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The Oxford Handbook of American Economic History

Editor(s):Cain, Louis P.
Fishback, Price V.
Rhode, Paul W.
Reviewer(s):Rosenbloom, Joshua L.

Published by EH.Net (December 2018)

Louis P. Cain, Price V. Fishback and Paul W. Rhode, editors, The Oxford Handbook of American Economic History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. xiii + 961 pp. $300 (hardcover, 2 volumes), ISBN: 978-0-19-994797-3.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Joshua L. Rosenbloom, Department of Economics, Iowa State University.

 
Over the past several decades economic historians have substantially broadened and deepened our understanding of the development of the American economy. Students or scholars seeking an overview of the state of the field have, however, had few options when looking for a convenient and comprehensive overview. Jeremy Atack and Peter Passell’s New Economic View of American History (second edition) is now more than two decades old, and more up-to-date textbooks are pitched at too low a level to be of much help. The Oxford Handbook of American Economic History thus fills an important gap, providing a one-stop reference that distills and summarizes much of the recent scholarship.

The editors, Louis Cain (Loyola University Chicago and Northwestern University), Price Fishback (University of Arizona) and Paul Rhode (University of Michigan) have all made important contributions to our understanding of American economic history; and they have assembled an all-star cast of contributors. After an introductory chapter, the two volumes contain 37 chapters divided into five topical sections covering population and health; production and structural change; factors of production; technology and urbanization; and government and economic policy. Each of the first four sections contains six chapters, while the final section includes a total of thirteen. The chapters in this final section make something of an odd mix, and it might have been helpful to split this section between the chapters exploring longer-run trends and themes and those focused on specific episodes such as the New Deal or the Civil War.

With the exception of a few of the chapters in the final section, which address chronologically specific events — such as the Constitution, the New Deal, the Civil War and the two World Wars — the great majority of chapters focus on particular topic across the full-span of U.S. economic history. The content is consistently detailed and each chapter includes extensive references. As such, these accounts will be extremely useful for readers seeking to dip into this work to get a quick sense of the state of scholarship on a particular topic. I suspect, however, that few readers will want to make their way through these two volumes cover to cover.

Readers wanting to get an understanding of a particular period or those seeking to understanding the larger narrative of U.S. economic development will find the Oxford Handbook less helpful. Someone seeking to understand the Great Depression, for example, would need to integrate information from chapters on the New Deal, welfare policy, banking and monetary policy and the record of economic growth and business cycles among others.

Despite the breadth and depth of coverage, some topics appear to have fallen between the cracks. Among these the most glaring for this reader was the limited attention devoted to the economics and politics of slavery and race. In a similar vein, while there is a chapter devoted to the topic of executive compensation contributed by Carola Frydman, recent work on the broader topic of income and wealth inequality receives little attention. Finally, while the chronological scope of the essays in this collection varies, the nearly two centuries of American economic history preceding American independence is hardly discussed.

These caveats aside, there is a great deal of useful information to be found in these volumes. The essays collected here are consistently engaging, well-written and provide extensive references for readers wishing to dig deeper. It would be impossible within the scope of this review to touch on each chapter, and by singling out a small number of chapters for specific mention I risk offending authors of the remaining chapters. Yet several of the essays do stand out for going beyond a review of the state of the literature and suggesting fresh perspectives or reframing a topic. Price Fishback’s chapter on the New Deal is one. Fishback has been at the center of efforts to digitize and make available geographically disaggregated data on New Deal policies and economic outcomes, and has authored or co-authored an overwhelming volume of scholarship related to this topic. His chapter offers a concise and accessible summation of the results of this research program. It also provides a clear and accessible illustration of the econometric challenges of identifying causal effects from such data that would be useful in many other contexts beyond economic history courses. Paul Rhode’s chapter on the role of capital is another stand-out, focusing attention on the tensions between macro-growth theorists’ stylized facts and the historical record of growth and capital accumulation.

There has been something of a proliferation of handbooks and edited volumes of economic history in the last few years, but this collection of essays stands out for the quality and depth of its chapters as well as the breadth of its coverage. The individual chapters will be a useful reference for many readers seeking to catch up on scholarship on a particular topic.

 
Joshua L. Rosenbloom is Chairperson of the Department of Economics at Iowa State University and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is the author (with Brandon S. Dupont) of “The Economic Origins of the Postwar Southern Elite,” Explorations in Economic History (April 2018).

Copyright (c) 2018 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 (December 2018). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Business History
Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Economic Planning and Policy
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Education and Human Resource Development
Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Historical Demography, including Migration
History of Technology, including Technological Change
Servitude and Slavery
Military and War
Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Labor and Employment History
Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Macroeconomics and Fluctuations
Transport and Distribution, Energy, and Other Services
Urban and Regional History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II

Author(s):Wilson, Mark R.
Reviewer(s):Duncan, Thomas K.

Published by EH.Net (May 2017)

Mark R. Wilson, Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. v + 379 pp. $45 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-8122-4833-3.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Thomas K. Duncan, Department of Economics, Radford University.

In Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II, Mark R. Wilson (UNC-Charlotte) provides a very detailed account of the U.S. industrial war machine. The information contained within makes this book well worth the read for anyone who is seriously studying the war economy of World War II. Wilson’s stated purpose is to redefine the narrative of the war, positing that “business and government were reluctant, contentious, and even bitter partners” (p. 286) rather than the stated alternative narrative where the war is won by unbridled capitalism. Wilson also attempts to dismiss the argument that the war led only to the confluence of interests that became the military-industrial complex. The evidence provided does not definitively resolve the issue. Interestingly, the case falls short not due to lack of research but perhaps due to an overabundance. The research that went into Destructive Creation is detailed enough to allow for a far more nuanced view of the war and its economic effects.

Chapter 1 establishes the anti-war view that U.S. enterprises held after World War I. During the Great War, the U.S. had seen an increase in regulation, government seizures, the rise of state capitalism, and the excess profits tax. After the war, industrial leaders were labeled “merchants of death,” investigated by the Nye Committee, and saw the New Deal expand the role of government through the TVA and other public ventures. The interwar period was a time of industrial mistrust of war policies and a hesitancy to engage in the pre-war buildup.

While most chapters of the book have a wealth of information, Chapter 2 is the strongest in this regard. The U.S. began its armaments buildup of 1938-1940 despite industry misgivings. Though Wilson states that the war economy should not be interpreted as creating a “military-corporate alliance,” he notes the rise of government organizations headed by business leaders, increasing industrial dependence on government investment, and the growing importance of the government-owned, contractor-operated plants, where government financed construction and leased the plants to private contractors. The buildup was also the period where cost-plus fixed-fee contracts and subsidized construction allowed for massive industrial expansion. Wilson attempts to downplay the role of large corporations by highlighting the increases in subcontractors, but this argument is weakened with the discussion of the high costs of conversion for mid-sized firms and the prominence of prime contracting where large firms dominated.

Shifting focus, the “War Stories” chapter describes how U.S. industrial leaders attempted to win the war at home – as well as abroad. To highlight the narrative of free enterprise, Wilson offers detailed accounts of the public relations efforts of the National Association of Manufacturers with its 1942 “Production for Victory” tour and corporate radio ads. Yet he far too quickly dismisses the influence of the counter narratives of labor’s “soldiers of production” and the reemergence of the “merchants of death” label. While the Republicans’ Congressional gains in 1942 may suggest the dominance of the pro-business narrative, Wilson’s next two chapters provide evidence of concern over excess profits and of seizures to enforce union contracts. Such evidence suggests that the alternative narratives found traction in some corners of government and public opinion.

In fact, the next two chapters clearly illustrate the nuance needed in reading this book and the tension in the simple narratives. In Chapter 4, Wilson argues that business did not enjoy working with government, particularly when faced with regulations, contract cancellations, changing specifications, and the excessive paperwork associated with bureaucratic red tape. Variability in contracts, such as the Army’s tank and small arms reductions, caused painful reallocations for industrial manufacturers. The new excess profits tax, established to prevent war profiteering, created additional uncertainty in the profitability of the war effort. Yet even as contracts were cancelled and profits reduced in some areas, other projects, such as Boeing’s B-29, saw expansions in orders to offset losses. Larger industrial leaders like General Motors and Du Pont were also able to access significant tax loopholes to lower their burden. The fifth chapter exhibits many of these same tensions, with government willing to seize companies to break union wage strikes in a pro-business manner, but also to seize companies for underperformance and for failing to adhere to the union’s maintenance of membership rules in decidedly not pro-business actions.

Chapter 6 is perhaps the weakest of the chapters. Though it provides the history of the reconversion era after the war’s end, there is far less detail given than in previous chapters. This lack of depth is likely due to the span of history Wilson is attempting to cover, as the reconversion period discussed covers the years up to and partially during the Vietnam era. The chapter argues that the shift to privatization, ramped up by Robert McNamara, has led to a less regulated and more expansive military industry. Wilson again offers mixed evidence for business favoritism across the economy, yet very clearly lays out the foundations of the military-industrial complex in the specific areas of aviation and missile programs.

In summation, there are a few times the author presses an argument that does not appear to be supported by the evidence surrounding it, yet overall Wilson offers a well-researched and largely well-written historical account that, despite the title, spans from the end of World War I to the beginning of the Vietnam War. Wilson ultimately concludes that the lessons of World War II may provide guidance for resolving current issues such as climate change and healthcare. However, this conclusion misses the singular focus that all-out war mobilization brings, namely producing military ordnance in great abundance. This singular focus may not be true of the disparate and conflicting wants and needs of a peacetime economy.

Thomas K. Duncan is an Assistant Professor of Economics in the College of Business and Economics at Radford University. He has published research on the U.S. war economy in journals such as The Independent Review, the Review of Austrian Economics, and Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy, and has been a contributor to the Oxford Handbook of Austrian Economics in the area of U.S. foreign intervention. Email: tduncan13@radford.edu

Copyright (c) 2017 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 (May 2017). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Military and War
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The History of American Labor Market Institutions and Outcomes

Joshua Rosenbloom, University of Kansas

One of the most important implications of modern microeconomic theory is that perfectly competitive markets produce an efficient allocation of resources. Historically, however, most markets have not approached the level of organization of this theoretical ideal. Instead of the costless and instantaneous communication envisioned in theory, market participants must rely on a set of incomplete and often costly channels of communication to learn about conditions of supply and demand; and they may face significant transaction costs to act on the information that they have acquired through these channels.

The economic history of labor market institutions is concerned with identifying the mechanisms that have facilitated the allocation of labor effort in the economy at different times, tracing the historical processes by which they have responded to shifting circumstances, and understanding how these mechanisms affected the allocation of labor as well as the distribution of labor’s products in different epochs.

Labor market institutions include both formal organizations (such as union hiring halls, government labor exchanges, and third party intermediaries such as employment agents), and informal mechanisms of communication such as word-of-mouth about employment opportunities passed between family and friends. The impact of these institutions is broad ranging. It includes the geographic allocation of labor (migration and urbanization), decisions about education and training of workers (investment in human capital), inequality (relative wages), the allocation of time between paid work and other activities such as household production, education, and leisure, and fertility (the allocation of time between production and reproduction).

Because each worker possesses a unique bundle of skills and attributes and each job is different, labor market transactions require the communication of a relatively large amount of information. In other words, the transactions costs involved in the exchange of labor are relatively high. The result is that the barriers separating different labor markets have sometimes been quite high, and these markets are relatively poorly integrated with one another.

The frictions inherent in the labor market mean that even during macroeconomic expansions there may be both a significant number of unemployed workers and a large number of unfilled vacancies. When viewed from some distance and looked at in the long-run, however, what is most striking is how effective labor market institutions have been in adapting to the shifting patterns of supply and demand in the economy. Over the past two centuries American labor markets have accomplished a massive redistribution of labor out of agriculture into manufacturing, and then from manufacturing into services. At the same time they have accomplished a huge geographic reallocation of labor between the United States and other parts of the world as well as within the United States itself, both across states and regions and from rural locations to urban areas.

This essay is organized topically, beginning with a discussion of the evolution of institutions involved in the allocation of labor across space and then taking up the development of institutions that fostered the allocation of labor across industries and sectors. The third section considers issues related to labor market performance.

The Geographic Distribution of Labor

One of the dominant themes of American history is the process of European settlement (and the concomitant displacement of the native population). This movement of population is in essence a labor market phenomenon. From the beginning of European settlement in what became the United States, labor markets were characterized by the scarcity of labor in relation to abundant land and natural resources. Labor scarcity raised labor productivity and enabled ordinary Americans to enjoy a higher standard of living than comparable Europeans. Counterbalancing these inducements to migration, however, were the high costs of travel across the Atlantic and the significant risks posed by settlement in frontier regions. Over time, technological changes lowered the costs of communication and transportation. But exploiting these advantages required the parallel development of new labor market institutions.

Trans-Atlantic Migration in the Colonial Period

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a variety of labor market institutions developed to facilitate the movement of labor in response to the opportunities created by American factor proportions. While some immigrants migrated on their own, the majority of immigrants were either indentured servants or African slaves.

Because of the cost of passage—which exceeded half a year’s income for a typical British immigrant and a full year’s income for a typical German immigrant—only a small portion of European migrants could afford to pay for their passage to the Americas (Grubb 1985a). They did so by signing contracts, or “indentures,” committing themselves to work for a fixed number of years in the future—their labor being their only viable asset—with British merchants, who then sold these contracts to colonists after their ship reached America. Indentured servitude was introduced by the Virginia Company in 1619 and appears to have arisen from a combination of the terms of two other types of labor contract widely used in England at the time: service in husbandry and apprenticeship (Galenson 1981). In other cases, migrants borrowed money for their passage and committed to repay merchants by pledging to sell themselves as servants in America, a practice known as “redemptioner servitude (Grubb 1986). Redemptioners bore increased risk because they could not predict in advance what terms they might be able to negotiate for their labor, but presumably they did so because of other benefits, such as the opportunity to choose their own master, and to select where they would be employed.

Although data on immigration for the colonial period are scattered and incomplete a number of scholars have estimated that between half and three quarters of European immigrants arriving in the colonies came as indentured or redemptioner servants. Using data for the end of the colonial period Grubb (1985b) found that close to three-quarters of English immigrants to Pennsylvania and nearly 60 percent of German immigrants arrived as servants.

A number of scholars have examined the terms of indenture and redemptioner contracts in some detail (see, e.g., Galenson 1981; Grubb 1985a). They find that consistent with the existence of a well-functioning market, the terms of service varied in response to differences in individual productivity, employment conditions, and the balance of supply and demand in different locations.

The other major source of labor for the colonies was the forced migration of African slaves. Slavery had been introduced in the West Indies at an early date, but it was not until the late seventeenth century that significant numbers of slaves began to be imported into the mainland colonies. From 1700 to 1780 the proportion of blacks in the Chesapeake region grew from 13 percent to around 40 percent. In South Carolina and Georgia, the black share of the population climbed from 18 percent to 41 percent in the same period (McCusker and Menard, 1985, p. 222). Galenson (1984) explains the transition from indentured European to enslaved African labor as the result of shifts in supply and demand conditions in England and the trans-Atlantic slave market. Conditions in Europe improved after 1650, reducing the supply of indentured servants, while at the same time increased competition in the slave trade was lowering the price of slaves (Dunn 1984). In some sense the colonies’ early experience with indentured servants paved the way for the transition to slavery. Like slaves, indentured servants were unfree, and ownership of their labor could be freely transferred from one owner to another. Unlike slaves, however, they could look forward to eventually becoming free (Morgan 1971).

Over time a marked regional division in labor market institutions emerged in colonial America. The use of slaves was concentrated in the Chesapeake and Lower South, where the presence of staple export crops (rice, indigo and tobacco) provided economic rewards for expanding the scale of cultivation beyond the size achievable with family labor. European immigrants (primarily indentured servants) tended to concentrate in the Chesapeake and Middle Colonies, where servants could expect to find the greatest opportunities to enter agriculture once they had completed their term of service. While New England was able to support self-sufficient farmers, its climate and soil were not conducive to the expansion of commercial agriculture, with the result that it attracted relatively few slaves, indentured servants, or free immigrants. These patterns are illustrated in Table 1, which summarizes the composition and destinations of English emigrants in the years 1773 to 1776.

Table 1

English Emigration to the American Colonies, by Destination and Type, 1773-76

Total Emigration
Destination Number Percentage Percent listed as servants
New England 54 1.20 1.85
Middle Colonies 1,162 25.78 61.27
New York 303 6.72 11.55
Pennsylvania 859 19.06 78.81
Chesapeake 2,984 66.21 96.28
Maryland 2,217 49.19 98.33
Virginia 767 17.02 90.35
Lower South 307 6.81 19.54
Carolinas 106 2.35 23.58
Georgia 196 4.35 17.86
Florida 5 0.11 0.00
Total 4,507 80.90

Source: Grubb (1985b, p. 334).

International Migration in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

American independence marks a turning point in the development of labor market institutions. In 1808 Congress prohibited the importation of slaves. Meanwhile, the use of indentured servitude to finance the migration of European immigrants fell into disuse. As a result, most subsequent migration was at least nominally free migration.

The high cost of migration and the economic uncertainties of the new nation help to explain the relatively low level of immigration in the early years of the nineteenth century. But as the costs of transportation fell, the volume of immigration rose dramatically over the course of the century. Transportation costs were of course only one of the obstacles to international population movements. At least as important were problems of communication. Potential migrants might know in a general way that the United States offered greater economic opportunities than were available at home, but acting on this information required the development of labor market institutions that could effectively link job-seekers with employers.

For the most part, the labor market institutions that emerged in the nineteenth century to direct international migration were “informal” and thus difficult to document. As Rosenbloom (2002, ch. 2) describes, however, word-of-mouth played an important role in labor markets at this time. Many immigrants were following in the footsteps of friends or relatives already in the United States. Often these initial pioneers provided material assistance—helping to purchase ship and train tickets, providing housing—as well as information. The consequences of this so-called “chain migration” are readily reflected in a variety of kinds of evidence. Numerous studies of specific migration streams have documented the role of a small group of initial migrants in facilitating subsequent migration (for example, Barton 1975; Kamphoefner 1987; Gjerde 1985). At a more aggregate level, settlement patterns confirm the tendency of immigrants from different countries to concentrate in different cities (Ward 1971, p. 77; Galloway, Vedder and Shukla 1974).

Informal word-of-mouth communication was an effective labor market institution because it served both employers and job-seekers. For job-seekers the recommendations of friends and relatives were more reliable than those of third parties and often came with additional assistance. For employers the recommendations of current employees served as a kind of screening mechanism, since their employees were unlikely to encourage the immigration of unreliable workers.

While chain migration can explain a quantitatively large part of the redistribution of labor in the nineteenth century it is still necessary to explain how these chains came into existence in the first place. Chain migration always coexisted with another set of more formal labor market institutions that grew up largely to serve employers who could not rely on their existing labor force to recruit new hires (such as railroad construction companies). Labor agents, often themselves immigrants, acted as intermediaries between these employers and job-seekers, providing labor market information and frequently acting as translators for immigrants who could not speak English. Steamship companies operating between Europe and the United States also employed agents to help recruit potential migrants (Rosenbloom 2002, ch. 3).

By the 1840s networks of labor agents along with boarding houses serving immigrants and other similar support networks were well established in New York, Boston, and other major immigrant destinations. The services of these agents were well documented in published guides and most Europeans considering immigration must have known that they could turn to these commercial intermediaries if they lacked friends and family to guide them. After some time working in America these immigrants, if they were successful, would find steadier employment and begin to direct subsequent migration, thus establishing a new link in the stream of chain migration.

The economic impacts of immigration are theoretically ambiguous. Increased labor supply, by itself, would tend to lower wages—benefiting employers and hurting workers. But because immigrants are also consumers, the resulting increase in demand for goods and services will increase the demand for labor, partially offsetting the depressing effect of immigration on wages. As long as the labor to capital ratio rises, however, immigration will necessarily lower wages. But if, as was true in the late nineteenth century, foreign lending follows foreign labor, then there may be no negative impact on wages (Carter and Sutch 1999). Whatever the theoretical considerations, however, immigration became an increasingly controversial political issue during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While employers and some immigrant groups supported continued immigration, there was a growing nativist sentiment among other segments of the population. Anti-immigrant sentiments appear to have arisen out of a mix of perceived economic effects and concern about the implications of the ethnic, religious and cultural differences between immigrants and the native born.

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Subsequent legislative efforts to impose further restrictions on immigration passed Congress but foundered on presidential vetoes. The balance of political forces shifted, however, in the wake of World War I. In 1917 a literacy requirement was imposed for the first time, and in 1921 an Emergency Quota Act was passed (Goldin 1994).

With the passage of the Emergency Quota Act in 1921 and subsequent legislation culminating in the National Origins Act, the volume of immigration dropped sharply. Since this time international migration into the United States has been controlled to varying degrees by legal restrictions. Variations in the rules have produced variations in the volume of legal immigration. Meanwhile the persistence of large wage gaps between the United States and Mexico and other developing countries has encouraged a substantial volume of illegal immigration. It remains the case, however, that most of this migration—both legal and illegal—continues to be directed by chains of friends and relatives.

Recent trends in outsourcing and off-shoring have begun to create a new channel by which lower-wage workers outside the United States can respond to the country’s high wages without physically relocating. Workers in India, China, and elsewhere possessing technical skills can now provide services such as data entry or technical support by phone and over the internet. While the novelty of this phenomenon has attracted considerable attention, the actual volume of jobs moved off-shore remains limited, and there are important obstacles to overcome before more jobs can be carried out remotely (Edwards 2004).

Internal Migration in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

At the same time that American economic development created international imbalances between labor supply and demand it also created internal disequilibrium. Fertile land and abundant natural resources drew population toward less densely settled regions in the West. Over the course of the century, advances in transportation technologies lowered the cost of shipping goods from interior regions, vastly expanding the area available for settlement. Meanwhile transportation advances and technological innovations encouraged the growth of manufacturing and fueled increased urbanization. The movement of population and economic activity from the Eastern Seaboard into the interior of the continent and from rural to urban areas in response to these incentives is an important element of U.S. economic history in the nineteenth century.

In the pre-Civil War era, the labor market response to frontier expansion differed substantially between North and South, with profound effects on patterns of settlement and regional development. Much of the cost of migration is a result of the need to gather information about opportunities in potential destinations. In the South, plantation owners could spread these costs over a relatively large number of potential migrants—i.e., their slaves. Plantations were also relatively self-sufficient, requiring little urban or commercial infrastructure to make them economically viable. Moreover, the existence of well-established markets for slaves allowed western planters to expand their labor force by purchasing additional labor from eastern plantations.

In the North, on the other hand, migration took place through the relocation of small, family farms. Fixed costs of gathering information and the risks of migration loomed larger in these farmers’ calculations than they did for slaveholders, and they were more dependent on the presence of urban merchants to supply them with inputs and market their products. Consequently the task of mobilizing labor fell to promoters who bought up large tracts of land at low prices and then subdivided them into individual lots. To increase the value of these lands promoters offered loans, actively encourage the development of urban services such as blacksmith shops, grain merchants, wagon builders and general stores, and recruited settlers. With the spread of railroads, railroad construction companies also played a role in encouraging settlement along their routes to speed the development of traffic.

The differences in processes of westward migration in the North and South were reflected in the divergence of rates of urbanization, transportation infrastructure investment, manufacturing employment, and population density, all of which were higher in the North than in the South in 1860 (Wright 1986, pp. 19-29).

The Distribution of Labor among Economic Activities

Over the course of U.S. economic development technological changes and shifting consumption patterns have caused the demand for labor to increase in manufacturing and services and decline in agriculture and other extractive activities. These broad changes are illustrated in Table 2. As technological changes have increased the advantages of specialization and the division of labor, more and more economic activity has moved outside the scope of the household, and the boundaries of the labor market have been enlarged. As a result more and more women have moved into the paid labor force. On the other hand, with the increasing importance of formal education, there has been a decline in the number of children in the labor force (Whaples 2005).

Table 2

Sectoral Distribution of the Labor Force, 1800-1999

Share in
Non-Agriculture
Year Total Labor Force (1000s) Agriculture Total Manufacturing Services
1800 1,658 76.2 23.8
1850 8,199 53.6 46.4
1900 29,031 37.5 59.4 35.8 23.6
1950 57,860 11.9 88.1 41.0 47.1
1999 133,489 2.3 97.7 24.7 73.0

Notes and Sources: 1800 and 1850 from Weiss (1986), pp. 646-49; remaining years from Hughes and Cain (2003), 547-48. For 1900-1999 Forestry and Fishing are included in the Agricultural labor force.

As these changes have taken place they have placed strains on existing labor market institutions and encouraged the development of new mechanisms to facilitate the distribution of labor. Over the course of the last century and a half the tendency has been a movement away from something approximating a “spot” market characterized by short-term employment relationships in which wages are equated to the marginal product of labor, and toward a much more complex and rule-bound set of long-term transactions (Goldin 2000, p. 586) While certain segments of the labor market still involve relatively anonymous and short-lived transactions, workers and employers are much more likely today to enter into long-term employment relationships that are expected to last for many years.

