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Unfree Markets: The Slaves’ Economy and the Rise of Capitalism in South Carolina

Author(s):Hill Edwards, Justene
Reviewer(s):Byrne, Frank J.

Published by EH.Net (January 2022).

Justene Hill Edwards. Unfree Markets: The Slaves’ Economy and the Rise of Capitalism in South Carolina. Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2021. Vii + 260 pp. $145.00 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-2311-9112-8.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Frank J. Byrne, Professor of History, State University of New York at Oswego.

 

Unfree Markets: The Slaves’ Economy and the Rise of Capitalism in South Carolina by Justene Hill Edwards is a welcome addition to the growing scholarship on capitalism and slavery in the United States. Both building upon and complementing the work of Sven Beckert, Edward E. Baptist, Kathleen Hilliard, and more recently Alexandra J. Finley, Hill Edwards argues convincingly that the commercial activity of enslaved people in South Carolina was critical to the state’s economy. Yet this trade not only did not lead to greater freedom for the enslaved, but “only entrenched them even more deeply within the institution of slavery” (p. 4). Whether selling crops or animals, hiring themselves out, or engaging in other money-making ventures, the services the enslaved offered and what money they could make was typically welcomed by slaveholders as helping “safeguard their investments in slavery” (p. 18).

Hill Edwards finds evidence supporting her case in seventeenth-century colonial South Carolina. Many of the first planters in the colony migrated from Barbados, where slaves had already established themselves as economic actors. This tradition, now transplanted in coastal South Carolina, was bolstered by the unique work regime that came to shape rice and indigo production in the colony. Hill Edwards contends that “without the task system, enslaved peoples’ networks of commerce would not have taken such a strong foothold in the culture of Lowcountry slavery” (p. 26). Of course, not all white South Carolinians welcomed enslaved men and women selling what crops they could grow or the competition skilled slaves presented to mechanics and artisans. Some planters feared their slaves trafficked in stolen goods. Others believed such economic activity would inevitably lead to the enslaved gaining freedoms that would threaten white supremacy. Regulations were passed prohibiting trade and limiting the growth of slave hires but Hill Edwards shows that time and again such efforts had only a negligible impact on the “slaves’ economy.” Even the uproar over the Stono Uprising of 1739 did not curtail the economic activity of enslaved South Carolinians. This trend continued after independence and into the antebellum period.

Several chapters in Unfree Markets examine “enslaved entrepreneurship” and accumulation in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Hill Edwards asserts that the commercial activity of enslaved people continued to grow alongside increased cotton production. A particularly strong chapter on the Denmark Vesey conspiracy illustrates that white fears of violence were likely heightened by “the subversive reality of slaves with access to money and the purchasing power of their labor” (p. 108). The majority of the 135 African Americans tried by Charleston magistrates worked as hired-out laborers, mainly in the mechanical trades. Despite the alarm over slave insurrections, slaveholders became more fixated on increasing the “productivity” of the enslaved and putting “their economic skills to good use” (p. 129). Hill Edwards argues that the use of more modern accounting methods was just one tool used to more fully incorporate the “slaves’ economy” within the expanding capitalist economy of South Carolina. She emphasizes, however, that regardless of the amount of commercial activity enslaved men and women conducted, the prospect of gaining their freedom was fleeting. Hill Edwards takes her analysis to the outbreak of the Civil War with a conclusion that touches upon the turmoil of the “slaves’ economy” in wartime South Carolina.

A great deal of research informs Unfree Markets. Nevertheless, much of the evidence Hill Edwards relies upon is fragmentary and anecdotal, which makes assessing the scale of the “slaves’ economy” difficult. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the source base. Hill Edwards does make excellent use of court records, petitions, and available slave narratives. More attention to the very different slave regimes in Lowcountry and Upcountry South Carolina would have enhanced her analysis. Undoubtedly the dearth of sources from the perspective of enslaved men and women made this challenging. Unfree Markets is a clearly written, persuasive study that will appeal to anyone interested in slavery, early capitalism, and the antebellum South.

 

Frank J. Byrne is Professor of History at the State University of New York at Oswego. His research specialty is nineteenth-century U.S. history, the Civil War, and the antebellum South.

Copyright (c) 2022 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (January 2022). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

Subject(s):Servitude and Slavery
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century

Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity

Author(s):Goldin, Claudia
Reviewer(s):Folbre, Nancy

Published by EH.NET (January 2022).

Claudia Goldin. Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021. xii + 344 pp. $27.95 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-6912-0178-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Nancy Folbre, Professor Emerita of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

 

Gender inequality in earnings can’t be entirely blamed on discriminatory preferences, because it is deeply inscribed in the institutional structure and technology of modern economies. In her latest book, Career and Family, Claudia Goldin drives this point home. Along the way, she provides a compelling history of the ways in which successive cohorts of college-educated women in the U.S. managed to engineer new routes of economic opportunity and lead a “quiet revolution” in gender roles.  In her view, the biggest roadblock they now face–conflicting demands of work and family–is emblematic of a larger conflict between efficiency and equity.

Her basic argument will be familiar to fans of her previous research, especially her 2006 American Economic Review article “The Quiet Revolution That Transformed Women’s Employment, Education, and Family.” This book, aimed at a larger audience, includes biographical narratives that illustrate the ways in which individual women built on the successes of previous generations to claim opportunities for themselves. At the same time, it emphasizes a basic dilemma that limits women’s room for maneuver.

