A New Economic View of American History

A New Economic View of American History

A New Economic View of American History

A New Economic View of American History


New sources of data, together with advances in theory, offer the opportunity for a fresh look at old and new questions. This book asks such questions as: did mercantilism cause the American Revolution?; was slavery profitable?; and what were the causes of the Great Depression?


It is customary to begin a book like this with the scholar's version of the pep rally. A couple of paragraphs on the importance of the field to the defense of civilization, a hand for the giants of the past who made it all possible, a suggestion that mastery of the subject will take a lot of work, but the rewards will be great.

It is equally customary for readers to skip these opening remarks, or, at best, take the opportunity to practice a previously mastered skill—the one they teach at Evelyn Woods'. We sympathize. Those in need of inspiration so close to game time generally learn from experience that book introductions are not the place to find it. The well-motivated, by contrast, resent the patronizing sentiment that usually wafts in with the lecture. At pep rallies, at least, the band plays "Hello Dolly" and the Coor's is chilled.

We think we have a better reason than custom or pedantry to pause a few pages before digging in. American Economic History is a subject in ferment, at once enjoying a glittering vogue and yet in danger of defining itself out of existence. Readers well-versed in political or social history are likely to be surprised—and perhaps offended—by the break with tradition embodied in much of the research called economic history these days. Economic history journals have been invaded and/or captured by aliens armed with productivity indices, simulation models, and consistent estimators, but decidedly lacking in readable prose styles or what is (admiringly) labeled common sense. And at the end of those articles, where any reasonable person would expect to find the conclusion, the authors instead call for a new round of cross-section data or suggest something about sensitivity analysis.

Even readers more at home with the jargon of modern economics may be in for a dose of culture shock. The approach will look familiar, the quick victories proclaimed over lightly armed historians gratifying.

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