandated ante and post mortem inspection of livestock, established sanitary standards for slaughterhouses and processing plants, and required continuous USDA inspection of meat processing and packaging. While the desire to create more uniform national food regulations was an important underlying motivation for regulation, it is noteworthy that both of these laws were enacted following a flurry of investigative journalism about the quality of meat and patent medicines. Specifically, the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, with its vivid description of the conditions of the meat packing industry, as well as a series of articles by Samuel Hopkins Adams published in Collier’s Weekly about the dangers associated with patent medicine use, played a key role in provoking legislators to enact federal regulation of food and drugs (Wood 1986; Young 1989; Carpenter 2001; Law and Libecap 2004).3

Responsibility for enforcing the Pure Food and Drugs Act fell to the Bureau of Chemistry, a division within the USDA, which conducted some of the earliest studies of food adulteration within the United States. The Bureau of Chemistry was renamed the Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration in 1927. In 1931 the name was shortened to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 1940 the FDA was transferred from the USDA to the Federal Security Agency, which, in 1953, was renamed the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Whether the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act was enacted to advance special interests or to improve efficiency is a subject of some debate. Kolko (1967), for instance, suggests that the law reflected regulatory capture by large, national food manufacturers, who wanted to use federal legislation to disadvantage smaller, local firms. Coppin and High (1999) argue that rent-seeking on the part of bureaucrats within the government – specifically, Dr. Harvey Wiley, chief of the Bureau of Chemistry – was a critical factor in the emergence of this law. According to Coppin and High, Wiley was a “bureaucratic entrepreneur” who sought to ensure the future of his agency. By building ties with pro-regulation interest groups and lobbying in favor of a federal food and drug law, Wiley secured a lasting policy area for his organization. Law and Libecap (2004) argue that a mixture of bureaucratic, producer and consumer interests were in favor of federal food and drugs regulation, but that the last-minute onset of consumer interest in regulation (provoked by muckraking journalism about food and drug quality) played a key role in influencing the timing of regulation.

Enforcement of the Pure Food and Drugs Act met with mixed success. Indeed, the evidence from the enforcement of this law suggests that neither the pure industry capture nor public interest hypotheses provide an adequate account for regulation. On the one hand, some evidence suggests that the fledgling FDA’s enforcement work helped raise standards and reduce informational asymmetries about food quality. For instance, under the Net Weight Amendment of 1919, food and drug packages shipped in interstate commerce were required to be “plainly and conspicuously marked to show the quantity of contents in terms of weight, measure, and numerical count” (Weber 1928, p. 28). Similarly, under the Seafood Amendment of 1934, Gulf coast shrimp packaged under FDA supervision was required to be stamped with a label stating “Production supervised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration” as a mechanism for ensuring quality and freshness. Additionally, during this period, investigators from the FDA played a key role in helping manufacturers improve the quality and reliability of processed foods, poultry products, food colorings, and canned items (Robinson 1900; Young 1992; Law 2003). On the other hand, the FDA’s efforts to regulate the patent medicine industry – specifically, to regulate the therapeutic claims that patent medicine firms made about their products – were largely unsuccessful. In U.S. vs. Johnson (1911), the Supreme Court ruled that therapeutic claims were essentially subjective and hence beyond the reach of this law. This situation was partially alleviated by the Sherley Amendment of 1912, which made it possible for the government to prosecute patent medicine producers who intended to defraud consumers. Effective regulation of pharmaceuticals was generally not possible, however, because under this amendment the government needed to prove fraud in order to successfully prosecute a patent medicine firm for making false therapeutic claims about its products (Young 1967). Hence, until new legislation was enacted in 1938, the patent medicine industry continued to escape effective federal control.

The 1938 Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act

Like the law it replaced (the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act), the Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1938 was enacted following a protracted legislative battle. In the early 1930s, the FDA and its Congressional supporters began to lobby in favor of replacing the Pure Food and Drugs Act with stronger legislation that would give the agency greater authority to regulate the patent medicine industry. These efforts were successfully challenged by the patent medicine industry and its Congressional allies until 1938, when the so-called “Elixir Sulfanilamide tragedy” made it impossible for Congress to continue to ignore demands for tighter regulation. The story behind the Elixir Sulfanilamide tragedy is as follows. In 1937, Massengill, a Tennessee drug company, began to market a liquid sulfa drug called Elixir Sulfanilamide. Unfortunately, the solvent in this drug was a highly toxic variant of antifreeze; as a result, over 100 people died from taking this drug. Public outcry over this tragedy was critical in breaking the Congressional deadlock over tighter regulation (Young 1967; Jackson 1970; Carpenter and Sin 2002).

Under the 1938 law, the FDA was given considerably greater authority over the food and drug industry. The FDA was granted the power to regulate the therapeutic claims drug manufacturers printed on their product labels; authority over drug advertising, however, rested with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the Wheeler-Lea Act of 1938. Additionally, the new law required that drugs be marketed with adequate directions for safe use, and FDA authority was extended to include medical devices and cosmetics. Perhaps the most striking and novel feature of the 1938 law was that it introduced mandatory pre-market approval for new drugs. Under this new law, drug manufacturers were required to demonstrate to the FDA that a new drug was safe before it could be released to the market. This feature of the legislation was clearly a reaction to the Elixir Sulfanilamide incident; food and drug bills introduced in Congress prior to 1938 did not include provisions requiring mandatory pre-market approval of new drugs.

Within a short period of time, the FDA began to deem some drugs to be so dangerous that no adequate directions could be written for direct use by patients. As a consequence, the FDA created a new class of drugs which would only be available with a physician’s prescription. Ambiguity over whether certain medicines – specifically, amphetamines and barbiturates – could be safely marketed directly to consumers or required a physician’s prescription led to disagreements between physicians, pharmacists, drug companies, and the FDA (Temin 1980). The political response to these conflicts was the Humphrey-Durham Amendment in 1951, which permitted a drug to be sold directly to patients “unless, because of its toxicity or other potential for harmful effect or because the method of collateral measures necessary to its use, it may safely be sold and used only under the supervision of a practitioner.”

The most significant expansion in FDA authority over drugs in the post World War II period occurred when Congress enacted the 1962 Drug Amendments (also known as the Kefauver-Harris Amendments) to the Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act. Like the 1938 law, the 1962 Drug Amendments were passed in response to a therapeutic crisis – in this instance, the discovery that the use of thalidomide (a sedative that was marketed to combat the symptoms associated with morning sickness) by pregnant women caused birth deformities in thousands of babies in Europe.4 As a result of these amendments, drug companies were required to establish that drugs were both safe and effective prior to market release (the 1938 law only required proof of safety) and the FDA was granted greater authority to oversee clinical trials for new drugs. Under the 1962 Drug Amendments, responsibility for regulating prescription drug advertising was transferred from the FTC to the FDA; furthermore, the FDA was given the authority to establish good manufacturing practices in the drug industry and the power to access company records to monitor these practices. As a result of these amendments, the United States today has among the toughest drug approval regimes in the developed world.

A large and growing body of scholarship has been devoted to analyzing the economics and politics of the drug approval process. Early work has focused on the extent to which the FDA’s pre-market approval process has affected the rate of innovation and the availability of new pharmaceuticals.5 Peltzman (1973), among others, argues that 1962 Drug Amendments significantly reduced the flow of new drugs onto the market and imposed large welfare losses on society. These views have been challenged by Temin (1980) who maintains that much of the decline in new drug introductions occurred prior to the 1962 Drug Amendments. More recent work, however, suggests that the FDA’s pre-market approval process has indeed reduced the availability of new medicines (Wiggins 1981). In international comparisons, scholars have also found that new medicines generally become available more quickly in Europe than in America, suggesting that tighter regulation in the U.S. has induced a drug-lag (Wardell and Lasagna 1975; Grabowsky and Vernon 1983; Kaitin and Brown 1995). Some critics believe that the costs of this drug lag are large relative to the benefits because delay in the introduction of new drugs prevents patients from accessing new and more effective medicines. Gieringer (1985), for instance, estimates that the number of deaths that can be attributed to the drug lag far exceeds the number of lives saved by extra caution on the part of the FDA. Hence, according to these authors, the 1962 Drug Amendments may have had adverse consequences for overall welfare.

Other scholarship has examined the pattern of drug approval times in the post 1962 period. It is commonly observed that larger pharmaceutical firms receive faster drug approvals than smaller firms. One interpretation of this fact is that larger firms have “captured” the drug approval process and use the process to disadvantage their smaller competitors. Empirical work by Olson (1997) and Carpenter (2002), however, casts some doubt on this Stiglerian interpretation.6 These authors find that while larger firms do generally receive quicker drug approvals, drug approval times are also responsive to several other factors, including the specific disease at which a drug is directed, the number of applications submitted by the drug company, and the existence of a disease-specific interest group. Indeed, in other work, Carpenter (2004a) demonstrates that a regulator that seeks to maximize its reputation for protecting consumer safety may approve new drugs in ways that appear to benefit large firms.7 Hence, the fact that large pharmaceutical firms obtain faster drug approvals than small firms need not imply that the FDA has been “captured” by these corporations.

Food and Drug Regulation since the 1960s

Since the passage of the 1962 Drug Amendments, federal food and drug regulation in the United States has evolved along several lines. In some cases, regulation has strengthened the government’s authority over various aspects of the food and drug trade. For instance, the 1976 Medical Device Amendments required medical device manufacturers to register with the FDA and to follow quality control guideline. These amendments also established pre-market approval guidelines for medical devices. Along similar lines, the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act required all packaged foods to contain standardized nutritional information and standardized information on serving sizes.8

In other cases, regulations have been enacted to streamline the pre-market approval process for new drugs. Concerns that mandatory pre-market approval of new drugs may have reduced the rate at which new pharmaceuticals become available to consumers prompted the FDA to issue new rules in 1991 to accelerate the review of drugs for life-threatening diseases. Similar concerns also motivated Congress to enact the Prescription Drug User Fee Act of 1992 which required drug manufacturers to pay fees to the FDA to review drug approval applications and required the FDA to use these fees to pay for more reviewers to assess these new drug applications.9 Speedier drug approval times have not, however, come without costs. Evidence presented by Olson (2002) suggests that faster drug approval times have also contributed to a higher incidence of adverse drug reactions from new pharmaceuticals.

Finally, in a few instances, legislation has weakened government’s authority over food and drug products. For example, the 1976 Vitamins and Minerals Amendments precluded the FDA from establishing standards that limited the potency of vitamins and minerals added to foods. Similarly, the 1994 Dietary Supplements and Nutritional Labeling Act weakened the FDA’s ability to regulate dietary supplements by classifying them as foods rather than drugs. In these cases, the consumers and producers of “natural” or “herbal” remedies played a key role in pushing Congress to limit the FDA’s authority.

References

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Carpenter, Daniel P. “Groups, the Media, Agency Waiting Costs, and FDA Drug Approval.” American Journal of Political Science 46, no. 2 (2002):490-505

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Carpenter, Daniel P. “The Political Economy of FDA Drug Review: Processing, Politics, and Lessons for Policy.” Health Affairs 23, no. 1 (2004b):52-63.

Carpenter, Daniel P. and Gisela Sin. “Crisis and the Emergence of Economic Regulation: The Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938.” University of Michigan, Department of Political Science, unpublished manuscript, 2002.

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Peltzman, Sam. “An Evaluation of Consumer Protection Legislation: The 1962 Drug Amendments.” Journal of Political Economy 81, no. 5 (1973): 1049-1091

Peltzman, Sam. “Toward a More General Theory of Regulation.” Journal of Law and Economics 19, no. 2 (1976): 211-40.

Robinson, Lisa M. “Regulating What We Eat: Mary Engle Pennington and the Food Research Laboratory.” Agricultural History 64 (1990): 143-53.

Stigler, George J. “The Theory of Economic Regulation.” Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science 2, no. 1 (1971): 3-21.

Strasser, Susan. Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market. New York: Pantheon Books, 1989.

Temin, Peter. Taking Your Medicine: Drug Regulation in the United States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980.

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Wardell, William M. and Louis Lasagna. Regulation and Drug Development. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1975.

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Yeager, Mary A. Competition and Regulation: The Development of Oligopoly in the Meat Packing Industry. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1981.

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1 See Hutt and Hutt (1984) for an excellent survey of the history of food regulation in earlier times. French and Phillips (2000) discuss the development of food regulation in the United Kingdom.

2 This rationale for regulation was articulated by a member of the 49th Congress (1885):

In ordinary cases the consumer may be left to his own intelligence to protect himself against impositions. By the exercise of a reasonable degree of caution, he can protect himself from frauds in under-weight and in under-measure. If he can not detect a paper-soled shoe on inspection he detects it in the wearing of it, and in one way or another he can impose a penalty upon the fraudulent vendor. As a general rule the doctrine of laissez faire can be applied. Not so with many of the adulterations of food. Scientific inspection is needed to detect the fraud, and scientific inspection is beyond the reach of the ordinary consumer. In such cases, the Government should intervene (Congressional Record, 49th Congress, 1st Session, pp. 5040-41).

3 It is noteworthy that in writing The Jungle, Sinclair’s motivation was not to obtain federal meat inspection legislation, but rather, to provoke public outrage over industrial working conditions. “I aimed at the public’s heart,” he later wrote, “and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” (Quoted in Kolko 1967, p. 103.)

4 Thalidomide was not approved for sale in the U.S. The fact that an FDA official – Dr. Frances Kelsey, an FDA drug examiner – played a key role in blocking its availability in the United States gave even more legitimacy to the view that the FDA’s authority over pharmaceuticals needed to be strengthened. See Temin (1980, pp. 123-24). Ironically, Dr. Kelsey’s efforts to block the introduction of thalidomide in the United States stemmed not from knowledge about the fact that thalidomide caused birth defects, but rather, from concerns that thalidomide might cause neuropathy (a disease of the nervous system) in some of its users. Indeed, the association between thalidomide and birth defects was discovered by researchers in Europe, not by drug investigators at the FDA. Hence, the FDA may not in fact have deserved the credit it was given in preventing the thalidomide tragedy from spreading to the U.S. (Harris 1992).

5 See Comanor (1986) for a summary of this literature.

6 Along these lines, Olson (1995, 1996a, 1996b) also finds that other aspects of the FDA’s enforcement work from the 1970s until the present are generally responsive to pressures from multiple interest groups including firms, consumer groups, the media, and Congress.

7 For a very readable discussion of this perspective see Carpenter (2004b).

8 See Mathios (2000) and Ippolito and Pappalardo (2002) for analyses of the effects of this law on food consumption choices.

9 See Olson (2000) for analysis of the effects of these user fees on approval times.

Citation: Law, Marc. “History of Food and Drug Regulation in the United States”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. October 11, 2004. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/history-of-food-and-drug-regulation-in-the-united-states/

An Economic History of Denmark

Ingrid Henriksen, University of Copenhagen

Denmark is located in Northern Europe between the North Sea and the Baltic. Today Denmark consists of the Jutland Peninsula bordering Germany and the Danish Isles and covers 43,069 square kilometers (16,629 square miles). 1 The present nation is the result of several cessions of territory throughout history. The last of the former Danish territories in southern Sweden were lost to Sweden in 1658, following one of the numerous wars between the two nations, which especially marred the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Following defeat in the Napoleonic Wars, Norway was separated from Denmark in 1814. After the last major war, the Second Schleswig War in 1864, Danish territory was further reduced by a third when Schleswig and Holstein were ceded to Germany. After a regional referendum in 1920 only North-Schleswig returned to Denmark. Finally, Iceland, withdrew from the union with Denmark in 1944. The following will deal with the geographical unit of today’s Denmark.

Prerequisites of Growth

Throughout history a number of advantageous factors have shaped the Danish economy. From this perspective it may not be surprising to find today’s Denmark among the richest societies in the world. According to the OECD, it ranked seventh in 2004, with income of $29.231 per capita (PPP). Although we can identify a number of turning points and breaks, for the time period over which we have quantitative evidence this long-run position has changed little. Thus Maddison (2001) in his estimate of GDP per capita around 1600 places Denmark as number six. One interpretation could be that favorable circumstances, rather than ingenious institutions or policies, have determined Danish economic development. Nevertheless, this article also deals with time periods in which the Danish economy was either diverging from or converging towards the leading economies.

Table 1:
Average Annual GDP Growth (at factor costs)
Total Per capita
1870-1880 1.9% 0.9%
1880-1890 2.5% 1.5%
1890-1900 2.9% 1.8%
1900-1913 3.2% 2.0%
1913-1929 3.0% 1.6%
1929-1938 2.2% 1.4%
1938-1950 2.4% 1.4%
1950-1960 3.4% 2.6%
1960-1973 4.6% 3.8%
1973-1982 1.5% 1.3%
1982-1993 1.6% 1.5%
1993-2004 2.2% 2.0%

Sources: Johansen (1985) and Statistics Denmark ‘Statistikbanken’ online.

Denmark’s geographical location in close proximity of the most dynamic nations of sixteenth-century Europe, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, no doubt exerted a positive influence on the Danish economy and Danish institutions. The North German area influenced Denmark both through long-term economic links and through the Lutheran Protestant Reformation which the Danes embraced in 1536.

The Danish economy traditionally specialized in agriculture like most other small and medium-sized European countries. It is, however, rather unique to find a rich European country in the late-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century which retained such a strong agrarian bias. Only in the late 1950s did the workforce of manufacturing industry overtake that of agriculture. Thus an economic history of Denmark must take its point of departure in agricultural development for quite a long stretch of time.

Looking at resource endowments, Denmark enjoyed a relatively high agricultural land-to-labor ratio compared to other European countries, with the exception of the UK. This was significant for several reasons since it, in this case, was accompanied by a comparatively wealthy peasantry.

Denmark had no mineral resources to speak of until the exploitation of oil and gas in the North Sea began in 1972 and 1984, respectively. From 1991 on Denmark has been a net exporter of energy although on a very modest scale compared to neighboring Norway and Britain. The small deposits are currently projected to be depleted by the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Figure 1. Percent of GDP in selected=

Source: Johansen (1985) and Statistics Denmark ’Nationalregnskaber’

Good logistic can be regarded as a resource in pre-industrial economies. The Danish coast line of 7,314 km and the fact that no point is more than 50 km from the sea were advantages in an age in which transport by sea was more economical than land transport.

Decline and Transformation, 1500-1750

The year of the Lutheran Reformation (1536) conventionally marks the end of the Middle Ages in Danish historiography. Only around 1500 did population growth begin to pick up after the devastating effect of the Black Death. Growth thereafter was modest and at times probably stagnant with large fluctuations in mortality following major wars, particularly during the seventeenth century, and years of bad harvests. About 80-85 percent of the population lived from subsistence agriculture in small rural communities and this did not change. Exports are estimated to have been about 5 percent of GDP between 1550 and 1650. The main export products were oxen and grain. The period after 1650 was characterized by a long lasting slump with a marked decline in exports to the neighboring countries, the Netherlands in particular.

The institutional development after the Black Death showed a return to more archaic forms. Unlike other parts of northwestern Europe, the peasantry on the Danish Isles afterwards became a victim of a process of re-feudalization during the last decades of the fifteenth century. A likely explanation is the low population density that encouraged large landowners to hold on to their labor by all means. Freehold tenure among peasants effectively disappeared during the seventeenth century. Institutions like bonded labor that forced peasants to stay on the estate where they were born, and labor services on the demesne as part of the land rent bring to mind similar arrangements in Europe east of the Elbe River. One exception to the East European model was crucial, however. The demesne land, that is the land worked directly under the estate, never made up more than nine percent of total land by the mid eighteenth century. Although some estate owners saw an interest in encroaching on peasant land, the state protected the latter as production units and, more importantly, as a tax base. Bonded labor was codified in the all-encompassing Danish Law of Christian V in 1683. It was further intensified by being extended, though under another label, to all Denmark during 1733-88, as a means for the state to tide the large landlords over an agrarian crisis. One explanation for the long life of such an authoritarian institution could be that the tenants were relatively well off, with 25-50 acres of land on average. Another reason could be that reality differed from the formal rigor of the institutions.

Following the Protestant Reformation in 1536, the Crown took over all church land, thereby making it the owner of 50 percent of all land. The costs of warfare during most of the sixteenth century could still be covered by the revenue of these substantial possessions. Around 1600 the income from taxation and customs, mostly Sound Toll collected from ships that passed the narrow strait between Denmark and today’s Sweden, on the one hand and Crown land revenues on the other were equally large. About 50 years later, after a major fiscal crisis had led to the sale of about half of all Crown lands, the revenue from royal demesnes declined relatively to about one third, and after 1660 the full transition from domain state to tax state was completed.

The bulk of the former Crown land had been sold to nobles and a few common owners of estates. Consequently, although the Danish constitution of 1665 was the most stringent version of absolutism found anywhere in Europe at the time, the Crown depended heavily on estate owners to perform a number of important local tasks. Thus, conscription of troops for warfare, collection of land taxes and maintenance of law and order enhanced the landlords’ power over their tenants.

Reform and International Market Integration, 1750-1870

The driving force of Danish economic growth, which took off during the late eighteenth century was population growth at home and abroad – which triggered technological and institutional innovation. Whereas the Danish population during the previous hundred years grew by about 0.4 percent per annum, growth climbed to about 0.6 percent, accelerating after 1775 and especially from the second decade of the nineteenth century (Johansen 2002). Like elsewhere in Northern Europe, accelerating growth can be ascribed to a decline in mortality, mainly child mortality. Probably this development was initiated by fewer spells of epidemic diseases due to fewer wars and to greater inherited immunity against contagious diseases. Vaccination against smallpox and formal education of midwives from the early nineteenth century might have played a role (Banggård 2004). Land reforms that entailed some scattering of the farm population may also have had a positive influence. Prices rose from the late eighteenth century in response to the increase in populations in Northern Europe, but also following a number of international conflicts. This again caused a boom in Danish transit shipping and in grain exports.

Population growth rendered the old institutional set up obsolete. Landlords no longer needed to bind labor to their estate, as a new class of landless laborers or cottagers with little land emerged. The work of these day-laborers was to replace the labor services of tenant farmers on the demesnes. The old system of labor services obviously presented an incentive problem all the more since it was often carried by the live-in servants of the tenant farmers. Thus, the labor days on the demesnes represented a loss to both landlords and tenants (Henriksen 2003). Part of the land rent was originally paid in grain. Some of it had been converted to money which meant that real rents declined during the inflation. The solution to these problems was massive land sales both from the remaining crown lands and from private landlords to their tenants. As a result two-thirds of all Danish farmers became owner-occupiers compared to only ten percent in the mid-eighteenth century. This development was halted during the next two and a half decades but resumed as the business cycle picked up during the 1840s and 1850s. It was to become of vital importance to the modernization of Danish agriculture towards the end of the nineteenth century that 75 percent of all agricultural land was farmed by owners of middle-sized farms of about 50 acres. Population growth may also have put a pressure on common lands in the villages. At any rate enclosure begun in the 1760s, accelerated in the 1790s supported by legislation and was almost complete in the third decade of the nineteenth century.

The initiative for the sweeping land reforms from the 1780s is thought to have come from below – that is from the landlords and in some instances also from the peasantry. The absolute monarch and his counselors were, however, strongly supportive of these measures. The desire for peasant land as a tax base weighed heavily and the reforms were believed to enhance the efficiency of peasant farming. Besides, the central government was by now more powerful than in the preceding centuries and less dependent on landlords for local administrative tasks.

Production per capita rose modestly before the 1830s and more pronouncedly thereafter when a better allocation of labor and land followed the reforms and when some new crops like clover and potatoes were introduced at a larger scale. Most importantly, the Danes no longer lived at the margin of hunger. No longer do we find a correlation between demographic variables, deaths and births, and bad harvest years (Johansen 2002).

A liberalization of import tariffs in 1797 marked the end of a short spell of late mercantilism. Further liberalizations during the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century established the Danish liberal tradition in international trade that was only to be broken by the protectionism of the 1930s.

Following the loss of the secured Norwegian market for grain in 1814, Danish exports began to target the British market. The great rush forward came as the British Corn Law was repealed in 1846. The export share of the production value in agriculture rose from roughly 10 to around 30 percent between 1800 and 1870.

In 1849 absolute monarchy was peacefully replaced by a free constitution. The long-term benefits of fundamental principles such as the inviolability of private property rights, the freedom of contracting and the freedom of association were probably essential to future growth though hard to quantify.

Modernization and Convergence, 1870-1914

During this period Danish economic growth outperformed that of most other European countries. A convergence in real wages towards the richest countries, Britain and the U.S., as shown by O’Rourke and Williamsson (1999), can only in part be explained by open economy forces. Denmark became a net importer of foreign capital from the 1890s and foreign debt was well above 40 percent of GDP on the eve of WWI. Overseas emigration reduced the potential workforce but as mortality declined population growth stayed around one percent per annum. The increase in foreign trade was substantial, as in many other economies during the heyday of the gold standard. Thus the export share of Danish agriculture surged to a 60 percent.

The background for the latter development has featured prominently in many international comparative analyses. Part of the explanation for the success, as in other Protestant parts of Northern Europe, was a high rate of literacy that allowed a fast spread of new ideas and new technology.

The driving force of growth was that of a small open economy, which responded effectively to a change in international product prices, in this instance caused by the invasion of cheap grain to Western Europe from North America and Eastern Europe. Like Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, Denmark did not impose a tariff on grain, in spite of the strong agrarian dominance in society and politics.

Proposals to impose tariffs on grain, and later on cattle and butter, were turned down by Danish farmers. The majority seems to have realized the advantages accruing from the free imports of cheap animal feed during the ongoing process of transition from vegetable to animal production, at a time when the prices of animal products did not decline as much as grain prices. The dominant middle-sized farm was inefficient for wheat but had its comparative advantage in intensive animal farming with the given technology. O’Rourke (1997) found that the grain invasion only lowered Danish rents by 4-5 percent, while real wages rose (according to expectation) but more than in any other agrarian economy and more than in industrialized Britain.

The move from grain exports to exports of animal products, mainly butter and bacon, was to a great extent facilitated by the spread of agricultural cooperatives. This organization allowed the middle-sized and small farms that dominated Danish agriculture to benefit from the economy of scale in processing and marketing. The newly invented steam-driven continuous cream separator skimmed more cream from a kilo of milk than conventional methods and had the further advantage of allowing transported milk brought together from a number of suppliers to be skimmed. From the 1880s the majority of these creameries in Denmark were established as cooperatives and about 20 years later, in 1903, the owners of 81 percent of all milk cows supplied to a cooperative (Henriksen 1999). The Danish dairy industry captured over a third of the rapidly expanding British butter-import market, establishing a reputation for consistent quality that was reflected in high prices. Furthermore, the cooperatives played an active role in persuading the dairy farmers to expand production from summer to year-round dairying. The costs of intensive feeding during the wintertime were more than made up for by a winter price premium (Henriksen and O’Rourke 2005). Year-round dairying resulted in a higher rate of utilization of agrarian capital – that is of farm animals and of the modern cooperative creameries. Not least did this intensive production mean a higher utilization of hitherto underemployed labor. From the late 1890’s, in particular, labor productivity in agriculture rose at an unanticipated speed at par with productivity increase in the urban trades.

Industrialization in Denmark took its modest beginning in the 1870s with a temporary acceleration in the late 1890s. It may be a prime example of an industrialization process governed by domestic demand for industrial goods. Industry’s export never exceeded 10 percent of value added before 1914, compared to agriculture’s export share of 60 percent. The export drive of agriculture towards the end of the nineteenth century was a major force in developing other sectors of the economy not least transport, trade and finance.

Weathering War and Depression, 1914-1950

Denmark, as a neutral nation, escaped the devastating effects of World War I and was even allowed to carry on exports to both sides in the conflict. The ensuing trade surplus resulted in a trebling of the money supply. As the monetary authorities failed to contain the inflationary effects of this development, the value of the Danish currency slumped to about 60 percent of its pre-war value in 1920. The effects of monetary policy failure were aggravated by a decision to return to the gold standard at the 1913 level. When monetary policy was finally tightened in 1924, it resulted in fierce speculation in an appreciation of the Krone. During 1925-26 the currency returned quickly to its pre-war parity. As this was not counterbalanced by an equal decline in prices, the result was a sharp real appreciation and a subsequent deterioration in Denmark’s competitive position (Klovland 1997).

Figure 2. Indices of the Krone Real Exchange Rate and Terms Of Trade (1980=100; Real rates based on Wholesale Price Index

Source: Abildgren (2005)

Note: Trade with Germany is included in the calculation of the real effective exchange rate for the whole period, including 1921-23.

When, in September 1931, Britain decided to leave the gold standard again, Denmark, together with Sweden and Norway, followed only a week later. This move was beneficial as the large real depreciation lead to a long-lasting improvement in Denmark’s competitiveness in the 1930s. It was, no doubt, the single most important policy decision during the depression years. Keynesian demand management, even if it had been fully understood, was barred by a small public sector, only about 13 percent of GDP. As it was, fiscal orthodoxy ruled and policy was slightly procyclical as taxes were raised to cover the deficit created by crisis and unemployment (Topp 1995).

Structural development during the 1920s, surprisingly for a rich nation at this stage, was in favor of agriculture. The total labor force in Danish agriculture grew by 5 percent from 1920 to 1930. The number of employees in agriculture was stagnating whereas the number of self-employed farmers increased by a larger number. The development in relative incomes cannot account for this trend but part of the explanation must be found in a flawed Danish land policy, which actively supported a further parceling out of land into small holdings and restricted the consolidation into larger more viable farms. It took until the early 1960s before this policy began to be unwound.

When the world depression hit Denmark with a minor time lag, agriculture still employed one-third of the total workforce while its contribution to total GDP was a bit less than one-fifth. Perhaps more importantly, agricultural goods still made up 80 percent of total exports.

Denmark’s terms of trade, as a consequence, declined by 24 percent from 1930 to 1932. In 1933 and 1934 bilateral trade agreements were forced upon Denmark by Britain and Germany. In 1932 Denmark had adopted exchange control, a harsh measure even for its time, to stem the net flow of foreign exchange out of the country. By rationing imports exchange control also offered some protection of domestic industry. At the end of the decade manufacture’s GDP had surpassed that of agriculture. In spite of the protectionist policy, unemployment soared to 13-15 percent of the workforce.