Work is greedy, and families are needy. Women prefer the flexibility to commit to both but pay a high price for “having it all” because the marketplace pays a premium for professionals and managers willing to work long hours.  Even high-powered couples who might prefer to equitably share family care responsibilities find it costly, requiring a huge sacrifice of potential earnings from a primary—and highly specialized– breadwinner. The trade-off can best be alleviated by changes in the temporal demands of high-wage employment, but these demands are largely driven by gains from specialization, continuity, and flexibility on the job.

The basic roadmap of career/family conflict is well-traveled. Goldin’s distinctive contribution lies in her economic analysis. While some legal scholars like Joan Williams and Nancy Segal (2003) apply terms such as “family responsibility discrimination,” Goldin highlights the impact of relative prices on both the demand side and the supply side of the labor market.  Whether or not employers have discriminatory attitudes, they prefer to hire—and are willing to pay a premium for—ideal workers willing to put in long hours. Some highly educated women find ways around the problem; others voluntarily sacrifice career prospects in return for a package that includes both greater affluence and more time for their children.

While compelling in many respects, this economic analysis relies heavily on paradigmatic neoclassical assumptions.  By Goldin’s account, care for family members represents a personal preference rather than a productive contribution, and market wages are accurate markers of productivity. In my view, she defines efficiency too narrowly, overlooking the possibility that current institutional structures governing interactions between the family, the market and the state are inefficient as well as unfair.

Gender specialization in marriage has mixed consequences. Mothers without access to independent income face significant financial risks, especially if they lack personal wealth. Divorce has more negative consequences for caregivers than for breadwinners, and the threat of significant reduction in post-divorce living standards reduces women’s bargaining power within families. As Shelly Lundberg and Robert Pollak (2003) explain, contracting and bargaining problems can undermine Pareto optimality in marriage; women are increasingly aware of the potential costs of economic dependence. Fathers who devote little time to their children may fail to develop a close relationship with them, with adverse consequences for family members that can neutralize the benefits of higher income (Petts et al. 2020). Specialization can lead to outcomes that leave everyone worse off.

The decision to raise children or care for other dependent family members can be described as an effort to maximize individual utility. However, such effort is constrained by costs that are shaped by social institutions beyond the market, and it leads to consequences for economy as a whole—such as the future supply of workers and taxpayers.  The increasing costs and risks of raising children help explain why fertility rates in the U.S. (as in many other countries) have fallen far below replacement levels.  Research on the fiscal consequences of fertility decline raises important questions regarding the “efficient” distribution of the costs of investment in human capabilities (Wolf et al. 2011).

Just as greater family income doesn’t always signal greater family efficiency, higher earnings don’t always signal higher productivity. Goldin and others (e.g., Cha and Weeden 2014) convincingly show that earnings per hour in the U.S. increase substantially with total hours of work.  However, a wage premium does not necessarily imply a total compensation premium:  non-wage compensation (including employee benefits) can exceed 40% of total compensation for high earners, and much of it represents a fixed cost that is amortized over increased hours of employment (Gittleman and Pierce 2013).

Many customers and clients value flexibility and continuity, but these needs can potentially be met by institutional reorganization, such team-based services. Problems with lack of continuity in the U.S. health care system have less to do with providers’ hours on the job than with specialization and institutional incentives to cut costs (Frey 2018). Indeed, long hours of health care provision can lead to serious errors; the medical profession validated concerns about the adverse effects of hospital residents’ extreme hours in 2003 when it placed strict limits on shift lengths (Keller et al. 2009).

Bankers and CEOs may well prefer subordinates who are at their beck and call. Is this a productivity-related imperative or a privilege of managerial power? Both institutional inertia and information problems complicate the answer to this question. Like a college diploma that is costly to acquire but not actually necessary for effective job performance, willingness to work long hours may be a signal of potential worker effort that moves job applicants to the head of the hiring queue. Cha and Weeden (2014) offer some evidence that rat-race effects push many into longer work hours than they would prefer. This coordination problem helps explain public choices to regulate hours of employment.

Trade-offs are often a fact of life, and public policies can’t always assuage them. Potential gains from specialization, continuity, job-specific skills, and single-mindedness will always loom large—in both careers and families. On the other hand, life is a portfolio that invites diversification, and many important assets—like healthy family and community members– are undervalued simply because they can’t be bought and sold. Much depends on how gains are defined, and for whom.

Goldin calls out the inequitable division of labor that assigns women more responsibility than men for family care, but her focus on career-oriented college-educated women deflects attention from other dimensions of inequality.  Women without a college education have been far less successful than their more credentialed counterparts at winning work-family benefits such as paid family leave from their employers (Adelstein and Peters 2019). International comparisons show that the effect of national family policies is strongly mediated by earnings inequality—with greatest benefits for low earners (Hook and Paek 2020).

Earnings inequality can reduce the incentives for more affluent women to support progressive family policies that would increase public investments in care infrastructure, and even encourage indifference toward the many low-wage women–from nannies and housecleaners to childcare and eldercare workers–who help keep the price of outsourced domestic services relatively low. In the U.S., college-educated mothers living in cities with large numbers of women immigrants are able to put in longer hours on the job (and also raise more children) than those living in comparable cities (Cortés and Pan 2019).

From a market-centric perspective, this represents an efficient outcome. However, in my book, it doesn’t qualify as a grand convergence or a gender revolution.

References

Adelstein, Shirley, and H. Elizabeth Peters. 2019. “Parents’ Access to Work-Family Supports.” The Urban Institute. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/101144/parents_access_to_work-family_supports_1.pdf

Cha, Youngjoo, and Kim A. Weeden. 2014. “Overwork and the Slow Convergence in the Gender Gap in Wages.” American Sociological Review 79:3, 457-484.

