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Promoting Global Monetary and Financial Stability: The Bank for International Settlements after Bretton Woods, 1973–2020

Editor(s):Borio, Claudio
Claessens, Stijn
Clement, Piet
McCauley, Robert N.
Shin, Hyun Song
Reviewer(s):Rockoff, Hugh

Published by EH.Net (March 2022).

Claudio Borio, Stijn Claessens, Piet Clement, Robert N. McCauley, and Hyun Song Shin, eds. Promoting Global Monetary and Financial Stability: The Bank for International Settlements after Bretton Woods, 1973–2020. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. xviii + 268 pp. $110 (hardback), ISBN 9781108495981.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Hugh Rockoff, Department of Economics, Rutgers University.


This collection of six essays was created to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). It covers the years 1973–2020. Toniolo and Clement (2005) covered 1930–1973 in a detailed and well-received volume.

The BIS was established in 1930. Its first home was in the former Savoy Hôtel Univers in Basel, Switzerland. It was part of the Young Plan to facilitate the payment of Germany’s World War I reparations. However, its raison d’être soon disappeared with the moratoria on German reparations. During the 1930s, moreover, the reputation of the BIS was tarnished when it accepted deposits of gold looted by the Nazis. At the Bretton Woods Conference, there were calls, including one from the top American negotiator Harry Dexter White, to liquidate the BIS. After all, two new international agencies, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, would govern the international financial system. This recommendation, however, failed to garner sufficient support.

Although the BIS provides some banking services for central banks, its main functions, to judge from these essays, are twofold: to provide a forum where central bankers can discuss common problems and form relationships and to provide research and analysis. It is difficult to place objective values on these services. The essays abound with phrases like “forum for information exchange and discussions,” “forum for central bank cooperation,” “ideal venue for cooperation” and so on, but how much this meant is difficult to say. The same is true of its role as supplier of information and ideas. The BIS has an active research department, but measuring its impact is difficult.

This book is a birthday present from and for the BIS. There are no naysayers here. Nevertheless, the six essays in this well-planned volume – the first five by distinguished academic students of central banking and international finance and the final essay by a distinguished practitioner – are to my mind, cautious and persuasive.

The first chapter, by Harold James, “The BIS and the European Monetary Experiment,” delivers what the title suggests: a clear and informative description of the road to the Euro emphasizing the role of the BIS.

The second chapter, by Caroline R. Shenk, “The Governance of the Bank for International Settlements, 1973–2020” takes the reader through the changing organizational structure of the BIS. The need to expand the membership of the BIS to reflect the changing structure of international finance while preserving its ability to serve as a forum for central bank cooperation was, it turns out, especially challenging.

The third chapter, by Chris Brummer, “A Theory of Everything: A Historically Grounded Understanding of Soft Law and the BIS,” describes the role of the BIS in promoting and developing the Basel capital standards. These standards are “soft law” because individual nations retain the right to place legally enforceable restrictions on its banks. However, as Brummer explains, the Basel standards have influenced the laws that nations adopt, and so have had an enormous influence.

The fourth chapter, by Andrew Baker, “Tower of Contrarian Thinking: How the BIS Helped Reframe Understandings of Financial Stability,” argues that the BIS played a crucial role in the development and promulgation of the concept of “macroprudential regulation.” This is the idea that, for example, capital requirements for banks should be changed over the course of the business cycle, ratcheting up during economic expansions and down during contractions, thus (hopefully) moderating the business cycle and preventing financial crises.

In the fifth chapter, Barry Eichengreen furthers the discussion of the evolution of the BIS’s thinking about international financial markets and regulation including macroprudential regulation. The chapter is based on a close reading of the annual reports of the BIS and other sources, providing a good example of what can be accomplished through meticulous scholarship.

The final chapter, “The Bank of International Settlements: If It Didn’t Exist, It Would Have to Be Invented (An Insider’s View),” was written by William C. Dudley, who has served as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and on various committees of the BIS, making, he tell us, over 50 trips to Basel. Dudley provides some weighty examples drawn from his own experience of central bank cooperation that were facilitated by the forum provided by the BIS. For example, Dudley argues that in 2008 the rapid deployment of a system of central bank dollar auctions was made possible by personal relationships forged at the BIS.

When I began reading, I was skeptical that a case for the importance of the BIS could be based on its provision of a forum for central bank cooperation and of a center for research. These are both areas where, as I noted, measurement of impact is hard if not impossible. It is, moreover, easy to think of counterfactual substitutes. In the absence of the forum for discussions created by the BIS, would there have been more conferences like the famous conference at Jackson Hole hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City? More Zoom webinars? And in the absence of the BIS research department wouldn’t its researchers have found other places to ply their trade? However, in the end I found the book convincing. Like most economists, I think competition is a good thing, and this appears to be another example. Michael Bordo and Edward Prescott (2019) have argued that the system of competing research departments in Federal Reserve District Banks has proven its worth. It makes sense that the same is true when it comes to international financial agencies.

This clear, judicious, and persuasive volume is well worth reading by someone like myself:  interested in the recent history of international finance, but not an expert. I learned a lot. Moreover, I believe it will be required reading for scholars studying the evolution of the institutional structure of international banking, finance, and monetary policy.


Bordo, Michael D., and Edward S. Prescott. “Federal Reserve Structure, Economic Ideas, and Monetary and Financial Policy.” NBER Working Paper 26098, 2019.

Toniolo, Gianni, and Piet Clement. Central Bank Cooperation at the Bank for International Settlements, 1930-1973. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.


Hugh Rockoff is Distinguished Professor of Economics at Rutgers University. His primary research interests include the history of price controls, the U.S. economy in World War II, and U.S. monetary history.

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

Subject(s):Economic Planning and Policy
Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Macroeconomics and Fluctuations
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Reluctant Cold War Warriors: Economists and National Security

Author(s):Kontorovich, Vladimir
Reviewer(s):Bollard, Alan

Published by EH.Net (March 2022).

Vladimir Kontorovich. Reluctant Cold War Warriors: Economists and National Security. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. xiii + 266 pp. $78 (hardcover), ISBN: 9780190868123.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Alan Bollard, Professor of Economics, Victoria University of Wellington

Throughout the Cold War there was an intense focus on the Soviet Union – how big, how prosperous, and how aggressive it might be. The group of economists in universities, think tanks, and the US Administration especially its intelligence agencies, who studied this problem were called ‘Kremlinologists’ or ‘Sovietologists’. Winston’s Churchill’s quote about the Soviet Union being ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’ presented a challenge to these analysts – a huge economy, with a radically different economic system, apparently successful in its military production but less so in consumer economics, with much essential data and policy intentions cloaked in secrecy. Some of these analysts were émigré Russians or from émigré families, bringing inside knowledge about the economy, Russia’s language and institutions, and also intense personal experiences. Other analysts belonged to the Cold War Warrior schools, skilled in new mathematical techniques and raised in an environment of nuclear competition.

