Range and flexibility characterize Mr. Connecting evolution in individual countries with their degree of economic backwardness, he presents the industrialization of Connecting evolution in individual countries with their degree of economic backwardness, he presents the industrialization of the continent as a "case of unity in diversity," thus offering a cogent alternative, supported by case studies, to the traditional view of industrialization as monotonous repetition of the same process from country to country. Brought together for the first time, these essays were originally published in specialized periodicals in the United States and abroad. Explaining and systematizing the elements of creative innovation in industrial history, Mr. Gerschenkron opens new paths of research and poses a number of pertinent questions for the modern problem of economic development in backward countries.
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Alexander Gerschenkron: A Latecomer Who Emerged Victorious Alexander Gerschenkron and his ideas have had, like excellent wine, a remarkable maturing in recent years. Rare is the sophisticated course in political economy that does not assign his model of relative backwardness as a required reading.
Rarer still is the doctoral student in economic history who remains uninfluenced by his beguiling hypotheses about the process of historical change within Europe since the Industrial Revolution. Born in Odessa in , he died in Cambridge, Massachusetts in His early life was eventful.
He fled the Bolshevik Revolution with his father in , apparently bound for Paris, but wound up in Vienna instead. There he rapidly learned German, as well as Latin, enabling him to attempt to pass the entrance examination for secondary school within seven months.
His failure, only in Latin and geometry, meant he was rejected. That challenge was overcome, months later when he easily gained admission. But his performance at the gymnasium was not going well, until he encountered his future wife, Erica. Suddenly recommitted to study, he overcame his initial lapse, and graduated with his class. His early professional career is not recorded in autobiography as was his first 20 years. Whatever the strength in economics had been with Bohm-Bawerk, Menger and others who had pioneered in the Austrian school, it was not there in the s.
He married, had a child and took a position representing a Belgian motorcycle firm in Vienna. That was successful, but inadequate. Three years later, he committed himself to politics and the Social Democrats. Four years later, he and his family would exit and join them, and hardly in easy circumstances.
But the important novelty, and a decisive point in his career, was the invitation from Charles Gulick, a Berkeley professor whom he had earlier helped in his research in Austria, to come to the United States. His acceptance marked the real beginning of his academic career that subsequently was to flourish over the rest of his life. But it began equivocally. The finished Gulick book, Austria from Habsburg to Hitler, a two-volume work, published in Berkeley: University of California Press , was brilliant.
At least Berkeley provided a place for him to return, as he did in September There he was to stay for only five years before moving on to the Federal Reserve Board. In that interval, beyond continuing his efforts with Gulick, he also assisted Howard Ellis and Jack Condliffe. And he wrote, in long nights of private work, what proved to be his single piece of greatest length, Bread and Democracy in Germany, published in Berkeley: University of California Press.
That book attacked the Junkers for their exploitation of the rest of the German population, and earned him promotion to the rank of Instructor with the opportunity to teach courses. At the Federal Reserve, he established himself as an expert on the Soviet economy.
This was a period when relationships with the Soviet Union became central to the United States, and when there were few others with his knowledge, interest and immense capacity to immerse himself in any and all information.
He did well, advancing to head of the International Section, until the decisive moment came in Harvard offered him a position as a tenured professor, the successor to Abbot Payson Usher. He accepted, and his university career really began. There were four parts of that career that are relevant. It all began, appropriately enough, with the Soviet Union.
In a notable Rand study in , A Dollar Index of Soviet Machinery Output, to , he showed that the remarkably high rates of growth of Soviet industrial production owed itself to the index number bias: a Laspeyres index calculated on the basis of weights significantly overstated real expansion.
Rapid Soviet growth was not constructed on the basis of false statistics, but rather, inappropriate technique. Important as the work was at the time, deflating vastly superior Soviet growth, it was not to be the basis of his subsequent fame.
He flourished as the doyen of economic history in the United States. He influenced a generation of Harvard economists through his required graduate course in economic history.
His erudition and breadth of knowledge became legendary in its time. Gerschenkron defined an indelible, if unattainable, standard of scholarship for colleagues and students alike. Backwardness was at the root of his model of late-comer economic development. The essay gave its name to his volume of essays published by Harvard University Press in It is the opening chapter of that volume, and a significant reason that it was recently selected as one of the most influential works of economic history ever published.
The central notion is the positive role of relative economic backwardness in inducing systematic substitution for supposed prerequisites for industrial growth. State intervention could, and did, compensate for the inadequate supplies of capital, skilled labor, entrepreneurship and technological capacity encountered in follower countries seeking to modernize.
England, the locus of the Industrial Revolution, could advance with free market guidance along the lines of Adam Smith. France, beginning later, would need greater intervention to compensate for its limitations. In Germany, the key innovation would be the formation of large banks to provide access to needed capital for industrialization, even as greater Russian backwardness required a larger and more direct state compensatory role. It rejected the English Industrial Revolution as the normal pattern of industrial development and deprived the original accumulation of capital of its central force in determining subsequent expansion.
It is likewise anti-Rostovian. There were no equivalent stages of economic growth in all participants. Elements of modernity and backwardness could survive side by side, and did, in a systematic fashion. Apparently disadvantageous initial conditions of access to capital could be overcome through new institutional arrangements.
Success was indicated by proportionally more rapid growth in later developers, signaled by a decisive spurt in industrial expansion. Those specific cases, in turn, bolstered his advocacy of a comparative, all-encompassing European structure. I summarize it here in four hypotheses: 1 Relative backwardness creates a tension between the promise of economic development, as achieved elsewhere, and the continuity of stagnation.
Such a tension takes political form and motivates institutional innovation, whose product becomes appropriate substitution for the absent preconditions for growth. Also, the more coercive and comprehensive were the measures required to reduce domestic consumption and allow national saving. Such unbalanced growth was frequently made feasible through state participation.
The considerable appeal of the Gerschenkron model derives not only from its logical and consistent ordering of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European experience. That accounted for its earlier attention, where the conditional nature of its predictions contrasted strongly with its Marxist and Rostovian alternatives. What has given it greater recent notice has been its broad scale generalization to the experience of the many late late-comers of the present Third World.
His formulation dominates the stages of growth approach because of its emphasis upon differential development in response to different initial conditions. For others, his approach has often proved a useful starting point for the historical discussion of other parts of the world, such as Henry Rosovsky did with Japan, and others, elsewhere. Always, application of the backwardness approach requires close attention to detail, as well as a quantitative emphasis.
History, even of Europe alone, does not in every detail bear easily the weight of such a grand design. In other parts of the world, and in a later time period, larger amendments are frequently required, and sometimes forgotten by current advocates.
Backwardness can too easily become an alternative, technologically rooted explanation that distracts attention from the state and the politics surrounding it, rather than focusing upon its opportunities and constraints. Ultimately, as well, there are the many developmental failures — rather than only the successes — that now loom larger and attract attention. While he did explicitly treat Austria as a failed case, it was not a central part of his theoretical structure. Moreover, important current issues like globalization, the central role of international trade, and education are less significant through much of the nineteenth century in Europe.
And more recently, with the rise of political economy as a field, his work is widely assigned as required reading. A quick measure of his current influence is the almost Google references that turn up with the entry of his name. First, in the s came the students who worked upon the Soviet Union.
His seminar then, and the availability of fellowship support, attracted several Harvard students, and even some from neighboring MIT, to work in the field.
Always, too, there were an impressive group of visitors to Cambridge who were invited to speak to the seminar, but never had permanence in its regular activities.
His recruitment techniques were subtle but effective. Economics , the course in economic history required of all graduate students, assigned a paper as well as a final examination. That provided a chance for him to assess each student early on through a brief visit to his office. Entry therein was a special occasion: filled as it was with books, journals, documents, maps, etc. Few who were recruited could desist, regardless of initial inclinations that were not directed to economic history.
The course was just the introduction. For those who went on in the field more seriously, the regular evening seminar became the focus. There ideas for dissertations were discussed and quantitative techniques evaluated.
It was just as the computer was evolving and econometrics was undergoing rapid advance. Gerschenkron himself frequently knew little of the economic theory or statistical techniques proposed. He usually limited himself to a final evaluative comment, and one that either justified further research or implicitly suggested that another topic might be a better eventual choice.
Gerschenkron had extremely good judgment or very good luck, or perhaps a combination of both. For the small crop of students who wrote with him over more than a decade went on to leadership as the field of economic history was just changing back from an historical emphasis to an economic one. Cliometrics was the new terminology. Leading universities absorbed his students, who almost always have had productive subsequent careers.
Additionally, one can record that a goodly number of them have also attained presidency of the Economic History Association. It was not his direct dissertation supervision that was responsible. He provided no topic, no suggestion of sources, no regular guidance, no timetable for conclusion. Most of the students chose subject matter far from continental Europe. What these persons gained was proximity to a stellar intellect, and close association with each other as they pursued their research.
They also obtained a father figure whom they desperately sought to imitate in their own scholarship and subsequent teaching. Those who survived that complex relationship almost always emerged with deep affection and fond memories, even if the process was far from linear and continuous.
By the mids, ten of his students, both in Soviet economics and economic history, prepared a Festschrift in his honor. Many of the essays are still worth reading.
Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective
Shakazahn CambridgeMassachusettsUnited States. Social Attitudes Entrepreneurship and Economic Devel. InGerschenkron became an American citizen and in gerschenkon, he left the Federal Reserve Board to accept a position as a tenured professor at Harvard University. His erudition and breadth of knowledge became legendary in its time. InGerschenkron wrote an essay Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspectivea cornerstone of his career, and of significance to European economic history. Four years later, he and his family would exit and join them, and hardly in easy circumstances. Whatever the strength in economics had been with Bohm-Bawerk, Menger and others who had pioneered in the Austrian school, it was not there in the s.
Background[ edit ] Gerschenkron was born in Odessa into an elite family of the Russian intelligentsia. When he was 16, he and his father left Russia during the period of the Bolshevik Revolution. They eventually settled in Vienna , Austria. There he taught himself languages including, German and Latin. He found work in Vienna as a representative for a Belgian motorcycle firm. He worked for the firm for three years, but then decided to commit himself to politics, in particular the Social Democrats.