Why did the industrial diet triumph?

by Fernando Collantes (University of Zaragoza and Instituto Agroalimentario de Aragón)

This blog is part of a larger research paper published in the Economic History Review.

 

Harvard_food_pyramid
Harvard food pyramid. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

Consumers in the Northern hemisphere are feeling increasingly uneasy about their industrial diet. Few question that during the twentieth century the industrial diet helped us solve the nutritional problems related to scarcity. But there is now growing recognition that the triumph of the industrial diet triggered new problems related to abundance, among them obesity, excessive consumerism and environmental degradation. Currently, alternatives, ranging from organic food and those bearing geographical-‘quality’ labels, struggle to transcend the industrial diet. Frequently, these alternatives face a major obstacle: their relatively high price compared to mass-produced and mass-retailed food.

The research that I have conducted examines the literature on nutritional transitions, food regimes and food history, and positions it within present-day debates on diet change in affluent societies.  I employ a case-study of the growth in mass consumption of dairy products in Spain between 1965 and 1990. In the mid-1960s, dairy consumption was very low in Spain and many suffered from calcium deficiency.  Subsequently, there was a rapid growth in consumption. Milk, especially, became an integral part of the diet for the population. Alongside mass consumption there was also mass-production and complementary technical change. In the early 1960s, most consumers only drank raw milk, but by the 1990s milk was being sterilised and pasteurised to standard specifications by an emergent national dairy industry.

In the early 1960s, the regular purchase of milk was too expensive for most households. By the early 1990s, an increase in household incomes, complemented by (alleged) price reductions generated by dairy industrialization, facilitated rapid milk consumption. A further factor aiding consumption was changing consumer preferences. Previously, consumers perceptions of milk were affected by recurrent episodes of poisoning and fraud. The process of dairy industrialization ensured a greater supply of ‘safe’ milk and this encouraged consumers to use their increased real incomes to buy more milk. ‘Quality’ milk meant milk that was safe to consume became the main theme in the advertising campaigns employed milk processers (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1. Advertisement by La Lactaria Española in the early 1970s.

Collantes Pic
Source: Revista Española de Lechería, no. 90 (1973).

 

What are the implications of my research to contemporary debates on food quality? First the transition toward a diet richer in organic foods and foods characterised by short food-supply chains and artisan-like production, backed by geographical-quality labels has more than niche relevance. There are historical precedents (such as the one studied in this article) of large sections of the populace willing to pay premium prices for food products that in some senses are  perceived as qualitatively superior to other, more ‘conventional’ alternatives. If it happened in the past, it can happen again.  Indeed, new qualitative substitutions are already taking place. The key issue is the direction of this substitution. Will consumers use their affluence to ‘green’ their diet? Or will they use higher incomes  to purchase more highly processed foods — with possibly negative implications for  public health and environmental sustainability? This juncture between  food-system dynamics and  public policy is crucial. As Fernand Braudel argued, it is the extraordinary capacity for adaption that defines capitalism.  My research suggests that we need public policies that reorient food capitalism towards socially progressive ends.

 

To contact the author:  collantf@unizar.es

Plague and long-term development

by Guido Alfani (Bocconi University, Dondena Centre and IGIER)

 

The full paper has been published in The Economic History Review and is available here.

A YouTube video accompanies this work and can be found here.

 

How did preindustrial economies react to extreme mortality crises caused by severe epidemics of plague? Were health shocks of this kind able to shape long-term development patterns? While past research focused on the Black Death that affected Europe during 1347-52 ( Álvarez Nogal and Prados de la Escosura 2013; Clark 2007; Voigtländer and Voth 2013), in a forthcoming article with Marco Percoco we analyse the long-term consequences of what was by far the worst mortality crisis affecting Italy during the Early Modern period: the 1629-30 plague which killed an estimated 30-35% of the northern Italian population — about two million victims.

 

Figure 1 Luigi Pellegrini Scaramuccia (1670), Federico Borromeo visits the plague ward during the 1630 plague,

Alfani 1

Source: Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana

 

This episode is significant in Italian history, and more generally, for our understanding of the Little Divergence between the North and South of Europe. It had recently been hypothesized that the 1630 plague was the source of Italy’s relative decline during the seventeenth century (Alfani 2013). However, this hypothesis lacked solid empirical evidence. To resolve this question, we take a different approach from previous studies, and  demonstrate that plague lowered the trajectory of development of Italian cities. We argue that this was mostly due to a productivity shock caused by the plague, but we also explore other contributing factors. Consequently,  we provide support for the view that the economic consequences of severe demographic shocks need to be understood and studied on a case-by-case basis, as the historical context in which they occurred can lead to very different outcomes (Alfani and Murphy 2017).

After assembling a new database of mortality rates in a sample of 56 cities, we estimate a model of population growth allowing for different regimes of growth. We build on the seminal papers by Davis and Weinstein (2002), and Brakman et al. (2004) who based their analysis on a new framework in economic geography framework in which a relative city size growth model is estimated to determine whether a shock has temporary or persistent effects. We find that cities affected by the 1629-30 plague experienced persistent, long-term effects (i.e., up to 1800) on their pattern of relative population growth.

 

Figure 2. Giacomo Borlone de Buschis (attributed), Triumph of Death (1485), fresco

Alfani 2

Source: Oratorio dei Disciplini, Clusone (Italy).

