Research in Economic History: Volume 22


Table of contents

(9 chapters)

Volume 22 of Research in Economic History contains six papers. Three are on agriculture and two on macro issues related to the Great Depression. A concluding paper examines trends in interstate migration in the United States.

This essay provides evidence that the invention of agriculture was not a dramatic technological advance in the history of humankind and that agriculture was quite consistent with nomadic hunting and gathering. The available clues also suggest that exact origins of agriculture do not seem important. Rather, the crucial question is why certain societies dramatically increased their dependency on agriculture for subsistence two to ten millennia ago. Unfortunately, most of the major theories purporting to explain the neolithic revolution – either the origins or the spread of agriculture – are either untestable or inconsistent with the available evidence. What is at stake for economic historians is to rethink the process of the adoption of agriculture using a multi-causal approach.

The paper constructs an annual price series for English net agricultural output in the years 1209–1914 using 26 component series: wheat, barley, oats, rye, peas, beans, potatoes, hops, straw, mustard seed, saffron, hay, beef, mutton, pork, bacon, tallow, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, wool, firewood, timber, cider, and honey. I also construct sub-series for arable, pasture and wood products. The main innovation is in using a consistent method to form series from existing published sources. But fresh archival data is also incorporated. The implications of the movements of these series for agrarian history are explored.

World population has increased six-fold in the last two centuries, and thus agricultural production must have grown as well. The last fifty years of this increase are covered by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) production series. This article aims to push our quantitative knowledge back in time as far as possible. It reviews the scattered evidence on agricultural production in the first half of the 19th century, estimates a yearly series of output for the main countries since 1870, and puts forward some guesstimates on trends in the rest of the world. In the long run, agricultural production has increased more than population. Growth has affected all continents, even if it has been decidedly faster in both the countries of Western Settlement and in Eastern Europe, than in Asia or in Western Europe. It was faster before World War I, a veritable golden age for world agriculture, than in the inter-war years. The composition of production has changed as well, with an increase in the share of livestock products.

The experience of the 1990s renewed economists’ interest in the role of credit in macroeconomic fluctuations. The locus classicus of the credit-boom view of economic cycles is the expansion of the 1920s and the Great Depression. In this paper we ask how well quantitative measures of the credit boom phenomenon can explain the uneven expansion of the 1920s and the slump of the 1930s. We complement this macroeconomic analysis with three sectoral studies that shed further light on the explanatory power of the credit boom interpretation: the property market, consumer durables industries, and high-tech sectors. We conclude that the credit boom view provides a useful perspective on both the boom of the 1920s and the subsequent slump. In particular, it directs attention to the role played by the structure of the financial sector and the interaction of finance and innovation. The credit boom and its ultimate impact were especially pronounced where the organization and history of the financial sector led intermediaries to compete aggressively in providing credit. And the impact on financial markets and the economy was particularly evident in countries that saw the development of new network technologies with commercial potential that in practice took considerable time to be realized. In addition, the structure and management of the monetary regime mattered importantly. The procyclical character of the foreign exchange component of global international reserves and the failure of domestic monetary authorities to use stable policy rules to guide the more discretionary approach to monetary management that replaced the more rigid rules-based gold standard of the earlier era are key for explaining the developments in credit markets that helped to set the stage for the Great Depression.

This paper examines the hypotheses that the length and the depth of the Great Depression were a result of sticky prices or sticky nominal wages using panel data for industrialized and semi-industrialized countries. The results show that price stickiness, particularly, and wage stickiness were key propagating factors during the first years of the Depression. It is found that prices adjusted slowly to wages, particularly in manufacturing. Manufacturing wages are also found to adjust relatively slowly to innovations in prices, but unemployment exerted strong downward pressure on wage growth.

We document long-run trends in interstate migration rates, using individual-level data from the U.S. Census for the period 1850–1990. Two measures of migration are calculated. The first considers an individual to have moved if she is residing in a state different from her state of birth. The second considers a family to have moved if it is residing in a state different from the state of birth of one of its young children, allowing us to estimate the timing of moves more precisely. Overall migration propensities have followed a U-shaped trend since 1850, falling until around 1900 and then rising until around 1970. We examine variation in the propensity to make an interstate move by age, sex, race, nativity, region of origin, family structure, and education. Counterfactuals based on probit estimates of the propensity to migrate suggest that the rise in migration of families since 1900 could be explained by increased educational attainment, although education may be serving as a proxy for unmeasured covariates. The decline of interstate migration in the late nineteenth century remains to be explained.

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Research in Economic History
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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