Cortés, Patricia, and Jessica Pan. 2019. “When Time Binds: Substitutes for Household Production, Returns to Working Long Hours, and the Skilled Gender Wage Gap.” Journal of Labor Economics 37:2, 351-398.

Frey, John J. 2018. “Colluding with the Decline of Continuity.” The Annals of Family Medicine 16:6, 488-489.

Gittleman, Maury, and Brooks Pierce. 2013. “An Improved Measure of Inter-Industry Pay Differentials.” Journal of Economic and Social Measurement 38:3, 229-242.

Goldin, Claudia. 2006. “The Quiet Revolution That Transformed Women’s Employment, Education, and Family.” American Economic Review 96: 2, 1-21.

Hook, Jennifer L., and Eunjeong Paek. 2020. “National Family Policies and Mothers’ Employment: How Earnings Inequality Shapes Policy Effects Across and Within Countries.” American Sociological Review 85:3, 381-416.

Keller, Simone M., Phyllis Berryman, and Eileen Lukes. 2009. “Effects of Extended Work Shifts and Shift Work on Patient Safety, Productivity, and Employee Health.” Aaohn Journal 57:12, 497-504.

Lundberg, Shelly, and Robert A. Pollak. 2003. “Efficiency in Marriage.” Review of Economics of the Household 1:3, 153-167.

Petts, Richard J., Chris Knoester, and Jane Waldfogel. 2020. “Fathers’ Paternity Leave-Taking and Children’s Perceptions of Father-Child Relationships in the United States.” Sex Roles 82:3, 173-188.

Williams, Joan C., and Nancy Segal. 2003. “Beyond the Maternal Wall: Relief for Family Caregivers who are Discriminated Against on the Job.” Harvard Women’s Law Journal 26, 77-162.

Wolf, Douglas A., Ronald D. Lee, Timothy Miller, Gretchen Donehower, and Alexandre Genest. 2011. “Fiscal Externalities of Becoming a Parent.” Population and Development Review 37:2, 241-266.

 

Nancy Folbre is Professor Emerita of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her most recent book is The Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems (New York: Verso, 2021).

Copyright (c) 2022 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (January 2022). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

 

Subject(s):Household, Family and Consumer History
Labor and Employment History
Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Economy of Medieval Wales, 1067-1536

Author(s):Stevens, Matthew Frank
Reviewer(s):Burnette, Joyce

Published by EH.NET (January 2022).

Matthew Frank Stevens. The Economy of Medieval Wales, 1067-1536. University of Wales Press, 2019. xiv + 149 pp. £24.99 (paperback). ISBN 978-1786834843.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Joyce Burnette, Department of Economics, Wabash College.

 

This is a book of economic history. We don’t learn about politics or individual people; we do learn about the organization of production, immigration, and the growth of towns. The book is not a micro-history that examines new evidence on a very specific time and place. Nor is it a quantitative history that analyzes data. It is rather a historical survey providing an overview of how the Welsh economy changed over 500 years. While some primary sources are used, the book is primarily a synthesis of the secondary literature. We sometimes learn the evidence for particular conclusions, but the focus is more on the story than on the evidence. The book is brief and entirely readable; I found it both informative and enjoyable. There are some Welsh terms to learn, but these are all explained.

Stevens argues that we cannot simply apply English history to Wales. Yet the most important factor in the economic history of Wales is its relationship with England. Stevens argues that English conquest and immigration, along with Welsh geography, were the main factors shaping Welsh economic history during this period.

The book has three main parts: a literature review, a story of how the Welsh economy changed over time, and an analysis of what explains the observed changes. The introduction is a historiographical essay and provides a useful map of the literature for someone like me who is not an expert on Welsh history. The introduction also makes the case that Wales has been neglected in economic histories of Britain and thus needs its own.

The longest of the three parts (Chapters 1–3) tells a chronological story of how the economy of Wales changed between 1067 and 1536. The story told is one of expansion followed by decline. Before 1300 the population grew. English immigrants took over settlements in the lowlands with the best arable land, pushing the Welsh into upland farms. Towns and trade developed during this period. In the eleventh century trading towns were too vulnerable to attack to by warlords to be viable, but by 1300 there were 100 towns, and about 20 percent of the population was urban. Cardiff, with nearly 2000 people, was the largest town. Part of the urban population specialized in the production of cloth or leather goods. With towns came increased trade, and increased use of money. With trade, upland pastoral farms became more viable, because more valuable animal products could be exchanged for grain. The period of expansion also saw the building of castles, bridges, and fulling mills. Free peasants gradually replaced unfree peasants, though certain labor duties persisted. Stevens notes that the growth during this period was “externally driven” by English immigration.

Around 1300, when the Welsh population reached a maximum, the lowland population density in Wales was almost as high as in England, though wealth per capita was significantly lower. After 1300 famine and plague reduced population, and migration reversed as Welsh people emigrated to England. The labor shortage caused by the Black Death pushed lords to give up cultivating demesne lands themselves and lease the land. Wages increased about 50 percent, but wage labor was not common. The Glyndwr rebellion of 1400 also contributed to the decline; 40 towns suffered attacks and some were burned. Trade also suffered from the English response to the rebellion, which included the confiscation of goods and limits on the ability of the Welsh to purchasing property or congregate in one place.