This book is an exercise in economic historiography – what did Sovietologists know about the Soviet economy, what were they ignorant of, and what biases did they bring? The author is well-positioned to answer these questions – Vladimir Kontorovich was educated in Novosibirsk, a Cold War ‘academic city’ in the Soviet Union, and is now a professor of economics in the US and has published widely on the Soviet economy. To him ‘the Soviet economy was the greatest economic experiment in history,’ and given its scale of ideological and institutional disruption and its radical allocation techniques, it represented a challenge to Western economic understanding. This book is a case study in economist adaptation.

The Soviet economic system was designed in the 1920s, and by the 1930s it was attracting wide interest for its central planning and high economic growth during a period of world depression. At this time most Western reporting was impressionistic and journalistic. The major academic debate sparked by Ludwig von Mises about the efficiency of socialist planning versus capitalist markets took place with little institutional reference to the Soviet economy.

Serious Western research started with World War II, and the concern of the OSS (the wartime forerunner of the CIA) over the capacity of the Soviet economy to sustain German invasion. Kontorovich cites US-based economists Abram Bergson and Alexander Gerschenkron as key founders of Western economic Sovietology. After the war, US Cold War concerns over Soviet nuclear capability led to more funding and more concerted work on the Soviet economy and its ability to compete. By the post-Sputnik era there were questions about possible Soviet economic leadership. By the later 1970s the country was seen as less of an economic threat and Sovietology went into decline.

Kontorovich surveys a large literature on the Soviet economy. There were big discrepancies in estimates of Soviet GNP. He concludes that many researchers underestimated the strength of the Soviet economy over the period 1960 to 1990; estimates from the CIA, considered at the time as being ideologically driven, were probably more accurate than those of many independent researchers.
He also argues that the Soviet military sector did not get the attention it deserved from Sovietologists. Admittedly it was hard to do this – Soviet official estimates of their military sector were suppressed or conflicting, there were different costing techniques, data quality was poor, and modelling techniques inconsistent. This brought unreliable estimates of what he calls the ‘burden of defence,’ i.e., military expenditure as a percentage of GDP, extremely high during World War Two but still high in later decades. The author provides considerable detail on the defence establishment, its supply industries, control systems, closed cities, and skilled workers.

To demonstrate the lack of attention to this key sector, he surveys several hundred books and over a thousand articles on the Soviet economy mainly by Westerners, even counting chapter numbers, page numbers and index references, to show the gap in focus. Kontorovich argues that the Soviets signalled the importance of military expenditure and its associated heavy industry production, but Sovietologists frequently failed to pick up on these transparent objectives, and data was not always as secret as claimed. He argues that ‘Sovietologists belonged to a small, low-prestige, precariously established field of economics.’

He makes these points convincingly, but at times the argument is pedestrian and unnecessarily long-winded. There are tables that cite the number of chapters, index references and page numbers relating to the military sector, drawn from several hundred books and over a thousand articles. His bibliography is 40 pages long. The arguments are heavy-handed, though convincing.

Nevertheless, this is an important book. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia at the time of this review opens up similar questions about the relative size of the Russian military sector – much smaller than in the Cold War Soviet Union, but much larger than most OECD countries. Do we still share the ignorance about Russia’s military effectiveness, geopolitical objectives, and political control systems that Kontorovich laments during the Cold War?

This book could also serve as a guide for the more recent profession of ‘Pekingologists,’ who study the rapidly growing economy of China, important for its trading implications, its financial reach and its potential military power. Kontorovich shows how academic herd behaviour, data gaps, policy secrecy, and lack of institutional understanding of a country’s characteristics, can lead to poor decision-making in the West, and US President Donald Trump has showed us the risks of that.


Dr. Alan Bollard is Professor of Economics at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He is the author of Economists at War: How a Handful of Economists Helped Win and Lose the World’s Wars (Oxford University Press, 2020) and is currently writing a book on economists during the Cold War.

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

Subject(s):Development of the Economic History Discipline: Historiography; Sources and Methods
Economic Planning and Policy
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Military and War
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

New Perspectives on Welsh Industrial History

Editor(s):Miskell, Louise
Reviewer(s):Evans, Shaun

Published by EH.Net (March 2022).

Louise Miskell, ed. New Perspectives on Welsh Industrial History. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2020. xiv + 268 pp. £24.99 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-78683-500-0.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Shaun Evans, School of History, Law and Social Sciences, Bangor University.


In April 2016 the National Assembly for Wales was recalled to consider interventions which would alleviate the urgent situation facing the Welsh steel industry. In his statement on the issue the then First Minister, Carwyn Jones, concluded with an assertion that:

Steel production is not just about statistics and the economy, vital though they are: it’s a fundamental part of who we are as a country. So, the clear message that needs to go from this National Assembly today to all our steel communities … is that we stand beside you, shoulder to shoulder. [Applause.]

(Statement on Tata Steel, Welsh Assembly, 4 April 2016)

The speech encapsulates the prominence of heavy industry as part of the national fabric and consciousness of Wales: ‘a fundamental part of who we are as a country.’ It also evinces how industry tends to be viewed from a Welsh perspective – with an emphasis on community, livelihood and identity over statistics and the economy. Such a viewpoint is fundamental to the original and varied collection of essays brought together in New Perspectives on Welsh Industrial History; one of its prime objectives is to put statistics, quantitative analysis, and the economy back into the study of the modern Welsh past.

In a valuable and wide-ranging introduction, Louise Miskell teases out the nature and status of economic history studies in Wales since the beginning of the twentieth century, reflecting on the key trends, developments, projects, and approaches. She argues that economic history has never taken root in Welsh academia in the same way it has done in England, partly because of a perception that the historical industrialisation of Wales was a non-Welsh process (reliant on outside capital and instigating anglicisation of Welsh communities) and in part because of the challenge of identifying and defining a distinctive ‘Welsh economy’ not wholly bound up in wider British economic activity. More fundamental still is the fact that it was themes and questions of society, culture, nation, and identity which tended to shape the study of Welsh history across the twentieth century; including the emergence of a thriving brand of labour history as the dominant framework for analyses of industrial communities in Wales. Working-class experience, social life, characteristics of industrial communities, workplace relations, protest, and industrial disputes on issues of wages and working conditions have tended to predominate over economic analyses in the labour history tradition in Wales. Miskell notes a general reluctance amongst historians of Wales to engage with statistical analysis; an ‘anti-numerical’ tradition which has hindered the development of economic assessments of Wales’ past.

The collection of essays, from Miskell and seven other scholars, in New Perspectives is designed to rebalance these scholarly deficits and biases; reassess and transcend traditional stereotypes; articulate a more diverse picture of the Welsh industrial past; and outline new directions, themes, and questions to be pursued across the next generation of Welsh industrial and economic history. In these respects, the volume is a resounding success, pooling original case studies and interpretations to enrich established knowledge and understanding of industrial activity in Wales across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, towards the dawn of Welsh Devolution in 1997. The presence of meticulously researched essays emanating from recent doctoral projects and in-depth archival analysis is particularly encouraging. The most important new directions or perspectives can be grouped into four core themes:

(1) Interrogation of the global interconnectedness of Welsh industry runs as a thread across many of the essays, ranging from the role of Welsh copper in British colonial activity and transatlantic slavery; to the coal trade between Wales and France across the long-nineteenth century; to the post-1945 iron-ore mining ventures of the Steel Company of Wales in Mauritania, west Africa. These outward-facing assessments of the intricacies of supply chains, imports, products, exports, and markets contribute to a more complex and comprehensive understanding of Wales’ place in the world and involvements in British economic, foreign, and colonial affairs across the modern period.

(2) The essays address the issue that the perspectives of employers, owners and companies have often been absent or marginalised in previous studies of Welsh industrial history. The rallying call here is to unlock the research potentials of the archives and records produced by businesses, industrial owners, and managers. In the volume this materialises with a fascinating study of the approach of industrial owners and managers towards employee welfare circa 1840-1939. The implication is that that relations in industrial communities were often far more nuanced than the simplistic exploitative employer/exploited worker binary exhibited in parts of the labour history tradition. This theme is further illuminated through an intricate analysis of worker relations during the industrial disputes at the Port Talbot Steelworks, 1945-79.

(3) The collection includes studies which examine the role of the State in the economic development of Welsh communities from the second half of the twentieth century. This includes an assessment of government-supported manufacturing ventures (e.g., Dunlop factory, British Nylon Spinners factory) and a wide-ranging study of the policy objectives and achievements of the Welsh Development Agency (1976-2006) in promoting Wales as a location for industrial investment.

(4) Another achievement of the collection is its widening of the lens of study beyond the core pillars of Welsh industrial history: coal and iron. This encouragement of a broader assessment of economic and industrial activity will serve to enrich the overarching historiography of Wales, disrupting stereotypes and articulating a more inclusive, complex, and diverse picture of society, culture, and landscape. In this respect, the inclusion of a meticulously researched essay on domestic service is especially refreshing. It not only underlines the essential and commonplace contributions of women to economic activity, but it provides part of a framework for connecting the study of industrial and urban Wales with the study of rural Wales and its deeply rooted farming-based economy. As signposted by this volume, a more complete understanding of Wales’ economic history will require historians to move beyond traditional methodological approaches, conceptual boundaries, and disciplinary limits.

It is inevitable that an edited collection of essays deriving from workshop proceedings will exhibit gaps; the editor admits that there are important sections of the Welsh economy not represented in these New Perspectives. Any criticism of a volume which contributes so much should be rightly viewed as pedantic on the part of this reviewer. At the heart of the 2016 Steel Crisis, when so much political and media attention was understandably fixed on the future of Port Talbot, the cries from Flintshire were: ‘yes, but don’t forget about Shotton.’ To put it too bluntly, this volume unintentionally projects a misconception that industrial and economic activity in Wales’ past was confined to southeast Wales, which has implications for how other areas of Wales are perceived. There are of course exceptions to this generalisation within the essays. Nevertheless, the important New Perspectives and areas for future analyses outlined in this volume should be applied to a broader geographical conception of Welsh industrial and economic history. The slate landscapes of Gwynedd have recently been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status: an economic history of the local quarrying and global industry attached to these landscapes is desperately required. The lead mining and woollen industries of mid-Wales, north Wales coalfield, Parys copper mine in Anglesey, Bersham ironworks and Brymbo steelworks, Greenfield Valley and manufacturing industries of Deeside, together with the array of industries and businesses operating from rural, coastal, and high-street arenas, are amongst the spheres of economic activity which should be embraced by the new economic and industrial history of Wales. New Perspectives provides essential parts of the roadmap for this historiographical endeavour.


Shaun Evans is Lecturer in Early Modern and Welsh History in the School of History, Law and Social Sciences at Bangor University and Director of the Institute for the Study of Welsh Estates ( His research focuses on society, culture, and landscape in Wales circa 1500-1900, and he is co-editor of Land Reform in the British and Irish Isles since 1800 (Edinburgh, 2022).

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

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Labor and Employment History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Cambridge Economic History of the Modern World: Volume II, 1870 to the Present

Editor(s):Broadberry, Stephen
Fukao, Kyoji
Reviewer(s):Carreras, Albert

Published by EH.Net (February 2022).

Stephen Broadberry and Kyoji Fukao, eds. The Cambridge Economic History of the Modern World: Volume II, 1870 to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021. xv + 566 pp. £120 (hardcover), ISBN 978-1-107-15948-8.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Albert Carreras, Full Professor, Department of Economics and Business, Pompeu Fabra University.


The book edited by Stephen Broadberry and Kyoji Fukao is the second volume of The Cambridge Economic History of the Modern World (CEHMW).  It covers 1870 to the present. In title and format this two-volume set bears a strong similarity to 2010’s Cambridge Economic History of Modern Europe (CEHME), also co-edited by Stephen Broadberry and in two volumes divided between 1700-1870 and 1870-present. In both cases, there is an explicit desire to cover all countries, not just the major ones, and double or triple authorship is used to ensure familiarity with geographically or thematically very broad literatures.  Unlike the second volume of the CEHME, the CEHMW volume itself is not organized into major subperiods (1870-1914, 1914-1945, 1945-2000). It is divided into two parts, the first with eleven chapters and the second with eight. The first part covers “regional developments,” and the second covers “factors governing performance differentials in the global economy.” The effort to treat Europe as a single unit of analysis has had to give way to the recognition of the deep regional diversity of the world. The major historical stages are treated in each and every chapter, both regional and thematic.

The quest for universal coverage is the first and perhaps the main success of the work. A group of top-level contributors cover, in a well-integrated and cohesive manner, eleven major regions: “North America: The Rise of US to Technological and Economic Leadership” (Paul Rhode); “Western Europe: Convergence and Divergence” (Paul Sharp); “The Socialist Experiment and Beyond: The Economic Development of Eastern Europe” (Tracy Dennison and Alexander Klein); “Japan: Modern Economic Growth in Asia” (Kyoji Fukao and Tokihiko Settsu); “Economic Change in China: The Role of Institutions and Ideology” (Debin Ma); “From Free Trade to Regulation: The Political Economy of India’s Development” (Bishnupriya Gupta);  “Growth and Globalization Phases in South East Asian Development” (Gregg Huff); “The Middle East: Decline and Resurgence in West Asia” (Mohamed Saleh); “Latin America: Stalled Catching Up” (Pablo Astorga and Alfonso Herranz-Loncán);  “African Economic Development: Growth, Reversals, and Deep Transitions” (Ewout Frankema), and “Australia: Prosperity, Relative Decline and Reorientation” (Gary B. Magee). North Africa is in the Middle East one. Coverage is systematic, and where the text does not go, tables and graphs provide missing information. As an indication of the radical nature of the experiment and the absence of bias (as seen from peripheral Europe), I can attest that the only large and wealthy country not specifically covered is Canada, although it appears on several occasions in the second part. All the world’s economies of large and medium demographic and economic size – and many small – are covered, and all with comparable indicators and issues.  The volume and the first part are not organized around distances from the initial leader, the United Kingdom, but from the leader for most of the period – the United States. This approach provides a consistent and compact view of a wide array of different experiences. Of course, the better known the region in economic historiography, the fewer the surprises in the chapter, regardless of the quality – always very high – of the authors. But there is no doubt that there are chapters that represent a more innovative or inspiring approach, such as those on China, India, Southeast Asia, the Near East and North Africa, and Africa. Less prior knowledge or fewer previous syntheses or less well fit regions into world economic historiography provide opportunities for their authors to shine.

