Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

PREFACE

OF THE more general objectives to be served by the study of a nation's economic history, which are discussed in the introductory chapter, there are two that have largely dominated the writings of those who have undertaken to present a historical account of a country's economic development. This is responsible for the fact that the writing of such history has commonly been undertaken by two groups, each approaching the subject with a primary interest in one or the other of these objectives and with a different background of general training.

One group, consisting chiefly of political historians who have come to recognize the important part played by economic conditions and interests in shaping history, has had as its primary objective the wish to provide the economic background that was deemed necessary for explaining and interpreting political or social history. In such cases, although the economic consequences of the historical developments are not ignored, they tend to take a secondary place and there is apt to be little effort at economic analysis for the purpose of explaining those developments or trying to find out what can be learned from them to promote economic progress in the future.

The second group is made up of economists whose primary objective is to study the historical development of the economic life of a country for the purpose of analyzing and understanding the forces and conditions that have been responsible for the successes or failures in the efforts of the people to raise their standard of living, to increase the economic strength of the nation, and so 'to promote its survival in the international struggle for existence. The economist clearly recognizes that economic goods and services are only means to the more ultimate ends set up as its objectives by any civilization. But as long as those objectives require an increasing amount of economic goods and services for their support, the economists' chief service in promoting the attainment of these ultimate objectives is to suggest what can be learned from the past that will further the efforts to obtain a more efficiently functioning economic order.

The approach to the study of economic history that dominates the presentation of the subject in this volume is that of the economist whose immediate and primary function is to study the production and distribution of wealth with the objective of learning how the nation's economic progress can be promoted and its standard of living advanced. It can be called the functional approach to economic history. Although the narra-

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