is owned and operated by the Economic History Association
with the support of other sponsoring organizations.

The Weaver’s Craft: Cloth, Commerce, and Industry in Early Pennsylvania

Author(s):Hood, Adrienne D.
Reviewer(s):Inwood, Kris

Published by EH.NET (June 2005)

Adrienne D. Hood, The Weaver’s Craft: Cloth, Commerce, and Industry in Early Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. ix + 230 pp. $28 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8122-3735-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Kris Inwood, Department of Economics, University of Guelph.

One of the most familiar stories in economic history is that of the handloom weavers whose livelihood was eroded by the advance of mechanization, first in spinning and then weaving, except where protected by distance, cheap labor or other ‘special’ circumstances. A North American version of the same story would emphasize the high opportunity cost of male labor in a land abundant environment and hence a feminization of weaving, especially in rural areas, until demographic and technological changes drove even the women and children to other activities. Perhaps less familiar in this literature are the complexities introduced in recent years by Philip Scranton, Beverly Lemire, Kevin James, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and others. In the new literature of hand-weaving, technological competition and opportunity cost considerations have not disappeared. Increasingly, however, they are complemented by a nuanced recognition of differentiated demand and product characteristics, the symbolic significance of clothing, gender relations within the household, regional diversity of experience, and other complexities. The story has changed, and it has become much more interesting.

Adrienne Hood, in The Weaver’s Craft contributes to the emerging literature of complexity through an examination of weaving in eighteenth century Chester County, Pennsylvania. As a weaver herself, a museum curator, a professor of history and a careful reader of Jim Lemon’s earlier work on Chester County, Professor Hood is well-qualified to give us an interesting volume on the topic. She does not disappoint. Hood draws upon probates, tax records, account books, newspaper ads, tax records and other government records in a study that contributes to social and family history as well as economic history and the history of technology. Hood examines consumption as well as production for a variety of textiles in a way that respects regional diversity and, interestingly, she makes sense of the survival of commercial hand-weaving, by men, until the early nineteenth century.

The first substantive chapter reviews the European background to North American textile manufacture. Hood characterizes the different manufacturing processes and their labor requirements with considerable clarity. She emphasizes the importance of regional diversity and, within Britain, the industry’s pursuit of greater flexibility through relocation to rural environments. The patterns of textile production that emerged in Yorkshire and Ulster would appear to provide the closest antecedent to that of North America. In chapter two the author shows how land availability and systems of labor contracting shaped the organization of weaving. Throughout the eighteenth century, weaving remained a substantial activity embedded within the powerful agricultural economy of Chester County. During the eighteenth, century cottagers, servants and others who lacked their own land gradually took on more and more of the weaving, often in the employ of landed proprietors and typically in a pattern of work that combined agricultural as well as craft activity.

The description of various fibers (principally flax, hemp, wool and cotton) in chapter three and the account of spinning and knitting in chapter four, together, provide an excellent overview of the material circumstances of the early stages of textile production. The account of breaking, scutching and hackling flax, for example, is the clearest and most informative short discussion that I have seen. Although much of the discussion does not break new ground, Professor Hood excels at showing how the material characteristics of various fibers explain much about their handling and use.

The analysis of American flax seed export to Ireland is especially interesting. Irish farmers came to rely on imported flax seed because the very best linen required the harvesting of flax before the seed could mature. American farmers supplied the seed to Ireland, and in the process generated a supply of flax that, presumably although the author does not say, would be manufactured into lesser-quality but still serviceable Pennsylvania linen and blended fabrics. Professor Hood’s account of arrangements for spinning and knitting before and after the advent of mechanization does not deviate greatly from other recent work although the rich agricultural context of Chester County influenced the patterns of production.

From earlier in the eighteenth century, according to Hood, textile processes in rural Pennsylvania often relied on an extended labor force of indentured servants or wage labor, even for spinning, in contrast to the dependence on nuclear family members and neighborhood exchange in rural New England. By and large men continued to weave in Pennsylvania, often on a wage or contract basis, again in contrast to New England. Hood attributes the difference to a relative dearth of immigrant workers in the latter region (p. 79), although the different regional attraction to immigrants itself is not explained.

The patterns of cloth demand, in turn, are exposed wonderfully in chapter six. I know of no comparable treatment of the range and diversity of cloth used during the eighteenth century. Economic historians often recognize the importance of demand and consumption to the understanding of production, but seldom do they go beyond a ritual gesture. This book, in contrast, provides a rich and detailed description of cloth used for a variety of household purposes including, of course, clothing. Professor Hood even reports in a table (p. 122) the yardage needs to manufacture various textile items. There may not be a big demand for this information, but the people who want it probably want it very badly. Well, here it is! And this is only one of the more prosaic contributions in a chapter that will be of wide interest to students of status, culture, gender and so on.

The contrast between mid-Atlantic and New England experience increasingly presents a focus for the second half of the book. The most analytically ambitious aspect of the monograph is a comparison of hand production and the transition from hand to machine production in lower New England and eastern Pennsylvania. The author sets herself the challenge of explaining why the mills did not come to Pennsylvania as early and as vigorously as they did to New England.

She begins with the observation that hand-weaving in New England was more widespread in the sense that a greater proportion of households produced cloth. In rural Pennsylvania weaving households were less common and more ‘commercial’ in their scale of production; men continued to weave in contrast to the feminization of weaving in New England. Hood argues that the wider penetration of looms facilitated the supply of women and children to New England’s mills and mill-based outwork networks. Mills arrived more slowly and less successfully in Pennsylvania because rural workers were in shorter supply, which in turn reflects the different organization of hand weaving and, underlying that, at least in part, more successful agricultural performance. Philadelphia, of course, received large numbers of immigrants some of them with weaving experience, but this kind of labor apparently encouraged the production of more specialized cloths (some of it hand-woven, some not).

This is an interesting set of arguments. According to Hood, the crucial difference between industrialization in the two regions was local labor supply, which differed because of the nature and organization of rural manufacturing, itself interacting with agricultural conditions. Other influences are recognized, of course, but rural labor supply is a crucial part of the story. The author might extend the argument with further research that takes on board the experience of additional regions, although admittedly this is not a criticism as much as recognition of further research possibilities. It might help as well to gain more information about rural New England since, despite an examination of Essex County (Massachusetts) probates, the evidentiary base for New England does not match the author’s comprehensive familiarity with Chester County sources and context. The sources are not so complete as to eliminate all ambiguity about differences in production (hand or machine) that serve as a starting point for the analysis. Indeed, important contributions to the secondary literature on New England industrialization are not mentioned.

The larger questions of interest, though, are analytical rather than evidentiary. Several questions come to mind, again in the spirit of suggesting possible directions for future research rather than criticism of this monograph. Would agricultural prosperity have had the same effect on rural household supply of labor to the mills if nobody had woven on handlooms? How much do we really know about the origins of actual and potential mill workers circa 1810? To the extent that rural families hold the key, might we want to say something about demographic behavior? How securely can we distinguish the influence of agricultural prosperity operating via the local demand for textiles from its influence via labor supply? And, of course, can we say something about any limit to the influence of local factor supply in a world of substantial population mobility?

One sign of an engaging and successful monograph is its ability to stimulate further reflection and enquiry. In this sense, and more fundamentally through an engaging account of cloth production in Chester County, Adrienne Hood has made a valuable contribution to regional history in early America and to the ongoing revitalization of research on cloth production. This is a good book that will be read with profit by scholars on both sides of the Atlantic.

Kris Inwood’s recent papers include “The Diversity of Industrial Experience: The Example of Cabinet and Furniture Manufacture in Ontario,” Enterprise and Society 2003 (with Ben Forster); “The Social Consequences of Legal Reform: Women and Property in a Canadian Community,” Continuity and Change 2004 (with Sarah Van Sligtenhorst); and “Bigger Establishments in Thicker Markets: Can We Explain Early Productivity Differentials between Canada and the United States?,” Canadian Journal of Economics, forthcoming (with Ian Keay).

Subject(s):Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century

Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950

Author(s):Pollard, Stephen F.
Reviewer(s):Hayes, Patrick J.

Published by EH.NET (June 2005)

Stephen F. Pollard, Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xx + 263 pp. $85 (cloth), ISBN: 0-521-81204-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Patrick J. Hayes, Department of Theology/Philosophy, Marymount College of Fordham University.

Someone once let it slip to Yves Congar, the influential Dominican friar and peritus at the Second Vatican Council (1961-1965), that the cost of the conciliar proceedings to the Holy See amounted every year to 1,400,000 lire (about $2,250,000).[1] This does not include travel by the bishops and their experts, the costs of which were mainly borne by the national episcopal conferences. One can imagine the sum for the First Vatican Council (1870) when the financial resources of the Holy See were all the more meager, and when there were only a handful of organized episcopal conferences.

However, imagining such costs is now made considerably clearer by Stephen Pollard, a Fellow at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University. This historian of Italian fascism and biographer of Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) has prepared a study on Vatican financial institutions that sheds light on the emergence of the modern papacy in its ecclesial and international affairs. In both instances, money is the common denominator. The Church’s mission is not served without recourse to Peter’s Pence. The Vatican’s relationship with foreign states, particularly Italy, depends in part for its diplomatic leverage on the investments it keeps abroad. Pollard follows a vast money trail over three continents and even peeks into the popes’ desk drawer or under his bed where, legend has it, varying sums of petty cash were stored and only to be used in the event of an emergency or a pontiff’s death.