While the first part is built on firm foundations –as firm as the available statistical data can be- and on previous historiographies almost as diverse in degrees of development as the experiences of the regions themselves, the second part is different. It deals with immense topics, which have been studied in a regionally irregular way, but for which there are, in all cases, brilliant overall approaches.  The editors have forced pairs or trios of authors to fit together vast and diverse literatures. In the first part, there are more individual authorships (eight out of eleven) and there are fourteen authors in total. In the second part, there are no individual authorships, and for good reasons. With only eight chapters there are eighteen different authors. Thus we have two chapters on the proximate sources of growth: “Healthy, Literate and Smart: The Global Increase of Human Capital” (Latika Chaudhary and Peter Lindert) –a whole world of hot academic issues- and “Proximate Sources of Growth: Capital and Technology” (Rajabrata Banerjee, Robert Inklaar, and Herman de Jong). There are two more on the ultimate sources of growth: “Underlying Sources of Growth: First and Second Nature Geography” (Paul Caruana-Galizia, Toshihiro Okubo, and Nikolaus Wolf) and “Underlying Sources of Growth: Institutions and the State” (James Foreman-Peck and Leslie Hannah), both as fashionable as durable. There is one special chapter bringing together the economic history answers to all those critical of the very concept of growth: “Living Standards, Inequality, and Human Development” (Leandro Prados de la Escosura and Myung Soo Cha). The last three chapters are devoted to the global economy: “Trade and Immigration” (David S. Jacks and John P. Tang); “International Finance” (Barry Eichengreen and Rui Pedro Esteves) and “War and Empire” (Jari Eloranta and Leigh Gardner). Perhaps the one that seems more conventional in title is “International Finance”, but it is a masterful innovative view of the whole period. Most of the others have had to build their arguments and fit together their parts, often from scratch.  No major issues are absent. The territorial coverage is always broad. The major historical stages are well covered. Where possible, temporally continuous visions are provided that help the readers form chronological interpretations. Each chapter puts together quite different strands of literature in a suggestive manner. The result is a series of chapters that contain, each of them, the full potential of a book – or an entire library.

The work is always well interwoven. The cohesive action of the editors is visible. The “Introduction” is a proper one, displaying the main argument.  The volume is a breakthrough that could have seemed impossible to achieve ex ante.  The second volume of the CEHMW is a set of masterful, synthetic and inspiring texts.  But this reviewer feels a sense of longing for a more explicit chronological organization of the evolution of economic history. Can we think of the world economy without breaking down the last century and a half into periods that are intensely marked by truly global historical episodes, such as World War I, World War II and the collapse of the Soviet bloc?  I miss it and I encourage new attempts to reconstruct this historical approach, which could have taken the form of a distinct part and four more chapters or of a conclusive chapter or of a longer introduction or, now that the project is finished and published, a new, short book –a nice challenge for the editors. In the meantime, I encourage all economic historians and social scientists at large to enjoy the well-researched and intelligent feats of synthesis in the second volume of the CEHMW, which offer us a front row view of the best that the economic historiography of the modern world has to offer.


Albert Carreras is Full Professor in the Department of Economics and Business at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain. With Xavier Tafunell, he is the author of Between Empire and Globalization: An Economic History of Modern Spain (Palgrave Studies in Economic History, 2021) and editor of Estadísticas Históricas de España, Siglos XIX-XX, 3 vols. (2005).

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

Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Historical Geography
History of Technology, including Technological Change
Military and War
International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History

Author(s):Harper, Kyle
Reviewer(s):Jones, Eric

Published by EH.Net (February 2022).

Kyle Harper. Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021. x + 686pp. $35.00 (hardback), ISBN-13 978-0691192123.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Eric Jones, Senior Fellow, University of Buckingham.


Deep in the endnotes to this hefty text, Kyle Harper nails his colours to the mast. It is a slightly obscure place to fly them, given that he is so persuasive about the value of economic history. He draws on the subject for the framework of his final chapters because economic historians do try to find general causes of change, whereas historians of medicine and public health emphasize particularity. We lose sight of the real thrust of change, he says, by focussing on the particular, whether or not it is philosophically acceptable to lump ideas together as ‘Enlightenment medicine,’ ‘public health’ or ‘germ theory’. Because most Western societies successfully adopted similar public health measures, carping that the constructs are artificial is in Harper’s words, ‘to miss the forest for the trees.’

This is a first point about an impressive book. A second point may be less comforting for economic historians, unless they are willing, as he is, to invest heavy-duty effort in understanding the symptoms and medical basis of a number of diseases – it is far from our comfort zone, true, and not for the faint-hearted. Fortunately, a third point is that the accounts of waves of disease are more fluently summarised than I have ever seen in such a long and technical volume. He is a master of the telling phrase (‘mosquitoes are vampires with wings,’ vaccines are ‘externalising the immune system’). I was tempted to think he must have a factory of elves passing him material at the University of Oklahoma, where he is professor of classics, but, no, all 500 pages are his own work.

We are unusual apes, the ‘sneezing ape,’ with an especially heavy load of parasites. Why then are there so many more of us than of other primate species? Harper sees beyond even this puzzle. He asks why it took us so long (in terms of the grand periods he likes to study) to achieve our numerical predominance? These are nice, fundamental questions not addressed in such terms in our usually short-period research, which inclines to take its cues from the interests of contemporary economists. A classicist like Kyle Harper is needed to suggest that we economic historians might find our comparative advantage in broad studies. If one has a hammer, everything starts to seem like a nail. Harper has the hammer of medical history and might be accused of battering all human experience into that shape (for instance, he sees the Thirty Years’ War as an ‘epidemiological event’). That would be a travesty, for no one is better at handling detailed cases while still conveying the broad sweep and discerning penetrating questions about it. If one wants to find fault, he takes at face value one or two fashionable shibboleths, such as that mechanisation was a reflex to high real wages, but they are incidental to his whole scheme.

Harper adopts a wide perspective, even including knowledgeable sections on plant and animal diseases. Some themes stand out but only the scantiest selection can be mentioned here. He points out that introduced European diseases did not have a uniform impact on Native American populations, contrary to the impression given by many sources. He notes that some diseases, endemic in larger places, were actually identified where they arose only intermittently, as with measles epidemics in the Faroes (rubella was first recognised in Australia in a similar fashion). Although it is not a novel insight, he treats the plague as pan-Eurasian but adds that domesticating the horse was the ‘epidemiological fact of the first order’ which made possible the fatal integration of the World Island. Similarly he recognises the disease unification of the tropics, and observes that the knock-on effects of the nineteenth-century globalisation of transport caused gains in life expectancy to stall. Class differences in health had widened between 1650 and 1850, but thereafter social and biological status converged, rather more through a confluence of improvements in public health than the growth of personal incomes. It is a topic where the mindset that elevates economic growth above administrative reform proves misleading.