 

We complete our analysis by estimating the absolute impact of the epidemic. We find that in northern Italian regions the plague caused a lasting decline in both the size and rate of change  of urban populations. The lasting damage done to the urban population are shown in Figure 3. For urbanization rates it will suffice to notice that across the North of Italy, by 1700 (70 years after the 1630 plague), they were still more than 20 per cent lower than in the decades preceding the catastrophe (16.1 per cent in 1700 versus an estimated 20.4 per cent in 1600, for cities >5,000). Overall, these findings suggest that surges in plagues may contribute to the decline of economic regions or whole countries. Our conclusions are  strengthened by showing that while there is clear evidence of the negative consequences of the 1630 plague, there is hardly any evidence for a positive effect (Pamuk 2007). We hypothesize that the potential positive consequences of the 1630 plague were entirely eroded by a negative productivity shock.

 

Figure 3. Size of the urban population in Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto (1620-1700)

Alfani 3

Source: see original article

 

Demonstrating that the plague had a persistent negative effect on many key Italian urban economies, we provide support for the hypothesis that the origins of  relative economic decline in northern Italy are to be found in particularly unfavorable epidemiological conditions. It was the context in which an epidemic occurred that increased its ability to affect the economy, not the plague itself.  Indeed, the 1630 plague affected the main states of the Italian Peninsula at the worst possible moment when its manufacturing were dealing with increasing competition from northern European countries. This explanation, however, provides a different interpretation to the Little Divergence in recent literature.

 

To contact the author: guido.alfani@unibocconi.it

 

References

Alfani, G., ‘Plague in seventeenth century Europe and the decline of Italy: and epidemiological hypothesis’, European Review of Economic History, 17, 4 (2013), pp.  408-430

Alfani, G. and Murphy, T., ‘Plague and Lethal Epidemics in the Pre-Industrial World’, Journal of Economic History, 77, 1 (2017), pp. 314-343.

Alfani, G. and Percoco, M., ‘Plague and long-term development: the lasting effects of the 1629-30 epidemic on the Italian cities’, The Economic History Review, forthcoming, https://doi.org/10.1111/ehr.12652

Álvarez Nogal, C. and Prados de la Escosura,L., ‘The Rise and Fall of Spain (1270-1850)’, Economic History Review, 66, 1 (2013), pp. 1–37.

Brakman, S., Garretsen H., Schramm M. ‘The Strategic Bombing of German Cities during World War II and its Impact on City Growth’, Journal of Economic Geography, 4 (2004), pp. 201-218.

Clark, G., A Farewell to Alms (Princeton, 2007).

Davis, D.R. and Weinstein, D.E. ‘Bones, Bombs, and Break Points: The Geography of Economic Activity’, American Economic Review, 92, 5 (2002), pp. 1269-1289.

Pamuk, S., ‘The Black Death and the origins of the ‘Great Divergence’ across Europe, 1300-1600’, European Review of Economic History, 11 (2007), pp. 289-317.

Voigtländer, N. and H.J. Voth, ‘The Three Horsemen of Riches: Plague, War, and Urbanization in Early Modern Europe’, Review of Economic Studies 80, 2 (2013), pp. 774–811.

The Political Economy of the Army in a Nonconsolidated Democracy: Spain (1931-1939)

by Alvaro La Parra-Perez (Weber State University)

The full article is published by the Economic History Review and is available for Early View at this link 

The Spanish Civil War (1936-9; henceforth, SCW) ended the Second Spanish Republic (1931-9), which is often considered Spain’s first democracy. Despite the hopes raised by the Republic – which enfranchised women and held free and fair elections, separated Church and state, and drafted and ambitious agrarian reform- , its end was not very different from many previous Spanish regimes: a military coup started the SCW which ultimately resulted in a dictatorship led by one of the rebel officers: Francisco Franco (1939/75).

In my article “For a Fistful of Pesetas? The Political Economy of the Army in a Non-Consolidated Democracy: The Second Spanish Republic and Civil War (1931-9)”, I open the “military black box” to understand the motivations driving officers’ behavior. In particular, the article explores how the redistribution of economic and professional rents during the Republic influenced officers’ likelihood of rebelling or remaining loyal to the republican government in 1936. By looking at (military) intra-elite conflict, I depart from the traditional assumption of an “elite single agent” that characterizes the neoclassical theory of the state (e.g. here, here, here, or here; also here).

The article uses a new data set with almost 12,000 active officers active in 1936 who belonged to the corps more directly involved in combat. Using the Spanish military yearbooks between 1931 and 1936, I traced officers’ individual professional trajectories and assessed the impact that republican military reforms in 1931-6 had on their careers. The side –loyal or rebel- chosen by each officer comes from Carlos Engel.

Untitled
Figure 1. Extract from the 1936 military yearbook. Source: 1936 Military Yearbook published by the Spanish Minister of War: http://hemerotecadigital.bne.es/issue.vm?id=0026976287&search=&lang=en

The main military reforms during the Republic took place under Manuel Azaña’s term as Minister of the War (1931-3). Azaña was also the leader of the leftist coalition that ruled the Republic when some officers rebelled and the SCW began. Azaña’s reforms favored the professional and economic independence of the Air Force and harmed many officers’ careers when some promotions passed during Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship (1923/30) were revised and cancelled. The system of military promotions was also revised and rendered more impersonal and meritocratic. Some historians also argue that the elimination of the highest rank in the army (Lieutenant General) worsened the professional prospects of many officers because vacancies for promotions became scarcer.

The results suggest that, at the margin, economic and professional considerations had a significant influence on officers’ choice of side during the SCW. The figure below shows the probit average marginal effects for the likelihood of rebelling among officers in republican-controlled areas. The main variables of interest are the ones under the “Rents” header. In general, those individuals or factions that improved their economic rents under Azaña’s reforms were less likely to rebel. For example, aviators were almost 20 percentage points less likely to rebel than the reference corps (artillerymen) and those officers with worse prospects after the rank of lieutenant general was eliminated were more likely to join the rebel ranks. Also, officers with faster careers (greater “change of position”) in the months before the SCW were less likely to rebel. The results also suggest that officers had a high discount rate for changes in their rank or position in the scale. Pre-1935 promotions are not significantly related to officers’ side during the SCW. Officers negatively affected by the revision of promotions in 1931/3 were more likely to rebel only at the 10 percent significance level (p-value=0.089).

Untitled 2
Figure 2. Probit average marginal effects for officers in republican-controlled areas with 95-percent confidence intervals. Source: see original article

To be clear, economic and professional interest were not the only elements explaining officers’ behavior. The article also finds evidence for the significance of other social and ideological factors. Take the case of hierarchical influences. Subordinates’ likelihood of rebelling in a given unit increased if their leader rebelled. Also, officers were less likely to rebel in those areas where the leftist parties that ruled in July 1936 had obtained better results in the elections held in February. Finally, members of the Assault Guard –a unit for which proven loyalty to the Republic was required- were more likely to remain loyal to the republican government.

The results are hardly surprising for an economist: people respond to incentives and officers – being people- were influenced at the margin by the impact that Azaña’s reforms had on their careers. This mechanism adds to the ideological explanations that have often dominated the narratives of the SCW, which tend to depict the army –more or less explicitly- as a monolithic agent aligned with conservative elites. As North, Wallis, and Weingast showed for other developing societies, intra-elite conflict and the redistribution of rents were an important factor in the dynamics (and ultimate fall) of the dominant coalition in Spain’s first democracy.

 

To contact the author:

Twitter: @AlvaroLaParra

Professional website: https://sites.google.com/site/alvarolaparraperez/

Can school centralization foster human capital accumulation? A quasi-experiment from early twentieth-century Italy

By Gabriele Cappelli (University of Siena) and Michelangelo Vasta (University of Siena)

The article is available on Early View at the Economic History Review’s link here

 

The issue of school reform is a key element of institutional change across countries. In developing economies the focus is rapidly shifting from increasing enrolments to improving educational outputs (literacy and skills) and outcomes (wages and productivity). In advanced economies, policy-makers focus on generating skills from educational inputs despite limited resources. This is unsurprising, because human capital formation is largely acknowledged as one of the main factors of economic growth.

Related to education policy, reforms have long focused on the way that the school systems can be organized, particularly its management and funding by local v. central government. On the one hand, local policy makers are more aware of the needs of local communities, which is supposed to improve schooling. On the other hand, school preferences might vary considerably between the central government and the local ruling elites, hampering the diffusion of education. Despite the importance of the topic, there is little historical research on this topic.

In this paper, we offer fresh evidence using a quasi-experiment that aims to explore dramatic changes in Italy’s educational institutions at the beginning of the 20th century, i.e. the 1911 Daneo-Credaro Reform. Due to this legislation, most municipalities moved from a decentralized school system, which had been based on the 1859 Casati Law, to direct state management and funding, while other municipalities, mainly provincial and district capitals, retained their autonomy, thus forming two distinct groups (Figure 1).

The Reform design allows us to compare these two groups through a quasi-experiment based on an innovative technique, namely Propensity Score Matching (henceforth PSM). PSM tackles an issue with the Reform that we study, namely that the assignment into treatment (centralization) of the municipalities is not random: the municipalities that retained school autonomy were those characterized by high literacy. By contrast, the poorest and less literate municipalities were more likely to end up under state control, implying that the analysis of the Daneo-Credaro Reform as an experiment will tend to overestimate the impact of centralization. PSM tackles the issue by ‘randomizing’ the selection into treatment: a statistical model is used to estimate the probability of being selected into centralization (propensity score) for each municipality; then, an algorithm matches municipalities in the treatment group with municipalities in the control group that have an equal (or very similar) propensity score – meaning that the only different feature will be whether they are treated or not. To perform PSM, we construct a novel database at the municipal level (a large sample of 1,000+ comuni). Secondly, we fill a gap in the historiography by providing an in-depth discussion of the way that the Reform worked, which has so far been neglected.

1
Figure 1 – Municipalities that still retained school autonomy in Italy by 1923. Source: Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione (1923), Relazione sul numero, la distribuzione e il funzionamento delle scuole elementari. Rome. Note: both the grey and black dots represent municipalities that retained school autonomy by 1923, while the others (not shown in the map) had shifted to centralized school management and funding. 

