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April 7th, 2020

↳ History

Big Horse

BOUND SPREAD

Histories of public health

Comparisons of responses to the Covid-19 crisis across national lines yield as many questions as answers. Divergent histories of public health programs, differences in cultural norms, population density, age distributions, and internal migration patterns create a muddy picture for causal understandings of the national variations in impact.

PETER BALDWIN's Contagion and the State in Europe 1830-1930 provides a fundamental historical study on these questions. The book explores the "reasons for the divergence in public health policies in Britain, France, Germany and Sweden" and the "spectrum of responses to the threat of contagious diseases such as cholera, smallpox and syphilis."

From the book's conclusion:

"Since at least the era of absolutism, preventing and dealing with contagious and epidemic disease have together been one of the major tasks of states. Given that, from the first European cholera epidemics to the cusp of the antibiotical era, the problem faced by each country has been much the same in biological terms, why have they responded in markedly different ways? Especially before the bacteriological revolution, etiological knowledge was inextricably bound up with political, administrative, economic, and geographic factors.

The fundamental implication of a political interpretation of public health is that prophylactic strategy and ideology are correlated. Approaches to prevention may be expected to reflect common assumptions held in a society as to where group and individual interests diverge, how much autonomy citizens can rightfully claim, the power of the community over its members. The right to be spared prophylactic imposition was not the only measure of liberty; there was also the freedom from disease. Traditional conservative quarantinists argued this line. Conversely, liberals objected to such interventions when they impinged on personal liberties too drastically or for insufficiently redeeming purpose. There was, also an understanding of public health that transcended such sterile oppositions between community and individual, holding that society’s concern with public health was a positive freedom that, while limiting absolute individual autonomy, returned to each a higher measure of liberation from affliction.

Such political interpretations of preventive strategies appear, however, to have inverted matters. It was not British liberalism or German interventionism (to take again the outliers) that, by themselves, determined prophylactic strategies, but the imperatives of geoepidemiology, and the associated factors identified here, that helped shape not only the preventive precautions they encouraged, but indeed the very political traditions of these nations."

Link to the book.

  • A new podcast from the Cambridge history department discusses Baldwin's book as a guide for thinking through the present crisis. Link.
  • For the classic international history of public health, see George Rosen's 1958 A History of Public Health. Link. And see his 1947 paper "What Is Social Medicine?" Link.
  • "After yellow fever was firmly ensconsed, it underpinned a military and political status quo, keeping South America under Spanish rule. After 1780, and particularly in the Hatian Revolution, yellow fever undermined the status quo by assisting independence movements in the America tropics." A 1999 article by J.R. McNeill on "Ecology, Epidemics, and Empires." Link.
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March 31st, 2020

Duel

COMMON PROCESS

Historical comparisons of European monetary unions

The need to formulate a unified COVID response has placed pressure on European integration in recent days, with Germany and the Netherlands resisting Southern European calls for the issuing of "coronabonds." A 2018 paper by John Ryan and John Loughlin assesses the history of the Latin Monetary Union (LMU), the Scandinavian Monetary Union (SMU), and the Austro-Hungarian Monetary Union (AHMU) in order to glean lessons for EU policymakers in the present.

From the paper:

"The LMU was originally envisaged as a bimetallic agreement, though it transitioned into an effective gold standard in 1878. French economist and politician Félix Esquirou de Parieu saw such a union as the first step in a process of European (even global) integration, which he hoped would culminate in the creation of a full common currency, and, as he predicted somewhat precociously, a 'European Union' directed by a 'European Commission'. The disintegration of the union with the Great War illustrates the danger of insufficient coordination among member states. Partially inspired by the LMU, the SMU was deeply tied to the rise of a political Scandinavism. Like the LMU, it foundered as a result of the impact of the First World War. The conditions were propitious in the Scandinavian countries as they imitated each other’s policy approaches. There were, however, great economic disparities across the different countries, and this points to the dangers of a monetary union without sufficient economic convergence among its member states. Finally, The AHMU was created through an agreement known as the 1867 Compromise which ensured that Austria and Hungary shared a common currency while remaining fiscally sovereign. The main lesson of the AHMU is about the nature of institutional structures. Because of the relative size and power of Austria and Hungary, the union's disintegration illuminates the game theoretic interaction of nations within a monetary union, including their asymmetric ability to exert power and influence over the terms of the supranational agreement."

