Economic Evolution and Revolution in Historical Time

Economic Evolution and Revolution in Historical Time

Economic Evolution and Revolution in Historical Time

Economic Evolution and Revolution in Historical Time

Synopsis

This book challenges the static, ahistorical models on which Economics continues to rely. These models presume that markets operate on a "frictionless" plane where abstract forces play out independent of their institutional and spatial contexts, and of the influences of the past. In reality, at any point in time exogenous factors are themselves outcomes of complex historical processes. They are shaped by institutional and spatial contexts, which are "carriers of history," including past economic dynamics and market outcomes.

To examine the connections between gradual, evolutionary change and more dramatic, revolutionary shifts the text takes on a wide array of historically salient economic questions- ranging from how formative, European encounters reconfigured the political economies of indigenous populations in Africa, the Americas, and Australia to how the rise and fall of the New Deal order reconfigured labor market institutions and outcomes in the twentieth century United States. These explorations are joined by a common focus on formative institutions, spatial structures, and market processes. Through historically informed economic analyses, contributors recognize the myriad interdependencies among these three frames, as well as their distinct logics and temporal rhythms.

Excerpt

Stanford University has a long and distinguished tradition in economic history, many elements of which are richly on display in the present volume. The purpose of this essay is to offer a brief synopsis of this backstory and to point out some of the linkages between these contributions and the Stanford tradition. It may be hoped that non-Stanford participants and readers will forgive the measure of chauvinistic exaggeration inevitably associated with such an exercise. Certainly Stanford has no monopoly or exclusive claim to any of the ideas discussed here. But identifying intellectual legacies and continuities is part of the historical craft and as such needs no apology. If the effort helps future practitioners to motivate and frame issues pertaining to historical economics, then perhaps it will have some redeeming social value beyond mere nostalgia.

To quote from the letter we send to prospective graduate students: “The hallmark of the Stanford tradition may be summarized in the expression ‘History Matters,’ which is to say that we think of ourselves as active participants in the discipline of economics, upholding the view that historical events and processes make a difference for economic outcomes.” We sometimes trace our heritage back to Thorstein Veblen, who taught at Stanford from 1906 to 1909 and is often identified as the founder of institutional economics. But unlike many earlier institutionalisms, economic history at Stanford has never been “anti-economics.” We accept economics as the parent discipline but insist that good practice should consider the historical context within which economic processes occur. In this way, Stanford economic history dissents not just from unhistorical economics but from approaches to historical research that make no such methodological distinction—sometimes referred to as “applied economics with old data.” This case was articulated in Veblen’s time by Frederick Jackson Turner, in his 1910 presidential address to the American Historical Association:

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