We find that the municipalities that switched to state control were characterized by a 0.43 percentage-point premium on the average annual growth of literacy between 1911 and 1921, compared to those that retained autonomy (Table 1). The estimated coefficient means that two very similar municipalities with equal literacy rates at 60% in 1911 will have a literacy gap equal to 3 percentage points in 1921, i.e. 72.07% (school autonomy) vs 75.17% (treated). This difference is similar to the gap between the treatment group and a counterfactual that we estimated in a robustness check based on Italian provinces (Figure 2).

Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 20.34.56
Table 1 – Estimated treatment (Daneo-Credaro Reform) effect, 1911 – 1921.
2
Figure 2 – Literacy rates in the treatment and control groups, 1881 – 1921, pseudo-DiD. Source: see original article

Centralization improved the overall functioning of the school system and the efficiency of school funding. First, it reduced the distance between the central government and the city councils by granting more decision-making power to the provincial schooling board under the supervision of the central government. Thus, the control exercised by the Ministry reassured teachers that their salary would be increased, and the government could now guarantee that they would be paid regularly, which was not always the case when the municipalities managed primary schooling. Secondly, additional funding was provided to build new schools. The resultant increase appears to have been very large and its impact was amplified by the full reorganization of the school system. The funds could be directed to where they were most needed. Consequently, we argue, a mere increase in funding without institutional change would have been less effective in increasing literacy rates.
To conclude, the 50-year persistence of decentralized primary schooling hampered the accumulation of human capital and regional convergence in basic education, thus casting a long shadow on the future pace of aggregate and regional economic growth. The centralization of primary education via the Daneo-Credaro Reform in 1911 was a major breakthrough, which fostered the spread of literacy and allowed the country to reduce the human-capital gap with the most advanced economies.

 

To contact the author: Gabriele Cappelli

Email: gabriele.cappelli@unisi.it

Twitter: gabercappe

Landlords and tenants in Britain, 1440-1660

review by James P. Bowen (University of Liverpool)

book edited by Jane Whittle

‘Landlords and tenanta in Britain, 1440-1660’ is published by Boydell and Brewer. SAVE  25% when you order direct from the publisher – offer ends on the 15th August 2019. See below for details.

 

9781843838500_1

This book, the first volume in the Economic History Society’s ‘People, Markets, Goods: Economies and Societies in History’ paperback series, revisits Tawney’s classic work, The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century, published in 1912. It arises from a conference held to mark the centenary of the book’s publication and includes the leading figures in rural and agrarian history showcasing the latest research on issues originally discussed by Tawney. The book is logically structured. Keith Wrightson’s foreword provides personal insight as to attitudes amongst Cambridge economic historians who maligned Tawney. The first three chapters offer overviews beginning with Jane Whittle’s historiographical essay concerning Tawney, providing background to his Agrarian Problem. Christopher Dyer surveys the fifteenth century, given Tawney’s view that demographic changes were key in creating change in fifteenth-century England, providing the conditions for the ‘problem’ of the sixteenth century. Harold Garrett-Goodyear addresses the issues surrounding copyhold tenure and the institutional function of manor courts in promoting lords’ private interests as landowners and how this was reflected in economic and social change with the emergence of agrarian capitalism, greater social differentiation and the transition from feudal to modern society.

The remaining chapters are thematic, several of which are detailed local or micro-studies. Briony McDonagh and Heather Falvey explore the enclosure process at a local level. Complementing the rural viewpoint, Andy Wood shows how notions of custom and popular memory were prominent in urban society below the ‘middling sort’, specifically weavers of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, a cloth-working town. Whilst there is an apparent lack of evidence for Tawney’s sense of ‘ideal customary’, he suggests this does not undermine his view, conversely reinforcing his argument about the centrality of custom in popular political culture and disputes arising because of struggles over customary entitlement and urban identity. Providing a comparative dimension Julian Goodare searches for a Scottish agrarian problem, pointing out that whilst the two countries had different legal and political systems, similar processes seem to have been at play, suggesting a common economic problem rather than law or political structures.

Several chapters address the issue of tenure, Tawney having pointed to the insecurity of leasehold tenure and the increasing commercial landlord policies as being central to the agrarian problems of the sixteenth century. Jean Morrin examines a landlord-tenant dispute on the Durham Cathedral Estate over the abolition of traditional customary tenures, specifically tenant-right. She argues for a more subtle approach to leases in the early modern period given the various forms which they took, presenting a picture of negotiation and compromise, which not only encouraged tenants to improve farms, but also granted them the right to bequeath, sell or mortgage their leases to whomever they chose. Jennifer Holt explores the case of the Hornby Castle Estate in north Lancashire, analyzing the potential income from customary land and quantifying the shares of lords and tenants, demonstrating how manorial tenants benefitted despite the lord’s attempt to raise rents and fines, retaining their tenures on a customary basis.

Chapters by Bill Shannon and Elizabeth Griffiths look at landlord-driven agrarian improvement intended to raise revenue. Christopher Brooks considers the legal and political context, in particular the impact of the Civil Wars and Interregnum, highlighting the complexities which weakened Tawney’s assessment of the mid- and later seventeenth century. He highlights the common laws engagement with customary tenures by 1640, arguing that greater security afforded to smallholders enabled them to assert their rights more aggressively, with patriarchal and seigniorial landlord-tenant relationships being replaced by economic relations. Legal developments meant common law served the interests of ‘middling’ agricultural society and the gentry and that by the 1680s, land, including copyhold, had been absorbed into the market for both property and credit. Finally, David Ormrod reflects on the significance of Tawney’s work in relation to long-standing theoretical debates regarding the rise of capitalism and the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

Whittle’s short conclusion effectively synthesizes the chapters, showing that debates have progressed since Tawney’s work not least with regard to the newer approaches towards political, social and rural history. Emphasis is placed on the ‘blurred boundaries’ which existed, leading to disputes notably over enclosure and tenure. Developments in England are viewed in a wider western European perspective, with reference to up-to-date research and future questions identified. The chapters form a coherent volume which, as the title suggests, focuses on the changing relationship between landlords and tenants, a well-established trend in agrarian historiography. Moreover, while it is recognized that any notion of a sixteenth-century agrarian revolution has been rejected, it nevertheless rightly argued that Tawney’s Agrarian Problem, ‘remains a crucial reference point’, containing much to, ‘inform and inspire the twenty-first-century historian seeking to understand the changes that took place in rural England between 1440 and 1660’ (pp. 17-18).

 

SAVE 25% when you order direct from the publisher using the offer code B125 online hereOffer ends 15th August 2019. Discount applies to print and eBook editions. Alternatively call Boydell’s distributor, Wiley, on 01243 843 291, and quote the same code. Any queries please email marketing@boydell.co.uk

 

Note: this post appeared as a book review article in the Review. We have obtained the necessary permissions.

Inequality dynamics in turbulent times

by María Gómez León (Instituto Figuerola/Universidad Carlos III, Madrid) and Herman J. de Jong (University of Groningen)

 

800px-The_Home_Front_in_Britain_during_the_Second_World_War_HU44272
The Home Front in Britain during the Second World War. Available here

Recent influential studies on the historical evolution of inequality and its causes (Milanovic 2016; Piketty 2014) have attracted new interest in the topic. While attributed to different factors, there is a wide consensus on the slowdown of inequality in western Europe during the twentieth century up to the 1980s—a phenomenon commonly referred to as the ‘great levelling’ or ‘egalitarian revolution’. Yet, we do not know how differently this deceleration evolved across countries. Turbulent episodes during the first half of the twentieth century—including two World Wars, the Great Depression and the upsurge of radical parties—suggest that, at least in the short run, inequality may have followed very different patterns across European nations. However, we have little empirical evidence, due to the lack of data on income distribution before 1950, especially for the interwar years.

In a forthcoming article we provide new annual data on income inequality for two leading European countries, Germany and Britain, for the first half of the twentieth century. Using dynamic social tables, we obtain comparable annual estimates (measured as Gini coefficients) covering the full range of income distribution. Evidence from Germany and Britain (Figure 1) yields two main results. First, the drop in inequality was neither steady nor similar across these countries, supporting the notion of inequality cycles (Milanovic 2016; Prados de la Escosura 2008). Second, inequality trends in Germany and Britain tended to follow opposite patterns.

Untitled
Figure 1. Inequality trends in Britain and Germany.  For data and sources see Gómez León and de Jong (Forthcoming)

What drove inequality changes in these two countries? How did inequality develop for specific groups of the population?  On the first question, we find that in Germany before 1933 and from 1939 onwards, variations in the relationship between owners and workers as well as variations within the group of workers (across work status and gender) drove changes in income distribution. During the Nazi period, only differences between owners and workers help to explain changes in inequality, as the abolition of trade unions and the setting of maximum wages precluded the dispersion of labour earnings. On the other hand, the dispersion of earnings among British workers appears to have been the main driver of changes in inequality before the Great War and after 1939, when the reduction of skill premiums and gender payment inequalities offset the relative increase in incomes. However, from the First World War to the outbreak of the Second World War, differences between proprietors and workers, as well as changes in labour earnings dispersion, drove inequality changes.

On the second question, we observe that in both countries the winners of the economic expansion experienced between 1900 and 1950 were the upper-low and lower-middle classes (i.e. the salaried and wage-earners in both manufacturing and war-related heavy industries). However, the gains linked to industrial expansion during the First World War and the Second World War were concentrated among the upper classes in Germany, while in Britain the benefits were more evenly distributed among the working classes. The reverse occurred during the interwar period.

In line with Lindert and Williamson (2016) and Piketty (2014), our paper points primarily towards political and institutional factors as the crucial drivers of inequality trends during the first half of the twentieth century. The usefulness of dynamic social tables for exploring national income distributions in the past invites future research on other European countries as well as on other potential factors (e.g. migration, technological change) affecting short-term inequality dynamics during the period.

 

To contact the lead author: e-mail: mgomez3@clio.uc3m.es ; Twitter: @Maria0zmg

 

References:

Gómez León, M. and de Jong, J. H., ‘Inequality in turbulent times: Income distribution in Germany and Britain 1900–1950’, Economic History Review, (Forthcoming)

Lindert, P. H. and Williamson, J. G., Unequal gains: American growth and inequality since 1700 (Princeton, NJ, 2016).

Milanovic, B., Global inequality: A new approach for the age of globalization (Cambridge, Mass., 2016).

Piketty, T., Capital in the twenty-first century (Cambridge, Mass., 2014).
Prados de la Escosura, L., ‘Inequality, poverty and the Kuznets curve in Spain, 1850–2000’, European Review of Economic History, 12 (2008), pp. 287–324.

