The Industrial Revolution and the Atlantic Economy: Selected Essays

By Brinley Thomas | Go to book overview

8

LONG SWINGS AND THE ATLANTIC ECONOMY: A REAPPRAISAL

Our understanding of long swings in the rate of growth of the American economy has been immensely enriched by the work of Abramovitz (1959, 1961, 1964). He regards them as ‘the outcome of interactions between the pace at which resources are developed, the generation of effective demand, and the intensity of resource use’ (Abramovitz 1961:246). His model leads to the conclusion that

a long swing in the volume of additions, perhaps even in the rate of growth of additions, to the stock of capital, that is, in capital formation, is likely to involve a fluctuation in effective demand and thus to generate an alternation between states of relatively full and relatively slack employment. A long swing in unemployment rates in turn appears to have been among the chief causes of Kuznets cycles in the volume of additions to the labor force and perhaps in capital formation.

(ibid.: 230)

According to this interpretation, swings in immigration from other countries were determined unilaterally by a ‘common cause’ in the United States; they were ‘responses to the occurrences of protracted periods of abnormally high unemployment and to the recovery from such periods (ibid.: 243).

It is not possible here to do justice to the subtle theoretical reasoning and the sophisticated empirical testing which Abramovitz brings to bear on the problem. No one can work in this field without being profoundly influenced by his achievement. What I propose to do is to look at the American long swing in the pre-1913 period from the British viewpoint and to suggest that a more

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