Link to the piece.

  • "The decision to create the monetary union, the decision of whom to admit, and the decision of whom to appoint to run the ECB are political decisions, taken by political leaders, subject to political constraints, not the social-welfare maximizing decisions of some mythical social planner." Barry Eichengreen and Jeffry Frieden analyze "The Political Economy of European Monetary Unification." Link.
  • A 2019 Max Weber lecture by Philippe Van Parijs discusses notions of justice and their (in)operability within the monetary union framework, featuring discussion from Rawls on the EU and a reading of Hayek on monetary unions. Link.
  • "Many regional currency institutions were established in sub-Saharan Africa under colonial rule. Surprisingly, a number of these colonial institutions survived the transition to national independence, and several have survived to the present day." Scott Cooper and Clark Asay on the colonial legacy of the West African franc zones and the Southern African rand zone. Link.
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March 25th, 2020

Tilted Ark

PRODUCTION MAINLINE

Wartime economic planning

This week, reports swirled regarding President Trump's invocation of the Defense Production Act—a 1950 law passed to manage production in the context of the Korean War—to meet the coming demand of crucial medical supplies to treat people with COVID-19. Much of the ensuing commentary has elided necessary distinctions between the Cold War–era DPA and the more memorable interventions into the productive capacity of the US economy that defined the Second World War. (For a helpful disaggregation, see this essay by Tim Barker; for a rundown of the DPA's history, see this summary from the Congressional Research Service.)

In his book, Arsenal of World War II (the fourth in a five-volume series on the political economy of American warfare), PAUL KOISTINEN provides a uniquely comprehensive and detailed account of the often misunderstood economics and administration of America's World War II mobilization effort.

From the book's introduction:

"An ironic legacy of the New Deal was that it helped create the partnership between corporate and military America that was destructive to reform. In the defense and war years, New Dealers took the lead in preparing the nation for World War II. Once hostilities ensued, the same reformers were at the center of devising the structure and controls essential for successfully harnessing the economy for war under stable economic conditions. Many of those same New Dealers became victims of the industry-military alliance that their mobilization policies and methods had assisted in bringing into being.

Despite advancement in weaponry, massive output was the critical World War II development, and that depended on successful economic mobilization policies. The political economy of warfare involves the interrelations of political, economic, and military institutions in devising the means to mobilize resources for defense and to conduct war. In each war, the magnitude and the duration of the fighting have dictated what the nation had to do to harness its economic power, but prewar trends have largely determined how this mobilization took place."

Link to the book page.

  • Mark Wilson's 2016 book, Destructive Creation, also on the business-government relationships that defined the World War II mobilization effort. Link.
  • A few recent articles on medical supplies: on the ventilator shortage; on mask production in China; on Taiwan's response to the virus; on the EU's plans to airlift masks; on China's increasing medical supply delivery to Europe.
  • From Otto Neurath's 1919 "War Economy": "The main result of our investigation may be expressed as follows: war forces a nation to pay more attention to the amount of goods which are at its disposal, less to the available amounts of money than it usually does." Link to Neurath's collected writings on economics.
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February 24th, 2020

Encore

STRANGE PUSH

A retrospective look at cap & trade

Of the various issues mired in severe and ongoing party polarization, climate crisis is among the most puzzling. Despite longstanding discussions of bipartisan market-based policy proposals like carbon taxes and cap and trade, large-scale government and industry action remains elusive.

In a masterful 2013 book-length report, Harvard political scientist THEDA SKOCPOL offers an autopsy of the 2009-10 push for cap and trade legislation. The detail-rich account illuminates not just the legislation's failure, and its leaders in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), but the innumerable complexities of the broader Washington policymaking apparatus.

(h/t to climate economist Gernot Wagner, associate professor at NYU and founder of Harvard's Solar Geoengineering Lab, for bringing this piece back up in a recent newsletter and column.)

"If environmental politics in America was ever a matter of working out shared bipartisan solutions to expert-assessed problems, it is now far from that—but in what ways and why? And what is to be done? My report ponders these matters.

The corporations that participated in USCAP could double their bottom-line bets—by participating in the "strange-bedfellows" effort to hammer out draft climate legislation that was as favorable as possible to their industry or their firms. But heads of the leading environmental organizations in USCAP had to stick by whatever commitments they made in the internal coalitional process, or else it would fall apart.

