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Airlines and Air Mail: The Post Office and the Birth of the Commercial Aviation Industry

Author(s):Linden, F. Robert van der
Reviewer(s):Dunn-Haley, Karen

Published by EH.NET (May 2003)


F. Robert van der Linden, Airlines and Air Mail: The Post Office and the Birth of the Commercial Aviation Industry. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. xv + 349 pp. $35 (hardback), ISBN: 0-8131-2219-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Karen Dunn-Haley, Ph.D., California State University, Monterey Bay.

The Airlines and Uncle Sam: A Match Made in the Heavens?

September 11 and a recession sent U.S. airlines into a financial tailspin, and one result has been a lingering debate over the extent and the form of government assistance to the airlines. Recently, one commentator noted, “Breaking up may be hard to do, but it appears especially tough for the government and the airline industry.”[1] F. Robert van der Linden, Curator of Air Transportation at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, has written a detailed account of the complex manner in which the airlines and the government tied the knot in the 1920s and 1930s. This history serves to remind readers that two early twentieth-century Republican administrations, subsequently widely misunderstood as laissez-faire, played a role in the initial development of commercial aviation. Readers of van der Linden’s thorough study might conclude that it is not terribly surprising, nor inconsistent, for a twenty-first century Republican administration to assist the airline industry in its continued survival.

The federal government embraced the nascent airline industry early on. Although Congress ignored a bill introduced in 1910 to employ air mail, a year later Postmaster Frank Hitchcock staged air mail service as part of an international air meet on Long Island, when “pilot Earle Ovington was sworn in as American’s first air mail pilot and, squeezing a full mail sack between his legs, took off … for Mineola some five miles away. Six minutes later, Ovington banked his aircraft and pushed the bag out of the cockpit. The bag fell to the ground near the local postmaster” (p. 5).

More serious governmental efforts followed. Motivated by an awareness that European aviation was surpassing that of the United States, Congress created the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1915. NACA addressed issues of aircraft design and performance, but it was up to further legislation to ensure that a market existed for the new airplanes. In 1925, Congress passed the Kelly Air Mail Act, which allowed private airlines to carry the mail, and in the following year, it passed the Air Commerce Act, which created a Bureau of Aeronautics within the Commerce Department.

Air mail revenues were crucial to the formation of the first airlines as they struggled to develop and provide passenger service. In the tradition of historians Ellis Hawley and Morton Keller, van der Linden describes the politics leading to the 1925 Air Mail Act and the follow-up legislation, and he explores the reasons behind government support for fledgling airlines in the 1920s. After acknowledging the precedent set by the federal support of public roads in the nineteenth century and the post office subsidies granted to American steamship lines and, later, the merchant marine, van der Linden shows how this tradition was applied to air travel. In so doing, he casts a favorable light on then Department of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, who “actively promoted the new [aviation] industry through rational regulation and judiciously applied subsidies and incentives” (p. ix). Walter Folger Brown, the Postmaster General for President Herbert Hoover, most often also appears in heroic terms. According to van der Linden, it was Brown’s air mail awards and guidance that “forged three large, stable, financially powerful aviation holding companies, each formed around a solid core of air transportation companies, solely dependent upon the federal government and thereby dedicated to operating in the public interest” (p. 185).

However, what some viewed as a triumph, others viewed as corrupt. The second half of the book looks at the 1934 Senate investigations led by Hugo Black, which put under a microscope the air mail contracts established by Walter Brown. It has often been said that the passage of a law is like making sausage — not pretty. This book makes it clear that the metaphor falls short when discussing the passage of laws and the making of policy that supports new industries, which are unformed and chaotic by virtue of their infancy. As a result of the Senate investigations, which alleged “conspiracy, corruption and favoritism” (p. 271) in the awarding of air mail contracts, President Franklin Roosevelt suspended the contracts with private airlines and resorted to delivery by the U.S. Army Air Corps. Sadly, a hard winter and inferior flying equipment led to twelve Army Air Corps pilots killed in only a few weeks. Retaliating, Eastern airlines chief Eddie Rickenbacker labeled the use of Army pilots as “legalized murder” (p. 277). Facing this outcry, Roosevelt was forced to compromise by allowing private air mail contracts while supporting a new law — the Air Mail Act of 1934 — that forbade the vertically integrated airline holding companies. Van der Linden concludes: “Although the monopolistic holding companies are now gone, the oligopoly of airlines and manufacturers … remains virtually intact and unchanged. … The foundation built in those difficult Depression-era years has served the nation and its citizens well, with the federal government, as it was from the very beginning, ultimately in control” (p. 290).

Although, he makes reference to advances in the engineering and the design of airplanes during what is regarded as the golden age of American aviation, van der Linden’s book is a political and business history at its core. He explores the lobbying that took place as the 1925 Air Mail Act was conceived, and he traces the genealogy of the nation’s first airline companies as they merged and purged. More generally, van der Linden compares and contrasts the New Nationalism of Progressive Republicans with the New Freedom of Progressive Democrats. Airlines and Air Mail challenges the reader to keep track of the evolving company names, as well as the movers and shakers in the industry; a chart indicating the companies (with the names of the owners and chairmen) as they developed over time would have been a helpful addition to the book.

The book’s illustrations consist overwhelmingly of photographs of people — either U.S. postal officials or executives of airline companies, such as Philip G. Johnson, William E. Boeing, Thomas E. Braniff, Earl P. Halliburton, and Sherman Fairchild. This emphasis provides the clue from the start that van der Linden has written a book centered on people and a book about how these people, both executives and bureaucrats, set the stage for commercial aviation.

The book would have been strengthened had the author stepped back on more occasions to comment on the overall significance of the details he presents. However, Airlines and Air Mail is a must read for anyone attempting to sort out the beginnings of American commercial aviation. This book also should attract readers interested in how the federal government has failed and succeeded at regulating industries in the past and present — whether it be the past handling of such basics as the food and agricultural industry or whether it be the current crisis over how to regulate new and old forms of telecommunications. In addition, scholars devoted to examining the transition from the New Era to the New Deal will find much to learn in van der Linden’s account.

Endnote: 1. Edward Wong, “Inconsistency: New Hobgoblin for the Airlines,” New York Times, May 3, 2003.

Karen Dunn-Haley is the Interim Coordinator of the Faculty Mentor Program at California State University, Monterey Bay. She is the author of a dissertation, “The House that Uncle Sam Built: The Political Culture of Federal Housing Policy, 1919-1932” (Stanford University, 1995). More recently, she has provided background research for the authors of Inventing America: A History of the United States (W.W. Norton, Inc., 2002).

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

Transferring Wealth and Power from the Old to the New World: Monetary and Fiscal Institutions in the 17th through the 19th Centuries

Author(s):Bordo, Michael D.
Cortes-Conde, Roberto
Reviewer(s):Chabot, Benjamin

Published by EH.NET (May 2003)


Michael D. Bordo and Roberto Cortes-Conde, editors, Transferring Wealth and Power from the Old to the New World: Monetary and Fiscal Institutions in the 17th through the 19th Centuries. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. x + 482 pp. $80 (cloth), ISBN: 0-521-77305-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Benjamin Chabot, Department of Economics, University of Michigan.

Why were some nations able to develop efficient fiscal and monetary institutions while others were not? Why were some governments able to live within their means while for others expenditure often exceeded revenue? These are the questions Michael Bordo (Rutgers University) and Roberto Cortes-Conde (Universidad de San Andres) pose in their introduction to Transferring Wealth and Power from the Old to the New World. The editors proceed to provide us with a collection of eleven essays detailing the history of the fiscal and monetary institutions of five European and six New World nations.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I reviews the history of fiscal and monetary regimes of the Old World nations England, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. Part II compares the fiscal and monetary institutions of the Old World nations to the institutions adopted in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and New Granada. Special attention is paid to the process by which some institutions were successfully transferred from the Old World nations to their New World colonies while other institutions proved unsuccessful and had to be replaced. The book concludes with commentaries by Herschel Grossman and Albert Fishlow.

Part I begins with Forrest Capie’s (City University Business School) “The Origins and Development of Stable Fiscal and Monetary Institutions in England.” Capie traces the origins of the remarkably successful British tax and monetary institutions back to the establishment of a liquid securities market made possible by efficient tax collection and a long tradition of well-established and secure property rights.

Unlike England, where the Crown’s power to tax was legitimized at an early date, France lacked a national institution that could represent all taxpayers and legitimize tax increases. As a result, the French were left with a patchwork of local tax regimes and judicial restraints on optimal tax policy. In chapter 3, Eugene White (Rutgers University) documents France’s relative inability to collect taxes efficiently. White convincing argues that flawed fiscal institutions constrained France’s ability to raise the revenue necessary to maintain an overseas empire.

Perhaps no nation has created and transferred more financial technology abroad than the Netherlands. The excellent essay by Jan de Vries (UC Berkeley) begins with the Dutch Republic’s tradition of well-established property rights and its non-centralized system of taxation and provision of public goods. De Vries takes the reader on a tour of Dutch financial history beginning with the introduction of the public debt and the emergence of the Amsterdam stock exchange. His essay concludes with a look at the Netherlands’ largely fruitless efforts to establish a New World empire. Particular attention is paid to Dutch attempts to finance their interests in New World plantations and the early United States.