The evolution of labor market institutions in response to these shifting demands has been anything but smooth. During the late nineteenth century the expansion of organized labor was accompanied by often violent labor-management conflict (Friedman 2002). Not until the New Deal did unions gain widespread acceptance and a legal right to bargain. Yet even today, union organizing efforts are often met with considerable hostility.

Conflicts over union organizing efforts inevitably involved state and federal governments because the legal environment directly affected the bargaining power of both sides, and shifting legal opinions and legislative changes played an important part in determining the outcome of these contests. State and federal governments were also drawn into labor markets as various groups sought to limit hours of work, set minimum wages, provide support for disabled workers, and respond to other perceived shortcomings of existing arrangements. It would be wrong, however, to see the growth of government regulation as simply a movement from freer to more regulated markets. The ability to exchange goods and services rests ultimately on the legal system, and to this extent there has never been an entirely unregulated market. In addition, labor market transactions are never as simple as the anonymous exchange of other goods or services. Because the identities of individual buyers and sellers matter and the long-term nature of many employment relationships, adjustments can occur along other margins besides wages, and many of these dimensions involve externalities that affect all workers at a particular establishment, or possibly workers in an entire industry or sector.

Government regulations have responded in many cases to needs voiced by participants on both sides of the labor market for assistance to achieve desired ends. That has not, of course, prevented both workers and employers from seeking to use government to alter the way in which the gains from trade are distributed within the market.

The Agricultural Labor Market

At the beginning of the nineteenth century most labor was employed in agriculture, and, with the exception of large slave plantations, most agricultural labor was performed on small, family-run farms. There were markets for temporary and seasonal agricultural laborers to supplement family labor supply, but in most parts of the country outside the South, families remained the dominant institution directing the allocation of farm labor. Reliable estimates of the number of farm workers are not readily available before 1860, when the federal Census first enumerated “farm laborers.” At this time census enumerators found about 800 thousand such workers, implying an average of less than one-half farm worker per farm. Interpretation of this figure is complicated, however, and it may either overstate the amount of hired help—since farm laborers included unpaid family workers—or understate it—since it excluded those who reported their occupation simply as “laborer” and may have spent some of their time working in agriculture (Wright 1988, p. 193). A possibly more reliable indicator is provided by the percentage of gross value of farm output spent on wage labor. This figure fell from 11.4 percent in 1870 to around 8 percent by 1900, indicating that hired labor was on average becoming even less important (Wright 1988, pp. 194-95).

In the South, after the Civil War, arrangements were more complicated. Former plantation owners continued to own large tracts of land that required labor if they were to be made productive. Meanwhile former slaves needed access to land and capital if they were to support themselves. While some land owners turned to wage labor to work their land, most relied heavily on institutions like sharecropping. On the supply side, croppers viewed this form of employment as a rung on the “agricultural ladder” that would lead eventually to tenancy and possibly ownership. Because climbing the agricultural ladder meant establishing one’s credit-worthiness with local lenders, southern farm laborers tended to sort themselves into two categories: locally established (mostly older, married men) croppers and renters on the one hand, and mobile wage laborers (mostly younger and unmarried) on the other. While the labor market for each of these types of workers appears to have been relatively competitive, the barriers between the two markets remained relatively high (Wright 1987, p. 111).

While the predominant pattern in agriculture then was one of small, family-operated units, there was an important countervailing trend toward specialization that both depended on, and encouraged the emergence of a more specialized market for farm labor. Because specialization in a single crop increased the seasonality of labor demand, farmers could not afford to employ labor year-round, but had to depend on migrant workers. The use of seasonal gangs of migrant wage laborers developed earliest in California in the 1870s and 1880s, where employers relied heavily on Chinese immigrants. Following restrictions on Chinese entry, they were replaced first by Japanese, and later by Mexican workers (Wright 1988, pp. 201-204).

The Emergence of Internal Labor Markets

Outside of agriculture, at the beginning of the nineteenth century most manufacturing took place in small establishments. Hired labor might consist of a small number of apprentices, or, as in the early New England textile mills, a few child laborers hired from nearby farms (Ware 1931). As a result labor market institutions remained small-scale and informal, and institutions for training and skill acquisition remained correspondingly limited. Workers learned on the job as apprentices or helpers; advancement came through establishing themselves as independent producers rather than through internal promotion.

With the growth of manufacturing, and the spread of factory methods of production, especially in the years after the end of the Civil War, an increasing number of people could expect to spend their working-lives as employees. One reflection of this change was the emergence in the 1870s of the problem of unemployment. During the depression of 1873 for the first time cities throughout the country had to contend with large masses of industrial workers thrown out of work and unable to support themselves through, in the language of the time, “no fault of their own” (Keyssar 1986, ch. 2).

The growth of large factories and the creation of new kinds of labor skills specific to a particular employer created returns to sustaining long-term employment relationships. As workers acquired job- and employer-specific skills their productivity increased giving rise to gains that were available only so long as the employment relationship persisted. Employers did little, however, to encourage long-term employment relationships. Instead authority over hiring, promotion and retention was commonly delegated to foremen or inside contractors (Nelson 1975, pp. 34-54). In the latter case, skilled craftsmen operated in effect as their own bosses contracting with the firm to supply components or finished products for an agreed price, and taking responsibility for hiring and managing their own assistants.

These arrangements were well suited to promoting external mobility. Foremen were often drawn from the immigrant community and could easily tap into word-of-mouth channels of recruitment. But these benefits came increasingly into conflict with rising costs of hiring and training workers.

The informality of personnel policies prior to World War I seems likely to have discouraged lasting employment relationships, and it is true that rates of labor turnover at the beginning of the twentieth century were considerably higher than they were to be later (Owen, 2004). Scattered evidence on the duration of employment relationships gathered by various state labor bureaus at the end of the century suggests, however, at least some workers did establish lasting employment relationship (Carter 1988; Carter and Savocca 1990; Jacoby and Sharma 1992; James 1994).

The growing awareness of the costs of labor-turnover and informal, casual labor relations led reformers to advocate the establishment of more centralized and formal processes of hiring, firing and promotion, along with the establishment of internal job-ladders, and deferred payment plans to help bind workers and employers. The implementation of these reforms did not make significant headway, however, until the 1920s (Slichter 1929). Why employers began to establish internal labor markets in the 1920s remains in dispute. While some scholars emphasize pressure from workers (Jacoby 1984; 1985) others have stressed that it was largely a response to the rising costs of labor turnover (Edwards 1979).

The Government and the Labor Market

The growth of large factories contributed to rising labor tensions in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries. Issues like hours of work, safety, and working conditions all have a significant public goods aspect. While market forces of entry and exit will force employers to adopt policies that are sufficient to attract the marginal worker (the one just indifferent between staying and leaving), less mobile workers may find that their interests are not adequately represented (Freeman and Medoff 1984). One solution is to establish mechanisms for collective bargaining, and the years after the American Civil War were characterized by significant progress in the growth of organized labor (Friedman 2002). Unionization efforts, however, met strong opposition from employers, and suffered from the obstacles created by the American legal system’s bias toward protecting property and the freedom of contract. Under prevailing legal interpretation, strikes were often found by the courts to be conspiracies in restraint of trade with the result that the apparatus of government was often arrayed against labor.

Although efforts to win significant improvements in working conditions were rarely successful, there were still areas where there was room for mutually beneficial change. One such area involved the provision of disability insurance for workers injured on the job. Traditionally, injured workers had turned to the courts to adjudicate liability for industrial accidents. Legal proceedings were costly and their outcome unpredictable. By the early 1910s it became clear to all sides that a system of disability insurance was preferable to reliance on the courts. Resolution of this problem, however, required the intervention of state legislatures to establish mandatory state workers compensation insurance schemes and remove the issue from the courts. Once introduced workers compensation schemes spread quickly: nine states passed legislation in 1911; 13 more had joined the bandwagon by 1913, and by 1920 44 states had such legislation (Fishback 2001).

Along with workers compensation state legislatures in the late nineteenth century also considered legislation restricting hours of work. Prevailing legal interpretations limited the effectiveness of such efforts for adult males. But rules restricting hours for women and children were found to be acceptable. The federal government passed legislation restricting the employment of children under 14 in 1916, but this law was found unconstitutional in 1916 (Goldin 2000, p. 612-13).

The economic crisis of the 1930s triggered a new wave of government interventions in the labor market. During the 1930s the federal government granted unions the right to organize legally, established a system of unemployment, disability and old age insurance, and established minimum wage and overtime pay provisions.

In 1933 the National Industrial Recovery Act included provisions legalizing unions’ right to bargain collectively. Although the NIRA was eventually ruled to be unconstitutional, the key labor provisions of the Act were reinstated in the Wagner Act of 1935. While some of the provisions of the Wagner Act were modified in 1947 by the Taft-Hartley Act, its passage marks the beginning of the golden age of organized labor. Union membership jumped very quickly after 1935 from around 12 percent of the non-agricultural labor force to nearly 30 percent, and by the late 1940s had attained a peak of 35 percent, where it stabilized. Since the 1960s, however, union membership has declined steadily, to the point where it is now back at pre-Wagner Act levels.

The Social Security Act of 1935 introduced a federal unemployment insurance scheme that was operated in partnership with state governments and financed through a tax on employers. It also created government old age and disability insurance. In 1938, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act provided for minimum wages and for overtime pay. At first the coverage of these provisions was limited, but it has been steadily increased in subsequent years to cover most industries today.

In the post-war era, the federal government has expanded its role in managing labor markets both directly—through the establishment of occupational safety regulations, and anti-discrimination laws, for example—and indirectly—through its efforts to manage the macroeconomy to insure maximum employment.

A further expansion of federal involvement in labor markets began in 1964 with passage of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited employment discrimination against both minorities and women. In 1967 the Age Discrimination and Employment Act was passed prohibiting discrimination against people aged 40 to 70 in regard to hiring, firing, working conditions and pay. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1994 allows for unpaid leave to care for infants, children and other sick relatives (Goldin 2000, p. 614).

Whether state and federal legislation has significantly affected labor market outcomes remains unclear. Most economists would argue that the majority of labor’s gains in the past century would have occurred even in the absence of government intervention. Rather than shaping market outcomes, many legislative initiatives emerged as a result of underlying changes that were making advances possible. According to Claudia Goldin (2000, p. 553) “government intervention often reinforced existing trends, as in the decline of child labor, the narrowing of the wage structure, and the decrease in hours of work.” In other cases, such as Workers Compensation and pensions, legislation helped to establish the basis for markets.

The Changing Boundaries of the Labor Market

The rise of factories and urban employment had implications that went far beyond the labor market itself. On farms women and children had found ready employment (Craig 1993, ch. 4). But when the male household head worked for wages, employment opportunities for other family members were more limited. Late nineteenth-century convention largely dictated that married women did not work outside the home unless their husband was dead or incapacitated (Goldin 1990, p. 119-20). Children, on the other hand, were often viewed as supplementary earners in blue-collar households at this time.

Since 1900 changes in relative earnings power related to shifts in technology have encouraged women to enter the paid labor market while purchasing more of the goods and services that were previously produced within the home. At the same time, the rising value of formal education has lead to the withdrawal of child labor from the market and increased investment in formal education (Whaples 2005). During the first half of the twentieth century high school education became nearly universal. And since World War II, there has been a rapid increase in the number of college educated workers in the U.S. economy (Goldin 2000, p. 609-12).

Assessing the Efficiency of Labor Market Institutions

The function of labor markets is to match workers and jobs. As this essay has described the mechanisms by which labor markets have accomplished this task have changed considerably as the American economy has developed. A central issue for economic historians is to assess how changing labor market institutions have affected the efficiency of labor markets. This leads to three sets of questions. The first concerns the long-run efficiency of market processes in allocating labor across space and economic activities. The second involves the response of labor markets to short-run macroeconomic fluctuations. The third deals with wage determination and the distribution of income.

Long-Run Efficiency and Wage Gaps

Efforts to evaluate the efficiency of market allocation begin with what is commonly know as the “law of one price,” which states that within an efficient market the wage of similar workers doing similar work under similar circumstances should be equalized. The ideal of complete equalization is, of course, unlikely to be achieved given the high information and transactions costs that characterize labor markets. Thus, conclusions are usually couched in relative terms, comparing the efficiency of one market at one point in time with those of some other markets at other points in time. A further complication in measuring wage equalization is the need to compare homogeneous workers and to control for other differences (such as cost of living and non-pecuniary amenities).

Falling transportation and communications costs have encouraged a trend toward diminishing wage gaps over time, but this trend has not always been consistent over time, nor has it applied to all markets in equal measure. That said, what stands out is in fact the relative strength of forces of market arbitrage that have operated in many contexts to promote wage convergence.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the costs of trans-Atlantic migration were still quite high and international wage gaps large. By the 1840s, however, vast improvements in shipping cut the costs of migration, and gave rise to an era of dramatic international wage equalization (O’Rourke and Williamson 1999, ch. 2; Williamson 1995). Figure 1 shows the movement of real wages relative to the United States in a selection of European countries. After the beginning of mass immigration wage differentials began to fall substantially in one country after another. International wage convergence continued up until the 1880s, when it appears that the accelerating growth of the American economy outstripped European labor supply responses and reversed wage convergence briefly. World War I and subsequent immigration restrictions caused a sharper break, and contributed to widening international wage differences during the middle portion of the twentieth century. From World War II until about 1980, European wage levels once again began to converge toward the U.S., but this convergence reflected largely internally-generated improvements in European living standards rather then labor market pressures.

Figure 1

Relative Real Wages of Selected European Countries, 1830-1980 (US = 100)

Source: Williamson (1995), Tables A2.1-A2.3.

Wage convergence also took place within some parts of the United States during the nineteenth century. Figure 2 traces wages in the North Central and Southern regions of the U.S relative to those in the Northeast across the period from 1820 to the early twentieth century. Within the United States, wages in the North Central region of the country were 30 to 40 percent higher than in the East in the 1820s (Margo 2000a, ch. 5). Thereafter, wage gaps declined substantially, falling to the 10-20 percent range before the Civil War. Despite some temporary divergence during the war, wage gaps had fallen to 5 to 10 percent by the 1880s and 1890s. Much of this decline was made possible by faster and less expensive means of transportation, but it was also dependent on the development of labor market institutions linking the two regions, for while transportation improvements helped to link East and West, there was no corresponding North-South integration. While southern wages hovered near levels in the Northeast prior to the Civil War, they fell substantially below northern levels after the Civil War, as Figure 2 illustrates.

Figure 2

Relative Regional Real Wage Rates in the United States, 1825-1984

(Northeast = 100 in each year)

Notes and sources: Rosenbloom (2002, p. 133); Montgomery (1992). It is not possible to assemble entirely consistent data on regional wage variations over such an extended period. The nature of the wage data, the precise geographic coverage of the data, and the estimates of regional cost-of-living indices are all different. The earliest wage data—Margo (2000); Sundstrom and Rosenbloom (1993) and Coelho and Shepherd (1976) are all based on occupational wage rates from payroll records for specific occupations; Rosenbloom (1996) uses average earnings across all manufacturing workers; while Montgomery (1992) uses individual level wage data drawn from the Current Population Survey, and calculates geographic variations using a regression technique to control for individual differences in human capital and industry of employment. I used the relative real wages that Montgomery (1992) reported for workers in manufacturing, and used an unweighted average of wages across the cities in each region to arrive at relative regional real wages. Interested readers should consult the various underlying sources for further details.

Despite the large North-South wage gap Table 3 shows there was relatively little migration out of the South until large-scale foreign immigration came to an end. Migration from the South during World War I and the 1920s created a basis for future chain migration, but the Great Depression of the 1930s interrupted this process of adjustment. Not until the 1940s did the North-South wage gap begin to decline substantially (Wright 1986, pp. 71-80). By the 1970s the southern wage disadvantage had largely disappeared, and because of the decline fortunes of older manufacturing districts and the rise of Sunbelt cities, wages in the South now exceed those in the Northeast (Coelho and Ghali 1971; Bellante 1979; Sahling and Smith 1983; Montgomery 1992). Despite these shocks, however, the overall variation in wages appears comparable to levels attained by the end of the nineteenth century. Montgomery (1992), for example finds that from 1974 to 1984 the standard deviation of wages across SMSAs was only about 10 percent of the average wage.

Table 3

Net Migration by Region, and Race, 1870-1950

South Northeast North Central West
Period White Black White Black White Black White Black
Number (in 1,000s)
1870-80 91 -68 -374 26 26 42 257 0
1880-90 -271 -88 -240 61 -43 28 554 0
1890-00 -30 -185 101 136 -445 49 374 0
1900-10 -69 -194 -196 109 -1,110 63 1,375 22
1910-20 -663 -555 -74 242 -145 281 880 32
1920-30 -704 -903 -177 435 -464 426 1,345 42
1930-40 -558 -480 55 273 -747 152 1,250 55
1940-50 -866 -1581 -659 599 -1,296 626 2,822 356
Rate (migrants/1,000 Population)
1870-80 11 -14 -33 55 2 124 274 0
1880-90 -26 -15 -18 107 -3 65 325 0
1890-00 -2 -26 6 200 -23 104 141 0
1900-10 -4 -24 -11 137 -48 122 329 542
1910-20 -33 -66 -3 254 -5 421 143 491
1920-30 -30 -103 -7 328 -15 415 160 421
1930-40 -20 -52 2 157 -22 113 116 378
1940-50 -28 -167 -20 259 -35 344 195 964

Note: Net migration is calculated as the difference between the actual increase in population over each decade and the predicted increase based on age and sex specific mortality rates and the demographic structure of the region’s population at the beginning of the decade. If the actual increase exceeds the predicted increase this implies a net migration into the region; if the actual increase is less than predicted this implies net migration out of the region. The states included in the Southern region are Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Source: Eldridge and Thomas (1964, pp. 90, 99).

In addition to geographic wage gaps economists have considered gaps between farm and city, between black and white workers, between men and women, and between different industries. The literature on these topics is quite extensive and this essay can only touch on a few of the more general themes raised here as they relate to U.S. economic history.

Studies of farm-city wage gaps are a variant of the broader literature on geographic wage variation, related to the general movement of labor from farms to urban manufacturing and services. Here comparisons are complicated by the need to adjust for the non-wage perquisites that farm laborers typically received, which could be almost as large as cash wages. The issue of whether such gaps existed in the nineteenth century has important implications for whether the pace of industrialization was impeded by the lack of adequate labor supply responses. By the second half of the nineteenth century at least, it appears that farm-manufacturing wage gaps were small and markets were relatively integrated (Wright 1988, pp. 204-5). Margo (2000, ch. 4) offers evidence of a high degree of equalization within local labor markets between farm and urban wages as early as 1860. Making comparisons within counties and states, he reports that farm wages were within 10 percent of urban wages in eight states. Analyzing data from the late nineteenth century through the 1930s, Hatton and Williamson (1991) find that farm and city wages were nearly equal within U.S. regions by the 1890s. It appears, however that during the Great Depression farm wages were much more flexible than urban wages causing a large gap to emerge at this time (Alston and Williamson 1991).

Much attention has been focused on trends in wage gaps by race and sex. The twentieth century has seen a substantial convergence in both of these differentials. Table 4 displays comparisons of earnings of black males relative to white males for full time workers. In 1940, full-time black male workers earned only about 43 percent of what white male full-time workers did. By 1980 the racial pay ratio had risen to nearly 73 percent, but there has been little subsequent progress. Until the mid-1960s these gains can be attributed primarily to migration from the low-wage South to higher paying areas in the North, and to increases in the quantity and quality of black education over time (Margo 1995; Smith and Welch 1990). Since then, however, most gains have been due to shifts in relative pay within regions. Although it is clear that discrimination was a key factor in limiting access to education, the role of discrimination within the labor market in contributing to these differentials has been a more controversial topic (see Wright 1986, pp. 127-34). But the episodic nature of black wage gains, especially after 1964 is compelling evidence that discrimination has played a role historically in earnings differences and that federal anti-discrimination legislation was a crucial factor in reducing its effects (Donohue and Heckman 1991).

Table 4

Black Male Wages as a Percentage of White Male Wages, 1940-2004

Date Black Relative Wage
1940 43.4
1950 55.2
1960 57.5
1970 64.4
1980 72.6
1990 70.0
2004 77.0

Notes and Sources: Data for 1940 through 1980 are based on Census data as reported in Smith and Welch (1989, Table 8). Data for 1990 are from Ehrenberg and Smith (2000, Table 12.4) and refer to earnings of full time, full year workers. Data from 2004 are for median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers derived from data in the Current Population Survey accessed on-line from the Bureau of Labor Statistic on 13 December 2005; URL ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/lf/aat37.txt.

Male-Female wage gaps have also narrowed substantially over time. In the 1820s women’s earnings in manufacturing were a little less than 40 percent of those of men, but this ratio rose over time reaching about 55 percent by the 1920s. Across all sectors women’s relative pay rose during the first half of the twentieth century, but gains in female wages stalled during the 1950s and 1960s at the time when female labor force participation began to increase rapidly. Beginning in the late 1970s or early 1980s, relative female pay began to rise again, and today women earn about 80 percent what men do (Goldin 1990, table 3.2; Goldin 2000, pp. 606-8). Part of this remaining difference is explained by differences in the occupational distribution of men and women, with women tending to be concentrated in lower paying jobs. Whether these differences are the result of persistent discrimination or arise because of differences in productivity or a choice by women to trade off greater flexibility in terms of labor market commitment for lower pay remains controversial.

In addition to locational, sectoral, racial and gender wage differentials, economists have also documented and analyzed differences by industry. Krueger and Summers (1987) find that there are pronounced differences in wages by industry within well-specified occupational classes, and that these differentials have remained relatively stable over several decades. One interpretation of this phenomenon is that in industries with substantial market power workers are able to extract some of the monopoly rents as higher pay. An alternative view is that workers are in fact heterogeneous, and differences in wages reflect a process of sorting in which higher paying industries attract more able workers.

The Response to Short-run Macroeconomic Fluctuations

The existence of unemployment is one of the clearest indications of the persistent frictions that characterize labor markets. As described earlier, the concept of unemployment first entered common discussion with the growth of the factory labor force in the 1870s. Unemployment was not a visible social phenomenon in an agricultural economy, although there was undoubtedly a great deal of hidden underemployment.

Although one might have expected that the shift from spot toward more contractual labor markets would have increased rigidities in the employment relationship that would result in higher levels of unemployment there is in fact no evidence of any long-run increase in the level of unemployment.

Contemporaneous measurements of the rate of unemployment only began in 1940. Prior to this date, economic historians have had to estimate unemployment levels from a variety of other sources. Decennial censuses provide benchmark levels, but it is necessary to interpolate between these benchmarks based on other series. Conclusions about long-run changes in unemployment behavior depend to a large extent on the method used to interpolate between benchmark dates. Estimates prepared by Stanley Lebergott (1964) suggest that the average level of unemployment and its volatility have declined between the pre-1930 and post-World War II periods. Christina Romer (1986a, 1986b), however, has argued that there was no decline in volatility. Rather, she argues that the apparent change in behavior is the result of Lebergott’s interpolation procedure.

While the aggregate behavior of unemployment has changed surprisingly little over the past century, the changing nature of employment relationships has been reflected much more clearly in changes in the distribution of the burden of unemployment (Goldin 2000, pp. 591-97). At the beginning of the twentieth century, unemployment was relatively widespread, and largely unrelated to personal characteristics. Thus many employees faced great uncertainty about the permanence of their employment relationship. Today, on the other hand, unemployment is highly concentrated: falling heavily on the least skilled, the youngest, and the non-white segments of the labor force. Thus, the movement away from spot markets has tended to create a two-tier labor market in which some workers are highly vulnerable to economic fluctuations, while others remain largely insulated from economic shocks.

Wage Determination and Distributional Issues

American economic growth has generated vast increases in the material standard of living. Real gross domestic product per capita, for example, has increased more than twenty-fold since 1820 (Steckel 2002). This growth in total output has in large part been passed on to labor in the form of higher wages. Although labor’s share of national output has fluctuated somewhat, in the long-run it has remained surprisingly stable. According to Abramovitz and David (2000, p. 20), labor received 65 percent of national income in the years 1800-1855. Labor’s share dropped in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, falling to a low of 54 percent of national income between 1890 and 1927, but has since risen, reaching 65 percent again in 1966-1989. Thus, over the long term, labor income has grown at the same rate as total output in the economy.

The distribution of labor’s gains across different groups in the labor force has also varied over time. I have already discussed patterns of wage variation by race and gender, but another important issue revolves around the overall level of inequality of pay, and differences in pay between groups of skilled and unskilled workers. Careful research by Picketty and Saez (2003) using individual income tax returns has documented changes in the overall distribution of income in the United States since 1913. They find that inequality has followed a U-shaped pattern over the course of the twentieth century. Inequality was relatively high at the beginning of the period they consider, fell sharply during World War II, held steady until the early 1970s and then began to increase, reaching levels comparable to those in the early twentieth century by the 1990s.