The fourth chapter examines which historical model we should use to understand Welsh economic history. The chapter considers three models from European history: the demographic model, the Marxist model, and the commercialization model. None of these are deemed sufficient for understanding Welsh history. While population did grow between 1067 and 1300, this growth was not endogenous. Population growth resulted not from the expansion of the population into unused land, but from English immigration. The development of markets and towns were also driven by external (English) forces. Stevens also rejects the Marxist story of class struggle. Welsh history was not a class struggle between serfs and lords, since even before the Black Death most peasants were free. Defining the class struggle as one between Welsh peasants and English lords is not satisfactory because it ignores English peasants and Welsh burgesses. Stevens likes the commercialization model somewhat better, noting that does a fairly good job of describing Welsh urban history, at least before 1400.

Instead of adopting a model developed elsewhere, the book provides three themes to organize our understanding of Welsh economic history: conquest by England, ethnic differences between the English and the Welsh, and geography. The English introduced monetization and urbanization, and generally altered every economic institution. The Welsh were treated differently from the English. In addition, physical geography shaped Welsh history. With only about 14 percent of Wales croppable, settlement and trade were constrained. As a reader, I would have liked to see these themes highlighted earlier in the book, rather than at the very end.

 

Joyce Burnette is Professor of Economics and John H. Schroeder Interdisciplinary Chair in Economics at Wabash College. Her publications include Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and “Why We Shouldn’t Measure Women’s Labor Force Participation in Pre-Industrial Countries” (Economic History of Developing Regions, forthcoming).

Copyright (c) 2022 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (January 2022). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/book-reviews.

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Historical Demography, including Migration
Historical Geography
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval

Milton Friedman & Economic Debate in the United States: 1932-1972

Author(s):Nelson, Edward
Reviewer(s):Sumner, Scott

Published by EH.Net (January 2022).

Edward Nelson. Milton Friedman & Economic Debate in the United States: 1932-1972. Volumes 1 and 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. xx + 737 pp. and xiv + 587 pp. $50 each (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0226683775 and 978-0226684895.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Scott Sumner, Professor Emeritus of Economics, Bentley College.

 

Milton Friedman was at the center of economic policy debates in the US during much of the 20th century. Edward Nelson, an economist at the Federal Reserve System, has now completed the first two volumes of an intellectual biography of Friedman’s career, focusing on his policy views during the period from 1932 to 1972. It is work of outstanding quality.

While much has been written on Friedman’s career, no previous biographer has Nelson’s deep and sophisticated understanding of monetary economics. This makes his new book especially useful for those with a serious interest in policy issues, especially macro policy. While Friedman had policy views on a wide variety of issues, including the military draft and education voucher programs, Nelson focuses his attention on the areas where Friedman’s influence was greatest–the field of macroeconomics.

The timing of this book is particularly fortuitous. Friedman began his career during a period when left-wing economics was ascendant. During the middle of his career, the economics profession in the US and other developed countries shifted to the right–the so-called neoliberal revolution.  Indeed, Friedman played a major role in that intellectual shift, probably more than any other single economist.

After Friedman’s death in 2006, however, the profession began moving back again toward the left, and Friedman’s reputation declined somewhat. Some younger economists may be unaware of the extent to which ideas they take for granted were highly controversial when first proposed by Friedman.

Today, Friedman is often associated with monetarism, particularly the idea that the Fed should stabilize the growth rate of the money supply, perhaps at 3% or 4% per year. After the early 1980s, however, money supply targeting fell out of favor, mostly due to perceptions that velocity was too unstable. This led many to erroneously conclude that monetarism was discredited.

Nelson shows that money supply targeting was not Friedman’s most important contribution to monetary economics. Instead, Friedman’s critique of Keynesian economics is where he had an enduring influence. Indeed, that critique eventually led to a major evolution in Keynesian thought, toward an approach often dubbed “New Keynesianism”, which combined older Keynesian ideas with monetarist insights developed by Friedman and others.

While the two-volume set covers many topics, here I’ll focus on four key areas where Nelson shows that Friedman dissented from Keynesian orthodoxy during the 1950s and 1960s. Consider these mainstream Keynesian ideas from the 1960s:

1. High nominal interest rates indicate tight money, and vice versa.

2. Fiscal policy is the most effective tool for managing the business cycle.

3. The Phillips Curve demonstrates that we can permanently reduce unemployment by accepting higher inflation.

4. Wage and price controls are often a useful way to control inflation, whereas monetary policy does more harm than good.

Nelson shows that at various times during the 1960s and early 1970s, all four of these ideas were widely accepted by many prominent Keynesian economists. In all four cases, Friedman argued against the conventional wisdom, and in all four cases subsequent events vindicated Friedman’s views. Let’s take them one at a time.

While Irving Fisher’s analysis of nominal and real interest rates was known to most economists, even as late as the 1960s the importance of this distinction was often overlooked. Keynes himself viewed the distinction as a mere theoretical curiosity, except during times of hyperinflation. Thus when Friedman argued that interest rates were rising during the late 1960s due to the Fisher effect, prominent Keynesians such as James Tobin rejected his claim.

By the late 1970s, however, evidence for the importance of the Fisher effect from both time series and cross-sectional data had become overwhelming. Eventually, this insight was incorporated into monetary policymaking, most famously in various versions of the Taylor Rule.

During the second half of the 1960s, many Keynesian economists did understand that the economy was overheating and that inflation was a threat. They advocated fiscal austerity to reduce aggregate demand, and President Johnson responded with a tax increase in 1968, which pushed the Federal budget into surplus. Contrary to popular opinion, the peak years of the Vietnam War were not associated with highly expansionary fiscal policy–the national debt was falling rapidly as a share of GDP.