Economic historians will find it both obvious and disconcerting that, as this book shows, simple economism will not do. As Harper says, diseases come upon us by choice and chance. The latter reflects the haphazard and scarcely predictable arrival of hostile organisms which get through our defences. Choice is a result of how society is set up, its distribution, contacts, age structure, population density and so forth, elements little able to be altered in the very short run but nevertheless deriving from human decisions. Even today there is ten years’ difference in life expectancy between poor and prosperous regions of the United Kingdom, something that could be amended by economic policy without fresh medical interventions. Health and wealth were both part of our ‘Great Escape’ from many earlier scourges but if there was anything like a silver bullet, it was the betterment of habitats and social arrangements. These improvements were partly unintended: the European marriage pattern is credited with helping to raise life expectancies, as was the spread of brick housing. On the other hand, the enforcement of quarantines by larger nation-states was a matter of policy.

The economic consequences of health emergencies may certainly be traced, as is abundantly done here, but although the initial enabling conditions may be detected too, the incidence of disease, notably epidemics, cannot really be predicted in a way that is of practical use. Medical advances have been astonishing but there is no getting away from the fact that our species is tossed by forces substantially beyond our power to forecast or control. Medicine and economic growth have become delinked: life expectancy worldwide has risen far above gains in income. Sadly, there are limits to the economic historian’s professional omniscience. This book extends the range we must consider. It is outstandingly well-written and enlightening.


Eric Jones is a Senior Fellow at the University of Buckingham and the author of Barriers to Growth: English Economic Development from the Norman Conquest to Industrialisation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) and Landscape History and Rural Society in Southern England: An Economic and Environmental Perspective (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).

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

Subject(s):Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

An Economic History of Central, Eastern and South-East Europe, 1800 to the Present

Editor(s):Morys, Matthias
Reviewer(s):Swain, Geoffrey

Published by EH.Net (February 2022).

Matthias Morys, ed. An Economic History of Central, Eastern and South-East Europe, 1800 to the Present. London: Routledge, 2021. xxii + 505 pp. $160.00 (hardback), ISBN-13: 978-1138921979.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Geoffrey Swain, Professor Emeritus, University of Glasgow.


There are few enough economic histories of Eastern Europe, and it is impossible to disagree with Matthias Morys’s suggestion that there is a need for ‘a better understanding of the long-term political and economic implications’ of the region’s history. (xxii) In this volume, Morys has brought together twenty-four scholars, responsible for seventeen essays, broken down into four time periods: the long nineteenth century; the interwar years; the state-socialist years; and the post-socialist transition. It is, he suggests with good reason, ‘the first quantitative economic history of Eastern Europe.’ (xxii) As such, it is a valuable addition to the historiography of the region and a book that deserves to be widely read.

For the long nineteenth century, the quantitative approach offers nuance rather than radical revision. Stephen Broadberry’s and Mikołaj Malinowski’s conclusion that living standards stagnated or declined between 1500-1800 comes as no surprise. Michael Kopsidis and Max-Stephen Schulze make clear, however, that while in broad-brush terms Eastern Europe was still falling behind between 1870-1914, this masked some important local successes. If, on the eve of the First World War, Bulgaria was hardly more industrialised than forty years earlier, Romania had made remarkable strides forward. Michael Pammer and Ali Coşkun Tunçer continue the story of Romania’s success. Not only did the country manage to service its foreign currency loans, but, especially after 1900, it successfully channelled those funds into railways, roads, and agricultural credit. (77) Steven Nafziger and Matthias Morys also chart Romania’s success as ‘the only Balkan country which had achieved some industrialisation’ by 1913. (107) Tomáš Cvrček adds that, by 1910, 35.4% of Romanian children attended primary school. (149)

The quantitative approach proposes a more radical reworking of the interwar years. Morys suggests that although the region remained the poorest part of Europe, by 1939 it had joined the ‘convergence club,’ growing twice as fast as Europe’s core economies. He takes the view that the Great Depression had less impact on the east than the west, which meant that there were some success stories. Hungary invested in light industry had ‘a meaningful industrial sector by the late 1930s,’ while in Bulgaria ‘improvements in agriculture were of such magnitude that per capita incomes and living standards rose considerably.’ (162) The result was that the region grew more quickly in the interwar period than the period 1870-1913 period. This story of relative success is partially challenged by Nathan Marcus, Stefan Nikolić, and Tobias Straumann, who paint a more familiar picture of the east-west divide persisting. They argue that the high level of foreign indebtedness in interwar Eastern Europe meant that the region was in fact particularly hard hit by the Great Depression, with GDP per capita falling more between 1929-33 than in western Europe; on top of that, most countries defaulted on foreign debt repayments in the early 1930s. Jari Eloranta, Stefan Nikolić, and Flóra Macher concur: ‘as they were heavily exposed to the primary sector of the economy, declining agricultural prices during the interwar years challenged these economies.’ (228) Part of the problem, as Matthias Morys and Martin Ivanov then note, was the strong population growth during those years; living standards did improve, but catch-up with the west was limited.

The quantitative approach offers no surprises concerning the state-socialist period. Tamás Vonyó and Andrei Markevich make clear that there were notable achievements. Real GDP per capita increased by more than 3% annually for almost a quarter of a century and even in the 1970s growth rates were respectable; Bulgaria and Yugoslavia ‘belonged to the fastest-growing nations in the world between 1950-1979.’ (281) And yet, compared to ‘the western periphery’ they were already falling behind in the 1950s and did so increasingly. Investment rates only took off in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and by the 1980s were already in decline because of overborrowing. Personal consumption stagnated or declined from the late 1970s. Andrei Markevich and Tamás Vonyó add a little to this picture, noting how the devastation of the region at the end of the Second World War meant that there was no practical alternative to state ownership; they also point to the transient success of the economic reforms introduced by Hungary and Yugoslavia. Sándor Richter explains the mysteries of inter-country trade through Comecon, and Bas van Leeuwen and Peter Foldvari make clear that while caloric intake was on par with the west, in other respects the standard of living did not keep up, especially as technological advances were made: in the 1980s there were plenty of hospital beds, but few CT scanners.

For the transition period, the quantitative approach again offers nuance rather than revision. As Ilya Voskoboynikov notes, the transformational recession was essentially the process of ‘washing away’ products which would never have been produced in a market economy. That ‘washing away’ was easier in some countries than others: all countries saw growth between 1990-2008, but only three quarters of them achieved real progress in ‘catching up.’ László Caba puts it another way: after a decade of double-digit unemployment to regain the GDP levels of 1989, between 1999-2008 there was a period of ‘real convergence,’ brought to a halt by the crisis of 2008. The nuance comes in the unexpected success stories: Slovenia, an early adaptor to the market, struggled post 2008, while by 2015 Romania had resumed its nineteenth century glories. Kiril Kossev and William Tompson note the downside of 2008, which had devastating consequences because of the cheap funds flowing in from abroad used to fund luxury consumption. Peter Foldvari and Bas van Leeuwen end on a positive note. Life expectancy grew faster and stabilised at just five years six months behind the west. The quantitative approach tells us that Eastern Europe’s difficult journey to convergence is almost complete, and for that we should be grateful to Morys and his fellow researchers.


