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American Exceptionalism as a Problem in Global History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2014

Robert C. Allen*
Global Distinguished Professor of Economic History, New York University, Abu Dhabi, and Emeritus Fellow, Nuffield College, New Road, Oxford OX1 1NF, United Kingdom. E-mail:


The causes of the United States’ exceptional economic performance are investigated by comparing American wages and prices with wages and prices in Great Britain, Egypt, and India. American industrialization in the nineteenth century required tariff protection since the country's comparative advantage lay in agriculture. After 1895 surging American productivity shifted the country's comparative advantage to manufacturing. Egypt and India could not have industrialized by following American policies since their wages were so low and their energy costs so high that the modern technology that was cost effective in Britain and the United States would not have paid in their circumstances.

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I thank Kevin O'Rourke, Eric Schneider, Fran Beltran, Patrick O'Brien, Stan Engerman, David Mitch, Alex Field, Peter Lindert, Peter Temin, Daron Acemoglu, and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal for comments on earlier versions. I am also grateful for discussion and questions during and after presentations at Oxford University, the Harvard Business School, and the Economic History Association. I thank the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration for ongoing research support.



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American Exceptionalism as a Problem in Global History
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American Exceptionalism as a Problem in Global History
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American Exceptionalism as a Problem in Global History
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