In chapter five, Gabriel Tortella (University of Acala de Henares) and Francisco Comin (Fundacion Empresa Publica) survey the history of Spanish public finances from Alfonso X’s introduction of a sales tax (the alcabala) in 1269 to the crushing debts of the Armada and the introduction of a public debt. The authors explain the deficiencies of Hapsburg Spain’s public finances and conclude with the attempts at reform adopted during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Jorge Braga de Macedo (Nova University), Alvaro Ferreira de Silva (Nova University) and Rita Martins se Sousa (Technical University of Lisbon) conclude part I with an overview of Portuguese fiscal and monetary institutions from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The authors focus on the increasing cost of war as an explanation of the Portuguese shift from domain revenues to direct and indirect taxation. This is one of the more empirical essays. The authors collect a series of price, money, and expenditure data from a number of published sources and use this data to illustrate the changing state of Portuguese state finance.

Part II of the book surveys the financial histories of six New World nations. As the title implies, these surveys focus on the fiscal and monetary institutions that were transferred from Old World nations to their New World colonies. In many cases, New World resources, populations and distances differed to such an extent that the European colonies were forced to significantly alter or abandon the fiscal and monetary institutions of their home nations.

The study of New World financial institutions begins with Richard Sylla’s (NYU) history of the United States. Sylla’s survey begins with British colonial-era public finance with its reliance on local taxes during peacetime and currency finance during war. Considerable attention is paid to the introduction of fiat money and bills of credit during the last decade of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Those familiar with Sylla’s work will not be surprised to learn that he delivers an excellent review of Alexander Hamilton’s financial plan for the Bank of the United States and the creation of long-term federal bonds which proved so important to the first American stock exchanges. The chapter concludes with a history of U.S. monetary regimes from the pre-constitutional patchwork of local currencies to the Federal Reserve System.

In chapter eight, Michael Bordo and Angela Redish (University of British Columbia) survey the fiscal and monetary legacy to Canada from its imperial home nations, France and England. The modern nation of Canada began as New France, a French colony that fell under British control after the treaty of Paris in 1763. With fiscal and monetary roots in both Britain and France, Canada provides a unique look at the transfer of fiscal institutions from Old World to New.

Few French institutions survived Canada’s transformation from French to English colony. Canada did successfully adopt many British institutions such as the reliance on indirect taxes, a strict adherence to the gold standard and a stable banking system based on the real bills doctrine.

Bordo and Redish also retell the story of one of the most unique instruments in monetary history. Plagued by an inability to collect colonial taxes efficiently, the French crown was forced to pay for its Canadian expenditures by borrowing or taxing in France and shipping specie to the New World. The periodic scarcity of coin led to the introduction in New France of a unique form of fiat currency, playing cards. Between 1685 and 1763, the French colonial government issued playing cards that were redeemable for specie at a future date. These cards circulated as money and provide us with one of the earliest examples of a successful use of fiat currency.

Carlos Marichal (College of Mexico) and Marcello Carmagnani’s (University of Torino) review of the fiscal history of Mexico provides a good example of a New World nation that quickly adapted the fiscal institutions of its home country to reflect the realities of a new environment. Spain exported its complex tax system to its colony of New Spain (Mexico). The traditional tax system of Castile, with its reliance upon sales taxes and a direct tax on the tithe proved ill suited for the natural resource based economy of New Spain. The authors explain how the Bourbon reforms of the late eighteenth century transformed the viceroyalty of New Spain into one of the most efficient tax regimes in colonial history. The chapter concludes with a look at the revolutionary wars of the early nineteenth century and their devastating effect on Mexico’s fiscal institutions. These wars led to a series of debt crises that plagued Mexico throughout the century.

The links between well established property rights and economic activity is, in the opinion of this reviewer, one of the most interesting topics in economics. I therefore found the discussion by Maecelo de Paiva Abreu and Luiz A. Correa do Lago (both Pontificia University) of the history of property rights and Brazilian fiscal and financial development one of the most interesting chapters of this book. Professors Abreu and Lago provide a very detailed (51 pages) financial history of Brazil. The authors focus on episodes during which the government undermined the property rights of creditors by undermining the value of financial assets through currency devaluation, inflation, or outright confiscation. Colonial Brazil raised most of its revenue by taxing exports such as wood, gold, sugar and coffee. The ease of collecting export taxes allowed Colonial Brazil to largely avoid confiscation and peacetime inflationary finance. Fiscal policies were lax during wartime but no more so then other nations. Taken as a whole, Brazil’s fiscal record during its imperial era was as good as any New World nation. Under Pedro II (1831-89) direct foreign investors and bondholders enjoyed a stable currency and strong returns on their investments. The Republican period witnessed an erosion of property rights, which severely hampered Brazil’s ability to attract foreign capital. It was during the republic that Brazil witnessed government intervention in foreign exchange cover, a reliance on inflationary financing, mandatory purchases of government “loans” and of course the outright repudiation of foreign debt.

In chapter eleven, Roberto Cortes-Conde and George T. McCandless (University of San Andres) survey Argentina’s fiscal history and introduce a formal model of government tax collection and service as a function of distance and costs. The authors begin their survey with an overview of Argentinean colonial taxes and tax administrations. Given the great distances and poor communications between the New and Old World, the Spanish crown relied on a form of tax farming in Argentina. Local officials raised funds and remitted tax revenues to the Crown after first subtracting local expenses. This arrangement led to frictions between the provinces and the central government in Buenos Aires, which was subsidized by the provinces but was often unable to provide public goods (such as defense) over great distances.

Cortes-Conde and McCandless attempt to explain the rise of local alternatives to centralized public defense by modeling the rise of local caudillos as a function of the distance and transportation costs between the central government and its provinces. The authors use a dynamic version of Alesina and Tabellini’s (1996) model in which citizens are located on a circle and can form governments with their neighbors. A government’s ability to deliver public goods increases with tax paying citizens and decreases with distance. Individuals choose to enter or leave a government based on the utility that government provides compared to the utility provided by other governments. The authors use this model to illustrate the rise of local caudillos and, after the railroad lowered transportation costs, the eventual consolidation of power in Buenos Aires.

This model strikes me as a rather formal way of saying that governments, which are unable to provide public goods (especially national defense) to the periphery of their empire, will soon discover that the citizens of the peripheral lands are paying taxes to a new more local government.

Part II of the book concludes with a chapter by Jaime Jaramillo, Adolfo Meisel, and Miguel Urrutia (all Banco de la Republica, Columbia) on the fiscal and monetary institutions of New Granada. New Granada, modern day Columbia, Panama and Venezuela (over which it had very little control) inherited Spain’s tax system. Unlike colonial Argentina or Mexico, which were endowed with easy-to-tax mining industries, colonial New Granada’s economy was relatively small and diversified. As a result, the Spanish tax system, with its reliance on head taxes and the alcabala was especially regressive and inefficient in New Granada. The authors argue that the inequity of the Spanish tax regime and the desire to replace it with a more efficient system was one of the driving forces behind New Granada’s independence movement.

The book concludes with Herschel Grossman’s (Brown University) chapter “The State in Economic History” and Albert Fishlow’s (Council for Foreign Relations) “Reflections on the Collection.” Grossman discusses the conditions that can lead to a ruling elite behaving as if they were agents of their citizens. In his model, rulers who have a low survival probability cannot credibly act as an agent of their citizens. Such a government will have a hard time establishing a nonconfiscatory tax regime with secure property rights. States with high potential survivability (due to geography, weak neighbors, etc.) were in a better position to credibly guarantee property rights and establish a broad tax base. Fishlow’s review focuses on the central role of fiscal and monetary capability and the avoidance of inflation in the most successful nations. He concludes his review with a number of questions about external versus internal forces and North-South differences in the evolution of fiscal and monetary institutions.

As a whole, I found this book to be useful as a broad guide to the fiscal and monetary institutions of a large number of nations over a considerable time period. As with any edited collection, page constraints necessitate that the essays are more broad than deep. A reader with intimate knowledge of the fiscal and monetary history of each of the nations contained in this study will no doubt find much of the material familiar. Such a reader is a rare specialist indeed. The breadth of tax regimes, debt contracts, and monetary institutions adopted by these eleven nations over the course of three centuries assures that most readers (the reviewer included) will be unfamiliar with at least one of them and would benefit from owning a collected work.

Ben Chabot is an assistant professor of economics at the University of Michigan. Professor Chabot’s main research focus is in economic history and finance with an emphasis on financial market integration and its effects upon economic growth, historical exchange-rate risk, long run changes in risk premiums, historical asset pricing anomalies, and the link between financial development and economic output. Professor Chabot has spent much of the past three years collecting a sample of stocks traded in the United States and London between 1865 and 1925. These data consist of close to 2 million prices and dividends sampled every 28 days between 1865 and 1925. The sample contains virtually every stock listed or traded over-the-counter in New York, London, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco, Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Charleston.

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century

The Carolingian Economy

Author(s):Verhulst, Adriaan E.
Reviewer(s):Squatriti, Paolo

Published by EH.NET (May 2003)

Adriaan E. Verhulst, The Carolingian Economy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 160 pp. $50 (hardback), ISBN: 0-521-80869-3; $18 (paperback), ISBN: 0-521-00474-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Paolo Squatriti, Department of History, University of Michigan.

With The Carolingian Economy Adriaan Verhulst, emeritus professor of medieval economic history at the University of Ghent, offers readers a slim, agile overview of eighth- and ninth-century European economics. His book summarizes generations of research into the “origins of the European economy,” a peculiar passion of medieval historians from the Low Countries ever since Pirenne, and a subject to which recent European politics have conferred new importance. This is a Cambridge Medieval Textbook, aimed at British undergraduates, yet unlike some textbooks, The Carolingian Economy is readable, as well as instructive. It is neither anodyne nor soulless, for behind the tidy organization into ten chapters and four sections (“Land and People,” “Production,” “Commerce,” and “The Dynamics of the Carolingian Economy”), Verhulst has inserted many personal evaluations, has candidly outlined scholarly polemics, and has not shied from taking sides on debated issues. The book’s optimistic conception of Carolingian economics, which reflects the late twentieth century consensus and revision of Pirenne’s more dour view, is matched by Verhulst’s minimization of the “revolution” other historians have located around the year 1000. Carolingian Europe’s buoyancy, despite a dip 830-850, is thus “part of a nearly continuous upward movement” (p. 135) of the continent’s economy after the definitive collapse of the Roman order in the seventh century.

In The Carolingian Economy, two important themes are the new ways of ordering agrarian production, and the vigor of commerce, behind both of which Verhulst divines the catalytic presence of the Carolingian family. To Verhulst, the prime mover of Carolingian economic expansion was the manor. He traces the inception, and to some extent the dissemination, of the bipartite rural estate to the designs of the Carolingians. Indeed, this type of “optimization of efficiency” (p. 59) in agricultural production appears earliest in the Carolingian heartlands between the Seine, Meuse, and Rhine rivers; often its emergence elsewhere can be linked to Carolingian influence or domination. And it was the surplus from the new-style, market-oriented manors that drove the demographic and commercial upswing Verhulst describes in this book. Giving such centrality to the manor helps confirm that part of the “Pirenne thesis” according to which the “axis of history” decisively shifted northward in the 700s. But whether it was a Carolingian creature or not, the manor is a lordly creation, and to focus on it (and its characteristic documents, the polytptychs) suggests that what mattered in the Carolingian economy were the choices and strategies of the elite. Verhulst recognizes that small-scale peasant production existed, but dismisses the subject because “so little is known about” it (p. 31). The study of charters, abundant for south European regions like Catalonia or the Lucchesia, might permit a less Nordic and less “supply side” reconstruction of economic relations in the Carolingian period.

In The Carolingian Economy trade, luxury objects transported over long distances and more basic products exchanged within a region or among contiguous regions, also receive much space. Verhulst demonstrates the extent to which the Carolingian empire formed a commonwealth by calling attention to similarities in regional patterns of exchange (monetarization, urbanization, synchronized booms and busts across Carolingian Europe). In his discussion Verhulst advances corrections to Pirenne’s explanation of why trade in the Mediterranean ports of Francia withered during the eighth century. Rather than the Arabs, Verhulst blames Carolingian enhancement of alternative routes for Mediterranean goods to reach northern Europe, and the lack of fine ceramics suitable for export (but what of “Forum ware”?) to leave archaeological traces.

The re-emergence of economically vibrant towns in north Europe, a Pirennian subject on which Verhulst has published extensively, is another theme in The Carolingian Economy. Diverging somewhat from the archaeologist Richard Hodges’s interpretation, Verhulst sees in emporia’s ephemeral nature (a result of being bound to Carolingian political power) the salient characteristic of these large commercial centers on the fringes of the Carolingian empire. Emporia and other, more long-lasting towns became the places of exchange for agricultural surplus, crafts, and raw materials produced in rural, and to Verhulst overwhelmingly manorial, contexts. They also housed mints and toll stations and facilitated the extractive activities of the rulers.

In several instances, the author gives proof of a nimble historical approach to texts, as when he suggests that the main incentive for Carolingian rulers to produce good, stable coinage was prestige (p. 129), or in his insistence that any “economic policies” rulers adopted were subordinated to theological goals (p. 118, 125). But in other cases Verhulst’s treatment of Carolingian texts is less nuanced. Carolingian authors’ terrifying accounts of famines fit inside moralizing discourses, and should be treated gingerly as evidence of cereal dearth: chroniclers were just as likely to mention famine as proof of divine displeasure with aristocratic politics as they were to describe actual penury. Likewise the polyptychs, detailed inventories of rents and obligations owed to ecclesiastical landowners, have limitations. While Verhulst recognizes that polyptychs remove any dynamism from the past they represent (p. 40), he still tends to accept them as snapshots of history “as it actually was” rather than as texts emerging from contested, messy realities, as efforts to frame the present, and the past, according to the interests of the compilers and preservers of these documents.

The Carolingian Economy is an extremely useful compendium, orderly and deft in its presentation of a remote period’s economics. In this book the author has synthesized enormous amounts of research in many languages, performing a service to specialists in Carolingian and economic history. Verhulst has also achieved his goal (p. 8) of contributing to the ongoing debate on Pirenne’s Mohammed and Charlemagne and the question of how to interpret the first postclassical European empire. With so much having been achieved, it is perhaps churlish to ask for still more, but some omissions are noteworthy. For instance, greater integration of the last decades’ early medieval Mediterranean archaeology might have enabled Verhulst to take the “Pirenne debate” even further than he does: the Crypta Balbi site in Rome receives no mention. Slavery is repeatedly touched upon, without its relevance being assessed; its economic weight is probably underestimated. Furthermore, The Carolingian Economy takes a very landlubberish approach to economic activity, overlooking fishing and irrigation, and presenting clearances as deforestation rather than also as drainage. Had Verhulst considered ecological variables more carefully, he could have deepened his discussion of Carolingian regionalism and (through climatology) discussed the Carolingian economic moment without ascribing so much agency to Carolingian elites. But such carping aside, in The Carolingian Economy Verhulst furnishes a concise and judicious synthesis, full of information and insight, that is actually fun to read.

Paolo Squatriti teaches medieval European history at the University of Michigan. His research centers on postclassical social and environmental history. In Past and Present 176 (2002) he published an article about “Digging Ditches in Early Medieval Europe.”

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Great Constitutional War: The Court Packing Crisis of 1937

Author(s):McKenna, Marian C.
Reviewer(s):Hudspeth, Harvey G.

Published by EH.Net (May 2003)

McKenna, Marian C., Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Great Constitutional War: The Court Packing Crisis of 1937. New York: Fordham University Press, 2002. xxvi + 612 pp. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8232-2154-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Dr. Harvey G. Hudspeth, Department of Social Sciences, Mississippi Valley State University, Itta Bena, MS.

As a young graduate student at the University of Mississippi, I had originally planned to devote my dissertation to the subject of the Roosevelt Court and the Court Packing Plan of 1937. Having just read professor McKenna’s study on that very subject, I am frankly relieved that my graduate advisor talked me out of it. Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Constitutional War is a brilliantly researched, thoroughly documented book. It is probably the most definitive work ever written on the entire 1937 controversy.

In her introduction, Dr. McKenna, Professor Emeritus of Alberta’s University of Calgary, clearly outlines the points she intends to establish, namely:

1) How a “popular political leader can climb to dizzying heights” only to plunge within a short time to “an all-time low”; 2) How presidents can often assert even less influence over domestic affairs than exercise over foreign affairs; 3) How FDR was not the “master politician” that most historians have made him out to be; 4) How FDR’s Court Packing Plan, far from being a last-minute reaction to an “obstructionist Supreme Court,” was instead, “a long time in the making”; and 5) How FDR’s threat to remake the Court ultimately had no effect on subsequent Court decisions.

McKenna’s argument that neither Owen Robert’s notorious “Switch in Time that Saved Nine” vote in Parrish and Willis Van DeVanter’s subsequent decision to retire had not in any way been influenced by constitutional concerns as to the future political integrity of the High Bench are at best half-hearted. Even if these decisions were reached before Roosevelt’s formal announcement of his judicial scheme, neither justice could have possibly been unaware of the president’s ultimate intent. As McKenna repeatedly points out, the Roosevelt Administration had been working on a plan for “judicial reorganization” even before it took command of the government in 1933.

Nevertheless, McKenna does an excellent job in establishing her other points. In much the same way as Julius Caesar clearly yearned to become Emperor of Rome (before his assassination at the hands of senators concerned for the future of the Republic), Franklin Roosevelt’s de facto control of both executive and legislative branches of the federal government obviously were not enough to satisfy his perceived desire for absolute power. His “judicial reorganization bill” was consequently seen by most Americans (even his most devoted admirers of that time and afterwards) as a bald-faced attempt to achieve his final goal. In his effort to accomplish this, he single-handedly demonstrated McKenna’s point that a political leader can sacrifice his popularity without need of a Vietnam or a Watergate. He can also prove to be as ineffectual in domestic maters as a Bill Clinton with universal health care.

Dr. McKenna has also more than successfully established the fact that while Franklin Roosevelt may have been a “master politician,” he was apparently not the master politician that he thought he was – at least not to the extent that he could manipulate both the Congress and the American people into allowing him to take personal control over the judicial branch of the government. No matter how out-of-touch it might have seemed to most Americans with regard to their current economic and social problems, the idea of a future Court being at the mercy of Roosevelt or a future less-enlightened despot cut against the grain of American Democracy. As McKenna makes clear, patrician elitist that he might have been, even Franklin Roosevelt should have recognized this basic reality and responded accordingly. Coming at a time when such erstwhile tyrants as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were demanding similar “emergency” powers so as to allow them absolute power in Germany and Italy respectively, this was especially true for Roosevelt.

The book, regrettably, is not without its technical flaws. To my knowledge, Jim Farley was never secretary of the treasury (page three – of course, a simple comma could have avoided that error). Additionally, Olin T. Johnson was never governor of Alabama, but even if he had been as McKenna suggests (page 545), he never could have legally contested “Cotton Ed” Smith’s 1938 re-election bid to the US Senate from South Carolina. All of that notwithstanding, McKenna has made an excellent contribution to both the political and constitutional history of the United States – not to mention to a new understanding of our heretofore Teflon-like thirty-second president. Apparently, not even our so-called “gods” are quite as bullet-proof as some of us would seem to prefer.

In her epilogue, Dr. McKenna makes no bones in her by-now well-established contention that, as beloved and as talented and as well-intentioned as he might have been, America’s would-be emperor essentially had no clothes. In her final analysis of the President’s performance, she shines “a different and far less flattering light on Roosevelt’s political leadership, personal integrity, and character from that presented in previous accounts.” Citing both FDR and his advisors for “a series of political mistakes, bad miscalculation, and failures of judgment,” McKenna concludes that the Court-Packing fiasco constituted “the worst political defeat ever endured by a president at the pinnacle of his power.” Excluding scandals and wars, it is difficult to find fault with her conclusions.

Dr. Harvey G. Hudspeth is past president of the Economic and Business Historical Society. His essay, “The Roosevelt Court and the Changing Nature of American Liberalism: An Uncertain Legacy,” is scheduled for publication as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Transformation of the Supreme Court in March 2003.

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere

Author(s):Steckel, Richard H.
Rose, Jerome C.
Reviewer(s):Collins, William J.

Published by EH.NET (May 2003)


Richard H. Steckel and Jerome C. Rose, editors, The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xx + 633 pp. $75 (cloth), ISBN: 0-521-80167-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by William J. Collins, Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University.

The Backbone of History is a coherent collection of papers that distill data from skeletal remains to make comparisons of living standards across vast stretches of time and space. Early versions of the papers appeared at a conference sponsored by the National Science Foundation in 1996 at Ohio State University, but the co-editors laid the groundwork for the project’s data compilation more than ten years ago. The scope and scale of the project are ambitious: over 12,000 skeletons from more than 200 sites spanning 7,000 years are in the project’s database, more than fifty contributors are listed as co-authors, and the book sheds light on some high-stakes historical issues, including the health implications of the transition to settled agriculture and long-run group disparities in health status. The volume’s contributions to knowledge are wide-ranging and significant. Moreover, the papers and their underlying dataset will spur future research on Western Hemisphere populations. In combination with a similar project currently collecting European evidence, the work’s impact may be magnified even further.

The authors of this volume, borrowing a line from Seamus Heaney, glean the unsaid off the palpable. But just how much history can be gleaned from bones and teeth that are hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years old? Readers who have had relatively little exposure to research in paleopathology may be surprised by just how much information the remains convey. In this regard, Alan H. Goodman and Debra L. Martin provide a helpful orientation in their chapter on “Reconstructing Health Profiles from Skeletal Remains” (Chapter 2). Of course, there are limitations and potential pitfalls to making strong inferences based on this evidence, and wherever possible supplemental evidence on health and living standards should be brought to bear, but I am inclined to agree with the co-editors that the skeletons “furnish the best and, in many cases, the only picture available of human health over the millennia” (p. 3).

An outstanding feature of the project, and the aspect that binds this volume into a coherent body of work, is a shared methodological approach to interpreting the records of skeletal remains. In particular, the area- or topic-specific chapters (5 through 18) are based on a common format for scoring remains and forming a composite index of health. The methodological common ground is cleared in Chapters 2 to 4. Chapter 3, “A Health Index from Skeletal Remains” (by Richard Steckel, Paul Sciulli, and Jerome Rose), is absolutely fundamental to the rest of the volume since the frequent cross population comparisons are based on the authors’ proposed health index. The index combines available information on stature, enamel hypoplasias, dental health, infections, and degenerative joint disease.

Some qualifications should be mentioned here. First, Steckel, Sciulli, and Rose are appropriately cautious about making strong inferences regarding relative living standards on the basis of the index. They label the index “Mark I,” and they point out that this is a starting point, not a definitive measure, for forming health comparisons based on skeletal remains. To the extent that the index is subject to significant revision, the subsequent quantitative ranking of populations is also subject to substantial revision. Second, there are aspects of life (and death) that do not leave impressions on bones; for example, acute diseases that kill swiftly may not leave evidence embedded in the skeleton. Third, for readers accustomed to fretting about selectivity biases in samples and standard errors in measurement, there is not much comfort in the figures. In general, the authors of these chapters are well aware of the limitations of the material and the samples with which they are working, including the multiple layers of uncertainty underneath the index values, and so this last point is intended as a strong caution to readers, especially those who consider bypassing the methodology section.

In the final paper of the book’s methodology section (“Paleodemography of the Americas,” Chapter 4), Robert McCaa derives estimates that imply significant variation in fertility levels over time and across populations in the available samples. An apparent switch from a “low-pressure” to a “high-pressure” demographic regime about 1,500 years ago, even among non-horticulturalists, is especially interesting in that it suggests that agriculture might have been a response to, rather than a cause of, demographic regime change.

A second outstanding feature of the volume is that each site- and topic-specific chapter supplies some historical context before delving into the examination of skeletal remains. This helps non-specialists appreciate what questions are at stake in the analysis, provides a sense of what biases, if any, may accompany the sample, and situates the investigation in the existing literature on the population under study.

Space does not allow for a thorough review of each of the fourteen site- and topic-specific chapters. I will give a brief rundown and highlight a few important points. Approximately 80 percent of the skeletal sample consists of Native Americans, but the first group of papers focuses on European and African Americans in North America within the last 200 years. Shelley Saunders, Ann Herring, Larry Sawchuk, Gerry Boyce, Rob Hoppa, and Susan Klepp write on “The Health of the Middle Class: The St. Thomas’ Anglican Church Cemetery Project” (Chapter 5). Rosanne Higgins, Michael Haines, Lorena Walsh, and Joyce Sirianni report on “The Poor in the Mid-Nineteenth Century Northeastern United States: Evidence from the Monroe County Almshouse, Rochester, New York” (Chapter 6). Paul Sledzik and Lars Sandberg examine “The Effects of Nineteenth-Century Military Service on Health” (Chapter 7). Ted Rathbun and Richard Steckel examine “The Health of Slaves and Free Blacks in the East” (Chapter 8), whereas “The Quality of African-American Life in the Old Southwest near the Turn of the Twentieth Century” is surveyed by James Davidson, Jerome Rose, Myron Gutmann, Michael Haines, Keith Condon, and Cindy Condon (Chapter 9). The comparisons across free blacks, slaves, middle-class whites, and poor whites are intriguing, in large part because the relative health ranking of the groups is so unstable, depending on which component of the health index is under scrutiny.

The next two parts of the book deal with Native Americans, and to a lesser extent with European Americans, in Central and South America. Rebecca Storey, Lourdes Marquez Morfin, and Vernon Smith report on “Social Disruption and the Maya Civilization of Mesoamerica” (Chapter 10). Lourdes Marquez Morfin, Robert McCaa, Rebecca Story, and Andres Del Angel measure “Health and Nutrition in Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica” (Chapter 11). “Patterns of Health and Nutrition in Prehistoric and Historic Ecuador” (Chapter 12) by Douglas Ubelaker and Linda Newson, and “Economy, Nutrition, and Disease in Prehistoric Coastal Brazil” (Chapter 13) by Walter Alves Neves and Veronica Wesolowski, provide evidence on South American populations. The Central American sites are all pre-Columbian and are all below the sample average in terms of the overall health index. The native populations in South America are more diverse in their outcomes: some appear to be well above the sample average, and others are well below. The extremely high score of “Coastal Brazil” (and some others), however, seems to reflect a quirk of the indexing procedure, which does not attempt to impute values for missing data. All of the South American sites score poorly on the stature measure (when it is available), but Coastal Brazil does not have an estimate for stature, and so its average health score (calculated only using the criteria that are observed) is not pulled down in the same way that other South American population averages are by their low stature measures.

Five papers on Native Americans in North America comprise the next section of the volume. The geographic coverage for North America is extensive, the samples are relatively large, and the data provide rich and varied depictions of life before and after contact with Europeans and Africans (and their diseases). C.S. Larsen, A.W. Crosby, et al. contribute “A Biohistory of Health and Behavior on the Georgia Bight” (Chapter 14). Paul Sciulli and James Oberly report on “Native Americans in Eastern North America” (Chapter 15). Chapter 16 is entitled “Cultural Longevity and Biological Stress in the American Southwest” and written by Ann Stodder, Debra Martin, Alan Goodman, and Daniel Reff. Phillip Walker and Russell Thornton examine “Health, Nutrition, and Demographic Change in Native California” (Chapter 17). Finally, S. Ryan Johansson and Douglas Owsley describe “Welfare History on the Great Plains: Mortality and Skeletal Health, 1650-1900” (Chapter 18).

Chapters 19 and 20 are both written by Steckel and Rose, and both provide useful “big picture” views of the project. Chapter 19 is critical. In it, the authors attempt to discern broad patterns in the health measures, both across groups and over long stretches of time. Historically, Native North Americans in the East, on average, appear to have been relatively healthy compared to other occupants of the Western Hemisphere, including the European Americans. Native Central Americans score at the bottom of the distribution, on average, a few index points below African Americans. If one looks at stature alone, rather than the composite index, African Americans score surprising well — higher than any other group in the sample. Importantly, there appears to have been a decline in Native American health status in the centuries preceding the arrival of Columbus. In the Western Hemisphere, the transition to settled agriculture and the consequent rise of dense, populous settlements, which until fairly recently was celebrated as the basis for subsequent economic and social progress, appears to have been associated with significant declines in the average human’s health. Of course, such a finding does not contradict the eventual benefits of economic development, but it does reinforce a significant caveat to our interpretation of the transition away from hunting and gathering.

Chapter 20 is the editors’ conclusion, a valuable aspect of which is the subsection on “research needs,” essentially a call for refinement of the existing analysis and the collection of more data. Chapter 21 (“The Body as Evidence; The Body of Evidence”), written by George Armelagos and Peter Brown, and Chapter 22 (“Overspecialization and Remedies”) by Philip Curtin, are short, insightful reviews the volume’s evidence, methods, and promise.

I believe that this volume achieves just what the editors and contributors intended. After assembling a large, consistently coded dataset, a valuable contribution by itself, the authors illustrate how the skeletal remains can shed light on the comparative health of populations over very long periods of time. Each chapter is engaging, organized, and likely to spur renewed debate about the specific population under study as well as about the Western Hemisphere’s economic history. I recommend the book highly to anyone interested in Native American history and to anyone interested in long-run demographic trends and turning points.

William J. Collins is the author “Race, Roosevelt, and Wartime Production: Fair Employment in World War II Labor Markets,” American Economic Review, March 2001, and “Exploring the Racial Gap in Infant Mortality Rates, 1920-1970,” NBER Working Paper 8836. Additional details on his work can be found at

Subject(s):Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):Prehistoric

Conversations on Growth, Stability, and Trade: An Historical Perspective

Author(s):Snowdon, Brian
Reviewer(s):Hanes, Christopher

Published by EH.NET (April 2003)

Brian Snowdon, Conversations on Growth, Stability, and Trade: An Historical

Perspective. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2002. xvi + 483 pp. $120

(hardcover), ISBN: 1-84064-995-X.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Christopher Hanes, Department of Economics, State

University of New York at Binghamton (beginning fall 2003).

The first part of this book is a survey of theories of long-run economic

growth, business cycles, monetary policy and international trade and capital

flows, based on the author’s lectures at the Newcastle Business School,

Northumbria University (England). The second part is transcripts of the

author’s interviews with Ben Bernanke, Jagdish Bhagwati, Alan Blinder, Nick

Crafts, J. Bradford DeLong, Barry Eichengreen, Kevin Hoover, Charles Jones,

Christina Romer and Joseph Stiglitz. Together, the survey and interviews give a

clear view of current work in macroeconomics and its intellectual background,

guided by a knowledgeable man who appears to have remarkably few axes to grind.

Oddly missing is any discussion, beyond a bare mention, of “New Keynesian”

theory — that is, attempts to understand the microfoundations of wage and

price rigidity and unemployment, and test implications of the new theories. But

there is a lot on growth theory and monetary policy, two fields that have

changed a lot in recent years. A particular virtue of the book is its emphasis

on the interplay between economic thought, public policy, and economic


The book’s title isn’t accurate, as the book actually doesn’t give a

historical perspective apart from its thorough discussion of the Great

Depression and some of the interviews. History comes up hardly at all in the

interviews with Bhagwati, Blinder, Hoover, and Stiglitz, for the excellent

reason that those men have little to say about it (though they have a lot to

say about other things). Mostly, the book guides the reader expertly through

macroeconomics right up to the borders of economic history, and stops there.

With respect to economic growth, for example, the textbook section explains the

Harrod-Domar model, the Solow model, AK models, etc., and the role of free

trade and capital flows, leading right into fascinating interviews with Jones

and Stiglitz. The reader gets the idea that the important variable is

institutions. Jones observes that “it’s not at all clear why some countries are

able to adopt institutions which encourage people to work hard to produce goods

and services rather than to steal from their neighbours, either directly

through theft or indirectly through rent seeking and corruption. The important

question is how do you change those institutions?” (p. 355). “When we start to

ask important questions like why are some countries better at setting up good

institutions, certainly it seems that one needs to have a good understanding of

the system of incentives that is in place at the start. Maybe it’s important to

understand where that system came from, in order to understand where it’s

likely to go” (p. 366). From this point, the author could lead us into the

economic history literature and describe a few concrete examples of important

or illustrative institutional developments in this or that time and place. But

he doesn’t.

My other complaint about the book is that it appears to have come into print

untouched by the hands of editors. There are frequent misspellings and

grammatical errors of the kind that result from a careful author revising a

manuscript himself, with no one else to read over the drafts. It was an

editor’s job, left undone, to restrain the author’s use of quotes to make

statements that do not require specific cites, like this: “As Easterly writes,

‘When machines are scarce, the additional output from one more machine will be

high. When machines are abundant, additional output from one more machine will

be low'” (p. 74). Some sections of the book give the impression that the author

made, and just barely lost, a bet that he could write whole paragraphs without

using his own words. The staff at Elgar ought to be ashamed of themselves.

None of this detracts from the usefulness of the book or Snowdon’s achievement

in producing it. The first part of the book is meant to set up the issues that

will be discussed in the interviews, but it also constitutes an extraordinarily

good textbook, explaining important ideas and pointing out connections between

them. The interviews reveal the intelligence and humor of their subjects, and

hold a few surprises. One might recall a recent flap when Stiglitz seemed to

say that some fellow economists in public service were intellectually dishonest

shills for Wall Street — well, he says it again here (p. 396)! Romer’s

comments on current monetary policy issues go against conventional wisdom in

important respects, but are strongly based on practical experience — the

vicarious experience one gains from studying history. This interview, and the

ones with Bernanke, Crafts, DeLong and Eichengreen show how much historical

knowledge can add to the work of a great economist.

While the book won’t tell a macroeconomist what he needs to know about economic

history, it will tell an economic historian much of what he needs to know about

current literature in macroeconomics. I recommend it to graduate students

training in either area. It should be in every library. A hundred years from

now, it will be an important guide to what leading economists thought they

knew, and what they knew they didn’t know, as of A.D. 2002.

Christopher Hanes is the author of “Nominal Wage Rigidity and Industry

Characteristics in the Downturns of 1893, 1929, and 1981,” American Economic

Review, December 2000, and (with John James) “Wage Adjustment under Low

Inflation: Evidence from U.S. History,” American Economic Review,


Subject(s):Macroeconomics and Fluctuations
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War

Author(s):Thornton, Mark
Ekelund Jr., Robert B.
Reviewer(s):Surdam, David G.

Published by EH.NET (April 2004)

Mark Thornton and Robert B. Ekelund, Jr., Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2004. xxix + 124 pp. $19.95 (paper), ISBN: 0-8420-2961-3; $65 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8420-2960-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by David G. Surdam.

A fundamental axiom in show business is to leave the audience begging for more. Professors Thornton and Ekelund, at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and Auburn University respectively and both economists utilizing the Austrian approach, fulfill this axiom. They present a libertarian interpretation of economic issues involved during the American Civil War. For readers unfamiliar with the Austrian approach to economics, the two authors offer a readable, enjoyable treatise that introduces the works of many economists operating under the Austrian approach. Yet, they leave many intriguing questions unanswered.

For libertarians who view a nascent Confederacy as a laissez-faire paradise (except for blacks), the authors provide a valuable corrective. They recognize the ironic paradox: the states’ rights Confederacy had strong central government action while the Federal government’s policies were less centralized.

Thornton and Ekelund’s book contains a lengthy introduction and four chapters. The first chapter emphasizes the tariff as a key economic factor driving regional friction. The second chapter examines the blockade and finds it effective, albeit helped by clumsy Confederate policies. The third chapter describes the inflationary experiences of both sectors and uses an Austrian monetary model to analyze the causes and effects. The final chapter describes the war’s effects upon the economies of the two regions.

I want to stress that the book is an interpretation; the authors provide little new data. Their chapter on the blockade has an original use of data compiled by John Christopher Schwab, while in most of the other discussions the authors employ theories and data used by previous commentators.

The authors assert that the tariff was a crucial, if not the main, economic source of divisiveness during the antebellum era. They de-emphasize slavery, although, they are moderate on this belief compared with some libertarian writers who claim that slavery was an unimportant issue in precipitating the war.

There are some difficulties with their presentation of the tariff issue. Their Figure 1-2, which shows the sources of Federal government revenues as percentages, should have been accompanied by a table or a figure showing the actual amounts collected. Otherwise, their statements on page 12 that tariff revenues were volatile and uncertain and that the increase in tariff rates in 1842 led to drastic reductions in tariff revenue are not necessarily sustained by changes in the percentages. For instance, the figure only shows a modest dip in the percentage of Federal revenue emanating from the increased tariff rates.

Certainly a prohibitive tariff did engender inefficiency and arguably an inequitable redistribution of wealth and income. Southerners may well have had reason to feel aggrieved by contemporary tariff policy and fearful of future policies, as the authors point out.

However, the authors do not explain what alternative peacetime revenue policies would have been superior. Was the system of tariffs more injurious to southerners than, say, an income tax or a property tax? Southerners surely would have disliked a property tax and an income tax might have proven intrusive and difficult to enforce. The authors allude to the issue much later in their book when discussing wartime public finance: “Despite all of its flaws, taxation can be the best method of public finance because the burden is relatively well-known and certain” (page 66, see also page 68). They suggest that a low rate that would have been applied to the largest possible base would have sufficed. Unfortunately, they do not cite Douglas Ball’s work on Confederate finance, who offers a detailed analysis of Confederate public finance (see pp. 22-23 in Financial Failure and Confederate Defeat, University of Illinois Press in 1991). Still, I believe Austrian economists have useful things to say about public finance, and I wish these authors had more completely developed their intriguing suggestion.

Their later discussion of public finance with regards to inflation also raises a key issue that is rarely broached in discussions of the Civil War. Aside from the well-known (at least where economists congregate) fact that volatile changes in general price levels due to printing money obscure underlying changes in relative prices, making economic calculus tenuous, at best, the authors point out that, “it also impedes the ability to calculate the true cost of government activities, such as war” (p. 68). This statement is certainly correct, but given the reticence of southern legislators to enact any taxes or for southerners, in general, to favor taxes, an unsettling question arises: How much did southerners value independence?

The chapter on the blockade is bedeviled by a paucity of data. I am certain that Thornton and Ekelund’s argument that blockade runners preferred to import items with high value relative to weight is correct. I am less certain that their comparison of coffee to sugar and molasses prices suffices to prove the contention. In particular, their use of terms such as luxury (coffee) and necessity (sugar and molasses) is, as they discuss, fraught with ambiguity. Unfortunately, time series of, say, fine wine and silk cloth prices are not available. Their attempt to contrast coffee as a high value-to-bulk commodity versus sugar or molasses as low value-to-bulk item is an improvement.

Unfortunately, the data underlying their Figures 2-3 and 2-4 are suspect. John Christopher Schwab collected price data from various southern cities during the Civil War and compiled price series. He presented the prices in terms of comparisons with 1860 prices. Thornton and Ekelund use Schwab’s data to show that the high value-to-bulk coffee fell in terms of relative price compared with sugar and molasses, except for a spike in 1865. The authors attribute the increase in coffee’s relative price in 1865 to a loosening of the blockade, but this is unlikely. The Union capture of Fort Fisher removed Wilmington, North Carolina as a seaport for blockaders; Charleston, South Carolina was rendered useless for the Confederacy the next month. More troubling for demonstrating their thesis is the strange behavior of sugar and molasses prices in 1864 reported by Schwab. A particularly bizarre episode occurred between January and February 1864. The combined sugar and molasses index doubled (going from 47 to 99), but sugar’s index fell from 59 to 14! Molasses only increased from 36 to 59 between January and February. Sugar’s index price remained low for the remainder of the war, while molasses generally increased. The combined index continued to rise. It is possible that Schwab’s 1864 sugar prices are typographical errors, but the figures occur in both his article and book. An alternate set of prices compiled by Eugene Lerner (“Money, Prices, and Wages in the Confederacy, 1861-65,” Ph.D. dissertation for the University of Chicago, 1954) better support the contention of continually rising sugar prices.

I also believe that the authors rely too much upon capture rates of blockade runners. Similar capture rates in the face of a dwindling number of attempts would suggest an increasingly effective blockade. Steamers that ran the blockade evolved but required inefficient cargo holds, special “smokeless” coal, and skilled navigators. Since steam vessels normally did not carry bulky grains during peacetime, for instance, a switch to steamers and away from sailing vessels would generate the results predicted by Thornton and Ekelund.

The Austrian economic approach can provide valuable insights into the Civil War. The authors have capably introduced readers to the burgeoning corpus of Austrian analysis of the war. Yet, I feel there are other insights they could have investigated, and I hope they will further their efforts.

David G. Surdam is an independent scholar. His book, The Postwar New York Yankees and America: A Revisionist View of Baseball’s “Golden Age” is wending its way through the publication process. His Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War (University of South Carolina Press) was published in 2001.


Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century

American Economic Development since 1945: Growth, Decline and Rejuvenation

Author(s):Rosenberg, Samuel
Reviewer(s):Cain, Louis P.

Published by EH.NET (April 2003)


Samuel Rosenberg, American Economic Development since 1945: Growth, Decline and Rejuvenation. Houndmills, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. xii + 339 pp. $75 (hardback), ISBN: 0-333-34533-9; $23.95 (paperback), ISBN: 0-333-34534-7.

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

Once upon a time, roughly the late 1970s, members of the American Economic Association received an annual mailing from the AFL-CIO. In simplest terms, it was the “Economic Report of the AFL-CIO” issued, not coincidentally, at about the same time as The Economic Report of the President. It never failed to be fascinating reading — the replaying of familiar events and familiar data through the specific lens of organized labor. In the spirit of one Chicago radio personality, it was like having a union welder review the movie, Flashdance. Samuel Rosenberg’s American Economic Development since 1945 is such a piece. Most of the topics are familiar, but by using the labor lens, he invites readers to revisit what they thought they had seen.

Rosenberg (Roosevelt University, Chicago) divides the postwar period into three phases. The first is the “creation of an institutional framework” built on a platform of “a limited, though growing, governmental role in stabilizing and fostering . . . growth . . .” (p. ix). The second is the inflation of the late 1960s and the stagflation of the 1970s that undermined this framework. The third, begun in the 1980s, is the “recreation” of a conservative institutional structure that restored U.S. hegemony internationally and led to expansion in the 1990s. The book is divided into four parts, and the periodicity of those parts does not match those of the three phases.

Rosenberg begins with a discussion of the Great Depression, an event he attributes to over-investment and an “unsound” economy. Evidence of the latter includes an income distribution that was becoming more unequal, with the savings of the wealthy going into “rampant speculation” funded by growing consumer credit and a “fragile” banking system. It also includes monetary, fiscal, and trade policies that were perverse. New Deal policies helped mitigate the problems to some degree, but, more importantly, they laid a foundation for the framework that was created in the immediate postwar years. Ben Bernanke and Barry Eichengreen inform the discussion, but not Milton Friedman, Peter Temin, or John Wallis. Chapter 1 sets the stage by looking at the economy at war. Rosenberg’s emphasis is clear, “Developing a labor force and stabilizing industrial relations were two important preconditions for armament manufacture” (p. 32). Much is made of the female labor force, but there is no reference to Claudia Goldin. Similar omissions permeate the book.

Discussion of the first phase begins with the Murray-Wagner Full Employment Bill of 1945, a bill Rosenberg describes as “scuttled” by business and “too radical for Congress” (p. 45). While the Whittington-Taft Employment Act of 1946 required the government to “promote maximum employment, production and purchasing power,” Rosenberg alleges the employment goal was subordinate to the other two. Rosenberg documents, but does not comment, that this act indicates the “centrist coalition” no longer endorsed the laissez-faire policies of the 1920s. Monetary policy in the immediate postwar years was constrained by the Fed’s tie to the Treasury. Rosenberg argues that business was interested in discretionary monetary, as opposed to fiscal, policy because it was “more congenial to corporate values” (p. 57). As a result, business pushed for the 1951 Accord; the Fed’s preferences are not discussed.

Rosenberg then turns to business-labor relations, which he describes as “conflict amidst stability” (p. 64). Following an intense period of strikes immediately after the war, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 was “a defeat for organized labor and for workers as a whole” (p. 73). Attention then turns to the international arena, beginning with Bretton Woods and the Marshall Plan. Rosenberg notes that the U.S. ran large balance of payments deficits, which provided the world with liquidity, but this was in potential conflict with the government’s willingness to exchange dollars for gold at a fixed price.

The “New Economics” of the Kennedy administration led to the Revenue Act of 1964, the Kennedy tax cut. Rosenberg seemingly would have preferred a government expenditure increase: “This conservative form of Keynesianism emphasizes growth over redistribution” (p. 110). This stimulus occurred when inflation was relatively low, and there was beginning to be concern about the balance of payments deficit. To minimize the inflation problem as the economy expanded, the Kennedy-Johnson wage-and-price guideposts were adopted to provide restraint where “unions had strong bargaining power and firms had strong market power” (p. 111). Indeed, the macroeconomic numbers look good through the middle of 1965, but the worm then turned.

To me, the event that signals the beginning of Rosenberg’s second phase is Johnson’s request for a supplemental budget appropriation for Vietnam at the end of June 1965. Rosenberg notes there was a belief that economic growth would help to finance both a short war and an attack on poverty. The result was stagflation; tighter monetary policy that did not reduce inflation, but it did lead to a small recession that increased unemployment. Rosenberg notes that this led to wage and price controls, but he puts a much greater emphasis on the domestic dimension than is customary. Having introduced the controls, he turns immediately to a discussion of labor conflict and the persistence of inequality, then returns to the international dimension to discuss the “dollar problem” as the real value of international reserves held in dollars fell with U.S. inflation.

Stagflation is customarily attributed to the unique aggregate supply shock that hit the economy in the early 1970s — harvest failures in Europe and OPEC’s ability to control the price of oil. Regardless of when stagflation began, it is clear that demand management was the policy tool of choice throughout the period. Paul Volcker’s tenure at the Fed is customarily believed to have broken the high inflationary expectations that developed, but, notes Rosenberg, “Volcker’s policy was advanced as monetarism…. But, in reality, it was austerity…. The proclamation of monetarism was the political cover for a program of rapidly rising interest rates” (pp. 193-94). Interest rates rose because of inflation, and, when Volcker was finally able to pursue monetarism, the Fed’s intent was to reduce interest rates. The result was an economic downturn that led to a “stalemate” between business and labor.

Rosenberg dates the restructuring of the economy from the first Reagan administration, with “supply-side economics” and monetarism. Arguably, deregulation was a part of this, and the first steps toward deregulation came in the Carter administration, but he does not address that topic. Supply-side economics is alleged to have led to “growing economic inequality and growing economic deprivation” (p. 235), but it seems more reasonable to blame monetarism for that; Reagan’s tax cuts were as likely to have caused aggregate demand to expand as aggregate supply. Rosenberg takes the discussion one step farther; he argues one of the policy’s aims was to weaken the bargaining power of labor — as evidenced by Reagan’s response to the air traffic controllers’ strike. Consistent with this were policies aimed at welfare reform, including actions relating to equal opportunity and affirmative action. In the final chapter, Rosenberg contrasts the expanding economy during the Clinton administration to the “stymied” agenda of the labor movement — the adoption of NAFTA being a case in point.

This book is interesting, thought-provoking reading for those who have a prior familiarity with the history. This is a book with a particular bias, and it is not recommended for those who would have difficulty isolating the consequences of that bias.

Louis P. Cain is Professor of Economics at Loyola University Chicago and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Northwestern University. With the late Jonathan Hughes, he is author of American Economic History (2003) where one can visit alternative biases on these topics.

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism

Author(s):Fogel, Robert William
Reviewer(s):Murray, John

Published by EH.NET (April 2003)

Robert William Fogel, The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of

Egalitarianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. 383 pp. $25

(hardcover), ISBN: 0-226-25662-6; $19 (paperback), ISBN: 0-226-25663-4.

Reviewed for EH.NET by John Murray, Department of Economics, University of


It is probably best to think of this book as a wide-ranging, speculative

think-piece. It is not a finely honed argument for a particular explanation of

historical patterns. Instead, Robert William Fogel proposes to synthesize a

wide range of historical analyses — including much of his own work — to

accompany the historical development of social policy. On a very basic level,

Fogel emphasizes the importance of religion as a causal factor in historical

analysis, and his attempt to synthesize political, technological, and health

related issues is admirable. Sound impossibly large? It is and it isn’t. In the

end, this reader was not persuaded that there were in fact four Great

Awakenings or that the fourth was coherent enough to influence social policy.

In a way, though, that may be beside the point. I was in awe of the range of

evidence at Fogel’s command, and I found the tack of his argument engaging.

Since this book offers an explicit use of history in the service of policy

analysis, perhaps its success should be determined by whether the reader

accepts the importance of history for current policy making and if the reader

goes on to wonder how, in particular, popular understandings of what the good

life is lead to particular policies to enable more people to follow that good


It might be easiest to break the book down into roughly three component parts:

the religious history, the economic history, and the policy recommendations.

The religious history, while provocative, is built on shifting sands. The

notion of Great Awakenings around which this book is organized has had a varied

career. The term, Great Awakening, is a construct of a much later period,

coined, it appears, by Joseph Tracy in his book The Great Awakening of

1841 (Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, Harvard University Press,

1990, pp. 164-165). It generally is taken to refer to revivals associated with

the 1739-42 preaching tour of the magnetic George Whitefield. But what exactly

happened to deserve the term “Awakening” is unclear. The sociologists of

religion Roger Finke and Rodney Stark illustrate in The Churching of

America (Rutgers University Press, 1992, pp. 87-108) that the success of

Whitefield’s revivals was a function of how hard his advance people worked to

stir up interest. That is, the people were not slumbering in spiritual terms

and then awakened as much as Whitefield in particular shook them awake. The

success of his labors was less due to the spiritual Zeitgeist than to

one man’s vision — much the same could be said for Charles Grandison Finney’s

preaching during the Second Great Awakening.

And here the difficulties of periodization emerge — difficulties familiar to

scholars who have struggled with the idea of identifiable cycles in history,

whether financial or religious. How do we define the beginning, the end, and

the content of an Awakening? Fogel employs William McLaughlin’s typology

(Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform, University of Chicago Press, 1978),

but it is never clear to this reader what demarcated the First from the Second

Great Awakening, especially if the greatest single revival of all was the Cane

Ridge revival of 1801 in central Kentucky, right in the middle chronologically.

(Unless you count that as the beginning of the Second Great Awakening, which

some scholars do.) But whether these were cycles, bumps, or the most publicized

events in the long term, monotonic growth of American Christianity is never

quite resolved in this book.

Theological differences between the first two Awakenings seem tiny compared to

those between them and the last two Awakenings, which, it should be noted, are

not standardly recognized among religious historians. The difference between

the second and third Awakening is critical because the gap, in Fogel’s

formulation, is entirely due to a kind of secularization that is also not

resolved here. As the Awakenings cycled through their lifespan, one trend that

should be obvious is that the Third had little to do with religion, at least in

the sense of human awareness and response to God, and the Fourth seems to be

entirely concerned with what might best be called social work. Why they would

all be grouped under the rubric “Awakening” is not really clear. The religious

examples used as evidence, by the time of the Third Great Awakening, consist

largely of elite efforts at social reform conducted almost independently of the

more classically Christian questions of the first two Awakenings. The result, I

believe, is a misreading of what comprised much of American Christianity of the

late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Ironically, for a book on

egalitarianism, political concerns inferred from the commentary of the

marginally Christian elite of the later nineteenth century probably did not

reflect the interests of most of those in the pews. That is not to say there

was no relation between the secularized, nominal Christianity of the elites and

political reform because there probably was, to the extent that it was those

elites who had the most political influence.

The economic history enlisted by Fogel to elaborate his argument is clearly

presented and well known to those who have kept up with the astonishing range

of his work over the last two decades. He makes entirely reasonable hypotheses

regarding the way exogenous shocks, often due to new technologies, can disrupt

ordinary politics and allow for the influence of new, reformist policy

proposals. And one source of such new proposals, he notes, are these cycles of

spiritual activities. Thus, he motivates the reader to see the importance of

his policy proposals for the present and foreseeable future by describing

research by himself, Dora Costa, and joint work by both, as suggesting much

longer life spans than we now enjoy. These additional years will likely be

lived by many who are in a position to change current policy, and so he offers

his proposals as a way to get ready for what will likely be one of those

exogenous processes that will soon change the way we all live.

A particular concern for Fogel is the political importance of egalitarianism.

Essentially, he seems to be saying, the vision of J. M. Keynes that some day

the economic problem would be solved and we could concentrate on the question

of how to be fully human, is close at hand. In average terms, income is so high

in the West that the economic problem is nearly solved — subject to problems

with distribution of that income. The question of becoming fully human, then,

is somewhat merged with the distributional question to produce the issue of

variation in the ability to deal with the human condition. That ability,

summarizes Fogel, is produced by one’s “spiritual” resources. While these are

unequally distributed now, he proposes that they should be more equally

distributed in the not too distant future. These spiritual assets seem to be

only tangentially religious. They are rather more closely akin to

pop-psychology concepts as self-esteem and to deeper issues of “resilience,”

which psychologists use to describe the ability of some people to withstand

psychic blows (unemployment, death in the family, and so on) and continue

functioning at a high level. (For a widely cited recent review, see Luthar,

Cicchetti, and Becker, “The Construct of Resilience: A Critical Evaluation and

Guidelines for Future Work,” Child Development 71 (May-June 2000),


Let’s assume that these spiritual resources are unequally distributed, and

surely they are. Some people cope under pressure, some thrive, and others

crack. That would seem to be one of those unfairnesses of life — the

distribution of burdens in this vale of tears is not equal, either. But Fogel’s

policy recommendations to redistribute these resources are on the one hand

provocative but on the other almost certainly unworkable. If spiritual

resources are a form of human capital, we might speculate that there is no

depreciation of them over time, so that they can be accumulated and transmitted

by those who have to those who haven’t at relatively low cost. That is, in one

of Fogel’s formulations, the elderly who have some perspective on life can

volunteer to pass on to young folk who lack confidence in the future how to

accept some of their troubles, how to deal with others, and as they say, the

wisdom to know the difference. In fact, Alcoholics Anonymous would seem to be a

model for some of what Fogel proposes. This is intriguing, but if volunteer

work is to be converted into a kind of policy, why it isn’t happening already

— is this a social policy version of the twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk?