Geoffrey Swain is Professor Emeritus at the University of Glasgow School of Social & Political Sciences and author, with Nigel Swain, of Eastern Europe Since 1945 (five editions, 1993-2018).

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

Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Economic Planning and Policy
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Gold, the Real Bills Doctrine and the Fed: Sources of Monetary Disorder, 1922-1938

Author(s):Humphrey, Thomas M.
Timberlake, Richard H.
Reviewer(s):Ziebarth, Nicolas L.

Published by EH.Net (February 2022).

Thomas M. Humphrey and Richard H. Timberlake. Gold, the Real Bills Doctrine and the Fed: Sources of Monetary Disorder, 1922-1938. Cato Institute, 2019. xix + 201 pp. $15 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-948647-12-0.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Nicolas L. Ziebarth, Department of Economics, Auburn University, and NBER.


There is a lot to like about this book. First, it shows how policy ideas matter and, moreover, that these ideas evolve according to an internal logic of evidence and debate rather than simply being driven by economic interests. For the authors, Thomas M. Humphrey and Richard H. Timberlake, there was no “deep” economic reason that explains why the Real Bills Doctrine came to hold such sway over the thinking of the Federal Reserve on the eve of the Great Depression. Instead, it was simply a brute fact that certain people ended up in certain positions of power at certain times with certain ideas that made all the difference. In a different world, Benjamin Strong doesn’t die in 1928. Or H. Parker Willis doesn’t end up teaching Carter Glass’ children economics at Washington and Lee University. In either of these counterfactuals, the whole complexion of monetary policy during the Great Depression could have been different.

The second reason I liked the book is that, in my view, it is correct in blaming the Real Bills Doctrine for fostering the inept response of the Federal Reserve during the Great Depression. The Real Bills Doctrine comes in many forms. One form is as a theoretical doctrine about the money creation process. Another is as a rule of thumb for prudent commercial bankers. One final form is as a rule for how monetary policy should operate. What is common to all these different forms is the idea that money production follows output production. For the monetary policy form, this means that the central bank should expand the money supply procyclically and that, as an empirical matter, low nominal interest rates are a sign that monetary policy is loose rather than tight. These implications of the Real Bills Doctrine for monetary policy are precisely what Humphrey and Timberlake are worried about in this book.

Given these reasons for liking the book, why then was I left unsatisfied? Mainly because the book does not do enough to establish how the Real Bills Doctrine was a major “source of monetary disturbances.” Instead the authors seem content to treat the work of Milton Friedman and Anna J. Schwartz as already having established the central claim of this book. While Friedman and Schwartz’s Monetary History is justly considered a masterpiece, it is now almost 60 years old and the study of the monetary history of the Great Depression did not simply end there. Yet I didn’t find a citation to a single academic article published after 2002.

This lack of connection to the recent academic literature was disappointing for two reasons. First, it left me unsure about the intended audience for the book. It was not published by an academic press, so I wasn’t expecting a “dry” academic tome with copious footnotes and claims qualified to death. Even with these expectations, I was still taken aback by some of the book’s bolder claims that were made almost in passing. For example, I have never seen the Weimar hyperinflation blamed on the Real Bills Doctrine. On the other hand, I wouldn’t call this a book for the general public. While it has much lively writing, it also has fairly intricate discussions of monetary theories and extensive use of technical jargon that would scare off the lay reader.

The bigger reason why I wish the book would have engaged with the recent academic literature is that it provides ample support for their central contention that the Real Bills Doctrine had disastrous economic consequences in the Great Depression. For example, an influential work published in 2012 by Gary Richardson and William Troost examines the state of Mississippi, which is split into the St. Louis and Atlanta Federal Reserve districts. The St. Louis Fed was a strong supporter of the Real Bills Doctrine and unwilling to offer aid during panics, while the Atlanta Fed was aggressive in rushing cash to struggling financial institutions. Richardson and Troost show that these policy differences led to drastically more banks going out of operation in the St. Louis part of Mississippi relative to the Atlanta part of the state following the collapse of the bank Caldwell and Company in 1930. This is precisely the kind of evidence that this book needed and yet went uncited.  Consequently, I cannot recommend this book as a book of economic history.

On the other hand, as a book of intellectual history, this book has much to offer. The authors do an excellent job of tracing the Real Bills Doctrine back to the work of John Law in the 17th century and following the debates over this doctrine up to Irving Fisher’s work in the 1920s. They provide a fascinating history of statistical tests of the Quantity Theory of Money stretching back to Simon Newcomb, who won the Copley Medal for his work in astronomy and believed that flying machines were impossible. I also appreciated their discussion of the confused nature of the Fed in its early years. It was not easy then and is still not easy now to understand how the stated goals in the Federal Reserve Act were supposed to work together with an overriding goal of defending the gold standard.

The issue I had with the authors’ intellectual history is that they made it hard to see how any reasonable observer could have believed in the Real Bills Doctrine on the eve of the Depression. For Humphrey and Timberlake, it should have been obvious to anyone by 1929 that the Quantity Theory had been established, both theoretically and statistically, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The problem with this claim is that the Real Bills Doctrine had “worked” until then in the 15-year period following the founding of the Fed. The doctrine’s success could be seen in the elimination of interest-rate seasonality and financial panics during the 1920s. As Jeffrey Miron has shown, these successes were due to the Fed accommodating seasonal fluctuations in money demand by expanding credit procyclically.

In the end, unlike the authors, I’m unwilling to condemn the Fed for what ended up being a faulty model of monetary policy on the eve of the Great Depression. Sadly, since the Depression, the Fed has continued to make mistakes in its thinking about the macroeconomy and monetary policy. Ben Bernanke’s comment in March 2007 that “the effect of the troubles in the subprime sector […] will likely be limited” is just the most recent example. What differentiates the Fed of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 from the Fed of 1929 was the difference in their responses. The Fed’s singular failure during the Depression was an unwillingness to revise its approach as the financial system collapsed and unemployment approached 25%. On the other hand, the Fed of 2007- 2008 was willing to act flexibly and aggressively as conditions deteriorated. In the end, this willingness to act is the most we can hope for from our fallible policymakers.


Nicolas L. Ziebarth is Associate Professor of Economics at Auburn University and a Research Associate at NBER. His publications include Credit Relationships and Business Bankruptcy During the Great Depression” (AEJ: Macro, 2017) and “Identifying the Effects of Bank Failures From a Natural Experiment in Mississippi During the Great Depression” (AEJ: Macro, 2012).

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

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Macroeconomics and Fluctuations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Conservative Liberalism, Ordoliberalism, and the State

Author(s):Dyson, Kenneth
Reviewer(s):Dekker, Erwin

Published by EH.Net (February 2022).

Kenneth Dyson. Conservative Liberalism, Ordoliberalism, and the State. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. xx + 592pp. $145.00 (hardback), ISBN: 9780198854289.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Erwin Dekker, Mercatus Center at George Mason University.


Ordoliberalism is a branch of conservative moral philosophy. That is the provocative and controversial claim of Kenneth Dyson’s tome Conservative Liberalism, Ordoliberalism and the State. Dyson contextualizes the mid-20th century German liberals such as Walter Eucken, Wilhelm Röpke, and Alfred Müller-Armack in the tradition of conservative liberalism which emerged as response to the French Revolution in both Germany and France. He argues that the Ordos believed that a liberal order could only thrive in the right type of culture, and more importantly in the right moral climate.

It is an unusual reading of the German economic school which is associated with the constitutional, or rule-based, competitive order which “plans for competition.” Most, if not all, recent scholarship on the Ordoliberals has used the lens of neoliberalism to make sense, or mincemeat, of the ordoliberal project which coalesced in Freiburg in response to the economic instability which plagued the Weimar Republic and the subsequent rise of Nazism. But as Dyson convincingly demonstrates, they cited Goethe and Schiller more often than they cited their disciplinary colleagues, and so to properly understand them the intellectual historian should follow suit. He claims in the opening chapter that he wants to move beyond ideological readings of their work, but his real aim appears to be to read them through their own intellectual sources.

This works fantastically in the three chapters which discuss the three patron saints of the Ordoliberals: the aristocratic liberals embodied by Goethe and Tocqueville, the ethical philosophers embodied by Kant and Husserl, and Lutheranism and Calvinist reformed Protestantism embodied by theologians like Emil Brunner and Helmut Gollwitzer. These chapters are only partly attempts to trace direct intellectual influence through textual and contextual evidence, and more intuitive explorations of family resemblances between the Ordoliberals and their patron saints. It works wonders to bring out aspects of their work which have been mostly neglected (but see Commun and Kolev 2018). It illustrates the broad cultural influences on which many of the Ordoliberals drew, which extended beyond law and economics, to include politics, the arts, and religion. And it does much to illustrate the seriousness and moral commitment they brought to their work.

Dyson is less interested in laying out the conceptual history of the notion of Ordo (order), which has clear theological origins. But his approach does much to illuminate the values of the leading ordoliberal thinkers, as well as their moral imagination. A central theme in his explorations of these family resemblances is the personalized notion of responsibility, which the Ordoliberals sought to practice, and which informed their moral view of the economy and society. The theologians and intellectuals they most admired held a personalist view of Christianity, and they believed that the legal, social, and economic order should seek to draw on this notion of personal responsibility. This is perhaps most evident in Röpke’s Swiss-inspired vision of a decentralized economy of small shop owners, artisans, and farmers. If all individuals were property owners, everyone would be accountable for their own fate in life. And only citizens with this mature sense of responsibility would accept the rule-based political and economic order which a liberal system required.

This religious and cultural approach to their work, makes it is at least somewhat ironic that Dyson’s other major aim in the book is to internationalize the ordoliberal tradition. This succeeds relatively well for the French thinkers he discusses, most prominently Jacques Rueff and Louis Rougier, because his interpretative framework of aristocratic liberalism fits their work well. It also provides a good lens on the international nature of the 1938 “Colloque Walter Lippmann,” at which The Good Society by the American journalist was discussed. The meeting brought together continental liberals who shared a moral and cultural critique of interwar society, not just an economic perspective.

Dyson’s method of searching for family resemblances is still somewhat plausible for the Italian Luigi Einaudi and the American Henry Simons, but his attempts to weave the British economist Ralph George Hawtrey, the American maverick Frank Knight, and the progressivist trust-buster Louis Brandeis into the story are much less convincing. These thinkers build on such different intellectual foundations, and work in different cultural contexts that his connections feel stretched. The chapters which seek to justify their inclusion contain long digressions on American pragmatism and the obsession of the Cambridge Apostles with G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, which do little to make the case that these individuals are properly considered part of the ordoliberal tradition, or for that matter, conservative liberals. It also left me wondering why other thinkers like Michael Polanyi or Bertrand de Jouvenel are (nearly) completely ignored despite obvious family resemblances and more direct connections to the German Ordoliberals.

That does not take away from the fruitfulness of the conservative moral perspective which Dyson employs. In its German context and French context, it explains the ideal statesmen and bureaucracy which the Ordoliberals envisioned: an enlightened and morally responsible economically and legally trained cadre able to function as powerful arbiter working in the general interest. But since all men were ultimately fallible, clear rules and where possible automatic mechanisms should protect the legal and public framework necessary to secure the functioning of both the political and economic system. It also brings out the tensions between the aristocratic sentiments of the Ordoliberals in a bourgeois, or better democratic era: “The irony rested in the appropriation of the language of an aristocratic culture by bourgeois intellectuals” (130).  It was indeed the fear of an embattled upper bourgeois in an age of mass democracy which motivated the ordoliberal project.

Dyson helps us in seeing how they envisioned an ascetic, precautionary and even stoic mindset for the bourgeois elite which was envisioned to be both moral exemplar and ideal state functionary. Such values could be cultivated in other orders in society, but as “bourgeois aristocrats,” they ultimately believed that the masses could not be expected to fully master these moral virtues, and hence there was a need for disciplinary institutions. The market which draws on personal initiative and made every individual responsible for their own choices, also had the power to discipline and punish. It is both a “civilizing and a disciplining” process (see also Dekker 2016). As Dyson describes wonderfully, Röpke thought of his role in theatrical terms, like a Greek chorus: “he was there as the warning and guiding voice” (88).

It should come as no surprise that this aristocratic attitude led to significant complexity during the turbulent 1930s. Dyson tells us much about the exceptional intellectual courage of Walter Eucken who stood up against Martin Heidegger, when the philosopher was elected rector of the University of Freiburg after the Nazis came to power. But he also deals extensively with the hopes that many conservatives placed in a strong leader during the early 1930s. Various German Ordoliberals did not oppose or even supported Hitler’s leadership, as someone who was able to guide the country to new glories. In his treatment of the French Ordoliberals he similarly treats their involvement with the Vichy regime sincerely, although he is excessively soft on Louis Rougier, who kept defending the Vichy Regime and its leader Philippe Pétain after 1945.

Aristocratic liberalism of the ordoliberal kind embodied a liberalism from above, and it was not immune from the temptations that a strong leader could salvage some of the bourgeois cultural and values of a civilization under siege. There were two crucial questions for European conservative intellectuals during the 1930s. First, what could be done to stop the collectivist spirit and the form of mass politics and mass society which had developed across Europe? Second, what level and form of state power was acceptable to reign in the state capture by powerful economic actors and to restore some of the more conservative liberal values? Dyson notes but does not make much of the fact that the Ordoliberals referred often to Goethe’s masterpiece Faust. Nor does he observe that Thomas Mann, who fits right into the cultural context he sketches, updated the Faustian story in his Doctor Faustus. His lens, nonetheless, makes apparent that the conservatives generally, and the conservative liberals in particular, felt faced with a Faustian dilemma.