It should not be assumed that the popes were wheeler-dealers. In fact, Pollard makes his case that they were more often hemmed by their ignorance of financial markets and that whatever success the Holy See demonstrated in remaining in the black could be traced to the heads of the Amministrazione per i Beni Santa Sede before 1929 or its successor agencies. Thus, while Pollard’s book is about the papacy, it is more often about the managers of the pope’s finances, a highly select group of ecclesiastics and lay people well disposed toward keeping the Vatican solvent. They are a fascinating lot, in part because they hold the ear of those who occupy the chair of Peter unlike any other bureaucrat excepting the Secretary of State. In at least one instance, the pope’s chief financier and the Secretary of State were one and the same: Giacomo Antonelli, who oversaw the Papal Treasury from 1850-1876. Described by one author as the Italian Richelieu, not only was Antonelli one of the main architects of the Holy See’s intransigence over nationalism, liberalism, and modernity, he attempted a massive reorganization of the budget for the Papal States.[2] His efforts at balancing the budget depended upon borrowing from the Rothschild’s banking house which, though many saw it as unseemly to accept Jewish lending practices, seemed to fit the needs of the Vatican quite well. The relationship gives a first instance of selective amnesia on the part of Church officials, who seemed nonplussed by usury, or even the rights of labor or the common good — staples of the Church’s emerging social ethic.

The book moves in chronological order beginning with the reign of Pius IX, whose early “liberal” period gives way, in 1850, to a series of measures designed to solidify papal power. It proceeds in due course through the reigns of Leo XIII (1878-1903), Pius X (1903-1914), Benedict XV (1914-1922), Pius XI (1922-1939) which is marked by an excurses on the fallout from the Wall Street crash (1929) before moving into the penultimate chapter on Pius XII (1939-1959). After Italian unification in 1870, income could have jumped if only the Vatican had acquiesced and accepted the subsidy promised by the Italian government. But on principle, the Holy See refused such overtures and still maintained the spiritual and temporal trappings of pope-kings — a burgeoning papal household staff and their pensions, ceremonial spectacles, and increasingly generous grants to relief and development programs around the world and at home.

The intermingling of political, economic, and ecclesial policies became more pronounced in the years after Pio Nono, but the capabilities of the Vatican’s money managers was, in the main, equal to the task. Under Leo, the appointment of Monsignor Enrico Folchi dedicated one person to administering the income generated from the Vatican property holdings. He was also placed in charge of investing the surplus from Peter’s Pence. A model of caution, Folchi was replaced by a layman, Ernesto Pacelli, whose family would assist in the negotiation of the Lateran Pacts of 1929 (a windfall for the Vatican) and produce the future Pope Pius XII. With Pacelli, Leo had a confidant and a willing capitalist. Funds were moved off Italian shores and diversified in properties and companies throughout Europe. However, by the time of Pius X’s death, Pacelli’s interests in the Banco di Roma (of which he was a co-founder) would seriously jeopardize the solvency of the Holy See’s portfolio. Under Benedict, who Pollard and other writers view as a shrewd politician and churchman, but a hapless financial manager, the Vatican’s income declined precipitously. Doubtless, the war years (Italy declared war in May 1915) contributed to this, given the virtual absence of large numbers of faithful able to attend papal audiences and the inability of bishops to make their ad limina visits and so carry the funds from Peter’s Pence from their home diocese to the pope. A series of losses as a result of collapsed banks or poor stock investments, suggests Pollard, meant that “Benedict did not leave the Vatican with a cash reserve at the end of his reign” (125). Increasingly, the ensuing decades found the popes turning to the American Church for assistance in meeting its shortfalls, especially the sees in Boston, New York, and Chicago. America was no longer the backwater that it was once considered in Roman circles. It soon became the cavalry for near monthly setbacks, brought on by repeated deficits run by Vatican Radio and L’Osservatore Romano. Profits from the sale of Vatican stamps could hardly be expected to offset these cost overruns.

Both Pius XI and Pius XII had pontificates that built upon the concordats begun under Benedict. The diplomatic front was the future of the Vatican’s economic gains and the outreach carried on by the Holy See in those nations where emergency contributions were disbursed, were often motivated by a return of future good will by those countries. The most tangible expression of the return on this investment was a government’s swift, and often bloody, crackdown on communism. Fascist governments were tolerated and used toward entrepreneurial means and ends, which included policies of non-interference in the Vatican’s banking, investment, or building projects abroad. By the 1930s, a web of such projects extended throughout Europe, the financial centers in the United States and South America. Profits were quickly used to construct a number of new buildings in and around the Vatican. New infusions of cash from America and a softening of relations with Italy allowed for further improvements, including the completion of several construction projects (e.g., the Railway Station and the Ethiopian College), and later the restructuring of the Via Conciliazione, the Roman thoroughfare leading from the tips of the Bernini colonnade in the Vatican to the Tiber River. “After sixty years of uncertainty and difficulty, the papacy would never be poor again” (148).

Pollard points to the influence of Bernardino Nogara as the principal agent in this transformation. Nogara was the first non-Roman to assume control of the Vatican’s finances. This son of Milan came to the job with a number of international contacts and continued to view the diplomatic and economic spheres as one and the same. The Vatican was the center of a global Church. It should thrive in financial markets worldwide. Nogara’s commercial activity has several hallmarks: the appointment of family to key posts in Vatican offices (his brother Bartolomeo ran the Vatican Museums); the installation of Milanese colleagues on boards of corporations where the Vatican had a significant or controlling stake (especially in South America); and the handling of sensitive information through use of the diplomatic pouch, a procedure that proved to be useless during the Second World War, when allied intercepts were routine. For his Italian loyalties during the war, Nogara was often placed in a precarious position with Pius XII, to say nothing of the allied forces, who tracked his activities with great vigilance. Pollard notes that Nogara’s impact on Vatican financial matters has had the unavoidable stamp of his successes for all future achievements. “The ‘wind from the North,’ as Italians describe influences from Milan and the other financial centers, had brought about a permanent change in Vatican financial culture and practice that would survive even Nogara’s death in 1958. Nogara had finally inserted the Church into the structures of international capitalism” (215).

This is quite a claim and one that will be borne out or refuted only in the coming decades. The last thirty years of Pollard’s study is seriously handicapped by not having access to the archives for those offices dealing with the papal finances since 1870 and other Vatican archives after 1922. Nevertheless, Pollard is to be credited with providing a conservative reading of the many journalistic or popular accounts of the Holy See’s economic state, such as George Seldes’ book The Vatican: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.[3] Pollard frequently supplements his analysis of these works through published diaries or archival materials from countries other than the Vatican.

Such synthetic skills are, however, often marred by several typographical errors or noticeable errors of fact. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas did not live in the fourteenth century but in the thirteenth (75), the motu proprio Sapienti Consiglio of June 1908 would not have appeared in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis for the year 1900 (83, n. 17; the AAS begins its run in 1909), Pollard misspells the name of former America editor Thomas Reese, SJ, on a number of occasions (e.g., 83, n. 18 and in the bibliography) and misspells Berkeley, California (104, n. 140), and so on. I find that Pollard lacks a certain sensitivity toward the Church in America for the period of his study, particularly from the nineteenth century. Much more could be said, for instance, about the Knights of Columbus (whose archives in New Haven, Connecticut, are woefully under-utilized, especially those materials related to Count Enrico Galeazzi and the administration of Vatican City) or about the links between the American sees, the Austrian Leopoldine Society, and the Congregation of the Propaganda.

Yet, for its main purposes, the present study does supply a realistic picture of how the Vatican economy remains viable, despite its occasional scandals, fickle global markets, political unrest, and the Church’s own social teaching. As one Vatican pictorial put it years ago: “Questions concerning the finances of the Holy See are met with the cold answer: ‘The Holy Father does not publish a budget.’ And it is true that there are not a half-dozen men in the world who know how much the Vatican has or where it goes.”[4] John Pollard widens the circle.


1. Cf. Joseph Komonchak, citing Congar’s journal, in Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph Komonchak, eds., History of Vatican II (Maryknoll and Leuven: Orbis and Peeters Press, 2003), IV: 1 n. 1.

2. Cf. Carlo Falconi, Il cardinale Antonelli: vita e carriera del Richelieu italiano nella Chiesa di Pio IX (Milan: A. Mondadori, 1983). For more on Antonelli, Frank Coppa, Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli and Papal Politics in European Affairs (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990).

3. Cf. George Seldes, The Vatican: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1934). More recent studies, from which Pollard frequently borrows, include Benny Lai’s Finanze e finanzieri vaticani tra l’Ottocento e il Novecento, da Pio IX a Benedetto XV, 2 vols. (Milan: A. Mondadori, 1979) and Carlo Crocella, “Augusta miseria.” Aspetti della finanza vaticana nell’et? del capitalismo (Milan: Nuovo istituto editoriale italiano, 1982).

4. Cf. Ann Carnahan, The Vatican: Behind the Scenes in the Holy City (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Co., 1949), 127.

Patrick Hayes teaches theology at Marymount College of Fordham University in Tarrrytown, NY and is a co-director of Passing on the Faith/Passing on the Church, a three-year project sponsored by the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham. He has written numerous articles for the New Catholic Encyclopedia on the Roman Curia and for Catholic News Service on the papacy. He is also the Review Editor for H-Catholic.

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Water, Race, and Disease

Author(s):Troesken, Werner
Reviewer(s):Brown, John C.

Published by EH.NET (June 2005)

Werner Troesken, Water, Race, and Disease. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004. xvii + 251 pp. $35 (cloth), ISBN: 0-262-20148-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by John C. Brown, Department of Economics, Clark University.

Werner Troesken’s Water, Race and Disease challenges a key element of the standard historical view of the Jim Crow era, which lasted from about 1900 to the 1960s. Historians of this era have documented the pervasive legal discrimination that African-Americans faced in those aspects of their lives that were touched by public policy and government-provided services, most notably education. Historians generally concur that state-sponsored discrimination also harmed the health of African-Americans. Assuming that water and sewer service were key influences on improvements in health during the first forty years of the twentieth century, many historians go on to infer that African-Americans also faced discrimination in the provision of these key elements of urban infrastructure. This book offers an overdue corrective to this perspective. It argues that in the clash between the ideology of separate but equal and the reality of disease externalities and scale economies, the interest of public health won out. African-Americans may have benefited more than white residents from the massive investments in water supply and waste removal that transformed American cities. The book’s approach offers an exemplary contribution to the economic history of American cities.

