For the purpose of discussing the development of ‘wealth’—the major concern of economists—Bladen defines four periods within the classical tradition, and demonstrates that in each there appeared a characteristic preoccupation with a particular area of economics. From Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill the principal concern was productivity and growth; the neoclassical economists represented by Jevons and Marshall emphasized the problems of allocation of given productive resources; depressions in the twenties and thirties and the impact of Keynesian theory led to a preoccupation with ‘employment,’ and after World War II attention shifted to ‘growth.’ Bladen is critical of previous histories of economic thought: ‘by isolating the treatment of one element in a complex and integrated system of thought they frequently misrepresent each author’s treatment of the particular element.’ In this work he attempts to show each aspect of the work of the economists he has selected in the context of an integrated whole.
Modern economic history blends two approaches – Cliometrics (which focuses on measuring economic variables and explicitly testing theories about the historical performance and development of the economy) and the New Institutional Economics (which focuses on how social, cultural, legal and organizational norms and rules shape economic outcomes and their evolution). Part 1 of the Handbook introduces these approaches and other important methodological issues for economic history.
The most fundamental shift in the economic history of the world began about two and a half centuries ago when eons of slow economic change and faltering economic growth gave way to sustained, rapid economic expansion. Part 2 examines this theme and the primary forces economic historians have linked to economic growth, stagnation and fluctuations – including technological change, entrepreneurship, competition, the biological environment, war, financial panics and business cycles.
Part 3 examines the evolution of broad sectors that typify a modern economy including agriculture, banking, transportation, health care, housing, and entertainment. It begins by examining an equally important "sector" of the economy which scholars have increasingly analyzed using economic tools – religion. Part 4 focuses on the work force and human outcomes including inequality, labor markets, unions, education, immigration, slavery, urbanization, and the evolving economic roles of women and African-Americans.
The text will be of great value to those taking economic history courses as well as a reference book useful to professional practitioners, policy makers and the public.