counter create hit A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth - Download Free eBook
Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth

Availability: Ready to download

This bold re-examination of the history of U.S. economic growth is built around a novel claim, that productive capacity grew dramatically across the Depression years (1929-1941) and that this advance provided the foundation for the economic and military success of the United States during the Second World War as well as for the golden age (1948-1973) that followed.  Alexand This bold re-examination of the history of U.S. economic growth is built around a novel claim, that productive capacity grew dramatically across the Depression years (1929-1941) and that this advance provided the foundation for the economic and military success of the United States during the Second World War as well as for the golden age (1948-1973) that followed.  Alexander J. Field takes a fresh look at growth data and concludes that, behind a backdrop of double-digit unemployment, the 1930s actually experienced very high rates of technological and organizational innovation, fueled by the maturing of a privately funded research and development system and the government-funded build-out of the country's surface road infrastructure. This significant new volume in the Yale Series in Economic and Financial History invites new discussion of the causes and consequences of productivity growth over the last century and a half and on our current prospects.


Compare
Ads Banner

This bold re-examination of the history of U.S. economic growth is built around a novel claim, that productive capacity grew dramatically across the Depression years (1929-1941) and that this advance provided the foundation for the economic and military success of the United States during the Second World War as well as for the golden age (1948-1973) that followed.  Alexand This bold re-examination of the history of U.S. economic growth is built around a novel claim, that productive capacity grew dramatically across the Depression years (1929-1941) and that this advance provided the foundation for the economic and military success of the United States during the Second World War as well as for the golden age (1948-1973) that followed.  Alexander J. Field takes a fresh look at growth data and concludes that, behind a backdrop of double-digit unemployment, the 1930s actually experienced very high rates of technological and organizational innovation, fueled by the maturing of a privately funded research and development system and the government-funded build-out of the country's surface road infrastructure. This significant new volume in the Yale Series in Economic and Financial History invites new discussion of the causes and consequences of productivity growth over the last century and a half and on our current prospects.

30 review for A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth

  1. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Arnold

    Certain periods in American history are so important, such key psychological anchors for ideologies and narratives and subsequent lives, that even the passage of decades or centuries hasn't managed to build a truly solid and universal consensus about what they mean, even if they're recognized as having made something about the way life before was lived impossible to continue or recapture. There's a truism concerning the way that many students are taught about the Civil War that illustrates this Certain periods in American history are so important, such key psychological anchors for ideologies and narratives and subsequent lives, that even the passage of decades or centuries hasn't managed to build a truly solid and universal consensus about what they mean, even if they're recognized as having made something about the way life before was lived impossible to continue or recapture. There's a truism concerning the way that many students are taught about the Civil War that illustrates this idea: in elementary school, you learn it was about slavery; then in middle school, you learn that it was about states' rights (airbrushed postbellum statements from former Confederate officials leavened with cherry-picked Jeffersonian quotes typically feature heavily); and then in high school and college you learn that, no, it really was a war primarily and specifically fought and won over whether it was possible for a nation conceived in liberty to permit the institution of human bondage to persist, whether or not individual states or groups of citizens disagreed. The answer to the question of what the Civil War was "about" isn't just a question of historiography, it's a question of what kind of country America is, and what values that implies. If the Civil War was really about states' rights, then that implies a different set of lessons to be learned about what America is about, and also, implicitly, a different way of thinking about how it should be run in the future. The Great Depression (and by extension, the New Deal programs implemented to try to end it) is another epoch in US history that follows the same sort of explanatory circle: students first learn that the Depression was caused by unchecked capitalism and ended by the social programs of the New Deal; then they learn that it was a business cycle bubble ended by the massive military buildup during World War 2; and then they settle on the explanation that a persistent shortfall in aggregate demand was finally filled by aggressive federal monetary and fiscal policy, with varying roles for different programs and initiatives. However, while no one but a few isolated neo-Confederates still claims that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, recurring episodes of revisionist pseudo-history like Amity Shlaes' or Lee Ohanian's work show that the Depression is still contentious; beliefs about its causes, effects, and cures are inseparable from, and in fact essentially define modern political ideologies. It was a true watershed moment that left very few aspects of our national character unaffected, and so it's a historical event that's too important to be left to mere historians. Is it even possible to have a dispassionate study into our greatest national economic crisis and the changes it caused? What would it look like? Alexander Field has written an extremely interesting book with a very provocative claim about the background behind the laws and political struggles of the Depression: that the dozen years from 1929 to 1941 were, despite being miserable and wrenching years of want, at the same time the most technologically progressive in American history. Despite the innovations of wartime military research, there were essentially three main reasons that the years from the end of the war to the early Seventies were a unique time of such seemingly perpetual abundance: rapid advances in manufacturing sophistication (i.e. the continued shift from steam to electric power in factories); improvements in transportation that allowed producers, distributors, and consumers to take advantage of better automobiles (and particularly trucks); and changes in the nature of companies from antiquated 19th century businesses practices to the more complex and ordered processes of what we now recognize as the modern corporation. While the array of New Deal programs like the NIRA or Wagner Act had important contributions to the character of the economy, in an important sense they were largely channeling broader improvements in productive potential that resulted from the experiences of people and firms in an era of deprivation and necessity. To support this thesis, he employs not only careful collection and disaggregation of many statistical measures of productivity and GDP growth (made difficult for any scholar to analyze by the relatively primitive and often semi-reliable data available from this turbulent era), but also thoughtful reflections on the narrative implications of what those changing numbers in each economic sector mean, creating a useful synthesis of two strands of inquiry that check each other's work. It is one thing to compare the proportion of paved roads to dirt roads over time, it is another to explain how that improvement in logistics enabled vast increases in GDP as new economic opportunities became unlocked; similarly, the magnitude of increase in manufacturing capability by replacing bulky and unsafe steam distribution conduits in factories with electrical power becomes much more apparent when the productivity and capital intensity data is shown. The first part of the book is devoted to technical discussions on why many economists (and most of the public) have previously overlooked the eye-popping increases in "silent" indicators of economic strength in what's universally seen as a decade of stagnation and failure - this inside-baseball section is fairly dry and relies heavily on tables, charts, and regressions - but it is extremely convincing in conveying just how unique that era was. No other time, including the railroad boom of the Gilded Age, the Baby Boomer postwar years, or the IT revolution in the modern era, came close to the Thirties in the advance in what the economy was capable of producing. This is even more interesting when, as the second part of the book discusses, there was no single new "general purpose technology" responsible for this advance. A GPT is a poorly defined concept roughly corresponding to a "game changer" like the domestication of the horse, the invention of the wheel, or the discovery of agriculture that provides a Promethean spark to a society's technological capabilities. Field makes a fairly persuasive argument that no matter how broadly you define the term GPT, despite the copious amount of invention in the Thirties there was no single unique technology created that would explain its revolutionary nature, merely sustained improvements in infrastructure, broad advances in logistics, transportation, and the way that the loosely structured companies of the time reorganized themselves into more highly regimented and productive entities. As a bonus, he offers a fascinating look into how, despite its seemingly obvious transformative power, the IT boom of the 21st century "shows up everywhere but in the data" of GDP growth. The invention of the computer seems to have touched every aspect of our lives, yet it has not increased our potential economic output by nearly as much, in percentage terms, as the less glamorous factory retooling or dam construction of Roosevelt's day. But that fact has major implications for the two big takeaways from Field's research that he discusses: first, what did the things that people actually remember from the Depression - the New Deal alphabet agencies and government spending initiatives - have to do with ending it; and then, could our current recession be another period of outward misery yet inward growth waiting to be unleashed in another burst of prosperity? As far as the first is concerned, Field concludes that while much of the advance in the Thirties was more or less insensitive to government policy (in his phrase, "With or without the depression Wallace Carothers would have invented nylon"), and that certain redirections of scientific talent to initiatives like the Manhattan Project did not directly benefit the consumer economy, on balance FDR's fiscal and monetary liberalism played a large role in coordinating and strengthening the private sector's growth in potential. This suggests that comparable use of fiscal and monetary policy by the current administration has prevented a worse recession or a second Depression, though the effects of individual components of larger programs like quantitative easing and the stimulus package are always debatable. The second question is much harder to answer, both because the difficulty of knowing what the future will consider to be important advances, and because of the possibility that there are simply not many modern equivalents of transformative productive improvements like paving dirt roads or electrifying rural areas. Investments in improvements to America's aging infrastructure would certainly help the economy in the long term, as would proposals like educational reform, health care reform, or reductions in poverty and inequality, but it is difficult to identify where the applications of technological and organizational progress would yield a comparably enduring boom. High-speed rail might certainly be worth the cost, yet it’s hard to see how it would have the legacy of the US Route system. Additionally, while it is certainly true that in the long run the Schumpterian “creative destruction” processes of recessions can help make societies leaner and meaner, sometimes it simply makes them meaner. For some people, recessions are just lost years. And yet, the fact that the US has avoided a large part of the conservative policy mistakes that made the Depression so Great gives room for hope - unemployment, while bad, is nowhere near Depression levels, and even in deeply troubled regions of the world economy like Europe enough of the lessons of the Thirties have been learned to prevent similar catastrophes. The US may not be able to replicate 1941's feat of being able to produce an astonishing 40% more than it had twelve years prior with no additional capital or labor, but the possibility remains that necessity could be the mother of invention yet again. Field's work of cliometrics is one of the clearest looks backward and thought-provoking guides forward in recent years.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    Despite the title, this books aims to be a comprehensive re-examination of 20th century economic growth in America. This re-examination, however, is centered around the well-supported but odd fact that Total Factor Productivity (TFP - productivity that does not come from simply more labor or capital) growth in the 20th century peaked in the years 1929 to 1941. Field aims to explain how this challenges our conceptions of productivity growth. Field's main contribution is to isolate the effects of t Despite the title, this books aims to be a comprehensive re-examination of 20th century economic growth in America. This re-examination, however, is centered around the well-supported but odd fact that Total Factor Productivity (TFP - productivity that does not come from simply more labor or capital) growth in the 20th century peaked in the years 1929 to 1941. Field aims to explain how this challenges our conceptions of productivity growth. Field's main contribution is to isolate the effects of the 1930s productivity boom from the largely negative productivity effects of the Second World War. Contrary to the popular consensus, he shows that the massive restructuring of the economy in 1940s to build destroyers, bombs, and guns upset many of the trends of the previous years. Although the government flooded the economy with capital, much of this capital was ill-suited for consumer goods and thus dragged down productivity in the immediate post-war period. In the 1930s, by contrast, he shows that almost half of the productivity gains came from distribution, transportation, and retailing; sectors whose productivity was buoyed by the massive build-out of the road network in that decade. The other half of productivity gains in the 1930s came from manufacturing improvements, especially the continuation of the switch to electric one-story factories that began in the 1920s (and made that decade the second most productive in the century, but in that case such productivity centered almost entirely around manufacturing). Except for his support for road-building, which he mentioned probably hit diminishing returns in the 1960s, there are few obvious policy arguments here. Instead, Field aims largely at a re-telling of how the economy grew despite strong headwinds. Too much of the book is taken up with tedious reiterations of the same productivity table for different periods of the twentieth century, and of describing every jot and tittle of that table. The end of the book also carries an unconvincing and unnecessary argument about the financial crisis (every book today needs one), and about how the Federal Housing Administration supposedly improved housing productivity after the Second World War. But at its best, the book shows how deep dives into existing numbers, especially the examination of individual industries and sectors, can change our view of productivity, which is at the root of all economic growth.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Eli Mernit

    This is an academic book which puts forth the argument that the Great Depression period from 1929-1941 was an unprecedented time of technological innovation and productivity growth. Lay readers will find this text difficult, and the second half of book to be mostly superfluous. One must simply read the first third of the book to understand the author's conclusion; the remaining chapters consist of very specific clarifications about the quantitative data, as well as reflections on the 2000 tech b This is an academic book which puts forth the argument that the Great Depression period from 1929-1941 was an unprecedented time of technological innovation and productivity growth. Lay readers will find this text difficult, and the second half of book to be mostly superfluous. One must simply read the first third of the book to understand the author's conclusion; the remaining chapters consist of very specific clarifications about the quantitative data, as well as reflections on the 2000 tech bubble and the 2008 financial crisis. Ultimately, this is a very worthwhile read for anyone who wishes to appreciate the overlooked silver-lining to economic crisis.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Darin

    some good points (e.g. that TFP growth was high in the 1920s and 1930s due to advances in manufacturing), but could be more concise and be more explicit about data collection/sources (saying that you got your numbers from a government agency doesn't count).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Victor

    Looking at the Great Depression from a different stance that challenges traditional thinking. Read this book if you want to prove a point in a debate. I don't debate but this book does!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    rec'd tyler cowen

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Holt

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laurence

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Spitzfaden

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brian Rubinton

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  12. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  13. 4 out of 5

    Richard Ash

  14. 4 out of 5

    Pseudoerasmus (Econ History Only)

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert Love

  17. 4 out of 5

    xhxhx

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sakunthala Panditharatne

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian Galahad

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jared Bruh

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marc Andreessen

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paolo Mastrangelo

  23. 4 out of 5

    Steven Rosenblum

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jonny Travis

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Neumann

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jared

  27. 4 out of 5

    Derek Johnson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stijn F.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matt Grossmann

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rick

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.