Water, Race and Disease focuses primarily on the period from 1900 to the early 1920s. By the end of this period, most American cities had completed the task of installing sanitary infrastructure. Troesken lays out the argument in three steps. First, he develops both qualitative and quantitative evidence that the net costs of discrimination were high, particularly for the relatively integrated cities of pre-1920s America. Spatial integration and the presence of large numbers of African-American (domestic) workers in white homes created the potential for disease spillovers from underserved (poor) African-American neighborhoods to the (non-poor?) white community. For that reason, sanitary reform everywhere in the city had significant external benefits. The cost savings from discriminating in the provision of infrastructure were modest. Second, Troesken marshals the available evidence on black-white differentials in overall mortality, typhoid mortality and “water-borne” disease mortality to test for the impact of various innovations, such as the installation of water filtration systems, on differences in black and white mortality. He concludes that blacks disproportionately benefited from such investments. Finally, based upon some admittedly fragile evidence for a rapid decline in black mortality in urban areas during the 1900 to 1940 period, he argues that water supply measures and the provision of sewers played a key role in the decline.

The most effective arguments concern the high implicit price that (white and southern) urban areas would have incurred had cities attempted to discriminate in the provision of sanitary services. The first part of the argument (presented in chapters 4 through 6) focuses on the external benefits of better sanitation. The discussion examines primarily the transmission of typhoid fever, which could be spread through ingestion of water or food contaminated with fecal matter that contained the typhoid bacillus. A fascinating account of the case of Jacksonville, Florida suggests that flies from unscreened privies could also serve as indirect sources of contamination. Unequal provision of sanitary services in an urban area could lead to spillovers from (black) areas with inadequate provision for disposing of human waste (and high rates of endemic typhoid) to areas with a lower-risk environment. The spillovers would be strongest where blacks and whites lived closely together or where blacks worked in close proximity to whites, perhaps as domestic help. Appeals to spillovers couched in racial terms were an essential part of the rhetorical arsenal of proponents of sanitary reform in southern U.S. cities, just as the rhetoric of reform appealed to fears about the sanitary and moral habits of immigrant hordes in northern U.S. cities and of the lower classes in western European cities. Black mortality rates from typhoid were also 40 to 70 percent higher than white rates. Evidence from the success of the Jacksonville campaign to screen privies provides the strongest evidence for spillovers. After the campaign, typhoid rates fell substantially for both groups, but the strongest decline was for African-American residents. Regression evidence for the spillover hypothesis is patchier, primarily because of the lack of controls for other variables (in- and out-migration) that are known to be correlated with typhoid rates and may have also been more strongly correlated with typhoid among African-Americans than among whites. Some specification issues also arise when using lagged dependent variables.

The other part of the argument notes that the economics of constructing sanitary infrastructure raised the cost of discrimination. By the standard of 1970, neighborhoods in1900 were racially integrated. There would be few savings from restricting water mains and trunk sewer lines to white neighborhoods. The low marginal cost of attaching any one home (including the home of an African-American) also meant that excluding African-Americans saved cities very little Troesken develops direct evidence for the absence of discrimination by laboriously matching known information on sewer and water provision and comparing served areas with the racial patterns of residence in Memphis and Savannah (in chapter 4). He also draws on data from the 1896 “Negro mortality project” for evidence subject to statistical verification. The argument is weaker in discussing the economics of constructing and paying for these systems. They clearly offered substantial scale economies. Discriminating against a large number of potential (black) users would shift fixed and quasi-fixed costs onto a smaller number of white users. An explicit comparison with the cost consequences of maintaining separate school systems — with constant returns to scale and substantial scope for differentials in quality — would be helpful. The other issue at the core of community decision-making about infrastructure is finance. Water supply systems resulted from a mix of public and private provision. They could be self-financing private or public utilities or they could be subsidized by other tax sources. Sewers could be financed by one-time hook-up fees, the general property tax (much more common in the South), assessments on the increase in property value (betterment) or ongoing sewer connection charges. Cities also varied on whether they would require mandatory connection to the sewer or water supply system. The choices cities made on these questions bear directly on the implicit cost of discrimination. Tracing out these details for a few selected cities would help to firm up this part of Troesken’s argument. Establishing causality between integration and sanitary reform is also challenging. One would expect the most integrated cities to have the highest amount of potential benefits (highest spillovers), but also the strongest incentives on the cost side to invest in advanced infrastructure early one.

The second part of the argument concerns the significance of the separate and equal provision of sanitary services and is presented in chapters 6 through 8. To understand this part of the argument, it is important to recall that centrally-supplied water and sewer systems were not synonymous with sanitary health in the United States. With per capita incomes at least fifty percent higher than in Europe, American cities were generally well ahead of cities in Europe in providing piped water to residences, more often than not from surface water sources that were plentiful and relatively inexpensive to tap into. Inexpensive piped water eased a key constraint on the installation of flush toilets, which were installed at a faster clip than in Europe. Various systems of private and public sewers were installed to serve the flow of wastewater generated by flush toilets. These often emptied into the same surface waters that served as the source for piped water. Although American cities were ahead of European cities in providing the most modern of conveniences, many were behind in the battle against typhoid.

Troesken makes the plausible argument that once informed of the potential lethality of piped tap water, higher-income (and white) residents of cities would have been more likely to engage in averting behavior, including boiling tap water, filtering it, or purchasing it from alternative sources. Ocular regressions of trends in black and white typhoid rates before and after installation of filtration systems or chlorination in several cities lead to the conclusion that racial differences declined substantially after interventions. Regressions of typhoid mortality rates or mortality rates from typhoid and diarrheal disease (“water-born disease”) confirm the importance of filtration in reducing mortality; more often than not, the impact was stronger on African-American mortality rates.

This result forms the basis for Troesken’s strongest claim about the significance of sanitary reform, which is presented in the first three chapters of the book. It goes something like this. The gap between urban and rural black mortality was significant at the beginning of the twentieth century and fell rapidly by 1920-1940, so that while inter-racial differences remained large, urban versus rural differences among African-Americans had disappeared. Drawing upon the claims by turn-of-the-century reformers and subsequent studies that one life saved from a premature death from typhoid resulted in many times that number in reduced overall mortality, Troesken presents an argument that reductions in typhoid and other “water-born diseases” may have been primarily responsible for the overall convergence of urban black mortality with rural black mortality. That would be a significant finding. Economics and externalities trumped the ideology and practice of Jim Crow.

This conclusion is open to a critical appraisal. Data problems make the task of understanding trends in race-specific mortality rates very challenging even for the first third of the twentieth century. Many U.S. cities were well in advance of the Europeans in installing the most modern of conveniences, but they were woefully behind them in developing an adequate statistical understanding of mortality trends. Britain established unified civil registration of births and deaths in 1837. Consistent registration of mortality only began in the early 1900s in a small number of American states known as the registration area. Registration of births only began in 1915 in the birth registration area, which was also confined to a limited number of states. Unfortunately the southern states, which were the home of most of the nation’s urban and rural African-American population, became part of the registration area relatively late (in the 1920s). Only with the entry of Texas into both systems in 1933 did the United States finally achieve a unified system of registration

Based upon the data that are available (from registration and the 1900 and 1910 censuses), Haines (2001) and others have been able to piece together a long term view of black and white mortality. The evidence suggests that life expectancy at birth for African Americans in 1900 was ten years shorter than the life expectancy for whites. Although it showed some improvement, the black-white gap increased so that it peaked at twelve years in 1930. Then it began its historic decline. Immense differentials in infant and child mortality drove much of this gap. The difference was highest in urban areas, and was closed by 1939 only for blacks living in cities with a population over 100,000. Paradoxically, the most dramatic differentials ca. 1900 were in middle to large northern cities, which may have been more segregated than cities in the south (Preston and Haines, 1991), but which also included a tiny share of the urban African-American population.

As Troesken notes, high infant mortality stemmed primarily from diarrheal disease, which we now know is transmitted primarily through direct contact with fecal matter. Investigations of the conditions that led to high rates of infestation of southern residents with hookworm in the ‘teens revealed sanitary conditions on par with some very poor developing countries today; under such conditions, installation of any kind of latrine can mark a dramatic improvement in the treatment of human waste. Sanitary conditions were very poor in rural areas of the south, but apparently just as inadequate in some urban areas. In the face of such conditions, untainted tap water would have helped, but would not have eliminated the exceptional risk of infant death. As Troesken’s regression evidence suggests, flush toilets would have also helped, but only if they also ensured adequate disposal of waste from infected infants and children. Breastfeeding, campaigns for clean milk, and other efforts may have also played a role.

Water, Race and Disease offers an invaluable example of high-quality urban economic history. The recent surge of interest in this field of is long overdue; it has suffered from neglect despite the critical importance of urbanization for the economic history of developed countries. One reason is that writing urban economic history faces a unique challenge. Urban history is fundamentally the history of localities, and urban historians have uncovered most of their insights with detailed case studies of rich veins of documentation available for individual cities. At the same time, urban places share common histories because of the common economic forces — economies of localization, migration, and allocating scarce urban land among competing users — that shape them. Troesken’s able use of case study evidence and his statistical analysis of myriad cross-city datasets highlights the gains from integrating both approaches. It sets a standard for writing the economic history of urban areas.


Michael Haines (2001), “The Urban Mortality Transition in the United States: 1890-1940,” NBER Working Paper H0134.

Samuel Preston and Michael Haines (1991), Fatal Years: Child Mortality in Late Nineteenth-century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

John C. Brown’s recent publications include “Estimating the Comparative Advantage Gains from Trade: Evidence from Japan” (with Daniel Bernhofen), American Economic Review (March, 2005); “A Direct Test of the Theory of Comparative Advantage: The Case of Japan” (with Daniel Bernhofen), Journal of Political Economy (February, 2004);”Working Class Careers: On-the-Job Experience and Career Formation in Munich, 1895-1910″ (with Gerhard Neumeier), in John C. Brown, David Mitch, and Marco Van Leeuwen, editors, Origins of the Modern Career: Career Paths and Job Stability in Europe and North America, 1850-1950 (Ashgate, 2004); and the entries “Public Health,” “Sanitation,” and “Water Supply,” in Joel Mokyr, editor, Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History (2003).

Subject(s):Urban and Regional History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Delivering Aid: Implementing Progressive Era Welfare in the American West

Author(s):Krainz, Thomas A.
Reviewer(s):Saunders, Dawn

Published by EH.NET (April 2006)

Thomas A. Krainz, Delivering Aid: Implementing Progressive Era Welfare in the American West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005. xiv + 325 pp. $37.50 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-8263-3025-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Dawn Saunders, Department of History, Geography, Economics, and Politics, Castleton State College.

So was the United States’ Progressive Era really all that progressive? Not very, suggests historian Thomas Krainz, at least in terms of policies and practices regarding public aid to the poor. In his richly researched project on public aid in Colorado, Krainz finds that rather than a period marking the birth of the modern welfare state, there was instead, largely, considerable continuity with nineteenth-century outdoor aid practice — means-tested and often degrading efforts at in-kind or cash assistance, generally of short duration, that largely maintained the discipline imposed on the poor by the country’s inheritance of English poor law customs; as such, these programs were structurally inadequate due to a failure to fund through adequate taxation, a distrust in the honesty and efficiency of public aid administration, and a belief in the need to avoid the sin of “pauperization” or permanent dependency on the public purse.

These findings, Krainz notes, diverge considerably from the recent findings of social historians, such as Gwendolyn Mink, Linda Gordon, and Theda Skocpol, that have found that the period marked a “turning point” in the delivery of aid, particular in regard to mothers’ pensions, state-legislated programs that purportedly marked an acknowledgement of a new role and responsibility for the state, as identifying classes of citizens who were deserving of aid because of the roles they played in society. In the case of widowed mothers, the story goes, the state stepped in when the husband died and provided support not as a form of charity, but in return for the services provided by the women to the state and society, through the raising of the next generation of citizens.

But, asks Krainz, did anybody actually ask the folks receiving aid if this, in fact, is how these programs affected them? Krainz finds that even in Colorado, the home of Judge Ben Lindsey, the nationally known advocate of the juvenile court system and mothers’ pensions, the record shows that the recipients of aid faced little change in their circumstances from the institution of “Progressive Era” welfare policy.

Krainz pursues this project by examining several different kinds of policies, including institutional aid (poor farms and tuberculosis hospitals), public outdoor relief, charitable and voluntary association aid, mothers’ aid, and blind benefits, across several counties and the city of Denver, reflecting Colorado’s range of cultural and racial differences and local economic circumstances. Krainz finds considerable diversity in how public aid in particular was delivered, rooted largely in local circumstances, as aid was locally funded, and administered by local county commissioners. Thus, for example, a widow in a prosperous mining county would generally be expected to achieve self-support through providing a variety of market services — housekeeping, cooking, cleaning and (even if not socially acknowledged) prostitution — to the large numbers of bachelors who worked and lived in the company towns, and thus would not receive much aid for very long; whereas a widow who resided in a farming community would be in very different circumstances, requiring more aid and perhaps for longer duration, or assistance in relocating to a region more suited to self-support. Residents of Mexican-American communities relied more on religious-based voluntary associations and did not receive much aid from the usually Anglo local commissioners. Native Americans struggled to maintain treaty-based entitlements on their reservations. In Denver aid was shaped by long-lasting turf wars between political machines and professional charity workers.

Colorado was certainly affected by the wave of reform spirit that filled newspapers and journals of the period, and as noted, Judge Lindsey’s influence helped in the creation of a nationally touted juvenile court system, and Colorado became the second state, after Illinois, to pass a state-wide mothers’ pension law, which enabled counties to create tax funds towards establishing and administering pensions locally. But in practice, while changes occurred in local recipients’ experiences over the early decades of the twentieth century, these changes came more from economic factors, such as the decline of the mines, and from the ascendancy or decline of various political entities, such as political machines and the Ku Klux Klan, than from Progressive Era reform intent. Mothers’ pensions, in particular, largely appeared to fizzle out as a practical effort to affect the lives of widowed mothers. Few counties actually enacted and funded programs, and when enacted, the result was generally the movement of recipients from one welfare roll to another, with the only practical change being the greater availability of cash rather than in-kind relief. Krainz thereby concludes that the failure of the mothers’ pensions to initiate real change “rests with the fact that the new pension laws largely left local communities in control of implementation” (180). Thus, they did not initiate the dawning of the welfare state, either in Colorado or elsewhere in the nation, as Colorado’s experiences were shared by other states that had enacted mothers’ pension laws.

By contrast, Krainz finds that Colorado’s Blind Benefits program really was a break with tradition that it did, in fact, “transform the welfare state,” as blind benefit activists — mostly blind themselves — effectively utilized rhetoric that had been successful in achieving pensions for Civil War veterans to find the blind to be intrinsically deserving of aid, especially in Colorado, where much adult blindness was caused by industrial or mining accidents. Blinded men, they argued, were deserving of aid to support themselves and their families, preserving their gendered place in society. But unlike mothers’ pensions, which were relegated to the usual local authorities to dispense, and were lacking centralized oversight or adequate funding, blind activists studied national pension laws and determined that an appropriate law must provide for centralized supervision and state-level funding. The blind benefits law provided for one-half state funding for each pension, providing local authorities incentives to comply with the law, and the amount of aid was generally double or triple the maximum amounts available to widows. Moreover, the program itself was administered largely by the blind community itself and their sighted allies. However, the heyday of the blind benefits program was short-lived, as political currents of the 1920s (including the rise of the Ku Klux Klan as a statewide political force) transformed the program into one more closely resembling other forms of aid.

This book is a pleasure to read, as through Krainz’s effective use of period documents, literature and journalism, it brings to life in vivid detail personal experiences of aid recipients, political turmoil and turnover, and some very prominent local citizens involved in the determination and administration of aid. But is Krainz correct that the Progressive Era was not a true beginning of the welfare state? I think that depends on how one thinks that beginning should be defined. What if one considers — rather than the immediate practical effects (administrative practices and the personal experience of recipients — the idea behind Progressive Era policies and their actual fruition in the period in such programs as workers’ compensation, wage and hour regulations for women workers, and juvenile courts, and later development into New Deal policies such as Aid to Dependent Children? Skocpol’s (1992) analysis of the development of this idea — through soldiers’ and mothers’ pensions — is, I believe, actually still appropriate. There was a new notion about the role of the state that caught on during this period, and it had actual practical effects in many policies, and these did indeed form the models from which New Deal policies developed. These programs did not arise out of nothing in the 1930s. They were based on Progressive Era models, including mothers’ pensions; those involved, for example, in advocating and lobbying for Aid to Dependent Children while it was being considered by Edwin Witte’s Social Security Committee, had studied the best and the worse of the mothers’ pension programs and based their recommendations on their findings.

In my own work on Massachusetts’ Mothers’ Aid program, I found, as Krainz did, that actual aid received by recipients was largely based on local economic circumstances, as local (town, rather than county) officials administered the aid. Regression analysis of aid received by recipients in a number of Massachusetts towns was found to be significantly affected by the economic base of the community (specifically whether the town offered textile employment, which employed large numbers of women and working-age children), and also by marital status (deserted or widowed) and by the numbers and ages of children. That families still were held to nineteenth century standards of self-support to some degree was evident in, for example, the fact that families with working-age children had less aid than would have been predicted by the number of younger children, indicating that working-age children were expected to contribute to their families’ support, at least in communities that offered them reasonable employment opportunities (Saunders 1994).

However, I concluded that Mothers’ Aid was indeed a substantial departure from earlier practice in Massachusetts. Under the Massachusetts law, communities were provided with one-third state support, and centralized supervision of the delivery of aid. Communities were expected to offer adequate aid, although the programs were locally administered and thus showed tremendous variation in aid grants. Overall, however, Massachusetts’ program was the most generous in the nation, and was praised by contemporary researchers such as Mary Bogue and Grace Abbott as a model for other states. Boston’s expenditures on public relief rose from $76,250 in 1912 (the year before Mothers’ Aid went into affect) to $405,815 in 1914, after incorporating the new program — a level of increase surely befitting the more recent phrase, “welfare explosion” (Boston Overseers of the Poor 1913, 1915).

Krainz’s point that, in general, mothers’ pension programs did not live up to their Progressive billing is certainly not new. Frances Piven and Richard Cloward (1983) have, in fact, described them as “trivial,” while others (Abromovitz 1988, Gordon 1988) suggest that the inadequacies and meagerness stressed by Krainz actually highlight the role of these new programs to discipline women to their gendered place in society, and were in that way precursors to the “two-tiered” gender-based welfare structure that unfolded with the New Deal. And, of course, the failings of the programs were well known to contemporary observers such as Bogue and Grace and Edith Abbott, who researched and reported on the state programs as part of their roles in the U.S. Children’s Bureau during the 1920s (Bogue 1928, G. Abbott 1938, E. Abbott and Breckinridge 1921). They argued that such programs, to be successful and to meet the laws’ lofty goals, required substantially more funding, and especially, state funding and centralized oversight. It is very likely that Colorado’s advocates for Blind Benefits crafted their own legislation in the light of this research.

Krainz’ analysis fails to connect some important dots, including the link between mothers’ pensions and other Progressive Era social policies, especially state regulation of hours and wages of women employers, which the Supreme Court sanctioned in Mueller v. Oregon. The idea that women had a special role in society, and the state a special interest in enhancing it, enforcing it, and protecting it, was real, even if the policies themselves touched few women’s lives. And the idea survived through the twenties and was reborn in new forms in the New Deal. The connection was fairly direct: Grace Abbott, due to her own experiences and research as past head of the federal Children’s Bureau, consulted with Edwin Witte and other members of the Committee on Economic Security, and she likely contributed to the recommendations on dependent child policies the idea of the one-third federal contribution towards aid funds from her own research on Massachusetts Mothers’ Aid. And the report of the Committee to the President clearly reflects the Progressive Era maternalist logic in their proposals: “The very phrases ‘mothers aid’ and ‘mothers pensions’ place an emphasis equivalent to misconstruction of the intention of these laws. These are not primarily aids to mothers but defense measures for children. They are designed to release from the wage-earning role the person whose natural function is to give her children the physical and affectionate guardianship necessary not alone to keep them from falling into social misfortune, but more affirmatively to rear them into citizens capable of contributing to society” (Committee on Economic Security, cited in Bremmer et al 1974: 528).

