Research in Economic History: Volume 20


Table of contents

(9 chapters)

The sewing machine was the first mass produced and mass marketed complex consumer good and the first to diffuse throughout the world. This article presents the first estimates of this diffusion in eighteen nations, which collectively represent well over 90% of all global sales from invention to 1914. While diffusion levels were absolutely higher in the more advanced economies, the article goes on to investigate the relationship between sewing machine consumption and real income levels. Once per capita incomes are taken into account, the consumption of sewing machines was relatively high among the less developed rather than the advanced nations.

The size of the American armed forces in World War II resulted from early decisions which reflected the nature of the threat, the capital intensity of American combat strategy, the immediate need to aid the heavily engaged Allies, and the degree of American popular commitment. A key decision followed the feasibility dispute of 1942. In this dispute the immense supply demands of the President, the War Department and the Navy Department were challenged by the GNP and labor force analysis of Simon Kuznets and Robert Nathan of the War Production Board. Based on an examination of War Production Board documents, this paper shows how Kuznets and Nathan used the infant theory and practice of GNP accounting to frame the case for the infeasibility of the first war plans. Kuznets and Nathan not only had an immediate impact on war spending in 1942 and 1943 but the standard of living constraint that they identified remained a crucial element in the economic shape of America's entire war.

Between 1919 and 1946 bankruptcy rates in the United States traced out an inverted U-shaped curve, rising during the 1920s as debt levels increased, remaining high in the 1930s as income levels fell, and then plummeting during the Second World War in the face of both rising income and falling private debt levels. This paper explores these relationships econometrically, both at the aggregate level and at the level of a number of individual states. It also discusses the historical evolution, motivation, and macroeconomic consequences of bankruptcy law, concluding that the value of analyses such as those of Joseph Schumpeter and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon have been too quickly dismissed, at least in their entirety, by scholars such as Ben Bernanke.

The gold-buying program of 1933 is often viewed as a relatively minor episode in U.S. monetary history. On closer examination, however, the program can be seen as a fascinating example of using a gold price target to conduct discretionary monetary policy. In many respects similar to Irving Fisher's famous “Compensated Dollar Plan”, the program was abandoned before it had achieved the administration's goal of returning commodity prices to pre-Depression levels. Monetary historians appear to have misunderstood the fundamental nature of the gold-buying program and thus underestimated the program's effectiveness.

McCloskey hypothesized that peasants scattered their land to diversify their portfolio of land holdings. This diversification produced insurance for peasants. Peasants paid an insurance premium in the form of lower yields on scattered holdings. McCloskey tested this scattering-as- insurance hypothesis with a small subset of Titow's study of grain yields on the Winchester estate. I use the entire data-set to test the robustness of the scattering-as-insurance hypothesis. I find that expanding the data-set lowers the robustness of the results (i.e. peasants are predicted to consolidate more often relative to the restricted data-set). The new estimates also highlight the importance of the assumed level of disaster income. All else equal, the higher is the disaster level income, the less robust is the scattering-as-insurance hypothesis. McCloskey assumed that disaster level income was half the output on a scattered field (d = 50). My empirical analysis suggests a higher level of disaster level income (d = 60). Lastly, I relax the assumption that peasants are motivated by safety-first concerns. McCloskey assumed that peasants would accept any reduction in mean incomes as long as it reduced the probability they faced of a disaster level income. I model peasants as trading off risk (variance of harvest) for consumption (mean harvests) in a more general manner. I find that even very risk-averse peasants would almost never scatter their fields to buy insurance: it was simply too expensive.

This study analyses the physical stature of runaway apprentices and military deserters based on advertisements collected from 18th-century newspapers, in order to explore the biological welfare of colonial and early-national Americans. The results indicate that heights declined somewhat at mid-century, but increased substantially thereafter. The findings are generally in keeping with trends in mortality and in economic activity. The Americans were much taller than Europeans: by the 1780s adults were as much as 6.6 cm taller than Englishmen, and at age 16 American apprentices were some 12 cm taller than the poor children of London.

There has been a renewed interest on the part of economic, political and social historians in the significance of economic factors in causing the Civil War. This research has emphasized the ways in which the emergence of a “market revolution” in the North exacerbated political and economic differences between the Free and Slave states. Our argument focuses on how a particular aspect of the growth of a market society — what we term the “life-cycle transition” — transformed the way in which people in the North viewed their economic “strategies”. This new economic vision produced a political economy that was increasingly at odds with the economic vision of a slave South. The paper addresses six key areas of policy where these “conflicting visions” produced tensions: land policy, internal improvements, banking, education, immigration, and tariffs. We conclude by showing how the cumulative effect of these tensions reinforced the South's commitment to a philosophy of states' rights that ultimately led them to seek dissolution of the American Union.

Publication date
Book series
Research in Economic History
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN