Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Alexander J. Field

Alexander J. Field's latest book is A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth, a "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."

From Field's Q & A with David Leonhardt at the New York Times:

Q. You make the novel claim that the Great Depression years were good — or at least important — for the American economy. How so?

Mr. Field: In 1941, the U.S. economy produced almost 40 percent more output than it had in 1929, with virtually no increase in labor hours or private-sector capital input. Almost all of the increase in output per hour is attributable to technological and organizational advance. As I said in the title of my 2003 American Economic Review article, the 1930s were indeed the most technologically progressive decade of the century.

The conventional wisdom is that the war somehow magically transformed the doom and gloom of the Depression into the U.S. standing like a colossus astride the world in 1948. My counterargument is that potential output expanded by leaps and bounds between 1929 and 1941, and it was this expansion in capacity that both helped us win the war and established the foundations for postwar prosperity.

Q. I would not have guessed that the economy was 40 percent larger in 1941 than in 1929, given how much it shrunk in the early 1930s. When did all the growth happen?

Mr. Field: There was a very strong recovery following Roosevelt’s election, interrupted only temporarily by...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: A Great Leap Forward.

Read more about A Great Leap Forward.

--Marshal Zeringue