Friedman argued that the real problem was rapid growth in the money supply, and that fiscal austerity would not reduce inflation. As the rate of inflation continued to accelerate in 1969 and 1970, Friedman’s warning proved to be accurate.  Monetary policy dominates fiscal policy.

During the 1960s, many Keynesian economists became convinced that the Phillips Curve provided a reliable tool for reducing unemployment. In their view, a bit less unemployment could be purchased at the cost of slightly higher inflation.  Friedman argued that this relationship was illusory. Only unanticipated inflation reduced unemployment. Once workers began to anticipate a higher rate of inflation, they would demand compensating pay increases and unemployment would return back to its natural rate.

By the 1970s, it was clear that Friedman was correct. Unemployment was higher than during the 1960s, despite inflation also being much higher. The 1980s would provide further evidence in support of Friedman’s Natural Rate Hypothesis, as after inflation was brought down to much lower levels, the increase in unemployment proved to be only temporary.

When the economy experienced stagflation during the early 1970s, many Keynesians became discouraged by the poor performance of Phillips Curve models. Theories of “cost-push inflation” replaced standard Keynesian demand-pull explanations. This led many prominent Keynesians to support wage/price controls. Friedman warned that artificially suppressing inflation would not solve the problem, and that the only enduring solution was a slower rate of growth in the money supply.

By the mid-1970s it was clear that the wage/price controls had not worked, as inflation reached even higher levels than in the late 1960s. Inflation would not be brought down to a low level until Paul Volcker adopted a contractionary monetary policy during the early 1980s, slowing the growth rate of the money supply.

All four of the insights discussed here have one thing in common; they reflect Friedman’s understanding of the importance of changes in the growth rate of the money supply, as distinct from one-time changes in levels. In 1975, Friedman said:

“Double-digit inflation and double-digit interest rates, not the elegance of theoretical reasoning or the overwhelming persuasiveness of serried masses of statistics massaged through modern computers, explain the rediscovery of money.”

And in the same year:

“As I see it, we have advanced beyond [the theory of money proposed in the eighteenth century by David] Hume in two respects only; first, we now have a more secure grasp of the quantitative magnitudes involved; second, we have gone one derivative beyond Hume.”

Persistent increases in the growth rate of the money supply made the Fisher effect much more important than during the gold standard era. Persistent changes in inflation caused the Phillips Curve to break down. And the inflationary forces unleashed by rapid money growth were too powerful to restrain with fiscal austerity or wage/price controls.

And as Nelson demonstrates, it was Friedman himself who pushed the profession “one derivative beyond Hume.”

In my view, graduate programs in macroeconomics now put too much weight on technique and too little emphasis on the history of macroeconomic ideas and policy. We’d all be better off if graduate students in macroeconomics read Nelson’s authoritative study of the development of Milton Friedman’s views on economic policy.

 

Scott Sumner is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Bentley College, as well as a research associate in the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. His most recent book is The Money Illusion: Market Monetarism, the Great Recession, and the Future of Monetary Policy (University of Chicago Press, 2021). He blogs at https://www.themoneyillusion.com/.

Copyright (c) 2022 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (January 2022). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/book-reviews/.

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Macroeconomics and Fluctuations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Xue, Melanie Meng

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The Black Man’s President: Abraham Lincoln, African Americans, & the Pursuit of Racial Equality

Author(s):Burlingame, Michael
Reviewer(s):Kamphoefner, Walter D.

Published by EH.NET (January 2022).

Michael Burlingame. The Black Man’s President: Abraham Lincoln, African Americans, & the Pursuit of Racial Equality. New York, London: Pegasus Books, 2021. Xviii + 313 pp. $29.95 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-64313-813-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Walter Kamphoefner, Department of History, Texas A&M University.

 

Although it has little to do with economics and nothing whatsoever with cliometrics, this is an important book, authored by Michael Burlingame, the holder of a distinguished chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois branch in the President’s hometown of Springfield. Among other things, it is an antidote to economic determinism. Its thesis is succinctly laid out in the introduction: “The best evidence to support the contention that Lincoln was ‘emphatically the black man’s president’ [in Frederick Douglass’s phrase] is not just his policy decisions and public statements regarding emancipation, the enrollment of Black troops, and Black voting rights, but also his personal relations with African Americans. Because interactions speak louder than words, Lincoln’s views on race are best understood through an examination of his dealings with Black Illinoisans and Black Washingtonians. His meetings with Frederick Douglass are well-known, but not his similarly revealing encounters with many other African Americans” (x).

The book is similar in content and tone to works such as William Lee Miller’s Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography (2002), James Oakes’s The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (2007), and David Blight’s 2019 Douglass biography. It presents a similar if slightly more generous take on Lincoln than does Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010).

Burlingame argues, correctly in my opinion, for the necessity of quoting the N-word, so as to understand the virulent race prejudice of the time. He provides abundant illustration of the prejudice that Lincoln had to deal with even in the North, and not only among Democrats. The word even shows up among a number of prominent Republican “friends of the Negro.” The author demonstrates how ubiquitous it was among Northern Democrats generally, and with Stephen Douglas in particular, even if it was sometimes reported as “negro” in newspapers friendly to him. William Seward quipped at one point that “No man can be elected President of the United States who spells negro with two g’s” (211).

