Derek H. Aldcroft, Anthony Sutcliffe, eds.. Europe in the International Economy, 1500-2000. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1999. xi + 289 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-85898-670-8.
Reviewed by Karl Gunnar Persson (Institute of Economics, University of Copenhagen)
Published on EH.Net (August, 2000)
This volume carries an endorsement on the book jacket by Peter Mathias saying, "This will surely prove to be the definitive account -- an authoritative text by six leading authors. Well integrated, clearly written, objective and balanced in judgment, excellently documented with key bibliographies -- the answer to the needs of all students of the subject." This assessment sounds too good to be true, but it is not completely wrong. Although the well-read in the profession will learn little new from the book, it can be a very useful text for a course in European economic history when little time can be devoted to the subject and a comprehensive text is needed -- say, at business schools or at non-European universities.
The purpose of this book, according to the editors, is to explain the pre-eminence of Europe and its impact on the international economy from the early modern period, surveying the recent "rise of the west" literature in the introductory chapter. There are few surprises here, but it gives a comprehensive overview of the subject.
The first substantial chapter, by Jan L. Van Zanden and Edwin Horlings, offers a balanced account of recent re-interpretations of early modern and pre-industrial growth (c.1500 to c. 1800). It stresses the regional and national differences in growth experiences and contrasts that story with the traditional view of general stagnation in productivity levels before the industrial revolution. Most of the quantitative results stem from van Zanden's recent research, most of which is not easily available, and the underlying methodology is not extensively discussed. The results seem plausible, however, with growth centers in the Low Countries, England and some parts of France as suggested by other researchers such as Robert Allen, Philip Hoffman and myself.
Sidney Pollard, who died just before the book went to press and to whom the book is dedicated, writes about the "Europeanization" of the international economy from 1800 to 1870, giving a fair amount of attention to dissenting voices when presenting the mainstream account. Like the preceding chapter, the quantitative information is extensive and the focus is not only on Europe but also its impact on the rest of the world.
The book proceeds chronologically to the 1870-1918 period, which James Foreman-Peck describes as the "zenith" of European power. Although clearly the most thought provoking of the contributions, it does not fit well into the narrative stream of this volume. Where the rest of the book relies on main economic indicators, this section concentrates on institutions and regulation of the international economy. Foreman-Peck also returns to the discussion of the costs and benefits of empire, offering something for all tastes.
Derek H. Aldcroft follows Foreman-Peck with his chapter on the disintegration of Europe in the interwar period. Barry Eichengreen and others have made this narrative familiar to us, and the reference list to this chapter, like most of the others, is extensive and accurate, as is the survey of the topic. I am surprised, however, that the excellent little textbook by Charles Feinstein, Peter Temin and Gianni Toniolo (The European Economy between the Wars, Oxford University Press, 1997), which is a more wide-ranging alternative to this compact chapter, is missing from Aldcroft's list.
The final two chapters by Anthony Sutcliffe and Steven Morewood deal with the present and focus quite a bit on European institutional integration. By and large I find these chapters rather less penetrating, and they do not satisfy the quantitative economic historian's appetite for numbers and rigorous economic reasoning. However, both chapters survey the main issues discussed in relation to the acceleration and decline in European growth rates.
All in all, this book can be useful as a comprehensive textbook on European economic history since it surveys, over a limited number of pages, such an extended period. It gives little specific information on national experiences, so one must go elsewhere for that. If I were teaching this course I would probably replace the final chapters with excerpts from Economic Growth in Europe since 1945 (Cambridge University Press, 1996) edited by Nick Crafts and Gianni Toniolo. I would also like to have a text on the European backlash to free trade from the 1870s in the O'Rourke-Williamson vein.
The price of the hardcover version of the book might deter teachers from recommending it. However, if the publisher decides to print a paperback edition, it should urge the editors to add a workbook section that would assist students in facing the issues and controversies surveyed in the main text.
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Karl Gunnar Persson. Review of Aldcroft, Derek H.; Sutcliffe, Anthony, eds.., Europe in the International Economy, 1500-2000.
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