Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Koyama on the History Manifesto

Mark Koyama reviews the History Manifesto. In it he mentions Pseudoerasmus' post on the many errors in the book.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The rise and fall of economic history

Peter Temin describes the rise and fall of economic history at MIT in the History of Political Economy and an un-gated version here.  Temin also talks about the costs of not having actual economic historians, even if you do have people who write about history.

MIT isn’t the only place to experience a rise and fall of economic history. My grad school  (for my econ Ph. D.) has pretty much completely turned its back on economic history. When I was there we had Douglass North, John Nye, and, for the last year or so, Sukoo Kim. There was a well-attended history lunch every week. Doug retired. John went to George Mason. Soks is still there, but my understanding is that he is not very involved in the economics department. History is not listed as a field for graduate students. The economists that replaced the economic historians have demonstrated the potential problems associated with model makers using the past without consideration for the historians concerns with context and source criticism. Boldrin and Levine use the example of James Watt to argue against patents. On the actual influence of Watt’s patent see Selgin and Turner “Strong Steam, Weak Patents” JLE 2011 or Bottomley’s British Patent system During the Industrial Revolution.

 My wife’s grad school also moved away from economic history. While she was doing her graduate work at Illinois they had Jeremy Atack, Larry Neal, Lee Alston, and Charles Calomiris. Now, if they have an economic historian, I don’t know who it is.

Fortunately, it is also possible to name departments where economic history is either on the rise or holding its position, with multiple economic historians and consistent production of good Ph. D. students. UC Davis, Yale, Vanderbilt, George Mason, and Northwestern are some of the schools that come to mind. My apologies to the other good schools I did not mention.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Juan Sanchez of the St. Louis Fed looks at recent bankruptcies and concludes that

"BAPCPA clearly had an impact on the number of bankruptcies being filed. However, the exact impact may not be known for some time, since the recession hit right after the BAPCPA was implemented."

I agree that it is going to be difficult to determine the impact of BAPCPA (Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act) . Consumer bankruptcy is usually the end of a series of events: debt, default, and non-bankruptcy collection. There are a many things besides the bankruptcy law that play a role in the process.

Also from the St Louis Fed is this discussion of a symposium on the balance sheets of American families.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Gold Standard

Here is my favorite gold standard political cartoon from an 1896 Harper's Weekly.

The cartoon shows godlbugs as widows, orphans and veterans. In other words, people living on fixed incomes. It reflects the view that the primary benefit of a gold standard was to place a constraint on the money supply.

However, from the St Louis Fed on U.S. economic performance under the gold standard from the St. Louis Fed: "the historical evidence indicates that neither a gold standard nor the absence of a central bank guarantees economic or financial stability."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The end of capitalism?

Jeremy Rifkin says the end of capitalism is coming. In the meantime, he will tell you about it for only $20,000 to $40,000.

History of Capitalism at the Legatum Institute

The Legatum Institute has a program on the History of Capitalism.

They are sponsoring a series of lectures, which are available online.

This one is Nicholas Crafts explaining why England was first to industrialize.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bailyn, Wood and American History

I was a bit surprised when Wood suggested that historians had not liked the Barbarous Years. I quickly looked at the reviews in AHR and JAH. They weren’t really too negative.    Archer thought that the book was “a marvelous accomplishment and a testament to Bailyn’s standing as one of our finest historians.” Pulsipher declared that it was the “kind of book that the word “magisterial” was made for.”


I’m not sure to what extent Bailyn is regarded as an economic historian, but his early work appeared in the Journal of Economic History and Explorations in Entrepreneurial History as well as The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century .

Here is some more recent work on New England merchants and credit by David Flynn and Jeremy Schwartz