American Economic History
By Seymour Edwin Harris (editor)
2002/04 - Beard Books
158798136X - Paperback - Reprint -  570 pp.

This book, by presenting different points of view by a number of experts, is a valuable addition for any economic history collection.

Categories: Banking & Finance | History

Of Interest:

A History of American Currency

A Legal History of Money in the United States

AMEX: A History of the American Stock Exchange

An Early History of Economic Institutions of Europe

Early Financial History of the United States

Financial History of the United States

Panic on Wall Street: A History of America's Financial Disasters

Publisher Comments

This eclectic tome is an anthology of 15 chapters by 20 notable contributors discussing and analyzing American economic history from about 1800 to the late 1950s. Each subject undertaken falls under one of four major rubrics: major issues, broad issues of policy, determinants of income, and regional growth. Specific topics include fiscal policy, patterns of employment, unionism, economic fluctuations, population and immigration, natural resources policies, etc. All of them bolster Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s statement in the opening chapter: "The economic experience of the United States provides a compact example of the growth of an underdeveloped country into a great and rich industrial state."

From the back cover blurb:

Twenty notable contributors comprise this anthology discussing and analyzing economic history from about 1800 to the late 1950s. The book is divided into four parts: some major issues; broad issues of policy; determinants of income; and regional growth. Each subject of economic history falls under one of these three major parts. As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. expresses in his opening sentence to the first chapter, "The economic experience of the United States provides a compact example of the growth of an underdeveloped country into a great and rich industrial state." As the Editor, Dr. Harris astutely observes in his introduction to the part concerning broad issues of policy: "In short, our imports of capital, of people, and of ideas in our first century have been indispensable ingredient in our great economic development."


From Turnarounds and Workouts, November 15, 2002
Review by Gail Owens Hoelscher:

A classic text on a fascinating topic by a host of notable authors is again in print. American Economic History is a collection of 15 studies of the economic development of the United States from about 1800 to the late 1950s, written by 20 prominent and diverse 20th century thinkers. The authors show America to be, in the words of contributor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "a compact example of the growth of an underdeveloped country into a great and rich industrial state."

The chapters are divided into four topics: major issues, policy issues, determinants of income, and regional growth. The section on major issues includes an compelling discussion by Mr. Schlesinger called "Ideas and the Economic Process." In it, he claims that the contribution to our unprecedented growth by the "unfettered individual," the "genius" personage of the American businessman, has been exaggerated, while the roles of public policy and the influx of ideas and capital from abroad have been diminished. Mr. Schlesinger concludes that "(t)he ability to change one's mind (which is easier in a society in which people have the freedom to think, inquire and speculate) turns out, in the last analysis, to be the secret of American economic growth, without which resources, population, climate and the other favoring factors would have been of no avail." To complete this section, Alfred H. Conrad discusses income growth and structural change over time, and Peter B. Kenan undertook a statistical survey of growth in population, transportation, output, wealth, and industry.

The second part deals with policy. J. G. Gurley and E. S. Shaw discuss the history of U.S. monetary policy, concluding that "the failure to manufacture enough money may bring on recession and stultify economic growth, (but) it is also clear that merely manufacturing money is not enough." Mr. Harris devotes a chapter to fiscal policy, defined as an attempt "to adapt tax, spending, and debt policies to the needs of the economy." He agrees with Herbert Hoover, in that "when the private economy was foundering, it was the task of the government to increase the total amount of purchasing power at the disposal of the people," and the "medicine for recession was to cut taxes and increase the total amount of spending." Asher Achinstein chronicles economic fluctuations in the U.S., and Douglass C. North the role of the U.S. in the international economy. G. A. Lincoln, W. Y. Smith, and J. B. Durst recount the effects of war and defense on the economy.

Part Three deals with determinants of income. In it are thorough discussions of population and immigration (Elizabeth W. Gilboy and Edgar M. Hoover); patterns of employment (Stanley Lebergott); natural resource policies ( Joseph L. Fisher and Donald J. Patton); transportation (Merton J. Peck); trade unionism and collective bargaining (Lloyd Ulman); and agriculture (John D. Black). The writers discuss the historic linkages between and among population growth, construction, and transportation growth. Messrs. Fisher and Patton lament the lack of serious effort to conserve resources until the first quarter of the 20th century. Professor Ulman concludes that collective bargaining contributed much to the growth of fringe benefits. Professor Black charts the decline in relative importance of the agricultural sector. The book ends with a chapter on regional income trends, 1840-1950, by Richard A. Easterlin.

Original Reviews:

From the Library Journal, Vol. 86, March 1, 1961

"The advantage of this type of book is that it gives different points of view by several experts rather than an economic history written by one author. It is... recommended for all economic history collections."

From Booknews:

Harris (1897-1974) was editor of the Review of Economics and Statistics. In this 1961 anthology (reproduced with no changes or additions) he presented 16 articles that represented some of the prominent mainstream thinking of the time on broad issues of American economic development. The material explores broad issues of policy and determinants of income from approximately 1800 to 1950. Topics include fiscal policy, the economic impact of war, population and immigration, patterns of unemployment, transportation, the development of unions, and agriculture. This work is probably most interesting for the snapshot it provides of the field of economics 40 years ago. 


Seymour Edwin Harris (1897-1974), an economist, received an A.B. degree in 1920 and a Ph.D. in 1926 from Harvard. He taught throughout his lengthy career, and was Chairman of the Department of Economics both at Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego. He was an adviser and consultant to numerous government officials, boards, commissions and councils. Dr. Harris was the author of more than twenty books, adn was the editor of the Review of Economics and Statistics from 1943 to 1964 and associate editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics from 1947 to 1974.


Preface vii

Part 1. Some Major Issues

1. Ideas and the Economic Process -- Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. 3
2. Income Growth and Structural Change -- Alfred H. Conrad 26
3. A Statistical Survey of Basic Trends -- Peter B. Kenen 65

Part 2. Broad Issues of Policy

Introduction 95
4. Money -- J.G. Gurley, and E.S. Shaw 101
5. Fiscal Policy -- Seymour E. Harris 130
6. Economic Fluctuations -- Asher Achinstein 162
7. The United States in the International Economy, 1790-1950 -- Douglass C. North 181
8. Mobilization and War -- G.A. Lincoln, W.Y. Smith, and J.B. Durst 207
Part 3. Determinants of Income
Introduction 241
9. Population and Immigration -- Elizabeth W. Gilboy and Edgar M. Hoover 247
10. The Pattern of Employment Since 1800 -- Stanley Lebergott 281
11. Natural Resource Policies in American Economic Development -- Joseph L. Fisher and Donald J. Patton 311
12. Transportation in the American Economy -- Merton J. Peck 340
13. The Development of Trades and Labor Unions -- Lloyd Ulman 366
14. Unionism and Collective Bargaining in the Modern Period -- Lloyd Ulman 420
15. Agriculture -- John D. Black 483
Part 4. Regional Growth
16. Regional Income Trends, 1840-1950 -- Richard A. Easterlin 525
Index 549

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