An important factor in the rising inequality of income since 1970 has been growing dispersion in wage rates. The wage differential between workers in the 90th percentile of the wage distribution and those in the 10th percentile increased by 49 percent between 1969 and 1995 (Plotnick et al 2000, pp. 357-58). These shifts are mirrored in increased premiums earned by college graduates relative to high school graduates. Two primary explanations have been advanced for these trends. First, there is evidence that technological changes—especially those associated with the increased use of information technology—has increased relative demand for more educated workers (Murnane, Willett and Levy (1995). Second, increased global integration has allowed low-wage manufacturing industries overseas to compete more effectively with U.S. manufacturers, thus depressing wages in what have traditionally been high-paying blue collar jobs.

Efforts to expand the scope of analysis over a longer-run encounter problems with more limited data. Based on selected wage ratios of skilled and unskilled workers Willamson and Lindert (1980) have argued that there was an increase in wage inequality over the course of the nineteenth century. But other scholars have argued that the wage series that Williamson and Lindert used are unreliable (Margo 2000b, pp. 224-28).

Conclusions

The history of labor market institutions in the United States illustrates the point that real world economies are substantially more complex than the simplest textbook models. Instead of a disinterested and omniscient auctioneer, the process of matching buyers and sellers takes place through the actions of self-interested market participants. The resulting labor market institutions do not respond immediately and precisely to shifting patterns of incentives. Rather they are subject to historical forces of increasing-returns and lock-in that cause them to change gradually and along path-dependent trajectories.

For all of these departures from the theoretically ideal market, however, the history of labor markets in the United States can also be seen as a confirmation of the remarkable power of market processes of allocation. From the beginning of European settlement in mainland North America, labor markets have done a remarkable job of responding to shifting patterns of demand and supply. Not only have they accomplished the massive geographic shifts associated with the settlement of the United States, but they have also dealt with huge structural changes induced by the sustained pace of technological change.

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Margo, Robert. Wages and Labor Markets in the United States, 1820-1860. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000a.

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Citation: Rosenbloom, Joshua. “The History of American Labor Market Institutions and Outcomes”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. March 16, 2008. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-history-of-american-labor-market-institutions-and-outcomes/

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/

Credit in the Colonial American Economy

David T Flynn, University of North Dakota

Overview of Credit versus Barter and Cash

Credit was vital to the economy of colonial America and much of the individual prosperity and success in the colonies was due to credit. Networks of credit stretched across the Atlantic from Britain to the major port cities and into the interior of the country allowing exchange to occur (Bridenbaugh, 1990, 154). Colonists made purchases by credit, cash and barter. Barter and cash were spot exchanges, goods and services were given in exchange for immediate payment. Credit, however, delayed the payment until a later date. Understanding the role of credit in the eighteenth century requires a brief discussion of all payment options as well as the nature of the repayment of credit.

Barter

Barter is an exchange of goods and services for other goods and services and can be a very difficult method of exchange due to the double coincidence of wants. For exchange to occur in a barter situation each party must have the good desired by its trading partner. Suppose John Hancock has paper supplies and wants corn while Paul Revere has silver spoons and wants paper products. Even though Revere wants the goods available from Hancock no exchange occurs because Hancock does not want the good Revere has to offer. The double coincidence of wants can make barter very costly because of time spent searching for a trading partner. This time could otherwise be used for consumption, production, leisure, or any number of other activities. The principle advantage of any form of money over barter is obvious: money satisfies the double coincidence of wants, that is, money functions as a medium of exchange.

Money’s advantages

Money also has other functions that make it a superior method of exchange to barter including acting as the unit of account (the unit in which prices are quoted) in the economy (e.g. the dollar in the United States and the pound in England). A barter economy uses a large number of prices because every good must have a price in terms of each other good available in the economy. An economy with n different goods would have n(n-1)/2 prices in total, not an enormous burden for small values of n, but as n grows it quickly becomes unmanageable. A unit of account reduces the number of prices from the barter situation to n, or the number of goods. The colonists had a unit of account, the colonial pound (£), which removed this burden of barter.

Several forms of money circulated in the colonies over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as specie, commodity money and paper currency. Specie is gold or silver minted into coins and is a special form of commodity money, a good that has an exchange value separate from the market value of the good. Tobacco, and later tobacco warehouse receipts, acted as a form of money in many of the colonies. Despite multiple money options some colonists complained of an inability to keep money in circulation, or at least in the hands of those wanting to use it for exchange (Baxter, 1945, 11-17; Bridenbaugh, 153).1

Credit’s advantages

When you acquire goods with credit you delay payment to a later time, be it one day or one year. A basic credit transaction today is essentially the same as in the eighteenth century, only the form is different.2 Extending credit presents risks, most notably default, or the failure of the borrower to repay the amount borrowed. Sellers also needed to worry about the total volume of credit they extended because it threatened their solvency in the case of default. Consumers benefited from credit by the ability to consume beyond current financial resources, as well as security from theft and other advantages. Sellers gained by faster sales of goods and interest charges, often hidden in a higher price for the goods.3

Uncertainty about the scope of credit

The frequency of credit versus barter and cash is not well quantified because surviving account books and transaction records generally only report cash or goods payments made after the merchant allowed credit, not spot cash or barter transactions (Baxter, 19n). Martin (1939, 150) concurs, “The entries represent transactions with those customers who did not pay at once on purchasing goods for [the seller] either made no record of immediate cash purchases, or else there were almost no such transactions.” The results of Flynn’s (2001) study using merchant account books from Connecticut and Massachusetts found also that most purchases recorded in the account books were credit purchases (see Table 1 below).4 Scholars are forced to make general statements about credit as a standard tool in transactions in port cities and rural villages without reference to specific numbers (Perkins, 1980, 123-124).

Table 1

Percentage of Purchases by Type

Purchases by Credit Purchases by Cash Purchases by Barter
Connecticut 98.6 1.1 0.3
Massachusetts 98.5 1.0 0.4
Combined 98.6 1.0 0.4

Source: Adapted from Table 3.2 in Flynn (2001), p. 54.

Indications of the importance of credit

In some regions, the institution of credit was so accepted that many employers, including merchants, paid their employees by providing them credit at a store on the business’s account (Martin, 94). Probate inventories evidence the frequency of credit through the large amount of accounts receivable recorded for traders and merchant in Connecticut, sometimes over £1,000 (Main, 1985, 302-303). Accounts receivable are an asset of the business representing amounts owed to the business by other parties. Almost 30 percent of the estates of Connecticut “traders” contained £100 or more of receivables as part of their estate (Main, 316). More than this, accounts receivable averaged one-eighth of personal wealth throughout most of the colonial period, and more than one-fifth at the end (Main, 36). While there is no evidence that enables us to determine the relative frequencies of payments, the available information supports the idea that the different forms of payment co-existed.

The Different Types of Credit

There are three different types of credit to discuss: international credit, book credit, and promissory notes and each facilitated exchange and payments. Colonial importers and wholesalers relied on credit from British suppliers while rural merchants received credit from importers and wholesalers in the port cities and, finally, consumers received credit from the retailers. A discussion starts logically with international credit from British suppliers to colonial merchants because it allowed colonial merchants to extend credit to their customers (McCusker and Menard, 1985, 80n; Martin, 1939, 19; Perkins, 1980, 24).

Overseas credit

Research on colonial growth attaches importance to several items including foreign funds, capital improvements and productivity gains. The majority of foreign funds transferred were in the form of mercantile credit (Egnal, 1998, 12-20). British merchants shipped goods to colonial merchants on credit for between six months and one year before demanding payment or charging interest (Egnal, 55; Perkins, 1994, 65; Shepherd and Walton, 1972, 131-132; Thomson, 1955, 15). Other examples show a minimum of one year’s credit given before suppliers assessed five percent interest charges (Martin, 122-123). Factors such as interest and duration determined for how long colonial merchants could extend credit to their own customers and at what level of markup. Some merchants sold goods on commission, where the goods remained the property of the British merchant until sold. After the sale the colonial merchant remitted the funds, less his fee, to the British merchant.

Relationships between colonial and British merchants exhibited regional differences. Virginia merchants’ system of exchange, known as the consignment system, depended on the credit arrangements between planters and “factors” – middlemen who accepted colonial goods and acquired British or other products desired by colonists (Thomson, 28). A relationship with a British merchant was important for success in business because it provided the tobacco growers and factors access to supplies of credit sufficient to maintain business (Thomson, 211). Independent Virginia merchants, those without a British connection, ordered their supplies of goods on credit and paid with locally produced goods (Thomson, 15). Virginia and other Southern colonies could rely on credit because of their production of a staple crop desired by British merchants. New England merchants such as Thomas Hancock, uncle of the famous patriot John Hancock, could not rely on this to the same extent. New England merchants sometimes engaged in additional exchanges with other colonies and countries because they lacked goods desired by British merchants (Baxter, 46-47). Without the willingness of British merchant houses to wait for payment it would have been difficult for many colonial merchants to extend credit to their customers.

Domestic credit: book credit and promissory notes

Domestic credit was primarily of two forms, book credit and promissory notes. Merchants recorded book credit in the account books of the business. These entries were debits for an individual’s account and were set against payments, credits in the merchant’s ledger. Promissory notes detailed a debt, including typically the date of issue, the date of redemption, the amount owed, possibly the form of repayment and an interest rate. Book credit and promissory notes were substitutes and complements. Both represented a delay of payment and could be used to acquire goods but book accounts were also a large source of personal notes. Merchants who felt payment was either too slow in coming or the risks of default too high could insist the buyer provide a note. The note was a more secure form of credit as it could be exchanged and, despite the likely loss on the note’s face value if the debtor was in financial trouble, would not represent a continuing worry of the merchant (Martin, 158-159).5

Figure 1

Accounts of Samuell Maxey, Customer, and Jonathan Parker, Massachusetts Merchant

Date Transaction Debt (£) Date Transaction Credit (£)
5/28/1748 To Maxey earthenware by Brock 62.00 5/30/1748 By cash & Leather 45.00
10/21/1748 To ditto by Cap’n Long 13.75 8/20/1748 By 2 quintals of fish @6-0-0 [per quintal] 12.00
5/25/1749 To ditto 61.75 11/15/1748 By cash received of Mr. Suttin 5.00
6/26/1749 To ditto 27.35 5/26/1749 By sundrys 74.75
10/1749 By cash of Mr. Kettel 9.75
12/1749 By ditto 18.35

Source: John Parker Account Book. Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Mss: 605 1747-1764 P241, p.7.

The settlement of debt obligations incorporated many forms of payment. Figure 1 details the activity between Samuell Maxey and Jonathan Parker, a Massachusetts merchant. Included are several purchases of earthenware by Maxey and others and several payments, including some in cash and goods as well as from third parties. Baxter (1945, 21) describes similar experiences when he says,

…the accounts over and over again tell of the creditor’s weary efforts to get his dues by accepting a tardy and halting series of odds and ends; and (as prices were often soaring, especially in 1740-64) the longer a debtor could put off payment, the fewer goods might he need to hand over to square a liability for so much money.

Repayment means and examples

The “odds and ends” included goods and commodity money as well as other cash, bills of exchange, and third party settlements (Baxter, 17-32). Merchants accepted goods such as pork beef, fish and grains for their store goods (Martin, 94). Flynn (2001) shows several items offered as payment, including goods, cash, notes and others, shown in Table 2.

Table 2

Percentage of Payments by Category

Repayment in Cash Repayment in Goods Repayment by note Repayment by Reckoning Repayment by third- party note Repayment by Bond Repayment by Labor

Conn.

27.5 45.9 3.3 7.5 6.9 0.0 8.9
Mass. 24.2 47.6 2.8 7.5 13.7 0.2 2.3
Combined 25.6 46.9 3.0 7.5 10.9 0.1 5.0

Source: Adapted from Table 3.4 in Flynn (2001), p. 54.

Cash, goods and notes require no further explanation, but Table 2 shows other items used in payment as well. Colonists used labor to repay their tabs, working in their creditor’s field or lending the labor services of a child or yoke of oxen. Some accounts also list “reckoning,” which occurred typically between two merchants or traders that made purchases on credit from each other. Before the two merchants settled their accounts it was convenient to determine the net position of their accounts with each other. After making the determination the merchant in debt possibly made a payment that brought the balance to zero, but at other times the merchants proceeded without a payment but a better sense of the account position. Third parties also made payments that employed goods, money and credit. When the merchant did not want the particular goods offered in payment he could hope to pass them on, ideally to his own creditors. Such exchange satisfied both the merchant’s debts and the consumer’s (Baxter, 24-25). Figure 1 above and Figure 2 below illustrate this.

Figure 2

Accounts of Mr. Clark, Customer, and Jonathan Parker, Massachusetts Merchant

Date Transaction Debt (£) Date Transaction Credit (£)
9/27/1749 To Clark earthenware 10.85 11/30/1749 By cash 3.00
4/14/1750 By ditto 1.00
?/1762 By rum in full of Mr. Blanchard 6.35

Source: John Parker Account Book. Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Mss: 605 1747-1764 P241, p.2.

The accounts of Parker and his customer, Mr. Clark, show another purchase of earthenware and three payments. The purchase is clearly on credit as Parker recorded the first payment occurring over two months after the purchase. Clark provided two cash payments and then a third person Mr. Blanchard settled Clark’s account in full with rum. What do these third party payments represent? For answers to this we need to step back from the specifics of the account and generalize.

Figures 1 and 2 show credits from third parties in cash and goods. If we think in terms of three-way trade the answer becomes obvious. In Figure 1 where a Mr. Suttin pays £5.00 cash to Parker on the account of Samuell Maxey, Suttin is settling a debt with Maxey (in part or in full we do not know). To settle the debt he owes Parker, Maxey directs those who owe him money to pay Parker, and thus reduce his debt. Figure 2 displays the same type of activity, except Blanchard pays with rum. Though not depicted here, private debts between customers could be settled on the merchant’s books. Rather than offering payment in cash or goods, private parties could swap debt on the merchant’s account book, ordering a transfer from one account to another. The merchant’s final approval for the exchange implied something about the added risk from a third party exchange. The new person did not pose a greater default risk in the creditor’s opinion, otherwise (we would suspect) they refused the exchange.6

Complexity of the credit system

The payment system in the colonies was complex and dynamic with creditors allowing debtors to settle accounts in several fashions. Goods and money satisfied outstanding debts and other credit obligations deferred or transferred debts. Debtors and creditors employed the numerous forms of payment in regular and third party transactions, making merchants’ account books a clearinghouse for debts. Although the lack of technology leaves casual observers thinking payments at this time were primitive, such was clearly not the case. With only pen and paper eighteenth century merchants developed a sophisticated payment system, of which book credit and personal notes were an important part.

The Duration of Credit

The length of time outstanding for credit, its duration, is an important characteristic. Duration represents the amount of time a creditor awaited payment and anecdotal and statistical evidence provide some insights into the duration of book credit and promissory notes.

The calculation of the duration of book credit, or any similar type of instrument, is relatively straightforward when the merchant recorded dates in his account book conscientiously. Consider the following example.

Figure 3

Accounts of David Forthingham, Customer, and Jonathan Parker, Massachusetts Merchant

Date Transaction Debt (£) Date Transaction Credit (£)
10/1/1748 To Forthingham earthenware 7.75 10/1/1748 By cash 3.00
4/1749 By Indian corn 4.75

Source: John Parker Account Book. Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Mss: 605 1747-1764 P241, p.2.

The exchanges between Frothingham and Jonathan Parker show one purchase and two payments. Frothingham provides a partial payment for the earthenware at the time of purchase, in cash. However, £4.75 of debt remains outstanding, and is not repaid until April of 1749. It is possible to calculate a range of values for the final settlement of this account, using the first day of April to give a lower bound estimate and the last day to give an upper bound estimate. Counting the number of days shows that it took at least 182 days and at most 211 days to settle the debt. Alternatively the debt lasted between 6 and 7 months.

Figure 4

Accounts of Joseph Adams, Customer, and Jonathan Parker, Massachusetts Merchant

Date Transaction Debt (£) Date Transaction Credit (£)
9/7/1747 to Adams earthenware -30.65 11/9/1747 by cash 30.65
7/22/1748 to ditto -22.40 7/22/1748 by ditto 12.40
No Date7 by ditto 10.00

Source: John Parker Account Book. Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Mss: 605 1747-1764 P241, p.4.

Not all merchants were meticulous record keepers and sometimes they failed to record a particular date with the rest of an account book entry.8 Figure 4 illustrates this problem well and also provides an example of multiple purchases along with multiple payments. The first purchase of earthenware is repaid with one “cash” payment sixty-three days (2.1 months) later.9 Computation of the term of the second loan is more complicated. The last two payments satisfy the purchase amount, so Adams repaid the loan completely. Unfortunately, Parker left out the date for the second payment. The second payment occurred on or after July 22, 1748, so this date is the lower end of the interval. The minimum time between purchase and second payment is zero days, but computation of a maximum time, or upper bound, is not possible due to the lack of information.10

With a sufficient number of debts some generalization is possible. If we interpret the data as the length of a debt’s life we can use demographic methods, in particular the life table.11 For a sample of Connecticut and Massachusetts account books the average duration looks like the following.12

Table 3

Expected Duration for Connecticut Debts, Lower and Upper Bound

(a) (b) (c) (d) (e)
Size of debt in £ eo lower bound (months) Median lower bound (interval) eo upper bound (months) Median upper bound (interval)
All Values 14.79 6-12 15.87 6-12
0.0-0.25 15.22 6-12 15.99 6-12
0.25-0.50 14.28 6-12 15.51 6-12
0.50-0.75 15.24 6-12 18.01 6-12
0.75-1.00 14.25 6-12 15.94 6-12
1.00-10.00 13.95 6-12 15.07 6-12
10.00+ 7.95 0-6 10.73 6-12

Table 4

Expectation Duration for Massachusetts Debts, Lower and Upper Bound

(a) (b) (c) (d) (e)
Size of debt in £ eo lower bound (months) Lower bound median (interval) eo upper bound (months) Upper bound median (interval)
All Values 13.22 6-12 14.87 6-12
0.0-0.25 14.74 6-12 17.55 12-18
0.25-0.50 12.08 6-12 12.80 6-12
0.50-0.75 11.73 6-12 13.08 6-12
0.75-1.00 11.01 6-12 12.43 6-12
1.00-10.00 13.08 6-12 13.88 6-12
10.00+ 14.28 12-18 17.02 12-18

Source: Adapted from Tables 4.1 and 4.2 in Flynn (2001), p. 80.

For all debts in the sample from Connecticut, the expected length of time the debt is outstanding from its inception is estimated between 14.78 and 15.86 months. For Massachusetts the range is somewhat shorter, from 13.22 to 14.87 months. Tables 3 and 4 break the data into categories based on the value of the credit transaction as well. An important question to ask is whether this represents a long- term or a short-term debt? There is no standard yardstick for comparison in this case. The best comparison is likely the international credit granted to colonial merchants. The colonial merchants needed to repay these amounts and had to sell the goods to make remittances. The estimates of that credit duration, listed earlier, center around one year, which means that colonial merchants in New England needed to repay their British suppliers before they could expect to receive full payment from their customers. From the colonial merchants’ perspective book credit was certainly long-term.

Other estimates of duration of book credit

Other estimates of book credit’s duration vary. Consumers paying their credit purchases in kind took as little time as a few months or as long as several years (Martin, 153). Some accounting records show book credit remaining unsettled for nearly thirty years (Baxter, 161). Thomas Hancock often noted expected payment dates, such as “to pay in 6 months” along with a purchase, though frequently this was not enough time for the buyer. Thomas blamed the law, which allowed twelve months for people to make repayments, complaining to his suppliers that he often provided credit to country residents of “one two & more years” (Baxter, 192). Surely such a situation is the exception and not the rule, though it does serve to remind us that many of these arrangements were open, lacking definite endpoints. Some merchants allowed accounts to last as long as two years before examining the position of the account, allowing one year’s book credit without charge, and thereafter assessing interest (Martin, 157).

Duration of promissory notes

The duration of promissory notes is also important. Priest (1999) examines a form of duration for these credit instruments, estimating the time between a debtor’s signing of the note and the creditor’s filing of suit to collect payment. Of course this only measures the duration for notes that go into default and require legal recourse. Typically, a suit originated some 6 to 9 months after default (Priest, 2417-18). Results for the period 1724 to 1750 show 14.5% of cases occurred within 6 months after the initial contraction date, the execution of the debt. Merchants brought suit in more than 60% of the cases between 6 months and 3 years from execution, 21.4% from six to twelve months, 27.4% from one to two years and 14.1% from two to three years. Finally, more than 20% of the cases occurred more than three years from the execution of the debt. The median interval between execution and suit was 17.5 months (Priest, 2436, Table 3).

The duration of promissory notes provides an important complement to estimates of book credit’s term. Median estimates of 17.5 months make promissory notes, more than likely, a long-term credit instrument when balanced against the one year credit term given colonial importers. The estimates for book credit range between three months and several years in the literature to between 13 and 16 months in Flynn (2001) study. Duration results show that merchants waited significant amounts of time for payment, raising the issue of the time value of money and interest rates.

The Interest Practices of Merchants

In some cases credit was outstanding for a long period of time, but the accounts make no mention of any interest charges, as in Figures 1 through 4. Such an omission is difficult to reconcile with the fairly sophisticated business practices for the merchants of the day. Accounting research and manuals from the time demonstrate clearly an understanding of the time value of money. The business community understood the concept of compound interest. Account books allowed merchants to charge higher and variable prices for goods sold on book credit (Martin, 94). While in some cases interest charges entered the account book as an explicit entry in many others interest was an added or implicit charge contained in the good’s price.

Advertisements from the time make it clear that merchants charged less for goods

purchased by cash, and accounts paid promptly received a discount on the price,

One general pricing policy seems to have been that goods for cash were sold at a lower price than when they were charged. Cabel[sic] Bull advertised beaver hats at 27/ cash and 30/ country produce in hand. Daniel Butler of Northampton offered dyes, and “a few Cwt. of Redwood and Logwood cheaper than ever for ready money.” Many other advertisements carried allusions to the practice but gave no definite data. A daybook of the Ely store contained this entry for October 21, 1757: “William Jones, Dr to 6 yds Towcloth at 1/6—if paid in a month at 1/4. (Martin, 1939, 144-145)

Other advertisements also evidence a price difference, offering cash prices for certain grains they desired. Connecticut merchants likely offered good prices for products they thought would sell well as they sought remittances for their British creditors. Hartford merchants charged interest rates ranging from four and one-half to six and one-half percent in the 1750s and 1760s, though Flynn (2001) arrives at different rates from a different sample of New England account books (Martin, 158). Many promissory notes in South Carolina specified interest, though not an exact rate, usually just the term “lawful interest” (Woods, 364).

Estimates of interest rates

Simple regression analysis can help determine if interest was implicit in the price of goods sold on credit though there are numerous technical issues, such as borrower characteristics, market conditions and the quality of the good that make a discussion here inappropriate.13 In general, there seems to be a positive correlation, with the annual interest rates falling between 3.75% and 7%, which seem consistent with the results from interest entries made in account books. There is some tendency for the price of a good to increase with the time waited for repayment, though many other technical matters need resolution.

Most annual interest rates in Flynn’s (2001) study, explicit and implicit, fall in the range of 4 to 6.5 percent making them similar to those Martin found in her examination of accounts and roughly consistent with the Massachusetts lawful rate of 6 percent at the time, though some entries assess interest as high as 10 percent (Martin, 158; Rothenberg, 1992, 124). Despite this, the explicit rates are insufficient on their own to form a conclusion about the interest rate charged on book credit; there are too few entries, and many involve promissory notes or third parties, factors expected to alter the interest rate. Other factors such as borrower characteristics likely changed the assessed rate of interest too, with more prominent and wealthy individuals charged lower rates, either due to their status and a perceived lower risk, or possibly due to longer merchant-buyer relationships. Most account books do not contain information sufficient to judge the effects of these characteristics.

Merchants gained from credit use by charging higher prices; credit required a premium over cash sales and so the merchant collected interest and at the same time minimized the necessary amount of payments media (Martin, 94). Interest was distinct from the normal markups for insurance, freight, wharfage, etc. that were often significant additions to the overall price and represented an attempt to account for risk and the time value of money (Baxter, 192; Thomson, 239).14

Conclusions

Credit was significant as a form of payment in colonial America. Direct comparisons of the number of credit purchases versus barter or cash are not possible, but an examination of accounting records demonstrates credit’s widespread use. Credit was present in all forms of trade including international trade between England and her colonies. The domestic forms of credit were relatively long-term instruments that allowed individuals to consume beyond current means. In addition, book credit allowed colonists to economize on cash and other means of payment through transfers of credit, “reckoning,” and other means such as paying workers with store credit. Merchants also understood the time value of money, entering interest charges explicitly in the account books and implicitly as part of the price. The use of credit, the duration of credit instruments, and the methods of incorporating interest show credit as an important method of exchange and the economy of colonial America to be very complex and sophisticated.

References

Baxter, W.T. The House of Hancock: Business in Boston, 1724-1775. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1945.

Bridenbaugh, Carl. The Colonial Craftsman. Dover Publications: New York, 1990.

Egnal, Marc. New World Economies: The Growth of the Thirteen Colonies and Early Canada. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Flynn, David T. “Credit and the Economy of Colonial New England.” Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 2001.

McCusker, John J., and Russel R. Menard. The Economy of British America, 1607-1789. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Main, Jackson Turner. Society and Economy in Colonial Connecticut. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Martin, Margaret. “Merchants and Trade of the Connecticut River Valley, 1750-1820.” Smith College Studies in History. Department of History, Smith College: Northampton, Mass. 1939.

Parker, Jonathan. Account Book, 1747-1764. Mss:605 1747-1815. Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School; Cambridge, Massachusetts

Perkins, Edwin J. The Economy of Colonial America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Perkins, Edwin J. American Public Finance and Financial Services, 1700-1815. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1994.

Price, Jacob M. Capital and Credit in British Overseas Trade: The View from the Chesapeake, 1700-1776. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Priest, Claire. “Colonial Courts and Secured Credit: Early American Commercial Litigation and Shays’ Rebellion.” Yale Law Journal 108, no. 8 (June, 1999): 2412-2450.

Rothenberg, Winifred. From Market-Places to a Market Economy: The Transformation of Rural Massachusetts, 1750-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Shepherd, James F. and Gary Walton. Shipping, Maritime Trade, and the Economic Development of Colonial North America. Cambridge: University Press 1972.

Thomson, Robert Polk. The Merchant in Virginia, 1700-1775. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1955.

Further Reading:

For a good introduction to credit’s importance across different professions, merchant practices and the development of business practices over time I suggest:

Bailyn, Bernard. The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth-Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Schlesinger, Arthur. The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution: 1763-1776. New York: Facsimile Library Inc., 1939.

For an introduction to issues relating to money supply, the unit of account in the economy, and price and exchange rate data I recommend:

Brock, Leslie V. The Currency of the American Colonies, 1700-1764: A Study in Colonial Finance and Imperial Relations. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

McCusker, John J. Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600-1775: A Handbook. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978.

McCusker, John J. How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Commodity Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States, Second Edition. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 2001.

1 Some authors note a small amount of cash purchases as well as small numbers of cash payments for debts as evidence of a lack of money (Bridenbaugh, 153; Baxter, 19n).

2 Presently, credit cards are a common form of payment. While such technology did not exist in the past, the merchant’s account book provided a means of recording credit purchases.

3 Price (1980, pp.16-17) provides an excellent summary of the advantages and risks of credit to different types of consumers and to merchants in both Britain and the colonies.

4 Please note that this table consists of transactions mostly between colonial retail merchants and colonial consumers in New England. Flynn (2001) uses account books that collectively span from approximately 1704 to 1770.

5 In some cases with the extension of book credit came a requirement to provide a note too. When the solvency of the debtor came into question the creditor, could sell the note and pass the risk of default on to another.

6 I offer a detailed example of such an exchange going sour for the merchant below.

7 “No date” is Flynn’s entry to show that a date is not recorded in the account book.

8 It seems that this frequently occurs at the end of a list of entries, particularly when the credit fully satisfies an outstanding purchase as in Figure 4.

9 To calculate months, divide days by 30. The term “cash” is placed in quotation marks as it is woefully nondescript. Some merchants and researchers using account books group several different items under the heading cash.

10 Students interested in historical research of this type should be prepared to encounter many situations of missing information. There are ways to deal with this censoring problem, but a technical discussion is not appropriate here.

11 Colin Newell’s Methods and Models in Demography (Guilford Press, 1988) is an excellent introduction for these techniques.

12 Note that either merchants recorded amounts in the lawful money standard or Flynn (2001) converted amounts into this standard for these purposes.

13 The premise behind the regression is quite simple: we look for a correlation between the amount of time an amount was outstanding and the per unit price of the good. If credit purchases contained implicit interest charges there would be a positive relationship. Note that this test implies forward looking merchants, that is, merchants factored the perceived or agreed upon time to repayment into the price of the good.

14 The advance varied by colony, good and time period,

In 1783, a Boston correspondent wrote Wadsworth that dry goods in Boston were selling at a twenty to twenty-five percent ‘advance’ from the ‘real Sterling Cost by Wholesale.’ The ‘advances’ occasionally mentioned in John Ely’s Day Book were far higher, seventy to seventy-five per cent on dry goods. Dry goods sold well at one hundred and fifty per cent ‘advance’ in New York in 1750… (Martin, 136).

In the 1720s a typical advance on piece goods in Boston was eighty per cent, seventy-five with cash (Martin, 136n). It should be noted that others find open account balances were commonly kept interest free (Rothenberg, 1992, 123).

13

Citation: Flynn, David. “Credit in the Colonial American Economy”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. March 16, 2008. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/credit-in-the-colonial-american-economy/

Jewish Economies: Development and Migration in America and Beyond ? Volume I: The Economic Life of American Jewry

Author(s):Kuznets, Simon
Lo, Stephanie
Weyl, E. Glen
Reviewer(s):Schiffman, Daniel A.

Published by EH.Net (August 2012)

Simon Kuznets, Jewish Economies: Development and Migration in America and Beyond ? Volume I: The Economic Life of American Jewry (edited by Stephanie Lo and E. Glen Weyl). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2012. liv + 239 pp. $50 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-4128-4211-2.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Daniel A. Schiffman, Department of Economics and Business Administration, Ariel University Center.

Simon Kuznets (1901-1985), the 1971 Nobel Laureate in Economics, is renowned for his contributions to development economics and national income accounting. This book documents a less well known aspect of Kuznets’ career ? his pioneering contributions to Jewish economic history.

This is the first volume of a two-volume set. The set consists of six papers, four of which were previously unpublished, published in Hebrew, or published in abridged form. The contents of Volume I are as follows:
1. “Preface” (Lo), a brief description of all six papers;
2. “Introduction: Simon Kuznets, Cautious Empiricist of the Eastern European Jewish Diaspora,” (Weyl), a forty-page essay which places the six papers within the context of Kuznets’ life and work;
3. “Economic Structure and Life of the Jews,” a draft that was published in abridged form in 1961, by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York;
4. “Economic Structure of U.S. Jewry: Recent Trends,” a lecture delivered at the home of Israel’s President, originally published in Hebrew;
5. “Economic Growth of U.S. Jewry,” an unfinished, previously unpublished manuscript.

In these papers, Kuznets describes the economic transformation of world Jewry in the twentieth century, with an emphasis on immigration, human capital accumulation, occupational structure and income distribution. Readers who are familiar with Kuznets will recognize his unique methodology, which is characterized by careful definition of concepts, meticulous empirical analysis and fact-based theoretical insights. Kuznets’ findings include the following:
a. Jews have paid a heavy economic price to preserve their cohesion and identity.
b. Discrimination against Jews is highly irrational.??
c. Waves of immigration generate significant inequality, accompanied by cultural gaps, between veteran immigrants and newer arrivals.
d. In a pre-World War II sample of 12 nations, Jews were overrepresented in trade and finance and (to a lesser extent) industry and handicrafts. Jews were underrepresented in agriculture, transportation, communications and personal services.
e. In the early 1950’s, Israel integrated its immigrants by allowing them to consume more than they produced. This policy, combined with a high rate of investment in physical capital, necessitated large capital inflows from abroad.?
f. In 1957, American Jews were highly urbanized and educated, relative to the general U.S. population. Between 1910 and 1957, Jewish males shifted from industrial occupations to professional and technical occupations. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Jewish females married later and had a lower birth rate, relative to the general population. Jewish females had a high labor force participation rate before marriage, but tended to leave the labor force after marriage. The distribution of income among Jews had a higher mean, greater rightward skewness and greater inequality than the general distribution of income.?

Why did Simon Kuznets devote time and energy to the study of Jewish economic history? Kuznets emigrated from Russia to the U.S. in 1922. As a secular Jew and staunch Zionist, he affirmed his Jewish loyalties by studying Jewish economic history and by promoting economic research at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. However, he was ambivalent about his Jewish-oriented writings. In a 1973 letter, he declined Martin Feldstein’s proposal to disseminate “Economic Growth of U.S. Jewry” as a Harvard economics department working paper. Kuznets explained that his Jewish-oriented writings were less than fully objective, because the topics reflected his “interests and associations as a Jew.”

What motivated Weyl and Lo to edit Jewish Economies? In 2007, Weyl, who is now an economic theorist at the University of Chicago, wrote a term paper on Kuznets for an undergraduate history course at Princeton. Weyl consulted Kuznets’ personal papers and interviewed his children, Paul Kuznets and Judith Stein. After completing his Ph.D. in economics at Princeton in 2008, Weyl joined the Harvard Society of Fellows, where he collaborated with research assistant Stephanie Lo (currently an analyst at DC Energy). Weyl explains that he is drawn to Kuznets by virtue of their common background and challenges. Like Kuznets, Weyl was born into a secular Jewish family; like Kuznets, Weyl strives to create the proper balance between universalism and Jewish identity.

Weyl’s introduction is very enlightening. Using archival material and interviews, Weyl uncovers new facts about Kuznets’ personal and professional lives. Weyl also ventures into the realm of intellectual biography: He explores the connection between Kuznets’ background and his economic thought, and demonstrates the existence of important parallels between Kuznets’ general and Jewish-oriented works. For example:
? Kuznets emphasized the role of culture and institutions in Jewish economic life. This parallels his emphasis on culture and institutions in development (which was highly unconventional in the 1950’s).
? Kuznets hypothesized that over time, income inequality among Jewish immigrants would rise and then fall. This parallels the famous Kuznets curve, which posits an inverted-U relationship between development and income inequality.
? In the Middle Ages, European Jews were excluded from all professions except moneylending. This historical fact may have inspired Kuznets to assert (in Income from Independent Professional Practice, coauthored with Milton Friedman) that occupational licensure reduces competition.
? Kuznets saw immigration as a leading factor in Israel’s economic development. He also recognized the disastrous effect of U.S. immigration restrictions in the pre-Holocaust years. Not surprisingly, Kuznets’ general work is strongly pro-immigration.

Weyl suggests that some of Kuznets’ most famous (general) economic insights were inspired by his Jewish-oriented works. Unfortunately, conclusive evidence is lacking; Kuznets deliberately concealed his motivations, and maintained a strict separation between his general and Jewish-oriented works.

I have two minor quibbles with Jewish Economies. First, there is a small but growing post-Kuznets literature on Jewish economic history; contributors include Barry Chiswick, Carmel Chiswick, Maristella Botticini, Zvi Eckstein and Cormac ? Gr?da. Weyl and Lo do not bring this literature to the attention of the reader. Second, the introduction is marred by occasional typographical errors and incorrect cross-references.

In conclusion, Jewish Economies is an important scholarly contribution. It should be required reading for specialists in the fields of economic development, human capital and history of economic thought. Weyl and Lo have contributed to the economics literature in three ways: They have collected Kuznets’ virtually forgotten writings on Jewish economic history, revealed previously unknown aspects of Kuznets’ identity and worldview, and demonstrated important parallels between Kuznets’ general and Jewish-oriented works. Hopefully, the publication of Jewish Economies will stimulate further research on Jewish economists of the twentieth century.

Daniel A. Schiffman is a lecturer in economics at Ariel University Center in Israel. He specializes in economic history and history of economic thought. He has published articles on Jewish monetary thought and is a contributor to the Oxford Handbook of Judaism and Economics (2010).? E-mail: daniels@ariel.ac.il

Copyright (c) 2012 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 (August 2012). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

Subject(s):Development of the Economic History Discipline: Historiography; Sources and Methods
Education and Human Resource Development
Historical Demography, including Migration
Labor and Employment History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Middle East
North America
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

American Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501-1650

Author(s):Hamilton, Earl J.
Reviewer(s):Munro, John

Classic Reviews in Economic History

Earl J. Hamilton, American Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501-1650. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934. xii + 428 pp.

Review Essay by John Munro, Department of Economics, University of Toronto.

Hamilton and the Price Revolution: A Revindication of His Tarnished Reputation and of a Modified Quantity Theory

Hamilton and the Quantity Theory Explanation of Inflation

As Duke University’s website for the “Earl J. Hamilton Papers on the Economic History of Spain, 1351-1830” so aptly states: Hamilton “helped to pioneer the field of quantitative economic history during a career that spanned 50 years.”[1]   Certainly his most important publication in this field is the 1934 monograph that is the subject of this “classic review.”  It provided the first set of concrete, reliable annual data on both the imports of gold and silver bullion from Spain’s American colonies — principally from what is now Bolivia (Vice Royalty of Peru) and Mexico (New Spain) — from 1503 to 1660 (when bullion registration and thus the accounts cease); and on prices (including wages) in Spain (Old and New Castile, Andalusia, Valencia), for the 150 year period from 1501 to 1650.[2]  His object was to validate the Quantity Theory of Money: in seeking to demonstrate that the influx of American silver was chiefly, if not entirely, responsible for the inflation of much of the Price Revolution era, from ca.  1520 to ca. 1650: but, principally only for the specific period of ca. 1540 to ca. 1600.  Many economic historians (myself included, regrettably) have misunderstood Hamilton on this point, concerning both the origins and conclusion of the Price Revolution.  Of course the Quantity Theory of Money, even in its more refined modern guise, is no longer a fashionable tool in economic history; and thus only a minority of us today espouse a basically monetary explanation for the European Price Revolution (ca. 1515/20-1650) — though no such explanation can be purely monetary.[3]

If inflations had been frequent in European economic history, from the twelfth century to the present, the Price Revolution was unique in the persistence and duration of inflation over a period of at least 130 years.[4]  Furthermore, if commodity money — i.e., gold and especially silver specie — was not the sole monetary factor that explains the Price Revolution that commodity money certainly played a relatively much greater role than it did in the subsequent inflations (of much shorter duration) from the mid-eighteenth century to the present.  The role of specie, and specifically Spanish-American silver, in “causing” the Price Revolution was a commonplace in Classical Economics and Hamilton cites Adam Smith’s statement in _The Wealth of Nations_ (p. 191) that “the discovery of abundant mines of America seems to have been the sole cause of this diminution in the value of silver in proportion to that of corn [grain].”[5]

 The Comparative Roles of Spanish-American Silver and Coinage Debasements: The Bodin Thesis

According to Hamilton (p. 283) — and indeed to most authorities to this very day — the very first scholar to make this quantity-theory link between the influx of American “treasure” and the Price Revolution was the renowned French philosopher Jean Bodin, in his 1568 response to a 1566 treatise by the royal councilor Jean Cherruyt de Malestroit on the explanations for the then quite evident rise in French prices over the previous several decades.  Malestroit had contended that coinage debasements were the chief culprit — as indeed they most certainly had been in the periodic inflations of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.[6] Bodin responded by dismissing those arguments and by contending that the growing influx of silver from the Spanish Americas was the primary cause of that inflation.[7]

Hamilton (in chapter 13) was therefore astounded to find, after voluminous and meticulous research in many Spanish treatises, letters, and other relevant documents, that no Spanish writer of the sixteenth century had voiced similar opinions, all evidently ignorant of Bodin’s views.  Hamilton, however, had neglected to find (as Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson did, much later) one such Spanish treatise, produced in 1556 — i.e., twelve years before Bodin — in which Azpilcueta Navarra, a cleric of the Salamanca School, noted that:  “even in Spain, in times when money was scarcer, saleable goods and labor were given for very much less than after the discovery of the Indies, which flooded the country with gold and silver.”[8]

Hamilton also erred, if forgivably so, in two other respects.  First, in utilizing what were then, and in many cases still are, imperfect price indexes for many countries — France, England, Germany, Italy (but not for the Low Countries) — Hamilton (1934, pp. 205-10) concluded that the rise in the general level of prices during the Price Revolution was the greatest in Spain.  In fact, more recent research, based on the Phelps Brown and Hopkins (1956) Composite Price Index for England and the Van der Wee (1975) Composite Price Index (hereafter: CPI) for Brabant, in the southern Low Countries,  reveals the opposite to be true.  If we adopt a common base of 1501-10 = 100, in comparing the behavior of the price levels in Spain, England, and Brabant, for the period 1511-1650, we find that the Hamilton’s CPI for Spain rose from a quinquennial mean of 98.98 in 1511-15 to one of 343.36 in 1646-50 (for silver-based prices only: a 3.47 fold rise); in southern England, the CPI rose from a quinquennial mean of 103.08 in 1511-15 to one of 697.54 (a 6.77 fold rise); and in Brabant, the CPI rose from a quinquennial mean of 114.80 in 1511-15 to one of 845.07 (a 7.36 fold rise).[9] Both the Phelps Brown and Hopkins and the Van der Wee price indexes are, it must be noted, weighted, with roughly the same weights (80 percent foodstuffs in the former and 74 percent in the latter).  Hamilton, while fully admitting that “only index numbers weighted according to the expenditures of the average family accurately measure changes in the cost of living,” was forced to use a simple unweighted arithmetic mean (or equally weighted for all commodities), for he was unable to find any household expenditure budgets or any other reliable guides to produce such a weighted index.[10]

Undoubtedly, however, the principal if not the only explanation for the differences between the three sets of price indexes — to explain why the Spanish rose the least and the Brabantine the most — is the one offered by Malestroit: namely, coinage debasements.  Spain, unlike almost all other European countries of this era, underwent no debasements of the gold and silver coinages (none from 1497 to 1686),[11] but in 1599 the new Spanish king Philip III (1598-1621) did introduce a purely copper “vellon” coinage, a topic that requires a separate and very necessary analysis.  The England of Henry VIII (1509-1547) is famous — or infamous — for his “Great Debasement.”  He had begun modestly in 1526, by debasing Edward IV’s silver coinage by 11.11% (reducing its weight and silver contents from 0.719 to 0.639 grams of fine silver); but in 1542, he debased the silver by another 23.14% (to 0.491 grams of fine silver).  When the Great Debasement had reached its nadir under his successor (Northumberland, regent for Edward VI), in June 1553, the fine silver contents of the penny had been reduced (in both weight and fineness) to just 0.108 grams of fine silver: an overall reduction in the silver content of 83.1% from the 1526 coinage.  In November 1560, Elizabeth restored the silver coinage to traditional sterling fineness (92.5% fine silver) and much of the weight: so that the penny now contained 0.480 grams of fine silver (i.e., 75.1% of the silver in the 1526 coinage).  The English silver coinage remained untouched until July 1601, when its weight and fine silver contents were reduced by a modest 3.23%.  Thereafter the English silver coinage remained untouched until 1817 (when the silver contents were reduced by another 6.06%).  Thus for the entire period of the Price Revolution, from ca. 1520 to 1650, the English silver coinage lost 35.5% of its silver contents.[12] In the southern Low Countries (including Brabant), the silver coinage was debased — in both fineness and weight — a total of twelve times from 1521 to 1644: from 0.33 grams to 0.17 grams of fine silver in the penny, for an overall loss of 48.5%.[13]

 A New Form of Debasement: The New “Fractional” Copper or _Vellon_ Coinages in Spain and Elsewhere

In terms of the general theme of coinage debasement, a very major difference between Spain and these other two countries, from 1599, was the issue of a purely copper coinage called _vellon_, to which Hamilton devotes two major chapters.[14]  Virtually all countries in late medieval and early modern Europe issued a series of petty or low-denomination “fractional” coins — in various fractions of the penny, chiefly to enable the populace to buy such low-priced commodities as bread and beer (or wine).  But in all later-medieval countries the issues of the petty, fractional coinage almost always accounted for a very small proportion of total mint outputs (well under 5% of the aggregate value in Flanders).[15] They were commonly known as _monnaie noire_ (_zwart geld_ in Flemish): i.e., black money, because they contained so much copper, a base metal.  Indeed all coins– both silver and gold — always required at least some copper content as a hardening agent, so that the coins did not suffer too much erosion or breakage in circulation.

The term “debasement” is in fact derived from the fact that the most common mechanism for reducing the silver contents of a coin had been to replace it with more and more copper, a great temptation for so many princes who often derived substantial seigniorage revenues from the increased mint outputs that debasements induced (in both reminting current coin and in attracting bullion from abroad).  In this respect, England was an exception — apart from the era of the Great Debasement (1542-1553) — for its government virtually always maintained sterling silver fineness (92.5% silver, 7.5% copper), and reduced the silver contents for all denominations equally, by reducing the size and weight of the coin.  In continental Europe, the extent of the debasement, whether by fineness or by weight, or by both together, did vary by the denomination (to compensate for the greater labor costs in minting the greater number of lower-valued coins); but the petty “black money” coins — also known (in French) as _billon_, linguistically related to _vellon_, always contained some silver, and always suffered the same or roughly similar proportional reduction of silver as other denominations during debasements until 1543.  In that year, the government of the Habsburg Netherlands was the first to break that link: in issuing Europe’s first all-copper coin.  France followed suit with an all copper _denier_ (1 d tournois) in 1577; but England did not do so until 1672.[16]

Hamilton gives the erroneous impression that Spain (i.e., Castile) was the first to do so, in issuing an all copper _vellon_ coin in 1599.  Previously, Spanish kings (at least from 1471) had issued a largely copper fractional coinage called _blancas_ , with a nominal money-of-account value of 0.5 maravedí, but with a very small amount of silver — to convince the public that it was indeed precious-metal “money.”  The _blanca_ issued in 1471 had a silver fineness of 10 grains or 3.47% (weighing 1.107g).[17] In 1497, that fineness was reduced to 7 grains (2.43% fine); in 1552, to 5.5 grains (1.909% fine); in 1566, to 4 grains (1.39% fine).  In 1597, Philip II (1556-1598) had agreed to the issue of a maravedí coin itself, with, however, only 1 grain of silver (0.34% fine), weighing 1.576g.; but whether any were issued is not clear.[18]

Hamilton commends Philip II on his resolute stance on the issue _vellon_ coinages: for, in “believing that it could be maintained at parity only by limitation of its quantity to that required for change and petty transactions, he was exceedingly careful to restrict the supply.”[19] That is a very prescient comment, in almost exactly stating the principle of maintaining a sound system of fractional or petty coinage that Carlo Cipolla (1956) later enunciated,[20] in turn inspiring the recent monograph on this subject by Sargent and Velde (2002).[21] But neither of them gave Hamilton (1934) any credit for this fundamentally important observation, one whose great importance Hamilton deduced from the subsequent, seventeenth-century history of copper coinages in Spain.

Thus, as indicated earlier, in the year following the accession of the aforementioned Philip III, 1599, the government issued Spain’s first purely copper coin (minted at 140 per copper _marc_ of 230.047 g), and from 1602 at 280 per marc: i.e., reducing the weight by half from 1.643 g to 0.8216 g).[22] Certainly some of the ensuing inflation in seventeenth-century Spain, with a widening gap between nominal and silver-based prices, ranging from 4.0 percent in 1620 to 104.2 percent in 1650, has to be explained by such issues of a purely copper coinage.  Indeed, in Hamilton’s very pronounced view, the principal cause of inflation in the first half of the seventeenth century lay in such _vellon_ issues — more of a culprit than the continuing influx of Spanish American silver.[23]

If, however, we use Hamilton’s own CPI based on the actual nominal prices produced with the circulation of the _vellon_ copper coinage, from 1599-1600, we find that this index rose only 4.61 fold from the quinquennial mean of 1511-15 (98.98) to the mean of 1646-50 (457.07) — again well less than the overall rise of the English and Brabant composite price indexes.  Nevertheless, the differences between the silver-based and vellon-based price indexes in Spain for the first half of the seventeenth century are significant.  For the former (silver), the CPI rose from a mean of 320.98 in 1596-1600 to one of 343.36 in 1646-50, an overall rise of just 6.97%.  For the latter (vellon-based) index, the CPI rose to 457.09 in 1646-50, for a very substantial overall rise of 41.41%.  What certainly did now differentiate Spain from the other two, and indeed almost all other European countries in this period, is that in all the latter countries the purely copper petty coinage formed such a very much smaller, indeed minuscule, proportion of the total coined money supply.[24]

 The Evidence on Spanish-American Silver Mining and Silver Imports into Seville to 1600

What this discussion of the _vellon_ coinage makes crystal clear is that Hamilton did not attribute all of the inflation of the Price Revolution era to the “abundant mines of the Americas.”  Nevertheless many economic historians, after carefully examining Hamilton’s data on prices and imports of Spanish American bullion, noted — as Hamilton himself clearly demonstrated — that the Price Revolution had begun as early as the quinquennium 1516-20, long before, decades before, any significant amounts of Spanish American silver had reached Seville.  Virtually none was imported in the 1520s; and an annual mean of only 5,090.8 kg in 1531-35.[25]   The really substantial imports took place only after by far the two most important silver mines were brought into production: those of Potosi in “Peru” (modern-day Bolivia) in 1545, and Zacatecas, in Mexico, the following year, 1546.  From that quinquennium of 1546-50, mean annual silver imports into Seville rose from 18,698.8 kg to 273,704.5 kg in the quinquennium of 1591-95, marking the peak of the silver imports.  Between these two quinquennia, the total mined silver outputs of Potosi and Zacatecas (unknown to Hamilton) rose from an annual mean of 64,848.9 kg to one of 219,457.4 kg (indicating that silver was coming from other sources than just these two mines).[26] Even then, their production began to boom only with the application of the mercury amalgamation process (which Hamilton barely mentioned — only on p. 16), greatly aided by abundant local supplies of mercury — at Zacatecas, from about 1554-57, and at Potosi, from 1572.[27]

 The Alternative Explanation for the Price Revolution: Population Growth

If all this evidence does indeed prove that the influx of Spanish silver was certainly not the initial cause of the European Price Revolution, surely the data should indicate that the subsequent influx of that silver, especially from the 1550s, very likely did play a significant role in fueling an ongoing inflation. But so many of the anti-monetarist historians leapt to an alternative — and in my view — false conclusion that population growth was the initial and the prime-mover in “causing” the Price Revolution.[28] My objections to this demographic-oriented thesis are two-fold.

In the first place, the now available evidence on demographic recovery and growth in England and the southern Low Countries (Brabant) does not at all correspond to the statistical evidence on inflation during the early phase of the Price Revolution — in the early sixteenth century. For England the best estimate of population in the early 1520s, when the Price Revolution was already underway, is 2.25 or 2.30 million, about half of the most conservative estimate for England’s population in 1300: about 4.5 million — an estimate still rejected by the majority of medieval economic historians, who prefer the more traditional estimate of 6.0 million.[29] If England in the early 1520s was obviously still very unpopulated, compared to its late-medieval peak, and if its population had just begun to recover, how could any such renewed growth, from such a very low level, have so immediately sparked inflation: how could it have caused a rise in the CPI (Phelps Brown and Hopkins) from a quinquennial mean of 96.70 (1451-75 = 100) in 1496-1500 to one of 146.05 in 1521-25?

We find a similar demographic situation in Brabant.  From the 1437 census to the 1496 census, the number of registered households fell from 92,738 to just 75,343: a fall of 18.76 percent.[30] If we further assume that a fall in population also involved a decline in the average family or household size, the demographic decline would have been much greater than these data indicate.  According to Herman Van der Wee (1963), Brabant, like England, did not commence its demographic recovery until the early sixteenth century; and his estimated average annual rate of population growth from 1496 to 1526 was 0.96%.[31]  For this same period, Van der Wee’s CPI for Brabant shows a rise from 115.35 in 1496-1500 (again 1451-75 = 100) to one of 179.94 in 1521-25.  How can any such renewed population growth explain that inflation?

In the second place, the arguments and analyses supplied involve faulty economics: an erroneous transfer of micro-economic analysis to macro-economics.  One can well argue, for early-modern western Europe, that the effect of sustained population growth for the agrarian sector, with necessary additions of “marginal lands” that were generally inferior in fertility and more distant from markets, and without a widespread diffusion of technological changes to offset diminishing returns in this sector, inevitably led to sharply rising marginal costs.  That in turn resulted in price increases for grains and other agricultural commodities (including timber) that were greater than those for non-agrarian and especially industrial commodities, certainly in both England and the southern Low Countries during the course of the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth century.[32]  But that basically micro-economic model concerning individual, relative commodity prices is, however, very different from a macro-economic model contending that population growth by itself led to an overall increase in the level of prices — i.e., in the CPI.

We should remember that, almost 35 years ago, Donald McCloskey (1972), in a review of Ramsey (1971), responded to these demographic-oriented explanations of the Price Revolution by contending that, if both monetary variables (M and V) were held constant, then population growth (if translated into an increased T or y, in MV = Py) should have led to a fall in P, in the CPI.  Nevertheless, there is some validity to the argument that population growth and changes in the demographic structures may have influenced the role of another monetary factor in the Price Revolution: namely changes in the income velocity of money, to be discussed as a separate topic later in this review.

 Hamilton’s Explanations for the Origins of the Price Revolution before the Influx of Spanish Treasure: The Roles of Gold, South German Silver Mining, and Changes in Credit

How then did Hamilton — and how do we — explain the origins of the Spanish and indeed European-wide Price Revolution,  in the early sixteenth century, i.e., for the period well before any significant influxes of American silver, and also before there was any significant population growth (at least in England and the Low Countries).  Was Hamilton that ignorant of the implications of his own data?  Certainly not.  On p. 299, in his chapter XIII entitled “Why Prices Rose,” he stated that: “the gold imports from the Antilles significantly influenced Andalusian and New Castilian prices even in the first two decades of the sixteenth century,” without, however, elaborating that point any further.[33]  More important are his observations on p. 301, where he explicitly moderates his emphasis on the role of Spanish-American treasure imports, in stating that:  “Only at the beginning of  the sixteenth century, when, as has been shown, colonial demand, credit expansion, and the increased output of German silver made themselves felt, and at the end of the century, when a devastating epidemic, and an over issue of vellon coinage took place, did other factors play important roles in the price upheaval [i.e., the Price Revolution].”  Indeed, in his own view, the paramount role of the influxes of Spanish-American bullion apply to only, at most, 65 years of the 130 years of the Price Revolution era, i.e., to just half the era — from ca. 1535 to 1600, though the evidence for that role seems to be more clear for just the half-century 1550-1600.

It is most regrettable that Hamilton himself failed to elaborate the role of any these factors, principally monetary, in producing inflation in early-sixteenth century Spain.  Had he done so, surely he would have been spared the subsequent and really unfair criticism that he was offering a simplistic monocausal explanation of the Price Revolution, and one in the form of a very crude Quantity Theory of Money.  The most important of “initial causes” that Hamilton lists was surely the question of “German silver,” or more specifically, the South-German and Central European silver-copper mining boom from about the 1460s to the 1540s.  Where he derived his information is not clear, but from other footnotes it was presumably from the publications of two much earlier German economic historians, Adolf Soetbeer and Georg Wiebe.  The latter was, in fact, the first to write a major monograph on the Price Revolution (_Geschichte der Preisrevolution des XVI.  und XVII.  Jahrhunderts_), and he seems to have coined (so to speak) the term.[34]  The former, though a pioneer in trying to quantity both European and world supplies of precious metals, providing a significant influence on Wiebe,  produced seriously defective data on German mining outputs in the later fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, greatly underestimating total outputs, as  John Nef demonstrated in a seminal article published in 1941, subsequently elaborated in Nef (1952).[35] In Nef’s view, this South German mining boom may have quintupled Europe’s supply of silver by the 1530s, and thus before any major influx of Spanish-American silver.[36]

Since then a number of economic historians, me included, have published their research on this South German-Central European silver-copper mining boom.[37] These mountainous regions contained immensely rich ores bearing these two metals, which, however were largely inaccessible for two reasons: first, there was no known method of separating the two metals in smelting the argentiferous-cupric ores; and second, the ever-present danger of flooding in the regions containing these ore bodies made mined extraction very difficult and costly.  In my view, the very serious deflation that Europe experienced during the second of the so-called “bullion famines,” from the 1440s to the 1460s, provided the profit incentive for the necessary technological changes to resolve these two problems.  Consider that since virtually all of Europe’s money-of-account pricing system was based on, tied to, the silver coinage, deflation (low prices) _ipso facto_ meant a corresponding rise in the real value of silver, gram per gram (just as inflation means a fall in the real value of silver, per gram).  The solutions lay in innovations in both mechanical engineering and chemical engineering.  The first was the development of water-powered or horse-powered piston vacuum pumps (along with slanted drainage adits in the mountain sides) to resolve the water-flooding problem.  The second was the so-called _Saigerhütten_ process by which lead was added to the ore-bodies in smelting (also using hydraulic machinery and the new blast furnaces) — during the smelting process the lead combined with the silver to precipitate the copper, and the silver-lead amalgam was then resmelted to remove the lead.

Both processes were certainly in operation by the 1460s; and by my very conservative estimates, certainly incomplete, the combined outputs of mines in Saxony, Thuringia, Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Tyrol rose from a quinquennial mean of 12,973.4 kg in 1471-75 (when adequate output data can first be utilized) to a peak production in 1536-40 (thus later than Nef’s estimates), with a quinquennial mean output of 55,703.8 kg — a  4.29-fold increase overall (i.e.. 329.36% increase) — close enough to Nef’s five-fold estimate, given the likely lacunae in the data.[38]  Consider that this output, for the late 1530s, was not exceeded by Spanish-American silver influxes until a quarter of a century later, in 1561-65, when, thanks to the recently applied mercury amalgamation process, a quinquennial mean import of 83,373.92 kg reached Seville (compared to a mean import of just 27,145.03 in 1556-60).[39]

But where did all this Central European silver go?  Historically, from the mid-fourteenth century, most of the German silver-mining outputs had been sent to Venice, whose merchants re-exported most of that silver to the Levant, in exchange for Syrian cotton and Asian spices and other luxury goods.  Two separate factors helped to reverse the direction of that flow, down the Rhine, to Antwerp and the Brabant Fairs.  The first was Burgundian monetary policy: debasements in 1466-67, which, besides attracting silver in itself, reversed a half-century long pro-gold mint policy to a pro-silver policy, offering a relative value for silver (in gold and in goods) higher than anywhere else in Europe.[40] Thus the combined Flemish and Brabantine mint outputs, measured in kilograms of fine silver rose from nil (0) in 1461-65 to 9,341.50 kg in 1476-80 — though much of that was recycled silver coin and bullion in quite severe debasements.  But in 1496-1500, after the debasements had ceased, the mean annual output in that quinquennium was 4,872.96 kg; and in 1536-40, at the peak of the mining boom (and, again, before any substantial Spanish-American imports) the mean output was 5,364.99 kg.[41]

The second factor in altering the silver flows was increasingly severe disruptions in Venice’s Levant trade with the now major Ottoman conquests in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, from the 1460s (and especially from the mid-1480s) culminating (if not ending) with the Turkish conquest of the Mamluk Levant (i.e., Egypt, Palestine, Syria) itself in 1517 (along with conquests in Arabia and the western Indian Ocean). While we have no data on silver flows, we do have data for the joint-product of the Central European mining boom — copper, a very important export as well to the Levant.  In 1491-95, 32.13% of the Central European mined copper outputs went to Venice, but only 5.22% went to Antwerp; by 1511-15, the situation was almost totally reversed: only 3.64% of the mined copper went to Venice, while 58.36% was sent to Antwerp.  May we conjecture that there was a related shift in the flows of silver?  By the 1530s, the copper flows to Venice, which now had more peaceful relations with the Turks, had risen to 11.07%, but 53.88% of the copper was still being sent to the Antwerp Fairs.[42]  Of course, by this time the Portuguese, having made Antwerp the European staple for their recently acquired Indian Ocean spice trade (1501), were shipping significant (if unmeasurable) quantities of both copper and silver to the East Indies.  Then in 1549, the Portuguese moved their staple to Seville, to gain access to the now growing imports of Spanish-American silver.

 The Early Sixteenth-century “Financial Revolutions”: In Private and Public Credit

The other monetary factor that Hamilton mentioned — but never discussed — to help explain the rise of prices in early sixteenth-century Spain was the role of credit.  Indeed, as Herman Van der Wee (1963, 1967, 1977, 2000) and others have now demonstrated, the Spanish Habsburg Netherlands experienced a veritable financial revolution involving both negotiability and organized markets for public debt instruments.  As for the first, the lack of legal and institutional mechanisms to make medieval credit instruments fully negotiable had hindered their ability to counteract frequent deflationary forces; and at best, such credit instruments (such as the bill of exchange) could act only to increase — or decrease — the income velocity of money.[43] The first of two major institutional barriers was the refusal of courts to recognize the legal rights of the “bearer” to collect the full proceeds of a commercial bill on its stipulated redemption date: i.e., the financial and legally enforceable rights of those who had purchased or otherwise licitly acquired a commercial bill from the designated payee before that redemption date.  Indeed, most medieval courts were reluctant to recognize the validity of any “holograph” bill: those that not been officially notarized and registered with civic authorities.  The second barrier was the Church’s usury doctrine: for, any sale and transfer  of a credit instrument to a third party before the stipulated redemption date would obviously have had to be at some rate of discount — and that would have revealed an implicit interest payment in the transaction. Thus this financial revolution, in the realm of private credit, in the Low Countries involved the role of urban law courts (law-merchant courts), beginning with Antwerp in 1507, then most of other Netherlander towns, in guaranteeing such rights of third parties to whom these bills were sold or transferred.  Finally, in the years 1539-1543, the Estates General of the Habsburg Netherlands firmly established, with national legislation, all of the legal requirements for full-fledged negotiability (as opposed to mere transferability) of all credit instruments: to protect the rights of third parties in transferable bills, so that bills obligatory and bills of exchange could circulate from hand to hand, amongst merchants, in commercial and financial transactions.  One of the important acts of the Estates-General, in 1543 — possibly reflecting the growing influence of Calvinism — boldly rejected the long-held usury doctrine by legalizing the payment of interest, up to a maximum of 12% (so that anything above that was now “usury”).[44]  England’s Protestant Parliament, under Henry VIII, followed suit two years later, in 1545, though with a legal maximum interest of 10%.[45] That provision thereby permitted the openly public discounting of commercial credit instruments, though this financial innovation was slow to spread, until accompanied, by the end of the sixteenth century, with the much more common device of written endorsements.[46]

The other major component of the early-sixteenth century “financial revolution” lay in public finance, principally in the Spanish Habsburg Netherlands, France, much of Imperial Germany, and Spain itself — in the now growing shift from interest-bearing government loans to the sale of annuities, generally known as _rentes_ or _renten_ or (in Spain) _juros_, especially after several fifteenth-century papal bulls had firmly established, once and for all, that they were not loans (a _mutuum_, in both Roman and canon law), and thus not subject to the usury ban.[47] Those who bought such _rentes_ or annuities from local, territorial, or national governments purchased an annual stream of income, either for a lifetime, or in perpetuity; and the purchaser could reclaim his capital only by finding some third party to purchase from him the _rente_ and the attached annuity income.  That, therefore, also required both the full legal and institutional establishment of negotiability, with now organized financial markets.

In 1531, Antwerp, now indisputably the commercial and financial capital of at least northern Europe, provided such an institution with the establishment of its financial exchange, commonly known as the _beurse_ (the “purse” — copied by Amsterdam in 1608, and London in 1695, in its Stock Exchange).  Thanks to the role of the South German merchant-bankers — the Fuggers, Welsers, Höchstetters, Herwarts, Imhofs, and Tuchers — the Antwerp _beurse_ played a major role in the international marketing of such government securities, during the rest of the sixteenth century, in particular the Spanish _juros_, whose issue expanded from 3.586 million ducats (_escudos_ of 375 maravedís) in 1516 to 80.040 million ducats in 1598, at the death of Philip II — a 22.4-fold increase.  Most these perpetual and fully negotiable _juros_ were held abroad.[48] According to Herman Van der Wee (1977), this sixteenth-century “age of the Fuggers and [then] of the Genoese [merchant-bankers, who replaced the Germans] was one of spectacular growth in public finances.”[49] Finally, it is important to note the relationship between changes in money stocks and issues of credit.  For, as Frank Spooner (1972) observed (and documented in his study of European money and prices in the sixteenth century), even anticipated arrivals of Spanish treasure fleets would induce these South German and Genoese merchant-bankers to expand credit issues by some multiples of the perceived bullion values.[50]

 The Debate about Changes in the Income Velocity of Money (or Cambridge “k”)

The combined effect of this “revolution” in both private and public finance was to increase both the effective supply of money — in so far as these negotiable credit instruments circulated widely,  as though they were paper money — and also, and even more so, the income velocity of money.  This latter concept brings up two very important issues, one involving Hamilton’s book itself, in particular his interpretation of the causes of the Price Revolution.  Most postwar (World War II) economic historians, myself included (up to now, in writing this review), have unfairly regarded Hamilton’s thesis as a very crude, simplistic version of the Quantity Theory of Money.  That was based on a careless reading (mea culpa!) of pp. 301-03 in his Chapter XIII on “Why Prices Rose,” wherein he stated, first, in explaining the purpose his Chart 20,[51] that:

The extremely close correlation between the increase in the volume of [Spanish-American] treasure imports and the advance of commodity prices throughout the sixteenth century, particularly from 1535 on, demonstrates beyond question that the “abundant mines of America” [i.e., Adam Smith’s description] were the principal cause of the Price Revolution in Spain.

We should note, first, that the “close correlation” is only a visual image from the graph, for he never computed any mathematical correlations (few did in that prewar era).  Second, Ingrid Hammarström was perfectly correct in noting that Hamilton’s correlation between the _annual_ values of treasure imports (gold and silver in pesos of 450 marevedis) and the composite price index is not in accordance with the quantity theory, which seeks to establish a relationship between aggregates: i.e., the total accumulated stock of money (M) and the price level (P).[52]  But that would have been an impossible task for Hamilton.  For, if he had added up the annual increments from bullion exports in order to arrive at some estimate of accumulated bullion stocks, he would have had to deduct from that estimate the annual outflows of bullion, for which there are absolutely no data.  Furthermore, estimates of net (remaining) bullion stocks are not the same as estimates of the coined money stock; and the coined money stock does not represent the total supply of money.[53]

Third, concerning Hamilton’s views on the Quantity Theory itself, his important monetary qualifications concerning the early sixteenth century and first half of the seventeenth century have already been noted.  We should now note his further and very important qualification (p. 301), as follows: “The reader should bear in mind that a graphic verification of that crude form of the quantity theory of money which takes no account of the velocity of circulation is not the purpose of Chart 20.”  He did not, however, discuss this issue any further; and it is notable that his bibliography does not list Irving Fisher’s classic 1911 monograph, which had thoroughly analyzed his own concepts of the Transactions Velocity of Money.[54]

Most economics students are familiar with Fisher’s Equation of Exchange, to explain the Quantity Theory of Money in a much better fashion than nineteenth-century Classical Economists had done: namely, MV = PT.   If many continue to debate the definition of M, as high-powered money, and of P — i.e., on how to construct a valid weighted CPI — the most troublesome aspect is the completely amorphous and unmeasurable “T” — as the aggregate volume of total transactions in the economy in a given year.  Many have replaced T with Q: the total volume of goods and services produced each year.  But the best substitute for T is “y” (lower case Y: a version attributed to Milton Friedman) — i.e., a deflated measure of Keynesian Y, as the Net National Product = Net National Income (by definition).[55]

The variable “V” thus becomes the income velocity of money (rather than Fisher’s Transactions Velocity) — of the unit of money in the creation of the net national income in the course of a year.   It is obviously derived mathematically by this equation: V = Py/M (and Py of course equals the current nominal value of NNI).  Almost entirely eschewed by students (my students, at least), but much preferred by most economists, is the Cambridge Cash Balances equation: whose modernized form would similarly be M = kPy, in which Cambridge “k” represents that share of the value of Net National Income that the public chooses to hold in real cash balances, i.e., in high-powered money (a straight tautology, as is the Fisher Equation).  We should be reminded that both V and k are mathematically linked reciprocals in that: V = 1/k and thus k = 1/V.  Keynesian economists would logically (and I think, rightly) contend that _ceteris paribus_ an increase in the supply of money should lead to a reduction in V and thus to an increase in Cambridge “k.”  If V represents the extent to which society collectively seeks to economize on the use of money, the necessity to do so would diminish if the money supply rises (indeed, to create an “excess”).  But this result and concept is all the more clear in the Cambridge Cash Balances approach.  For the opportunity cost of “k” — of holding cash balances — is to forgo the potential income from its alternative use, i.e., by investing those funds.  If we assume that the Liquidity Preference Schedule is (in the short run) fixed — in terms of the transactions, precautionary, and speculative motives for holding money — then a rightward shift of the Money Supply schedule along the fixed or stationary LP schedule should have led to a fall in the real rate of interest, and thus in the opportunity cost of holding cash balances.  And if that were so, then “k” should rise (exactly reflecting the fall in V).

 What makes this theory so interesting for the interpretation of the causes of at least  the subsequent inflations of the Price Revolution — say from the 1550s or 1560s — is that several very prominent economic historians have argued that  an equally or even more powerful force for inflation was a continuing rise in V, the income velocity of money (i.e., and thus to a fall in “k”): in particular, Harry Miskimin (1975), Jack Goldstone (1984, 1991a, 1991b), and Peter Lindert (1985).  Furthermore, all three have related this role of “V” to structural changes in the economy brought about by population growth.  Their theories are too complex to be discussed here, but the most intriguing, in summary, is Goldstone’s thesis.  He contended, in referring to sixteenth-century England, that its population growth was accompanied by a highly disproportionate growth in urbanization, a rapid and extensive development of commercialized agriculture, urban markets, and an explosive growth in the use of credit instruments.  In such a situation, with a rapid growth “in occupationally specialized linked networks, the potential velocity of circulation of coins grows as the square of the size of the network.”  Lindert’s somewhat simpler view is that demographic growth was also accompanied by a two-fold set of changes: (1) changes in relative prices — in the aforementioned steep rise in agricultural prices, rising not only above industrial prices, but above nominal wages, thus creating severe household budget constraints; and (2) in pyramidal age structures, and thus with changes in dependency ratios (between adult producers and dependent children) that necessitated both dishoarding and a rapid reduction in Cambridge “k” ( = rise in V).

Those arguments and the apparent contradiction with traditional Keynesian theory on the relationships between M and V (or Cambridge “k”) intrigued and inspired Nicholas Mayhew (1995), a renowned British medieval and early-modern monetary historian, to investigate these propositions over a much longer period of time: from 1300 to 1700.[56]  He found that in all periods of monetary expansion during these four centuries, the Keynesian interpretation of changes in V or “k” held true, with one singular anomalous exception: the sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Price Revolution.  That anomaly may (or may not) be explained by the various arguments set forth by Miskimin, Goldstone, and Lindert.

The Debates about the Spanish and European Distributions of Spanish American “Treasure” and the Monetary Approach to the Balance of Payments Theorem

We may now return to Hamilton’s own considerations about the complex relationships between the influx of Spanish-American silver and its distribution in terms of various factors influencing (at least implicitly) the “V” and “y” variables, in turn influencing changes in P (the CPI).  He contends first (pp. 301-02) that “the increase in the world stock of precious metals during the sixteenth century was probably more than twice — possibly as much as four times — as great as the advance of prices” in Spain.  He speculates, first, that some proportion of this influx was hoarded or converted, not just by the Church, in ecclesiastical artifacts, but also by the Spanish nobility (thus leading to a rise in “k”), while a significantly increasing proportion was exported in trade with Asia, though mentioning only the role of the English East India Company (from 1600), surprisingly ignoring the even more prominent contemporary role of the Dutch, and the much earlier role of the Portuguese (from 1501, though the latter used  principally South German silver).  We now estimate that of the total value of European purchases made in Asia in late-medieval and early modern eras, about 65-70 percent were paid for in bullion and thus only 25-30 percent from the sale of European merchandise in Asia.[57]  Finally, Hamilton also fairly speculated that “the enhanced production and exchange of goods which accompanied the growth of population, the substitution of monetary payments for produce rents [in kind] … and the shift from wages wholly or partially in kind to monetary remunerations for services, and the decrease of barter tended to counteract the rapid augmentation of gold and silver money:”  i.e., a combination of interacting factors that affected both Cambridge “k” and Friedman’s “y.”  Clearly Hamilton was no simplistic proponent of a crude Quantity Theory of Money.

