JOIN EHA

DONATE

Published by EH.NET (January 2006)

Harm G. Schr?ter, Americanization of the European Economy: A Compact Survey of American Economic Influence in Europe since the 1880s. Dordrecht: Springer, 2005. xii + 268 pp. $99 (hardcover), ISBN: 1-4020-2884-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Graham Brownlow, Faculty of Business, Auckland University of Technology.

The development of what could be termed the “American way of economic culture” in Europe since the 1880s is the stated focus of Harm Schr?ter’s book. Schr?ter is Professor of History at the University of Bergen. The long-run focus of the economic history and the promise to consider the nexus between European cultural and economic development intrigued and excited this reviewer; unfortunately my expectations and hopes were far from met. Indeed after ploughing through this book, Schr?ter’s claim made in the preface (p. ix) that it was the product of ‘a number of years’ labors came as a great surprise to this reviewer. The standard of general presentation is extremely careless for an academic work, especially for one with such a high hardcover price. The inadequate standard of presentation leaves the distinct impression of a manuscript having been rushed to publication without adequate proofreading. There are far too many typos, spelling and grammatical errors to mention. Entire passages are put in italics for no good reason (p. 118) and at one point instead of the location of an AFL-CIO conference the reader is met in the text with a cryptic ‘[where?]’ (p. 196).

The basic thesis of the book is that three successive historical waves of Americanization have shaped Europe’s economic and cultural life. These waves are identified and each is assigned a part in the book. Part 1, which is only a single chapter, covers the first wave of Americanization that is claimed to have emerged between 1870 and 1945. Part 2, covered by chapters 2 through 4, discusses the ‘Golden Age’ as a process of Americanization and the next three chapters cover Americanization since the 1980s. In part 1, Americanization is viewed as involving a transfer of ‘economic institutions and culture’ across the Atlantic. In the period from 1870 to 1945 the process is equated with a Europe-wide phenomenon; in later chapters the diversity of different national experiences is recognized. In part 2, the implications of the Marshall Plan for Americanization are considered along with the cultural effects of the growth of mass consumption and production. In part 3, the focus is on the transfer of free market policies to Europe since the 1980s. The role of financial and labor markets in determining the pace of Americanization is also considered.

The book covers a wide range of issues, but its coverage is found wanting in a number of respects. Firstly, there are a wide range of topics where Schr?ter makes elementary errors regarding historical fact. To note just a few of the more glaring errors, F.A. Hayek was not a Friedmanite monetarist of the Chicago School variety (pp. 127-28) and his Road to Serfdom was first published in 1944 and not 1946 (p. 128). EQUIS is not an American business school standard (p. 149). EQUIS is in fact European in origin and is run by the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD). The emergence of professional baseball began with the formation of the National league in 1876 and not at the start of the twentieth century (p. 186). As with the typographical errors, these errors of fact should have been spotted prior to publication.

Secondly, a number of major weaknesses in the historical and economic interpretation exist independently of Schr?ter’s many errors of historical fact. To start with, especially as Schr?ter uses it, the central concept of Americanization is imprecise. In addition to defining it as a transfer of culture and institutions, Schr?ter also defines it as variously a synonym for convergence of growth rates (p. 96), the pursuit of deregulation and privatization (p. 205) and national differences in per capita advertising expenditure (p. 120). While these uses are not necessarily inconsistent with one another, this reviewer would have preferred a single definition that could better lend itself to measurement. Schr?ter’s suggestion that such a more quantitative approach would be ‘misleading’ (p. 7) again does not convince this reviewer.

Thirdly, there are a number of extremely peculiar omissions in the discussion of Americanization. These omissions further reduce the credibility of the book. Strangely, despite in chapter 4 discussing the alleged role of marketing and advertising as academic disciplines in promoting Americanization, Schr?ter makes no reference to the growing literature on the causes and consequences of the post-1945 Americanization of the global economics profession (Coats, 1995). Schr?ter, moreover, despite claiming that small states are more susceptible to Americanization (p. 205), ignores mentioning the role of American investment in creating Ireland’s economic transformation in the last decade. Most economists would agree that the attraction of American inward investment has been central to the Celtic Tiger. For Schr?ter to omit even mentioning the paradigm case of American economic influence in recent European economic history, when he repeatedly discusses the very ‘unAmerican’ practices that exist within German retailing, strikes this reviewer as odd to say the least.

Perhaps this last omission arose because all too often Schr?ter is rather too fond of equating German and/or French with ‘European’ conditions. Different European countries get very different levels of discussion devoted to them; indeed some countries barely get a mention. The contents of the index illustrate this point. There are no references to Spain, Portugal or Poland in the index and few mentions to these countries in the text. This skewed geographical focus is all the more unfortunate as the book’s introduction promised the analysis would not just consider the major countries (p. 8). Moreover, those interested in UK economic history will be similarly disappointed, — while in certain parts of book British cultural and economic ‘exceptionalism’ is recognized (pp. 6, 205), it is never adequately explained. Nor is the relevant literature on the uniqueness of British economic performance even mentioned (Hutton, 1996). The UK’s status as a cultural and economic ‘middle way’ between continental Europe and America is an important topic that Schr?ter makes far too little of in this book.

This ambitious but ultimately unsatisfying book will struggle to find a target readership because of its weaknesses of style and substance. Overall this is not a book that can be satisfactorily recommended to undergraduate students of European economic history as they will inescapably repeat its errors of fact and economic understanding. Overall then, I’m sorry to report that Schr?ter’s book fails by a wide margin to deliver on its promised focus on European cultural and economic development. Economic historians seeking to consider the interplay between economy and culture are still better served by the works of authors such as Eric Jones and Peter Temin.

References:

Coats, A.W. (ed.), 1995. The Development of Economics in Western Europe since 1945. London, Routledge.

Hutton, Will, 1996. The State We’re In. London, Vintage.

Graham Brownlow is Senior Lecturer in Economics at Auckland University of Technology. His published research is mainly in the area of institutional economic history and Irish economic history. His most recent journal article (co-authored with Frank Geary) is entitled: “Puzzles in the Economic Institutions of Capitalism: Production Coordination, Contracting and Work Organisation in the Irish Linen Trade, 1750-1850,” Cambridge Journal of Economics, Vol. 29, No. 4 (2005), pp. 559-77.