German and French conservatives frequently opted, temporarily or much longer, for support for the strong leader. The crucial question, one sparked, but left unarticulated and unanswered, in Dyson’s book, is what made ordoliberal thought, if not ordoliberal individuals, largely immune from such temptations. I believe that the reason Dyson never asks this question is because he systematically ignores the liberal aspects of their thought. This does not mean that his book does not provide vital clues for an answer to that question. Ordoliberals remained fiercely antinationalist, and as recent scholarship has shown their work provided crucial inspiration for the postwar European and international order (Dold and Krieger 2019). Hayek, whom Dyson includes among the Ordoliberals, used his antinationalism as a key argument in his essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative.”

More importantly the Ordoliberals developed and expounded a liberal distrust of concentrated power. The form this took differed based on the various orders in society. It led to their ideal of the decentralized economy based on small and medium-sized businesses to avoid any form of monopoly power. It led them to appreciate the family as a foundational institution and a more measured appreciation of civil society, because here too, there were dangers of too much concentration of power. It led them to put most of their trust in rule-based governance, because it formed the best safeguard against corruption and capture of the state. In liberal fashion they thought in pluralist terms about institutions which could keep organized power of any kind in check.

Finally, most of them were attracted to a personal form of Protestantism. In Freiburg the ordoliberal economists Walter Eucken, Adolf Lampe, the legal scholar Franz Böhm, and the historian Gerhard Ritter became members of the Bekennende Kirche, an oppositional church which was established after the Lutheran Church had become subordinated to the Nazi regime in 1934. It was here that they formed strong bonds with theologians like Dietrich von Bonhoeffer who drew up a memorandum in 1943 with their help which later acted as something of a blueprint for postwar Germany. The memorandum called for a state able to deal with a world in which man had fallen from grace and was ruled by self-serving impulses. Böhm wrote: “Luther’s life and beliefs offered the one basis for some optimism that answers might be found to the isolation and loss of identity of the individual in modern mass society” (222). This helps explain the fraught relationship of the German ordoliberal movement with Catholicism after the war. It emerged out of a dislike for the more corporatist direction of the economic thinking developed by the Roman Catholic Church and deepened through the deeply problematic role of the Church during WWII. But it ultimately rested on the fact that the personalist, if not individualist, religiosity of the leading Ordoliberals was less congruent with Roman Catholicism.

Böhm’s letter also sheds light on another possible response to the crises of the 1930s which Dyson for some reason never ponders: despair and retreat from the world. The ordoliberal manifesto “Our Tasks” is aimed directly at the fatalism of many of their contemporaries. It is a document of hope in dark times. This hope is hard to make sense of through the conservative lens that Dyson employs. He illustrates wonderfully how the Ordoliberals sought historical analogies in modern, pre-modern, and even ancient times to understand the decline of nineteenth-century liberalism, but he does not observe sufficiently how they did not draw the obvious decline from all these historical analogies: all civilizations are ultimately doomed. Dyson demonstrates convincingly that the Ordoliberals shared a lot of conservative sentiments. But their anthropology was ultimately hopeful, it believed in the ability of the individual to know what was good and to act upon it, that was the Lutheran optimism to which Böhm referred. This optimism was not primarily cultural and communal, as it might have been for the Catholic, but moral and individual, shaped by German Protestantism.

This theological difference explains much of the second half of the book, which analyzes the fate of Ordoliberalism in postwar Europe. Dyson is looking for a revival of the conservative sentiments and values which he found appealing in the ordoliberal thinkers, especially the more sociologically oriented such as Wilhelm Röpke, Alfred Müller-Armack and Alexander Rüstow and fails to detect much that might inspire hope. To the contrary, he provides interesting reflections on the internal development of the Ordoliberals in Germany, who came to focus more narrowly on law and economics. Under the influence of the public choice approach developed by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, and imported by Viktor Vanberg, the Ordos became more explicitly individualist and less visibly moral. This to the disappointment of Dyson, who favors the more catholic social agenda aimed at the promotion of social irenics, as embodied by Müller-Armack and his Social Market Economy.

In his narrative the American libertarian tradition as well as the individualist economics of Chicago corrupt, or rather empty, Ordoliberalism of its vital energy, its ethical origins. Dyson’s story reinforces the split between the European social synthetic thinkers and the more narrowly American economic thinkers which Angus Burgin (2012) described in his book about the Mont-Pèlerin Society. This sentiment is wonderfully captured in the quote from the French essayist Charles Peguy which opens the introduction and to which Dyson returns several times: “Everything begins as a mystique [founding ideal] and ends as a politique,” but “the mystique should not be devoured by the politique to which it gave birth.”

For Dyson the mystique of Ordoliberalism is constituted by the aristocratic liberalism of the early 19th century, quite literally by the poetry of Goethe and Schiller. It was embodied during the interwar period by one of very few women who feature in the book – Dyson addresses the objection that Ordoliberalism is patriarchal – Ricarda Huch, a German poet who won the Goethe Prize in 1931. She was the mother-in-law of Franz Böhm and published a long series of geographical essays on cities of the past, which emphasized their architecture and organic structure, as well as the personal and communal forms of governance of these cities. Her nostalgic poetry criticized the vanity of man and the vulgarity of modern culture. She espoused the spirit of classicism.

That mystique might have disappeared after WWII, but it was not devoured by the politique of Ordoliberalism. It always existed in tension with the more individualistic and moralistic elements in ordoliberal thought. The conservative, classical mystique competed in the 1930s and 1940s with the liberal mystique of the sovereign consumer and the ambitious entrepreneur. The tension between classicism and romantic individualism was thematized in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. And it was Schiller who did much to inspire the Romantic cult of the individual. If one thing might be learned from the wide-ranging literature on neoliberalism, it is that modern liberalism indeed contained a mystique all its own.

In the conclusion of his book Dyson sides with a long list of conservative thinkers who have identified an emptiness at the core of liberalism, most recently Patrick Deneen (2019). For Dyson the Ordoliberals stand out because they are some of the few liberals who recognized this void and attempted to fill it with a combination of religious and cultural values. His book sheds much new light on the inspirations and the values which undergirded Ordoliberalism across the European continent. But whereas much of the neoliberal literature has tended to overestimate the influence and power of the ordoliberal ideas, Dyson underestimates them through his failure to recognize their liberal, hopeful, and ultimately forward-looking nature.


Burgin, Angus. 2012. The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Commun, Patricia, and Stefan Kolev, eds. 2018. Wilhelm Röpke (1899–1966): A Liberal Political Economist and Conservative Social Philosopher. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Dekker, Erwin. 2016. The Viennese Students of Civilization: The Meaning and Context of Austrian Economics Reconsidered. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Deneen, Patrick J. 2019. Why Liberalism Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Dold, Malte, and Tim Krieger. 2019. Ordoliberalism and European Economic Policy: Between Realpolitik and Economic Utopia. London: Routledge.


Erwin Dekker ( is Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He is the author of Jan Tinbergen (1903-1994) and the Rise of Economic Expertise (Cambridge University Press, 2021) and The Viennese Students of Civilization (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

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Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

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

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

Published by EH.Net (January 2022).

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Published by EH.NET (January 2022).

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adelstein, Shirley, and H. Elizabeth Peters. 2019. “Parents’ Access to Work-Family Supports.” The Urban Institute. Accessed January 2, 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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