As Burlingame indicates, much of the evidence on Lincoln’s racial attitudes and his interactions with Blacks during his political career will be relatively familiar, at least to Civil War specialists. But his first two chapters explore new territory, presenting evidence from Lincoln’s earlier times in Springfield and his interaction with a number of ordinary Blacks in the city, and his dealings with White House staff and other Black residents of Washington, DC. Ironically, his intended porter and valet, William H. Johnson from Springfield, was rejected because of “intra-racial prejudice” by lighter skinned White House staff, but Lincoln continued to exert himself on Johnson’s behalf and paid for his coffin when he succumbed to smallpox in 1864 (27-31). A brief third chapter relates Lincoln’s first meeting with Blacks in the White House, in the context of the bill for compensated emancipation in the District of Columbia, which the president ultimately signed.

The entire issue of colonization, and how seriously Lincoln considered it, is explored and contextualized in great detail in chapter four (at fifty pages, the longest in the book), which has the telling title, “A Sop to Conservatives.” Lincoln’s apparently harsh statement recommending colonization to a Black delegation in August 1862, “Go where you are treated the best, and the ban is still upon you,” was primarily designed to overcome white opposition to emancipation. This is documented by contemporary statements of conservative Republican Francis P. Blair, Sr., Black abolitionist minister Henry McNeal Turner, and a London newspaper correspondent who correctly observed that colonization proposals were “adopted to silence the weak-nerved, whose name is legion.” Further bolstering this interpretation is the fact that Lincoln arranged to have a stenographic reporter present recording his words verbatim (though no indication is given how common or uncommon that was). But Lincoln continued to explore several colonization projects as a voluntary refuge for Blacks who wished to escape American racism. This chapter shows the breadth not only of white but also of Black interest in colonization; even two sons of Frederick Douglass signed up for one of the projects, much to the dismay of their father.

Three of the four following chapters cover more familiar terrain. Chapter five describes various Black visitors, most prominent among them Douglass, visiting the president in 1863 and lobbying first for the recruitment of Black soldiers and then for their equal treatment in the Union Army. Chapter 6 covers similar interactions in 1864, including Black visitors lobbying for black voting rights, prompting Lincoln’s message to the Governor of Louisiana. Chapter eight relates a number of breakthroughs for Black Americans that were facilitated by Lincoln, first among them the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery nationwide. The intervening chapter seven documents four occasions when Black guests were admitted to White House receptions, despite attacks by Democrats.

Burlingame sums up his evidence thus: Lincoln’s “unfailing cordiality to African Americans in general, his willingness to meet with them in the white House, to honor their requests, to invite them to consult on public policy, to treat them with respect and kindness whether they were kitchen servants or leaders of the Black community, to invite them to attend receptions and tea, to sing and pray with them on their turf, to authorize them to hold events on the White House grounds—all those manifestations of an egalitarian spirit fully justified the tributes paid to him by Frederick Douglass . . . and other African Americans.”

The author makes a strong case; the only shortcomings of the book are omissions. Burlingame might have paid closer attention to when various Black Americans recorded their interactions with Lincoln, giving particular weight to statements made while Lincoln was still alive. As David Donald long ago argued, “Getting Right With Lincoln” was a tactic used by politicians across the political spectrum. Calling upon the legacy of a martyred President later helped Lyndon B. Johnson greatly in passing Civil Rights legislation. But it was also used by conservatives selectively quoting Lincoln’s Second Inaugural to argue that Andrew Johnson was attacked and vilified for carrying out Lincoln’s allegedly magnanimous Reconstruction policies.

Although slightly outside the author’s purview, it would have been worth pointing out that Lincoln’s “manifestations of an egalitarian spirit” extended to immigrants as well as Blacks. In the political world of the Civil War era, most Republican supporters of Black rights were hostile to immigrants (see Thomas Nast), and most Democratic defenders of immigrants were profoundly racist (as Nast portrayed them). In this respect, Lincoln (along with William Seward) was a notable exception. Already in 1844 he had sponsored a resolution condemning the violence that erupted against Irish Catholics in Philadelphia, and he had taken a clear stand against the nativist Know Nothing movement in his famous 1855 letter to his friend Joshua Speed. The same sentiments were echoed in an 1859 statement widely published in English and German: “I have some little notoriety for commiserating the oppressed condition of the negro; and I should be strangely inconsistent if I could favor any project for curtailing the existing rights of white men, even though born in different lands, and speaking different languages from myself.”

In a thirty-page appendix Burlingame provides an “Evaluation of Evidence Cited to Illustrate Lincoln’s Purported Racism,” which he finds wanting. He cites the criticisms by “Henry Louis Gates, professor of English at Harvard,” perhaps implying that a historian would be better suited to the task. Gates alleges that Lincoln’s autograph for “Aunty” Sojourner Truth was condescending in its wording, while paying less attention to the fact that Lincoln had issued her a special invitation to the White House after she had been denied entry to the First Lady’s reception (177-79, 202). Burlingame shows that abolitionists at the time used “Aunty” as a term of endearment, not belittlement. Critics of Lincoln have made much of the fact that when fighting for his political life in 1858, he “had to pay lip service to the Negrophobia of the Illinois electorate” (202). Burlingame offers a more complete reading of Lincoln’s remarks in that campaign, for example quoting his deft qualifier, “I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone.” In a similar vein, Burlingame presents evidence that Lincoln used the N-word “sarcastically, implying contempt for Negrophobes who used such vulgar language” (227), on the infrequent occasions that he used the word at all.

Lincoln was not only a statesman but also a very savvy politician. Both talents were absolutely essential for him to achieve what he did, given the obstacles he faced as president. As a final illustration, the last page of the book cites a racist epithet, appropriately enough from John Wilkes Booth, after a speech by Lincoln advocating Black voting rights: “That means nigger citizenship. Now by God I’ll put him through! That is the last speech he will ever make.”

 

Walter D. Kamphoefner is Professor of History at Texas A&M University. His research focuses on immigration, ethnicity, and the Civil War era. His latest book is Germans in America: A Concise History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021). He explores some of the same themes as Burlingame in his op-ed “Cutting through the Lincoln myth,” https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/159129.

Copyright (c) 2022 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (January 2022). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Servitude and Slavery
Military and War
Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century

Labor in the Age of Finance: Pensions, Politics, and Corporations from Deindustrialization to Dodd-Frank

Author(s):Jacoby, Sanford M.
Reviewer(s):Owen, Laura J.

Published by EH.Net (December 2021).

Sanford M. Jacoby. Labor in the Age of Finance: Pensions, Politics, and Corporations from Deindustrialization to Dodd-Frank. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021. xii+368 pp. $35 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0-691-21720-8.

Reviewed by Laura J. Owen, Associate Professor of Economics, DePaul University in Chicago, for EH.Net.

 

Sanford M. Jacoby’s Labor in the Age of Finance examines the attempts of unions in the past half-century to use their voice as investors to increase membership and address issues of concern such as executive pay. Using their pension assets and their power as stockholders, unions pushed corporate boards for change. By seeking change through public persuasion that could affect stock prices, unions bought into a model of shareholder primacy and embarked on a path of “Financial Activism.”

Pension funds began to shift their investments from bonds to stocks in the 1970s. The initial thinking was that pension fund activism would encourage long-run decision making by CEOs and protect worker interests. Pension funds of public sector workers (such as CalPERS) and multi-employer plans representing private sector workers pushed firms to adopt certain corporate governance principles on board membership, executive pay and shareholder rights, what Jacoby refers to as the “cookbook.” By rating companies on these principles, large institutional investors advocated for changes that supported union membership drives and checked CEO abuses. However, in using their power as shareholders, pension funds would reinforce the idea of shareholder primacy and reveal the conflicts between what was good for workers and what was good for the returns on pension fund investments.

Pension funds used their power as shareholders to advance union membership when they pushed firms to accept neutrality agreements and card checks. Jacoby’s discussion in chapter 3 of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) “Justice for Janitors” campaign is a good example. SEIU targeted Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) who were both owners of large office buildings and recipients of substantial pension fund investments. SEIU pushed building owners to pressure their janitorial contracting firms into accepting neutrality agreements, meaning the firms would not interfere with SEIU attempts to organize their workers.

Other changes to corporate governance would require new Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules on proxy voting. Following the dot-com bust and Enron scandal, unions found common ground with other shareholders in pushing for more accountability. One area of focus was CEO compensation and the “say on pay” movement that would give investors an advisory vote on executive pay. Unions expressed concerns about inequality as seen in the widening gap between CEO and average worker earnings. One solution was to tie executive compensation to the performance of the firm through stock options. However, tax provisions and lax SEC rules led to stock option abuses, with CEOs taking on more risk to generate higher short run returns. These actions would be good for their pay and for investors with more short-run horizons but came at the expense of more long-run investors (such as pension plans) and workers.

In chapter 8, Jacoby examines the intersection of pension funds, private equity and hedge funds, demonstrating again that what was good for the returns on fund investments was not always in the best interests of all workers. The AFL-CIO rated some private equity firms as worker-friendly and the SEIU used their investor power to obtain agreements on worker treatment standards. Unions in Europe took a much stronger stance against private equity and claimed the U.S. pension plans had a conflict of interest due to their investment in private equity. Public pension plans provided 27% of the capital of private equity firms on the eve of the financial crisis, though corporate and multi-employer plans were invested as well. Plan managers were attracted to the high yields of private equity even when they came at the expense of union employees at purchased firms. This tension was particularly acute between public pension funds and private sector union workers.

The financial crisis and the Great Recession would wreak havoc on investment returns, leaving many pension plans underfunded. Calls for reform would ultimately lead to the passage of Dodd-Frank and re-regulation. The Tobin Tax, a tax on financial transactions designed to discourage short-term trading, did not make it into Dodd-Frank, but the Shareholder Bill of Rights was included. While labor had a voice in the reforms, shareholder primacy (which had encouraged fund managers to take on more risk) was not fundamentally challenged.

In the Epilogue, Jacoby suggests that labor moved away from shareholder activism in part because it worked to increase shareholder rights but failed to produce the sought-after improvements for workers. Both CEOs and shareholders have an interest in seeing short-run increases in stock values, whereas workers benefit from a more long-run approach. Stock buybacks are a good example: favored by CEOs and investors for increasing share prices, but often leading to less investment in the firm and workers. Broader efforts to support workers (such as SEIU’s Fight for $15) had success in changing public policy but did not increase union membership. In 2019, the Business Roundtable released a document outlining the responsibility of corporations to all of their stakeholders, not just their shareholders. Whether this is a real shift from shareholder primacy remains to be seen, as does the impact of the pandemic on unionization.

In addition to the story of labor’s involvement in financial activism, readers of this book will encounter numerous lessons of value. These include a “Primer on Pension Plans” (at the end of chapter 2), which outlines the differences between various defined-benefit plans. In chapter 6, “Executive Pay,” readers will gain insight into the intricacies of using stock options as executive compensation, why economists favor their use, and how option expensing rules and time frames often led to abuses.