One could still claim that these goals, too, never truly materialized. Racialized politics led to considerable state discretion on the part of the administration of Aid to Dependent Children, and substantially diminished the reach and adequacy of the program in its early days. As authors such as Gordon and Abramovitz have stressed, the result was, by the 1960s, a bifurcated welfare state that provided demeaning and insufficient means-tested aid to poor mothers, disproportionately African American, and much more adequate aid through Social Security to recipients based on a gendered paradigm centered on male workers.

These dots are important, but they do not diminish Krainz’s accomplishment in bringing to life the very real history of aid programs in Colorado. It is well worth the reading for those interested in the history of the U.S. welfare state.


Abbott, Grace. The Child and the State Vol. 2, The Dependent and the Delinquent Child: The Child of Unmarried Parents: Select Documents, with Introductory Notes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938.

Abbott, Edith and Sophisba Breckinridge. The Administration of the Aid-to-Mothers Law in Illinois. Washington: U.S. Children’s Bureau, 1921.

Abramovitz, Mimi. Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present. Boston: South End Press, 1988.

Bogue, Mary. Administration of Mothers Aid in Ten Localities. Washington: U.S. Children’s Bureau, 1928.

Boston Overseers of the Poor. Annual Report for the Year Ending January 31, 1912, Annual Report for the Year 1913-1914 and Annual Report for the Year 1914-1915.

Bremner, Robert H., John Barnard, Tamara K. Hareven, Robert M. Mennel. Children and Youth in America: A Documentary History. Volume III. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974.

Gordon, Linda. “The New Feminist Scholarship on the Welfare State,” in Women, the State, and Welfare, edited by Linda Gordon. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990: 9-35.

Piven, Frances Fox and Richard Cloward. “Humanitarianism and History: A Reply to the Critics,” in Social Welfare or Social Control? Some Historical Reflections on Regulating the Poor, edited by Walter I. Trattner. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983.

Saunders, Dawn. Class, Gender, and Generation: Mothers’ Aid in Massachusetts and the Political Economy of Welfare Reform. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, 1994.

Skocpol, Theda. Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1992.

Dawn Saunders teaches courses in economic history, economic theory, economic policy, and labor economics at Castleton State College, and lives with her family in Middlebury, Vermont, where she also serves as chair of her local school board. She edited (with Ron Baiman and Heather Boushey) Political Economy and Contemporary Capitalism: Radical Perspectives on Economic Theory and Policy (M.E. Sharpe, 2000).

Subject(s):Household, Family and Consumer History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World

Author(s):Fogel, Robert William
Reviewer(s):Gráda, Cormac Ó Gr
Gr, Cormac Ó G

Published by EH.NET (October 2004)

Robert William Fogel, The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xx + 191 pp. $70 (hardback), ISBN: 0-521-80878-2; $23.99 (paperback), ISBN: 0-521-00488-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Cormac ? Gr?da, Department of Economics, University College, Dublin.

Nobel laureate Robert Fogel dedicates his latest monograph to Sir Tony Wrigley and records his debt to the late Simon Kuznets (his “principal teacher in graduate school”) in the preface, and for good reason. Although Fogel is the prophet of the Cliometric Revolution, this short — 111 pages of text — and brilliant book owes somewhat more to quantitative economic history in the Kuznetsian tradition than to cliometrics per se. Fundamentally it is about measuring human welfare-related indices such as calorific intake, human stature and related anthropometric indices, life expectancy, a more comprehensive measure of consumption than GDP (which Fogel dubs “expanded consumption”), and body mass index (BMI) of past and present populations, and then spelling out the dramatic implications of such measurements for our understanding of both the past and prospects for the future.

Other important influences on the findings reported here — which are the product of over two decades of research — include Hans Waaler (epidemiologist), Thomas McKeown (medical historian), and Nevin Scrimshaw (nutritionist). That none of these scholars was (or is) an economist or an economic historian is a measure of Fogel’s interdisciplinary leanings. In a paper in a Norwegian journal that owes its fame (fully-deserved) to Fogel, Waaler used a large Norwegian dataset to highlight the U-shaped relationship between mortality and body mass index (BMI) and the reverse J-shaped relationship between mortality and adult height. McKeown argued, controversially and tenaciously, that better nutrition rather than medicine was responsible for pre-1950 improvements in life expectancy. Scrimshaw is best known for stressing the synergistic link between poverty and nutrition: since in the past illness and malnutrition constrained productivity, people were poor because they were poor. Over the past few centuries, however, advances in health, productivity, and technology have fed off one another, producing a virtuous circle of unprecedented improvements in human welfare. Fogel fleshes out these insights, and measures their implications for human welfare in the past, present, and future. In the process, he invokes a dazzling combination of anthropometric, nutritional, and demographic research findings, many due to his own work or those of his immediate collaborators and students.

Forget those fables about “the roast beef of Olde Englande” and their equivalents elsewhere: here (and in earlier work) Fogel confirms that for most of human history life for the masses was indeed “nasty, brutish, and short.” In pre-industrial Europe, although famine was less murderous than sometimes claimed, malnutrition was endemic even in relatively advanced economies (Fogel 1994). Malnutrition presumably constrained fecundity and marital fertility (a point not spelled out). While Fogel dates the take-off into modern economic growth conventionally, his findings and their emphasis on “technophysio evolution” (a product of the interaction between technological and physiological progress) single out the advances made in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A key point is that before then health insults in infancy and early childhood impacted significantly on life expectancy and morbidity in middle age. Improvements in public health technology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — mainly through improved water and milk quality, better hygiene, and improvements in obstetric and neo-natal health care — greatly reduced such insults in the developed world, with consequent beneficial impact on chronic diseases and life chances of the middle-aged and elderly today. During the twentieth century the average number of “chronic conditions” (these are listed on p. 31) per U.S. sexagenarian fell by over two-thirds. These changes also increased both average birth weights and average adult heights. The singularity of the past century is made plain in Figure 2.1 (which will already be familiar to many readers), its reverse L-shape describing secular population growth.

As Escape from Hunger explains, biomedical and economic measures of welfare and distribution do not always tally. A well-known example concerns the antebellum U.S. where wage data indicate considerable variation by region and occupation, but significant growth everywhere in the antebellum period (Margo 2000: Tables 3A-9 to 3A-11). The mean adult height and life expectancy of population cohorts born in that era fell, however (p. 17). The case of living standards in Britain during the Industrial Revolution is analogous (1790-1860). Here Fogel reminds us that while wage data support a cheerful view of the impact of early industrialization on British workers, anthropometric research argues for a more pessimistic stance. Building on and refining earlier findings by Jeff Williamson, Fogel notes that if one takes account of the rise in mortality in the industrializing towns of Britain before the mid-nineteenth century, half or so of the supposed rise in real wages turns out to have been “spurious’ (pp. 35, 133). In the twentieth century, anthropometric, demographic, and economic measures all rose exponentially. However, the significant increase in human welfare due to the rise in life expectancy during the twentieth century is not captured by national accounts.

The second adjustment concerns leisure. A key finding (already reported in Fogel 2000) is that in the U.S. the consumption of leisure accounted for over two-thirds of what Fogel dubs “expanded consumption” today, up from less than one-fifth in 1875 (pp. 88-89). This is due to a combination of shorter hours at work and increased life expectancy. The story is the same for other post-industrial economies. The staggering share of leisure stems from valuing it in terms of other consumption foregone. That share is set to rise, as are those of education and, as already noted, healthcare. Fogel also makes a Veblenesque distinction between “earnwork” and “volwork,” or between work that one needs to do to earn a living, and work that is purely voluntary, even if it carries a financial return. The ratio of the former to the latter was over four-to-one in the U.S. in 1880; it is about two-to-three today, and is set to fall to one-to-three by 2040 (pp. 70-71).

Some of us study the past for its own sake; more of us are eager to invoke the past for the light it throws on the present; but here Fogel invokes the past to forecast the future. He predicts that the proportion of income devoted to healthcare is set to rise, particularly in developing economies. In the U.S. healthcare is set to cost a staggering 21 per cent of GDP by 2040 (p. 89). This is less because of Baumol’s Law than because improvements in costly health technology are likely to continue and because the demand for healthcare is highly income-elastic.

In the end, although Africa and AIDS temper its predictions and policy recommendations, this is an optimistic book from one of the dismal science’s masters. Fogel’s concern for the poor and the sick — both in developed and undeveloped nations — is patent throughout, and he clearly prefers less global inequality to more. Hence his proposals for the reform of medicare in the First World, and his pleas for more funding for R&D on diseases such as HIV/AIDS and for the prevention and treatment of such diseases in the Third World. Meanwhile, in OECD economies the demand for consumer durables such as cars and TVs has nearly reached saturation point. However, Fogel believes that improvements in food and health technologies are likely to increase human life expectancy — and therefore potential output — considerably, even in the developed world, in the twenty-first century. The predicted gap between the demand for and potential supply of goods implies, controversially, that the days of Stefan Burenstam Linder’s Harried Leisure Class (1971) — constrained by time to stint on the material and physic pleasures available to it — are numbered. If Fogel is right, then one of humanity’s challenges in the twenty-first century will be “earthly self-realization,” that is, how to make the most of the leisure time available to it.

The book contains a useful, albeit short glossary of technical terms (e.g. basal metabolism, BMI, income elasticity), but the definitions of terms devised by Fogel himself (e.g. technophysio evolution, volwork, Waaler surface) are always found in the text. There are brief biographies of some of the researchers mentioned (pp. 151-54). Escape from Hunger is without a doubt one of Fogel’s masterworks. Written in an accessible style, it is ideal for use in higher-level undergraduate and graduate courses. One small gripe: was this the right place for ten pages of Tables A2 and A3 (pp. 116-25) describing the data underlying the “Waaler surface” in the frontispiece?


Robert W. Fogel, 1994. “Economic Growth, Population Theory and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-term Processes on Economic Policy,” American Economic Review, 84(3): 369-95.

Robert W. Fogel, 2000. The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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

Cormac ? Gr?da teaches at University College Dublin. His last monograph was Black ’47 and Beyond (Princeton, 1999). He has almost completed Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce: A Social Science History, and is working on Famine: A Short History.

Subject(s):Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

After the Boom in Tombstone and Jerome, Arizona: Decline in Western Resource Towns

Author(s):Clements, Eric L.
Reviewer(s):Kaiser, Brooks A.

Published by EH.NET (June 2004)

Eric L. Clements, After the Boom in Tombstone and Jerome, Arizona: Decline in Western Resource Towns. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 2003. xv + 389 pp. $29.95 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-87417-571-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Brooks A. Kaiser, Department of Economics, Gettysburg College.

Boomtowns sprang up through the United States, particularly in the West, as fast as entrepreneurial spirits could dowse a whiff of extractable resource hiding below the earth’s surface. Many of these resource dependent towns disappeared as quickly as they arose, as, within a short time, the cost of extracting the resource outstripped the benefit it would bring at market. The towns disappeared as their homes were carted off to new communities, the schools closed, and the volunteer fire brigades could not muster the crews to fight the fires. In this book, Eric Clements seeks to investigate the story of these busts in their own right, rather than as a footnote to their earlier boom days. He chooses a case study approach, describing in detail the fates of Tombstone and Jerome, Arizona. Clements, a historian at Southeast Missouri State University, verbalizes several tantalizingly interesting avenues of economic research, and illustrates, with interesting detail, disequilibria of dynamic community transformation. Unfortunately, he does not draw on economic theory to generalize his findings from his limited cases.

Tombstone’s silver boom and bust took place rather quickly and dramatically, chiefly in the late nineteenth century, while Jerome’s copper boom and bust took place later, and evolved more slowly, with much of the tale occurring simultaneously with the Great Depression. Bust, it appears, was as impacted by increased market intervention as any other part of American history. In Tombstone and smaller towns that also went bust at the end of the nineteenth century, entrepreneurs quickly moved to new opportunities, and the population of young men quickly found new towns. In Jerome and other towns that went bust later, stronger investments in unions, infrastructure, and mineral price supports meant that the town lingered.

The two towns provide an interesting contrast with one another and a view into what might make a young, resource-dependent community grow or dwindle. The story of a true mining ghost town, however, is not necessarily captured, as it was too ephemeral to leave sufficient record to address the questions Clements asks. He seeks to understand the influences of bust on community structure and demographic change, including disparate impacts by race, gender, age, and ethnicity.

He provides a few interesting demographic statistics suggesting that labor mobility is mainly a privilege of young unattached males, as the community in bust consists of a more balanced gender ratio and a population more greatly weighted by children and elders than it did in boom times. Though he presents some data on race, ethnicity, marriage, divorce, suicide, and crime, he wisely refrains from attributing to bust much responsibility for impacting these socio-economic factors.

In analyzing industrial change, Clements realizes that the economic incentives in mining may not be favorable to community development. Here is one place where economic theory could be integrated into the discussion. With entire communities dependent on competitive prices for mineral resources, the bust town appears akin to the atomistic competitive firm, writ large. Rising extraction costs (particularly in Tombstone) dissipate earlier Ricardian rents, and the town is no longer competitive with other sources. The mine owners (and community leaders generally), face declining prices from oversupply and falling demand. Countering competition, they seek consolidation and price support interventions. Inventories rise, and further extraction is counterproductive. Labor also seeks to counter competition; unionization increases (as it did in Jerome). These anti-competitive actions work to slow bust, but they cannot prevent it.

One interesting thread worthy of further exploration is the role of the entrepreneur. He was the source of much of the initial capital and the impetus for development in such towns, and his flight, seeking higher returns elsewhere, visibly shows on the community landscape. Such flight, which seems to occur relatively early in the cycle of boom and bust, appears to have been rampant in Western mining towns

Further externalities and public goods complicate the picture of the town as a competitive firm. Public goods provision in these boom communities was often driven by private action, and the book is peppered with anecdotes of entrepreneurs, railroad pipedreams, fires and fire brigades, the creation and demise of schools, churches, infrastructure, and public goods of all sorts, though not named as such. With bust, contraction in these community-defining public goods is inevitable, and the stories presented here could be greatly enhanced by drawing together the anecdotes with the appropriate theory of public goods provision.

In fact, the book would be capable of much stronger arguments, in spite of its limited sample of two towns, by directly incorporating any or all of a wide variety of economic tools: public goods theory to account for community interactions, dynamic optimization theory to account for the role mineral extraction plays in the paths the towns take from short run disequilibria to long run outcomes, and the theory of the firm to integrate more thoroughly the effects of entrepreneurship, competition and collusion in community structure. That said, the book was not written for economic historians specifically, and the groundwork is there for any economist to see the forest for the trees.

Brooks A. Kaiser is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Gettysburg College and conducts research on past and present problems pertaining to natural resource use. She is currently working on several projects on Hawaiian ecosystems and resources, some of which are outlined at, as well as the fate of Pithole, PA, the first oil boom and bust town.

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium

Author(s):Hoerder, Dirk
Reviewer(s):Cohn, Raymond L.

Published by EH.NET (April 2004)

Dirk Hoerder, Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002. xxii + 779 pp. $100 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8223-2834-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Raymond L. Cohn, Department of Economics, Illinois State University.

Dirk Hoerder, Professor of History at the University of Bremen, is a well-known historian of migration, having written and edited a number of previous books on the subject. In this book, he treats us to an encyclopedic review of human migration during the second millennium. The book represents an impressive, almost unbelievable, accomplishment. Hoerder’s actual text runs 582 pages of small type and includes 71 maps. There are extensive endnotes, a list of map sources, a long bibliography divided mainly by time period, and a useful index. Furthermore, the book is user-friendly. When discussing the migration of a particular group, references are given to sections in other chapters where the same group is discussed during other time periods. Thus, a reader will find it easy to follow the story of a particular migratory group. Notwithstanding a few criticisms discussed later, I believe Hoerder’s book will become a classic and remain for years a valuable reference for anyone working on any aspect of the history of human migration since 1000 AD.

Besides the long time period considered, four additional features distinguish the book. First, Hoerder connects migration movements with world events, and world events with migration movements. In fact, much of the time, I felt I was reading a world history of the second millennium. Second, Hoerder discusses moves made by individuals within countries and regions as well as among them. Third, movements everywhere in the world are examined so, though European expansionism was an important cause of many movements, the book is not Eurocentric. Thus, for example, one can find discussions not only of migrations such as the Jewish Diaspora and the large nineteenth-century Atlantic immigration, but also of migrations within Africa and Latin America before sizable European contact and the more recent migration of many Asians to the Persian Gulf oil countries. Fourth, Hoerder devotes space to the migration of females when their experience differed from that of males. As near as I can tell, Hoerder accomplishes his objective to discuss every sizable human migration between 1000 and 2000 AD. The only minor exception I noted is that his discussion of the migration of African-Americans northward in the United States ends in the 1920s.

The book is divided into four chronological parts. Part 1 covers the time period from about 1000 AD to about 1500 AD. This part examines movements within Europe, including the Ottoman Empire, and European interaction with other continents. “The medieval and early modern periods, once said to be characterized by peasants bound to the soil, were in fact times of high mobility” (p. 59). Hoerder illustrates this statement by discussing the Jewish Diaspora, the Muslim movement into Spain, the crusades, early slavery, and the migrations of the Normans and the Wendish. People moved for marriage, because of droughts and religious persecution, and as farmers, soldiers, pilgrims, prostitutes, traders, and workers. This part ends with a discussion of Ottoman expansion into Europe, migrations by students and artists as the Renaissance flourished, and the European voyages of discovery during the fifteenth century.

Part 2 examines European expansion across the world up to about 1800. The first four chapters in this part are similar. Each one discusses migration in one area before the European voyages of discovery — Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the settler economies (mainly the United States but also South Africa and Australia) — and then discusses the effects of the European expansion. A fifth chapter looks more closely at forced labor migrations involving native peoples and Africans in the Americas, and a concluding chapter examines the consequences of the European expansion, including the formation of new races due to intermarriage between Europeans and native peoples.

Part 3 extends the story into the early twentieth century. The first four chapters discuss movements within Europe, Russian expansion to the East and South, and two important international migrations: European transatlantic migration to the Americas, including migration within the Americas; and the migration of Asian contract workers not only to South America, Africa, and other parts of Asia, but also to the United States, Canada, and Britain. The final chapter of this part considers population movements associated with imperialism. The chapter examines who moved out from Europe (including females) and again considers mixed race marriages, the children that resulted, and the relationships that developed among the different races in the areas affected by western imperialism.

Part 4 covers migrations from about 1920 to the end of the millennium. One chapter examines the forced labor systems that were used in Germany, Japan, and the USSR through World War II. In parts of this chapter and the next, Hoerder describes in fascinating detail the general “un-mixing” of peoples that occurred due to the World Wars, decolonization, and the rise of many more nation-states. Descendants of European settlers in Asia were forced back to Europe, Asians were forced out of many parts of Africa, etc. Important migrations between the 1920s and 1950s were of farmers onto and off of marginal lands, Jews to Palestine, and the development of the apartheid system in South Africa. A final major chapter considers migrations since World War II. Hoerder discusses the guest-worker migrations to Western Europe, the growth of Asian and Latin American migration to North America, and the move of Asians to the Persian Gulf and Australia. Migration trends within Latin America, Asia, and Africa are also discussed, along with the movement of people out of Eastern Europe after 1989. As I said above, Hoerder’s goal is to be encyclopedic.

