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The Cambridge Economic History of the United States
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    The Cambridge Economic History of the United States
    • Online ISBN: 9781139053815
    • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087
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Book description

Volume III surveys the economic history of the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean during the twentieth century. Its chapters trace the century's major events, notably the Great Depression and the two world wars, as well as its long-term trends, such as changing technology, the rise of the corporate economy, and the development of labor law. The book also discusses agriculture, population, labor markets, and urban and regional structural changes. Other chapters examine inequality and poverty, trade and foreign relations, government regulation and the public sector, and banking and finance.

Reviews

‘It should already be on the shelves of any reader of this journal … reviewing this book is somewhat like reviewing the Bible. This History is also a Very Good Book … This volume and its companions should find shelf space in the personal libraries of all serious professional historians of the United States, not just of those with an interest in the institutions of a dynamic market economy and a capitalist republic … this volume is enormously impressive.’

Source: Enterprise and Society

‘ … an essential reference text for libraries and a valuable starting point for business historians interested in the US, comparative studies or aspects of business-government relations. All elements in the boo are impressive and valuable.’

Source: Business History

‘These books definitely should be on the shelf, or easily available in the library, of every professional economic historian … they provide a rich treasure of information, analysis, and insight. The publisher, editors, and authors all are to be congratulated for producing this exemplar work of economic history.’

