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Thursday, April 28, 2011

American Economic History

I finished my last paper for American economic history today. The professor gave us the option to get one of two textbooks so of course I got both and read them cover to cover. Rather than make anyone suffer through two posts I'll just do a single post about them both.

The books were American Economic History by Hughes and Cain and get ready for this title, The Evolution of the American economy: Growth Welfare and Decision Making. Surprisingly enough, the one that was a more challenging and informative read was the one with the shorter title. Since the Evolution was published about ten years ago, I suppose that speaks well for the literacy of college students today vs. a few years ago.

So what did I learn? I learned an amazing amount of history about the Civil War. I'd heard of Robert Fogel by coming across his name in a few other textbooks but I was completely unaware of all his work surrounding the civil war. I was familiar with him as a railroad skeptic, meaning he believes that much of the economic growth of the US would have happened without railroads, and I'd heard of his work in anthropometrics. I hadn't heard about Time on the Cross though, what a bombshell what must have been on the 70s economic scene. I won't comment on the content, I may need to run for public office someday but I will say that the coverage of his work was very detailed in the textbook and it was good and balanced and well, interesting. Personally I love how history has become more than dates and places and now you have to think and do math and understand models.

Another part of economic history I'd never really put a lot of though into was the rise of mass distribution. I know it's a big part of our history, the stories about Sears and J.C. Penny and Woolworth's are as much a part of American capitalism as J.P. Morgan and Rockefeller. For all my life though stores have always just been there. I never really thought about how stores carrying a stable set of items at fixed prices was actually an economic revolution. I can't imagine haggling over a can of beans or a burrito for lunch every day. Can you tell I'm itching to have some good Mexican food?

The descriptions of the Great Depression were pretty enlightening as well. I've of course read plenty about it in Macroeconomics and in history books but it was nice to see them smashed together.

I finished my last paper today, except for minor edits I'm done with the course and I'm glad to be done. I don't think Umass Lowell offers any other economic history classes so I guess I'm done with them. Guess what? While I was finishing it up I saw that the boom and bust folks have another video out so I'll leave you with the most awesome economist rap video in history, it's even better than the first one

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Hey I appreciate you leaving your thoughts behind! Be well my friend.