Most economists reading this book will occasionally find the language disconcerting. Hoerder’s view of the world is one probably shared more by historians and some other social scientists than by most economists. Two quotes will suffice. In his introduction to Part 4 concerning migration since about 1920, Hoerder says: “The military-statist imperial reach of the northern hemisphere was replaced by domination strategies of transnational capital” (p. 443). Then, in discussing more recent migration, he says: “The postcolonial world may be interpreted in terms of ‘global apartheid,’ in which low-wage jobs and low standards of living are assigned to people outside North America, Europe, and Australasia” (p. 508). Though Hoerder is not unaware of economic theories involving the benefits of free trade and the importance of institutions and worker productivity (including education) to economic growth, he doesn’t let these arguments affect his world view. In any case, this type of language is not extensive and most chapters can be read without encountering such sentences.

Finally, a few words need to be said concerning the 71 maps. Virtually all of the maps are quite complex. They are also sometimes hard to interpret. In the first half of the book, many of the maps contain four shades of solid gray and I frequently had difficulty figuring out which shade was which on the map. The maps improve about halfway through the book, when crosshatches, lines, etc., begin to be used. Overall, the maps are fascinating and extremely valuable but only if one spends a good deal of time examining them. I wish that just a little more care had been taken in their construction.

Raymond L. Cohn is Professor of Economics at Illinois State University. He is the author of “Immigration to the United States” in the EH.Net encyclopedia and writes frequently on European immigration to the United States during the nineteenth century.

Subject(s):Historical Demography, including Migration
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Main Lines: Rebirth of the North American Railroads, 1970-2002

Author(s):Saunders Jr., Richard
Reviewer(s):Childs, William R.

Published by EH.NET (April 2004)

Richard Saunders, Jr., Main Lines: Rebirth of the North American Railroads, 1970-2002. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2003. xxi + 436 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-87580-316-4.

Reviewed for EH.Net by William R. Childs, Department of History, Ohio State University.

About ten years ago, a wholesaler in Columbus told me that he could deliver a boxcar of fresh fruit from the Valley in Texas to central Ohio in twenty-four hours — faster than truckers could do it. Fifteen years before, when I was a truck driver, that was not possible. The wholesaler’s claim reminded me that the summer before, while driving out West, I had come across some incredibly long freight trains — and lots of them and none with cabooses. Something was going on with railroading, something I had not encountered in my own research on the pre-World War II era. Apparently the railways had finally put it all together to realize the inherent scale economies that their industry held over trucking. Even today few outside the transportation industries are aware of just how efficient and central to the American economy are the railroads.

Richard Saunders, Jr., who teaches history at Clemson University, offers in Main Lines a sprawling narrative to explain how and why the revolution in railroading occurred between the mid-1970ss and 1990s. The book furnishes two general contributions. First, it lays out the contours of the revolution in railroading, narrating how the various interests interacted with technology and politics to help the railways become once again a significant artery in the nation’s transportation system. Second, it furnishes railroad buffs detailed stories of numerous railways, many of which disappeared into necessary mergers or were abandoned entirely.

Saunders claims he is giving “readers the tools — the factual foundation — to create their own synthesis or theory if they so wish” (p. xii). Saunders’ bibliography lists important government records (ICC and congressional hearings especially), and it is clear that he is familiar with the key industry journals and “cultural” studies in management and business history. His sometimes engaging narrative, however, does not always fully develop some of the key points.

Nonetheless, he offers some cogent analyses. He establishes the industry’s economic structure and follows the interests — management, labor, shippers, local communities, and politicians — as they struggle to save the industry from itself. He does not shy away from concluding who was right and who was wrong at particular points in time. His narrative includes examples of managers who were farsighted and those who were not in the use of technology and in negotiations with labor. He understands better than most the various constraints under which the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) operated. On numerous occasions he chastises free-market ideologues, carefully noting that it was a combination of private and public sector efforts that created the railroad revolution.

The book has twelve chapters. Chapter 1 is a summary of his award-winning book, Merging Lines: American Railroads, 1900-1970 (2001). It and the next chapter chronicle the period before the revolution when the Penn Central went bankrupt, numerous approaches to dealing with the railways were debated (from nationalization to dissolution), and Amtrak became a reality. (Saunders argues that even though Amtrak has had its problems, its creation relieved a great burden from the freight railways.) By 1970, the railways’ problems included lack of capital for upkeep and expansion of the rails, management’s inability to master technology, labor’s intransigence in the face of change, generally poor service to shippers, and lack of flexibility to abandon inefficient routes.

Chapters 3 through 6 are the heart of the book. The crisis in railroading peaked in 1973 even though the rails were carrying more freight than ever before. The Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973, or the 3R Act, laid the groundwork for future progress in rehabilitating the railways. Congress established the United States Railway Association (USRA), a nationally chartered non-profit corporation, to plan an efficient and smaller-scale rail system in the Northeast and arrange financing for it. In effect, it was creating Conrail, the successor to the Penn Central. The midwife role of the USRA was not without complications, as Congress included various entities in the process. Much of the detailed planning fell to the ICC, but the Department of Transportation (DOT) also intervened. All of this occurred, moreover, during the Nixon and Ford administrations, both of which preferred more reliance on the private sector. Labor continued to resist change and various communities that would lose rail service protested to their congressional representatives. With Conrail, which began operation in spring 1976, “Government was godfathering a for-profit corporation that would have no choice but to inflict a lot of pain on a lot of communities before it could earn a profit” (p. 114). Meanwhile, Congress enacted the Railroad Revitalization and Reform Act of 1976, or 4R Act, not only to furnish temporary aid to the rails but also to ascertain the long-term requirements for the entire national railway system and to loosen restrictions on rate making (which, Saunders correctly noted, harkened back to post-World War I discussions). After decades of neglect, the politicians were mixing private and public approaches to solve the railroads’ problems.

Saunders focuses on the major economic forces (technology, investment, and productivity) and the necessity for the private sector executives to have more freedom to set rates, merge with other lines, and abandon outdated lines in order to enhance profitability. He shows how intermodal traffic (truck trailers and containers on flatcars) and transportation control systems (TCS) formed the technological bases of the revolution. He outlines how the Carter Administration, within the context of deregulation of other industries, particularly airlines, pushed successfully for the Staggers Act of 1980, which further loosened the regulations over rail rates and operations. This deregulation left only antitrust and safety issues to be monitored by the government.

Saunders is less successful in showing how expanded investment opportunities were a necessary contribution to the revolution. Increased investment in refurbishing rails and incorporating new technology (e.g., cranes to lift the containers onto and off flatbeds) was essential if the rails were to serve shippers’ needs and become profitable; but railroading historically had a very thin operating margin to create profits to plow back into enhancing service. Saunders argues that the 1981 Economic Recovery Tax Act (ERTA), especially its provision that enabled firms to sell depreciation deductions to other companies, added more investment funds to the railroad industry. While I think his point is well-taken, he should have developed this argument more fully in the text and notes. Noting which railways benefited and how much money each spent and on what (new rails, TCS, and other technology) is needed here.

Saunders consistently follows the labor thread through his sometimes complex narrative to show that management and labor did finally cooperate to improve rail operations. The break point came in 1991 when, ironically, congressional Democrats forced labor to make concessions. Saunders notes, however, that in several instances it was the arrogance and ignorance of management, not labor intransigence that had prevented productivity growth.

Chapters 7 through 10, which focus on the various regions, offer important if often dry information on how the railway industry operated through the “Super Seven” systems from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Individuals and the problems of mergers are highlighted. Chapter 11 recounts the reduction from seven to six systems and the problems the mega-mergers faced during this time (antitrust fears, captive shippers, and combining different corporate cultures into efficient service). The concluding Chapter 12 notes that while the narrative reveals a success story, it does not follow that the future will repeat the past. With government support, the railways had successfully married technology with effective management approaches and improved management-labor relations, but in order to remain viable in the nation’s transportation system, the railways needed more capital. And it is not clear where that investment is going to come from.

In conclusion, Main Lines is an important book that transportation historians should read. Saunders has met his purpose of presenting a narrative of an important story in late twentieth century economic history. Other historians may read it for the context before they pursue related topics, such as the advent of intermodal operations, the economic and subsidy relationships between all transport modes, and the impact of the deregulation movement on the economy.

William R. Childs, author of Trucking and the Public Interest (1985), will publish with Texas A&M Press next year a history of the Texas Railroad Commission and economic regulation in the U.S. to the mid-twentieth century.

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

A History of Household Government in America

Author(s):Shammas, Carole
Reviewer(s):Main, Gloria L.

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)


Carole Shammas, A History of Household Government in America. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2002. xv + 232 pp. $55 (hardback), ISBN: 0-8139-2125-2; $19.50 (paperback), ISBN: 0-8139-2126-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Gloria L. Main, Department of History, University of Colorado, Boulder.

This is an important book about families in American history not only because it synthesizes a vast literature, but also because it introduces an entirely new perspective on the subject by substituting the term “household” for the “family.” Doing so illuminates the crucial component of dependency in American family law. As Carole Shammas puts it so tersely, yet so meaningfully, the dependent household member is not free to leave. From colonial times until the Civil War, households in the United States consisted of a single head, usually a male aged 25 to 64, and all those living with him were his dependents including wife, children, widowed parents, other kin, apprentices, servants, and slaves. The head of the household was a master to whom all other members had to submit in exchange for his protection. Legal institutions brought over from England at the founding of the colonies defined all these dependent relationships (except slavery) and powerful religious traditions sanctified them.