Other programs would require an expansion of government. A suggested source of

such spiritual resources is higher education. One way to even out the problem

of maldistribution is to get more young people into college. The problem here

is that a defining characteristic of the American system of higher education is

that, essentially, the bar is set so low for admissions, curriculum, and costs,

is that nearly everyone who already wants to go to college can do so. If we

already are at a Pareto optimum, I am not convinced that coaxing even more

young people away from low-skilled labor, the military, trade apprenticeships,

or general slacking into college would do much for their spiritual resources.

To take this a step further, it seems to be that the particular content of a

university education that might be expected to influence the student’s lifelong

worldview most directly and positively are the liberal arts, and it is these

subjects that marginal students tend to shy away from.

So this reader is left skeptical about the wisdom of Fogel’s particular

recommendations. The idea of spiritual resources that do not explicitly involve

religion seems to be all well and no water, and he nearly gets the critical

nature of the traditional family without explicitly advocating pro-family

policies. Still, to get to that skepticism I needed to think over some big

questions that Fogel, to his great credit, doesn’t shy away from addressing.

What do needy people need most, and what do they want? The notion of spiritual

resources may be a valuable approach to the interior psychology of particular

exterior circumstances. Why are people at the bottom rung of a rich society

there, and what can we do about it? I don’t know how to solve this problem, but

if someone asked me, I would direct him or her to Robert Fogel’s book to begin

assessing what possible approaches might look like.

John E. Murray is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of

Toledo. His articles on religion in nineteenth century America have appeared in

Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Explorations in Economic

History, and Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

(Dr. Murray graciously agreed to take on this review after the original

reviewer was unable to complete the assignment.)

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

An Economic History of London, 1800-1914

Author(s):Ball, Michael
Sunderland, David
Reviewer(s):Green, David R.

Published by EH.NET (April 2003)


Michael Ball and David Sunderland, An Economic History of London, 1800-1914. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. x + 470 pp. ?75/$110 (hardback), ISBN: 0-415-24691-1.

Reviewed for EH.NET by David R Green, Department of Geography, King’s College, London.

Any analysis of the economy of the largest nineteenth-century city in the world that claims to be comprehensive is bound also to be ambitious. The two authors of this sizeable volume, Michael Ball and David Sunderland, have produced a wide-ranging study that trawls through most of the existing literature and attempts to systematize our knowledge of the structure, processes and changes in London’s economy between about 1800 and 1914. At the same time, it argues that others who have written about the metropolitan economy have largely misinterpreted the evidence and made claims about the city’s uniqueness that do not stand scrutiny when set again economic location theory. Suggestions that London was somehow “preindustrial,” or backward, are dismissed, as too are claims that the city’s service sector was somehow the motor that drove the economy forward. Theories of urban change that interpret London as a “jewel-encrusted terror” (p. 4) and that provide “heaven and hell-fire conclusions” (p. 417) regarding metropolitan development do not, according to the authors, make much economic sense. They dismiss the arguments of immiseration theorists who have interpreted the evidence to suggest that London’s economy suffered structural crises, which impacted adversely on significant sections of the population. In short, we have a polemical book that seeks to dispel the myth of metropolitan uniqueness and instead tries to use relatively well-known economic location theories to explain the city’s economic trajectory.

The book is divided into seven sections dealing with different topics that impinge more or less directly on the urban economy. After a brief overview and discussion of theoretical concepts, there are chapters on population, work, wealth and living standards. This is followed by discussions of the growth of retailing and the mass market, leisure, suburbanization and housing. The provision of the infrastructure necessary to transport goods, services and people, is dealt with next, followed by chapters on manufacturing, services and finance. Welfare, social policy and government are then examined, followed by a final assessment of the structure, processes and patterns of change that characterized London’s economy.

Although much of the book’s contents will be familiar, what is novel is the way in which the authors try to weave various aspects of economic location theory into the explanation. Agglomeration economies, institutional theory and economies of scale form the core set of concepts around which the explanation is structured. The interrelationships among these economic processes and the London economy lie at the heart of the book. By clustering together, London trades and services were able to save costs in two sets of ways: the first are savings to be made by the fact of clustering — sharing of tools, access to labor and ideas etc.; the second concerns those savings made as a result of being part of a larger urban economy such as encouraging innovation, widening scope and providing insurance. Of course, diseconomies also existed, particularly as the city’s economy boomed and both population and traffic increased. Rising land costs, pollution, congestion and higher local taxes, to name a few, hindered growth and in a few cases outweighed the benefits of remaining in the capital. Clustering also helped reduce transaction costs, as did the institutional frameworks — those conduits through which economic processes work themselves out — that developed over time to ease the flows of capital and information and without which business could not function efficiently. Finally, economies of scale resulting from the sheer volume of economic activity made possible by the size of the London market, as well as its role as an export center, also helped firms reduce costs by encouraging a greater division of labor. In this way, rather than responding to the availability of cheap labor that arose as a result of large-scale immigration, the desire to capture a greater market share drove forward changes in production methods. That machinery was not used to a greater extent reflected both the nature of demand for fashionable goods that could not be mass produced and the difficulties of providing power. Instead, the production process was subdivided and speeded up to allow more efficient use of labor, thereby reducing unit costs. Although the concepts are articulated more explicitly here and applied to a wider range of activities than in other accounts, little of this will come as much surprise to those with a broad grasp of the London economy.

As well as the articulation of economic theory, the other main strength of this book is its breadth of coverage. The highly diverse nature of London’s economy is mirrored by the range of topics. It is correct that a large number of works, though by no means all, have focused on manufacturing — partly because they were interested in other issues and not just the way in which goods were produced and services delivered. Other research has explored different aspects, such as banking and financial services. However, here we have a single work that seeks to encompass all and, moreover, to use similar kinds of economic theory to explain common processes affecting location and economic change. Breadth is the name of the game here. When it comes to examining manufacturing, we not only have the better known examples of metropolitan industries such as clothing, shoemaking and furniture, but also some of the lesser well known trades, such as piano making, cigarettes and candles. Domestic, clerical and professional services are included as well as the City’s financial services. When it comes to spending on leisure and pleasure we have, to name but a few of the attractions that loosened Londoners’ purses, hotels and gentlemen’s clubs as well as pubs, music halls and pleasure gardens. The chapter on utilities encompasses gas, electricity and water, as well as the operation of metropolitan markets. Woven into the narrative are also chapters on retailing, suburbanisation and housing, transportation, migration, living standards and poverty, welfare and social policy, and government at the local and municipal level. In each chapter, topics are broken down into discrete sections, a form of structure that provides case studies but which always stands in danger of breaking up the flow of the argument. Providing choice examples whilst maintaining continuity is for the most part handled well — something for which students will most certainly be thankful.

Inevitably, perhaps, in a book that relies entirely on secondary evidence, there are gaps in knowledge and coverage. There are chronological gaps that arise either because of the lack of work in specific fields, or the omission of existing references. For example, when dealing with the provision of poor relief, there is hardly any mention of the period after the Metropolitan Poor Act of 1867 and the subsequent crusade against out-relief, a result of the over-reliance on my own work that ends in that year. James Treble’s work on urban poverty (Urban Poverty in Britain, Batsford, London, 1979), one of the very few to adopt an explicitly comparative framework on the topic, is not cited. There is relatively little on London’s role as an imperial capital, with all that entailed in terms of conspicuous expenditure on the paraphernalia of empire such as government offices and architectural achievements. Whether or not the cultural dimensions of imperialism are considered important — and culture is deliberately downplayed throughout — anyone who has ever considered the economics of aesthetics will know that grandeur costs money and although London’s imperial architecture might not have matched that of Vienna or Paris, the range and scope of expenditure was impressive. More too might have been said of the very rich and the economics of emulation that being rich in the capital city entailed. Nor is there much on the range of institutions that fostered the spread of ideas so crucial to maintaining London’s industries and services at the forefront of technological and organizational innovation. Learned societies, universities, mechanics institutes and other such institutions that fostered flows of information and ideas are conspicuous by their absence. Institutional theory is, in part, about the rules of the game, but it is also about the means by which those rules are disseminated and in this respect such knowledge creating institutions play a central role in fostering innovation. Finally, with some judicious copy editing the book could have been made shorter and the bibliography more accurate. Volumes and page numbers are given inconsistently and some articles from the London Journal are attributed to a non-existent journal noted as London Studies. One hopes that in a second edition – perhaps one more suited to the pockets of undergraduates — these infelicities will be corrected.

However, to end on this note would not do justice to the book — even if the authors’ own tone sometimes verges on the quarrelsome. An enormous amount of information has been synthesized and presented in an articulate and clearly organized fashion — no mean feat given the range of examples and issues covered As a review of the existing evidence, this work has no parallel and is an extremely useful reference point for anyone interested not only in nineteenth-century London but also more generally in economic change over the period. Linking theory to evidence in a jargon-free way also allows the reader to move from one to the other in a seamless way that raises serious questions not just about London’s economic structure but also about the processes that linked the capital to the rest of the UK economy. Though it might not excite the imagination, it certainly provides food for thought.

David Green is editor of the London Journal. His publications include From Artisans to Paupers: Economic Change and Poverty in London, 1790-1870 (1995).

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