 

Child workers and industrial health in Britain 1780-1850

Peter Kirby, Child workers and industrial health in Britain 1780-1850 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2013. Pp. xi + 212. 8 tabs. 6 figs. ISBN 9781843838845 Pbk. £19.99)

Review by Alysa Levene (Oxford Brookes University)

Book by Peter Kirby

‘Child workers and industrial health in Britain 1780-1850’ is published by Boydell and Brewer. SAVE  25% when you order direct from the publisher – offer ends on the 18th July 2019. See below for details.

 

copertina kirby.png

The physical horrors endured by child workers in the early industrial workplace are well known to historians – or at least, we think they are. The regulations of the various Factory Acts and the testaments of sub-commissioners, doctors and factory workers to the parliamentary enquiries of the 1830s and 1840s are common reference points for those of us working or teaching in this area. However, over the last few years, several in-depth studies of child labour in industrial England have appeared which have started to challenge and nuance what we think we know. First, Katrina Honeyman, Child Workers in England, 1780-1820 (2007) suggested that apprentices to cotton mills were often better looked after than we have thought. Then, Jane Humphries, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution (2010) set industrial work in a wider context of schooling and family life, as evidenced in over 600 working-class autobiographies. And now, Peter Kirby has added the first monograph study of occupational health among child workers in the first half of the nineteenth century¸ and has again, knocked down many of the key points we have been telling students for years.

The book is organised thematically, starting with an Introduction which sets out in detail the historical background to child labour in industry, and the sources we have for studying it. Here, Kirby points out the problems with the medical evidence collected for the parliamentary enquiries in the 1830s and 1840s; namely that many of the doctors concerned did not have first-hand experience of occupational health and so tended to attribute any health issues to working conditions rather than environmental ones. This leads him to place more emphasis on the writings of non-medical men, shifting the perspective away from doctors and children and towards health and conditions of work in the round. The main chapters consider child health in industrial cities generally; the key issues affecting the health of child industrial worker (deformities; ‘materials’ – see more below; and injuries); heights and ages, and how these were measured; and finally, corporal punishment and murder.

One of Kirby’s key conclusions is that it was environmental rather than working conditions which were responsible for most of the health problems experienced by child workers. He states that many began work in factories and mines already compromised by poor nutrition, environmental pollution and the impact of parental loss (which led to work at a young age), and that in fact, stunted and disabled children may have been preferentially admitted to the factory workforce because they were suited to the lighter tasks found there. To a certain degree this is convincing, and it is certainly instructive and worthwhile to draw attention to the relationship between the conditions of home life and working life so clearly. The discussion of environmental pollution and its impact on health is particularly detailed. However, it seems hard to believe either that so many children would have suffered from conditions like byssinosis, scoliosis or poliomyelitis as Kirby suggests, or that pre-existing disability could have been so widespread among child workers given the need to stand upright and bear a load in so many areas of work.

The discussion of ‘materials’ is another area where Kirby provides an impressive level of detail, and which advances our understanding of the realities of working life in mills. In particular, he draws attention to the pollutants which can be carried in raw cotton, and ties this to changes in supply during this period, for example, away from imports from the West Indies, and towards those from North America, which were less likely to be contaminated (this coincided with a fall in ‘mill fevers’). This is something which has not been much considered in previous work (although it was noted by contemporaries) and which has a bearing on both adult and child workers.

Kirby attempts to bring a similarly new perspective to the discussion of workplace violence, suggesting that corporal punishment was common only in specific circumstances (such as where safety or productivity demanded it, or where child workers were particularly vulnerable, like parish apprentices), and that it was in any case a more accepted part of daily life than it is now. These two points do not necessarily sit easily together; certainly the evidence of violence in the commissioners’ reports suggests that it was not condoned. He is more confident on the system of medical inspection, and provides a detailed discussion of its scale and potential pitfalls, particularly the difficulty of assessing children’s ages (vital for ensuring that factories and mines adhered to the changing laws on age at starting work). Ultimately this led to the development of standard charts for growth and dentition.

Overall, this is an excellent and comprehensive study of the occupational health of child workers in the most high-profile areas of the industrial sector. It makes a significant contribution to debates on child labour, and the impact of industry on health and daily life. Kirby paints a notably more optimistic picture of the industrial workplace than we are used to, certainly in times of the impact on health and stature of its youngest workers. He ends by calling for more work on other areas of the industrial workforce, and this would certainly be welcome. The book is an excellent introduction to the topic for students and researchers alike; it remains to be seen whether it sparks a new wave of debate over the ‘optimistic’ versus the ‘pessimistic’ schools of thought on the industrial revolution.

 

SAVE 25% when you order direct from the publisher using the offer code B125 online hereOffer ends 18th July 2019. Alternatively call Boydell’s distributor, Wiley, on 01243 843 291, and quote the same code. Any queries please email marketing@boydell.co.uk

 

Convict labour in modern American history

by Michael Poyker (UCLA)

 

m-3776
Prison Gang in Birmingham, ca. 1870. Available at <http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1346&gt;

The United States has the largest prison population in the world. More than half of the convicts are engaged in some form of convict labour, and inmates employed in prison industries convicts constituted 4.5% of total US manufacturing employment in 2005. They earn substantially below minimum wage, ranging from nothing to $4.90 per hour in state prisons. Such low labour costs may have effects on free labour.