Yet the transplantation of household institutions from the old world to the new could not proceed unaltered, as Shammas, professor of history at the University of Southern California, points out. The ocean barrier attenuated governmental power and the availability of land undercut the dependency of sons on their fathers. Except among the Puritans in New England and the Quakers of the Middle Colonies, neither church nor state could muster sufficient authority to command the obedience of dispersed settlers. Colonial governments therefore enhanced fathers’ powers over wives, children, apprentices and servants. The expansion of slavery and high marital fertility further extended that body of legal dependents, the total proportion of which reached some 80 percent of the colonial population compared to just 64 percent in Britain. Although Shammas emphasizes the need of colonial governments to have powerful masters and fathers in order to keep the peace, she finds little evidence that fathers effectively managed their children’s marriages, underscoring the rocky underpinnings of patriarchy where land was cheap and labor dear.

Despite high-flown rhetoric concerning liberty, Shammas finds nothing revolutionary about the American Revolution insofar as dependents were concerned. She is particularly effective in contrasting French reforms with those of the U.S. Yes, she acknowledges the decline of slavery in the North and the tweaking of inheritance laws in the South, but in both cases, masters and fathers found their hands strengthened rather than weakened. Slaves worked for their own emancipation, after all, and many northern owners simply sold their chattels to the South rather than see them gain their freedom. Changing the inheritance laws in the South did not alter practice, since fathers had always been remarkably free to dispose of their freehold property as they chose simply by writing a will. What needed to change, from most men’s point of view, was the ability of fathers-in-law to prevent a husband from managing his wife’s property in land and slaves through the use of entail, a perquisite that prevented the upwardly mobile male from achieving his business goals. Shammas demonstrates this wittily through fascinating case studies of the marriage alliances made by favorite Founding Fathers.

Republican ideology shored up family patriarchy only temporarily. Female literacy and religious evangelism in the nineteenth century encouraged an expansion of women’s rights that directly threatened male privilege. Relaxation of divorce laws enabled more women to exit their husband’s household, ending dependency. Likewise, the opening of the West and the expansion of wage work enabled children, servants and apprentices also to leave. Shammas argues that these reforms provoked a civil war within the household that rivaled its military counterpart in historical importance. But the post-Civil War era inaugurated a counter-attack on dependents’ rights through a continual redefinition of their legal status, designed to shelter them from the “pain and the privilege of full equality,” as Shammas dryly puts it (p.145). Of particular interest to the non-specialist is her description of the reaction of Protestant reformers in the North to the competition by Roman Catholic parochial schools and orphanages, staffed by many thousands of nuns and priests. Suddenly these liberals began attacking the institutionalizing of poor children as bad for the children and bad for the country. They thereby reversed direction on orphan care and argued for shipping the children of the urban poor to farm homes in the Midwest and West where hard work and a wholesome family environment would produce healthy, useful citizens. Shammas compares the orphan trains and their passengers to the epic trans-Atlantic journeys of indentured servants in colonial times. The richness of the book’s contents is further enhanced by her stunning use of census samples to demonstrate the long-term decline in household size since the end of slavery, the small scale of institutionalization in the nineteenth century, and the rise of households headed by single mothers.

As a writer, Shammas is feisty and often flip although occasionally her text loses clarity. A great strength of the book, however, is her ability to place American practice in an historical and international context. In sum, Carole Shammas has very usefully revisited an enormous and eclectic literature on “the family” extending from colonial times to nearly the present, and brings to bear critical census data on a scale we have never seen before. The book’s long-term perspective will make this work exceptionally valuable to specialists and non-specialists alike.

Gloria L. Main is the author of Peoples of a Spacious Land: Families and Cultures in Colonial New England (Harvard University Press, 2001), which won the Economic History Association’s Alice Hanson Jones in 2002.

Subject(s):Servitude and Slavery
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

A Dictionary of Economics

Author(s):Black, John
Reviewer(s):Whaples, Robert

Published by EH.NET (March 2004)

John Black, A Dictionary of Economics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, second edition. vi + 501 pp. $16.95 (paperback), ISBN: 0-19-0860767-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Robert Whaples, Department of Economics, Wake Forest University.

Economic History in a ‘Mainstream’ Reference Work

Oxford’s Dictionary of Economics would make an excellent gift — perhaps as a prize to the top student in an introductory economics class. It’s a fairly good buy, especially after noting that lists it at over $5 off the publisher’s price. The Dictionary “aims to provide for the needs of students of economics at A-level and in the ‘mainstream’ part of first degree courses, and of lay readers of journals such as The Economist,” and will generally serve these audiences well. It includes about 2500 definitions of concepts that are used in standard economics texts and terms connected with personal finances. The definitions are unusually clear and often include editorial comments about the broader importance of a concept or the controversies surrounding a theory or issue. I learned a lot just thumbing through its pages and will keep the volume close at hand.

I wouldn’t be reviewing the dictionary for EH.NET, however, unless more needed to be said about its treatment of economic history. I first flipped to the appendix, where there is a list of Nobel Prize winners in economics. Tellingly, Douglass North’s first name is misspelled. By chance, within minutes of beginning to browse the dictionary itself I came across the term “cliometrics.” The text offers this definition: “the application of quantitative methods in economic history. The main problem with applying econometrics to any but very recent economic history is the poor quality of the available data.” The first sentence has room for improvement. I would prefer something closer to “the application of economic theory and quantitative techniques to the study history,” and it would be informative to add something about the etymology of the term, but the tragedy of this definition and, perhaps, of the recent fate of the field of economic history, is that the author felt compelled to add his blunt, ill-informed aside. The thickness and richness of historical data sets has always amazed me and I assume this is true of almost anyone with even a passing familiarity with what is available to researchers. Thus, I can only attribute Black’s comment to gross ignorance. Is he representative of the vast body of ahistorical economists who flip right past the economic history articles that still appear in the leading mainstream journals and wouldn’t even consider picking up a journal or book with the word “history” in the title?

What can be done to solve the problem of the deafness of mainstream economists toward economic history? My preferred solution has always been to make the cost of obtaining economic history lower and lower — hence the existence of EH.NET, our database collection, our book reviews, our abstracts service, and especially How Much Is That? and the online Encyclopedia of Economic and Business History. These resources get a lot of traffic, but it is interesting and informative to see what types of economic history sell. The ten most frequently accessed articles in EH.NET’s encyclopedia last year are listed below (note that most of these articles have significant cliometric content):

1. “The Economics of the Civil War” by Roger Ransom
2. “Alcohol Prohibition” by Jeffrey Miron
3. “The Smoot-Hawley Tariff” by Anthony O’Brien
4. “Slavery in the United States” by Jenny Wahl
5. “The Economic History of Tractors in the U.S.” by William White
6. “Child Labor during the British Industrial Revolution” by Carolyn Tuttle
7. “The Depression of 1893” by David Whitten
8. “The Works Progress Administration” by Jim Couch
9. “Women Workers in the British Industrial Revolution” by Joyce Burnette
10. “The Gold Standard” by Lawrence Officer

My conclusion is that the buying public (in this case probably mostly students) looks to economic history mainly for a recurrent trio of intriguing topics — human conflict (slavery and the Civil War), economic depression (Smoot-Hawley, 1893, the WPA), and the industrial revolution. Also, near the top of the list is another “sexy” topic — booze.

However, giving the product away for free has only limited success, because the demand curve for most economic history doesn’t seem to be very elastic. Is there some way to force feed this stuff to our colleagues and the public? Can we sugar coat it, so that they don’t know they’re getting it? The Economic History Association has recently shifted to subsidizing new producers — granting funds to budding economic historians in graduate school.

Interestingly, the Dictionary generally exudes a confidence about economic growth. For example, several figures discussing hypothetical economic trends (natural vs. logarithmic scales, trade cycles, and time trends) all depict strong upward trends in GDP — growth triumphant, as Richard Easterlin might say. Perhaps this is one of the discontents of growth — as the future looks brighter and brighter there is less of a compelling reason to look to the past?

Finally, there are a few errors and omissions in the Dictionary worth mentioning. For example, AFDC is identified as the U.S. federal welfare program — despite its replacement by TANF in 1997, and the ICC’s entry states that “its jurisdiction has since been extended to include transport by inland waterways, roads, and pipelines” belying the fact that it was terminated in 1996. “Black Monday” (October 19, 1987) is identified, but not “Black Tuesday,” (October 29, 1929). (Likewise, the entry titled “stock market crash” surprisingly refers only to October 19, 1987!) Perhaps due to its British origin several entities one would regularly see discussed in the business press, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have no entries. A “chartist” is defined as “a person who believes there are recurring patterns in the behaviour of market variables over time, so that study of past variations assists in predicting the future.” There is no mention of William Lovett, the People’s Charter and the political economy of Britain in the 1830s and 1840s. The definition of exploitation doesn’t explain the neoclassical version of the term. The discussion of “globalization” gives the impression that “the process by which the whole world becomes a single market” has had a pretty uniform trend — leaving out the retrogression in the era from World War I to World War II. The space given to the Great Depression is woefully small — shorter even than the discussion given to nearby terms such as “gravity model,” “greenfield development,” and “greenhouse gases.” Likewise the slender discussion of “mercantilism” is shorter than discussions of “median,” “merit good,” and “migrants’ remittances.” The definition of public choice — “the choice of the kind, quantity, and quality of public goods to provide, and how to pay for them” — seems unduly restrictive. I would have preferred Dennis Mueller’s definition: “the economic study of nonmarket decision making, or simply the application of economics to political science.” Based on the evidence I’ve seen, the caveats about the quantity theory of money seem overly cautious: “maybe the quantity theory would work in the very long run, but it would be ages before this could be checked.” The paragraph about the “ratchet effect” neglects to mention arguments about the growth of government. The discussion of the “rustbelt” is inappropriately written in the present tense — “the rustbelt suffers from high obsolescence.” The entry on slavery appears to be uninformed by the intense debates triggered by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s findings. It unblinkingly states that while slavery has a long history, it is no longer generally practiced on humanitarian grounds and “because it is believed to be inefficient at providing incentives for work.” Other terms missing include “comparable worth,” “prime rate,” “social savings rate” and perhaps worst of all — “institution.”

Robert Whaples is the editor of EH.NET’s Encyclopedia of Economic and Business History at

Subject(s):Development of the Economic History Discipline: Historiography; Sources and Methods
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative