Published by EH.NET (August 2000)
Derek H. Aldcroft and Anthony Sutcliffe, editors, Europe in the
International Economy, 1500-2000, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing,
1999. xi + 289 pp. $90 (cloth), ISBN: 1-85898-670-2.
Reviewed for EH.NET by Karl Gunnar Persson, Institute of Economics, University
This volume carries an endorsement on the book jacket by Peter Mathias saying,
“This will surely prove to be the definitive account — an authoritative text
by six leading authors. Well integrated, clearly written, objective and
balanced in judgment, excellently documented with key bibliographies — the
answer to the needs of all students of the subject.” This assessment sounds too
good to be true, but it is not completely wrong. Although the well-read in the
profession will learn little new from the book, it can be a very useful text
for a course in European economic history when little time can be devoted to
the subject and a comprehensive text is needed — say, at business schools or
at non-European universities.
The purpose of this book, according to the editors, is to explain the
pre-eminence of Europe and its impact on the international economy from the
early modern period, surveying the recent “rise of the west” literature in the
introductory chapter. There are few surprises here, but it gives a
comprehensive overview of the subject.
The first substantial chapter, by Jan L. Van Zanden and Edwin Horlings, offers
a balanced account of recent re-interpretations of early modern and
pre-industrial growth (c.1500 to c. 1800). It stresses the regional and
national differences in growth experiences and contrasts that story with the
traditional view of general stagnation in productivity levels before the
industrial revolution. Most of the quantitative results stem from van Zanden’s
recent research, most of which is not easily available, and the underlying
methodology is not extensively discussed. The results seem plausible, however,
with growth centers in the Low Countries, England and some parts of France as
suggested by other researchers such as Robert Allen, Philip Hoffman and myself.
Sidney Pollard, who died just before the book went to press and to whom the
book is dedicated, writes about the “Europeanization” of the international
economy from 1800 to 1870, giving a fair amount of attention to dissenting
voices when presenting the mainstream account. Like the preceding chapter, the
quantitative information is extensive and the focus is not only on Europe but
also its impact on the rest of the world.
The book proceeds chronologically to the 1870-1918 period, which James
Foreman-Peck describes as the “zenith” of European power. Although clearly the
most thought provoking of the contributions, it does not fit well into the
narrative stream of this volume. Where the rest of the book relies on main
economic indicators, this section concentrates on institutions and regulation
of the international economy. Foreman-Peck also returns to the discussion of
the costs and benefits of empire, offering something for all tastes.
Derek H. Aldcroft follows Foreman-Peck with his chapter on the disintegration
of Europe in the interwar period. Barry Eichengreen and others have made this
narrative familiar to us, and the reference list to this chapter, like most of
the others, is extensive and accurate, as is the survey of the topic. I am
surprised, however, that the excellent little textbook by Charles Feinstein,
Peter Temin and Gianni Toniolo (The European Economy between the Wars,
Oxford University Press, 1997), which is a more wide-ranging alternative to
this compact chapter, is missing from Aldcroft’s list.
The final two chapters by Anthony Sutcliffe and Steven Morewood deal with the
present and focus quite a bit on European institutional integration. By and
large I find these chapters rather less penetrating, and they do not satisfy
the quantitative economic historian’s appetite for numbers and rigorous
economic reasoning. However, both chapters survey the main issues discussed in
relation to the acceleration and decline in European growth rates.
All in all, this book can be useful as a comprehensive textbook on European
economic history since it surveys, over a limited number of pages, such an
extended period. It gives little specific information on national experiences,
so one must go elsewhere for that. If I were teaching this course I would
probably replace the final chapters with excerpts from Economic Growth in
Europe since 1945 (Cambridge University Press, 1996) edited by Nick Crafts
and Gianni Toniolo. I would also like to have a text on the European backlash
to free trade from the 1870s in the O’Rourke-Williamson vein.
The price of the hardcover version of the book might deter teachers from
recommending it. However, if the publisher decides to print a paperback
edition, it should urge the editors to add a workbook section that would assist
students in facing the issues and controversies surveyed in the main text.
K.G. Persson is professor at the Institute of Economics, University of
Copenhagen and co-editor of the European Review of Economic History. His
most recent book is Grain Markets in Europe, 1500-1900: Integration and
Deregulation, Cambridge University Press, 1999 and a recent article
(jointly with Mette Ejrn?s) is “Market Integration and Transport Costs in
France, 1825-1900: A Threshold Error Correction Approach to the Law of One
Price,” in Explorations in Economic History, Vol. 37, pp. 149-73, 2000.