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The Age of Equality

The Age of Equality: the twentieth century in economic perspective

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Age of Equality
    Book Description:

    Alongside unprecedented improvements in longevity and material well-being, the twentieth century saw the rise of fascism and communism and a second world war followed by a cold war. Governments with market economies won the battle against these competing systems by combining growth and efficiency with greater equality of opportunity and outcome.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06330-3
    Subjects: Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    The twentieth century saw the transformation of our world from one where most people’s lives were short and spent living at close to subsistence level to one where the majority enjoy unprecedented material well-being and greater longevity. In 1900 life expectancy at birth was in the mid-forties in Western Europe, North America, and Japan, in the thirties in Russia and Latin America, and a mere 24 in China and India; the world average was 31 years. By 2000 the average life expectancy at birth was 66 years, with life expectancy around 80 in the high-income countries, 71 in China, and...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Age of Liberty
    (pp. 14-34)

    The complex of innovations and institutional changes that formed the industrial revolution of the late 1700s was crucial to the development of a global economy. Writing in 1776, Adam Smith already identified in the first chapter of The Wealth of Nations that the division of labor was crucial to economic progress. This was a truism that applied back in the days of hunters and gatherers or to the urban revolution of five millennia ago, but the distinctive feature of the late 1700s was the breakdown of tasks and the application of mechanical technology. The key application was in the textile...

  6. CHAPTER 2 War and Depression
    (pp. 35-66)

    The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 marked the end of an era. The catalyst—the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by a Serbian nationalist—seems almost trivial, but the tensions described at the end of the last chapter had created a tinderbox ready to explode. Most of the major and medium-sized European powers were linked in networks of alliances based on fear of competitors or opportunities for overtaking rivals, and too many major powers saw potential benefits from a short war. Minor powers were enticed to join the fighting by promises of territorial gain.¹...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Soviet Economic Model
    (pp. 67-80)

    As capitalism evolved between 1815 and 1914, workers were brought together in factories and in towns. They began to organize and call for political and social change to give them a larger share of the benefits of economic growth and a say in how they were governed. Karl Marx provided the intellectual basis for socialism and communism by pointing to the contradictions of capitalism, which would lead to its eventual replacement by a system in which the means of production would be publicly owned; in the first stage of this socialist system inequality might remain, but in the final stage...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Multilateralism and Welfare State in the First World
    (pp. 81-109)

    The response of the major capitalist countries to peace in 1945 was more cooperative and purposeful than in 1919. In stark contrast to the post-1919 isolationism of the United States, designing the post-1945 global system was led by the United States, whose relatively undamaged economy dominated global output to an extent never seen before or since. A range of new multilateral institutions provided the institutional support for an international economic order based on individual rights that in crucial respects represented a return to the globalization of the pre-1914 Age of Liberty. Unlike pre-1914 capitalism, however, there was widespread acceptance of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Decolonization and Cold War
    (pp. 110-130)

    The cooperation between the united and allied nations fighting against Germany and Japan collapsed quickly after 1945. Within a few years an Iron Curtain divided Europe. The ideological divide would remain for more than forty years, but despite the competition between the two sides—the First World of high-income market economies and the Second World of centrally planned economies—there was no shift in the composition of these two groups.¹ The ideological battleground turned out to be in the Third World.

    In the decades after 1945 all across Asia, Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America, regimes came to...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Conservative Reaction in the West
    (pp. 131-150)

    The long boom of the 1950s and 1960s came to an end in the 1970s. The trigger was the increase in primary product prices, and most of all the increase in the price of oil in 1973–1974. Keynesian macroeconomic management, based on fine-tuning aggregate demand to mediate a trade-off between inflation and unemployment (the Phillips Curve), was ineffective in the face of a supply shock that led to “stagflation,” the joint increase in inflation and unemployment. The economic malaise provided an opportunity for criticizing attempts to maintain unemployment at artificially low levels and the welfare state. Friedman (1968) provided...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Collapse of Central Planning
    (pp. 151-172)

    The idealism of the communist revolutionaries and their pride in the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with its vision of a free and equal society is easy to forget when we know how the great Soviet experiment ended. For many Soviet leaders the high point was the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, where

    [t]he delegates, apparent “victors” but actually future victims of Stalin, sang enraptured dithyrambs to the leader. Embodying the working class and the peasantry alike, they bore on their shoulders the whole weight of industrialization and collectivization. Deprivation lay behind; the shining future lay ahead....

  12. CHAPTER 8 The End of the Third World
    (pp. 173-186)

    The Cold War vision of a battle of systems between the capitalist First World and communist Second World, with a distinctive impoverished Third World as a bystander (and also part of the winner’s prize), was already a doubtful description of reality by the 1970s when the newly industrializing economies (NIEs) shed the “less-developed country” label. The end of central planning and economic success of some of the world’s most populous countries following market-oriented reforms made such divisions anachronistic. By the turn of the century India, Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia as well as China and (perhaps) Russia were enjoying sustained growth....

  13. CHAPTER 9 From the Age of Equality to the Age of Fraternity
    (pp. 187-204)

    The century 1815–1914 was the Age of Liberty when successful nations minimized restrictions on individual choice and on actions that might limit operation of the market economy (e.g., guilds or despotic regimes were an anachronism in Europe by 1919 even though the aristocracy continued to use their titles). The European economies and their offshoots enjoyed unprecedented economic prosperity. By the early 1900s the absence of widespread absolute poverty was taken for granted in these countries, and the failure to share the fruits of prosperity equitably was increasingly challenged both by a better organized working class and by reformers among...

  14. Glossary and Abbreviations
    (pp. 205-208)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 209-258)
  16. References
    (pp. 259-278)
  17. Index
    (pp. 279-283)