Second Thoughts: Myths and Morals of U.S. Economic History

Second Thoughts: Myths and Morals of U.S. Economic History

Second Thoughts: Myths and Morals of U.S. Economic History

Second Thoughts: Myths and Morals of U.S. Economic History

Synopsis

This book examines the past as a way of preparing for the future. McCloskey has brought together leading economic historians who show that commonly accepted perceptions of our economic past can be wrong and, therefore, misleading. The contributors (including Robert Higgs, Julian and Rita Simon, Elyce Rotella, Terry Anderson, Barry Eichengreen, Price Fishback, Susan Phillips and J. Richard Zecher) address a wide range of issues: Teapot Dome scandal, banking regulation, "new" immigration problems, A T & T and deregulation, Third World development policies, the role of "big" government, technological innovation, and property rights. Each essay explores the role of government policy in the outcome of events. Written in nontechnical prose, this book is an essential reference for those interested in our economic past.

Excerpt

Donald N. McCloskey

This is a book that examines the past as a way of preparing for our future. It brings together a number of leading historians who show that commonly accepted wisdom about our economic past is often wrong, and therefore misleading. They persuade us that we will master the future‒especially our economic future‒only when we understand the lessons of our past. the quickest route to economic wisdom in our time, it turns out, is a detour through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Second Thoughts gives two dozen cases in point. Robert Higgs says: Forget what you think you know about the military-industrial complex; war is hell on the economy, too, and always has been. Julian and Rita Simon say: Fellow immigrants, stop worrying about the new immigrants; we have been through this before, and it worked out all right. Elyce Rotella says: Do not be misled by the sweet sound of "protective" legislation for women; the women's movement split in the 1920s over the issue, and may split again in the 1990s.

There is much to learn about the past of the American economy, its successes and its failures, the wise and the witless attempts to make things better. the Teapot Dome Scandal, argues Gary Libecap, originated as a wise attempt to solve the problem of drilling for oil in a common pool. "Free land" distributed by the Federal government in the nineteenth century, argue Terry Anderson and Peter Hill, tempted people to waste money chasing after a homestead.

Stories tell in economics as much as they do in literature. If we do not want today's financial scandals, like those of the 1930s, to lead to regulatory sclerosis, then the story by Susan Phillips and J. Richard Zecher about the birth of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) should go on the reading list. If we do not want today's big personal injury suits to lead to worse medical care and a more hazardous workplace, then we would do . . .

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