Jacoby takes the reader through a series of events that illustrate the contradictions inherent in labor’s financial activism. In the end, he seems somewhat ambivalent about union involvement and turns instead to how rising inequality has appeared to increase public support for unions. My reading of the evidence is that rather than retreating from this arena, unions could play a role in shaping policy that would insure the interests of workers and investors are balanced. As long as labor controls financial assets, they can push for a governance model that rejects shareholder primacy and promotes the interests of all stakeholders.

 

Laura J. Owen is Associate Professor of Economics at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She has published articles on labor turnover and part-time work and is a co-editor of The Many Futures of Work: Rethinking Expectations and Breaking Molds.

Copyright (c) 2021 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (November 2021). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

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

George Washington, Entrepreneur: How Our Founding Father’s Private Business Pursuits Changed America and the World

Author(s):Berlau, John
Reviewer(s):Doti, Lynne Pierson

Published by EH.Net (November 2021).

John Berlau. George Washington, Entrepreneur: How Our Founding Father’s Private Business Pursuits Changed America and the World. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020. X+262 pp. $29 (hardcover), ISBN 978-1-250-17260-0.

Reviewed by Lynne Pierson Doti, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Chapman University, for EH.Net.

 

The definition of an entrepreneur, offered by Oxford Languages via Google (2021), is “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks to do so.” In this sense, George Washington was an entrepreneur, although clearly his skills as a leader and soldier were more notable. However, many definitions of an entrepreneur (see Brett Nelson, “The Real Definition of Entrepreneur–And Why It Matters,” Forbes, June 5, 2012) add the necessity of being an innovator, a person who doesn’t just run a business for profit but changes the way business is done. John Berlau presents the story of George Washington’s business career, showing that he was certainly a “business owner,” but he does not convince the reader to elevate Washington to the level of Forbes’ “real” entrepreneur. There is insufficient evidence that our founding father’s business activity changed any industry, let alone America or the world.

Berlau does provide a readable overview of Washington’s businesses against the background of his better-known political and military activities. For the latter, he relies on the many excellent general biographies available. Most information about the business side of his life comes from the Mt. Vernon website, which features copies of historic documents and some original research.

The first argument Berlau offers for George Washington’s innovative spirit is presented in a description of his greenhouse. The concept itself was not at all unknown, although the building was rare in the American colonies. Berlau properly recognizes that this greenhouse does not put Washington in the category of great entrepreneurs like Vanderbilt, Carnegie, or Bezos, or even make him a businessperson, so he then describes income-producing activities.

It is well known that Washington’s first job was as a surveyor. The job allowed him to become a good judge of land value, the most significant source of his wealth. During his surveying career, he often took pay in land, or used his earnings to purchase it. This land was then leased to tenant farmers. He also managed the land belonging to his wife and her family.

While Washington’s considerable wealth was based on land ownership, Berlau describes other enterprises he engaged in to strengthen the case for his innovative nature. One of these is “what is now considered the first major scientific experiment in the new nation” (p. 51). With the patriot Thomas Paine, Washington investigated “small fires” that occurred on the Millstone River. The experiment consisted of stirring the river’s bottom and setting fire to the resulting bubbles as they rose to the surface. While notable, the incident does not strike the reader as capable of competing with, say, proving lightning is electricity.

In the early 1700s most Virginia land was planted with tobacco, which was sold to factors in England. Berlau notes that by the 1760s prices for American tobacco were falling. Washington complained that the tobacco from the land he managed seemed to be falling more than most. His response was to diversify into wheat and other crops and to experiment with farming techniques and fertilizers. This does seem to have the potential have caused a major change in Virginia business, but no specific result is mentioned.

Two of George Washington’s most famous innovations were the American mule and the 16-sided barn. The mule, a well-known animal in world history, is the product of a male jackass and a female horse. It is known as a sturdy and efficient animal. While some mules undoubtedly existed in America, Washington made a business of breeding them after 1784 when the Marquis de Lafayette sent a Spanish jackass in response to Washington’s request. While Washington promoted the use of the two jackasses he eventually acquired for breeding, the number was slow to increase. The sixteen-sided barn remained unique.

Other businesses conducted at Mt. Vernon that seemed to be successful included a blacksmith shop, textile production, a distillery, and a rebuilt and expanded gristmill. The gristmill was state of the art, and Washington sold bags of flour labeled G. Washington, capitalizing on his fame and leading to the claim that he invented branding.

Washington maintained his property at a high level despite his absences, assisted, especially in the early days, by his wife’s experienced management. She was familiar with the operations of a plantation and was particularly instrumental in organizing a workshop to create and sell textiles. Berlau digresses from his main theme often to offer previously neglected information not only on Martha Washington’s assistance with the plantation business but on other aspects of her history.

This book has much in common with Edward G. Lengel’s more substantial First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His–and the Nation’s–Prosperity, which Berlau cites throughout. Neither author makes a convincing case for Washington as a Forbes-type entrepreneur, but Berlau has created a book for the that is more for the enjoyment of the reader than for serious research.

References:

“Enterpreneur.” Google.com. https://www.google.com/search?q=entrepreneur (accessed November 18, 2021).

Lengel, Edward G. First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His–and the Nation’s–Prosperity. Da Capo Press, 2015.

 

Lynne Pierson Doti is Emeritus Professor of Economics at Chapman University. Her works include Financing California Real Estate: Spanish Missions to Subprime Mortgages (Routledge, 2016) and, with Larry Schweikart, American Entrepreneur: The Fascinating Stories of the People Who Defined Business in the United States (AMACOM, 2009).

 

Copyright (c) 2021 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (November 2021). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

Subject(s):Business History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):18th Century