The USCAP campaign was designed and conducted in an insider-grand-bargaining political style that, unbeknownst to its sponsors, was unlikely to succeed given fast-changing realities in U.S. partisan politics and governing institutions."

Link to the full report.

  • In the footnotes: Eric Pooley's 2010 book The Climate War, which provides an in-depth account of the activities of USCAP. Link to an excerpt from the book, link to the publisher page.
  • A 2011 paper by Michele Betsill and Matthew Hoffman examines the "contours" of cap and trade, through an analysis of 33 distinct policy venues. Link. And a 2015 paper tracks climate adaptation planning across 156 U.S. municipalities. Link.
  • A previous newsletter highlighted Skocpol's essential work on US welfare history. Link to the archived letter. And link to a recent blog post featuring climate academic Leah Stokes's recommended readings on climate-related research.
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February 18th, 2020

The Importance of Being Evergreen

ADMINISTRATION PRIMARY

A comparative overview of national healthcare systems

In an employer-sponsored healthcare system like that of the United States, deteriorating labor market protections have immediate consequences for access to healthcare. Democratic primary candidates have presented a number of proposals to address declining rates of insurance, ranging in degrees of accessibility, coverage, and number of providers.

In her 1992 book, Healthcare Politics, ELLEN M. IMMERGUT seeks to explain America's healthcare system through a comparison of its history to Switzerland's, France's, and Sweden's. From the author's preface:

"I compare the politics of three countries where national health insurance had been proposed, but where, as a result of political struggles, the final policy results are diverse. Medical associations in all three countries had opposed national health insurance on the grounds that doctors preferred to work as private practitioners and not as government employees. How then could one explain the fact that Switzerland rejected national health insurance, France accepted it, and Sweden not only enacted national health insurance, but later converted its health system to a de facto national health service? The history of each case pointed insistently to the role played by standard political institutions. The Swiss referendum, the French parliament, and the Swedish executive bureaucracy emerged as key elements in an explanation of national health insurance politics in those countries.

The resulting book argues for the primacy of these institutions in explaining policy outcomes precisely because they facilitate or impede the entry of different groups into the policy-making process. In Switzerland, the public interest on any specific policy issue is viewed as the sum of the demands of individual citizens as expressed in national referenda. In Sweden, on the other hand, proper representation for policy issues is a matter of consensual agreements between interest groups, whose large memberships and democratic procedures ensure their responsiveness to the public. In France, the rules of representation stress the importance of an impartial executive standing above the particularistic claims of interest groups. But there is no linear relationship between a specific set of political institutions and the interest groups that will succeed or the health system that results. These histories are filled with unexpected events, sudden about faces, and new strategies. This book is a call to look at these histories, not just at the broad sweep of major events, but also at the seemingly minor struggles that make up daily political life. These are the battles that establish the constraints on politics, but they are also the junctures that extend the limits of the possible."

Link to a downloadable copy of the book.

  • "The postwar growth of public expenditures in the health sector and the growth of universalism in coverage of benefits is tied to the strength of the labor movement in each country." Vincent Navarro's influential 1989 paper situates healthcare policies within a broader distributional framework. Link.
  • "The idea of a British hospital system funded by its users is one which emerged only late in the 19th century. Before this, care was provided through thousands of voluntary hospitals." Martin Gorsky, John Mohan, and Tim Willis on "Mutualism and Healthcare" in the UK. And in a similar vein, David T. Beito's 2000 book on the fraternal societies which provided healthcare to millions of Americans throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Link and link.
  • A recent paper by Stefan Bauernschuster, Anastasia Driva, and Erik Hornung uses "the introduction of compulsory health insurance in the German Empire in 1884 as a natural experiment to study the impact of social health insurance on mortality," finding that "Bismarck’s health insurance generated a significant mortality reduction." Link.
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February 13th, 2020

Austerity and Ideology

An interview with Kim Phillips-Fein

Kim Phillips-Fein is an associate professor of history at New York University and the author of the books Invisible Hands: the Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal and Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics, as well as the editor and co-editor of several collections in political economy, business history, and labor history.

In a conjuncture defined by high ideological tension, in which elite consensus and power structures seem increasingly discredited and the scope of political possibility is wider than in recent memory, Phillips-Fein's work is particularly topical. She is an historian of social movements and of ideology—the political action that it both stems from and engenders, and the repercussions of elite politics for the lives of ordinary people. Her two books—which deal, respectively, with New York City's 1970s fiscal crisis and the rise of conservative business movement—also offer cautionary tales about the severe constraints under which political officials operate, and the ease with which powerful reactionary interests organize, relative to the public interest.

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February 10th, 2020

Part of Some Totality

DELIBERATE ETHOS

"Informality" and globalization

Standard theories of development have been predicated on the goal of an industrialized economy with the potential for full and regularized employment. Such a view necessitates a host of statistical categories to define and measure labor markets. In a 2000 paper, PAUL E. BANGASSER writes an institutional history of the International Labor Organization's (ILO) evolving attempts to understand and quantify the category of the "informal sector"—by now a permanent feature of the global workforce.

From the paper:

"Over the past three decades, the ILO has been both the midwife and the principal international institutional home for the concept of the informal sector. While the phrase 'informal sector' came onto the development scene in 1972, its roots reach back into the economic development efforts of the 1950s and 1960s. With the surprisingly successful rebuilding of Europe and Japan following the Second World War, there seemed no reason why a similar sort of deliberate economy-building effort could not also be applied to the newly emerging countries in the Third World. This technical ethos towards development was especially strong in UN Specialized Agencies like the ILO. It allowed them a measure of protection from Cold War political crossfire without undercutting either their raison d’être nor their universality.

Attention to the informal sector crescendoed in the early 1990s. The 1991 Director General’s Report, The dilemma of the informal sector, notes that 'Contrary to earlier beliefs, the informal sector is not going to disappear spontaneously with economic growth. It is, on the contrary, likely to grow in the years to come, and with it the problems of urban poverty and congestion will also grow.' A growing urbanization is consistent with the developmental expectations of the 1950s and 1960s. However, that this trend towards urbanization would represent a nexus of seemingly unsolvable problems of grinding urban poverty is quite different from that earlier thinking. The upward spiraling dynamics of 'modernization' which were supposed to accompany urbanization, and lead to economic 'takeoff,' didn’t kick in; there wasn’t any trickle-down of any significance, nor should any be expected, at least not within any reasonable time frame. This is an important conclusion, with fundamental implications for the conventional development paradigm."

Link to the paper.

  • Keith Hart's 1973 paper "Informal Income Opportunities and Urban Employment in Ghana" coined the phrase "informal sector." From the paper: "The distinction between formal and informal income opportunities is based essentially on that between wage-earning and self-employment. The key variable is the degree of rationalization of work—that is to say, whether or not labour is recruited on a permanent and regular basis for fixed rewards." Link.
  • A 2019 paper by Aaron Benanav (previously shared here) critically appraises the ILO's attempts at defining informality, situating the emergence of the "informal sector" as tied to the mid-century efforts to "generate a globally operational concept of unemployment for use in the 'developing world.'" Link. (For a broader, less empirical take along similar lines, see Michael Denning's 2006 article "Wageless Life." Link.)
  • A new IZA paper by Andrea Brandolini and Eliana Viviano looks at contemporary employment statistics and proposes supplemental indices that "account for people's experience in labor market states (e.g. work intensity for the employed and search intensity or unemployment duration for the unemployed)." Link.
  • "All the materials and human instruments of production are present in abundance, nay in excess. But their normal collaboration is impossible, because they cannot market the goods they could produce, so as to cover even the barest costs of the production." From 1924, The Economics of Unemployment by J. A. Hobson. Link.
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January 29th, 2020

Historicizing the Self-Evident

An interview with Lorraine Daston

Lorraine Daston has published widely in the history of science, including on probability and statistics, scientific objectivity and observation, game theory, monsters, and much else. Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science since 1995 (emeritus as of Spring 2019), she is the author and co-author of over a dozen books, each stunning in scope and detail, and each demonstrating of her ability to make the common uncommon—to illuminate what she calls the “history of the self-evident.”

Amidst the ever expanding reach of all varieties of quantification and algorithmic formalization, both the earliest of Daston's works (the 1988 book Classical Probability in the Enlightenment) and her most recent (an ongoing project on the history of rules) perform this task, uncovering the contingencies that swirled around the invention of mathematical probability, and the rise of algorithmic rule-making.

We spoke over the phone to discuss the labor of calculation, the various emergences of formal rationality, and the importance of interdisciplinarity in the social sciences. Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.

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January 23rd, 2020

What Would a UBI Fund?

Lessons from the 1970s experiments in guaranteed income

One of the questions at the heart of contemporary debates over the merits of UBI is ‘what would it fund?’ In other words, what type of activities would it encourage? There are of course the widely debunked quibbles about guaranteed income encouraging anti-social behaviors, but there’s also a feminist critique of basic income proposals.

The feminist case against a UBI centers around the fear that, in contrast to more robust funding for social programs such as subsidized child care or parental leave, UBI would disproportionately encourage women to leave the labor force to provide care work in the home— reinscribing the gendered division of labor against which women have long struggled. In this view, UBI is undesirable—expected to fund the isolation of women in the domestic sphere, and preventing them from wielding influence over the real machinations of society.

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October 28th, 2019

Radius

RELATIVE DUTIES

The origins of American tax policy

Tax reform is at the forefront of contemporary policy debate. US citizens pay taxes at lower rates than their European counterparts, and a growing number of researchers agree that progressive taxes on wealth and income have the potential to rectify inequality. The historically less progressive nature of American tax policy is commonly explained as a product of the colonies' early opposition to "taxation without representation," as well as the large population of immigrants, the absence of traditional aristocracy, and the ubiquity of "country party republican" ideology which characterized the country's formation.

In an essay accompanying the publication of her 2006 book, historian ROBIN EINHORN introduces a new factor into the debate: the impact of domestic politics around slavery on early American state-building. From the piece:

"Americans are right to think that our anti-tax and anti-government attitudes have deep historical roots. Our mistake is to dig for them in Boston. We should be digging in Virginia and South Carolina rather than in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania, because the origins of these attitudes have more to do with the history of American slavery than the history of American freedom. In 1776, Congress was talking about slavery because its members were framing a national government for the new nation—what would become the Articles of Confederation. Trying to figure out how to count the population to distribute tax burdens to the various states, the members inevitably faced the problem of whether to count the population of enslaved African Americans. Since slaves were 4% of the population in the North and 37% of the population in the South, this decision would have a huge impact on the tax burdens of the white taxpayers of the northern and southern states.

Slaveholders developed three solutions to this general problem. First, they tried to guarantee that they dominated the legislative process by manipulating the representation rules. Second, they demanded weak governments that would make few of the decisions that provoked discussions of slavery. Third, they insisted on constraining the tax power through constitutional limitations on its use. Yet the real slaveholder victory lay in a fourth strategy—persuading the nonslaveholding majorities that the weak government and constitutionally restrained tax power actually were in the interests of the nonslaveholders themselves. Slaveholders persuaded many of their contemporaries that expansions of slavery are expansions of 'liberty,' constitutional limitations on democratic self-government are defenses of 'equal rights,' and the power of slaveholding elites is the power of the 'common man.' In the topsy-turvy political world we have inherited from the age of slavery, the power of the majority to decide how to tax became the power of an alien 'government' to oppress 'the people.'"

Link to the essay, and link to a 2000 academic article by Einhorn which presents the argument in greater historical detail.

  • "The growth in cash transactions was critical to the evolution of the modern income tax. Because the market's cash nexus permitted more and more individuals to derive a greater portion of their income and wealth from the sale of their labor services, lawmakers were able to more easily measure and tap the growing tax base. Consequently, the national tax structure began to shift away from a reliance on indirect levies, namely import duties and excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, toward more direct and graduated taxes on income and wealth transfers." Ajay Mehrotra looks at the economic developments behind the passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913. Link.
  • In a new paper, Lucy Barnes links tax progressivity to the strength of capital-labor coalitions in European countries prior to World War I. Link.
  • A 2017 paper by Raymond Fisman, Keith Gladstone, Ilyana Kuziemko, and Suresh Naidu offers the first ever evidence on the taxation preferences of US citizens, finding that Americans are more likely to support taxes on wealth than on savings. Link. See also this 2016 paper by Naidu, Felipe González, and Guillermo Marshall on the role of slave property rights in promoting early American economic development. Link.
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