Despite numerous examples of malevolent competition, no research has been done on the possible effects of how convict labour affects free labour. In addition, contemporary public policy research typically considers convict labour as purely beneficial for society (through rehabilitation of prisoners and alleviating budgetary expenses on corrections). Finally, US prisons are built in economically depressed counties under the assumption that they will provide jobs (such as guards or janitors) in the local labour market.

My research addresses the previously unstudied question of how convict labour affects local labour markets and firms that employ free labour by studying convict labour in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Data on contemporary convict labour output is not available, and as prisons are strategically located in economically depressed areas, it could confound the results. I use the historical context of when convict labour first appeared in 1870s.

First, very detailed data are available. Second, the rule of prison location was different – prisons were located in large urban areas (with higher wages) to save money on transport of prisoners. Third, the introduction of convict labour system was a nation-wide movement uncorrelated with the local economic conditions.

I have collected and digitalised archival data on US prisons and convict labour camps to construct county-level exposure to convict labour for the period 1886-1940. I find a significant negative effect of convict labour on wage growth and manufacturing employment, and a positive effect on patenting.

The magnitude of convict labour output was enormous: for each manufacturing worker with an average annual wage of $242, there were at least $18 per worker of prison-made goods. Regarding convict labour exposure comparing counties at the 25th and 75th percentile, the one more exposed to convict labour experienced 12.6% slower wage growth. In terms of counterfactuals, the introduction of convict labour in the 1870s accounts for 16% slower wage growth in the period 1880-1900 (when wage growth was 7.2%).

Competition with convict labour affected firms. Firms in affected industries couldn’t compete with prison-made goods in terms of labour costs. (The unit labour cost of prison labour was 4-50% of that of free labourers) Thus, they had to innovate-away in product-space or upgrade their technology to decrease costs or substitute labour with capital. I find that the introduction of convict labour accounts for 6% of the growth in patenting in affected industries.

I also shows the effects of convict labour on other economic outcomes. Convict labour gave police the incentives to arrest more people. Counties more exposed to convict labour had higher incarceration rates. There is also suggestive evidence that convict labour adversely affected intergenerational mobility in the long run.

Nowadays, as transport costs have decreased over time, competition with prison-made goods may spread farther from the prison. Thus, the overall effect of convict labour on contemporary manufacturing wages could be smaller around the prison but more substantial overall. Moreover, the number of convicts has soared from approximately 80, 000in 1920 to more than 2.5 million today.

Overall, these findings may be important for public policy research on convict labour since it may worsen local labour market outcomes, thus overshadowing any possible positive effects from rehabilitation or jobs provided by prisons. Finally, as the state is a beneficiary of the convict labour, welfare redistribution may be necessary to offset adverse effects on those affected by competition.

 

Population, welfare and economic change in Britain, 1290-1834

review by David Hitchcock (Canterbury Christ Church University)

book edited by Chris Briggs, P.M. Kitson & S. J. Thompson

‘Population, welfare and economic change in Britain, 1290-1834’ is published by Boydell and Brewer. SAVE  25% when you order direct from the publisher – offer ends on the 14th June 2019. See below for details.

 

Picture1

This edited volume emerged from a 2011 Cambridge conference held in honour of Richard Smith, and collects expanded versions of eleven papers presented to honour Smith’s scholarly contributions, not least his long tenure at the helm of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. In the introduction, the editors assert that the book is fundamentally about ‘the historical contexts of demographic decisions broadly defined: decisions about marriage, migration, household formation, retirement, child-bearing, work, and saving’ (p. 2). In practice however the eleven contributors speak to a necessarily narrower range of scholarly concerns. The bulk of the chapters revolve around either demographic reconstruction, in the classic Cambridge Group style, and mainly by using English evidence, or around systemic quantification of poor relief mechanisms such as workhouses and outdoor relief (Boulton), legislation (Thompson), relief to the aged (Williams), or Almshouses (Goose and Yates). E.A. Wrigley and R.W. Hoyle offer a summative and speculative chapter respectively which bookend the volume. Wrigley’s opening chapter reprises the now classic Hajnal essay on European marriage patterns in light of new evidence and offers a survey of the present state of scholarship on the divergent demographies of early modern North-West versus South-East Europe. Wrigley remains broadly convinced of the efficacy of the ‘North-Western marriage pattern’ thesis (p. 26). Hoyle returns to Alan Macfarlane’s once-controversial contention that the peculiarly individualistic distribution of English property rights meant that long-term single family ownership of the same set of landed estates was limited (p. 308), and he pronounces Macfarlane’s argument largely true for land ownership, and his final chapter then elaborates on the implications of English individualism for other types of economic activity, namely trade and agriculture.