From my own studies of monetary and price history over the past four decades, I offer these observations, in terms of the modernized version of Fisher’s Equation of Exchange, for the history of European prices from ca. 1100 to 1914.   An increase in M virtually always resulted in some degree of inflation, but one that was usually offset by some reduction in V (increase in “ k”) and by some increase in y, especially if and when lower interest rates promoted increased investment.[58]  Thus the inflationary consequences of increasing the money supply are historically indeterminate, though usually the price rise was, for these reasons, less than proportional to the increase in the monetary stock, except when excessively severe debasements created a veritable “flight from coinage,” when coined money was exchanged for durable goods (i.e., another instance in which an increase in M was accompanied by an increase in V).[59]

One of the major issues related to this debate about the Price Revolution is the extent to which the Spanish-American silver that flowed into Spain soon flowed out to other parts of Europe (i.e., apart from the aggregate European bullion exports to Asia and Russia).  There is little mystery in explaining how that outflow took place.  Spain, under both Charles V (I of Spain) and Philip II, ruled a vast, far-flung empire: including not only the American colonies and the Philippines, but also the entire Low Countries, and major parts of Germany and Italy, and then Portugal and its colonies from 1580 to 1640.  Maintaining and defending such a vast empire inevitably led to war, almost continuous war, with Spain’s neighbors, especially France.  Then, in 1568, most of  the Low Countries (Habsburg Netherlands) revolted against Spanish rule, a revolt that (despite a truce from 1609 to 1621) merged into the Thirty Years War (1618-48), finally resolved by the Treaty of Westphalia.  As Hamilton himself suggests (but without offering any corroborative evidence — nor can I), vast quantities of silver (and gold) thus undoubtedly flowed from Spain into the various military theaters, in payment for wages, munitions, supplies, and diplomacy, while the German and then Genoese bankers presumably received considerable quantities of bullion (or goods so purchased) in repayment of loans.[60]  Other factors that Hamilton suggested were: adverse trade balances, or simply expanding imports, especially from Italy and the Low Countries (with an increased marginal propensity to import); and operations of divergent bimetallic mint ratios.  What role piracy and smuggling actually played in this international diffusion of precious metals cannot be ascertained.[61]

But Outhwaite (1969, 1982), in analyzing the monetary factors that might explain the Price Revolution in Tudor and early Stuart England, asserted (again with no evidence) that: “Spanish silver … appears to have played little or no part before 1630 and a very limited one thereafter.”[62]  That statement, however, is simply untrue.  For, as Challis (1975) has demonstrated, four of the five extant “Melting Books,” tabulating the sources of bullion for London’s Tower Mint, between 1561 and 1599, indicate that Spanish silver accounted for proportions of total bullion coined that ranged from a low of 75.0% (1561-62) to a high of 86.3% (1584-85).  The “melting books” also indicate that almost all of the remaining foreign silver bullion brought to the Tower Mint came from the Spanish Habsburg Low Counties (the southern Netherlands, which the Spanish had quickly reconquered).[63]  Furthermore, if we ignore the mint outputs during the Great Debasement (1542-1553) and during the Elizabethan Recoinage (1561-63), we find that the quantity of silver bullion coined in the English mints rose from a quinquennial mean of 1,089.012 kg in 1511-15 (at the onset of the Price Revolution) to a peak of 18,653.36 kg in 1591-95, after almost four decades of stable money: a 17.13 fold increase.  Over this same period, the proportion of the total value of the aggregate mint outputs accounted for by silver rose from 12.32% to 90.35% — and (apart from the Great Debasement era) without any significant change in the official bimetallic ratio.[64]

Those economists who favor the Monetary Approach to the Balance of Payments Theorem in explaining inflation as an international phenomenon would contend that we do not have to explain any specific bullion flows between individual countries, and certainly not in terms of a Hume-Turgot price-specie flow mechanism.[65]  In essence, this theorem states that world bullion stocks (up to 1914, with a wholesale shift to fiat money) determine the overall world price level; and that individual countries, through international arbitrage and  the “law of one price,” undergo the necessary adjustments in establishing a commensurate domestic price level and the requisite money supply (in part determined by changes in private and public credit) — not just through international trade in goods and services, but especially in capital flows (exchanging assets for money) at existing exchange rates, without specifically related bullion flows.

Nevertheless, in the specific case of sixteenth century England, we are naturally led to ask:  where did all this silver come from; and why did England shift from a gold-based to a silver-based economy during this century?   More specifically, if Nicholas Mayhew (1995) is reasonably close in his estimates of England’s Y = Gross National Income (Table I, p. 244), from 1300 to 1700, as measured in the silver-based sterling money-of-account, that it rose from about  £3.5 million pounds sterling in 1470 (with a population of 2.3 million) to £40.88 million pound sterling in 1670 (a population of 5.0 million) — an 11.68-fold increase — then we again may ask this fundamental question.   Where did all these extra pounds sterling come from in maintaining that latter level of national income?   Did they come from an increase in the stock of silver coinages, and/or from a vast increase in the income velocity of money?  Indeed that monetary shift from gold to silver may have had some influence on the presumed increase in the income velocity of money since the lower-valued silver coins had a far greater turnover in circulation than did the very high-valued gold coins.[66]

 Statistical Measurements of the Impact of Increased Silver Supplies: Bimetallic Ratios and Inflation

There are two other statistical measures to indicate the economic impact within Europe itself of the  influx of South German and then Spanish American silver during the Price Revolution era, i.e., until the 1650s.  The first is the bimetallic ratio.  In England, despite the previously cited evidence on its relative stability in the sixteenth-century, by 1660, the official mint ratio had risen to 14.485:1 (from the low of 10.333:1 in 1464).[67]  In Spain, the official bimetallic ratio had risen from 10.11:1 in 1497 to 15.45:1 in 1650; and in Amsterdam, the gold:silver mint ratio had risen from 11.21 in 1600 to 13.93:1 in 1640 to 14.56:1 in 1650.[68]  These ratios indicate that silver had become relatively that much cheaper than gold from the early sixteenth to mid-seventeenth century; and also that, despite very significant European exports of silver to the Levant and to South Asia and Indonesia in the seventeenth century, Europe still remained awash with silver.[69]  At the same time, it is also a valid conjecture that the greatest impact of the influx of Spanish American silver (and gold) in this era was to permit a very great expansion in European trade with Asia, indeed inaugurating a new era of globalization.

The second important indicator of the change in the relative value of silver is the rise in the price level:  i.e., of inflation itself.  As noted earlier, the English CPI experienced a 6.77-fold from 1511-15 to 1646-50, at the very peak of the Price Revolution; and the Brabant CPI experienced a 7.36-fold rise over the very same period (expressed in annual means per quinquennium).[70] Since these price indexes are expressed in terms of silver-based moneys-of-account, that necessarily meant that silver, gram per gram, had become that much cheaper in relation to tradable goods (as represented in the CPI) — though, as noted earlier, the variations in the rates of change in these CPI are partly explained by differences in their respective coinage debasements.

A Comparison of the Data on Spanish-American Mining Outputs and Bullion Imports (into Seville)

Finally, how accurate are Hamilton’s data on the Spanish-American bullion imports?   We can best gauge that accuracy by comparing the aggregate amount of fine silver bullion entering Seville with the now known data on the Spanish-American silver-mining outputs, for the years for which we have data for both of these variables: from 1551 to 1660.[71]  One will recall that the Potosi mines were opened only in 1545; and those of Zacatecas in 1546; and recall, furthermore, that production at both began to boom only with the subsequent application of the mercury amalgamation process (not fully applied until the 1570s).  The comparative results are surprisingly close.  In that 110-year period permitting this comparison, total imports of fine silver, according to Hamilton, amounted to 16,886,815.3 kg; and the combined outputs from the Potosi and Zacatecas mines was very close to that figure: 17,057,938.2 kg.[72]  It is also worth noting that the outputs from the Spanish-American mines and the silver imports both peak in the same quinquennium: 1591-95, when the annual mean mined silver output was 219,457.4 kg and the annual mean silver import was 272,704.5 kg.  By 1626-30, the mean annual mined output had fallen 18.7% to 178,490.0 kg and the mean annual import had fallen even further, by 24.7%, to 206,045.26 kg (both sets of data indicate that the silver imports for these years were not based just on these two mines).  Thereafter, the fall in imports is much more precipitous: declining by 86.4%, to an annual mean import of just 27,965.33 kg in the final quinquennium of recorded import data, in 1656-60.  The combined mined output of the Potosi and Zacatecas mines also fell during this very same period, but not by as much: declining by 27.1%, with a mean output of 130,084.23 kg in 1656-60: i.e., a mean output that was 4.65 times more than the mean silver imports into Seville in that quinquennium.

The decline in the Spanish-American mining outputs of silver can be largely attributed to the expected rate of diminishing returns in a natural-resource industry without further technological changes.  The differences between the two sets of data, on output and imports, were actually suggested by Hamilton himself (even though he lacked any knowledge of the Spanish-American production figures for this era): a higher proportion of the silver was being retained in the Spanish Americas for colonial economic development, and also for export (from Acapulco, in Mexico) across the Pacific to the Philippines and China, principally for the silk trades.  Indeed, as TePaske (1983) subsequently demonstrated, the share of pubic revenues of the Viceroyalty of Peru retained for domestic development rose from 40.8% in 1591-1600 to a peak of 98.9% in 1681-90.  We have no comparable statistics for the much less wealthy Mexico (in New Spain); but TePaske also supplies data on its silver exports to the Philippines. Those exports rose from an annual mean of 1,191.2 kg in 1591-1600 (4.8% of Mexican total silver outputs) to a peak of 9,388.2 kg in 1631-40 (29.6% of the total silver outputs).  Though declining somewhat thereafter, such exports then recovered to 4,990.0 kg in 1681-90 (29.0% of the total silver outputs).[73]

 The Morineau Challenge to Hamilton’s Data: Speculations on Post-1660 Bullion Imports and Deflation

Hamilton’s research on Spanish-American bullion imports into Seville ceased with the year, 1660, because that latter date marked “the termination of compulsory registration of treasure” at Seville.[74] Subsequently, the French economic historian Michel Morineau (1968, 1985) sought to remedy the post-1660 lacuna of bullion import data by extrapolating statistics from Dutch gazettes and newspapers.  In doing so, contended that Spanish-American bullion imports strongly revived after the 1660s, a view that most historians have uncritically accepted.[75]  But his two publications on this issue present a number of serious problems.  First, there is the problem of comparing Spanish apples (actual data on bullion imports) with Dutch oranges (newspaper reports, many being speculations).  Second, the statistics in the two publications differ strongly from each other.  Third, except for one difficult-to-decipher semi-logarithmic graph, they do not provide specific data that allow us to distinguish clearly between gold and silver imports, either by weight or value.[76]  Fourth, the statistics on bullion imports are vastly larger in kilograms of metal than those recorded for Spanish American mining outputs, and also differ radically in the trends recorded for the Spanish-American mining output data.[77]

Nevertheless, these Spanish American mining output data do indicate some considerable recovery in production in the later seventeenth century.  Thus,  while the output of the Potosi mines continued to fall in the later seventeenth century (to a mean of 56,884.9 kg in 1696-1700, and to one of just 30,990.86 kg in 1711-15), those at Zacatecas recovered from the low of 26,373.4 kg in 1656-60 to more than double, reaching an unprecedented peak of 64,139.87 kg in 1676-80.  Then, shortly after, a new and very important Mexican silver mine was developed at Sombrerete, producing an annual mean output of 30,492.83 kg in 1681-85.  Thus the aggregate (known) Spanish-American mining output rose from a low 101,533.96 kg in 1661-65 (mean annual output) to a high of 143,212.93 kg in 1686-90: a 1.41-fold increase.[78]

Whatever are the actual figures for the imports of Spanish-American silver between the 1660s and the 1690s, we are in fact better informed about the export of precious metals, primarily silver, by the two East India Companies: in those four decades, the two companies exported a total of 1,3345,342.0 kg of fine silver to Asia.[79]  An indication of some relative West European scarcity of coined silver money, from the 1660s to the 1690s, can be found in the Consumer Price Indexes for both England and Brabant.  In England, the quinquennial mean CPI (1451-75=100) fell from the Price Revolution peak of 734.39 in 1646-50 to a low of 547.58 in 1686-90: a fairly dramatic fall of 25.43%.  By that time, however, the London Goldsmiths’ development of deposit and transfer banking, with fully negotiable promissory notes and rudimentary paper bank notes, was providing a financial remedy for any such monetary scarcity — as did the subsequent vast imports of gold from Brazil.[80] Similarly, in Brabant, the quinquennial mean CPI (1451-75=100) fell from the aforementioned peak of 1015.138 in 1646-50 to a low of 652.217 — an even greater fall of 35.8% — similarly in 1686-90.  In Spain (New Castile), the deflation commenced somewhat later, according to Hamilton (1947), who, for this period, used a CPI whose base is 1671-80=100.  From a quinquennial mean peak of 103.5 in 1676-80 (perhaps reflecting the ongoing vellon inflation), the CPI fell to a low 59.0 in 1686-90 (an even more drastic fall of 43.0%): i.e., the very same period for deflationary nadir experienced in both England and Brabant.

These data are presented in Hamilton’s third major monograph (1947), which appeared thirteen years later, shortly after World War II, covering the period 1651-1800: in Table 5, p. 119.  In between these two, Hamilton (1936), published his second monograph: covering the period 1351-1500 (but excluding Castile)  One might thus be encouraged to believe that, thanks to Hamilton, we should possess a continuous “Spanish” price index from 1351-1800.  Alas, that is not the case, for Hamilton kept shifting his price-index base for each half century over this period, without providing any overlapping price indexes or even similar sets of prices (in the maravedís money-of-account) to permit (without exhaustive labor) the compilation of such a continuous price index.[81]  That, perhaps, is my most serious criticism of Hamilton’s scholarship in these three volumes (though not of his journal articles), even if he has provided an enormous wealth of price data for a large number of commodities over these four and one-half centuries (and also voluminous wage data).[82]

 Supplementary Criticisms of Hamilton’s Data on Gold and Silver Imports

One of the criticisms leveled against Morineau’s monetary data — that they do not allow us to distinguish between the influxes of gold and silver — can also be made, in part, against Hamilton’s 1934 monograph. The actual registrations of Spanish American bullion imports into Seville, from 1503 to 1660, were by the aggregate value of both gold and silver, in money-of-account pesos that were worth 450 marevedis, each of which represented 42.29 grams pure silver (for the entire period concerned, in which, as noted earlier, no silver debasements took place).  Those amounts, for both public and private bullion imports, are recorded in Table 1 (p. 34), in quinquennial means.  His Table 2 (p. 40) provides his estimates — or speculations — of the percentage distribution of gold and silver imports, by decade, but by weight alone: indicating that from the 1530s to the 1550s, about 86% was in silver, and thereafter, to 1660, from 97% to 99% of the total was consistently always in silver.[83]  His table 3 (p. 42) provides his estimate of total decennial imports of silver and gold in grams.  What is lacking, however, is the distribution by value, in money-of-account terms, whether in maravedís, pesos, or ducats (worth 375 maravedís).  Since these money-of-account values remained unchanged from 1497 to 1598, and with only a few changes in gold thereafter (to 1686), Hamilton should have calculated these values as well, utilizing as well his Table 4 gold:silver bimetallic ratios (p. 71).  Perhaps this is a task that I should undertake — but not now, for this review.  A more challenging task to be explored is to analyze the impact of gold inflows, especially of Brazilian gold from the 1690s, on prices that are expressed almost everywhere in Europe in terms of a silver-based money of account (e.g., the pound sterling).  Obviously one important consequence of increased gold inflows was the liberation of silver to be employed elsewhere in the economy: i.e., effectively to increase the supply of silver for the economy.

At the same time, we should realize that the typical dichotomy of the role of the two metals, so often given in economic history literature — that gold was the medium of international trade while silver was the medium of domestic trade — is historically false, especially when we view Europe’s commercial relations with the Baltic, Russia, the Levant, and most of Asia.[84]

Conclusions

EH.Net’s Classic Reviews Selection Committee was certainly justified in selecting Hamilton’s _American Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501-1650_ as one of the “classics” of economic history produced in the twentieth century; and Duke University’s website (see note 1) was also fully justified in declaring that Hamilton was one of the pioneers of quantitative economy history.  In his preface, Hamilton noted (p. xii) that he and his wife spent 30,750 hours in collecting and processing this vast amount of quantitative data on Spanish bullion imports and prices and wages, “entirely from manuscript material,” with another 12,500 hours of labor rendered by hired research assistants — all of this work, about three million computations, done without electronic calculators, let alone computers.  Who today would even contemplate undertaking such an enormous task without powerful modern computers and a bevy or research assistants?  For this task, this truly pioneering task, Hamilton deserves full praise.

How much praise does he deserve for the goals that he pursued?  In his introduction he expressed his hope that all these data “may afford a partial verification of the quantity theory and also throw new light upon the related question of the connection between prices and the supply of precious metals;” but he also stated (pp. 4-5) that “the last lesson concerning the quantity theory has not been drawn from this phenomenon; nor is the final word likely to be spoken before greater knowledge of the history of banking and the contemporary influence of credit on prices becomes available.”

As I have sought to demonstrate in this review, necessarily with very detailed evidence, Hamilton did achieve this more modestly defined goal, certainly as well as any pioneering economic historian could have been expected to achieve in the 1930s.  Of course, a contemporary economic historian, utilizing the vast amount of research conducted on these questions in the past seventy years, and using much more sophisticated techniques of economic analysis and econometrics would have produced a very different book — but possibly one lacking Hamilton’s own insights.  Given the current disfavor into which even the more refined, modern version of the Quantity Theory has fallen, the major goal of this review has been to demonstrate at least a qualified validity of this approach to understanding inflations and deflations, and the Price Revolution in particular.  Thus the complementary goal has been to rescue Hamilton’s reputation, given in particular his frequent use of infelicitous phrases, such as the statement that “American gold and silver precipitated the Price Revolution,” which Hamilton himself demonstrated was clearly not the truth.  Finally, given the enormous importance of the Price Revolution — a truly unique historical experience — in shaping the economy and society of early-modern Europe, and in establishing a more truly global economy, I have also sought to supply data unavailable to Hamilton in demonstrating how and why the behavior of prices during the Price Revolution era was related to the complex combination of changes in the money supplies (including credit), changes in the income velocity of money, and changes in national incomes; and also to explain why (as Hamilton did not) inflation in the Price Revolution era was an international (or at least a European-wide) phenomenon.

 A Biographical Note on Hamilton:[85]

Earl Jefferson Hamilton (1899-1989), born in Houlka, Mississippi, received his B.S. (Honors) from Mississippi State University in 1920; his M.A., from the University of Texas in 1924; and his Ph.D., from Harvard University in 1929.  He was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Duke University from 1927 to 1929, and then Professor of Economics there until 1944, when he became Professor of Economics at Northwestern (to 1947), and finally Professor Economics at the University of Chicago, until retiring in 1967.  He was also the editor of the _Journal of Political Economy_ from 1948 to 1954; and he served as President of the Economic History Association in 1951-52.

 

Notes:

 

  1. URL: http://www.scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/economists/hamilton/hama.htm. See also the University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center, Guide to the Earl J. Hamilton Papers:

http://marklogic.lib.uchicago.edu:8002/view.xqy?id=ICU.SPCL.HAMILTON&c=h.

And also on EH.Net: http://www.eh.net/pipermail/hes/1996-October/005291.html

  1. The prices for individual commodities for each year, from 1501 to 1650, are given in Hamilton (1934), Appendices III-V, pp. 319-58; wages, in Appendix VII, pp. 393-402.

 

  1. For my publications on the Price Revolution, see Munro (1991, 1994a, 1998, 2003a, 2003b, 2004, and 2007 forthcoming). The non-monetary variable is “y,” in the modernized version of the Fisher Identity: MV. = Py; and in the Cambridge Cash Balances equation: M = kPy. It is also the deflated or “real” Keynesian Y = NNI = NNP.

 

  1. See my online review online review: http://eh.net/bookreviews/library/0146.shtml, 24 February 1999, of Fischer (1996).

 

  1. Smith (1776/1937), pp. 191-92. Hamilton might have better cited Smith’s passage on p. 34: “The discovery of the mines of American diminished the value of gold and silver in Europe” (i.e. as expressed in silver-based money-of-account prices); and also other similar passage on pp. 198, 236, 241, and 415-16.

 

  1. See Spufford (1988), chapter 13, “The Scourge of Debasement,” pp. 289-318; Munro (1973); and the various studies in Munro (1992).

 

  1. Both published in Le Branchu (1934) and Moore (1946).

 

  1. Grice-Hutchinson (1952), Appendix III, p. 95.

 

  1. For Spain: Hamilton (1934), Appendix VIII, p. 403; for Brabant, Van der Wee (1975), pp. 413-47; for southern England: Phelps Brown and Hopkins (1956, 1981). Using the Phelps Brown worksheets, now housed in the Archives of the British Library for Political and Economic Sciences (LSE), I have corrected many of their statistical data.

 

  1. By constructing various hypothetical “trial” budgets, Hamilton (1934, pp. 273-79) hypothesized that his unweighted index numbers may have underestimated rises in the cost of living by perhaps as much as ten percent in the later sixteenth century, but by perhaps only two percent in the first half of the seventeenth century. See also Hamilton (1947), pp. 113-14, where he more explicitly states: “The contemporaneous account books have failed to yield an inductive basis for weighting the index numbers of commodity prices, and it seemed unlikely that any system of arbitrary weights would give me more accurate results than simple indices. A detailed comparison of unweighted and crudely-weighted index numbers for New Castile in 1651-1700 tended to confirm this hypothesis.”

 

  1. From 1497 to 1686, the Spanish crown consistently minted (with one exceptional, minor deviation in 1642-43) two silver coins at 93.06 percent fineness: the _Real_, with 3.195g pure silver (67 cut from an alloyed marc of 230.0465 g., with a silver fineness of 11 _dineros_ and 4 grains = 93.056%) and a nominal money-of-account value of 34 maravedís (375 to the ducat money of account; 350 to the peso money of account). In fact, it differed from the earlier _Real_ , struck from 1471, only in its money-account-value, having been raised from 31 to 34 maravedís. Also struck from 1497 was the heavy-weight Real known as the “piece of eight” (real de a ocho), with just over eight times as much fine silver, 25.997 g, and a value of 272 maravedís. In 1686, it was subjected to a very minor weight reduction that reduced its fine silver content to 25.919 g.  The American dollar can trace its descent from this Spanish coin.  Hamilton (1934), chapter III, pp. 46-72; Hamilton (1947), chapter II, pp. 9-35; Ulloa (1975); Motomura (1994, 1997); Munro (2004a), Vol. 4, pp. 174-84.

 

  1. See Challis (1971, 1978, 1989, 1992a, 1992b); Gould (1970).

 

  1. Van der Wee (1963), Vol. I, pp. 126-29.

 

  1. Hamilton (1934): Chapter IV: “Vellon Inflation in Castile, 1598-1650,” pp. 73-103; and Chapter X: “Prices under Vellon Inflation, 1601-1650,” pp. 211-21.

 

  1. Munro (1988), pp. 387-423: especially for the debasement formula. In medieval and early-modern Flanders the silver penny _groot_ was divided into 24 _mijten_ or _mites_, almost entirely copper in composition.

 

  1. Spooner (1972), Appendix A, p. 332; Challis (1992a), pp. 365-78; Challis (1992b), p. 689.

 

  1. The silver fineness was based on theoretical purity of 12 _dineros_, with 24 grains each, and thus a total of 288 grains. The weight was defined as the number cut from an alloyed marc of 230.0465 grams. See n. 11 above.

 

  1. Hamilton (1934), pp. 49-64.

 

  1. Hamilton (1934), p. 74.

 

  1. Cipolla (1956). He states (p. 27): “Every elementary textbook of economics gives the standard formula for maintaining a sound system of fractional money: [1] to issue on government account small coins having a commodity value lower than their monetary value; [2] to limit the quantity of these small coins in circulation; [3] to provide convertibility with unit money. … Simple as this formula may seem, it took centuries to work out.  In England, it was not applied until 1816, and in the United States it was not accepted before 1853.” Cipolla (p. 29) cites a seventeenth-century Italian treatise, by Geminiano Montanari (a mathematics professor at Padua), who had stated that: “it is not necessary for a prince to strike petty coins having a metallic content equal to their face value, provided [that] he does not strike more of them than is sufficient for the use of his people, sooner striking too few than striking too many.”

 

  1. Sargent and Velde (2002). The title of their book is adapted from the title of chapter 3 in Carlo Cipolla’s book (cited in the previous note): “The Big Problems of the Petty Coins,” pp. 27-37. Sargent and Velde do cite my article on “Deflation and the Petty Coinage Problem” (in n. 15 above), in which I supplied statistical evidence from the Flemish mint accounts, from 1334 to 1484 that the Flemish counts and the Burgundian dukes who succeeded them were always careful to restrict the supply of the petty, copper-based coinages, which rarely accounted for more than 2% of mint outputs by value, during this entire era.

 

  1. Hamilton (1934), p. 75. A marc of copper was worth 34 maravedís.

 

  1. On the _vellon_ based inflation in seventeenth-century Spain, see Sargent and Velde (2002), chapter 14, pp. 230-53; Motomura (1994), pp. 104-27; Motomura (1997), pp. 331-67; Spooner (1972), pp. 41-53 (and for western Europe in general).

 

  1. See n. 15 above.

 

  1. See Munro (2003a): Table 1.2, pp. 4-5: extrapolated from data in Hamilton (1934), Table 1, p. 34, Table 2, p. 40, Table 3, p. 42; and Hamilton (1929a), pp. 436-72.

 

  1. These mining output data do not come from Hamilton, but rather from these following sources: Bakewell (1975), pp. 68-103; Bakewell (1984), pp. 105-51; Garner (1987), pp. 405-30; and Cross (1983), pp. 397-422. The only Spanish-American mining data available to Hamilton was Haring (1915), pp. 433-79, which he cited, but did not use.