The policy mistakes during World War I and its immediate aftermath served as a lesson for policymakers during World War II. The German occupation force (April 9, 1940 until May 5, 1945) drew the funds for its sustenance and for exports to Germany on the Danish central bank whereby the money supply more than doubled. In response the Danish authorities in 1943 launched a policy of absorbing money through open market operations and, for the first time in history, through a surplus on the state budget.

Economic reconstruction after World War II was swift, as again Denmark had been spared the worst consequences of a major war. In 1946 GDP recovered its highest pre-war level. In spite of this, Denmark received relatively generous support through the Marshall Plan of 1948-52, when measured in dollars per capita.

From Riches to Crisis, 1950-1973: Liberalizations and International Integration Once Again

The growth performance during 1950-1957 was markedly lower than the Western European average. The main reason was the high share of agricultural goods in Danish exports, 63 percent in 1950. International trade in agricultural products to a large extent remained regulated. Large deteriorations in the terms of trade caused by the British devaluation 1949, when Denmark followed suit, the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, and the Suez-crisis of 1956 made matters worse. The ensuing deficits on the balance of payment led the government to contractionary policy measures which restrained growth.

The liberalization of the flow of goods and capital in Western Europe within the framework of the OEEC (the Organization for European Economic Cooperation) during the 1950s probably dealt a blow to some of the Danish manufacturing firms, especially in the textile industry, that had been sheltered through exchange control and wartime. Nevertheless, the export share of industrial production doubled from 10 percent to 20 percent before 1957, at the same time as employment in industry surpassed agricultural employment.

On the question of European economic integration Denmark linked up with its largest trading partner, Britain. After the establishment of the European Common Market in 1958 and when the attempts to create a large European free trade area failed, Denmark entered the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) created under British leadership in 1960. When Britain was finally able to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, Denmark followed, after a referendum on the issue. Long before admission to the EEC, the advantages to Danish agriculture from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had been emphasized. The higher prices within the EEC were capitalized into higher land prices at the same time that investments were increased based on the expected gains from membership. As a result the most indebted farmers who had borrowed at fixed interests rates were hit hard by two developments from the early 1980s. The EEC started to reduce the producers’ benefits of the CAP because of overproduction and, after 1982, the Danish economy adjusted to a lower level of inflation, and therefore, nominal interest rates. According to Andersen (2001) Danish farmers were left with the highest interest burden of all European Union (EU) farmers in the 1990’s.

Denmark’s relations with the EU, while enthusiastic at the beginning, have since been characterized by a certain amount of reserve. A national referendum in 1992 turned down the treaty on the European Union, the Maastricht Treaty. The Danes, then, opted out of four areas, common citizenship, a common currency, common foreign and defense politics and a common policy on police and legal matters. Once more, in 2000, adoption of the common currency, the Euro, was turned down by the Danish electorate. In the debate leading up to the referendum the possible economic advantages of the Euro in the form of lower transaction costs were considered to be modest, compared to the existent regime of fixed exchange rates vis-à-vis the Euro. All the major political parties, nevertheless, are pro-European, with only the extreme Right and the extreme Left being against. It seems that there is a discrepancy between the general public and the politicians on this particular issue.

As far as domestic economic policy is concerned, the heritage from the 1940s was a new commitment to high employment modified by a balance of payment constraint. The Danish policy differed from that of some other parts of Europe in that the remains of the planned economy from the war and reconstruction period in the form of rationing and price control were dismantled around 1950 and that no nationalizations took place.

Instead of direct regulation, economic policy relied on demand management with fiscal policy as its main instrument. Monetary policy remained a bone of contention between politicians and economists. Coordination of policies was the buzzword but within that framework monetary policy was allotted a passive role. The major political parties for a long time were wary of letting the market rate of interest clear the loan market. Instead, some quantitative measures were carried out with the purpose of dampening the demand for loans.

From Agricultural Society to Service Society: The Growth of the Welfare State

Structural problems in foreign trade extended into the high growth period of 1958-73, as Danish agricultural exports were met with constraints both from the then EEC-member countries and most EFTA countries, as well. During the same decade, the 1960s, as the importance of agriculture was declining the share of employment in the public sector grew rapidly until 1983. Building and construction also took a growing share of the workforce until 1970. These developments left manufacturing industry with a secondary position. Consequently, as pointed out by Pedersen (1995) the sheltered sectors in the economy crowded out the sectors that were exposed to international competition, that is mostly industry and agriculture, by putting a pressure on labor and other costs during the years of strong expansion.

Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of the Danish economy during the Golden Age was the steep increase in welfare-related costs from the mid 1960s and not least the corresponding increases in the number of public employees. Although the seeds of the modern Scandinavian welfare state were sown at a much earlier date, the 1960s was the time when public expenditure as a share of GDP exceeded that of most other countries.

As in other modern welfare states, important elements in the growth of the public sector during the 1960s were the expansion in public health care and education, both free for all citizens. The background for much of the increase in the number of public employees from the late 1960s was the rise in labor participation by married women from the late 1960s until about 1990, partly at least as a consequence. In response, the public day care facilities for young children and old people were expanded. Whereas in 1965 7 percent of 0-6 year olds were in a day nursery or kindergarten, this share rose to 77 per cent in 2000. This again spawned more employment opportunities for women in the public sector. Today the labor participation for women, around 75 percent of 16-66 year olds, is among the highest in the world.

Originally social welfare programs targeted low income earners who were encouraged to take out insurance against sickness (1892), unemployment (1907) and disability (1922). The public subsidized these schemes and initiated a program for the poor among old people (1891). The high unemployment period in the 1930s inspired some temporary relief and some administrative reform, but little fundamental change.

Welfare policy in the first four decades following World War II is commonly believed to have been strongly influenced by the Social Democrat party which held around 30 percent of the votes in general elections and was the party in power for long periods of time. One of the distinctive features of the Danish welfare state has been its focus on the needs of the individual person rather than on the family context. Another important characteristic is the universal nature of a number of benefits starting with a basic old age pension for all in 1956. The compensation rates in a number of schedules are high in international comparison, particularly for low income earners. Public transfers gained a larger share in total public outlays both because standards were raised – that is benefits became higher – and because the number of recipients increased dramatically following the high unemployment regime from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s. To pay for the high transfers and the large public sector – around 30 percent of the work force – the tax load is also high in international perspective. The share public sector and social expenditure has risen to above 50 percent of GDP, only second to the share in Sweden.

Figure 3. Unemployment, Denmark (percent of total labor force)

Source: Statistics Denmark ‘50 års-oversigten’ and ADAM’s databank

The Danish labor market model has recently attracted favorable international attention (OECD 2005). It has been declared successful in fighting unemployment – especially compared to the policies of countries like Germany and France. The so-called Flexicurity model rests on three pillars. The first is low employment protection, the second is relatively high compensation rates for the unemployed and the third is the requirement for active participation by the unemployed. Low employment protection has a long tradition in Denmark and there is no change in this factor when comparing the twenty years of high unemployment – 8-12 per cent of the labor force – from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s, to the past ten years when unemployment has declined to a mere 4.5 percent in 2006. The rules governing compensation to the unemployed were tightened from 1994, limiting the number of years the unemployed could receive benefits from 7 to 4. Most noticeably labor market policy in 1994 turned from ‘passive’ measures – besides unemployment benefits, an early retirement scheme and a temporary paid leave scheme – toward ‘active’ measures that were devoted to getting people back to work by providing training and jobs. It is commonly supposed that the strengthening of economic incentives helped to lower unemployment. However, as Andersen and Svarer (2006) point out, while unemployment has declined substantially a large and growing share of Danes of employable age receives transfers other than unemployment benefit – that is benefits related to sickness or social problems of various kinds, early retirement benefits, etc. This makes it hazardous to compare the Danish labor market model with that of many other countries.

Exchange Rates and Macroeconomic Policy

Denmark has traditionally adhered to a fixed exchange rate regime. The belief is that for a small and open economy, a floating exchange rate could lead to very volatile exchange rates which would harm foreign trade. After having abandoned the gold standard in 1931, the Danish currency (the Krone) was, for a while, pegged to the British pound, only to join the IMF system of fixed but adjustable exchange rates, the so-called Bretton Woods system after World War II. The close link with the British economy still manifested itself when the Danish currency was devaluated along with the pound in 1949 and, half way, in 1967. The devaluation also reflected that after 1960, Denmark’s international competitiveness had gradually been eroded by rising real wages, corresponding to a 30 percent real appreciation of the currency (Pedersen 1996).

When the Bretton Woods system broke down in the early 1970s, Denmark joined the European exchange rate cooperation, the “Snake” arrangement, set up in 1972, an arrangement that was to be continued in the form of the Exchange Rate Mechanism within the European Monetary System from 1979. The Deutschmark was effectively the nominal anchor in European currency cooperation until the launch of the Euro in 1999, a fact that put Danish competitiveness under severe pressure because of markedly higher inflation in Denmark compared to Germany. In the end the Danish government gave way before the pressure and undertook four discrete devaluations from 1979 to 1982. Since compensatory increases in wages were held back, the balance of trade improved perceptibly.

This improvement could, however, not make up for the soaring costs of old loans at a time when the international real rates of interests were high. The Danish devaluation strategy exacerbated this problem. The anticipation of further devaluations was mirrored in a steep increase in the long-term rate of interest. It peaked at 22 percent in nominal terms in 1982, with an interest spread to Germany of 10 percent. Combined with the effects of the second oil crisis on the Danish terms of trade, unemployment rose to 10 percent of the labor force. Given the relatively high compensation ratios for the unemployed, the public deficit increased rapidly and public debt grew to about 70 percent of GDP.

Figure 4. Current Account and Foreign Debt (Denmark)

Source: Statistics Denmark Statistical Yearbooks and ADAM’s Databank

In September 1982 the Social Democrat minority government resigned without a general election and was relieved by a Conservative-Liberal minority government. The new government launched a program to improve the competitiveness of the private sector and to rebalance public finances. An important element was a disinflationary economic policy based on fixed exchange rates pegging the Krone to the participants of the EMS and, from 1999, to the Euro. Furthermore, automatic wage indexation that had occurred, with short interruptions since 1920 (with a short lag and high coverage), was abolished. Fiscal policy was tightened, thus bringing an end to the real increases in public expenditure that had lasted since the 1960’s.

The stabilization policy was successful in bringing down inflation and long interest rates. Pedersen (1995) finds that this process, nevertheless, was slower than might have been expected. In view of former Danish exchange rate policy it took some time for the market to believe in the credible commitment to fixed exchange rates. From the late 1990s the interest spread to Germany/ Euroland has been negligible, however.

The initial success of the stabilization policy brought a boom to the Danish economy that, once again, caused overheating in the form of high wage increases (in 1987) and a deterioration of the current account. The solution to this was a number of reforms in 1986-87 aiming at encouraging private savings that had by then fallen to an historical low. Most notable was the reform that reduced tax deductibility of private interest on debts. These measures resulted in a hard landing to the economy caused by the collapse of the housing market.

The period of low growth was further prolonged by the international recession in 1992. In 1993 yet another shift of regime occurred in Danish economic policy. A new Social Democrat government decided to ‘kick start’ the economy by means of a moderate fiscal expansion whereas, in 1994, the same government tightened labor market policies substantially, as we have seen. Mainly as a consequence of these measures the Danish economy from 1994 entered a period of moderate growth with unemployment steadily falling to the level of the 1970s. A new feature that still puzzles Danish economists is that the decline in unemployment over these years has not yet resulted in any increase in wage inflation.

Denmark at the beginning of the twenty-first century in many ways fits the description of a Small Successful European Economy according to Mokyr (2006). Unlike in most of the other small economies, however, Danish exports are broad based and have no “niche” in the world market. Like some other small European countries, Ireland, Finland and Sweden, the short term economic fluctuations as described above have not followed the European business cycle very closely for the past thirty years (Andersen 2001). Domestic demand and domestic economic policy has, after all, played a crucial role even in a very small and very open economy.

References

Abildgren, Kim. “Real Effective Exchange Rates and Purchasing-Power-parity Convergence: Empirical Evidence for Denmark, 1875-2002.” Scandinavian Economic History Review 53, no. 3 (2005): 58-70.

Andersen, Torben M. et al. The Danish Economy: An international Perspective. Copenhagen: DJØF Publishing, 2001.

Andersen, Torben M. and Michael Svarer. “Flexicurity: den danska arbetsmarknadsmodellen.” Ekonomisk debatt 34, no. 1 (2006): 17-29.

Banggaard, Grethe. Befolkningsfremmende foranstaltninger og faldende børnedødelighed. Danmark, ca. 1750-1850. Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag, 2004

Hansen, Sv. Aage. Økonomisk vækst i Danmark: Volume I: 1720-1914 and Volume II: 1914-1983. København: Akademisk Forlag, 1984.

Henriksen, Ingrid. “Avoiding Lock-in: Cooperative Creameries in Denmark, 1882-1903.” European Review of Economic History 3, no. 1 (1999): 57-78

Henriksen, Ingrid. “Freehold Tenure in Late Eighteenth-Century Denmark.” Advances in Agricultural Economic History 2 (2003): 21-40.

Henriksen, Ingrid and Kevin H. O’Rourke. “Incentives, Technology and the Shift to Year-round Dairying in Late Nineteenth-century Denmark.” Economic History Review 58, no. 3 (2005):.520-54.

Johansen, Hans Chr. Danish Population History, 1600-1939. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2002.

Johansen, Hans Chr. Dansk historisk statistik, 1814-1980. København: Gyldendal, 1985.

Klovland, Jan T. “Monetary Policy and Business Cycles in the Interwar Years: The Scandinavian Experience.” European Review of Economic History 2, no. 3 (1998): 309-44.

Maddison, Angus. The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective. Paris: OECD, 2001

Mokyr, Joel. “Successful Small Open Economies and the Importance of Good Institutions.” In The Road to Prosperity. An Economic History of Finland, edited by Jari Ojala, Jari Eloranta and Jukka Jalava, 8-14. Helsinki: SKS, 2006.

Pedersen, Peder J. “Postwar Growth of the Danish Economy.” In Economic Growth in Europe since 1945, edited by Nicholas Crafts and Gianni Toniolo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

OECD, Employment Outlook, 2005.

O’Rourke, Kevin H. “The European Grain Invasion, 1870-1913.” Journal of Economic History 57, no. 4 (1997): 775-99.

O’Rourke, Kevin H. and Jeffrey G. Williamson. Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-century Atlantic Economy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999

Topp, Niels-Henrik. “Influence of the Public Sector on Activity in Denmark, 1929-39.” Scandinavian Economic History Review 43, no. 3 (1995): 339-56.


Footnotes

1 Denmark also includes the Faeroe Islands, with home rule since 1948, and Greenland, with home rule since 1979, both in the North Atlantic. These territories are left out of this account.

Citation: Henriksen, Ingrid. “An Economic History of Denmark”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. October 6, 2006. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/an-economic-history-of-denmark/

Council of Economic Advisers

Robert Stanley Herren, North Dakota State University

“The Council of Economic Advisers was established by the Employment Act of 1946 to provide the President with objective economic analysis and advice on the development and implementation of a wide range of domestic and international economic policy issues” (Economic Report of the President 2001: 257). Although it has been the most enduring and important result of the Employment Act of 1946, the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) was not the legislation’s major focus. As the Second World War ended, many feared that the United States would return to being a depressed economy. Many felt that the United States had the ability, through discretionary fiscal policy, to prevent such an economic collapse but needed legislation to force the federal government to promote continued economic prosperity. Thus, Keynesian economists in government convinced their congressional allies to introduce the Full Employment Act of 1945. Because critics thought the proposed legislation would result in higher inflation, the final legislation (Employment Act of 1946) included vague goals of “maximum production and employment consistent with price stability.”

Neither Congress nor President Truman possessed a clear vision concerning the purpose of the three-member Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). President Truman complicated the CEA’s early years by appointing three people (Edwin Nourse, chair; Leon Keyserling, vice-chair; and John D. Clark) who held disparate views concerning the CEA’s purpose and economic policies. Nourse preferred the CEA to provide impartial economic advice to the President and to avoid the political process; for example, he did not believe that it was appropriate for CEA members to participate in Congressional hearings. Keyserling, who came to Washington during the 1930s to work in President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, wanted to participate in the political process by being a forceful advocate of the President’s economic program. The squabbling continued until Nourse resigned, and Keyserling became the CEA’s second chair in 1949.

During the first months of the Eisenhower administration, there was substantial debate about whether the three-member form of the CEA should be continued. Critics of Truman’s CEA noted that it did not always speak with a unified voice; more damaging was the belief that Keyserling had become a Democratic partisan in his vigorous defense of presidential initiatives. President Eisenhower wanted to maintain the CEA in some form because he appreciated receiving expert advice from his staff. He chose Arthur Burns to chair his first CEA and to reorganize the CEA. Burns kept three members but eliminated the vice-chair position to make it clear that the chair controlled the CEA; this structure still exists.

The three-member Council of Economic Advisers has continually provided professional economic advice to presidents, who have appointed to the CEA many prominent mainstream economists including several recipients of the Nobel Prize in economics. Its staff has remained small with between 25 and 30 people including senior staff economists (usually on leave from universities), junior staff economists (most often graduate students), and several permanent statisticians. Writing its annual Economic Report provides a CEA with the opportunity to explain the economic rationale for an administration’s economic programs.

Advocacy of Economic Growth

Each Council of Economic Advisers has stressed the importance of adopting policies to ensure a high rate of economic growth. CEAs have been advocates within administrations for emphasizing economic growth as a national priority. CEAs have been most successful in promoting economic growth by consistently supporting microeconomic policies to promote competition and to make markets work better. Because they contend that free international trade improves a nation’s economic growth, CEAs have supported presidential efforts to enact policies that would result in more open trade among nations. Former CEA members have often noted that much of their and the staff’s time dealt with microeconomic policies, often to provide arguments against ill-conceived proposals coming from other parts of the administration or from Congress. Clinton’s CEA described well this function: “The Council’s mission within the Executive Office of the President is unique: it serves as a tenacious advocate for policies that facilitate the workings of the market and that emphasize the importance of incentives, efficiency, productivity, and long-term growth. …The Council has also been important in helping to weed out proposals that are ill-advised or unworkable, proposals that cannot be supported by the existing economic data, and proposals that could have damaging consequences for the economy” (Economic Report of the President 1996:11).

Although CEAs in both Democratic and Republican administrations have given similar advice regarding microeconomic and international trade policies, they have not agreed on how to use fiscal policy to increase the growth of potential real output. Republican CEAs, particularly in the Reagan and Bush administrations, have recommended lower marginal tax rates to increase work effort, saving, and investment. Democratic CEAs have generally thought that such effects are small. For example, Clinton’s CEA vigorously defended the increase in marginal tax rates imposed by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. It argued, similar to other Democratic CEAs, that an increase in marginal tax rates would not adversely affect economic growth because it would not significantly reduce work effort, saving, and investment.

Fiscal Policies and Business Cycles

The Employment Act of 1946 focused on using discretionary fiscal policy to prevent another Great Depression. CEAs have contributed to convincing presidents during recessions not to raise tax rates or to reduce government expenditures in an attempt to balance the budget. This effort started early in the CEA’s history with the recessions of 1948-1949 and 1953-1954 because both Truman’s CEA and Eisenhower’s CEA accepted the idea that budgets should be balanced over the business cycle, rather than annually.

Although it was easy to avoid using contractionary fiscal policy during an economic downturn, it was more difficult to know when to advocate expansionary fiscal policy. For example, many have criticized the Eisenhower administration for not moving more aggressively in using fiscal policy to stimulate aggregate demand between 1958 and 1960. Eisenhower’s CEA, however, never found an appropriate time to recommend a tax cut. It perceived the economy to be too strong in 1958 to warrant additional demand. It saw the economic slowdown in 1959 to be caused by a supply disturbance (a lengthy steel strike) rather than a lack of aggregate demand. The fear in 1960 was any potential tax legislation, enacted during a presidential election year, would contain too many provisions that would adversely affect long-term economic growth.

The CEA’s most famous success in using discretionary fiscal policy occurred during the 1960s. President Kennedy appointed Walter Heller as his first chair. Heller, joined by Kermit Gordon and James Tobin, formed the most Keynesian CEA ever. They thought that unemployment could be reduced from the current level of seven percent to four percent without increasing inflation. In its 1962 report, the CEA explicitly set four percent unemployment as the interim target for the full-employment rate of unemployment. Heller’s excellent rapport with President Kennedy allowed the CEA to successfully promote the investment tax credit (1962) and reduction of marginal tax rates for personal income (1964); the latter legislation was primarily designed to increase consumer demand.

However even this success demonstrated the extensive time period required to enact fiscal policy. Later in the 1960s during President Johnson’s administration, aggregate demand increased faster than expected due to increasing government spending arising from both military expenditures in Vietnam and the creation of many new government programs. To prevent inflation the CEA recommended a tax increase. President Johnson did not immediately accept this advice; he ultimately proposed and obtained a tax surcharge (1968) that was too little and too late to prevent rising inflation.

Over time, there has been a growing realization that the political process reduces the opportunities for timely enactment of discretionary fiscal policies. Moreover a long and variable effectiveness (impact) lag combined with uncertainty in the magnitude of fiscal policy multipliers further weaken the case for discretionary fiscal policy in reducing cyclical fluctuations. Instead, CEAs have stressed the importance of strengthening the automatic stabilizing aspects of the fiscal system.

Monetary Policy

While fiscal policy has declined in importance as a countercyclical tool, monetary policy has become relatively more important. The CEA does not directly influence monetary policy, but it does regularly communicate with the Federal Reserve in an attempt to provide it with the CEA’s view of the economy. It is uniquely qualified to explain the economic consequences of monetary policy to the President and White House staff.

Most CEAs have publicly supported the concept of an independent Federal Reserve; the most notable exception was Truman’s CEA, which under chair Leon Keyserling opposed the 1951 Treasury-Federal Reserve Accord. Although later they were often frustrated by the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, particularly when CEAs preferred a more expansionary policy, CEAs vigorously attempted to prevent administrations from excessive criticism of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy. CEAs viewed such “Fed-bashing” as counterproductive for several reasons. The Federal Reserve vigorously protects the appearance of its independence; it does not want to appear to be caving into congressional or presidential pressure. Moreover since the early 1980s, the CEA has not wanted to undermine the Federal Reserve’s credibility of successfully restraining inflation because CEAs believe that the Federal Reserve can best promote economic growth by keeping inflation low and stable.

Inflation

Although since 1980 CEAs have agreed that monetary policy is the primary long-run determinant of inflation, earlier CEAs held a variety of views concerning methods to prevent inflation. Truman’s CEA contended that a lack of supply in specific sectors, rather than excess aggregate demand, was the underlying cause of inflation; it recommended selective price and wage controls rather than contractionary monetary policy to reduce inflation.

A perceived problem during the 1950s and 1960s was that administered prices and cost-push inflation caused inflation to rise before the economy could reach full employment. Eisenhower’s CEA used a policy of exhortation, appealing for voluntary restraint with business and labor sharing responsibility for obtaining price stability. Kennedy-Johnson CEAs formulated wage-price guideposts that provided a quantitative aspect for its exhortation; these guideposts crumbled when aggregate demand grew too fast.

President Nixon’s CEA faced the challenge of devising a policy to reduce inflation without causing a major recession. The CEA recommended using monetary and fiscal policy to gradually reduce the growth of aggregate demand. However, inflation did not slow even though the nation went through a recession. The slow fall in inflation resulted in the Nixon administration formulating the “New Economic Policy” in August 1971, which suspended convertibility of the dollar into gold and instituted a temporary comprehensive freeze on wages and prices. Nixon’s CEA, which initially opposed imposition of mandatory wage and price controls, would spend much of the next three years helping to provide an orderly transition from the freeze. Subsequent CEAs, with exception of Carter’s CEA, did not consider wage-price policies to be a viable tool in preventing inflation.

During the 1960s, the Kennedy-Johnson CEAs believed that the relationship between inflation and unemployment (the Phillips curve) was relatively flat at unemployment rates greater than four percent; lower unemployment rates were associated with higher rates of inflation. Since 1969, CEAs with the exception of Carter’s CEA have used a natural rate theory of inflation. The natural rate theory indicates that there is not a permanent tradeoff between inflation and unemployment; instead the economy tends to move toward a given level of unemployment often termed the natural rate of unemployment or full-employment rate of unemployment. Nixon and Ford CEAs both thought that the natural rate of unemployment had risen since the early 1960s, but for political reasons the CEA was reluctant to abandon the 4 percent target established in 1962. Finally in 1977, it wrote that the full-employment unemployment rate had risen to at least 4.9 percent due to demographic shifts; other factors may have raised it to 5.5 percent. Between 1981 and 1996, the CEA generally thought the natural rate of unemployment was about 6 percent. During the latter half of the 1990s, it reduced its estimate because unemployment fell without inflation increasing. Both the last report written by Clinton’s CEA (2001) and the most recent report written by Bush’s CEA (2004) consider the natural rate of unemployment to be currently about 5 percent.

Evolving Role and Influence

The CEA have been most influential in affecting economic policy when its chair has been able to develop an excellent rapport with the President; examples include Walter Heller with President Kennedy and Alan Greenspan with President Ford. CEAs have rarely disagreed with the President or his staff in public even though they have lost many battles. Often they do not even mention policies, with which they disagree, in their annual reports. If the disagreements are serious enough, members have preferred to quietly resign. A notable exception occurred when Martin Feldstein’s public feuding with White House staff concerning budgetary policy in 1983 and 1984 reduced the CEA’s influence; in 1984 Reagan’s White House staff considered terminating the CEA.

Over time more departments and agencies have hired professional economists, thereby eroding the “monopoly” of economic expertise once held by the CEA in the White House and executive branch. Moreover, each administration adopts a different organization for its decision making and flow of information; these organizational differences may affect the CEA’s impact on the formulation of economic policies. For example, President Clinton established a National Economic Council (NEC) to coordinate economic policies within his administration. Laura Tyson, Clinton’s first CEA chair, resigned to become director of the NEC; some interpreted this move as indicating the latter position was more influential in affecting economic policy. President Bush continued the NEC.

The CEA retains influence with its chief constituent – the President – because it does not represent a specific sector or department. It can focus on providing economic advice to promote the use of incentives to obtain economic efficiency and economic growth.

Further Reading

The CEA’s annual reports documents changes in thinking in “mainstream economics.”

Presidential libraries contain many files from the CEA and its individual members. Many former members have written articles and books reflecting about their experiences. There has been much written about the ideas and politics involved in making specific economic policies. The works listed below constitute just a small part of a vast literature; I have chosen the literature that I have found to be most useful in understanding the role of the Council of Economic Advisers in advising the President about economic policies.

Bailey, Stephen. Congress Makes a Law: The Story Behind the Employment Act of 1946. New York: Columbia University Press, 1950. Bailey’s work remains the definitive study regarding the legislative debates that resulted in the Employment Act of 1946.

DeLong, J. Bradford. “Keynesianism, Pennsylvania Avenue Style: Some Economic Consequences of the Employment Act of 1946.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 10, no. 3 (1996): 41-53. DeLong places the CEA’s ideas and influence within a broader context of the profession’s changing views concerning economic stabilization.

Feldstein, Martin. “American Economic Policy in the 1980s: A Personal View.” In American Economic Policy in the 1980s, edited by Martin Feldstein, 1-79. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Feldstein was CEA chair (1982-1984); he often clashed with other White House staff members.

Goodwin, Craufurd, editor. Exhortation and Controls: The Search for a Wage-Price Policy, 1945-1971. Washington: Brookings Institution, 1975. The authors of the essays extensively used documents in presidential libraries and interviews with many economists who participated in developing wage-price policies.

Hargrove, Edwin C. and Samuel A. Morley, editors. The President and the Council of Economic Advisers: Interviews with CEA Chairmen. Boulder: Westview Press, 1984. The editors interviewed nine of the first ten CEA chairs (Edwin Nourse had already died). In addition to the interviews, the editors included an introductory essay that summarized the major themes of the interviews.

Herren, Robert Stanley. “The Council of Economic Advisers’ View of the Full-Employment Unemployment Rate: 1962-1998.” Journal of Economics 24, no. 2 (1998): 49-62. This article discusses how various CEAs have viewed the “maximum employment” provision of the 1946 Employment Act.

Orszag, Jonathan M., Peter R. Orszag, and Laura D. Tyson. “The Process of Economic Policy-Making during the Clinton Administration.” In American Economic Policy in the 1990s, edited by Jeffrey Frankel and Peter Orszag, 983-1027. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. Tyson was CEA chair (1993-1995). The authors briefly discuss attempts to coordinate economic policy prior to the Clinton administration. The authors emphasize activities of the National Economic Council and its interactions with the CEA.

Porter, Roger. “The Council of Economic Advisers.” In Executive Leadership in Anglo-American Systems, edited by Colin Campbell and Margaret Jane Wyszomirzki, 171-193. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991. Porter provides a brief history of the evolving role and functions of the CEA.

Saulnier, Raymond. Constructive Years: The U.S. Economy under Eisenhower. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991. Saulnier was CEA member (1955-1956) and chair (1956-1961). He provides his views about the economic ideas of Eisenhower’s CEA.

Schultze, Charles L. “The CEA: An Inside Voice for Mainstream Economics.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 10, no. 3 (1996): 23-39. Schultze was CEA chair (1977-1981).

Sobel, Robert and Bernard S. Katz, editors. Biographical Directory of the Council of Economic Advisers. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988. The essays emphasize the economic ideas and careers of the forty-five economists who served in the CEA from 1947 to 1985.

Stein, Herbert. Presidential Economics: The Making of Economic Policy from Roosevelt to Clinton. Third revised edition. Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1994. Stein was CEA member (1969-1971) and chair (1972-1974). He focuses on the general context, including the advice of CEAs, in which Presidents formulated economic policies.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. The Roaring Nineties: A New History of the World’s Most Prosperous Decade. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. Stiglitz was CEA member (1993-1995) and chair (1995-1997). He provides substantial information concerning the ideas that affected economic policy during President Clinton’s administration.

United States, President. The Economic Report of the President. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1947-2004. The reports since 1995 have been available on-line at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/eop. The most recent report, and other general information about the CEA, can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/cea/

Citation: Herren, Robert. “Council of Economic Advisers”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. August 18, 2004. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/council-of-economic-advisers/

An Economic History of Copyright in Europe and the United States

B. Zorina Khan, Bowdoin College

Introduction

Copyright is a form of intellectual property that provides legal protection against unauthorized copying of the producer’s original expression in products such as art, music, books, articles, and software. Economists have paid relatively little scholarly attention to copyrights, although recent debates about piracy and “the digital dilemma” (free use of digital property) have prompted closer attention to theoretical and historical issues. Like other forms of intellectual property, copyright is directed to the protection of cultural creations that are nonrivalrous and nonexclusive in nature. It is generally proposed that, in the absence of private or public forms of exclusion, prices will tend to be driven down to the low or zero marginal costs and the original producer would be unable to recover the initial investment.

Part of the debate about copyright exists because it is still not clear whether state enforcement is necessary to enable owners to gain returns, or whether the producers of copyrightable products respond significantly to financial incentives. Producers of these public goods might still be able to appropriate returns without copyright laws or in the face of widespread infringement, through such strategies as encryption, cartelization, the provision of complementary products, private monitoring and enforcement, market segmentation, network externalities, first mover effects and product differentiation. Patronage, taxation, subsidies, or public provision, might also comprise alternatives to copyright protection. In some instances “authors” (broadly defined) might be more concerned about nonfinancial rewards such as enhanced reputations or more extensive diffusion.

During the past three centuries great controversy has always been associated with the grant of property rights to authors, ranging from the notion that cultural creativity should be rewarded with perpetual rights, through the complete rejection of any intellectual property rights at all for copyrightable commodities. However, historically, the primary emphasis has been on the provision of copyright protection through the formal legal system. Europeans have generally tended to adopt the philosophical position that authorship embodies rights of personhood or moral rights that should be accorded strong protections. The American approach to copyright has been more utilitarian: policies were based on a comparison of costs and benefits, and the primary emphasis of early copyright policies was on the advancement of public welfare. However, the harmonization of international laws has created a melding of these two approaches. The tendency at present is toward stronger enforcement of copyrights, prompted by the lobbying of publishers and the globalization of culture and commerce. Technological change has always exerted an exogenous force for change in copyright laws, and modern innovations in particular provoke questions about the extent to which copyright systems can respond effectively to such challenges.

Copyright in Europe

Copyright in France

In the early years of printing, books and other written matter became part of the public domain when they were published. Like patents, the grant of book privileges originated in the Republic of Venice in the fifteenth century, a practice which was soon prevalent in a number of other European countries. Donatus Bossius, a Milan author, petitioned the duke in 1492 for an exclusive privilege for his book, and successfully argued that he would be unjustly deprived of the benefits from his efforts if others were able to freely copy his work. He was given the privilege for a term of ten years. However, authorship was not required for the grant of a privilege, and printers and publishers obtained monopolies over existing books as well as new works. Since privileges were granted on a case by case basis, they varied in geographical scope, duration, and breadth of coverage, as well as in terms of the attendant penalties for their violation. Grantors included religious orders and authorities, universities, political figures, and the representatives of the Crown.

The French privilege system was introduced in 1498 and was well-developed by the end of the sixteenth century. Privileges were granted under the auspices of the monarch, generally for a brief period of two to three years, although the term could be as much as ten years. Protection was granted to new books or translations, maps, type designs, engravings and artwork. Petitioners paid formal fees and informal gratuities to the officials concerned. Since applications could only be sealed if the King were present, petitions had to be carefully timed to take advantage of his route or his return from trips and campaigns. It became somewhat more convenient when the courts of appeal such as the Parlement de Paris began to issue grants that were privileges in all but name, although this could lead to conflicting rights if another authority had already allocated the monopoly elsewhere. The courts sometimes imposed limits on the rights conferred, in the form of stipulations about the prices that could be charged. Privileges were property that could be assigned or licensed to another party, and their infringement was punished by a fine and at times confiscation of all the output of “pirates.”

After 1566, the Edict of Moulins required that all new books had to be approved and licensed by the Crown. Favored parties were able to get renewals of their monopolies that also allowed them to lay claim to works that were already in the public domain. By the late eighteenth century an extensive administrative procedure was in place that was designed to restrict the number of presses and engage in surveillance and censorship of the publishing industry. Manuscripts first had to be read by a censor, and only after a permit was requested and granted could the book be printed, although the permit could later be revoked if complaints were lodged by sufficiently influential individuals. Decrees in 1777 established that authors who did not alienate their property were entitled to exclusive rights in perpetuity. Since few authors had the will or resources to publish and distribute books, their privileges were likely to be sold outright to professional publishers. However, the law made a distinction in the rights accorded to publishers, because if the right was sold the privilege was only accorded a limited duration of at least ten years, the exact term to be determined in accordance with the value of the work, and once the publisher’s term expired, the work passed into the public domain. The fee for a privilege was thirty six livres. Approvals to print a work, or a “permission simple” which did not entail exclusive rights could also be obtained after payment of a substantial fee. Between 1700 and 1789, a total of 2,586 petitions for exclusive privileges were filed, and about two thirds were granted. The result was a system that resulted in “odious monopolies,” higher prices and greater scarcity, large transfers to officials of the Crown and their allies, and pervasive censorship. It likewise disadvantaged smaller book producers, provincial publishers, and the academic and broader community.

The French Revolutionary decrees of 1791 and 1793 replaced the idea of privilege with that of uniform statutory claims to literary property, based on the principle that “the most sacred, the most unassailable and the most personal of possessions is the fruit of a writer’s thought.” The subject matter of copyrights covered books, dramatic productions and the output of the “beaux arts” including designs and sculpture. Authors were required to deposit two copies of their books with the Bibliothèque Nationale or risk losing their copyright. Some observers felt that copyrights in France were the least protected of all property rights, since they were enforced with a care to protecting the public domain and social welfare. Although France is associated with the author’s rights approach to copyright and proclamations of the “droit d’auteur,” these ideas evolved slowly and hesitatingly, mainly in order to meet the self-interest of the various members of the book trade. During the ancien régime, the rhetoric of authors’ rights had been promoted by French owners of book privileges as a way of deflecting criticism of monopoly grants and of protecting their profits, and by their critics as a means of attacking the same monopolies and profits. This language was retained in the statutes after the Revolution, so the changes in interpretation and enforcement may not have been universally evident.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, French jurisprudence and philosophy tended to explicate copyrights in terms of rights of personality but the idea of the moral claim of authors to property rights was not incorporated in the law until early in the twentieth century. The droit d’auteur first appeared in a law of April 1910. In 1920 visual artists were granted a “droit de suite” or a claim to a portion of the revenues from resale of their works. Subsequent evolution of French copyright laws led to the recognition of the right of disclosure, the right of retraction, the right of attribution, and the right of integrity. These moral rights are (at least in theory) perpetual, inalienable, and thus can be bequeathed to the heirs of the author or artist, regardless of whether or not the work was sold to someone else. The self-interested rhetoric of the owners of monopoly privileges now fully emerged as the keystone of the “French system of literary property” that would shape international copyright laws in the twenty first century.

Copyright in England

England similarly experienced a period during which privileges were granted, such as a seven year grant from the Chancellor of Oxford University for an 1518 work. In 1557, the Worshipful Company of Stationers, a publishers’ guild, was founded on the authority of a royal charter and controlled the book trade for next one hundred and fifty years. This company created and controlled the right of their constituent members to make copies, so in effect their “copy right” was a private property right that existed in perpetuity, independently of state or statutory rights. Enforcement and regulation were carried out by the corporation itself through its Court of Assistants. The Stationers’ Company maintained a register of books, issued licenses, and sanctioned individuals who violated their regulations. Thus, in both England and France, copyright law began as a monopoly grant to benefit and regulate the printers’ guilds, and as a form of surveillance and censorship over public opinion on behalf of the Crown.

The English system of privileges was replaced in 1710 by a copyright statute (the “Statute of Anne” or “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of Such Copies, During the Times Therein Mentioned,” 1709-10, 8 Anne, ch. 19.) The statute was not directed toward the authors of books and their rights. Rather, its intent was to restrain the publishing industry and destroy its monopoly power. According to the law, the grant of copyright was available to anyone, not just to the Stationers. Instead of a perpetual right, the term was limited to fourteen years, with a right of renewal, after which the work would enter the public domain. The statute also permitted the importation of books in foreign languages.

Subsequent litigation and judicial interpretation added a new and fundamentally different dimension to copyright. In order to protect their perpetual copyright, publishers tried to promote the idea that copyright was based on the natural rights of authors or creative individuals and, as the agent of the author, those rights devolved to the publisher. If indeed copyrights derived from these inherent principles, they represented property that existed independently of statutory provisions and could be protected under common law. The booksellers engaged in a series of strategic litigation that culminated in their defeat in the landmark case, Donaldson v. Beckett [98 Eng. Rep. 257 (1774)]. The court ruled that authors had a common law right in their unpublished works, but on publication that right was extinguished by the statute, whose provisions determined the nature and scope of any copyright claims. This transition from publisher’s rights to statutory author’s rights implied that copyright had transmuted from a straightforward license to protect monopoly profits into an expanding property right whose boundaries would henceforth increase at the expense of the public domain.

Between 1735 and 1875 fourteen Acts of Parliament amended the copyright legislation. Copyrights extended to sheet music, maps, charts, books, sculptures, paintings, photographs, dramatic works and songs sung in a dramatic fashion, and lectures outside of educational institutions. Copyright owners had no remedies at law unless they complied with a number of stipulations which included registration, the payment of fees, the delivery of free copies of every edition to the British Museum (delinquents were fined), as well as complimentary copies for four libraries, including the Bodleian and Trinity College. The ubiquitous Stationers’ Company administered registration, and the registrar personally benefited from the monetary fees of 5 shillings when the book was registered and an equal amount for each assignment and each copy of an entry, along with one shilling for each entry searched. Foreigners could only obtain copyrights if they presented themselves in a part of the British Empire at the time of publication. The book had to be published in the United Kingdom, and prior publication in a foreign country – even in a British colony – was an obstacle to copyright protection.

The term of the copyright in books was for the longer of 42 years from publication or the lifetime of the author plus seven years, and after the death of the author a compulsory license could be issued to ensure that works of sufficient public benefit would be published. The “work for hire” doctrine was in force for books, reviews, newspapers, magazines and essays unless a distinct contractual clause specified that the copyright was to accrue to the author. Similarly, unauthorized use of a publication was permitted for the purposes of “fair use.” Only the copyright holder and his agents were allowed to import the protected works into Britain.

The British Commission that reported on the state of the copyright system in 1878 felt that the laws were “obscure, arbitrary and piecemeal” and were compounded by the confused state of the common law. The numerous uncoordinated laws that were simultaneously in force led to conflicts and unintended defects in the system. The report discussed but did not recommend an alternative to the grant of copyrights, in the form of a royalty system where “any person would be entitled to copy or republish the work on paying or securing to the owner a remuneration, taking the form of royalty or definite sum prescribed by law.” The main benefit would be to be public in the form of early access to cheap editions, whereas the main cost would be to the publishers whose risk and return would be negatively affected.

The Commission noted that the implications for the colonies were “anomalous and unsatisfactory.” The publishers in England practiced price discrimination, modifying the initial high prices for copyrighted material through discounts given to reading clubs, circulating libraries and the like, benefits which were not available in the colonies. In 1846 the Colonial Office acknowledged “the injurious effects produced upon our more distant colonists” and passed the Foreign Reprints Act in the following year. This allowed the colonies who adopted the terms of British copyright legislation to import cheap reprints of British copyrighted material with a tariff of 12.5 percent, the proceeds of which were to be remitted to the copyright owners. However, enforcement of the tariff seems to have been less than vigorous since, between 1866 and 1876 only £1155 was received from the 19 colonies who took advantage of the legislation (£1084 from Canada which benefited significantly from the American reprint trade). The Canadians argued that it was difficult to monitor imports, so it would be more effective to allow them to publish the reprints themselves and collect taxes for the benefit of the copyright owners. This proposal was rejected, but under the Canadian Copyright Act of 1875 British copyright owners could obtain Canadian copyrights for Canadian editions that were sold at much lower prices than in Britain or even in the United States.

The Commission made two recommendations. First, the bigger colonies with domestic publishing facilities should be allowed to reprint copyrighted material on payment of a license to be set by law. Second, the benefits to the smaller colonies of access to British literature should take precedence over lobbies to repeal the Foreign Reprints Act, which should be better enforced rather than removed entirely. Some had argued that the public interest required that Britain should allow the importation of cheap colonial reprints since the high prices of books were “altogether prohibitory to the great mass of the reading public” but the Commission felt that this should only be adopted with the consent of the copyright owner. They also devoted a great deal of attention to what was termed “The American Question” but took the “highest public ground” and recommended against retaliatory policies.

Copyright in the United States

Colonial Copyright

In the period before the Declaration of Independence individual American states recognized and promoted patenting activity, but copyright protection was not considered to be of equal importance, for a number of reasons. First, in a democracy the claims of the public and the wish to foster freedom of expression were paramount. Second, to a new colony, pragmatic concerns were likely of greater importance than the arts, and the more substantial literary works were imported. Markets were sufficiently narrow that an individual could saturate the market with a first run printing, and most local publishers produced ephemera such as newspapers, almanacs, and bills. Third, it was unclear that copyright protection was needed as an incentive for creativity, especially since a significant fraction of output was devoted to works such as medical treatises and religious tracts whose authors wished simply to maximize the number of readers, rather than the amount of income they received.

In 1783, Connecticut became the first state to approve an “Act for the encouragement of literature and genius” because “it is perfectly agreeable to the principles of natural equity and justice, that every author should be secured in receiving the profits that may arise from the sale of his works, and such security may encourage men of learning and genius to publish their writings; which may do honor to their country, and service to mankind.” Although this preamble might seem to strongly favor author’s rights, the statute also specified that books were to be offered at reasonable prices and in sufficient quantities, or else a compulsory license would issue.

Federal Copyright Grants

Despite their common source in the intellectual property clause of the U.S. Constitution, copyright policies provided a marked contrast to the patent system. According to Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. 591, 684 (1834): “It has been argued at the bar, that as the promotion of the progress of science and the useful arts is here united in the same clause in the constitution, the rights of the authors and inventors were considered as standing on the same footing; but this, I think, is a non sequitur, for when congress came to execute this power by legislation, the subjects are kept distinct, and very different provisions are made respecting them.”

The earliest federal statute to protect the product of authors was approved on May 31 1790, “for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, charts, and books to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned.” John Barry obtained the first federal copyright when he registered his spelling book in the District Court of Pennsylvania, and early grants reflected the same utilitarian character. Policy makers felt that copyright protection would serve to increase the flow of learning and information, and by encouraging publication would contribute to democratic principles of free speech. The diffusion of knowledge would also ensure broad-based access to the benefits of social and economic development. The copyright act required authors and proprietors to deposit a copy of the title of their work in the office of the district court in the area where they lived, for a nominal fee of sixty cents. Registration secured the right to print, publish and sell maps, charts and books for a term of fourteen years, with the possibility of an extension for another like term. Amendments to the original act extended protection to other works including musical compositions, plays and performances, engravings and photographs. Legislators refused to grant perpetual terms, but the length of protection was extended in the general revision of the laws in 1831, and 1909.

In the case of patents, the rights of inventors, whether domestic or foreign, were widely viewed as coincident with public welfare. In stark contrast, policymakers showed from the very beginning an acute sensitivity to trade-offs between the rights of authors (or publishers) and social welfare. The protections provided to authors under copyrights were as a result much more limited than those provided by the laws based on moral rights that were applied in many European countries. Of relevance here are stipulations regarding first sale, work for hire, and fair use. Under a moral rights-based system, an artist or his heirs can claim remedies if subsequent owners alter or distort the work in a way that allegedly injures the artist’s honor or reputation. According to the first sale doctrine, the copyright holder lost all rights after the work was sold. In the American system, if the copyright holder’s welfare were enhanced by nonmonetary concerns, these individualized concerns could be addressed and enforced through contract law, rather than through a generic federal statutory clause that would affect all property holders. Similarly, “work for hire” doctrines also repudiated the right of personality, in favor of facilitating market transactions. For example, in 1895 Thomas Donaldson filed a complaint that Carroll D. Wright’s editing of Donaldson’s report for the Census Bureau was “damaging and injurious to the plaintiff, and to his reputation” as a scholar. The court rejected his claim and ruled that as a paid employee he had no rights in the bulletin; to rule otherwise would create problems in situations where employees were hired to prepare data and statistics.

This difficult quest for balance between private and public good was most evident in the copyright doctrine of “fair use” that (unlike with patents) allowed unauthorized access to copyrighted works under certain conditions. Joseph Story ruled in [Folsom v. Marsh, 9 F. Cas. 342 (1841)]: “we must often, in deciding questions of this sort, look to the nature and objects of the selections made, the quantity and value of the materials used, and the degree in which the use may prejudice the sale, or diminish the profits, or supersede the objects, of the original work.” One of the striking features of the fair use doctrine is the extent to which property rights were defined in terms of market valuations, or the impact on sales and profits, as opposed to a clear holding of the exclusivity of property. Fair use doctrine thus illustrates the extent to which the early policy makers weighed the costs and benefits of private property rights against the rights of the public and the provisions for a democratic society. If copyrights were as strictly construed as patents, it would serve to reduce scholarship, prohibit public access for noncommercial purposes, increase transactions costs for potential users, and inhibit learning which the statutes were meant to promote.

Nevertheless, like other forms of intellectual property, the copyright system evolved to encompass improvements in technology and changes in the marketplace. Technological changes in nineteenth-century printing included the use of stereotyping which lowered the costs of reprints, improvements in paper making machinery, and the advent of steam powered printing presses. Graphic design also benefited from innovations, most notably the development of lithography and photography. The number of new products also expanded significantly, encompassing recorded music and moving pictures by the end of the nineteenth century; and commercial television, video recordings, audiotapes, and digital music in the twentieth century.

The subject matter, scope and duration of copyrights expanded over the course of the nineteenth century to include musical compositions, plays, engravings, sculpture, and photographs. By 1910 the original copyright holder was granted derivative rights such as to translations of literary works into other languages; to performances; and the rights to adapt musical works, among others. Congress also lengthened the term of copyright several times, although by 1890 the term of copyright protection in Greece and the United States were the most abbreviated in the world. New technologies stimulated change by creating new subjects for copyright protection, and by lowering the costs of infringement of copyrighted works. In Edison v. Lubin, 122 F. Cas. 240 (1903), the lower court rejected Edison’s copyright of moving pictures under the statutory category of photographs. This decision was overturned by the appellate court: “[Congress] must have recognized there would be change and advance in making photographs, just as there has been in making books, printing chromos, and other subjects of copyright protection.” Copyright enforcement was largely the concern of commercial interests, and not of the creative individual. The fraction of copyright plaintiffs who were authors (broadly defined) was initially quite low, and fell continuously during the nineteenth century. By 1900-1909, only 8.6 percent of all plaintiffs in copyright cases were the creators of the item that was the subject of the litigation. Instead, by the same period, the majority of parties bringing cases were publishers and other assignees of copyrights.

In 1909 Congress revised the copyright law and composers were given the right to make the first mechanical reproductions of their music. However, after the first recording, the statute permitted a compulsory license to issue for copyrighted musical compositions: that is to say, anyone could subsequently make their own recording of the composition on payment of a fee that was set by the statute at two cents per recording. In effect, the property right was transformed into a liability rule. The next major legislative change in 1976 similarly allowed compulsory licenses to issue for works that are broadcast on cable television. The prevalence of compulsory licenses for copyrighted material is worth noting for a number of reasons: they underline some of the statutory differences between patents and copyrights in the United States; they reflect economic reasons for such distinctions; and they are also the result of political compromises among the various interest groups that are affected.

Allied Rights

The debate about the scope of patents and copyrights often underestimates or ignores the importance of allied rights that are available through other forms of the law such as contract and unfair competition. A noticeable feature of the case law is the willingness of the judiciary in the nineteenth century to extend protection to noncopyrighted works under alternative doctrines in the common law. More than 10 percent of copyright cases dealt with issues of unfair competition, and 7.7 percent with contracts; a further 12 percent encompassed issues of right to privacy, trade secrets, and misappropriation. For instance, in Keene v. Wheatley et al., 14 F. Cas. 180 (1860), the plaintiff did not have a statutory copyright in the play that was infringed. However, she was awarded damages on the basis of her proprietary common law right in an unpublished work, and because the defendants had taken advantage of a breach of confidence by one of her former employees. Similarly, the courts offered protection against misappropriation of information, such as occurred when the defendants in Chamber of Commerce of Minneapolis v. Wells et al., 111 N.W. 157 (1907) surreptitiously obtained stock market information by peering in windows, eavesdropping, and spying.

Several other examples relate to the more traditional copyright subject of the book trade. E. P. Dutton & Company published a series of Christmas books which another publisher photographed, and offered as a series with similar appearance and style but at lower prices. Dutton claimed to have been injured by a loss of profits and a loss of reputation as a maker of fine books. The firm did not have copyrights in the series, but they essentially claimed a right in the “look and feel” of the books. The court agreed: “the decisive fact is that the defendants are unfairly and fraudulently attempting to trade upon the reputation which plaintiff has built up for its books. The right to injunctive relief in such a case is too firmly established to require the citation of authorities.” In a case that will resonate with academics, a surgery professor at the University of Pennsylvania was held to have a common law property right in the lectures he presented, and a student could not publish them without his permission. Titles could not be copyrighted, but were protected as trade marks and under unfair competition doctrines. In this way, in numerous lawsuits G. C. Merriam & Co, the original publishers of Webster’s Dictionary, restrained the actions of competitors who published the dictionary once the copyrights had expired.

International Copyrights in the United States

The U.S. was long a net importer of literary and artistic works, especially from England, which implied that recognition of foreign copyrights would have led to a net deficit in international royalty payments. The Copyright Act recognized this when it specified that “nothing in this act shall be construed to extend to prohibit the importation or vending, reprinting or publishing within the United States, of any map, chart, book or books … by any person not a citizen of the United States.” Thus, the statutes explicitly authorized Americans to take free advantage of the cultural output of other countries. As a result, it was alleged that American publishers “indiscriminately reprinted books by foreign authors without even the pretence of acknowledgement.” The tendency to reprint foreign works was encouraged by the existence of tariffs on imported books that ranged as high as 25 percent.

The United States stood out in contrast to countries such as France, where Louis Napoleon’s Decree of 1852 prohibited counterfeiting of both foreign and domestic works. Other countries which were affected by American piracy retaliated by refusing to recognize American copyrights. Despite the lobbying of numerous authors and celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic, the American copyright statutes did not allow for copyright protection of foreign works for fully one century. As a result, American publishers and producers freely pirated foreign literature, art, and drama.

Effects of Copyright Piracy

What were the effects of piracy? First, did the American industry suffer from cheaper foreign books being dumped on the domestic market? This does not seem to have been the case. After controlling for the type of work, the cost of the work, and other variables, the prices of American books were lower than prices of foreign books. American book prices may have been lower to reflect lower perceived quality or other factors that caused imperfect substitutability between foreign and local products. As might be expected, prices were not exogenously and arbitrarily fixed, but varied in accordance with a publisher’s estimation of market factors such as the degree of competition and the responsiveness of demand to determinants. The reading public appears to have gained from the lack of copyright, which increased access to the superior products of more developed markets in Europe, and in the long run this likely improved both the demand and supply of domestic science and literature.

Second, according to observers, professional authorship in the United States was discouraged because it was difficult to compete with established authors such as Scott, Dickens and Tennyson. Whether native authors were deterred by foreign competition would depend on the extent to which foreign works prevailed in the American market. Early in American history the majority of books were reprints of foreign titles. However, nonfiction titles written by foreigners were less likely to be substitutable for nonfiction written by Americans; consequently, the supply of nonfiction soon tended to be provided by native authors. From an early period grammars, readers, and juvenile texts were also written by Americans. Geology, geography, history and similar works would have to be adapted or completely rewritten to be appropriate for an American market which reduced their attractiveness as reprints. Thus, publishers of schoolbooks, medical volumes and other nonfiction did not feel that the reforms of 1891 were relevant to their undertakings. Academic and religious books are less likely to be written for monetary returns, and their authors probably benefited from the wider circulation that lack of international copyright encouraged. However, the writers of these works declined in importance relative to writers of fiction, a category which grew from 6.4 percent before 1830 to 26.4 percent by the 1870s.

On the other hand, foreign authors dominated the field of fiction for much of the century. One study estimates about fifty percent of all fiction best sellers in antebellum period were pirated from foreign works. In 1895 American authors accounted for two of the top ten best sellers but by 1910 nine of the top ten were written by Americans. This fall over time in the fraction of foreign authorship may have been due to a natural evolutionary process, as the development of the market for domestic literature over time encouraged specialization. The growth in fiction authors was associated with the increase in the number of books per author over the same period. Improvements in transportation and the increase in the academic population probably played a large role in enabling individuals who lived outside the major publishing centers to become writers despite the distance. As the market expanded, a larger fraction of writers could become professionals.

Although the lack of copyright protection may not have discouraged authors, this does not imply that intellectual property policy in this dimension had no costs. It is likely that the lack of foreign copyrights led to some misallocation of efforts or resources, such as in attempting to circumvent the rules. Authors changed their residence temporarily when books were about to be published in order to qualify for copyright. Others obtained copyrights by arranging to co-author with a foreign citizen. T. H. Huxley adopted this strategy, arranging to co-author with “a young Yankee friend … Otherwise the thing would be pillaged at once.” An American publisher suggested that Kipling should find “a hack writer, whose name would be of use simply on account of its carrying the copyright.” Harriet Beecher Stowe proposed a partnership with Elizabeth Gaskell, so they could “secure copyright mutually in our respective countries and divide the profits.”

It is widely acknowledged that copyrights in books tended to be the concern of publishers rather than of authors (although the two are naturally not independent of each other). As a result of lack of legal copyrights in foreign works, publishers raced to be first on the market with the “new” pirated books, and the industry experienced several decades of intense, if not quite “ruinous” competition. These were problems that publishers in England had faced before, in the market for books that were uncopyrighted, such as Shakespeare and Fielding. Their solution was to collude in the form of strictly regulated cartels or “printing congers.” The congers created divisible property in books that they traded, such as a one hundred and sixtieth share in Johnson’s Dictionary that was sold for £23 in 1805. Cooperation resulted in risk sharing and a greater ability to cover expenses. The unstable races in the United States similarly settled down during the 1840s to collusive standards that were termed “trade custom” or “courtesy of the trade.”

The industry achieved relative stability because the dominant firms cooperated in establishing synthetic property rights in foreign-authored books. American publishers made payments (termed “copyrights”) to foreign authors to secure early sheets, and other firms recognized their exclusive property in the “authorized reprint”. Advance payments to foreign authors not only served to ensure the coincidence of publishers’ and authors’ interests – they were also recognized by “reputable” publishers as “copyrights.” These exclusive rights were tradable, and enforced by threats of predatory pricing and retaliation. Such practices suggest that publishers were able to simulate the legal grant through private means.

However, private rights naturally did not confer property rights that could be enforced at law. The case of Sheldon v. Houghton 21 F. Cas 1239 (1865) illustrates that these rights were considered to be “very valuable, and is often made the subject of contracts, sales, and transfers, among booksellers and publishers.” The very fact that a firm would file a plea for the court to protect their claim indicates how vested a right it had become. The plaintiff argued that “such custom is a reasonable one, and tends to prevent injurious competition in business, and to the investment of capital in publishing enterprises that are of advantage to the reading public.” The courts rejected this claim, since synthetic rights differed from copyrights in the degree of security that was offered by the enforcement power of the courts. Nevertheless, these title-specific of rights exclusion decreased uncertainty, enabled publishers to recoup their fixed costs, and avoided the wasteful duplication of resources that would otherwise have occurred.

It was not until 1891 that the Chace Act granted copyright protection to selected foreign residents. Thus, after a century of lobbying by interested parties on both sides of the Atlantic, based on reasons that ranged from the economic to the moral, copyright laws only changed when the United States became more competitive in the international market for literary and artistic works. However, the act also included significant concessions to printers’ unions and printing establishments in the form of “manufacturing clauses.” First, a book had to be published in the U.S. before or at the same time as the publication date in its country of origin. Second, the work had to be printed here, or printed from type set in the United States or from plates made from type set in the United States. Copyright protection still depended on conformity with stipulations such as formal registration of the work. These clauses resulted in U.S. failure to qualify for admission to the international Berne Convention until 1988, more than one hundred years after the first Convention.

After the copyright reforms in 1891, both English and American authors were disappointed to find that the change in the law did not lead to significant gains. Foreign authors realized they may even have benefited from the lack of copyright protection in the United States. Despite the cartelization of publishing, competition for these synthetic copyrights ensured that foreign authors were able to obtain payments that American firms made to secure the right to be first on the market. It can also be argued that foreign authors were able to reap higher total returns from the expansion of the market through piracy. The lack of copyright protection may have functioned as a form of price discrimination, where the product was sold at a higher price in the developed country, and at a lower or zero price in the poorer country. Returns under such circumstances may have been higher for goods with demand externalities or network effects, such as “bestsellers” where consumer valuation of the book increased with the size of the market. For example, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and other foreign writers were able to gain considerable income from complementary lecture tours in the extensive United States market.

Harmonization of Copyright Laws

In view of the strong protection accorded to inventors under the U.S. patent system, to foreign observers its copyright policies appeared to be all the more reprehensible. The United States, the most liberal in its policies towards patentees, had led the movement for harmonization of patent laws. In marked contrast, throughout the history of the U.S. system, its copyright grants in general were more abridged than almost all other countries in the world. The term of copyright grants to American citizens was among the shortest in the world, the country applied the broadest interpretation of fair use doctrines, and the validity of the copyright depended on strict compliance with the requirements. U.S. failure to recognize the rights of foreign authors was also unique among the major industrial nations. Throughout the nineteenth century proposals to reform the law and to acknowledge foreign copyrights were repeatedly brought before Congress and rejected. Even the bill that finally recognized international copyrights almost failed, only passed at the last possible moment, and required longstanding exemptions in favor of workers and printing enterprises.

In a parallel fashion to the status of the United States in patent matters, France’s influence was evident in the subsequent evolution of international copyright laws. Other countries had long recognized the rights of foreign authors in national laws and bilateral treaties, but France stood out in its favorable treatment of domestic and foreign copyrights as “the foremost of all nations in the protection it accords to literary property.” This was especially true of its concessions to foreign authors and artists. For instance, France allowed copyrights to foreigners conditioned on manufacturing clauses in 1810, and granted foreign and domestic authors equal rights in 1852. In the following decade France entered into almost two dozen bilateral treaties, prompting a movement towards multilateral negotiations, such as the Congress on Literary and Artistic Property in 1858. The International Literary and Artistic Association, which the French novelist Victor Hugo helped to establish, conceived of and organized the Convention which first met in Berne in 1883.

The Berne Convention included a number of countries that wished to establish an “International Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.” The preamble declared their intent to “protect effectively, and in as uniform a manner as possible, the rights of authors over their literary and artistic works.” The actual Articles were more modest in scope, requiring national treatment of authors belonging to the Union and minimum protection for translation and public performance rights. The Convention authorized the establishment of a physical office in Switzerland, whose official language would be French. The rules were revised in 1908 to extend the duration of copyright and to include modern technologies. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the convention was not its specific provisions, but the underlying property rights philosophy which was decidedly from the natural rights school. Berne abolished compliance with formalities as a prerequisite for copyright protection since the creative act itself was regarded as the source of the property right. This measure had far-reaching consequences, because it implied that copyright was now the default, whereas additions to the public domain would have to be achieved through affirmative actions and by means of specific limited exemptions. In 1928 the Berne Convention followed the French precedent and acknowledged the moral rights of authors and artists.

Unlike its leadership in patent conventions, the United States declined an invitation to the pivotal copyright conference in Berne in 1883; it attended but refused to sign the 1886 agreement of the Berne Convention. Instead, the United States pursued international copyright policies in the context of the weaker Universal Copyright Convention (UCC), which was adopted in 1952 and formalized in 1955 as a complementary agreement to the Berne Convention. The UCC membership included many developing countries that did not wish to comply with the Berne Convention because they viewed its provisions as overly favorable to the developed world. The United States was among the last wave of entrants into the Berne Convention when it finally joined in 1988. In order to do so it complied by removing prerequisites for copyright protection such as registration, and also lengthened the term of copyrights. However, it still has not introduced federal legislation in accordance with Article 6bis, which declares the moral rights of authors “independently of the author’s economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights.” Similarly, individual countries continue to differ in the extent to which multilateral provisions governed domestic legislation and practices.

The quest for harmonization of intellectual property laws resulted in a “race to the top,” directed by the efforts and self interest of the countries which had the strongest property rights. The movement to harmonize patents was driven by American efforts to ensure that its extraordinary patenting activity was remunerated beyond as well as within its borders. At the same time, the United States ignored international conventions to unify copyright legislation. Nevertheless, the harmonization of copyright laws proceeded, promoted by France and other civil law regimes which urged stronger protection for authors based on their “natural rights” although at the same time they infringed on the rights of foreign inventors. The net result was that international pressure was applied to developing countries in the twentieth century to establish strong patents and strong copyrights, although no individual developed country had adhered to both concepts simultaneously during their own early growth phase. This occurred even though theoretical models did not offer persuasive support for intellectual property harmonization, and indeed suggested that uniform policies might be detrimental even to some developed countries and to overall global welfare.

Conclusion

The past three centuries stand out in terms of the diversity across nations in intellectual property institutions, but the nineteenth century saw the origins of the movement towards the “harmonization” of laws that at present dominates global debates. Among the now-developed countries, the United States stood out for its conviction that broad access to intellectual property rules and standards was key to achieving economic development. Europeans were less concerned about enhancing mass literacy and public education, and viewed copyright owners as inherently meritorious and deserving of strong protection. European copyright regimes thus evolved in the direction of author’s rights, while the United States lagged behind the rest of the world in terms of both domestic and foreign copyright protection.

By design, American statutes differentiated between patents and copyrights in ways that seemed warranted if the objective was to increase social welfare. The patent system early on discriminated between nonresident and domestic inventors, but within a few decades changed to protect the right of any inventor who filed for an American patent regardless of nationality. The copyright statutes, in contrast, openly encouraged piracy of foreign goods on an astonishing scale for one hundred years, in defiance of the recriminations and pressures exerted by other countries. The American patent system required an initial search and examination that ensured the patentee was the “first and true” creator of the invention in the world, whereas copyrights were granted through mere registration. Patents were based on the assumption of novelty and held invalid if this assumption was violated, whereas essentially similar but independent creation was copyrightable. Copyright holders were granted the right to derivative works, whereas the patent holder was not. Unauthorized use of patented inventions was prohibited, whereas “fair use” of copyrighted material was permissible if certain conditions were met. Patented inventions involved greater initial investments, effort, and novelty than copyrighted products and tended to be more responsive to material incentives; whereas in many cases cultural goods would still be produced or only slightly reduced in the absence of such incentives. Fair use was not allowed in the case of patents because the disincentive effect was likely to be higher, while the costs of negotiation between the patentee and the more narrow market of potential users would generally be lower. If copyrights were as strongly enforced as patents it would benefit publishers and a small literary elite at the cost of social investments in learning and education.

The United States created a utilitarian market-based model of intellectual property grants which created incentives for invention, but always with the primary objective of increasing social welfare and protecting the public domain. The checks and balances of interest group lobbies, the legislature and the judiciary worked effectively as long as each institution was relatively well-matched in terms of size and influence. However, a number of legal and economic scholars are increasingly concerned that the political influence of corporate interests, the vast number of uncoordinated users over whom the social costs are spread, and international harmonization of laws have upset these counterchecks, leading to over-enforcement at both the private and public levels.

International harmonization with European doctrines introduced significant distortions in the fundamental principles of American copyright and its democratic provisions. One of the most significant of these changes was also one of the least debated: compliance with the precepts of the Berne Convention accorded automatic copyright protection to all creations on their fixation in tangible form. This rule reversed the relationship between copyright and the public domain that the U.S. Constitution stipulated. According to original U.S. copyright doctrines, the public domain was the default, and copyright merely comprised a limited exemption to the public domain; after the alignment with Berne, copyright became the default, and the rights of the public and of the public domain now merely comprise a limited exception to the primacy of copyright. The pervasive uncertainty that characterizes the intellectual property arena today leads risk-averse individuals and educational institutions to err on the side of abandoning their right to free access rather than invite potential challenges and costly litigation. A number of commentators are equally concerned about other dimensions of the globalization of intellectual property rights, such as the movement to emulate European grants of property rights in databases, which has the potential to inhibit diffusion and learning.

Copyright law and policy has always altered and been altered by social, economic and technological changes, in the United States and elsewhere. However, the one constant feature across the centuries is that copyright protection involves crucial political questions to a far greater extent than its economic implications.

Additional Readings

Economic History

B. Zorina Khan. The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790-1920. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Law and Economics

Besen, Stanley, and L. Raskind. “An Introduction to the Law and Economics of Intellectual Property.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 5 (1991): 3-27.

Breyer, Stephen. “The Uneasy Case for Copyright: A Study of Copyright in Books, Photocopies and Computer Programs.” Harvard Law Review 84 (1970): 281-351.

Gallini, Nancy and S. Scotchmer. “Intellectual Property: When Is It the Best Incentive System?” Innovation Policy and the Economy 2 (2002): 51-78.

Gordon, Wendy, and R. Watt, editors. The Economics of Copyright: Developments in Research and Analysis. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2002.

Hurt, Robert M., and Robert M. Shuchman. “The Economic Rationale of Copyright.” American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings 56 (1966): 421-32.

Johnson, William R. “The Economics of Copying.” Journal of Political Economy 93 (1985): 1581-74.

Landes, William M., and Richard A. Posner. “An Economic Analysis of Copyright Law.” Journal of Legal Studies 18 (1989): 325-63.

Landes, William M., and Richard A. Posner. The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Liebowitz, S. J. “Copying and Indirect Appropriability: Photocopying of Journals.” Journal of Political Economy 93 (1985): 945-57.

Merges, Robert P. “Contracting into Liability Rules: Intellectual Property Rights and Collective Rights Organizations.” California Law Review 84, no. 5 (1996): 1293-1393.

Meurer, Michael J. “Copyright Law and Price Discrimination.” Cardozo Law Review 23 (2001): 55-148.

Novos, Ian E., and Michael Waldman. “The Effects of Increased Copyright Protection: An Analytic Approach.” Journal of Political Economy 92 (1984): 236-46.

Plant, Arnold. “The Economic Aspects of Copyright in Books.” Economica 1 (1934): 167-95.

Takeyama, L. “The Welfare Implications of Unauthorized Reproduction of Intellectual Property in the Presence of Demand Network Externalities.” Journal of Industrial Economics 42 (1994): 155–66.

Takeyama, L. “The Intertemporal Consequences of Unauthorized Reproduction of Intellectual Property.” Journal of Law and Economics 40 (1997): 511–22.

Varian, Hal. “Buying, Sharing and Renting Information Goods.” Journal of Industrial Economics 48, no. 4 (2000): 473–88.

Varian, Hal. “Copying and Copyright.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 19, no. 2 (2005): 121-38.

Watt, Richard. Copyright and Economic Theory: Friends or Foes? Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2000.

History of Economic Thought

Hadfield, Gilliam K. “The Economics of Copyright: A Historical Perspective.” Copyright Law Symposium (ASCAP) 38 (1992): 1-46.

History

Armstrong, Elizabeth. Before Copyright: The French Book-Privilege System, 1498-1526. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Birn, Raymond. “The Profits of Ideas: Privileges en librairie in Eighteenth-century France.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 4, no. 2 (1970-71): 131-68.

Bugbee, Bruce. The Genesis of American Patent and Copyright Law. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press, 1967.

Dawson, Robert L. The French Booktrade and the “Permission Simple” of 1777: Copyright and the Public Domain. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1992.

Hackett, Alice P., and James Henry Burke. Eighty Years of Best Sellers, 1895-1975. New York: Bowker, 1977.

Nowell-Smith, Simon. International Copyright Law and the Publisher in the Reign of Queen Victoria. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968.

Patterson, Lyman. Copyright in Historical Perspective. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968.

Rose, Mark. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Saunders, David. Authorship and Copyright. London: Routledge, 1992.

Citation: Khan, B. “An Economic History of Copyright in Europe and the United States”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. March 16, 2008. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/an-economic-history-of-copyright-in-europe-and-the-united-states/

Economic Interests and the Adoption of the United States Constitution

Robert A. McGuire, University of Akron

The adoption of the Constitution greatly strengthened the national government at the expense of the states. This article examines how our Founding Fathers designed the Constitution, examining findings on the political and economic factors behind the provisions included in the Constitution and its ratification. The article discusses the views of Charles Beard and his critics and focuses on recent quantitative findings that explain the making of the Constitution. These findings suggest that personal interests of the Founding Fathers, as well as constituents’ interests, played an important role in drafting the Constitution. They also suggest that economic and other interests played important roles at the ratifying conventions.

The Adoption of the Constitution

During the summer of 1787, fifty-five men attended the constitutional convention in Philadelphia that drafted the Constitution of the United States. In less than a year after the convention finished, New Hampshire, on June 21, 1788, became the ninth state to have ratified the Constitution that was drafted. As a result, Congress declared the Constitution to be in force beginning March 4, 1789, because ratification by only nine of the thirteen states was required for the Constitution to be considered adopted by the ratifying states. The Constitution thus replaced the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union as the law of the land. Under the Articles, which had been in effect only since 1781, the American political system consisted of a loose confederation of largely independent states with a very weak central government. Under the Constitution, the Articles were replaced with a political system that consisted of a powerful central government with, ultimately, little state sovereignty.

Fiscal and Economic Problems under the Articles of Confederation

Under the Articles of Confederation, the central (federal) government had little or no power to raise revenues and had difficulty repaying its domestic and foreign debt. The fiscal problems under the Articles were twofold. First, the primary source of revenues to fund the federal government was requisitions to the state governments asking them to send to the federal government state-collected tax revenues. Yet the Articles did not include any enforcement mechanism to ensure that the state governments would send in the full amount of the funds requested of them, which they never did. Second, each state had a single vote in the federal Congress and the unanimous consent of the thirteen states was required for the Congress to enact any federal taxes. A single state could thus block federal tax legislation. This de facto veto power on the part of each state created substantial decision-making costs for Congress and prevented proposed federal imposts (import duties) from being enacted under the Articles. The central government also lacked the legal power to enforce uniform commercial or trade regulations – either at home or abroad – that might have been conducive to the development of a common economic trading area. Likewise, the Confederation government possessed uncertain authority to deal with foreign powers. Its problems raising revenues and repaying existing debts created uncertainty about the financial viability of the federal government. Although state and local interference in trade was not a major problem at the time, many commercial interests apparently feared that local and state barriers to trade could develop in the future under the Articles of Confederation. Western landowners also were often impatient with the federal government because of its inability to establish order on the frontiers.

How the Constitution Strengthened the Power of the Central Government

Under the Constitution, the power to tax, along with the authority to settle past federal debts, was firmly delegated to the central (national) government, improving the central government’s financial future as well as improving capital markets (the markets for funds). The Constitution, unlike the Articles, required only a simple majority vote of the representatives in both chambers of the national Congress to enact tax legislation. There were, and are, checks on simple majority voting though. The president can veto congressional legislation and a two-thirds vote in Congress can override the presidential veto. But neither of these constraints on majority voting creates the magnitude of decision-making costs that unanimous voting under the Articles created. The assignment of the sole right “To coin money, [and] regulate the value thereof,” to the national government and the prohibition on states from emitting “bills of credit” (paper money) also were expected to improve capital markets. A national judiciary was created under the Constitution and the power to make treaties with foreign nations was firmly delegated to the central government.

How a Strong Central Government Affected the Economy

With respect to interstate trade, Gary M. Walton and James F. Shepherd (1979) suggest “the possibility of such barriers [to interstate commerce] loomed as a threat until the Constitution specifically granted the regulation of interstate commerce to the federal government” (pp. 187-88). Walton and Shepherd conclude that the most important changes associated with the Constitution “were those changes that strengthened the framework for protection of private property and enforcement of contracts” (pp. 187-88). These changes were most important because they increased the benefits of exchange (the cornerstone of a market economy) and created incentives for individuals to specialize in economic activities in which they had a particular advantage and then engage in mutually advantageous exchange (trade) with individuals specializing in other economic activities. Specific provisions in the Constitution that helped to increase the benefits of exchange were those that prohibited the national and state governments from enacting ex-post-facto laws (retroactive laws) and a provision that prohibited the state governments from passing any “law impairing the obligation of contracts.” These prohibitions were important to the development of a market economy because they constrained governments from interfering in economic exchange, making the returns to economic activity more secure.

Because the economies of the thirteen states were not highly interconnected in the 1780s, the immediate consequences for the nation of adopting the Constitution were not at all large. But the change in our fundamental political institution was ultimately to have a profound influence on our nation’s history, because the Constitution over time became the foundation of the supremacy of the national government in the United States.

The “Important Question”: How Did Constitutional Change Come About?

How did this fundamental change come about? Why did our nation’s Founding Fathers replace the Articles of Confederation, our first “constitution,” with the United States Constitution? In defending the Constitution in late 1787, Alexander Hamilton observed “It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country . . . to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force” (Hamilton, Jay and Madison, 1937, No. 1, p. 3). To paraphrase Hamilton: How did “this country” decide “the important question”?

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, hundreds of scholars have studied and debated the possible explanations for such an important change in the fundamental political institution of our nation. Many historians have concluded that the Constitution was drafted and adopted as a result of a consensus that the Articles of Confederation were fatally flawed. Other scholars have argued that the limitations of the Articles could have been eliminated without fundamentally altering the balance of power between the states and the central government. Others have suggested that the adoption of the Constitution was the product of conflict between various economic and financial interests within the nation, a conflict between those who, because of their interests, wanted a strengthened, more powerful national government and those who, because of their interests, did not.

Charles Beard’s “Economic” Interpretation

In 1913, Charles A. Beard (1913 [1935]) consolidated various scholarly views of the Constitution and, in the process, offered what became identified as “the” economic interpretation of the Constitution. Beard (pp. 16-18) argued that the formation of the Constitution was a conflict based upon competing economic interests – interests of both the proponents and opponents. In his view, the Federalists, the founders who supported a strong, centralized government and favored the Constitution during its drafting and ratification, were individuals whose primary economic interests were tied to personal property. They were mainly merchants, shippers, bankers, speculators, and private and public securities holders, according to Beard (pp. 31-51). The Anti-federalists, the opponents of the Constitution and supporters of a more decentralized government, were individuals whose primary economic interests were tied to real property. Beard (pp. 26-30) contended these opponents consisted primarily of more isolated, less-commercial farmers, who often were also debtors, and northern manorial planters along the Hudson River. However, Beard (pp. 29-30) maintained that many southern slaveowning planters, who held much of their wealth in personal property, had much in common with northern merchants and financiers, and should be included as supporters of the Constitution.

Beard (pp. 31-51) claimed that support for his argument could be found in the economic conditions prevailing during the 1780s. As a result, he suggested that the primary beneficiaries under the Constitution would have been individuals with commercial and financial interests – particularly, those with public securities holdings who, according to Beard, had a clause included in the Constitution requiring the assumption of existing federal debt by the new national government. Commercial and financial interests also would benefit because of more certainty in the rules of commerce, trade, and credit markets under the Constitution. More isolated less-commercial farmers, debtors, paper money advocates, and the northern planters along the Hudson would be the primary beneficiaries under the status quo. They would have had greater ability at the state level with decentralized government to avoid heavy land taxation – levied to pay off the public debt – and to promote paper money and debt moratorium issues that advanced their interests. Consequently, they opposed the Constitution.

Criticisms of Beard’s View: Brown and McDonald

Beard’s thesis soon emerged as the standard historical interpretation and remained so until the 1950s, when it began to face serious scholarly challenges. The most influential and lasting of the challenges were those by Robert E. Brown (1956) and Forrest McDonald (1958). Robert E. Brown’s (1956) critique dismisses an economic interpretation as utterly without merit, attacking Beard’s conclusions in their entirety. Brown counters Beard’s views that eighteenth-century America was not very democratic, that the wealthy were strong supporters of the Constitution, and that those without personal property generally opposed the Constitution. Brown examines the support for the Constitution among various economic and social classes, the democratic nature of the nation, and the franchise within the states in eighteenth-century America. He maintains that Beard was plain wrong, eighteenth-century America was democratic, the franchise was common, and there was widespread support for the Constitution.

In contrast, Forrest McDonald’s (1958) study empirically examines the wealth, economic interests, and the votes of the delegates to the constitutional convention in Philadelphia that drafted the Constitution in 1787 and of the delegates to the thirteen ratifying conventions that considered its adoption afterward. McDonald’s primary interest is in testing Charles A. Beard’s thesis. Based on his evidence collected from the Philadelphia convention, McDonald (1958, p. 110) concludes, “anyone wishing to rewrite the history of those proceedings largely or exclusively in terms of the economic interests represented there would find the facts to be insurmountable obstacles.” With respect to the ratification of the Constitution, McDonald (1958. p. 357) likewise concludes, “On all counts, then, Beard’s thesis is entirely incompatible with the facts.”

Neither Brown nor McDonald, however, offered any modern rigor (no formal or statistical analysis of any type) in testing the behavior of the Founding Fathers during the drafting or ratification of the Constitution. Yet Brown and McDonald are still credited by many with delivering the fatal blows to Beard’s economic interpretation of the Constitution. (Examples of economists, historians, political scientists, and legal scholars who credit Brown and McDonald, or both, with proving Beard incorrect include Buchanan and Tullock (1962), Wood (1969), Riker (1987), and Ackerman (1991).

The New Quantitative Approach

Recently economic historians have begun to reexamine the behavior of our Founding Fathers concerning the Constitution. This reexamination, which employs formal economics and modern statistical techniques, involves the application of an economic model of voting behavior during the drafting and ratification processes and the collection and processing of large amounts of data on the economic and financial interests and other characteristics of the men who drafted and ratified the Constitution. The findings of this reexamination, which have become the accepted view among quantitative economic historians today (Robert Whaples, 1995), provide answers to many heretofore-unresolved issues involving the adoption of the Constitution.

What factors explain the behavior of George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and the other Founding Fathers regarding the Constitution? Why did they include a prohibition on state paper-money issues in the Constitution? Why did they decide to allow for duties (taxes) on imports but not on exports? Why did they fail to adopt a clause giving the national government an absolute veto over state laws? Were the economic, financial, and other interests of the founders significant factors in their support for the Constitution, or their support for specific clauses in it, or their support for ratification? Were, for example, the slaveholdings of the founders a significant factor in their behavior? Were the founders’ commercial activities significant factors? Were the private or public securities holdings significant factors?

The Rational Choice Model

The critical reexamination of the adoption of the Constitution, which began in the mid-1980s (Robert A. McGuire and Robert L. Ohsfeldt, 1984), offers an economic model of the founders that is based on rational choice and methodological individualism, and employs formal statistical techniques. Methodologically, such an approach analyzes the choices of the individuals involved in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. The object of analysis is the behavior of the individual Founding Fathers not the behavior of some social class or group. The economic model presumes that a founder was motivated by self-interest to maximize the satisfaction he received from the choices he made at the constitutional convention attended. But neither self-interest nor economic rationality implies that a founder was concerned only with his financial or material well-being. The economic model indicates that a founder weighed the benefits (the satisfaction) and the costs (the sacrifice) to himself of his actions, making those choices that were in his self-interest, broadly defined to include any pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits and costs of his choices. This is the presumption of rational choice.

Personal and Constituent Interests

More precisely, the economic model is that a founder acted individually to maximize the net benefit he received from his votes. A founder would have voted in favor of a particular issue at Philadelphia, or in favor of ratification, if he expected the net benefit he would receive would have been greater if the issue, or the Constitution, was adopted. Because a founder was from a particular state or locality, the founder represented the citizens (the constituents) of the state or locality in which he resided as well as represented his own personal interests at Philadelphia or a ratifying convention. The benefit of a founder’s vote was affected directly by the anticipated impact of his vote on his personal interests and indirectly by the anticipated impact of his vote on his constituents’ interests. A founder’s personal interests depended on his own economic interests and ideology and his constituent interests depended on the economic interests and ideologies of his constituents. The interests may have been purely economic (pecuniary interests, such as the ownership or value of specific economic assets) or ideological (non-pecuniary interests, such as beliefs about the moral correctness of a particular form of government). The potential effect of personal interests on a founder’s vote is straightforward; the founder would have benefited or been harmed directly. The potential effect of constituents’ interests on a founder’s vote is through the impact of his vote on the potential for maintaining his decision-making authority, continuing to represent his constituents.

Statistical Tests

To quantitatively test the economic model, the founders’ observed votes on a particular issue at Philadelphia or on ratification are statistically related to measures of the economic interests and ideologies of the founders and their constituents. The statistical technique employed is called multivariate logistic regression. Estimation of a logistic regression model is designed to determine the marginal or incremental impact of each explanatory variable – the measures of the economic interests and ideologies – on the dependent variable – the “yes” or “no” votes on a particular issue at Philadelphia or ratification. The estimated logistic regression produces for each explanatory variable an estimated coefficient that captures the influence (its direction and magnitude) of the explanatory variable on the probability of a founder voting in favor of the issue being estimated, holding the influence of all other explanatory variables constant. The benefit of this approach is that each potential factor, each explanatory variable, affecting a vote is examined separately from the influence of the other factors, while at the same time, controlling for the influence of the other factors. This reduces to a minimum the incidence of spurious relationships between any particular factor and a vote. For example, if the relationship between the vote on an issue and the founders’ slaveholdings is examined in isolation, a positive correlation may be indicated. But if other interests are taken into account (for example, the founders’ public securities holdings), the correlation with slaveholdings could change and, in fact, be negative.

The modern economic history of the Constitution indicates that Charles Beard’s economic interpretation has not yet been refuted. The issues, in fact, have not been heretofore tested. Earlier historical studies did not have the benefit of modern economic methodology and systematic statistical analysis. As such, their conclusions cannot pass scientific scrutiny. Major advances in both economic thinking about political behavior and statistical techniques have taken place in the last thirty or so years. These modern methods allow for a systematic quantitative analysis of the voting behavior of the founders employing, among other data and evidence, the types of non-quantitative data about the founders that historians collected decades ago but never systematically analyzed. They failed to systematically analyze such data and evidence because the necessary techniques did not exist and because they generally were not trained in quantitative analysis.

Findings of the Quantitative Approach: A New Economic Interpretation of the Constitution

One unambiguous conclusion can be drawn from the recent quantitative studies: There is a valid economic interpretation of the Constitution. The idea of self-interest can explain the design and adoption of the Constitution. This does not mean that either the framers or the ratifiers of the Constitution were motivated by a greedy desire to “line their own pockets” or by some dialectic concept of “class interests.” Nor does it mean that some “conspiracy among the founders” or some fatalistic concept of “economic determinism” explains the Constitution. Nor does it mean that the founders were completely selfish in a purely financial or material sense. It does mean that the pursuit of one’s “interests” both in a narrow, pecuniary (financial) sense and a broader, non-pecuniary sense can explain the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. (See McGuire (2001).)

The recent quantitative studies contend that the Constitution was neither drafted nor ratified by a group of disinterested and nonpartisan demigods motivated only, or even primarily, by high-minded political principles to promote the nation’s interest. The fifty-five delegates to the Philadelphia convention that drafted the Constitution during the summer of 1787 were motivated by self-interest, in a broad sense, in choosing its design. Quantitative research suggests that these framers of the Constitution can be seen as rational individuals who were making choices in designing the fundamental rules of governance for the nation. In doing so, they rationally weighed the expected costs and benefits of each clause they considered. They included a particular clause in the Constitution only if they expected the benefits from its inclusion to exceed the costs they expected to result from inclusion. Likewise, the more than 1,600 delegates who participated in the thirteen state ratifying conventions, which took place between 1787 and 1790 to consider adopting the Constitution, can be viewed as rational individuals who were making the choice to adopt the set of rules embodied in the Constitution as drafted at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. In doing so, they rationally weighed the expected costs and benefits of their decision to ratify. They voted to ratify only if the benefits they expected from adoption of the set of rules embodied in the Constitution exceeded the costs they expected to result from that set of rules. If not, they voted against ratification.

Contrary to earlier views that the founders’ specific economic or financial interests cannot be principally identified with one side or the other of an issue, the modern evidence indicates that their economic and financial interests can be so identified. When specific issues arose at the Philadelphia convention that had a direct impact on important economic interests of the founders, their economic interests, even narrowly defined, significantly influenced the specific design of the Constitution, and the magnitudes of the influences were often quite large. The types of economic interests that mattered for the choice of specific issues were those that were likely to have accounted for a substantial portion of the overall wealth or represent the primary livelihood of the founders.

Even when the founders were deciding on the general issue of the basic design of the Constitution to strengthen the national government, economic and other interests significantly influenced them. In terms used in constitutional political economics, even when the founders were making fundamental “constitutional” choices rather than more specific-interest “operational” choices, the modern evidence indicates their choices were still consistent with self-interested and partisan behavior. In terms used among legal scholars, even when the founders were involved in the “higher lawmaking” of the “constitutional founding,” they were still self-interested and partisan. Partisan behavior explains even this “constitutional moment.” However, the modern evidence does indicate that fewer economic and financial interests mattered for the basic design of the Constitution than for specific-interest aspects of it.

Specific Empirical Findings from the Constitutional Convention and the Ratifying Conventions

Financial Securities

The financial securities holdings of the founders often had a significantly large influence on their behavior and founders with such financial assets were often aligned with each other on the same issue. These findings are in contrast to a strongly held view among many historical scholars that the founders’ financial securities holdings had little or no influence on their behavior or that these founders were not aligned on common issues. For a small number of the issues considered at the Philadelphia convention, the founders’ financial securities holdings mattered. Moreover, during the ratification process, the financial securities holdings had a major influence. Specifically, delegates with private securities holdings (private creditors) or public securities holdings (public creditors), and especially delegates with large amounts of public securities holdings (generally, Revolutionary War debt), were significantly more likely to vote in favor of ratification.

This does not mean that all securities-holding delegates voted together at the constitutional conventions. What it does mean is that the holdings of financial securities, controlling for other influences, significantly increased the probability of supporting some of the issues at the Philadelphia convention, particularly those issues that strengthened the central government (or weakened the state governments). For example, one issue that the securities holders were more likely to have supported was a proposal to absolutely prohibit state governments from issuing paper money. This means that the securities holders (creditors) at the convention desired to constrain the states’ ability to inflate away the value of their financial holdings through expansion of the supply of state paper money. Not surprisingly, the twelve founders at Philadelphia with private securities holdings voted unanimously in favor of the prohibition. Likewise, those with public securities holdings were significantly more likely to have favored it. The evidence indicates that a founder at Philadelphia with any public securities holdings, who at the same time possessed the average values of all other interests represented at the convention, was 26.5 percent more likely to vote yes than was an otherwise average delegate with no public securities holdings. With respect to the ratification process, a delegate’s financial securities holdings, controlling for other influences, significantly increased his probability of voting in favor of ratification at his state convention. An implication that can be drawn from this evidence is that to the extent some delegates with financial securities holdings did not support strengthening the central government, or did not vote for ratification, it was the effects of their other interests that influenced them to vote “no.”

Slaveowners

The view of many historical scholars is that delegates who were slaveowners and those who represented slave areas generally supported strengthening the central government and supported ratifying the Constitution. While this may be correct as far as it goes, the issue of the influence of slaveholdings on the behavior of the Founding Fathers, as is the influence of any factor, is actually more complex. The quantitative evidence indicates that, although a majority of the slaveowners and a majority of the delegates from slave areas, may have, in fact, voted for issues strengthening the central government or voted for ratification, the actual influence of slaveholdings or representing slave areas per se was to significantly decrease a delegate’s likelihood of voting for strengthening the central government or voting for ratification.

As with the findings for financial securities holdings, this does not mean that all slaveholding delegates or all delegates from slave areas voted together at the various constitutional conventions. What it does mean for the Philadelphia constitutional convention is that slaveholdings, controlling for other influences, decreased the probability of voting at the convention for issues that would have strengthened the central government. For example, one issue that slaveholders at Philadelphia were less likely to have supported was a proposal that would have given the national legislature an absolute veto over state laws, which would have greatly strengthened the central government. This means that if the national veto had been put into the Constitution at Philadelphia, which it was not, the national Congress, especially if it had a majority of non-slaveholding representatives, could have vetoed state laws concerning slavery, for example. This would have given the national Congress the power to limit the economic viability of slavery, if it so chose. Not surprisingly, the evidence suggests that a delegate at Philadelphia who owned the most slaves at the convention, for example, and had average values of all other interests, was one-twelfth as likely to have voted yes on the national veto than an otherwise average delegate with no slaveholdings. Likewise, during the ratification process, slaveholdings, controlling for other influences, significantly decreased the probability of voting in favor of ratification at the state ratifying conventions. An implication from this evidence is that in the case of the slaveholding delegates and the delegates from slave areas, who did vote to strengthen the central government or did vote for ratification, it was the effects of their other interests that influenced them to vote “yes.”

Commercial Interests

The modern evidence confirms that the framers and the ratifiers of the Constitution, who were from the more commercial areas of their states, were likely to have voted differently from individuals from the less commercial areas. Delegates who were from the more commercial areas were significantly more likely to have voted for clauses in the Constitution that strengthened the central government and were significantly more likely to have voted for ratification in the ratifying conventions. The Founding Fathers who were from the more isolated, less commercial areas of their states were significantly less likely to support strengthening the central government and significantly less likely to vote for ratification.

Local and State Office Holders

But surprisingly, the findings for the ratification of the Constitution strongly conflict with the nearly unanimous prevailing scholarly view that the localism and parochialism of local and state officeholders were major factors in the opposition to the Constitution’s ratification. The modern quantitative evidence, in fact, indicates that there were no significant relationships whatsoever between any measure of local or state office holding and the ratification vote in any ratifying convention for which the data on officeholders were collected.

The Founders Mattered: How the Constitution Would Have Been Different If Men with Different Interests Had Written It

One of the more important findings of the modern approach to the adoption of the Constitution is that it makes evident the importance to historical outcomes of the specific individuals involved in any historical process. The modern evidence attests to the paramount importance of the specific political actors involved in the American constitutional founding. The estimated magnitudes of the influences of many of the economic, financial, and other interests on the founders’ behavior are large enough that the findings suggest the product of the constitutional founding most likely would have been dramatically different had men with dramatically different interests been involved.

For example, had all the founders at Philadelphia represented a state with a population the size of the most populous state, and possessed the average values of all other interests represented at Philadelphia, the Constitution most certainly would have contained a clause giving the national government an absolute veto over all state laws. If the national veto had been put into the Constitution, which it was not, and representation in the national Congress was based on the population of a state, which it was and is in the House of Representatives, rather than each state possessing an equal vote as under the Articles, representatives from the most populous states could have controlled legislative outcomes. This would have given “large” states potential control over the “small” states. As might be expected, the modern findings indicate that the predicted probability of voting yes on the national veto for a founder at Philadelphia who represented the most populous state and possessed the average values of all other interests is 0.837. But the predicted probability for an “average” delegate, one with the average values of all measured interests including state population, is only 0.379.

Or, had all the founders at Philadelphia represented a state with the heaviest concentration of slaves of all states, and possessed the average values of all other interests, the Constitution likely would have contained a clause requiring a two-thirds majority of the national legislature to enact any commercial laws. If the two-thirds majority requirement had been put into the Constitution, which it was not, it would have been more difficult to enact commercial laws, laws that could have regulated the slave-based export economies of the southern states. The two-thirds requirement would have made it much more difficult for a future northern majority to impact negatively on the southern economy through commercial regulation. Again, as might be expected, the modern findings indicate that the predicted probability of a yes vote on the two-thirds issue for an otherwise “average” founder who represented a state with the heaviest concentration of slaves is 0.914; but it is only 0.206 for an “average” founder. The Constitution also might not have contained a clause prohibiting the national legislature from enacting export duties (taxes) had there been no delegates with merchant interests at the Philadelphia convention; there might have been only a fifty-fifty chance of passing the prohibition. The predicted probability of a yes vote to prohibit national-level export duties for an otherwise “average” delegate without merchant interests is 0.505. But it is 0.790 for an otherwise “average” delegate with merchant interests, and nine of the Founding Fathers at the Philadelphia convention had merchant interests.

Interests of the Ratifiers Mattered

With respect to ratification, the quantitative evidence indicates that the magnitudes of the influences of the economic and other interests on the ratification votes were even more considerable than for the Philadelphia convention. The outcome of ratification appears to have depended even more on the specific individuals involved. The estimated influences were considerable enough that they suggest the outcome of ratification almost certainly would have been different had men with different interests attended the ratifying conventions. Had there been, among the ratifiers, fewer merchants, more debtors, more slaveowners, more delegates from the less-commercial areas, or more delegates belonging to dissenting religions, there would have been no ratification of the Constitution, at least no ratification as the Constitution was written. For example, at the Massachusetts ratifying convention, the predicted probability of a yes vote on ratification for an otherwise “average” delegate who was a debtor is only 0.175 but if the same delegate was not a debtor it is 0.624. For an otherwise “average” Baptist, the predicted probability of a yes vote is only 0.162 but if the Massachusetts delegate was not a Baptist it is 0.657. At the North Carolina ratifying convention, the predicted probability of a yes vote for an otherwise “average” delegate who was not a merchant is 0.175 but if the same delegate was a merchant it is 0.924. For an otherwise “average” North Carolina delegate from the least commercial areas in the state, the predicted probability of a yes vote is a trivial 0.002 but if the delegate was from the most commercial areas in the state it is 0.753. At the Virginia ratifying convention, the predicted probability of a yes vote for an otherwise “average” slaveowner is 0.451 but if the otherwise “average” delegate was not a slaveowner it is 0.837. Differences of these magnitudes suggest that ratification of the Constitution strongly depended on the specific economic, financial, and other interests of the specific individuals who attended the state conventions.

Broader Implications for Constitution Making

Overall, the modern approach to explaining the design and adoption of the Constitution suggests that it is unlikely that any real world constitution would ever be drafted or ratified through a disinterested and nonpartisan process. Because actual constitutional settings will always involve political actors who possess partisan interests and who likely will be able to predict the consequences of their decisions; partisan interests will influence constitutional choice. The economic history of the drafting and ratification of our nation’s Constitution makes it hard to envision any actual constitutional setting, including any setting to reform existing constitutions, in which self-interested and partisan behavior would not dominate. The modern evidence suggests that constitutions are the products of the interests of those who design and adopt them.

The Statistical Approach versus the Traditional Approach

Much of the differences between the modern evidence and the evidence found in the traditional historical literature is a matter of the approach taken, as well as the questions asked, rather than a matter of arriving at fundamentally different answers to identical questions. Many studies in the traditional literature question an economic interpretation of the Constitution because they question whether the Constitution is strictly an economic document designed solely to promote specific economic interests. Of course, it was not designed merely to promote economic interests. Many others question an economic interpretation because they question whether the founders were really attempting to solely, or even to principally, enhance their personal wealth, or the wealth of those they represented, as a result of adopting the Constitution. Of course, the founders were not. Others question an economic interpretation because they question whether the founders were really involved in a conspiracy to promote specific economic interests. Of course, they were not. Others question an economic interpretation because they question whether political principles, philosophies, and beliefs can be ignored in an attempt to understand the design of the Constitution. Of course, they cannot. In contrast, the modern economic history of the Constitution does not take any of these positions.

Yet the conclusions drawn from the modern evidence on the role of the economic, financial, and other interests of the founders are fundamentally different from the conclusions found in the traditional literature. The primary reason is that the statistical technique employed in the modern reexamination yields estimates of the separate influence of a particular economic interest or other factor on the founders’ behavior (how they voted) taking into account, and controlling for, the influence of other interests and factors on the founders’ behavior. The traditional literature nearly always draws conclusions about how the majority of the delegates with a particular interest – for example, how the majority of public securities holding delegates – voted on a particular issue, without regard to the influence of other interests and factors on behavior and without any formal statistical analysis. Prior studies, consequently, do not control for the confounding influences of other factors when drawing conclusions about any particular factor. As a result, the modern reexamination and the prior studies will often reach different conclusions about the influence of the same economic interest or other factor on the founders’ behavior. The conclusions differ because in a sense the studies are asking different questions. The modern economic history of the Constitution asks: How did a particular economic interest (for example, slaveholdings) per se influence the founders’ voting behavior taking into account all the influences of other factors on those founders’ voting behavior (for example, the slaveholding founders)? Prior historical studies more simply ask: How many of the founders with a particular economic interest (for example, founders with slaveholdings) voted the same on a particular issue?

The modern approach to the adoption of the Constitution may be disquieting to individuals of all political persuasions. It may be personally difficult for many to embrace. The evidence suggests motivating factors and intent on the part of our Founding Fathers that may be distasteful to conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike, to those on the left, in the middle, and on the right. The methodology employed, rational choice and methodological individualism, will be acceptable to some. But methodological individualism and a presumption of rational choice are likely to be troublesome to others. Some may have difficulty because an economic approach to the adoption of the Constitution appears “too calculating.” To some, it may appear “too deterministic” or “too economic.” Yet it actually is a dispassionate, almost antiseptic, view of the founders. It does not offer a special approach to the behavior of the founders because of the unique position reserved for them in our nation’s history. It treats them as it would any political actor. The modern approach represents an impartial, disinterested explanation of the behavior of our Founding Fathers, employing what are today commonly accepted techniques of economic and statistical analysis. Yet many individuals tend to look at our Founding Fathers through rose-colored glasses. They often place the founders on a pedestal and treat them as demigods. Many contend that the founders were motivated primarily, if not solely, by high-minded political principles “To Form a More Perfect Union.” The modern approach takes a broader view.

Annotated References

Ackerman, Bruce. We the People, two volumes. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991.

A view of the American constitutional founding by an eminent legal scholar. Ackerman offers a “dualist” theory of the founders’ politics in an attempt to recover the “true” revolutionary character of the founders, contending they were “dualist democrats.” Given this dualism, it is claimed that the founders behaved differently during “constitutional politics” than during “normal politics.” The founders thus were able to suspend their self-interests during the framing of the Constitution and promote instead the “rights of citizens and the permanent interests of the community.” Dismisses an economic interpretation as not serious. Indicates how a modern legal scholar thinks about the issues. Not a quantitative study.

Beard, Charles A. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1913 (1935).

A must read. The classic study of economics and the Constitution. Beard consolidated existing scholarly views and, in the process, his study became identified as “the” economic interpretation of the Constitution. Argues that the adoption of the Constitution was based on a conflict among competing economic interests. Contends that the founders who supported the strong, centralized government in the Constitution were merchants, shippers, bankers, land speculators, or private and/or public securities holders. Contends that the opponents, who supported a more decentralized government, represented agrarian interests and were less-commercial farmers, who often were also debtors, and/or northern planters along the Hudson. Contains little empirical evidence. Offers no formal or quantitative analysis.

Brown, Robert E. Charles Beard and the Constitution: A Critical Analysis of An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1956.

The first significant blow to Beard after nearly a half-century of acceptance. Dismisses an economic interpretation as utterly without merit, attacking its conclusions in their entirety. Brown maintains that eighteenth-century America was democratic, the franchise was common, and there was widespread support for the Constitution, claiming that his evidence counters Beard’s contention about the lack of democracy and the narrow support for the Constitution. Brown accuses Beard of taking the Philadelphia debates out of context, falsely editing The Federalist, and misstating facts. Not an empirical study per se. Offers no formal or quantitative analysis of the economic or financial interests of the founders.

Buchanan, James M., and Gordon Tullock. The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1962.

An important read. The first modern attempt by economists to develop an economic theory of constitutions. The premise is that citizens rationally devise constitutions, which contain the fundamental rules of governance to be used for future collective decisions in a society. As constitutions specify the constraints placed on governments and individuals, they establish the incentive structure for the future. Buchanan and Tullock maintain that it is in the self-interest of rational citizens to adopt a constitution that contains economically “efficient” rules that promote the interests of the society as a whole rather than the interests of any particular group. Suggests that the theory is applicable to the American founding. No empirical evidence is presented, however.

Elliot, Jonathan, editor. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, in 1787, 5 volumes. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott, 1836 (1888).

Worth perusing. Contains a record of the speeches and debates during the ratification process at most of the state ratifying conventions, as well as numerous other documents and correspondence pertaining to the Constitution’s ratification and drafting. The original source of information on what was said at the constitutional conventions. Elliot’s “Debates” are a most illuminating source of information concerning the views of both the supporters and opponents of the Constitution. Contains a record of the debates over ratification in the ratifying conventions in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Contains only small fragments of the debates in the ratifying conventions in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maryland. No debates from the other four state ratifying conventions are included.

Farrand, Max, editor. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 3 volumes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1911.

Worth perusing. Reputably the best source of information concerning what took place at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787. Contains copies of the official journal of the convention; James Madison’s highly respected notes of the entire proceedings; the diaries, notes, and memoranda of seven others (Alexander Hamilton, Rufus King, George Mason, James McHenry, William Pierce, William Paterson, and Robert Yates); the Virginia and the New Jersey plans of government presented at the convention; several documents recording the work of the Committee of Detail that wrote the first draft of the Constitution; a list of the framers, their attendance records, whether they signed the Constitution, and for thirteen of the sixteen non-signing framers whether the debates indicated they favored or opposed the Constitution; and hundreds of letters and correspondence of many of the framers and their contemporaries.

Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay, and James Madison. The Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States, Being a Collection of Essays written in Support of the Constitution agreed upon September 17, 1787, by the Federal Convention. New York, NY: The Modern Library, 1937.

A must read to understand the arguments put forth by the contemporary supporters of the Constitution. Commonly referred to today as The Federalist Papers, a collection of eighty-five essays written, between October 1787 and May 1788, under the pseudonym “Publius,” in support of the Constitution during the ratification debate in New York, seventy-seven of which originally appeared in the New York press. They appeared in book form in the spring of 1788 and it was soon after revealed that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay collectively wrote them. Given the “Papers” were part of a political campaign to win ratification, they should not be considered unbiased interpretations of the Constitution. Yet because Hamilton and, especially, Madison, the “Father” of the Constitution, were both at the Philadelphia convention that drafted the Constitution and Jay was a renowned lawyer, The Federalist soon became the authoritative interpretation of the intention of the framers as well as the meaning of the Constitution. Still viewed as such today by many but some scholars readily acknowledge the biased political nature of their conception.

Jensen, Merrill. The Making of the Constitution. New York, NY: Van Nostrand, 1964.

A culmination of more than two decades of scholarship on constitutional history and the Confederation period. Presents an interesting view of the issues. Concludes that many of the framers “who agreed on ultimate goals differed as to the means of achieving them, and they tended to reflect the interests of their states and their sections when those seemed in conflict with such goals.” Suggests that throughout the Philadelphia convention the framers expressed their common belief that men conducting public business must be restrained from using their influence to further their private interests. Jensen’s conclusion about the controversy over Charles Beard is especially revealing, as he maintains that the founders would have been bewildered because they “took for granted the existence of a direct relationship between the economic life of a state or nation and its government.” Not a study of economic interests, however.

Jillson, Calvin C. Constitution Making: Conflict and Consensus in the Federal Convention of 1787. New York, NY: Agathon Press, 1988.

An argument for the importance of economic and other interests by a respected political scientist. Employs modern statistical techniques to describe the voting alignments among the states at the Philadelphia convention. The findings indicate that many of the long recognized voting alignments existed over many of the issues considered at Philadelphia. Concludes that issues of basic constitutional design were decided on the basis of principle, whereas specific economic and political interests decided votes involving more specific issues. Is limited though because it does not use explicit data to measure economic or other interests. Employs the historical literature to categorize the interests of the states represented at the convention and then tests whether the states voted together on particular issues, concluding that when they did, economic or political interests mattered. Employs fairly sophisticated statistical techniques. Concerns issues of interest mainly to political scientists, voting alignments and coalition formation.

McDonald, Forrest. We the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

An important read to understand the scholarly opinion of an “economic interpretation of the Constitution” among many. The most important and lasting blow to Beard after nearly a half-century of acceptance. Empirically examines the wealth and economic interests of the framers of the Constitution and ratifiers at the thirteen state conventions. Several economic interests are reported for nearly 1,300 (about three-quarters) of the founders. The votes on several issues at the Philadelphia convention and the votes at the ratifying conventions also are reported. Concludes that for the Philadelphia convention and the ratifying conventions the facts do not support an interpretation of the Constitution based on the economic interests represented. Further concludes there is no measurable relationship between specific economic interests and specific voting at the Philadelphia convention nor generally between specific economic interests and the votes at most of the ratifying conventions. Argues that an economic interpretation is more complex than that offered by Beard. Contains much empirical evidence but offers no formal or quantitative analysis. Many of its conclusions are overturned in McGuire’s To Form A More Perfect Union.

McGuire, Robert A. To Form A More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, (2002, in press).

Should be read by anyone interested in the modern “economic interpretation of the Constitution” and what the evidence indicates formally. The culmination of more than a decade and a half of modern research critically reexamining the adoption of the Constitution that seriously challenges the prevailing interpretation of our constitutional founding. Based on large amounts of new data on the economic, financial, and other interests of the Founding Fathers, an economic model of their voting behavior, and formal statistical analysis. The votes of the founders on selected issues at the Philadelphia convention and the votes during ratification are statistically related to measures of the founders and their constituents’ interests. The findings indicate that the economic and other interests significantly influenced the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. The magnitudes of the influences are shown to be substantial in many cases. Indicates how the Constitution would have been different had different interests been present at Philadelphia and how ratification would have been different had different interests been represented at the ratifying conventions. Attests to the importance of the specific individuals involved in historical events to historical outcomes.

McGuire, Robert A., and Robert L. Ohsfeldt. “Economic Interests and the American Constitution: A Quantitative Rehabilitation of Charles A. Beard.” Journal of Economic History 44 (1984): 509-519.

Quite readable. A useful preliminary study, reexamining the adoption of the Constitution employing the methods of modern economic history. Discusses the issues in a straightforward fashion with a minimum of technical jargon. Develops an economic model of the behavior of the Founding Fathers, discusses the data and evidence collected on the economic and other interests, and reports preliminary statistical findings on the role of economic interests in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. The findings are dated though because of their preliminary nature. The findings have been superceded by those reported in McGuire’s To Form A More Perfect Union.

Riker, William H. “The Lessons of 1787.” Public Choice 55 (1987): 5-34.

Quite readable. Written with a minimum of technical jargon by an eminent political scientist and constitutional expert. While emphasizing a rational choice view of the founders, it places little weight on the importance of economic interests per se. Riker maintains that military threats to the status quo during the 1780s explain the adoption of a strengthened central government. Presumes the framers of the Constitution were different from modern day politicians. Their achievements could not be duplicated today because, according to Riker, they were not constrained, as so many contemporaries are, by the foolish views of their constituencies. Maintains that the framers were less partisan and more disinterested than politicians are today. The approach presumes there was near unanimity among the framers. Indicates how an important political scientist thinks about the issues. Not a quantitative study.

Rossiter, Clinton. 1787: The Grand Convention. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1966.

An influential study of the Philadelphia convention that maintains economic interests motivated the founders throughout their deliberations. Contends, however, that the founders were essentially “like-minded gentlemen” whose interests and political ideologies were similar. Openly rejects an economic interpretation during ratification, claiming that “Virginia ratified the Constitution . . . because of a whole series of accidents and incidents that mock the crudely economic interpretation of the Great Happening of 1787-1788.” Further concludes “the evidence we now have leads most historians to conclude that no sharp economic or social line can be drawn on a nationwide basis.” Offers no formal or quantitative analysis of the role of any economic, financial, or other interests, however.

Storing, Herbert J. The Complete Anti-Federalist, volumes 1 through 7. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

A must read for anyone seriously interested in our nation’s founding. Places the essays in The Federalist in perspective. It is not at all necessary to read the volumes in their entirety. The seven volumes are the magnum opus for the arguments of the contemporary opponents of the Constitution. Given the success of the supporters of the Constitution and the esteem given their arguments presented in The Federalist, the opponents have often been denigrated and ignored. Yet many prominent Americans in the 1780s did oppose the Constitution. Among some of the better know Anti-Federalists, and opponents of the Constitution, are Patrick Henry and George Mason of Virginia, and Melancton Smith of New York. The Complete Anti-Federalist is a superb attempt, in Storing’s words, “to make available for the first time all of the substantial Anti-Federal writings in their complete original form and in an accurate text, together with appropriate annotation.” See, especially, the introduction, contained in volume one, which gives valuable coherence to Anti-Federalist thought.

Whaples, Robert. “Where Is There Consensus among American Economic Historians? The Results of a Survey on Forty Propositions.” Journal of Economic History, 55 (1995): 139-154.

The title of this article says it all. Whaples surveyed economists and historians whose specialty is American economic history to determine whether, and where, there is consensus among economic historians on forty important historical issues concerning the American economy. Reports the findings of the survey so that they indicate whether there are differences in the consensus on various issues among scholars trained in economics versus scholars trained in history.

Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1969.

An important read. A widely acclaimed, and monumentally influential, study of the American founding by an eminent historian. Contends it is nearly impossible to identify the supporters or opponents of the Constitution with specific economic interests. Argues that the founding can be better understood in terms of the fundamental social forces underlying the ideological positions of the founders. Wood maintains the Constitution was founded on these larger sociological and ideological forces, which are the primary interests of the book. Concludes, “The quarrel was fundamentally one between aristocracy and democracy.” Offers no formal or quantitative analysis of the role of any economic, financial, or other interests.

Walton, Gary M., and James F. Shepherd. The Economic Rise of Early America. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Quite readable. A concise presentation of the economic history of early America from the colonial period through the early national period by two eminent economic historians of early America. In addition to the material on the colonial period, contains a discussion of general economic conditions in the United States in the 1780s, a discussion of the Articles of Confederation, and the immediate and longer-term influences on the American economy brought about by the adoption of the Constitution. A nice starting point for a general understanding of the economic history of early America. It is somewhat dated though, as there has been new scholarship on the early American economy in the last twenty years.

Citation: McGuire, Robert. “Economic Interests and the Adoption of the United States Consitution”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. August 14, 2001.
URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/economic-interests-and-the-adoption-of-the-united-states-constitution/

The Economics of the Civil War

Roger L. Ransom, University of California, Riverside

The Civil War has been something of an enigma for scholars studying American history. During the first half of the twentieth century, historians viewed the war as a major turning point in American economic history. Charles Beard labeled it “Second American Revolution,” claiming that “at bottom the so-called Civil War – was a social war, ending in the unquestioned establishment of a new power in the government, making vast changes – in the course of industrial development, and in the constitution inherited from the Fathers” (Beard and Beard 1927: 53). By the time of the Second World War, Louis Hacker could sum up Beard’s position by simply stating that the war’s “striking achievement was the triumph of industrial capitalism” (Hacker 1940: 373). The “Beard-Hacker Thesis” had become the most widely accepted interpretation of the economic impact of the Civil War. Harold Faulkner devoted two chapters to a discussion of the causes and consequences of the war in his 1943 textbook American Economic History (which was then in its fifth edition), claiming that “its effects upon our industrial, financial, and commercial history were profound” (1943: 340).

In the years after World War II, a new group of economic historians — many of them trained in economics departments — focused their energies on the explanation of economic growth and development in the United States. As they looked for the keys to American growth in the nineteenth century, these economic historians questioned whether the Civil War — with its enormous destruction and disruption of society — could have been a stimulus to industrialization. In his 1955 textbook on American economic history, Ross Robertson mirrored a new view of the Civil War and economic growth when he argued that “persistent, fundamental forces were at work to forge the economic system and not even the catastrophe of internecine strife could greatly affect the outcome” (1955: 249). “Except for those with a particular interest in the economics of war,” claimed Robertson, “the four year period of conflict [1861-65] has had little attraction for economic historians” (1955: 247). Over the next two decades, this became the dominant view of the Civil War’s role industrialization of the United States.

Historical research has a way of returning to the same problems over and over. The efforts to explain regional patterns of economic growth and the timing of the United States’ “take-off” into industrialization, together with extensive research into the “economics” of the slave system of the South and the impact of emancipation, brought economic historians back to questions dealing with the Civil War. By the 1990s a new generation of economic history textbooks once again examined the “economics” of the Civil War (Atack and Passell 1994; Hughes and Cain 1998; Walton and Rockoff 1998). This reconsideration of the Civil War by economic historians can be loosely grouped into four broad issues: the “economic” causes of the war; the “costs” of the war; the problem of financing the War; and a re-examination of the Hacker-Beard thesis that the War was a turning point in American economic history.

Economic Causes of the War

No one seriously doubts that the enormous economic stake the South had in its slave labor force was a major factor in the sectional disputes that erupted in the middle of the nineteenth century. Figure 1 plots the total value of all slaves in the United States from 1805 to 1860. In 1805 there were just over one million slaves worth about $300 million; fifty-five years later there were four million slaves worth close to $3 billion. In the 11 states that eventually formed the Confederacy, four out of ten people were slaves in 1860, and these people accounted for more than half the agricultural labor in those states. In the cotton regions the importance of slave labor was even greater. The value of capital invested in slaves roughly equaled the total value of all farmland and farm buildings in the South. Though the value of slaves fluctuated from year to year, there was no prolonged period during which the value of the slaves owned in the United States did not increase markedly. Looking at Figure 1, it is hardly surprising that Southern slaveowners in 1860 were optimistic about the economic future of their region. They were, after all, in the midst of an unparalleled rise in the value of their slave assets.

A major finding of the research into the economic dynamics of the slave system was to demonstrate that the rise in the value of slaves was not based upon unfounded speculation. Slave labor was the foundation of a prosperous economic system in the South. To illustrate just how important slaves were to that prosperity, Gerald Gunderson (1974) estimated what fraction of the income of a white person living in the South of 1860 was derived from the earnings of slaves. Table 1 presents Gunderson’s estimates. In the seven states where most of the cotton was grown, almost one-half the population were slaves, and they accounted for 31 percent of white people’s income; for all 11 Confederate States, slaves represented 38 percent of the population and contributed 23 percent of whites’ income. Small wonder that Southerners — even those who did not own slaves — viewed any attempt by the federal government to limit the rights of slaveowners over their property as a potentially catastrophic threat to their entire economic system. By itself, the South’s economic investment in slavery could easily explain the willingness of Southerners to risk war when faced with what they viewed as a serious threat to their “peculiar institution” after the electoral victories of the Republican Party and President Abraham Lincoln the fall of 1860.

Table 1

The Fraction of Whites’ Incomes from Slavery

State Percent of the Population That Were Slaves Per Capita Earnings of Free Whites (in dollars) Slave Earnings per Free White (in dollars) Fraction of Earnings Due to Slavery
Alabama 45 120 50 41.7
South Carolina 57 159 57 35.8
Florida 44 143 48 33.6
Georgia 44 136 40 29.4
Mississippi 55 253 74 29.2
Louisiana 47 229 54 23.6
Texas 30 134 26 19.4
Seven Cotton States 46 163 50 30.6
North Carolina 33 108 21 19.4
Tennessee 25 93 17 18.3
Arkansas 26 121 21 17.4
Virginia 32 121 21 17.4
All 11 States 38 135 35 25.9
Source: Computed from data in Gerald Gunderson (1974: 922, Table 1)

The Northern states also had a huge economic stake in slavery and the cotton trade. The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed an enormous increase in the production of short-staple cotton in the South, and most of that cotton was exported to Great Britain and Europe. Figure 2 charts the growth of cotton exports from 1815 to 1860. By the mid 1830s, cotton shipments accounted for more than half the value of all exports from the United States. Note that there is a marked similarity between the trends in the export of cotton and the rising value of the slave population depicted in Figure 1. There could be little doubt that the prosperity of the slave economy rested on its ability to produce cotton more efficiently than any other region of the world.

The income generated by this “export sector” was a major impetus for growth not only in the South, but in the rest of the economy as well. Douglass North, in his pioneering study of the antebellum U.S. economy, examined the flows of trade within the United States to demonstrate how all regions benefited from the South’s concentration on cotton production (North 1961). Northern merchants gained from Southern demands for shipping cotton to markets abroad, and from the demand by Southerners for Northern and imported consumption goods. The low price of raw cotton produced by slave labor in the American South enabled textile manufacturers — both in the United States and in Britain — to expand production and provide benefits to consumers through a declining cost of textile products. As manufacturing of all kinds expanded at home and abroad, the need for food in cities created markets for foodstuffs that could be produced in the areas north of the Ohio River. And the primary force at work was the economic stimulus from the export of Southern Cotton. When James Hammond exclaimed in 1859 that “Cotton is King!” no one rose to dispute the point.

With so much to lose on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, economic logic suggests that a peaceful solution to the slave issue would have made far more sense than a bloody war. Yet no solution emerged. One “economic” solution to the slave problem would be for those who objected to slavery to “buy out” the economic interest of Southern slaveholders. Under such a scheme, the federal government would purchase slaves. A major problem here was that the costs of such a scheme would have been enormous. Claudia Goldin estimates that the cost of having the government buy all the slaves in the United States in 1860, would be about $2.7 billion (1973: 85, Table 1). Obviously, such a large sum could not be paid all at once. Yet even if the payments were spread over 25 years, the annual costs of such a scheme would involve a tripling of federal government outlays (Ransom and Sutch 1990: 39-42)! The costs could be reduced substantially if instead of freeing all the slaves at once, children were left in bondage until the age of 18 or 21 (Goldin 1973:85). Yet there would remain the problem of how even those reduced costs could be distributed among various groups in the population. The cost of any “compensated” emancipation scheme was so high that even those who wished to eliminate slavery were unwilling to pay for a “buyout” of those who owned slaves.

The high cost of emancipation was not the only way in which economic forces produced strong regional tensions in the United States before 1860. The regional economic specialization, previously noted as an important cause of the economic expansion of the antebellum period, also generated very strong regional divisions on economic issues. Recent research by economic, social and political historians has reopened some of the arguments first put forward by Beard and Hacker that economic changes in the Northern states were a major factor leading to the political collapse of the 1850s. Beard and Hacker focused on the narrow economic aspects of these changes, interpreting them as the efforts of an emerging class of industrial capitalists to gain control of economic policy. More recently, historians have taken a broader view of the situation, arguing that the sectional splits on these economic issues reflected sweeping economic and social changes in the Northern and Western states that were not experienced by people in the South. The term most historians have used to describe these changes is a “market revolution.”

Source: United States Population Census, 1860.

Perhaps the best single indicator of how pervasive the “market revolution” was in the Northern and Western states is the rise of urban areas in areas where markets have become important. Map 1 plots the 292 counties that reported an “urban population” in 1860. (The 1860 Census Office defined an “urban place” as a town or city having a population of at least 2,500 people.) Table 2 presents some additional statistics on urbanization by region. In 1860 6.1 million people — roughly one out of five persons in the United States — lived in an urban county. A glance at either the map or Table 2 reveals the enormous difference in urban development in the South compared to the Northern states. More than two-thirds of all urban counties were in the Northeast and West; those two regions accounted for nearly 80 percent of the urban population of the country. By contrast, less than 7 percent of people in the 11 Southern states of Table 2 lived in urban counties.

Table 2

Urban Population of the United States in 1860a

Region Counties with Urban Populations Total Urban Population in the Region Percent of Region’s Population Living in Urban Counties Region’s Urban Population as Percent of U.S. Urban Population
Northeastb 103 3,787,337 35.75 61.66
Westc 108 1,059,755 13.45 17.25
Borderd 23 578,669 18.45 9.42
Southe 51 621,757 6.83 10.12
Far Westf 7 99,145 15.19 1.54
Totalg 292 6,141,914 19.77 100.00
Notes:

a Urban population is people living in a city or town of at least 2,500

b Includes: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

c Includes: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

d Includes: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri.

e Includes: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

f Includes: Colorado, California, Dakotas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington

g includes District of Columbia

Source: U.S Census of Population, 1860.

The region along the north Atlantic Coast, with its extensive development of commerce and industry, had the largest concentration of urban population in the United States; roughly one-third of the population of the nine states defined as the Northeast in Table 2 lived in urban counties. In the South, the picture was very different. Cotton cultivation with slave labor did not require local financial services or nearby manufacturing activities that might generate urban activities. The 11 states of the Confederacy had only 51 urban counties and they were widely scattered throughout the region. Western agriculture with its emphasis on foodstuffs encouraged urban activity near to the source of production. These centers were not necessarily large; indeed, the West had roughly the same number of large and mid-sized cities as the South. However there were far more small towns scattered throughout settled regions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan than in the Southern landscape.

Economic policy had played a prominent role in American politics since the birth of the republic in 1790. With the formation of the Whig Party in the 1830s, a number of key economic issues emerged at the national level. To illustrate the extent to which the rise of urban centers and increased market activity in the North led to a growing crisis in economic policy, historians have re-examined four specific areas of legislative action singled out by Beard and Hacker as evidence of a Congressional stalemate in 1860 (Egnal 2001; Ransom and Sutch 2001; 1989; Bensel 1990; McPherson 1988).

Land Policy

1. Land Policy. Settlement of western lands had always been a major bone of contention for slave and free-labor farms. The manner in which the federal government distributed land to people could have a major impact on the nature of farming in a region. Northerners wanted to encourage the settlement of farms which would depend primarily on family labor by offering cheap land in small parcels. Southerners feared that such a policy would make it more difficult to keep areas open for settlement by slaveholders who wanted to establish large plantations. This all came to a head with the “Homestead Act” of 1860 that would provide 160 acres of free land for anyone who wanted to settle and farm the land. Northern and western congressmen strongly favored the bill in the House of Representatives but the measure received only a single vote from slave states’ representatives. The bill passed, but President Buchanan vetoed it. (Bensel 1990: 69-72)

Transportation Improvements

2. Transportation Improvements. Following the opening of the Erie Canal in 1823, there was growing support in the North and the Northwest for government support of improvement in transportation facilities — what were termed in those days “internal improvements”. The need for government- sponsored improvements was particularly urgent in the Great Lakes region (Egnal 2001: 45-50). The appearance of the railroad in the 1840s gave added support for those advocating government subsidies to promote transportation. Southerners required far fewer internal improvements than people in the Northwest, and they tended to view federal subsidies for such projects to be part of a “deal” between western and eastern interests that held no obvious gains for the South. The bill that best illustrates the regional disputes on transportation was the Pacific Railway Bill of 1860, which proposed a transcontinental railway link to the West Coast. The bill failed to pass the House, receiving no votes from congressmen representing districts of the South where there was a significant slave population (Bensel 1990: 70-71).

The Tariff

3. The Tariff. Southerners, with their emphasis on staple agriculture and need to buy goods produced outside the South, strongly objected to the imposition of duties on imported goods. Manufacturers in the Northeast, on the other hand, supported a high tariff as protection against cheap British imports. People in the West were caught in the middle of this controversy. Like the agricultural South they disliked the idea of a high “protective” tariff that raised the cost of imports. However the tariff was also the main source of federal revenue at this time, and Westerners needed government funds for the transportation improvements they supported in Congress. As a result, a compromise reached by western and eastern interests during in the tariff debates of 1857 was to support a “moderate” tariff; with duties set high enough to generate revenue and offer some protection to Northern manufacturers while not putting too much of a burden on Western and Eastern consumers. Southerners complained that even this level of protection was excessive and that it was one more example of the willingness of the West and the North to make economic bargains at the expense of the South (Ransom and Sutch 2001; Egnal 2001:50-52).

Banking

4. Banking. The federal government’s role in the chartering and regulation of banks was a volatile political issue throughout the antebellum period. In 1834 President Andrew Jackson created a major furor when he vetoed a bill to recharter the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson’s veto ushered in a period of that was termed “free banking” in the United States, where the chartering and regulation of banks was left entirely in the hands of state governments. Banks were a relatively new economic institution at this point in time, and opinions were sharply divided over the degree to which the federal government should regulate banks. In the Northeast, where over 60 percent of all banks were located, there was strong support by 1860 for the creation of a system of banks that would be chartered and regulated by the federal government. But in the South, which had little need for local banking services, there was little enthusiasm for such a proposal. Here again, the western states were caught in the middle. While they worried that a system of “national” banks that would be controlled by the already dominant eastern banking establishment, western farmers found themselves in need of local banking services for financing their crops. By 1860 many were inclined to support the Republican proposal for a National Banking System, however Southern opposition killed the National Bank Bill in 1860 (Ransom and Sutch 2001; Bensel 1990).

The growth of an urbanized market society in the North produced more than just a legislative program of political economy that Southerners strongly resisted. Several historians have taken a much broader view of the market revolution and industrialization in the North. They see the economic conflict of North and South, in the words of Richard Brown, as “the conflict of a modernizing society” (1976: 161). A leading historian of the Civil War, James McPherson, argues that Southerners were correct when they claimed that the revolutionary program sweeping through the North threatened their way of life (1983; 1988). James Huston (1999) carries the argument one step further by arguing that Southerners were correct in their fears that the triumph of this coalition would eventually lead to an assault by Northern politicians on slave property rights.

All this provided ample argument for those clamoring for the South to leave the Union in 1861. But why did the North fight a war rather than simply letting the unhappy Southerners go in peace? It seems unlikely that anyone will ever be able to show that the “gains” from the war outweighed the “costs” in economic terms. Still, war is always a gamble, and with the neither the costs nor the benefits easily calculated before the fact, leaders are often tempted to take the risk. The evidence above certainly lent strong support for those arguing that it made sense for the South to fight if a belligerent North threatened the institution of slavery. An economic case for the North is more problematic. Most writers argue that the decision for war on Lincoln’s part was not based primarily on economic grounds. However, Gerald Gunderson points out that if, as many historians argue, Northern Republicans were intent on controlling the spread of slavery, then a war to keep the South in the Union might have made sense. Gunderson compares the “costs” of the war (which we discuss below) with the cost of “compensated” emancipation and notes that the two are roughly the same order of magnitude — 2.5 to 3.7 billion dollars (1974: 940-42). Thus, going to war made as much “economic sense” as buying out the slaveholders. Gunderson makes the further point, which has been echoed by other writers, that the only way that the North could ensure that their program to contain slavery could be “enforced” would be if the South were kept in the Union. Allowing the South to leave the Union would mean that the North could no longer control the expansion of slavery anywhere in the Western Hemisphere (Ransom 1989; Ransom and Sutch 2001; Weingast 1998; Weingast 1995; Wolfson 1995). What is novel about these interpretations of the war is that they argue it was economic pressures of “modernization” in the North that made Northern policy towards secession in 1861 far more aggressive than the traditional story of a North forced into military action by the South’s attack on Fort Sumter.

That is not to say that either side wanted war — for economic or any other reason. Abraham Lincoln probably summarized the situation as well as anyone when he observed in his second inaugural address that: “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.”

The “Costs” of the War

The Civil War has often been called the first “modern” war. In part this reflects the enormous effort expended by both sides to conduct the war. What was the cost of this conflict? The most comprehensive effort to answer this question is the work of Claudia Goldin and Frank Lewis (1978; 1975). The Goldin and Lewis estimates of the costs of the war are presented in Table 3. The costs are divided into two groups: the direct costs which include the expenditures of state and local governments plus the loss from destruction of property and the loss of human capital from the casualties; and what Goldin and Lewis term the indirect costs of the war which include the subsequent implications of the war after 1865. Goldin and Lewis estimate that the combined outlays of both governments — in 1860 dollars — totaled $3.3 billion. To this they add $1.8 billion to account for the discounted economic value of casualties in the war, and they add $1.5 billion to account for the destruction of the war in the South. This gives a total of $6.6 billion in direct costs — with each region incurring roughly half the total.

Table 3

The Costs of the Civil War

(Millions of 1860 Dollars)

South

North

Total

Direct Costs:

Government Expenditures

1,032

2,302

3,334

Physical Destruction

1,487

1,487

Loss of Human Capital

767

1,064

1,831

Total Direct Costs of the War

3,286

3,366

6,652

Per capita

376

148

212

Indirect Costs:

Total Decline in Consumption

6,190

1,149

7,339

Less:

Effect of Emancipation

1,960

Effect of Cotton Prices

1,670

Total Indirect Costs of The War

2,560

1,149

3,709

Per capita

293

51

118

Total Costs of the War

5,846

4,515

10,361

Per capita

670

199

330

Population in 1860 (Million)

8.73

27.71

31.43

Source: Ransom, (1998: 51, Table 3-1); Goldin and Lewis. (1975; 1978)

While these figures are only a very rough estimate of the actual costs, they provide an educated guess as to the order of magnitude of the economic effort required to wage the war, and it seems likely that if there is a bias, it is to understate the total. (Thus, for example, the estimated “economic” losses from casualties ignore the emotional cost of 625,000 deaths, and the estimates of property destruction were quite conservative.) Even so, the direct cost of the war as calculated by Goldin and Lewis was 1.5 times the total gross national product of the United States for 1860 — an enormous sum in comparison with any military effort by the United States up to that point. What stands out in addition to the enormity of the bill is the disparity in the burden these costs represented to the people in the North and the South. On a per capita basis, the costs to the North population were about $150 — or roughly equal to one year’s income. The Southern burden was two and a half times that amount — $376 per man, woman and child.

Staggering though these numbers are, they represent only a fraction of the full costs of the war, which lingered long after the fighting had stopped. One way to measure the full “costs” and “benefits” of the war, Goldin and Lewis argue, is to estimate the value of the observed postwar stream of consumption in each region and compare that figure to the estimated hypothetical stream of consumption had there been no war (1975: 309-10). (All the figures for the costs in Table 3 have been adjusted to reflect their discounted value in 1860.) The Goldin and Lewis estimate for the discounted value of lost consumption for the South was $6.2 billion; for the North the estimate was $1.15 billion. Ingenious though this methodology is, it suffers from the serious drawback that consumption lost for any reason — not just the war — is included in the figure. Particularly for the South, not all the decline in output after 1860 could be directly attributed to the war; the growth in the demand for cotton that fueled the antebellum economy did not continue, and there was a dramatic change in the supply of labor due to emancipation. Consequently, Goldin and Lewis subsequently adjusted their estimate of lost consumption due to the war down to $2.56 billion for the South in order to exclude the effects of emancipation and the collapse of the cotton market. The magnitudes of the indirect effects are detailed in Table 3. After the adjustments, the estimated costs for the war totaled more than $10 billion. Allocating the costs to each region produces a per capita burden of $670 in the South and $199 in the North. What Table 3 does not show is the extent to which these expenses were spread out over a long period of time. In the North, consumption had regained its prewar level by 1873, however in the South consumption remained below its 1860 level to the end of the century. We shall return to this issue below.

Financing the War

No war in American history strained the economic resources of the economy as the Civil War did. Governments on both sides were forced to resort to borrowing on an unprecedented scale to meet the financial obligations for the war. With more developed markets and an industrial base that could ultimately produce the goods needed for the war, the Union was clearly in a better position to meet this challenge. The South, on the other hand, had always relied on either Northern or foreign capital markets for their financial needs, and they had virtually no manufacturing establishments to produce military supplies. From the outset, the Confederates relied heavily on funds borrowed outside the South to purchase supplies abroad.

Figure 3 shows the sources of revenue collected by the Union government during the war. In 1862 and 1863 the government covered less than 15 percent of its total expenditures through taxes. With the imposition of a higher tariff, excise taxes, and the introduction of the first income tax in American history, this situation improved somewhat, and by the war’s end 25 percent of the federal government revenues had been collected in taxes. But what of the other 75 percent? In 1862 Congress authorized the U.S. Treasury to issue currency notes that were not backed by gold. By the end of the war, the treasury had printed more than $250 million worth of these “Greenbacks” and, together with the issue of gold-backed notes, the printing of money accounted for 18 percent of all government revenues. This still left a huge shortfall in revenue that was not covered by either taxes or the printing of money. The remaining revenues were obtained by borrowing funds from the public. Between 1861 and 1865 the debt obligation of the Federal government increased from $65 million to $2.7 billion (including the increased issuance of notes by the Treasury). The financial markets of the North were strained by these demands, but they proved equal to the task. In all, Northerners bought almost $2 billion worth of treasury notes and absorbed $700 million of new currency. Consequently, the Northern economy was able to finance the war without a significant reduction in private consumption. While the increase in the national debt seemed enormous at the time, events were to prove that the economy was more than able to deal with it. Indeed, several economic historians have claimed that the creation and subsequent retirement of the Civil War debt ultimately proved to be a significant impetus to post-war growth (Williamson 1974; James 1984). Wartime finance also prompted a significant change in the banking system of the United States. In 1862 Congress finally passed legislation creating the National Banking System. Their motive was not only to institute the program of banking reform pressed for many years by the Whigs and the Republicans; the newly-chartered federal banks were also required to purchase large blocs of federal bonds to hold as security against the issuance of their national bank notes.

The efforts of the Confederate government to pay for their war effort were far more chaotic than in the North, and reliable expenditure and revenue data are not available. Figure 4 presents the best revenue estimates we have for the Richmond government from 1861 though November 1864 (Burdekin and Langdana 1993). Several features of Confederate finance immediately stand out in comparison to the Union effort. First is the failure of the Richmond government to finance their war expenditures through taxation. Over the course of the war, tax revenues accounted for only 11 percent of all revenues. Another contrast was the much higher fraction of revenues accounted for by the issuance of currency on the part of the Richmond government. Over a third of the Confederate government’s revenue came from the printing press. The remainder came in the form of bonds, many of which were sold abroad in either London or Amsterdam. The reliance on borrowed funds proved to be a growing problem for the Confederate treasury. By mid-1864 the costs of paying interest on outstanding government bonds absorbed more than half all government expenditures. The difficulties of collecting taxes and floating new bond issues had become so severe that in the final year of the war the total revenues collected by the Confederate Government actually declined.

The printing of money and borrowing on such a huge scale had a dramatic effect on the economic stability of the Confederacy. The best measure of this instability and eventual collapse can be seen in the behavior of prices. An index of consumer prices is plotted together with the stock on money from early 1861 to April 1865 in Figure 5. By the beginning of 1862 prices had already doubled; by middle of 1863 they had increased by a factor of 13. Up to this point, the inflation could be largely attributed to the money placed in the hands of consumers by the huge deficits of the government. Prices and the stock of money had risen at roughly the same rate. This represented a classic case of what economists call demand-pull inflation: too much money chasing too few goods. However, from the middle of 1863 on, the behavior of prices no longer mirrors the money supply. Several economic historians have suggested that at this point the prices reflect people’s confidence in the future of the Confederacy as a viable state (Burdekin and Langdana 1993; Weidenmier 2000). Figure 5 identifies three major military “turning points” between 1863 and 1865. In late 1863 and early 1864, following the Confederate defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, prices rose very sharply despite a marked decrease in the growth of the money supply. When the Union offensives in Georgia and Virginia stalled in the summer of 1864, prices stabilized for a few months, only to resume their upward spiral after the fall of Atlanta in September 1864. By that time, of course, the Confederate cause was clearly doomed. By the end of the war, inflation had reached a point where the value of the Confederate currency was virtually zero. People had taken to engaging in barter or using Union dollars (if they could be found) to conduct their transactions. The collapse of the Confederate monetary system was a reflection of the overall collapse of the economy’s efforts to sustain the war effort.

The Union also experienced inflation as a result of deficit finance during the war; the consumer price index rose from 100 at the outset of the war to 175 by the end of 1865. While this is nowhere near the degree of economic disruption caused by the increase in prices experienced by the Confederacy, a doubling of prices did have an effect on how the burden of the war’s costs were distributed among various groups in each economy. Inflation is a tax, and it tends to fall on those who are least able to afford it. One group that tends to be vulnerable to a sudden rise in prices is wage earners. Table 4 presents data on prices and wages in the United States and the Confederacy. The series for wages has been adjusted to reflect the decline in purchasing power due to inflation. Not surprisingly, wage earners in the South saw the real value of their wages practically disappear by the end of the war. In the North the situation was not as severe, but wages certainly did not keep pace with prices; the real value of wages fell by about 20 percent. It is not obvious why this happened. The need for manpower in the army and the demand for war production should have created a labor shortage that would drive wages higher. While the economic situation of laborers deteriorated during the war, one must remember that wage earners in 1860 were still a relatively small share of the total labor force. Agriculture, not industry, was the largest economic sector in the north, and farmers fared much in terms of their income during the war than did wage earners in the manufacturing sector (Ransom 1998:255-64; Atack and Passell 1994:368-70).

Table 4:

Indices of Prices and Real Wages During the Civil War

(1860=100)

Union Confederate
Year Prices Real Wages Prices Real Wages
1860 100 100 100 100
1861 101 100 121 86
1862 113 93 388 35
1863 139 84 1,452 19
1864 176 77 3,992 11
1865 175 82
Source: Union: (Atack and Passell 1994: 367, Table 13.5)

Confederate: (Lerner 1954)

Overall, it is clear that the North did a far better job of mobilizing the economic resources needed to carry on the war. The greater sophistication and size of Northern markets meant that the Union government could call upon institutional arrangements that allowed for a more efficient system of redirecting resources into wartime production than was possible in the South. The Confederates depended far more upon outside resources and direct intervention in the production of goods and services for their war effort, and in the end the domestic economy could not bear up under the strain of the effort. It is worth noting in this regard, that the Union blockade, which by 1863 had largely closed down not only the external trade of the South with Europe, but also the coastal trade that had been an important element in the antebellum transportation system, may have played a more crucial part in bringing about the eventual collapse of the Southern war effort than is often recognized (Ransom 2002).

The Civil War as a Watershed in American Economic History

It is easy to see why contemporaries believed that the Civil War was a watershed event in American History. With a cost of billions of dollars and 625,000 men killed, slavery had been abolished and the Union had been preserved. Economic historians viewing the event fifty years later could note that the half-century following the Civil War had been a period of extraordinary growth and expansion of the American economy. But was the war really the “Second American Revolution” as Beard (1927) and Louis Hacker (1940) claimed? That was certainly the prevailing view as late as 1960, when Thomas Cochran (1961) published an article titled “Did the Civil War Retard Industrialization?” Cochran pointed out that, until the 1950s, there was no quantitative evidence to prove or disprove the Beard-Hacker thesis. Recent quantitative research, he argued, showed that the war had actually slowed the rate of industrial growth. Stanley Engerman expanded Cochran’s argument by attacking the Beard-Hacker claim that political changes — particularly the passage in 1862 of the Republican program of political economy that had been bottled up in Congress by Southern opposition — were instrumental in accelerating economic growth (Engerman 1966). The major thrust of these arguments was that neither the war nor the legislation was necessary for industrialization — which was already well underway by 1860. “Aside from commercial banking,” noted one commentator, “the Civil War appears not to have started or created any new patterns of economic institutional change” (Gilchrist and Lewis 1965: 174). Had there been no war, these critics argued, the trajectory of economic growth that emerged after 1870 would have done so anyway.

Despite this criticism, the notion of a “second” American Revolution lives on. Clearly the Beards and Hacker were in error in their claim that industrial growth accelerated during the war. The Civil War, like most modern wars, involved a huge effort to mobilize resources to carry on the fight. This had the effect of making it appear that the economy was expanding due to the production of military goods. However, Beard and Hacker — and a good many other historians — mistook this increased wartime activity as a net increase in output when in fact what happened is that resources were shifted away from consumer products towards wartime production (Ransom 1989: Chapter 7). But what of the larger question of political change resulting from the war? Critics of Beard and Hacker claimed that the Republican program would have eventually been enacted even if there been no war; hence the war was not a crucial turning point in economic development. The problem with this line of argument is that it completely misses the point of the Beard-Hacker argument. They would readily agree that in the absence of a war the Republican program of political economy would triumph — and that is why there was a war! Historians who argue that economic forces were an underlying cause of sectional conflicts go on to point out that war was probably the only way to settle those conflicts. In this view, the war was a watershed event in the economic development of the United States because the Union military victory ensured that the “market revolution” would not be stymied by the South’s attempt to break up the Union (Ransom 1999).

Whatever the effects of the war on industrial growth, economic historians agree that the war had a profound effect on the South. The destruction of slavery meant that the entire Southern economy had to be rebuilt. This turned out to be a monumental task; far larger than anyone at the time imagined. As noted above in the discussion of the indirect costs of the war, Southerners bore a disproportionate share of those costs and the burden persisted long after the war had ended. The failure of the postbellum Southern economy to recover has spawned a huge literature that goes well beyond the effects of the war.

Economic historians who have examined the immediate effects of the war have reached a few important conclusions. First, the idea that the South was physically destroyed by the fighting has been largely discarded. Most writers have accepted the argument of Ransom and Sutch (2001) that the major “damage” to the South from the war was the depreciation and neglect of property on farms as a significant portion of the male workforce went off to war for several years. Second was the impact of emancipation. Slaveholders lost their enormous investment in slaves as a result of emancipation. Planters were consequently strapped for capital in the years immediately after the war, and this affected their options with regard to labor contracts with the freedmen and in their dealings with capital markets to obtain credit for the planting season. The freedmen and their families responded to emancipation by withdrawing up to a third of their labor from the market. While this was a perfectly reasonable response, it had the effect of creating an apparent labor “shortage” and it convinced white landlords that a free labor system could never work with the ex-slaves; thus further complicating an already unsettled labor market. In the longer run, as Gavin Wright (1986) put it, emancipation transformed the white landowners from “laborlords” to “landlords.” This was not a simple transition. While they were able, for the most part, to cling to their landholdings, the ex-slaveholders were ultimately forced to break up the great plantations that had been the cornerstone of the antebellum Southern economy and rent small parcels of land to the freedmen under using a new form of rental contract — sharecropping. From a situation where tenancy was extremely rare, the South suddenly became an agricultural economy characterized by tenant farms.

The result was an economy that remained heavily committed not only to agriculture, but to the staple crop of cotton. Crop output in the South fell dramatically at the end of the war, and had not yet recovered its antebellum level by 1879. The loss of income was particularly hard on white Southerners; per capita income of whites in 1857 had been $125; in 1879 it was just over $80 (Ransom and Sutch 1979). Table 5 compares the economic growth of GNP in the United States with the gross crop output of the Southern states from 1874 to 1904. Over the last quarter of the nineteenth century, gross crop output in the South rose by about one percent per year at a time when the GNP of United States (including the South) was rising at twice that rate. By the end of the century, Southern per capita income had fallen to roughly two-thirds the national level, and the South was locked in a cycle of poverty that lasted well into the twentieth century. How much of this failure was due solely to the war remains open to debate. What is clear is that neither the dreams of those who fought for an independent South in 1861 nor the dreams of those who hoped that a “New South” that might emerge from the destruction of war after 1865 were realized.

Table 5Annual Rates of Growth of Gross National Product of the U.S. and the Gross Southern Crop Output, 1874 to 1904
Annual Percentage Rate of Growth
Interval Gross National Product of the U.S. Gross Southern Crop Output
1874 to 1884 2.79 1.57
1879 to 1889 1.91 1.14
1884 to 1894 0.96 1.51
1889 to 1899 1.15 0.97
1894 to 1904 2.30 0.21
1874 to 1904 2.01 1.10
Source: (Ransom and Sutch 1979: 140, Table 7.3

References

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Beard, Charles, and Mary Beard. The Rise of American Civilization. Two volumes. New York: Macmillan, 1927.

Bensel, Richard F. Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Brown, Richard D. Modernization: The Transformation of American Life, 1600-1865. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976.

Burdekin, Richard C.K., and Farrokh K. Langdana. “War Finance in the Southern Confederacy.” Explorations in Economic History 30 (1993): 352-377.

Cochran, Thomas C. “Did the Civil War Retard Industrialization?” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 48 (September 1961): 197-210.

Egnal, Marc. “The Beards Were Right: Parties in the North, 1840-1860.” Civil War History 47 (2001): 30-56.

Engerman, Stanley L. “The Economic Impact of the Civil War.” Explorations in Entrepreneurial History, second series 3 (1966): 176-199 .

Faulkner, Harold Underwood. American Economic History. Fifth edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1943.

Gilchrist, David T., and W. David Lewis, editors. Economic Change in the Civil War Era. Greenville, DE: Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, 1965.

Goldin, Claudia Dale. “The Economics of Emancipation.” Journal of Economic History 33 (1973): 66-85.

Goldin, Claudia, and Frank Lewis. “The Economic Costs of the American Civil War: Estimates and Implications.” Journal of Economic History 35 (1975): 299-326.

Goldin, Claudia, and Frank Lewis. “The Post-Bellum Recovery of the South and the Cost of the Civil War: Comment.” Journal of Economic History 38 (1978): 487-492.

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Huston, James L. “Property Rights in Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War.” Journal of Southern History 65 (1999): 249-286.

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McPherson, James M. “Antebellum Southern Exceptionalism: A New Look at an Old Question.” Civil War History 29 (1983): 230-244.

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Citation: Ransom, Roger. “Economics of the Civil War”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. August 24, 2001. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-economics-of-the-civil-war/

Economic History of Premodern China (from 221 BC to c. 1800 AD)

Kent Deng, London School of Economics (LSE)

China has the longest continually recorded history in the premodern world. For economic historians, it makes sense to begin with the formation of China’s national economy in the wake of China’s unification in 221 BC under the Qin. The year 1800 AD coincides with the beginning of the end for China’s premodern era, which was hastened by the First Opium War (1839–42). Hence, the time span of this article is two millennia.

Empire-building

Evidence indicates that there was a sharp difference in the economy between China’s pre-imperial era (until 220 BC) and its imperial era. There can be little doubt that the establishment of the Empire of China (to avoid the term of “the Chinese Empire” as it was not always an empire by and for the Chinese) served as a demarcation line in the history of the East Asian Mainland.

The empire was a result of historical contingency rather than inevitability. First of all, before the unification, China’s multiple units successfully accommodated a mixed economy of commerce, farming, handicrafts and pastoralism. Internal competition also allowed science and technology as well as literature and art to thrive on the East Asian Mainland. This was known as “a hundred flowers blossoming” (baijia zhengming, literally “a grand song contest with one hundred contenders”). Feudalism was widely practiced. Unifying such diverse economic and political units incurred inevitably huge social costs. Secondly, the winner of the bloody war on the East Asian Mainland, the Qin Dukedom and then the Qin Kingdom (840–222 BC), was not for a long time a rich or strong unit during the Spring and Autumn Period (840–476 BC) and the following Warring States Period (475–222 BC). It was only during the last three decades of the Warring States Period that the Qin eventually managed to overpower its rivals by force and consequently unified China. Moreover, although it unified China, the Qin was the worse-managed dynasty in the entire history of China: it crumbled after only fifteen years. So, it was not an easy birth; and the empire system was in serious jeopardy from the start. The main justification of China’s unification seems to have been a geopolitical reason, hence an external reason – the nomadic threat from the steppes (Deng 1999).

Nevertheless, empire-building in China marked a major discontinuity in history. Under the Western Han (206 BC– 24 AD), the successor of the Qin, empire-building not only sharply reduced internal competition among various political and economic centers on the East Asian Mainland, it also remolded the previous political and economic systems into a more integrated and more homogeneous type characterized by a package of an imperial bureaucracy under a fiscal state hand in hand with an economy under agricultural dominance. With such a package imposed by empire-builders, the economy deviated from its mixed norm. Feudalism lost its footing in China. This fundamentally changed the growth and development trajectory of China for the rest of the imperial period until c. 1800.

It is fair to state that private landholding property rights, including free-holding (dominant in North China over the long run) and lease-holding (paralleled with freeholding in South China during the post-Southern Song, i.e. 1279–1840) in imperial China laid the very corner stone of the empire’s economy since the Qin unification. Chinese laws clearly defined and protected such rights. In return, the imperial state had the mandate to tax the population of whom the vast majority (some 80 percent of the total population) were peasants. The state also depended on the rural population for army recruits. Peasants on the other hand regularly acted as the main force to populate newly captured areas along the empire’s long frontiers. Such a symbiotic relationship between the imperial state and China’s population was crystallized by a mutually beneficial state-peasant alliance in the long run. China’s lasting Confucian learning and Confucian meritocracy served as a social bonding agent for the alliance.

It was such an alliance that formed the foundations of China’s political economy which in turn created a centripetal force to hold the empire together against the restoration of feudalism and political decentralization (Deng 1999). It also served as a constant drive for China’s geographic expansion and an effective force against run-away proto-industrialization, commercialization and urbanization. So, to a great extent, China’s political economy was circumscribed by this alliance. Occasionally, this state-peasant alliance did break up and political and economic turmoil followed. The ultimate internal cause for the break-up was excessive rent-seeking by the state, seen as a deviation from the Confucian norm. It was often the peasantry that reversed this deviation and put society back on its track by the way of armed mass rebellions which replaced the old regime with a new one. This pattern is known, superficially, as the “dynastic cycle” of China.

The Empire’s Expansion

China’s fiscal state and landholding peasantry both had strong incentives and tendencies to increase the land territory of the empire. This was simply because more land meant more resource endowments for the peasantry and more tax revenue for the state. The Chinese non-feudal equal-inheritance practice perpetuated such incentives and tendencies at the grass roots level: unless more and more land was brought in for farming, the Chinese farms faced the constant problem of a shrinking size. Not surprisingly, the empire gradually expanded in all directions from its hub along the Yellow River in the north. It colonized the “near south” (around the Yangtze Valley) and to the West (oases along the Silk Road) during the Western Han (206 BC – 24 AD). It reached the “far south,” including part of modern-day Vietnam, under the Tang (618–907). The Ming (1368–1644) annexed off-shore Taiwan. The Qing (1644–1911) doubled China’s territory by going further in China’s “far north” and “far west” (Deng 1993: xxiii). At each step of this internal colonization, landholding peasants, shoulder to shoulder with the Chinese army and bureaucrats, duplicated the cells of China’s agricultural economy. The state often provided emigrant farmers who resettled in new regions with material and finance aid, typically free passages, seed and basic farming tools and tax holidays. The geographic expansion of the empire stopped only at the point when it reached the physical limits for farming.

So, in essence, the expansion of the Chinese empire was the result of dynamics of the Chinese institutions characterized by a fiscal state and a landholding peasantry, as this pattern suited well with China’s landholding property rights and non-feudal equal-inheritance practice. Thus, one of the two growth dimensions of the Chinese agricultural sector was this extensive pattern in geographic terms.

Agrarian Success

In this context, the success of the geographic expansion of the Chinese empire was at the same time a success in the growth of the Chinese agricultural sector. Firstly, regardless of its ten main soil types, the empire’s territory was converted to a huge farming zone. Secondly, the agricultural sector was by far the single most important source of employment for the majority Chinese. Thirdly, taxes from the agricultural sector made up the lion’s share of the state’s revenue.

Private property rights over land also created incentives for the ordinary farmers to produce more and better. In doing so, the agricultural total factor productivity increased. Growth became intensive. This was the other dimension in the Chinese agricultural sector. It is not so surprising that premodern China had at least three main “green revolutions.” The first such green revolution, the dry farming type, appeared in the Western Han Period (206 BC–24 AD) with the aggressive introduction of iron ploughs in the north by the state (Bray 1984). The result was an increase in the agricultural total factor productivity as land was better and more efficiently tilled and more marginal regions were brought under cultivation. The second green revolution took place during the Northern Song (960–1127) with the state promotion of early-ripening rice in the south (Ho 1956). This ushered in the era of multiple cropping in the empire. The third green revolution occurred during the late Ming throughout mid-Qing Period (Ming: 1368–1644; Qing: 1644–1911) with the spread of the “New World crops,” namely maize and sweet potatoes and the re-introduction of early-ripening rice (Deng 1993: ch. 3). The New World crops helped to convert more marginal land into farming areas. Earlier, under the Yuan, cotton was deliberately introduced by the Mongols as a substitute for silk in the Chinese consumption of clothing to save the silk for the Mongols’ international trade. All these green revolutions had high participation rates in the general population.

These green revolutions significantly and permanently changed China’s economic landscape. It was not a sheer accident that China’s population growth became particularly strong during and shortly after these revolutions (Deng 2003).

Markets and the Market Economy

With a fiscal state which taxed the economy and spent its revenue in the economy and with a high-yield agriculture which produced a constant surplus, the market economy developed in premodern China. By the end of the Qing, as much as one-third of China’s post-tax agricultural output was subject to market exchange (Perkins 1969: 115; Myers 1970: 12–13). If ten percent is taken as the norm for the tax rate born by the agricultural sector, the aggregate surplus of the agricultural sector was likely to be some forty percent of its total output. This magnitude of agricultural surplus was the foundation of growth and development of other sectors/activities in the economy.

Monetization in China had the same life span as the empire itself. The state mints mass-produced coins on a regular basis for the domestic economy and beyond. Due to the lack of monetary metals, token currencies made of cloth or paper were used on large scales, especially during the Song and Yuan periods (Northern Song: 960–1127; Southern Song: 1127–1279; Yuan: 1279–1368). Consequently, inflations resulted. Perhaps the most spectacular market phenomenon was China’s persistent importation of foreign silver from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries during the Ming-Qing Period. It has been estimated that a total of one-third of silver output from the New World ended up in China, not to mention the amount imported from neighboring Japan (Flynn and Giráldez 1995). The imported silver consequently made China a silver-standard economy, eventually causing a price revolution after the market was saturated with foreign silver which in turn led to devaluation of the currency (Deng 1997: Appendix C).

Rudimentary credit systems, often of the short-term type, also appeared in China. Houses and farming land were often used as collateral to raise money. But there is no sign that there was a significant reduction of business risks for the creditor. Frequent community and/or state interference with contracts by blocking land transfers from debtors to creditors was counter-productive. So, to a great extent, China’s customary economy and command economy overruled the market one.

The nature of this surplus-based market exchange determined the multi-layered structure of the Chinese domestic market. At the grass-roots level, the market was localized, decentralized and democratic (Skinner 1964–5). This was highly compatible with the de facto village autonomy across the empire, as the imperial administration stopped at the county level (with a total number of roughly 1,000–1,500 such counties in all under the Qing). At the top of the market structure, the state controlled to a great extent some “key commodities” including salt (as during Ming and Qing), wine and iron and steel (as under the Han). Foreign trade was customarily under the state monopoly or partial monopoly, too. This left a limited platform for professional merchants to operate, a factor that ultimately determined the weakness of merchants’ influence in the economy and state politics.

So, paradoxically, China had a long history of market activities but a weak merchant class tradition. China’s social mobility and meritocracy, the antitheses of a feudal aristocracy, directed the talent and wealth to officialdom (Ho 1962; Rawski 1979). The existence of factor markets for land also allowed merchants to join the landholding class. Both undermined the rise of the merchant class.

Handicrafts and Urbanization

The sheer quantities of China’s handicrafts were impressive. It has been estimated that in the early nineteenth century, as much as one-third of the world’s total manufactures were produced by China (Kennedy 1987: 149; Huntington 1996: 86). In terms of ceramics and silk, China was able to supply the outside world almost single-handedly at times. Asia was traditionally China’s selling market for paper, stationary and cooking pots. All these are highly consistent with China’s intake of silver during the same period.

However, the growth in China’s handicrafts and urbanization was a function of the surpluses produced from the agricultural sector. This judgment is based on (1) the fact that not until the end of the Qing Period did China begin importing moderate quantities of foodstuffs from outside world to help feed the population; and (2) the fact that the handicraft sector never challenged agricultural dominance in the economy despite a symbiotic relationship between them.

By the same token, urbanization rarely exceeded ten percent of the total population although large urban centers were established. For example, during the Song, the northern capital Kaifeng (of the Northern Song) and southern capital Hangzhou (of the Southern Song) had 1.4 million and one million inhabitants, respectively (Jones et al. 1993: ch. 9). In addition, it was common that urban residents also had one foot in the rural sector due to private landholding property rights.

Science and Technology

In the context of China’s high yield agriculture (hence surpluses in the economy which were translated into leisure time for other pursuits) and Confucian meritocracy (hence a continued over-supply of the literate vis-à-vis the openings in officialdom and persistent record keeping by the premodern standards) (Chang 1962: ch. 1; Deng 1993: Appendix 1), China became one of the hotbeds of scientific discoveries and technological development of the premodern world (Needham 1954–95). It is commonly agreed that China led the world in science and technology from about the tenth century to about the fifteenth century.

The Chinese sciences and technologies were concentrated in several fields, mainly material production, transport, weaponry and medicine. A common feature of all Chinese discoveries was their trial-and-error basis and incremental improvement. Here, China’s continued history and large population became an advantage. However, this trial-and-error approach had its developmental ceiling. And, incremental improvement faced diminishing returns (Elvin 1973: ch. 17). So, although China once led the world, it was unable to realize what is known as the “Scientific Revolution” whose origin may well have been oriental/Chinese (Hobson 2004).

Living Standards

It has been argued that in the Ming-Qing Period the standards of living reached and stayed at a high level, comparable with the most wealthy parts of Western Europe by 1800 in material terms (Pomeranz 2000) and perhaps in education as well (Rawski 1979). Although the evidence is not conclusive, the claims certainly are compatible with China’s wealth in the context of (1) the rationality of private property rights-led growth, (2) total factor productivity growth associated with China’s green revolutions from the Han to the Ming-Qing and the economic revolution under the Song, and (3) China’s export capacity (hence China’s surplus output) and China’s silver imports (hence the purchasing power of China’s surplus).

Debates about China’s Long-term Economic History

The pivotal point of the debate about China’s long-term economic history has been why and how China did not go any further from its premodern achievements. Opinions have been divided and the debate goes on (Deng 2000). Within the wide spectrum of views, some are regarded as Eurocentric; some, Sinocentric (Hobson 2004). But a great many are neither, using some universally applicable criteria such as factor productivity (labor, land and capital), economic optimization/maximization, organizational efficiency, and externalities.

In a nutshell, the debate is whether to view China as a bottle “half empty” (hence China did not realize its full growth potential by the post-Renaissance Western European standard) or “half full” (hence China over-performed by the premodern world standard). In any case, China was “extra-ordinary” either in terms of its outstanding performance for a premodern civilization or in terms of its shortfall for modern growth despite its possession of many favorable preconditions to do so.

The utility of China’s premodern history is indeed indispensable in the understanding of how a dominant traditional economy (in terms of its sheer size and longevity) perpetuated and how the modern economy emerged in the world history.

References

Bray, Francesca. “Section 41: Agriculture.” In Science and Civilisation in China, edited by Joseph Needham, Volume 6. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Chang, Chung-li. The Income of the Chinese Gentry. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962.

Deng, Gang. Chinese Maritime Activities and Socio-economic Consequences, c. 2100 BC – 1900 AD. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 1997.

Deng, Gang. Development versus Stagnation: Technological Continuity and Agricultural Progress in Premodern China. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 1993.

Deng, Gang. The Premodern Chinese Economy – Structural Equilibrium and Capitalist Sterility. London: Routledge, 1999.

Deng, K. G. “A Critical Survey of Recent Research in of Chinese Economic History.” Economic History Review 53, no. 1 (2000): 1–28.

Deng, K. G. “Fact or Fiction? Re-Examination of Chinese Premodern Population Statistics.” Economic History Department Working Papers no. 68, London School of Economics, 2003.

Elvin, Mark. The Pattern of the Chinese Past. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1973.

Flynn, D. O. and Giráldez, Arturo. “Born with a ‘Silver Spoon’: The Origin of World Trade.” Journal of World History 6 no. 2 (1995): 201–21.

Ho, Ping-ti. “Early-Ripening Rice in Chinese History.” Economic History Review Ser. 2 (1956): 200–18.

Ho, Ping-ti. The Ladder of Success in Imperial China: Aspects of Social Mobility, 1368–1911. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962.

Hobson, J. M. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Huntington, S. P. The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Jones, E. L., Lionel Frost and Colin White. Coming Full Circle: An Economic History of the Pacific Rim. Melbourne and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Random House, 1987.

Myers, R. H. The Chinese Peasant Economy: Agricultural Development in Hopei and Shangtung, 1890–1949. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Needham, Joseph, editor. Science and Civilisation in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954–2000.

Perkins, Dwight. Agricultural Development in China, 1368–1968. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1969.

Pomeranz, Kenneth. The Great Divergence: Europe, China and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Rawski, E. S. Education and Popular Literacy in Ch’ing China. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1979.

Skinner, G. W. “Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China.” Journal of Asian Studies 24 (1964–65): 3–44, 195–228, 363–400.

Citation: Deng, Kent. “Economic History of Premodern China”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. November 7, 2004. URL
http://eh.net/encyclopedia/economic-history-of-premodern-china-from-221-bc-to-c-1800-ad/

A History of the U.S. Carpet Industry

Randall L. Patton, Kennesaw State University

Paul Krugman (1993, p. 5) has written that “the most striking feature of the geography of economic activity…. is surely concentration” (emphasis in the original). There are few better examples of highly concentrated economic activity than the U.S. carpet industry. Today, carpet mills located within a 65-mile radius of Dalton, Georgia, produce about 85% of the carpet sold in the U.S. market. The U.S. industry accounts for about 45% of the world’s carpet production. While many segments of the textile industry have struggled in the post-World War II era, carpet makers have prospered. The U.S. carpet industry also exemplifies the southward drift of textile production within the United States during the twentieth century. Indeed, it is probably useful to conceptualize the U.S. carpet industry as two distinct industries with different trajectories. The early American carpet industry was, like other textile segments, a product of borrowed (from the United Kingdom) technology and skill that struggled throughout its existence against imports. The second American carpet industry grew from deep southern roots and utilized locally developed technology and skills. The second industry also came along at just the right time to ride the boom in consumer spending associated with the economic golden age that followed World War II.

The First U.S. Carpet Industry

The first U.S. carpet industry emerged at the end of the eighteenth century. Skilled weavers produced carpets and rugs with handloom technology. In its early years, American carpet makers encountered the same problem as other textile manufacturers – imports. Congress protected the infant U.S. industry, along with textiles generally, in 1816 and raised protective tariffs in the 1820s. In an early survey of the industry conducted in 1834, Timothy Pitkin found 20 carpet mills producing about 1 million square yards. By 1850, a government survey found 116 mills producing 8 million square yards of carpets and rugs (employing more than 6,000 workers). Twenty years later, U.S. carpet mills numbered 215, wove more than 20 million square yards, and employed 12,000 persons. In the nineteenth century Americans used carpet to cover poor quality, soft wood floors. A commentator wrote in 1872 that the “general use of carpets was a necessity some few years ago, from the fact that the floors of our houses were generally built of such poor material, and in such a shiftless manner, that the floor was too unsightly to be left exposed” (Greeley, 1872). The mid-nineteenth century saw the introduction of the varnished hardwood floor. With the hardwood floor came a declining demand for wall-to-wall carpets and an increasing demand for smaller rugs to provide stylistic accents.

Employment and production figures indicate that, although there was an incremental increase in productivity, production effectively rose in concert with the number of workers. Erastus Bigelow introduced power loom technology for various types of carpeting in the early 1840s, and others quickly followed with competing designs. Though Bigelow’s idea – the use of power looms in carpet production – would eventually result in great productivity gains, Bigelow’s own looms were not the primary source of the gains, nor did those gains materialize overnight. Handloom production outweighed power loom production as late as the 1870s in the Philadelphia area. Power looms were expensive and manufacturers had great difficulty in matching the quality of goods produced with handlooms.

Boom and Bust in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

After 1870, refinements in power loom technology allowed manufacturers to produce reasonable substitutes for higher quality handloom woven goods. This resulted in a decline in the production of the cheapest carpets as consumers moved toward higher quality goods as the price of higher quality weaves declined. Large rugs became a staple in upper-middle class American homes by the early twentieth century. Sales ballooned to more than 83 million square yards by 1923. Firms such as Bigelow-Hartford produced lavish catalogs and advertised products direct to consumers in the early twentieth century, bypassing the traditional commission agents who had dominated marketing in the nineteenth century. The industry seemed, however, to have peaked in 1923. Sales fell off even before the Great Depression, and the economic disaster of the 1930s offered no respite. Firms such as Bigelow and Mohawk struggled. Industry production hovered in the 60 million square yard range throughout the 1930s. Most mills converted to war production during the Second World War, a move that helped forestall a deeper crisis. Just after World War II, the industry experienced a brief boom, with sales jumping to nearly 90 million square yards in 1948, but the boom quickly turned bust. Even the seemingly robust sales of 1948 amounted to a scant increase over the peak of a quarter century earlier. When compared with population growth, the industry’s sales had actually declined. Worse still, sales fell through the early 1950s back into the 60 million yard range.

The Second U.S. Carpet Industry

Carpet in the United States had three salient characteristics in 1950. Carpets were (1) woven on power looms out of (2) wool in (3) mills located in the northeastern United States. In just one short decade, each of those critical elements had changed dramatically. By 1960, most carpet in the United States was made on tufting machines from synthetic fibers such as nylon in factories located in the southeastern United States – and the vast majority of these new mills were located in and around the Appalachian foothills town of Dalton, Georgia.

The U.S. economy entered a prolonged boom period after World War II that many historians have labeled the “golden age.” The release of pent-up consumer demand associated with the sacrifices of World War II, Keyenesian government policies aimed at maintaining a high level of demand, and other factors helped produce a period of unparalleled economic growth. Northeastern carpet manufacturers tried a variety of approaches during the late 1940s and early 1950s to reverse their industry’s fortunes, but had little success. Annual per household carpet consumption stood at 1.97 square yards in 1950, virtually unchanged from the beginning of the twentieth century. Industry executives expressed increasing frustration throughout the early 1950s with their inability to tap the booming housing market of the postwar period. Many northern carpet mills began to open new plants in the South. Moving south allowed older firms to escape unionized work forces, take advantage of the region’s lower labor costs and, occasionally, benefit from incentives offered by state and local governments in the region (Greenville, Mississippi, built a $4 million facility to entice the Alexander Smith Company in the early 1950s, for example). Bigelow, Mohawk, and other northeastern companies built facilities in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi during the 1950s.

With few exceptions, these facilities produced carpet using weaving technology. The shining new mills in Greenville, Mississippi and Liberty, South Carolina, used the latest and most productive looms and were constructed according to the most up-to-date standards – single-floor construction and concrete floors, for example, to make the use of lift trucks possible. Yet the industry encountered one insurmountable barrier. In spite of decades of incremental progress, woven carpets were still too expensive to penetrate the working class market. The wholesale price of woven carpets rose slightly during the 1950s. The quite modest increases were interpreted within the industry as something of a success.

The woven carpet manufacturers also tried other strategies to boost sales in the 1950s. Some manufacturers experimented with selling carpet “on time” (credit) through retailers; others emphasized style and elegance. The chief impact of the advertising campaigns seems to have been to raise awareness of and desire for carpeting in general. In 1949, this would have seemed a winning strategy.

Tufted Textiles Take the Floor

During the same decade, however, a new southern industry produced a cheaper substitute for woven goods – tufted carpets and rugs, whose sales grew from near zero in the late 1940s to more than 100 million square yards by 1958. The origins of this new carpet industry in the South can be traced to a combination of purposeful action and historical accident.

The Tufted Bedspread Industry

The historical accident, as Krugman called it, was the revival of the hand tufting tradition in northwest Georgia (and elsewhere in the region) in the early twentieth century. To create a tufted bedspread, the craftsperson inserted raised tufts of yarn into a pre-woven piece of backing material (generally cotton sheeting) to form a pattern, then boiled the sheeting to shrink it and lock in the tufts of yarn. Catherine Evans, a young woman living near Dalton, Georgia, saw an old hand tufted bedspread at a friend’s house in 1895. Evans duplicated the design and made a similar spread as a wedding gift. Evans and some of her relatives began teaching other area women the art of tufting. From these beginnings, a cottage industry developed. By the 1920s, local entrepreneurs had created numerous “spread houses.” The spread houses operated a putting out system, sending “haulers” into the countryside with sheeting and yarn. The haulers returned later to pay the farm families for their hand work and pick up tufted spreads for finishing – washing and, for some, dyeing. These spreads found a ready market, not just regionally, but in the northeast as well. (Wannamaker’s department stores stocked Georgia bedspreads in the 1930s.) This cottage industry became a source of economic growth in north Georgia even during the Great Depression.

Here the residue of purposeful action intersected with Catherine Evans’ historical accident. By the 1920s, the South had become home to the lion’s share of U.S. textile production. Some of this shift southward was due to capital movement from North to South, but most of the shift could be accounted for by new southern firms – large firms such as Georgia’s West Point Manufacturing and North Carolina’s Burlington Mills and smaller firms like Dalton, Georgia’s Crown Cotton Mill and American Hosiery Mill. After the Civil War, and especially after 1880, southern firms had borrowed northern technology, begun at the bottom of the quality chain with the coarsest fabrics, and initiated what might be called a process of regional learning. Much of this development was the result of a purposeful effort to industrialize the region. By the early twentieth century, the South still had not developed a regional textile machine-making industry, but the cotton mills, hosiery mills, and other textile firms had recruited and trained a large number of mechanics to maintain machinery purchased in the northeast. Mechanics from the Dalton area and nearby Chattanooga began adapting sewing machines for the purpose of inserting raised yarn tufts, and in the early 1930s many of the spread houses moved toward becoming spread mills, or factories. Spread mill owners employed a largely female work force to operate the sewing machines that now created the raised patterns.

From Spread Mills to Carpet Mills

By the end of the 1930s, a number of these firms had begun to experiment with multi-needle machines that could tuft wider swaths of backing material more quickly. Some firms, such as the cleverly named Cabin Crafts (to conjure the image of a cottage industry that already had ceased to exist) had begun making small rugs by covering the entire surface of a piece of backing material with tufts. Hosiery mill mechanics like Albert and Joe Cobble founded firms in the southern industrial dynamo of Chattanooga, Tennessee (less than 30 miles from Dalton) to build special machines for the tufted bedspread and small rug industry. From these technological roots, area entrepreneurs began experimenting with making large rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting with this tufting process. About 1949, the Cobble Brothers firm and an innovative Dalton spread making company, Cabin Crafts, introduced tufting machinery wide enough to produce carpeting in a single pass. Carpet makers could buy cheap pre-woven backing materials. Manufacturers tried cotton with mostly poor results. Eventually Indian jute became the primary backing material for tufted carpets through the 1960s. In the 1970s, manufacturers developed suitable synthetic substitutes for jute.

The traditional woven carpet industry primarily used wool. (One manufacturer lamented in 1950 that it was “unfortunate that the carpet industry was tied to the back of a sheep.”) Wool made an excellent material for floor coverings – it was durable and resilient. The new southern tufting mills used cotton yarn at first. Cotton did not compare with wool as a floor covering material – it crushed easily and wore more quickly. Yet already by 1955, southern carpet mills were selling more carpets than northern mills, in spite of the clearly inferior nature of the product. The key was price: the wholesale price of tufted carpet was about half that of woven products. Consumer surveys in the 1950s demonstrated that few carpet buyers could name the manufacturer of the carpets they had purchased. The same consumers were almost without exception unable to distinguish between a tufted and a woven construction with a visual inspection. The old woven firms’ ad campaigns of the 1950s probably helped move more tufted carpet than woven.

Synthetic Fibers

The tufted carpet industry experienced a meteoric rise in the 1950s, but many skeptics saw it as a fad that would fade. One machinery executive quipped that “every year was the last big year for tufting” in the 1950s, according to industry observers. The obvious inferiority of cotton made the argument plausible. Surely consumers, many in the old woven industry argued, would eventually tire of placing glorified bedspreads on their floors. Tufted manufacturers experimented with rayon (disastrously) and staple (chopped, spun) nylon (with some success) in the 1950s. The most significant breakthrough in terms of raw materials came in the mid-1950s from the DuPont Corporation. Woven manufacturers and others had experimented with DuPont’s nylon as a carpet fiber, but nylon lacked the bulk needed in floor coverings. DuPont helped insure that the bust never came by developing bulked continuous filament (BCF) nylon in the mid-1950s. DuPont’s initiative was clearly stimulated by the growth of carpet sales. In essence, tufted manufacturers created a market large enough to justify DuPont’s research and development costs. DuPont even helped the new industry along by launching its own ad campaign for carpets made with its trademark 501 nylon in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

BCF nylon helped insure the long-term future of the tufted carpet industry. Tufted carpets used, and still use, a variety of fibers. Staple nylon could be used in constructions and styles that were not possible with a continuous filament yarn – plush, lustrous constructions. And in recent years, the industry has made increasing use polypropylene and other continuous filament yarns. DuPont’s BCF nylon (and similar products introduced by Monsanto a bit later), however, fit perfectly with the least expensive, low pile height, loop constructions that sold best in the emerging modest income market.

By the end of the 1950s, the new tufted carpet industry had raced past the old woven industry. While the total volume of carpet sales skyrocketed, woven sales actually fell. Tufted products accounted for all the growth in the industry through the 1970s. Tufted carpet sales increased from about 6 million square yards in 1951 to nearly 400 million yards in 1968. Carpet finally became a staple of middle and working class home furnishings – indeed, it became the default floor covering over much of the nation for decades. The logjam had been broken by product substitution. Per household sales increased for the first time since the turn of the century. By 1990, Americans consumed over 12 square yards of carpet per family per year, up from 1.97 in the early 1950s. Woven sales drifted downward in the same period from 67 million yards to just over 40 million. Woven products did not disappear. High-end consumers still sought the assumed quality of woven goods, and woven products continued to dominate specialty commercial markets – hotel lobbies, casinos, etc. But tufted carpet achieved total dominance of not just the residential carpet market, but the residential flooring market in general.

Table 1

Average Mill Value of Carpet Shipments, 1950-1965 (price per square yard)

All Broadloom Carpet and Rugs Woven Tufted
1950 $6.26 $6.26 n.a.
1955 5.30 6.19 3.36
1960 4.50 6.56 3.49
1965 3.76 6.09 3.40

Table 2

Carpet Industry Output, 1951-1968 (square yards)

Tufted Carpet Shipments(square yards) Woven Carpet Shipments(square yards) Total IndustryShipments

(square yards)

1951 6,076,000 66,924,000 73,000,000
1960 113,764,000 52,044,000 165,808,000
1963 250,000,000 41,000,000 291,000,000
1968 395,000,000 40,000,000 435,000,000

The tufted carpet industry was the nation’s fourth fastest growing industry in the 1960s, trailing only aircraft, television picture tubes, and computers. Robert Shaw, CEO of Shaw Industries, for two decades the nation’s leading manufacturer of carpet, recalled the late 1950s and 1960s as the era of the “gold coast” in the Dalton area, an era in which demand constantly outstripped supply and small manufacturers and large could succeed with few controls and a “seat-of-the-pants” management style.

Carpet Capital: An Industrial District

The brief narrative sketched above outlines the emergence of an industrial district. By the 1960s, the district had developed several distinct features. The carpet complex was characterized by the rapid emergence of new firms. No single firm accounted for as much ten percent of the industry’s output. The industry had developed from the deep roots of textile manufacture and, specifically, bedspread making. Carpet making emerged out of a process of regional learning (albeit a small region, similar to Jane Jacobs’ “city regions”). Carpet manufacture was also a decentralized affair. A few large firms, such as Cabin Crafts and E.T. Barwick Mills, spun some of their own yarn and finished some of their own carpets in-house by the 1960s, but most of the hundreds of small firms relied on independent yarn spinning or production mills and independent commission finishing firms. Carpet finishing provided the industry with significant flexibility. Mills produced some carpets with pre-dyed yarns, but tufted significant yardage with undyed yarn. This allowed manufacturers to delay the critical decision on color until later, increasing the company’s flexibility. Commission finishing companies provided these services. Initially post-production dyeing was handled in dye becks, or large drums. That is, finishers dyed carpets by the piece (albeit large pieces, 900 feet or more in length). Dye becks were produced locally and regionally.

The Dalton district offered a classic example of the great Victorian economist Alfred Marshall’s industrial district based on external economies. Clearly this industry originated in northwest Georgia because of the peculiar skill set developed among managers, mechanics, and workers. The finishing companies and other suppliers clearly filled the role of Marshall’s “subsidiary trades” devoted “to one small branch of the process of production.” Innovation and ideas were “in the air,” as Marshall put it. With so many firms and workers in close proximity, improvements in technology, management practices, marketing, and other arenas were rapidly transmitted throughout the industry. Though different in many ways, Paul Krugman has observed, the relatively low-tech carpet industry of the Appalachian foothills was quite similar to the high-tech Silicon Valley in these respects.

In the 1960s, European firms introduced continuous dyeing equipment to the U.S. carpet market. Continuous dyeing equipment held out the potential for more effective use of mass production techniques – an endless stream of white carpet moving through a dye range capable of rapidly shifting colors. The continuous ranges were, however, frightfully expensive compared to dye becks. The relative expense of the equipment in this evolving industry offers a window into the strategic options available to management. A tufting machine might have sold for $10,000 in the late 1950s, with Cobble Brothers or some other firm offering in-house financing. Through the 1960s, the well-nigh indestructible tufting machines were available second-hand – a bit slower than brand new models installed by larger mills, but still effective for smaller product runs. That particular barrier to entry into this new industry was quite low. To establish a beck dyeing operation, the equipment alone would have cost more than $700,000 by the end of the 1960s. The stakes in finishing were much higher, but the risks were shared among the finisher and his many customers. Just one of the new continuous dye ranges in the early 1970s cost more than $800,000. The capital stakes rose for finishers.

The Maturing of the Industry

The carpet boom slowed in the 1970s as did the rest of the US economy. The recessions of the mid-1970s brought an end to the double-digit annual growth rates of the earlier period. In a slower growth environment, attention to cost became critical. Some firms adapted to the changing environment, but many did not. Adaptation generally involved vertical integration. Particularly during the 1980s, a few firms took the lead in bringing yarn spinning (and eventually production of extruded, continuous filament yarn) in-house, integrating backward toward raw materials. The most successful large manufacturers also integrated forward through finishing, investing in their own dyeing facilities. The recession of 1981-82 proved a pivotal moment – many smaller and mid-sized firms had continued to struggle along and occasionally prosper during the inflationary 1970s. The recession of the early 1980s claimed nearly half of the 285 mills that had been in operation in 1980; by 1992 the industry counted only about 100 mills, down dramatically from its early 1970s peak of more than 400. Shaw Industries, a revamped Mohawk Industries, and a few others bought competitors and moved the industry towards greater consolidation. Moreover, the top four firms, led by Shaw Industries, accounted for more than 80% of total production by the early 1990s.

The Industry Today

The carpet industry today is essentially the domain of a few large firms, led by Shaw Industries and Mohawk. The nation’s largest carpet making firms are headquartered in northwest Georgia. Shaw and other carpet firms have moved into the production and distribution of other flooring surfaces – tile, wood, vinyl, etc. – as carpet has slipped in market share. No longer the unchallenged leader in covering America’s floors, carpet is still the single most popular choice. Perhaps the most notable change associated with the industry today is its increasing use of workers of Hispanic descent. Since the late 1980s, Hispanic immigrants have moved in large numbers to Dalton, as they have to many new destinations throughout the nation. The region’s employers laud the immigrant workers as the saviors of the industry, a solution to the region’s recurrent labor shortages. Some community leaders and longtime residents express anxiety about the pace of cultural change in the small communities that still serve as hosts to the industry.

Bibliography

Cole, Arthur H., and Harold Williamson. The American Carpet Manufacture: A History and an Analysis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926.

Deaton, Thomas M. From Bedspreads to Broadloom: The Story of the Tufted Carpet Industry. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1993.

Ewing, John S., and Nancy Norton. Broadlooms and Businessmen: A History of the Bigelow-Sanford Company. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955.

Flamming, Douglas. Creating the Modern South: Millhands and Managers in Dalton, Georgia, 1884-1984. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Friedman, Tami J. “Communities in Competition: Capital Migration and Plant Relocation in the United States Carpet Industry, 1929-1975.” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 2001.

Greeley, Horace, et al. Great Industries of the United States: Being an Historical Summary of the Origin, Growth, andPerfection of the Chief Industrial Arts ofThis County. Hartford: J.B. Burr and Hyde, 1872.

Krugman, Paul. Geography and Trade. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993.

Patton, Randall L. Shaw Industries: A History. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2002.

Patton, Randall L., with David B. Parker. Carpet Capital: The Rise of a New South Industry. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1999.

Scranton, Philip. Proprietary Capitalism: The Textile Manufacture at Philadelphia, 1800-1885. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Scranton, Philip. Figured Tapestry: Production, Markets, and Power in Philadelphia Textiles, 1885-1941. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Walters, Billie J. and James O. Wheeler, “Localization Economies in the American Carpet Industry.” Geographical Review 74 (Spring 1984): 183-91.

Zuniga, Victor, and Ruben Hernandez-Leon, “Making Carpet by the Mile: The Emergence of a Mexican Immigrant Community in an Industrial Community of the U.S. Historic South.” Social Science Quarterly 81, no. 1 (2000): 49-66.

Citation: Patton, Randall. “A History of the U.S. Carpet Industry”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. September 22, 2006. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/a-history-of-the-u-s-carpet-industry/

The Use of Quantitative Micro-data in Canadian Economic History: A Brief Survey

Livio Di Matteo, Lakehead University

Introduction1

From a macro perspective, Canadian quantitative economic history is concerned with the collection and construction of historical time series data as well as the study of the performance of broad economic aggregates over time.2 The micro dimension of quantitative economic history focuses on individual and sector responses to economic phenomena.3 In particular, micro economic history is marked by the collection and analysis of data sets rooted in individual economic and social behavior. This approach uses primary historical records like census rolls, probate records, assessment rolls, land records, parish records and company records, to construct sets of socio-economic data used to examine the social and economic characteristics and behavior of those individuals and their society, both cross-sectionally and over time.

The expansion of historical micro-data studies in Canada has been a function of academic demand and supply factors. On the demand side, there has been a desire for more explicit use of economic and social theory in history and micro-data studies that make use of available records on individuals appeal to historians interested in understanding aggregate trends and reaching the micro-underpinnings of the larger macroeconomic and social relationships. For example, in Canada, the late nineteenth century was a period of intermittent economic growth and analyzing how that growth record affected different groups in society requires studies that disaggregate the population into sub-groups. One way of doing this that became attractive in the 1960’s was to collect micro-data samples from relevant census, assessment or probate records.

On the supply side, computers have lowered research costs, making the analysis of large data sets feasible and cost-effective. The proliferation of low cost personal computers, statistical packages and data spread-sheets has led to another revolution in micro-data analysis, as computers are now routinely taken into archives so that data collection, input and analysis can proceed even more efficiently.

In addition, studies using historical micro-data are an area where economic historians trained either as economists or historians have been able to find common ground.4 Many of the pioneering micro-data projects in Canada were conducted by historians with some training in quantitative techniques, much of which was acquired “on the job” by intellectual interest and excitement, rather than as graduate school training. Historians and economists are united by their common analysis of primary micro-data sources and their choice of sophisticated computer equipment, linkage software and statistical packages.

Background to Historical Micro-data Studies in Canadian Economic History

The early stage of historical micro-data projects in Canada attempted to systematically collect and analyze data on a large scale. Many of these micro-data projects crossed the lines between social and economic history, as well as demographic history in the case of French Canada. Path-breaking work by American scholars such as Lee Soltow (1971), Stephan Thernstrom (1973) and Alice Hanson Jones (1980) was an important influence on Canadian work. Their work on wealth and social structure and mobility using census and probate data drew attention to the extent of mobility — geographic, economic and social — that existed in pre-twentieth-century America.

However, Canadian historical micro-data work has been quite distinct from that of the United States, reflecting its separate tradition in economic history. Canada’s history is one of centralized penetration from the east via the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence waterway and the presence of two founding “nations” of European settlers – English and French – which led to strong Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions. Indeed, there was nearly 100 percent membership in the Roman Catholic Church for francophone Quebeckers for much of Canada’s history. As well, there is an economic reliance on natural resources, and a sparse population spread along an east-west corridor in isolated regions that have made Canada’s economic history, politics and institutions quite different from the United States.

The United States, from its early natural resource staples origins, developed a large, integrated internal market that was relatively independent of external economic forces, at least compared with Canada, and this shifted research topics away from trade and towards domestic resource allocation issues. At the level of historical micro-data, American scholars have had access to national micro-data samples for some time, which has not been the case in Canada until recently. Most of the early studies in Canadian micro-data were regional or urban samples drawn from manuscript sources and there has been little work since at a national level using micro-data sources. However, the strong role of the state in Canada has meant a particular richness to those sources that can be accessed and even the Census contains some personal details not available in the U.S. Census, such as religious affiliation. Moreover, earnings data are available in the Canadian census starting some forty years earlier than the United States.

Canadian micro-data studies have examined industry, fertility, urban and rural life, wages and labor markets, women’s work and roles in the economy, immigration and wealth. The data sources include census, probate records, assessment rolls, legal records and contracts, and are used by historians, economists, geographers, sociologists and demographers to study economic history.5 Very often, the primary sources are untapped and there can be substantial gaps in their coverage due to uneven preservation.

A Survey of Micro-data Studies

Early Years in English Canada

The fruits of early work in English Canada were books and papers by Frank Denton and Peter George (1970, 1973), Michael Katz (1975) and David Gagan (1981), among others.6 The Denton and George paper examined the influences on family size and school attendance in Wentworth County, Ontario, using the 1871 Census of Canada manuscripts. But it was Katz and Gagan’s work that generated greater attention among historians. Katz’s Hamilton Project used census, assessment rolls, city directories and other assorted micro-records to describe patterns of life in mid-nineteenth century Hamilton. Gagan’s Peel County Project was a comprehensive social and economic study of Peel County, Ontario, again using a variety of individual records including probate. These studies stimulated discussion and controversy about nineteenth-century wealth, inheritance patterns, and family size and structure.

The Demographic Tradition in French Canada

In French Canada, the pioneering work was the Saguenay Project organized by Gerard Bouchard (1977, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998). Beginning in the 1970’s, a large effort has been expended to create a computerized genealogical and demographic data base for the Saguenay and Charlevoix regions of Quebec going back well into the nineteenth century. This data set, known now as the Balsac Register, contains data on 600,000 individuals (140,000 couples) and 2.4 million events (e.g. births, deaths, gender, etc…) with enormous social scientific and human genetic possibilities. The material gathered has been used to examine fertility, marriage patterns, inheritance, agricultural production and literacy, as well as genetic predisposition towards disease and formed the basis for a book spanning the history of population and families in the Saguenay over the period 1858 to 1971.

French Canada has a strong tradition of historical micro-data research rooted in demographic analysis.7 Another project underway since 1969 and associated with Bertrand Desjardins, Hubert Charbonneau, Jacques Légaré and Yves Landry is Le Programme de recherche en démographie historique (P.R.D.H) at the University of Montréal (Charbonneau, 1988; Landry, 1993; Desjardins, 1993). The database will eventually contain details on a million persons and their life events in Quebec between 1608 and 1850.

Industrial Studies

Only for the 1871 census have all of the schedules survived and the industrial schedules of that census have been made machine-readable (Bloomfield, 1986; Borsa and Inwood, 1993). Kris Inwood and Phyllis Wagg (1993) have used the census manuscript industrial schedules to examine the survival of handloom weaving in rural Canada circa 1870 (Inwood and Wagg, 1993). A total of 2,830 records were examined and data on average product, capital and month’s activity utilized. The results show that the demand for woolen homespun was income sensitive and that patterns of weaving by men and women differed with male-headed firms working a greater number of months during the year and more likely to have a second worker.

More recently, using a combination of aggregate capital market data and firm-level data for a sample of Canadian and American steel producers, Ian Keay and Angela Redish (2004) analyze the relationships between capital costs, financial structure, and domestic capital market characteristics. They find that national capital market characteristics and firm specific characteristics were important determinants of twentieth-century U.S. and Canadian steel firms’ financing decisions. Keay (2000) uses information from firms’ balance sheets and income accounts, and industry-specific prices to calculate labor, capital, intermediate input and total factor productivities for a sample of 39 Canadian and 39 American manufacturing firms in nine industries. The firm-level data also allow for the construction of nation, industry and time consistent series, including capital and value added. Inwood and Keay (2005) use establishment-level data describing manufacturers located in 128 border and near-border counties in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Ontario to calculate Canadian relative to U.S. total factor productivity ratios for 25 industries. Their results illustrate that the average U.S. establishment was approximately 7% more efficient than its Canadian counterpart in 1870/71.

Population, Demographics & Fertility

Marvin McInnis (1977) assembled a body of census data on childbearing and other aspects of Upper Canadian households in 1861 and produced a sample of 1200 farm households that was used to examine the relationship between child-bearing and land availability. He found that an abundance of nearby uncultivated land did affect the probability of there being young children in the household but the magnitude of the influence was small. Moreover, the strongest result was that fertility fell as larger cities developed sufficiently close by for there to be a real influence by urban life and culture.

Eric Moore and Brian Osborne (1987) have examined the socio-economic differentials of marital fertility in Kingston. They related religion, birthplace, and age of mother, ethnic origin and occupational status to changes in fertility between 1861and 1881, using a data set of approximately 3000 observations taken from the manuscript census. Their choice of variables allows for the examination of the impact of both economic factors, as well as the importance of cultural attributes. William Marr (1992) took the first reasonably large sample of farm households (2,656) from the 1851-52 Census of Canada West and examined the determinants of fertility. He found fertility differences between older and more newly settled regions were influenced by land availability at the farm level but farm location, with respect to the extent of agricultural development, did not affect fertility when age, birthplace and religion were held constant. Michael Wayne (1998) uses the 1861 Census of Canada to look at the black population of Canada on the eve of the American Civil War. Meanwhile, George Emery (1993) helps provide an assessment of the comprehensiveness and accuracy of aggregate vital statistics in Ontario between 1869 and 1952 by looking at the process of recording vital statistics. Emery and Kevin McQuillan (1988) use case studies to examine mortality in nineteenth-century Ingersoll, Ontario.

Urban and Rural Life

A number of studies have examined urban and rural life. Bettina Bradbury (1984) has analyzed the census manuscripts of two working class Montreal wards, Ste. Anne and St. Jacques, for the years 1861, 1871 and 1881. Random samples of 1/10 of the households in these parts of Montreal were taken for a sample of nearly 11,000 individuals over three decades. The data were used to examine women and wage labor in Montreal. The evidence is that men were the primary wage earners but the wife’s contribution to the family economy was not so much her own wage labor, which was infrequent, but in organizing the economic life of the household and finding alternate sources of support.

Bettina Bradbury, Peter Gossage, Evelyn Kolish and Alan Stewart (1993) and Gossage (1991) have examined marriage contracts in Montreal over the period 1820-1840 and found that, over time, the use of marriage contracts changed, becoming a tool of a propertied minority. As well, a growing proportion of contract signers chose to keep the property of spouses separate rather than “in community.” The movement towards separation was most likely to be found among the wealthy where separate property offered advantages, especially to those engaged in commerce during harsh economic times. Gillian Hamilton (1999) looks at prenuptial contracting behavior in early nineteenth-century Quebec to explore property rights within families and finds that couples signing contracts tended to choose joint ownership of property when wives were particularly important to the household.

Chad Gaffield (1979, 1983, 1987) has examined social, family and economic life in the Eastern Ontario counties of Prescott-Russell, Alfred and Caledonia using aggregate census, as well as manuscript data for the period 1851-1881.8 He has applied the material to studying rural schooling and the economic structure of farm families and found systematic differences between the marriage patterns of Anglophones and Francophone with Francophone tending to marry at a younger average age. Also, land shortages and the diminishing forest frontier created economic difficulties that led to reduced family sizes by 1881. Gaffield’s most significant current research project is his leadership of the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure (CCRI) initiative, one of the country’s largest research projects. The CCRI is creating cross-indexed databases from a century’s worth of national census information, enabling unprecedented understanding of the making of modern Canada. This effort will eventually lead to an integrated set of micro-data resources at a national level comparable to what currently exist for the United States.9

Business Records

Company and business records have also been used as a source of micro-data and insight into economic history. Gillian Hamilton has conducted a number of studies examining contracts, property rights and labor markets in pre-twentieth century Canada. Hamilton (1996, 2000) examines the nature of apprenticing arrangements in Montreal around the turn of the nineteenth century, using apprenticeship contracts from a larger body of notarial records found in Quebec. The principal question addressed is what determined apprenticeship length and when the decline of the institution began? Hamilton finds that the characteristics of both masters and their boys were important and that masters often relied on probationary periods to better gauge a boy’s worth before signing a contract. Probations, all else equal, were associated with shorter contracts.

Ann Carlos and Frank Lewis (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002) access Hudson Bay Company fur trading records to study property rights, competition, and depletion in the eighteenth-century Canadian fur trade and their work represents an important foray into Canadian aboriginal economic history by studying role of aboriginals as consumers. Doug McCalla (2005, 2005, 2001) uses store records from Upper Canada to examine and understand consumer purchases in the early nineteenth century and gain insight into material culture. Barton Hamilton and Mary MacKinnon (1996) use the Canadian Pacific Railway records to study changes between 1903 and 1938 in the composition of job separations, and the probability of separation. The proportion of voluntary departures fell by more than half after World War I. Independent competing risk, piecewise-constant hazard functions for the probabilities of quits and layoffs are estimated. Changes in workforce composition lengthened the average worker’s spell, but a worker with any given set of characteristics was much more likely to be laid off after 1921, although many of these layoffs were only temporary.

MacKinnon (1997) taps into the CPR data again with a constructed sample of 9000 employees hired before 1945 that includes 700 pensioners and finds features of the CPR pension plan are consistent with economic explanations regarding the role of pensions. Long, continuous periods of service were likely to be rewarded and employees in the most responsible positions generally had higher pensions.

MacKinnon (1996) complements published Canadian nominal wage data by constructing a new hourly wage series, developed from firm records, for machinists, helpers, and laborers employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway between 1900 and 1930. This new evidence suggests that real wage growth in Canada was faster than previously believed, and that there were substantial changes in wage inequality. In another contribution, MacKinnon (1990) studies unemployment relief in Canada by examining relief policies and recipients and contrasting the Canadian situation with unemployment insurance in Britain. She finds demographic factors important in explaining who went on relief, with older workers, and those with large families most likely to be on relief for sustained periods. Another unique contribution to historical labor studies is Michael Huberman and Denise Young (1999). They examine a set of individual strike data of 1554 strikes for Canada from 1901 to 1914 and conclude that having international unions did not weaken Canada’s union movement and that they became part of Canada’s industrial relations framework.

The 1891 and 1901 Census

An ongoing project is the 1891 Census of Canada Project at the University of Guelph under Director Kris Inwood, which is making the information of this census available to the research public in a digitized sample of individual records from the 1891 census. The project is hosted by the University of Guelph, with support from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust and private sector partners. Phase 1 (Ontario) of the project began during the winter of 2003 in association with the College of Arts Canada Research Chair in Rural History. The Ontario project continues until 2007. Phase II began in 2005; it extends data collection to the rest of the country and also creates an integrated national sample. The database includes information returned on a randomly selected 5% of the enumerators’ manuscript pages with each page containing information describing twenty-five people. An additional 5% of census pages for western Canada and several large cities augment the basic sample. Ultimately the database will contain records for more than 350,000 people, bearing in mind that the population of Canada in 1891 was 3.8 million.

The release of the 1901 Census of Canada manuscript census has also spawned numerous micro-data studies. Peter Baskerville and Eric Sager (1995, 1998) have used the 1901 Census to examine unemployment and the work force in late Victorian Canada.10 Baskerville (2001a,b) uses the 1901 census to examine the practice of boarding in Victorian Canada while in another study he uses the 1901 census to examine wealth and religion. Kenneth Sylvester (2001) uses the 1901 census to examine ethnicity and landholding. Alan Green and Mary MacKinnon (2001) use a new sample of individual-level data compiled from the manuscript returns of the 1901 Census of Canada to examine the assimilation of male wage-earning immigrants (mainly from the UK) in Montreal and Toronto. Unlike studies of post-World War II immigrants to Canada, and some recent studies of nineteenth-century immigration to the United States, they find slow assimilation to the earnings levels of native-born English mother-tongue Canadians. Green, MacKinnon and Chris Minns (2005) use 1901 census data to demonstrate that Anglophones and Francophone had very different personal characteristics, so that movement to the west was rarely economically attractive for Francophone. However, large-scale migration into New England fitted French Canadians’ demographic and human capital profile.

Wealth and Inequality

Recent years have also seen the emergence of a body of literature by several contributors on wealth accumulation and distribution in nineteenth-century Canada. This work has provided quantitative measurements of the degree of inequality in wealth holding, as well as its evolution over time. Gilles Paquet and Jean-Pierre Wallot (1976, 1986) have examined the net personal wealth of wealth holders using “les inventaires après déces” (inventories taken after death) in Quebec during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. They have suggested that the habitant was indeed a rational economic agent who chose land as a form of wealth not because of inherent conservatism but because information and transactions costs hindered the accumulation of financial assets.

A. Gordon Darroch (1983a, 1983b) has utilized municipal assessment rolls to study wealth inequality in Toronto during the late nineteenth century. Darroch found that inequality among assessed families was such that the top one-fifth of assessed families held at least 65% of all assessed wealth and the poorest 40% never more than 8%, even though inequality did decline between 1871 and 1899. Darroch and Michael Ornstein (1980, 1984) used the 1871 Census to examine ethnicity, occupational structure and family life cycles in Canada. Darroch and Soltow (1992, 1994) research property holding in Ontario using 5,669 individuals the 1871 census manuscripts and find “deep and abiding structures of inequality” accompanied by opportunities for mobility.

Lars Osberg and Fazley Siddiq (1988, 1993) and Siddiq (1988) have examined wealth inequality in Nova Scotia using probated estates from 1871 and 1899. They found a slight shift towards greater inequality in wealth over time and concluded that the prosperity of the 1850-1875 period in Nova Scotia benefited primarily the Halifax- based merchant class. Higher levels of wealth were associated with being a merchant and with living in Halifax, as opposed to the rest of the province. Siddiq and Julian Gwyn (1992) used probate inventories from 1851 and 1871 to study wealth over the period. They again document a greater trend towards inequality, accompanied by rising wealth. In addition, Peter Wardhas collected a set of 196 Nova Scotia probate records for Lunenburg County spanning 1808-1922, as well as a set of poll tax records for the same location between 1791 and 1795.11

Livio Di Matteo and Peter George (1992, 1998) have examined wealth distribution in late nineteenth century Ontario using probate records and assessment roll data for Wentworth County for the years 1872, 1882, 1892 and 1902. They find a rise in average wealth levels up until 1892 and a decline from 1892 to 1902. Whereas the rise in wealth from 1872 to 1892 appears to have accompanied by a trend towards greater equality in wealth distribution, the period 1892 to 1902 marked a return to greater inequality. Di Matteo (1996, 1997, 1998, 2001) uses a set of 3,515 probated decedents for all of Ontario in 1892 to examine the determinants of wealth holding, the wealth of the Irish, inequality and life cycle accumulation. Di Matteo and Herb Emery (2002) use the 1892 Ontario data to examine life insurance holding and the extent of self-insurance as wealth rises. Di Matteo (2004, 2006) uses a newly constructed micro-data set for the Thunder Bay District from 1885-1920 consisting of 1,293 probated decedents to examine wealth and inequality during Canada’s wheat boom era. Di Matteo is currently using Ontario probated decedents from 1902 linked to the 1901 census and combined with previous data from 1892 to examine the impact of religious affiliation on wealth holding.

Wealth and property holding among women has also been a specific topic of research.12 Peter Baskerville (1999) uses probate data to examine wealth holding by women in the cities of Victoria and Hamilton between 1880 and 1901 and finds that they were substantial property owners. The holding of wealth by women in the wake of property legislation is studied by Inwood and Sue Ingram (2000) and Inwood and Sarah Van Sligtenhorst (2004). Their work chronicles the increase in female property holding in the wake of Canadian property law changes in the late nineteenth-century, Inwood and Richard Reid (2001) also use the Canadian Census to examine the relationship between gender and occupational identity.

Conclusion

The flurry of recent activity in Canadian quantitative economic history using census and probate data bodes well for the future. Even the National Archives of Canada has now made digital images of census forms available online as well as other primary records.13 Moreover, projects such as the CCRI and the 1891 Census Project hold the promise of new, integrated data sources for future research on national as opposed to regional micro-data questions. We will be able to see the extent of regional economic development, earnings and convergence at a regional level and from a national perspective. Access to the 1911 and future access to the 1921 Census of Canada will also provide fertile areas for research and discovery. The period between 1900 and 1921, spanning the wheat boom and the First World War, is particularly important as it coincides with Canadian industrialization, rapid economic growth and the further expansion of wealth and income at the individual level. Moreover, the access to new samples of micro data may also help shed light on aboriginal economic history during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, as well as the economic progress of women.14 In particular, the economic history of Canada’s aboriginal peoples after the decline of the fur trade and during Canada’s industrialization is an area where micro-data might be useful in illustrating economic trends and conditions.15

References:

Baskerville, Peter A. “Familiar Strangers: Urban Families with Boarders in Canada, 1901.” Social Science History 25, no. 3 (2001): 321-46.

Baskerville, Peter. “Did Religion Matter? Religion and Wealth in Urban Canada at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: An Exploratory Study.” Histoire sociale-Social History XXXIV, no. 67 (2001): 61-96.

Baskerville, Peter A. and Eric W. Sager. “Finding the Work Force in the 1901 Census of Canada.” Histoire sociale-Social History XXVIII, no. 56 (1995): 521-40.

Baskerville, Peter A., and Eric W. Sager. Unwilling Idlers: The Urban Unemployed and Their Families in Late Victorian Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998

Baskerville, Peter A. “Women and Investment in Late-Nineteenth Century Urban Canada: Victoria and Hamilton, 1880-1901.” Canadian Historical Review 80, no. 2 (1999): 191-218.

Borsa, Joan, and Kris Inwood. Codebook and Interpretation Manual for the 1870-71 Canadian Industrial Database. Guelph, 1993.

Bouchard, Gerard. “Introduction à l’étude de la société saguenayenne aux XIXe et XXe siècles.” Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française 31, no. 1 (1977): 3-27.

Bouchard, Gerard. “Les systèmes de transmission des avoirs familiaux et le cycle de la société rurale au Québec, du XVIIe au XXe siècle.” Histoire sociale-Social History XVI, no. 31 (1983): 35-60.

Bouchard, Gerard. “Les fichiers-réseaux de population: Un retour à l’individualité.” Histoire sociale-Social History XXI, no. 42 (1988): 287-94.

Bouchard, Gerard and Regis Thibeault. “Change and Continuity in Saguenay Agriculture: The Evolution of Production and Yields (1852-1971).” In Canadian Papers in Rural History, Vol. VIII, edited Donald H. Akenson, 231-59. Gananoque, ON: Langdale Press, 1992.

Bouchard, Gerard. “Computerized Family Reconstitution and the Measure of Literacy. Presentation of a New Index.” History and Computing 5, no 1 (1993): 12-24.

Bouchard, Gerard. Quelques arpents d’Amérique: Population, économie, famille au Saguenay, 1838-1971. Montreal: Boréal, 1996.

Bouchard, Gerard. “Economic Inequalities in Saguenay Society, 1879-1949: A Descriptive Analysis.” Canadian Historical Review 79, no. 4 (1998): 660-90.

Bourbeau, Robert, and Jacques Légaré. Évolution de la mortalité au Canada et au Québec 1831-1931. Montreal: Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1982.

Bradbury, Bettina. “Women and Wage Labour in a Period of Transition: Montreal, 1861-1881.” Histoire sociale-Social History XVII (1984): 115-31.

Bradbury, Bettina, Peter Gossage, Evelyn Kolish, and Alan Stewart. “Property and Marriage: The Law and the Practice in Early Nineteenth-Century Montreal.” Histoire sociale-Social History XXVI, no. 51 (1993): 9-40.

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Footnotes

1 The helpful comments of Herb Emery, Mary MacKinnon and Kris Inwood on earlier drafts are acknowledged.

2 See especially Mac Urquhart’s spearheading of the major efforts in national income and output estimates. (Urquhart, 1986, 1993)

3 “Individual response” means by individuals, households and firms.

4 See Gaffield (1988) and Igartua (1988).

5 The Conference on the Use of Census Manuscripts for Historical Research held at Guelph in March 1993 was an example of the interdisciplinary nature of historical micro-data research. The conference was sponsored by the Canadian Committee on History and Computing, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Guelph. The conference was organized by economist Kris Inwood and historian Richard Reid and featured presentations by historians, economists, demographers, sociologists and anthropologists.

6 The Denton/George project had its origins in a proposal to the Second Conference on Quantitative Research in Canadian Economic History in 1967 that a sampling of the Canadian census be undertaken. Denton and George drew a sample from the manuscript census returns for individuals for 1871 that had recently been made available, and reported their preliminary findings to the Fourth Conference in March, 1970 in a paper that was published shortly afterwards in Histoire sociale/Social History (1970). Mac Urquhart’s role here must be acknowledged. He and Ken Buckley were insistent that a sampling of Census manuscripts would be an important venture for the conference members to initiate.

7 Also, sources such as the aggregate census have been used to examine fertility by Henripin (1968) and mortality by Bourbeau and Legaré (1982)).

8 Chad Gaffield, Peter Baskerville and Alan Artibise were also involved in the creation of a machine-readable listing of archival sources on Vancouver Island known as the Vancouver Islands Project (Gaffield, 1988, 313).

9 See Chad Gaffield, “Ethics, Technology and Confidential Research Data: The Case of the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure Project,” paper presented to the World History Conference, Sydney, July 3-9, 2005.

10 Baskerville and Sager have been involved in the Canadian Families Project. See “The Canadian Families Project”, a special issue of the journal Historical Methods, 33 no. 4 (2000).

11 See Don Paterson’s Economic and Social History Data Base at the University of British Columbia at http://www2.arts.ubc.ca/econsochistory/data/data_list.html

12 Examples of other aspects of gender and economic status in a regional context ar e covered by Muise (1991), Myers (1994) and Seager and Perry (1997).

13 See http://www.collectionscanada.ca/genealogy/022-500-e.html

14 See for example the work by Gerhard Ens (1996) on the Red River Metis.

15 Hamilton and Inwood (2006) have begun research into identifying the aboriginal population in the 1891 Census of Canada.

Citation: Di Matteo, Livio. “The Use of Quantitative Micro-data in Canadian Economic History: A Brief Survey”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. January 27, 2007. URL
http://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-use-of-quantitative-micro-data-in-canadian-economic-history-a-brief-survey/