The collection has a five-chapter section devoted to poor relief. Several of these chapters seem to offer addendums to work already in print and there is a distinct focus on locality, for instance, Samantha Williams’ work on support for the elderly in Bedfordshire, and her production of ‘pauper biographies’, can be found in full in her book-length study of Campton parish (p. 130). Julie Marfany adds Catalonian data to the debate over regional differences in European poor relief. Jeremy Boulton interrogates the intriguing unanswered question of the long-term resilience of outdoor relief after the advent of the 1723 workhouse test (p. 153); he does so using the voluminous records of St Martins-in-the-fields with which he and others have been working since at least 2004. These chapters demonstrate the value of substantive, and in the case of Boulton, decade-long engagements with discrete sets of microhistorical material. I question the rather pat neatness of the ‘decision tree’ graph of poor relief decisions offered by Boulton (p. 184) but still consider it a useful summarizing schema. I am less convinced by S.J. Thompson’s keyword-based quantification of poor relief statutes, in a chapter ostensibly about Malthusian theories of population and their relationship to Corporations of the Poor (p. 192). Some of these keywords seem rather under-represented in the findings, for example vagrancy and settlement statutes modified or created very different judicial powers from local acts that created Corporations, but this quite important qualitative distinction seems lost here. Certain very useful regional findings do emerge, but they sit uncomfortably beside a discussion of population and poor relief in Suffolk; I think the chapter would work well solely as a discussion of one subject or the other.

The chapters which offer demographic reconstructions and then analyses of these datasets comprise the second main group of material in the volume. Bruce Campbell and Lorraine Barry’s use of GIS produces an impressive new map of the geographical distribution of the population of the three kingdoms in 1290 (p. 65) using ecclesiastical taxatio records from 1291. However, the ensuing discussion of demography in the nineteenth century seems to stretch the chapter beyond the boundaries of its admittedly excellent medieval datasets (p. 69). Though speaking as a layman, I am sceptical that demographers can estimate the 1290 population of Scotland from 1801 census records, particularly given the noted absence of early modern parochial records to use for regression, though I understand the usefulness of the speculative exercise (p. 52). Rebecca Oakes’ chapter reconstructs the effects of place of origin on the mortality rates of late medieval monks in Winchester, Oxford and Westminster monastic communities. The findings map broadly onto the current historiography of mortality for the period, though I would have liked to see rather more on the impact of broader qualitative conditions such as climate and urban development, two critical influences on the profile of pre-modern plague epidemics. Tracy Dennison’s chapter on the institutional contexts of Russian serfdom proved interesting reading though it seemed disconnected from the volume’s wider and mainly English project.

To conclude, this volume’s main contributions can be divided in two: first, a wide range of impressive (and impressively visualized) datasets that speak to the ‘choices and constraints’ (p. 2) of economic life between 1290 and 1834, and second, a set accessible of reassessments of quite dense historiographical debates. E.A. Wrigley’s chapter in particular stands out as useful in this regard. Despite some small caveats, I found the scholarship rigorous and engaging, though we can hardly expect less of the group which reconstructed the historical population of England and Wales.

 

 

SAVE 25% when you order direct from the publisher using the offer code B125 online hereOffer ends 14th June 2019. Discount applies to print and eBook editions. Alternatively call Boydell’s distributor, Wiley, on 01243 843 291, and quote the same code. Any queries please email marketing@boydell.co.uk

 

Note: this post appeared as a book review article in the Review. We have obtained the necessary permissions.

 

Upward mobility of Nazi party members during the Third Reich

by Matthias Blum and Alan de Bromhead (Queen’s Management School at Queen’s University Belfast)

This paper was presented at the EHS Annual Conference 2019 in Belfast.

 

 

DettenSahmGoeringLippertErnstGoerlitzer
Gathering of high-ranking Nazi officials in Berlin. Left to right: Georg von Detten, Heinrich Sahm, August Wilhelm of Prussia, Hermann Goering, Julius Lippert, Karl Ernst and Artur Görlitzer. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

Members of Nazi organisations climbed higher up the social ladder than non-members in the 1930s and 1940s. This was not due to Nazis being awarded higher-status jobs, but instead to already upwardly mobile individuals being attracted to the movement.

We examined a unique dataset of approximately 10,000 World War II German soldiers that contains detailed information on social background, such as occupation and education, as well as other characteristics like religion, criminal record and military service. The dataset also identifie membership of different Nazi organisations, such as the NSDAP, the SA, the SS and the Hitler Youth.

Comparing the social backgrounds of Nazi members and non-members reveal that Nazis were more likely to come from high-status backgrounds and had higher levels of education. Indeed, the odds of being a member of the Nazi party were almost twice as high for someone from a higher-status background than a low-status one. We also confirm a common finding that Catholics were less like to be Nazi members.

When looking at social mobility between generations, Nazi members advance further than non-members. But this appears to be driven by ‘upwardly mobile’ people – those that showed social mobility early on in their lives – subsequently joining the Nazis. This suggests that ‘ambitious’ or ‘driven’ individuals may have been attracted to the Nazi movement.

Although it is impossible to uncover exactly what motivated people to join the Nazis, our findings suggest that many educated and ambitious individuals from the higher end of the social scale were attracted to the movement. Interestingly, this seems to be the case not just for those who joined after the Nazi party came to power in 1933, but also to members who joined when the party was on the fringes of the Weimar political system in the 1920s.

Our study not only helps us to understand how the Nazi party emerged and came to power in the years before World War II, but also gives us an insight into how extremist organisations form and attract members more generally. It reminds us that we need to think beyond pure ideology when it comes to motivations for joining extremist groups and look at economic and social factors too.

 

For more information on the preliminary findings of the study, please visit: http://www.quceh.org.uk/uploads/1/0/5/5/10558478/wp17-04.pdf