 

  1. Spooner (1972), p. 36.

 

  1. See in particular Outhwaite (1982), especially pp. 39-57; and also the introduction and many of the essays in Ramsay (1971), in particular Hammarström (1957) and Brenner (1961). See also the rather hostile review of this collection by McCloskey (1972), pp. 1332-35. Brenner makes the fundamental error in not treating the Fisher Identity in aggregate terms, and thus talking about a relative (i.e., per capita) diminution in Q (= T, or “y”) that presumably resulted from population growth.  Many of the authors engage in another error, one scorned by Anna Jacobson Schwartz (1974), who, in a review of Spooner (1972), p.  253, comments that: “the author subscribes to a familiar fallacy, namely that a monetary explanation to be valid requires that all prices move in unison.”  On this very common error, see Munro (2003c); and n. 58 below.

 

  1. For those favoring the lower bound estimate for 1300 (4.0 to 4.5 million), see Campbell, Galloway, Keene and Murphy (1993); Campbell (2005); Nightingale (1996); Nightingale (1997); Nightingale (2005); Russell (1966); and Harvey (1966). For those favoring the upper-bound estimate (6.0 to 7.0 million), see Postan (1950); Hatcher (1977); Hallam (1988); Mayhew (1995); and Dyer (1989). For population estimates in the early sixteenth century, see Cornwall (1970); and Campbell (1981).

 

30.Cuvelier (1912), vol. I, 432-33, 446-47, 462-77, 484-87; and also pp. cxxxv, clxxvii-viii, and ccxxiii-xviii.

 

  1. Van der Wee (1963), Vol. I: Appendix 49/1, p. 546. In comparison, the average annual rate of population decline from 1480 to 1496 was -0.81%.

 

  1. There is yet another explanation why agrarian prices rose more than did most industrial prices: a household budget constraint, when agricultural prices and the CPI rose more than did money wages, as was almost always the case in the sixteenth century. Thus the share of disposable income spent on foodstuffs (and fuels) would have necessarily reduced the share of such income to be spent on other commodities, and thus the relative demand for most other industrial products. At the same time, most labor-intensive industries, with elastic supply schedules, could have readily hired more labor to expand output without experiencing significant rises in marginal costs, when wages were rising so much less than most commodity prices.  See my online 2006 Working Paper: “Real Wages and the ‘Malthusian Problem’ in Antwerp and South-Eastern England, 1400-1700: A Regional Comparison of Levels and Trends in Real Wages for Building Craftsmen.”

http://repec.economics.utoronto.ca/repec_show_paper.php?handle=tecipa-225

 

  1. Mean annual imports of fine gold rose from 517.24 kg in 1503-05 to 865.93 kg in 1526-30. See n. 25 above, and also Hamilton (1934), p. 45, on the role of gold. For somewhat different figures, but in decennial means, see TePaske (1998).  His estimates of decennial mean New World gold outputs (per year) are 1,209.8 kg in 1501-10 and 1,071.1 kg in 1511-20.  Hamilton, however, made no mention of the much more important Portuguese imports of West African gold: about 17 metric tons, from Sao Jorge da Mina, from about 1460 to 1520 (when other sources of gold, in Africa and Brazil, became more important.  See Wilks (1993).

 

  1. Adolf Soetbeer (1879); and Wiebe (1995), especially pp. 253-321. See the tables on German silver production from 1493 to 1700, on pp. 265 and 267, based on Soetbeer.

 

  1. Nef (1941, 1952).

 

  1. Nef (1941) estimates that aggregate European silver mining outputs in the peak decade 1526-1535 (in his view) ranged between 84,200 kg to 91,200 kg per year.

 

  1. See my own publications in n. 3, above; and also Munro (2007b). See also Hatcher (1996) and Nightingale (1997).

 

  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.3, p. 8; and Munro (2007b). By far the most important of the new mines was Joachimsthal in Bohemia (from 1516), which reached its peak production in 1531-35, with a quinquennial mean production of 16,554.81 kg of fine silver.

 

  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.2, pp. 4-5, based in part on Hamilton (1934).

 

  1. The ratio was altered from 11.98:1 to 10.83:1 (June 1466), while in England, it was altered in the opposite direction, to become pro-gold: from 10.33:1 to 11.16:1. See Munro (1973), pp. 155-80, 198-211, Tables C-K; and Munro (1983), Table 10, pp. 150-52; Van der Wee (1963), Vol. I, pp. 126-28, Table XV; Vol. II, pp. 80-101.

 

  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.4, pp. 12-13.

 

  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.7, p. 26, based on Van der Wee (1963), Vol. I, Appendix 44, pp. 522-23.

 

  1. See Munro (1979, 1992); Spufford (1988), pp. 240-66.

 

  1. See Van der Wee (1967, 1977, 2000); Munro (1979, 1991b, 2000, 2003d).

 

  1. See Statutes 37 Henrici VIII, c. 9 of 1545, permitting interest up to 10%; repealed by 5-6 Edwardi VI, c. 20 in 1552, which was in turn repealed in 1571 by 13 Elizabeth I, c. 8, which thus restored 37 Hen. VIII, c. 9, in _Statutes of the Realm_, vol. III, p. 996; and IV.i, pp. 155 and 542, respectively.

 

  1. See Van der Wee (1967, 1977, 2000), and other sources cited in notes 43 and 44.

 

  1. See Munro (2003d); Tracy (1985, 1994, 2003).

 

  1. Van der Wee (1977), pp. 373-76, Table 28. See also Usher (1943), Table 7, p. 169, using older data, which shows a rise in the Spanish funded debt from 4.320 million ducats in 1515 to one of 76.540 million ducats in 1598; and also Spooner (1972), pp. 56-57: “Wherever data [on public borrowing] are available they show that the expansion was certainly spectacular”: in Rome, France, the Low Countries, Germany. In Antwerp, Charles V’s loans rose from about £1.0 million groot Flemish in the 1520s to about £7.0 million in 1557 (on the eve of the Spanish royal bankruptcy). In Genoa, the issue of civic bonds rose from 193,185 _luoghi_ in 1509 to about 500,000 _luoghi_ in 1560 (p.  66).

 

  1. Van der Wee (1977), pp. 375-76; and see the other sources cited in n. 44 above.

 

  1. Spooner (1972), pp. 4, 54-55, stating that: “The structure of credit was, in effect, supported by progressive increases in the stocks of precious metals.” Very similar observations have been made in Nightingale (1990), Mueller (1984), Spufford (1988), p. 347: commenting that “when money [coined specie] is freely available, credit is also; when money is scarce, so is credit.”

 

  1. The title of Hamilton’s Chart 20 (p. 301) is “Total Quinquennial Treasure Imports and Composite Index Numbers of Commodity Prices.”

 

  1. Hammarström (1957). Her other criticisms of Hamilton’s scholarship strike me as being unfounded and thus unfair.

 

  1. Many, many years ago, one of my graduate students did run regressions involving both annual values of treasure imports and estimates of residual Spanish stocks of bullion, and achieved better results (high R-squared and better t-statistics) with the latter regressions.

 

  1. See I. Fisher (1911). The only reference in Hamilton (1934, p. 5, n.6) or in his other publications, to this famous economist is I. Fisher (1927), on index numbers.

 

  1. For various reasons, too complex to discuss here, I prefer to use the Gross National Product – as many economic historians, in fact do, in the absence of reliable figures for Net National Product.

 

  1. Mayhew (1995), p. 240, states that: “My own investigation of velocity in the medieval period up to 1300 also suggests that in periods of growth in terms of money, prices, and economic activity, velocity may be expected to fall rather than rise. … It will be argued here [in this article] that velocity does not rise with increasing urbanization and monetization. Indeed, the increasing use of money usually seems to require an enlarged money supply which will actually permit a reduction in velocity rather than an increase.” His intriguing and exceptionally important article makes some very heroic assumptions about the levels of NNI and of M (the money supply) over this long period, not all of which will earn general consent.

 

  1. See n. 79 below, and also Munro (2007b).

 

  1. See Gould (1964): who contended that inflation itself promoted capital investment during the Price Revolution era by cheapening the cost of previously borrowed capital: i.e., the relative cost of annual interest payments and repayment of the principal. Gould, however, was one of the critics of the Hamilton thesis; and also one of those who promoted the fallacy that the validity of a monetary interpretation would require that all prices move in unison (p. 251). See Schwartz (1974) in n. 28 above.

 

  1. The period of England’s “Great Debasement,” 1542 – 1553, was however, surprisingly, not one such example — nor can any be cited in English monetary history (in contrast to medieval French monetary history). As noted earlier, during the “Great Debasement,” the English penny lost 83.1% of it silver content. The formula for relating a debasement to the potential rise in prices (or the rise in the money-of-account price of silver) is: [ (1 / (1 – x) ] – 1, in which x represents the percentage reduction of fine silver in the penny coin and in the linked money-of-account (sterling). By this formula, prices should have risen by 491.72%; but they did not.  The Phelps Brown and Hopkins (1956) CPI rose from a quinquennial mean of 152.33 in 1536-40 to one of 315.85 in 1556-60: an increase of only 107.34%. See also Gould (1970) and Challis (1971, 1978, 1989, 1992a, 1992b).

 

  1. For shipments of Spanish silver to pay Charles V’s bankers in Antwerp and Genoa, see Spooner (1972), pp. 22-24.

 

  1. See Hamilton, pp. 44-45: but the analysis and evidence is very thin. On p. 19, he states more explicitly that “In view of the popular misconceptions concerning the amounts of treasure taken by the English, French, and Dutch, one who works with the records is impressed by the paucity rather than the plethora of the specie that fell prey to foreign powers.” See also Hamilton (1929a), pp. 436-72.

 

  1. Outhwaite (1982), pp. 31, 36. He is referring to the Anglo-Spanish trade treaty of 1630.

 

  1. Challis (1975). One other account, for June to December 1567 is incomplete, and does not provide the amount of bullion coined, though indicating that Spanish silver may have accounted for only 7.4% of such bullion. Surprisingly, this seminal article is not mentioned in Outhwaite’s second edition of 1982, referring only to Challis (1978).  See also Challis (1984).

 

  1. The bimetallic ratio in 1526-42 was 11.16:1, as it had been from 1465; in 1600, the bimetallic ratio was 11.10:1. For the mint data, see Challis (1978, 1989, 1992a, 1992b).

 

  1. See Flynn (1978), D. Fisher (1989), Frenkel and Johnson (1976), McCloskey and Zecher (1976), and Floyd (1985).

 

  1. In the sixteenth century, apart from the Great Debasement period (1542-1553), gold coins varied in official value from the sovereign worth 20s or £1 (=240d) to the half crown, worth 2s 6 (=30d). The silver coins varied from the farthing (0.25d) to the groat (4d). On this very point about varying circulation velocities on the coinages, see Spooner (1972), p. 74.

 

  1. My own calculations of the official bimetallic mint ratios indicate a rise from 12.109 in 1604 to 13.363 in 1612 to 13.348 in 1623 to 14.485 in 1660 to 15.210 in 1718 (remaining at this level until 1815). Based on data supplied in Challis (1992b), pp. 673-98.

 

  1. Hamilton (1934), Table 4, p. 71.

 

  1. The Dutch East India Company’s exports of fine silver rose from an annual mean 6,959.7 kg in 1600-09 to a mean of 11,563.7 kg in 1660-69. Gaastra (1983), pp. 447-76, especially Appendix 5, p. 475. Spooner (1972), pp. 76-77 and Chart 11, has estimated that Venetian silver exports to the Levant in 1610-14 amounted to 6% of the total Spanish-American silver bullion imports into Seville during those years.

 

  1. See note 9 above for the statistics (for a base of 1501-10), and the sources used to compute the three sets of CPI. If we use the Phelps Brown and Hopkins base (1451-75=100), instead of the earlier base for 1501-10 (to include Spanish prices), we find that the English weighted CPI rose from an annual mean of 108.52 in 1511-15 to one of 734.19, at the peak of the Price Revolution, in 1646-50: an overall rise of 6.77 fold. Similarly, in Brabant, the Van der Wee CPI rose from an annual mean of 137.904 in 1511-15 to one of 1015.14 in 1646-50, also the peak of the Price Revolution in Brabant: an overall rise of 7.36 fold.

 

  1. See note 74, below, for the termination date.

 

  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.2, pp. 4-5: and the sources cited in notes 24 and 25 above. In the period 1521 to 1550, total silver imports into Seville amounted to just 263,915.8 kg. During the period from 1551 to 1660, a total of 122,902.24 kg of gold was also imported.

 

  1. TePaske (1983), Tables 2-5, pp. 442-45.

 

  1. Hamilton (1934), p. 11, note 1. Most economic historians have wrongly assumed that Hamilton was forced to end his research on bullion imports with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 — an argument obviously refuted his earlier articles of 1928, 1929a, in which bullion import data cease in 1660.

 

  1. Morineau (1968), p. 196; Morineau (1985), especially Table 83, p. 578; Figure 38, p. 579; Table 84, pp. 580-83; Figure 39, p. 585.

 

  1. Morineau (1985): except for the semi-logarithmic graph, Figure 39, on silver imports and exports, which is very difficult to decipher; and it certainly does not allow to attribute actual values to the small-scale bar chart lines. His Figure 37, p. 563, with imports in millions of pesos, also has estimations for the period 1630-56, not indicated as such in the other tables and graphs.

 

77.The title of his 1986 monograph, _Incroyables gazettes et fabuleux métaux_ seems, in retrospect, to be ironic.  In Morineau (1968), the data presented on p. 196, evidently for the total value of bullion imports in each quinquennium, even when divided by 5, to produce annual means, exceed the data on mined outputs from a minimum of 12.12-fold  to a maximum of 41.07-fold.  In Morineau (1984), Table 83, p. 578, presents decennial means of bullion imports, expressed as equivalent amounts of silver, that, for the period from 1660 to 1700, range from being 3.653 times to 18.684 times greater than the recorded aggregate mined outputs of Spanish-American silver.  (See also his bar-graph, Figure 37, on p. 563, displaying in five-year periods — totals or annual means? — the values of “treasure” imports, expressed in millions of piastres or pesos: those of 272 maravedís or 450 maravedís?)  Hamilton (1929a, 1934) indicated that, in the seventeenth century, up to the cessation of recorded data, in 1660, almost all the imports were in the form of silver.  The great boom in Brazilian gold exports did not really begin until 1700.  See TePaske (1998), pp. 21-32.

 

  1. See the sources in notes 25 and 26 above. The Sombrerete mining outputs, however, began to fall sharply from the 1680s, reaching a low (quinquennial mean) of 3,957.14 kg in 1716-20. Subsequently, by the mid eighteenth century, Mexico experienced another and very major silver-mining boom: See Brading (1970), Garner (1987).

 

  1. Gaastra (1983), Appendix 5, p. 475; Chaudhuri (1968), pp. 497-98. We have no data on the Dutch Company’s exports of merchandise, but we do for the English East India Company. Between 1660 and 1700, it exported a total of 645,486.0 kg of silver (worth £5,795.793.65) and 21,552.0 kg of gold (worth £2,788.035.34), and a total value of £2,593.114.00 in merchandise.   Thus gold and silver “treasure” accounted for 76.80% of total exports to Asia, and merchandise for 23.20%.  Of the total value of bullion exports, silver accounted for 67.52% and gold for 32.48% of the total value.  (For the long period of 1660-1720, silver accounted from 81.35% and gold for 18.65% of the total values of bullion exports).  In the English East India Company’s early history, however, from 1601 to 1624, it exported a total of £753,336 in precious metals (‘treasure’) and £351,236 in merchandise, for an aggregate export value of £1,104,572, so that precious metals then accounted for a somewhat lower percentage of the total value: 68.20%.  Chaudhuri 1963), p. 24.

 

  1. See TePaske (1998), tables, pp. 21-32.

 

  1. Fortunately, for the book under review (Hamilton 1934), he did provide an Appendix (number VIII, pp. 403-04) for “The Composite Index Numbers of Silver Prices, 1501-1650.”

 

  1. My most serious criticism — and one voiced by many other economic historians — is the one concerning his concept of “profit-inflation,” in Hamilton (1929b). His thesis was warmly endorsed by John Maynard Keynes (1930), the following year, Vol. II, pp. 152–63, especially pp. 154-55: “But it is the teaching of this Treatise that the wealth of nations is enriched, not during Income Inflations but during Profit Inflations — at times, that is to say, when prices are running away from costs.” Keynes in fact really coined this term (so to speak).  Subsequently Hamilton published two more articles on this theme — in 1942, and 1952.  The latter was his Presidential Address to the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association.  Since this concept does not appear in the book under review, it would be unfair to criticize this thesis, here, even if space did permit it.  But I have posted on my web site an unpublished Working Paper, entitled “Prices, Wages, and Prospects for ‘Profit Inflation’ in England, Brabant, and Spain, 1501-1670:  A Comparative Analysis”:

http://www.economics.utoronto.ca/ecipa/archive/UT-ECIPA-MUNRO-02-02.html.  It should be noted, however, that Hamilton (1934) did devote his chapter XII, pp. 262-82, to “Wages: Money and Real” and his Appendix VII (pp.  393-402) is devoted to “Money Wages.”  But space limitations have prevented me from discussing this aspect of his monograph.

 

  1. He warns the reader (p. 40) “that these are estimates based on partial information, into which the determination of arbitrary assumptions of correlations have entered, not exact compilations of complete data.”

 

  1. See notes 79 and 80 above.

 

  1. See note 1.

 

 

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Munro (1973), John, _Wool, Cloth and Gold: The Struggle for Bullion in Anglo-Burgundian Trade, ca. 1340-1478_   Centre d’Histoire Economique et Sociale  (Brussels and Toronto: Editions de l’ Université  de Bruxelles, 1973).

Munro (1979), John, “Bullionism and the Bill of Exchange in England, 1272-1663: A Study in Monetary Management and Popular Prejudice,” in Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies of the University of California (Fredi Chiappelli, director), ed., _The Dawn of Modern Banking_ (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979), 169-239; reprinted in Munro (1992).

Munro (1983), John, “Bullion Flows and Monetary Contraction in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries,” in  John F. Richards, ed., _Precious Metals in the Later Medieval and Early Modern Worlds_ (Durham, 1983), 97-158; reprinted in John Munro, _Bullion Flows and Monetary Policies in England and the Low Countries, 1350-1500_, Variorum Collected Studies series CS 355 (Aldershot, 1992).

Munro (1988), John, “Deflation and the Petty Coinage Problem in the Late-Medieval Economy: The Case of Flanders, 1334-1484,” _Explorations in Economic History_, 25:4 (October 1988), 387-423; reprinted in John Munro, _Bullion Flows and Monetary Policies in England and the Low Countries, 1350 – 1500_, Variorum Collected Studies series CS 355 (Aldershot, Hampshire; and Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 1992).

Munro (1991a), John, “The Central European Mining Boom, Mint Outputs, and Prices in the Low Countries and England, 1450-1550,” in Eddy H.G. Van Cauwenberghe, ed., _Money, Coins, and Commerce: Essays in the Monetary History of Asia and Europe (From Antiquity to Modern Times), Studies in Social and Economic History (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1991), 119-83.

Munro (1991b),  John, “The International Law Merchant and the Evolution of Negotiable Credit in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries,” in Dino Puncuh, _Banchi pubblici, banchi privati e monti di pietà nell’Europa preindustriale: amministrazione, tecniche operative e ruoli economici_,   Atti della Società Ligure di Storia Patria, Nouva Serie, Vol. XXXI (Genoa: Società Ligure di Storia Patria, 1991), 49-80; reprinted in John Munro, _Textiles, Towns, and Trade: Essays in the Economic History of Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries_ (Ashgate and Brookfield, NY:  1994).

Munro (1992), John, _Bullion Flows and Monetary Policies in England and the Low Countries, 1350-1500_, Variorum Collected Studies series CS 355 (Aldershot, Hampshire; and Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 1992).

Munro (1994), John, “Patterns of Trade, Money, and Credit,” in James Tracy, Thomas Brady Jr., and Heiko Oberman, eds., _Handbook of European History: The Later Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, 1400-1600_, 2 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994-95):  Vol. I: _Structures and Assertions_, (1994), 147-95.

Munro (1998), John, “Precious Metals and the Origins of the Price Revolution Reconsidered: The Conjuncture  of Monetary and Real Forces in the European Inflation of the Early to Mid-Sixteenth Century,” in  Clara Eugenia Núñez, ed., _Monetary History in Global Perspective, 1500-1808_, Proceedings of the Twelfth International Economic History Congress at Madrid, August 1998 (Seville, 1998), 35-50.

Munro (2000), John, “English ‘Backwardness’ and Financial Innovations in Commerce with the Low Countries, 14th to 16th centuries,” in Peter Stabel, Bruno Blondé, and Anke Greve, eds.,_ International Trade in the Low Countries (14th – 16th Centuries): Merchants, Organisation, Infrastructure_, Studies in Urban, Social, Economic, and Political History of the Medieval and Early Modern Low Countries (Marc Boone, general editor), no. 10 (Leuven-Apeldoorn: Garant, 2000), 105-67.

Munro, John (2003a), “The Monetary Origins of the ‘Price Revolution’: South German Silver Mining, Merchant-Banking, and Venetian Commerce, 1470-1540,”  in Dennis Flynn, Arturo Giráldez, and Richard von Glahn, eds., _Global Connections and Monetary History, 1470-1800_  (Aldershot and Brookfield, VT:  Ashgate Publishing, 2003), 1-34.

Munro, John (2003b), “Money, Wages, and Real Incomes in the Age of Erasmus: The Purchasing Power of Coins and of Building Craftsmen’s Wages in England and the Southern Low Countries, 1500-1540,” in Alexander Dalzell and Charles G. Nauert, Jr., eds., _The Correspondence of Erasmus_, Vol. 12: _Letters 1658-1801, January 1526- March 1527_ (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), Appendix: 551-699.

Munro (2003c), John, “Wage Stickiness, Monetary Changes, and Real Incomes in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries, 1300 – 1500:  Did Money Matter?” _Research in Economic History_, 21 (2003), 185-297.

Munro (2003d), John, “The Medieval Origins of the Financial Revolution: Usury, Rentes, and Negotiability,” _The International History Review_, 25:3 (September 2003), 505-62.

Munro (2004), John, “Money and Coinage: Western Europe,” in Jonathan Dewald, et al, eds., _The Dictionary of Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789_ (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons/The Gale Group, 2004), Vol. 4, 174-184.

Munro (2007a), John, “The Price Revolution,”  in Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence  E. Blume, eds., _The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics_, 2nd edition, 6 vols. (London and New York:  Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).

Munro (2007b), John, “South German Silver, European Textiles, and Venetian Trade with the Levant and Ottoman Empire, c. 1370 to c. 1720: A Non-Mercantilist Approach to the Balance of Payments Problem,” in Simonetta Cavaciocchi, ed., _Relazione economiche tra Europa e mondo islamico, seccoli XIII – XVIII_, Atti delle ‘settimana di Studi” e altri convegni, no. 38, Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica, “Francesco Datini” (Florence: Le Monnier, 2007), forthcoming.

Nef (1941), John, “Silver Production in Central Europe, 1450-1618,” _Journal of Political Economy_, 49 (1941), 575-91.

Nef (1952), John, “Mining and Metallurgy in Medieval Civilisation,” in M. M. Postan and E. E. Rich, eds., _The Cambridge Economic History of Europe_, Vol. II: _Trade and Industry in the Middle Ages_, 2nd rev. ed., (Cambridge, 1987), 691-761 (1st ed. published in 1952, 430-92).

Nightingale (1990), Pamela, “Monetary Contraction and Mercantile Credit in Later Medieval England,” _Economic History Review_, 2nd ser. 43 (November 1990), 560-75.

Nightingale (1996), Pamela, “The Growth of London in the Medieval English Economy,”  in  Richard Britnell and John Hatcher, eds., _Progress and Problems in Medieval England_ (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 89-106.

Nightingale (1997), Pamela, “England and the European Depression of the Mid-Fifteenth Century,” _Journal of European Economic History_, 26:3 (Winter 1997), 631-56.

Nightingale (2005), Pamela, “Some New Evidence of Crises and Trends of Mortality in Late Medieval England,” _Past and Present_, no. 187 (May 2005), 33-68.

Outhwaite (1982), R.B., _Inflation in Tudor and Early Stuart England_, 2nd ed., Studies in Economic and Social History (London: MacMillan Press, 1982; 1st ed, 1969).

Phelps Brown (1956), E.H., and Sheila V. Hopkins, “Seven Centuries of the Prices of Consumables, Compared with Builders’ Wage Rates,” _Economica_, 23:92 (November 1956), 296-314; reprinted, with additional appendices, in E.H. Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins, _A Perspective of Wages and Prices_ (London, 1981).

Postan (1950), Michael, “Some Economic Evidence of Declining Population in the Later Middle Ages,” _Economic History Review_, 2nd ser. 2 (1950), 130-67; reprinted in Michael Postan, _Essays on Medieval Agriculture and General Problems of the Medieval Economy _(Cambridge, 1973), 186-213 (with the revised title of “Some Agrarian Evidence of Declining Population in the Later Middle Ages.”)

Ramsay (1971), Peter H., ed., _The Price-Revolution in Sixteenth-Century England_ (London: Methuen and Co., 1971).