Source: Besprechungen

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  • 1 - American Macroeconomic Growth in the Era of Knowledge-Based Progress: The Long-Run Perspective
    pp 1-92
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.002
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter focuses on the nature of the macroeconomic growth process that has characterized the United States experience, and manifested itself in the changing pace and sources of the rise of real output per capita in the US economy during the past two hundred years. It assembles and describes the components of the US macroeconomic record in some quantitative detail. Then, the chapter advances an interpretation of the forces underlying the ascent of the US economy to its internationally dominant position in the twentieth century. Finally, it discusses the preceding epoch, and examines the American path of development in relation to the contemporaneous experiences of the other industrial nations. The major period of advance in the college and university education of the labor force, had been a feature of the post-1929 era. A marked acceleration of total factor productivity (TFP) growth took place in the US manufacturing sector following World War I.
  • 2 - Structural Changes: Regional and Urban
    pp 93-190
    • By Carol Heim, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.003
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Hypermarket and nonmarket forces often work hand in hand, as developers use political means to alter the "rules of the game" to their advantage. The results could include favorable zoning practices or annexation of outlying areas whose infrastructure was subsidized by city residents. This chapter follows a tripartite model of market, nonmarket, and hypermarket forces to examine regional and urban change in the twentieth century. It presents spatial trends in population, income, social relations of production, and industrial structure, and briefly examines the "Sunbelt/Snowbelt" debate. The chapter explores international and domestic determinants of the fate of industrially specialized regions, including agricultural, extractive, and manufacturing. It charts the rise of services and government production within urban areas and the urbanization of poverty in recent decades. The chapter describes how urban and regional development affected macroeconomic growth and stability.
  • 3 - Twentieth-Century Canadian Economic History
    pp 191-248
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.004
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter covers growth and structural change in Canada over the last century. The twentieth century can be divided into three broad periods. First, the years from 1896 to 1929 include important developments such as western settlement, the emergence of wheat as Canada's primary export staple, and the creation of an integrated national economy. Second, the period 1930 to 1950 covers the Great Depression and war. The postwar years, 1950 to 1993, form the last period. From 1950 to 1973 Canada experienced one of the longest periods of rapid economic advance in its history. One of the important factors that shaped the postwar development of manufacturing in Canada was the change in commercial policy. Canada became a signator to the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in 1947. The Canadian experience has been one of a close association between the political and economic elements in the economy.
  • 4 - The Twentieth-Century Record of Inequality and Poverty in the United States
    pp 249-300
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.005
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The rise in inequality during the past two decades and particularly during the 1980s sparked renewed interest in the longer-term behavior of the US income distribution. This chapter discusses the four basic social and economic factors that have changed earnings inequality by shifting labor supply and labor demand: demography, technology, international trade, and war. Economic growth is of primary importance in determining poverty trends. The official poverty threshold varies with family size. Because earnings and family size vary systematically with age, living arrangements, and the sex of the householder. The World War II effort sharply increased the demand for unskilled labor, and in so doing sopped up unemployment and raised wages at the bottom of the civilian pay scale. After the war demand for unskilled labor remained high as the United States re-equipped Europe and benefited from Europe's absence from world markets.
  • 5 - The Great Depression
    pp 301-328
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.006
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The worldwide Depression of the 1930s was an economic event of unprecedented dimensions. The distribution of income worsened in the 1920s. In fact, inequality reached its peak just at the start of the Great Depression. This has given rise to the idea that workers could not afford to buy the products of industry in the late 1920s, that "underconsumption" was the cause of the Depression. There was an increase in bank failures in November and December of 1930. But much of the rise of liabilities in failed banks was due to the failure of just two banks. Caldwell and Company failed in Tennessee, and the Bank of United States failed in New York City. The Fed's open market purchases of 1932 were in part a response to the clamor for expansion in response to the monetary contraction of late 1931. Monetary expansion was a factor in the recovery.
  • 6 - War and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century
    pp 329-406
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.007
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter focuses on some of the questions concerning America's war economies. Some of the questions include: what were the total costs of Korean and Vietnam wars and how did the United States finance, military, naval and defense expenditures. The most thorough attempt to estimate the costs of an American war in the twentieth century is John Maurice Clark's study of the costs of World War I. Among the two categories, direct and indirect costs, Clark's method for estimating the direct costs of World War I largely followed the rules of GNP accounting. The chapter describes the federal government's financing methods and the wars' costs to the population. The nature of nineteenth-century war financing suggests that tax smoothing was an important recurring element in wartime financing. The opportunity cost of World War I was largely borne by sacrifices in consumer non-durable goods and investment in residential and business structures.
  • 7 - U.S. Foreign Trade and Trade Policy in the Twentieth Century
    pp 407-462
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.008
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Public interest in America's foreign trade has always concentrated on the issue of America's "competitiveness" or "leadership" in foreign trade, and whether government policies have promoted it. In the 1970s and 1980s the American trade debate revisited the infant-industry and other strategic arguments for government intervention in foreign trade, but relatively free-trade policies prevailed. American trade history gave a greater role to natural resources than to capital-intensity. Competitiveness would be virtually the same concept as productivity at the level of the whole national economy. Manufacturing's share of total national product correlates fairly positively with the growth rate of the whole economy. Foreign-government barriers against imports from the United States have retarded American leadership in America's export lines. The defensive pattern of American trade policy has been the antithesis of Alexander Hamilton's original vision of a trade policy to nurture new manufactures that could later compete without protection.
  • 8 - U.S. Foreign Financial Relations in the Twentieth Century
    pp 463-504
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.009
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The theme of this chapter is that international financial transactions and the institutions governing their conduct have in fact significantly influenced the growth and fluctuation of the American economy. Foreign investment was critical on the margin, helping to mold the pattern of economic development from the railway age of the mid-nineteenth century to the Internet age of the twentieth. Foreign finance played a prominent role in the early development of America's internal and external trade. In the decades prior to 1914, gold movements to and from the United States posed one of the principal strains on the international system. US lending played a significant role in European reconstruction and recovery from the earliest postwar years. American banks and issue houses had little experience in marketing foreign loans. Europe's dependence on loans, grants, and gifts gave Washington leverage in negotiations over international financial affairs.
  • 9 - Twentieth-Century American Population Growth
    pp 505-548
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.010
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Twentieth-century American population growth has been remarkable in many respects. With fertility currently low and life expectancy high, population aging has emerged as a new concern. The trend in the spatial distribution of population has departed sharply from that in the nineteenth century, as new directions of internal migration have appeared, and the origins of international migration have shifted from Europe to Latin America and Asia. This chapter describes an analysis of the implications of population aging for future economic growth. Toward the end of the 1960s, a new pattern of mortality improvement set in, as some degenerative diseases, especially heart disease, started to decline. As the nineteenth century wore on, the origins of immigrants shifted increasingly to include central, southern, and Eastern Europe, and in the first decade of the twentieth century, these areas accounted for over three-fourths of the flow.
  • 10 - Labor Markets in the Twentieth Century
    pp 549-624
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.011
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Across the past hundred years the face of the American labor force has been radically altered. Child labor was virtually eliminated, the labor force participation of the aged was sharply reduced, and women increased their participation. The labor market itself has been altered over the course of the past century. In 1910, 27 percent of all male workers in the manufacturing sector reported their usual occupation as "laborer" and 30 percent in the transportation sector did. The evolution of modern labor market institutions has affected both individual well-being and the macroeconomy. The labor force was younger in 1900 than it was nearly a century later in 1990, yet it also included a greater fraction of older Americans than in 1990. The increased human capital stock advanced per capita growth in the twentieth century by more than any other single measurable factor.
  • 11 - Labor Law
    pp 625-692
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.012
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Labor historians focus on the relations over time between employers and employees. One may quite easily construct a history of American labor law of which the fundamental theme is one of serial law-guaranteed extensions of the frontiers of personal freedom. During the first half of the nineteenth century, courts in the industrializing states had increasing resort to an anglocentric common law doctrine of master and servant to construe the employment relationship. American labor's experience with the law had a major cumulative effect on the consciousness of its leaders and, consequently, on the strategies they employed. It is a defensible generalization to argue that during the course of the last two centuries the law governing the social and cultural relations that constitute civil society in America has become, conceptually, less authoritarian. Contemporary legal representations of employment as, necessarily, a hierarchy of authority mark that relative lack of transformation.
  • 12 - The Transformation of Northern Agriculture, 1910–1990
    pp 693-742
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.013
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Powerful forces have reshaped northern agriculture. Mechanical and biological innovations dramatically increased farm productivity and changed the nature of farm work. This chapter analyzes the transformation of northern agriculture since 1910, emphasizing changes in performance, income, structure, and government policy. There are three closely related issues. The first is to understand both the sources and the consequences of the spectacular technological changes that have occurred in the past century. The second theme focuses on the "farm crisis". The third issue is to trace the development of government intervention in the farm sector. Although there were significant regional differences in machinery and methods, northern farmers, as a rule, were noted for their ingenuity and rapid adoption of new technologies. The greatest future changes in the relationship between farmers and their environment most likely will come not from continued use of current practices but from scientific developments.
  • 13 - Banking and Finance in the Twentieth Century
    pp 743-802
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.014
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The expanding flow of funds that financed twentieth-century American economic growth was channeled by alternating waves of financial innovation and government regulation. The fate of financial institutions and markets in the 1920s reflected their ability to obtain new sources of funds to meet the changing demand for credit. The economic decline of 1929-1933, unparalleled in American history, brought the financial system to the brink of total collapse. Aggravated by the Federal Reserve's unexpected and unrelieved contractionary monetary policy, the recession that started in 1929 became the Great Depression by 1933. The outward objective of the New Deal's banking and securities legislation was to make financial institutions and markets safer for depositors and investors, minimizing future losses. Based on the experience of the First World War, it was widely believed that the Second World War would be followed by a quick boom and hard recession.
  • 14 - Twentieth-Century Technological Change
    pp 803-926
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.015
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The sheer diversity and complexity of technological change in the American economy during this century pose forbidding challenges to scholarly analysis. This chapter focuses on three central clusters of innovation that have had major effects on the twentieth- century American economy, discussing their development as the basis for a more general treatment of the central features of twentieth-century US innovation. The three clusters are the internal combustion engine, electricity - including electronics, and chemistry. During the 1920s, the radio, refrigerator, and electric water heater were introduced. These inventions reflected the introduction of new technologies as well as reductions in the cost of electricity. The most spectacular recent example of growth in the utilization of a new electrical technology is the cellular telephone in the 1990s, an innovation that also drew on advances in electronics. For most of the economy, electricity has been associated with the introduction of electrically powered machinery.
  • 15 - The U.S. Corporate Economy in the Twentieth Century
    pp 927-968
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.016
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The single most important factor accounting for the ability to adapt and innovate has been the manner in which successful US companies have blended corporate resources with professional expertise. Ford discovered a huge market for one kind of inexpensive automobile with a black exterior. The Ford formula, in production and marketing, yielded the kind of productivity gains that would become a central characteristic of the twentieth century corporate economy. During the 1950s and 1960s graduate schools of business management became major growth centers in a galaxy of universities and colleges that was itself experiencing substantial expansion. The developments in public policy and competitive pressures resulted in a tidal wave of change among US corporations. Innovations coming out of financial services became in the 1980s and 1990s one of the major factors easing the US corporate economy through restructuring.
  • 16 - Government Regulation of Business
    pp 969-1012
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.017
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Government regulation of business in America has reflected a unique mix of ideas, policies, and institutional arrangements. This chapter presents the recent history of economic regulation in a framework that relates regulation to changes in market structure, political interests, and the behavior of firms. World War I had a tremendous impact on business-government relations. It confirmed the importance of national industrial coordination and established the legitimacy of large-scale enterprise. The New Deal regulatory systems had been developed over thirty years, in the context of a strong, low-inflationary macroeconomy, compared to either the 1930s or the 1970s. Regulatory methods and rules were predicated on constant or falling real costs and prices and steadily rising demand. Concepts of competition and monopoly, theories of oligopolistic competition, marginal cost analysis, and contestability have successively provided the intellectual underpinnings of policy debate. Regulation has proved to be remarkably dynamic, both intellectually and in practice.
  • 17 - The Public Sector
    pp 1013-1060
    • By W. Brownlee, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.018
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The growth of the public sector represents one of the most remarkable features of the economic history of the twentieth century. Despite the swift expansion of the American economy during nearly all of the century, the public sector has tended to grow more rapidly. This trend of public sector growth emerges regardless of the measure of government activity employed, and it holds for all levels of government. The introduction of high tariffs during the Civil War expanded a political process of making tax protection, tax incentives, and tax subsidies important elements in the nation's political economy. Taxation at the state and local level was turbulent as well during the last half of the nineteenth century. During the long era of total war and national crisis, conflict over taxation grew severely turbulent. The Reagan administration undertook the reduction of taxes through the 1981 passage of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA).
  • Bibliographic Essays
    pp 1061-1144
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521553087.019
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This bibliography presents a list of titles that help the reader to understand the economic history of British North America, Canada, the Caribbean, and the early United States, from early settlement by Europeans to the end of the eighteenth century. It contains references to outstanding sources of statistics on particular subjects together with discussions by the compilers of the estimates and of the forces governing their trends and fluctuations. The bibliography provides a number of important historical studies of technological progress that have a broad significance for American growth. It contains a list of general readings and statistical sources on long-term Canadian development. To assist the reader in delving deeper into the literature, the bibliography focuses on the Frontier period, Depression and War, and the Postwar period. Scholarly interest in the history of American labor law has grown explosively over the last twenty-five years.

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