Russell (1966), J.C., “The Pre-Plague Population of England,” _Journal of British Studies_, 5 (1966), 1-21.

Sargent (2002), Thomas, and François Velde, _The Big Problem of Small Change_ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002),

Schwartz (1974), Anna Jacobson, “Review of Spooner’s _International Economy and Monetary Movements in France_,” _Journal of European Economic History_, 3: 1 (Spring 1974), 253.

Smith (1776/1937), Adam, _An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations_, [1776], ed. with an introduction by Edwin Cannan (New York: The Modern Library, 1937)

Soetbeer (1879), Adolf,  _Edelmetall-Produktion und Werthverhältniss zwischen Gold und Silber seit der Entdeckung Amerika’s bis zur Gegenwart_ (Gotha, 1879).

Spooner (1972), Frank, _The International Economy and Monetary Movements in France, 1493-1725_ (Paris, 1956; Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1972, for the English edition).

Spufford (1988), Peter, _Money and Its Use in Medieval Europe_ (Cambridge, 1988).

TePaske (1983), John Jay, “New World Silver, Castile and the Philippines, 1590-1800,” in John F. Richards, ed., _Precious Metals in the Later Medieval and Early Modern Worlds_ (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1983), 425-46.

TePaske (1998), John Jay, “New World Gold Production in Hemispheric and Global Perspective, 1492 – 1810,”  in Clara Nuñez, ed., _Monetary History in Global Perspective, 1500-1808_, Papers presented to Session B-6 of the Twelfth International Economic History Congress (Seville, 1998), 21-32.

Tracy (1985), James D., _A Financial Revolution in the Habsburg Netherlands: Renten and Renteniers in the County of Holland, 1515-1565_ (Berkeley-London, 1985).

Tracy (1994),  James D., “Taxation and State Debt,”  in Thomas Brady, Heiko Oberman, and James Tracy, eds., _Handbook of European History, 1500-1600: Late Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation_, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1994-95), vol. I: _Structures and Assertions_, 563-88.

Tracy (2003), James D., “On the Dual Origins of Long-Term Debt in Medieval Europe,” in Karel Davids, Marc Boone, and V. Janssens, eds., _Urban Public Debts, Urban Governments, and the Market for Annuities in Western Europe, 14th-18th Centuries_ (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003), 13-26

Ulloa (1975), Modesto, “Castilian Seigniorage and Coinage in the Reign of Philip II,” _Journal of European Economic History_, 4 (1975), 459-80.

Usher (1943), Abbott Payson, _The Early History of Deposit Banking in Mediterranean Europe_, Vol. I: _The Structure and Functions of the Early Credit System: Banking in Catalonia: 1240-1723_, Harvard Economic Studies, Vol. 75 (Cambridge, Mass., 1943; reissued New York, 1967).

Van der Wee (1963), Hermann, _Growth of the Antwerp Market and the European Economy, 14th to 16th Centuries_, 3 Vols. (The Hague, 1963).

Van der Wee (1967), Herman, “Anvers et les innovations de la technique financière aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles,” _Annales: Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations_, 22 (1967): 1067-89; republished as “Antwerp and the New Financial Methods of the 16th and 17th Centuries,” in Herman Van der Wee, _The Low Countries in the Early Modern World_, translated by Lisabeth Fackelman (London, Variorium, 1993), 145-66.

Van der Wee (1975), Herman, ‘Prijzen en lonen als ontwikkelingsvariabelen:  Een vergelijkend onderzoek tussen Engeland en de Zuidelijke Nederlanden, 1400-1700,’ in _Album aangeboden aan Charles Verlinden ter gelegenheid van zijn dertig jaar professoraat_ (Wetteren: Universum,  1975), 413-470;  reissued in English translation (without the tables) as “Prices and Wages as Development Variables: A Comparison Between England and the Southern Netherlands, 1400-1700,” _Acta Historiae Neerlandicae_, 10 (1978), 58-78; republished in Herman Van der Wee, _The Low Countries in the Early Modern World_ , trans. by Lizabeth Fackelman (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 223-41

Van der Wee (1977), Herman, “Monetary, Credit, and Banking Systems,” in E.E. Rich and Charles Wilson. eds., _Cambridge Economic History of Europe_, vol. V: _The Economic Organization of Early Modern Europe_, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 322-32.

Van der Wee (2000), Herman, “European Banking in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period (476-1789),” in Herman Van der Wee and Ginette Kurgan-Van Hentenryk, eds., _A History of European Banking_, 2nd ed. (Antwerp, 2000), 152-80.

Wiebe (1895), Georg, _Geschichte der Preisrevolution des XVI. und XVII. Jahrhunderts_, Staats- und Socialwissensschaftliche Beiträge no. 2 (Leipzig: Dunder and Humblot, 1895).

Wilks (1993), Ivor, “Wangara, Akan, and the Portuguese in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,” in Ivor Wilks, ed., _Forests of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante_ (Athens, Ohio, 1993), 1-39.

John Munro is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Toronto, where he has taught since 1968, and where, despite mandatory retirement, he continues to teach a full course load in European economic history, both medieval and modern (to 1914).  His publications, in medieval and early modern economic history, are in two fields: (1) money, prices, and wages; and (2) textiles (including labor history and thus wages), which have predominated in his recent years of published output.  In the first field, his recent publications include “Wage Stickiness, Monetary Changes, and Real Incomes in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries, 1300-1500: Did Money Matter?” _Research in Economic History_, 21 (2003) and “The Medieval Origins of the Financial Revolution: Usury, Rentes, and Negotiability,” _The International History Review_, 25:3 (September 2003). Forthcoming is the entry on “The Price Revolution,” in Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence  E. Blume, eds., _The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics_, second edition.

Copyright (c) 2007 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; Telephone: 513-529-2229). Published by EH.Net (January 2007). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):Latin America, incl. Mexico and the Caribbean
Time Period(s):17th Century

Moving Violations: Automobiles, Experts, and Regulations in the United States

Author(s):Vinsel, Lee
Reviewer(s):Cain, Louis

Published by EH.Net (September 2019)

Lee Vinsel, Moving Violations: Automobiles, Experts, and Regulations in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019. vii + 432 pp. $65 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-4214-2965-6.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Louis Cain, Department of Economics, Northwestern University and Loyola University Chicago.

 
Moving Violations is a superb history of automobile regulation in the United States from 1893 to the present, a case study of the relationship between regulation and technological change. The emphasis is on safety, pollution, and fuel consumption. Lee Vinsel, a professor in Virginia Tech’s department of Science, Technology, and Society, notes the successes of auto regulation — which slowed after the Ford administration. In spite of this general inaction, it has been estimated that, over the past several decades, automobile regulations have saved in excess of 600,000 lives, reduced emissions by 99 percent since the late 1960s, and led to a current average fuel economy of just under 25 miles per gallon.

To Vinsel, the extremes of beliefs concerning the relationship between government and technology range from “Chicago School” advocates recommending government “get out of the way” to those who believe government is an “essential source of technological change.” Vinsel hypothesizes what he considers a middle ground: government regulation promotes technological change. Regulation is “any effort to reduce a public problem” (p. 2). Technological change is “not only changes in technologies themselves … but also transformations in how technologies are used and the systems that surround them” (p. 2). One reason innovation is a result is that “regulations are most effective when they motivate experts to focus on specific problems” (p. 301). To take an early, simple example, the demand for speedometers resulted from speed limit laws.

Vinsel’s hypothesis is argued within a select chronology of automobile regulation presented in four parts plus an introduction and conclusion. As forceful a case as Vinsel makes for his hypothesis, it is important to remember that his support is a case study of a single industry.

The first part, entitled “Standards,” deals with the period up to World War II. The initial automobiles were “playthings of the rich.” Mass production broadened the market, and the larger number of autos brought a demand for improved safety to quell the growing number of injuries and deaths. A national safety movement arose with the Model T that believed “standardization is the answer.” This gave rise to such things as headlights, traffic signals, traffic laws, and drivers’ licenses.

The second and third parts cover the period from World War II into the 1970s — the second with respect to safety regulation and the third with respect to pollution. There were significant advances in knowledge with respect to crash safety and air pollution beginning in the 1950s, while the 1960s brought a new attitude toward the use of regulation. As Vinsel shows, there are significant differences in the way regulation developed along these two dimensions. The second part focuses on the development of the science of impact biomechanics and the idea of crashworthiness, how that led to agencies such as National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and how the auto industry was able to weaken the standards the NHTSA proposed. The third focuses on how the link between automobile exhaust and smog was detected, how that led to a wider understanding of the automobile as polluter, and how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was successful in developing strict regulations with regard to auto emissions. The juxtaposition of these two parts is especially effective.

The final part, beginning with the Carter administration, is entitled “Bureaucracy,” and uses the “struggles” over fuel economy, the CAFE standards, to highlight the EPA’s struggles to maintain its credibility with the coming of deregulation and of a political dynamic whereby, when administrations’ change, people from the newly-elected party undo what their predecessors did. For the most part, regulation has become “reactive, mandating the use of already-available, widely-deployed technologies, rather than proactively setting the agenda” (p. 270). Does the link between regulation and innovation hold when the former is “reactive”? Vinsel notes that, increasingly, federal R&D spending has been used to stimulate innovation.

The Vinsel hypothesis needs further testing. Not only are case studies of more industries necessary, but I would like to see more about automobile regulation. Steps taken with respect to the history of automobile regulation can then be applied to the history of regulation in other industries. As he argues, “we must change the way we think about regulation. We must examine it in finer detail, with more historical fidelity” (p. 318).

A sentence in the Introduction refers to “unintended consequences” and one in the Conclusion refers to “ironies and tradeoffs.” I would like to see those ideas integrated more into the history. For example, in The Environmental Forum of March/April 2012, David Haddock notes that an unintended consequence of the CAFE standards was that “CAFE induced domestically produced cars to burn less fuel, but perversely induced the average foreign import sold in the United States to burn more.” Domestic cars became smaller as the average import became larger. This type of consequence is not discussed, and the alternative policy, a fuel tax, is given relatively short shrift. Vinsel does address some counterfactuals, but he does not address the potential effects of alternative policies.

The adopted regulations may have bred innovation, but was it the “ideal” innovation? What is the probability regulation will lead to adopting the optimal technology? Will regulation lead to an informed choice between technologies, for example, Betamax versus VHS? Will it be flexible and adaptable when a new technology (DVDs) arrives? History can tell us how well we performed. Since Vinsel concludes that regulations “unleash creativity and channel the human capacity for problem solving toward our greatest objects of concern” (p. 318), a logical next step is to ask, what could have been done to make the outcome even more desirable?

In the Clean Air Act amendments of 1970, Sen. Edmund Muskie inserted emission standards into the law when “both legislators and regulators knew that the automakers currently lacked available technology necessary to meet these standards” (p. 179). Vinsel cites this as an example of “technology forcing,” legislation that induced technological change. The law did indeed put responsibility for developing a viable technology onto the companies. When the act was written, research was underway that led to the adoption of the catalytic converter, but what if it hadn’t worked? How many examples are there, across industries, where firms failed to meet standards in a timely fashion due to a lack of “available technology”?

Vinsel assumes regulation will identify the requisite expertise, but the regulatory process is a political process, and there are no guarantees when regulation becomes tied to political ideology. He notes, “strong laws are not enough; regulatory agencies also require leadership and insightful organizational strategies to meet their goals” (p. 173). Are successful innovations more likely to result from specific approaches to and types of regulation? Are they more likely to emerge in specific types of industries?

Moving Violations will benefit all those with an interest in transportation history, regulatory history, technological history, innovation, and public policy and many others who will find something to savor in the details, perhaps an anecdote or two that will enliven a lecture or form the basis of a term paper. I look forward to Lee Vinsel’s future work as he further tests his hypothesis.
Louis Cain is Adjunct Professor of Economics at Northwestern University where he is a member of the Center for Economic History. He also is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Loyola University Chicago. He co-edited the Oxford Handbook of American Economic History (2018) and co-authored with Brooks Kaiser, “A Century of Environmental Legislation,” in Research in Economic History (2016).

Copyright (c) 2019 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 (September 2019). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

Subject(s):Economic Planning and Policy
Transport and Distribution, Energy, and Other Services
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

All the Facts: A History of Information in the United States since 1870

Author(s):Cortada, James W.
Reviewer(s):Haupert, Michael

Published by EH.Net (August 2017)

James W. Cortada, All the Facts: A History of Information in the United States since 1870. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. xix + 636 pp. $99 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-19-046067-9.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Michael Haupert, Department of Economics, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

 

“Big data” is all the rage these days. How to capture it, store it, analyze it, visualize it, and exploit it. But from whence do all these data originate, who compiles it, and how did it all begin? James Cortada takes on the Herculean task of writing not just about data, big or small, but the history of information in the United States. Information is a big topic, and big data is just one small part of it, garnering nine mentions in 600+ pages. Cortada rises to that challenge, covering just about everything you could conceive of regarding as information, and much you probably never thought of.

The central theme around which he builds his story is that information is a commodity, and its exchange is a function of literacy and education. Individual chapters deal with the various producers and consumers of information. The theme and organization make sense, and the approach works. But because the topic is so vast, there is no way that the breadth can be matched by the depth of the coverage. And Cortada does not disappoint when it comes to breadth. It’s all here. Sometimes a single sentence (the NBER, more on that later), sometimes a whole chapter (the internet). But no attempt is made to formulate an overall theory, or even address a specific one. Instead, he has chosen to touch on everything in an almost dizzying array of topics. By just scratching the surface, Cortada has uncovered a whole lot of what could prove to be fertile ground for future researchers. For example, where do we draw the boundary between efficiency and privacy? Is information a public or private good? And what about “alternative facts?” How do we differentiate between correct and incorrect information? Positive and normative information? Facts and beliefs? How has technology altered the balance between these, and at what cost? The general conclusion Cortada comes to is that information was and is “ubiquitous, pervasive, and integral in American life” (p 460). The specifics remain for future researchers to explore.

One could nitpick about the lack of coverage of one topic or another. For example, there is but a single sentence mentioning the creation of the NBER (p. 113) and no mention of the role of Edwin Gay, Wesley Mitchell, or Simon Kuznets, all of whom are widely recognized for their contributions to what economic historians would consider a very important source of information. But there is really so much included that it wouldn’t be fair to complain about what little is not.

Ultimately, this is the story of the growing importance of facts and their influence on the growth and development of the United Sates. The book consists of eleven chapters and an introduction laid out chronologically by topic. Chapters 1 and 3-5 cover the period from 1870 until World War II. Chapters 6-9 cover the remainder of the twentieth century. Each of these chapters covers a topic related to the role of business, government, and academia in the provision and consumption of data, and the impact of the ever-increasing amount of information on consumers. Chapter 2 covers the roots of early uses of information in America going back to the seventeenth century. The introduction is a general overview covering the definition of information (“a collection of facts in sufficient amounts to describe a situation, thing, place, person, or event” (p. 2)), how it relates to knowledge and skills, how information is used, by whom, and from whence it came. Chapter 10 addresses the internet and modern uses of information, and chapter 11, titled “How Americans Used Information to Shape Their Society,” serves as a conclusion. There are interesting sidebars throughout, including “What Farmers Had to Know by 1870” (p. 68), “Cooking Information the Betty Crocker Way” (p. 381), and “Roadside Signs along Route 66” (p. 408).

There are 92 pages of footnotes, but no bibliography. Instead, there is a bibliographic essay covering 35 pages. What it provides in thoroughness it lacks in usefulness. In this format it is difficult to track authors or topics, and even a single reference may require much page turning to find the complete citation. This is a disappointment because it makes it more difficult to use references to guide further research. The author himself would likely classify this as an information “restrainer” (p. 17).

Typical of the flow of the book is chapter five, “How Citizens Became Dependent on Information, 1870-1945,” in which Cortada argues that “one can see the influx and use of information in private lives by observing happenings in the kitchen, in childrearing, and in keeping home safe and socially appealing” (p. 192). He convincingly demonstrates how households were deluged with massive quantities of information, much of which involved cooking, cleaning, childrearing, and health. But one example he offers up — the tale of the National Association of Ice Industries (NAII) — raises a troubling issue at the same time. The NAII established the Household Refrigeration Bureau, whose mission it was to distribute “practical and accurate information on the application of refrigeration principles and appliances in the home” (p. 195). Through more than a dozen mass-distributed pamphlets published in the 1920s and 1930s, housewives were told that refrigeration was essential to preserve children’s health by protecting against food spoilage. But the NAII was hardly the only self-interested source of household information. On a variety of topics “experts” confused parents as they “debated different points of view in publications to which mothers and fathers had access. There were waves of advice” (p. 392). Or was it propaganda? And how well have we been able to differentiate between the two? Cortada gives Americans high marks in their ability to filter information, reasoning that “since so much information survived and people built upon it in the second half of the twentieth century, we can conclude Americans had learned to use it” (p. 413). If only we could be so sure.

Cortada concludes that “information has contributed to the overall success of the American economy since at least the 1870s” (p. 480). He makes no effort to measure or even verify that statement, which is typical of the broad view with which he has approached his subject. It is very much a big picture strategy: observe and comment. He thoroughly covers the topic of information, yet barely touches it at the same time. It is just too big to handle. He raises many interesting issues, but does not deal with any of them in detail. His book serves as a fascinating, exhaustive, and wide-ranging introduction to the concept of information. He made me think, and he has laid bare some fertile soil for future researchers to exploit.
Mike Haupert is co-editor (with Claude Diebolt) of the Handbook of Cliometrics (Springer, 2016), which will be will be available in an expanded second edition in 2019.

Copyright (c) 2017 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 (August 2017). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://www.eh.net/BookReview.

Subject(s):Business History
Education and Human Resource Development
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Household, Family and Consumer History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy and Geography of Food in New York, 1790-1860

Author(s):Baics, Gergely
Reviewer(s):Cain, Louis P.

Published by EH.Net (February 2017)

Gergely Baics, Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy and Geography of Food in New York, 1790-1860.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016.  xv + 347 pp.  $40 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-691-16879-1.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Louis P. Cain, Department of Economics, Northwestern University and Loyola University Chicago.

In Feeding Gotham, Gergely Baics, assistant professor of history and urban studies at Barnard College, describes in fascinating detail how food (meat, in particular) was supplied to antebellum New Yorkers and examines the economic and geographic consequences of New York City’s transition from public to private food markets.  Baics sets the public sector’s lessening involvement with the food supply in apposition to its increasing involvement with the Croton River water supply.  Until 1843, meat sales, the business that anchored New York’s markets, were restricted to licensed butchers.  As Baics argues, the decision to deregulate the butchers’ trade reflected a “growing distrust of monopolistic privileges and greater embrace of open entry” (p. 5) for all food sales.  Baics notes the irony that the era’s social and health reformers were actively seeking the regulation of housing, but not of food.

Under the common law, local governments were responsible for maintaining well-ordered markets, what was termed “market overt.”  All transactions had to be witnessed, and public markets were the answer to the question of when property rights in commodities were legally transferred.  Over time, the notion that only chattels exchanged in such markets were of guaranteed legality proved unrealistic.  By the late eighteenth century, market overt and its protective regulations had become an impediment to most trade.  Yet, as public markets disappeared, government’s “police powers” remained, and quality-control ordinances were common.  As Baics notes, the enforcement of such ordinances proved almost impossible in a world of many individual points of sale.  Caveat emptor also remained and allowed aggrieved buyers to sue sellers.  This was a system that worked well for non-perishable items and the rich, but less so for perishable items and the poor.  The desire of all concerned to have some assurance of safety helps explain why public food markets persisted long after such markets disappeared for other commodities.

Feeding Gotham is divided into three parts.  Chapter 1 provides a general overview that emphasizes three major topics.  One is what Baics characterizes as the political economy of public markets and how that reflects the interests of buyers, sellers, and regulators.  Two is a discussion of the deregulation of buyers’ access to food as rapid population growth led to an expansion of sellers operating outside public markets.  Third is how the fiscal demands of major public works, such as the Croton waterworks, competed with the city’s ability to make the necessary construction and maintenance investments in public market infrastructure.

Early markets were neighborhood institutions, financed by the buyers and sellers, but by 1810 financial responsibility was shifting to the city.  For the next three decades, public food markets grew with population, but the market system began to shrink with the Panic of 1837.  Baics notes the city’s revenues from stall rents, fees assessed on meat sales, and premiums for prime market space were greater than direct costs, but less than cost defined to include the opportunity cost of the capital invested in these markets.  For many buyers, that revenue stream was viewed as a tax which increased food prices, and, by the mid-1830s, the growing quantity of food sold outside public markets made that clear.  Even before the Panic, the city’s revenue from these markets was a declining share of the total.  By the late 1830s, the balance of public opinion had shifted from food access viewed as a public good toward free markets.  That licensed butchers sought to restrict sales to those with a license was viewed as simple rent-seeking.

The second part, focused on the years up to 1820, is divided into three chapters, all of which demonstrate Baics’ command of advanced statistical and geographical techniques.  Chapter 2 presents estimates of meat consumption based on market fees and uses GIS mapping to describe the geography of food (meat) access.   Baics addresses three questions, all of which he answers in the affirmative.  Was the supply of meat sufficient to meet dietary needs?  Was it distributed evenly across neighborhoods?  Did the public market system “sustain the public good of citizens’ access to food”?

Chapter 3 discusses the seasonal, weekly, and daily patterns of food shopping in a world where fresh meat was demanded year round, but fresh produce was only available in season.  Baics’ analysis is based on two series of household accounts and two sets of public market returns.  He notes public markets typically forbade trade to go past midday to reduce putrefaction and enacted high penalties for selling what market inspectors considered “unwholesome provisions,” among other regulations.  Even so, the market was considered “through” by 10AM.  After that, the poor appeared looking for bargains.  By noon, street peddlers purchased what was left and resold it to the poor, an activity approved by market law.  Chapter 4 presents a case study of the Catharine Market.  That multiple sellers of various types of goods could be found cheek-by-jowl in the market meant buyers could compare quality as well as price — as could sellers.  One potential extension of Baics’ analysis would be to examine the relationship between Catharine Market, the adjacent ferry terminal, and the farms and farmers across the river.

The final part on the post-dissolution period consists of two chapters.  The analysis in Chapter 5 is analogous to Chapter 2.  Baics’ GIS maps now examine the city’s overall land-use and pattern of commerce in the context of neighborhood access to food.  Parenthetically, the maps in general, and the color ones in particular, are one of the book’s highlights.  Baics finds the public market infrastructure was “weighed down by insufficient investments relative to rapidly growing demand” (p. 166).  On the other hand, “the dispersal of provision shops was determined both by urban growth and changing patterns of land use,” “wealthy uptown areas excluded provision stores,” and “centrally located working-class areas were teeming with groceries, meat shops, and other food vendors” (p. 178).  The chapter also returns to the Catherine Market to find the neighborhood now anchored by the “vibrant” retail trade along Catherine Street.

Chapter 6 is a study of the impact these changes had on what Baics describes as growing income and social inequality in a time of rapid immigration.  He integrates what he finds to be growing inequality in food access with the literature on the health and housing inequalities that customarily frame discussions of antebellum New York City.  He ties a “deteriorating disease environment” and “generally worsening conditions of food access” to a discussion of the antebellum puzzle.  In particular, animal populations did not grow as fast as the city’s population, which had an average annual growth rate just under 5 percent between 1840 and 1860.  Tying this supply constraint to the finding that shops in low-income areas were “selling cheaply, in smaller quantities and at lower quality” (p. 207), Baics’ brief concluding chapter argues, “In a city with ever deeper socioeconomic disparities, the liberalization of food markets propelled a formerly more egalitarian resource to become another structural layer of inequality, much like housing and sanitation” (p. 235).

Feeding Gotham is an important study; it brings an impressive quantity of data to bear on a subject customarily argued qualitatively.  It is a testimony to Baics’ ingenuity that his work generates additional questions.  One suspects that events such as the 1825 completion of the Erie Canal and the city’s emergence as the nation’s financial center helped make the rich richer; its role as the primary hub for immigration helped make the poor poorer.  Baics data in the early period are derived from the markets; he cannot estimate the extent to which the poor patronized public markets versus street peddlers.  What he can say is that the poor who shopped at the market did so later in the shopping day and purchased lower quality goods or they relied on peddlers.  Thus, unequal access became worse after deregulation, but it would be interesting to learn by how much.  Further, there are several counterfactual questions that potentially could be explored.  For example, how much would it have cost to construct an ever-expanding system of public markets?  What effect would such a system have had on food prices and taxes?  Would New Yorkers have been better off had more of their taxes been spent on food regulation rather than, say, water supply and road construction?  One hopes Feeding Gotham motivates Baics to continue his research on this important topic; its relevance to the issue of “food justice” is evident.

Louis Cain is Adjunct Professor of Economics at Northwestern University and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Loyola University Chicago.  He is a co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of American Economic History (forthcoming).

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Subject(s):Economic Planning and Policy
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Historical Geography
Household, Family and Consumer History
Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century