Econ 213 U. S. Economic Development in Historical Perspective

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ECON 213

U.S. Economic Development in Historical Perspective

Spring 2016

Sacramento State

Instructor: Ta-Chen Wang

Class Time: Wednesdays, 5:30 -8:20 PM

Contact Information:

Tahoe 3019

(916) 278-7112

Office Hours:

Tuesdays 1:30-3:00

Wednesdays 3:30-5:00 or by appointment


Admission to MA program in Economics

Catalog Description

Introduction and analysis American economic development from a historical perspective, focusing on the trajectory of American economic development from recent advances in theoretical and empirical literature. Covers topics on long-term economic growth, technological advances, business cycles and fluctuations, financial market, labor market, and economic impacts of social change. Prerequisite: Admission to MA program in Economic. Units: 3.0.

Learning Objectives

This is a graduate level course on American economic history. The course takes a context-specific approach to economic applications. The course begins with a brief overview and introduction to American history from an economics perspective. Then we explore topics that played major roles in shaping the historical path of American economy. Drawing from latest research in both empirical and theoretical economics literature, this course will equip students with an understanding of American economic development through rigorous economic analysis.

More specifically, by completing this course, students are expected to:

  1. Achieve fundamental understanding of the history of American economic development and the impact of historical events on the American economy

  2. Apply economic theory and quantitative skills to analyze the historical event from an economic perspective.

  3. Develop skills to synthesize and critically evaluate economic analyses using empirical evidence in a historical context.

Required Readings

The required course material contains a series of journal articles, available on SacCT. You will need a SacLink ID to access the course website. Please see below for the tentative reading list. I may also change the reading list if appropriate journal articles appear during the semester.

If you would like to have a textbook as a reference, a good textbook at this level is:

Atack, Jeremy and Peter Passell. A New Economic View of American History. Second Edition W. W. Norton and Company 1994.

Note that the textbook is not required.

I will also post the outline of the class material on SacCT.

Evaluation and Grading System

Students are evaluated based on two exams, one data analysis project, one term paper and one in-class presentation. The following provides a brief description to each item.


There will be one midterm and a final. The exams will contain essay questions. Each question will be on a broad topic and students are expected to organize and synthesize the information from class, rather than just repeat the lectures.

Tentative midterm date: 3/16

Data Project

The data project will ask you to analyze a dataset, which will be available on SacCT. You will be asked to summarize the data, observe the pattern and use regression techniques to perform the analysis. In addition, you also have to link your observations to historical events. You are welcome to use any statistical package to analyze the data, but I will be able to help you if you use STATA.

In-Class Presentation:

Students will choose two papers among the articles with an asterisk (*) from the reading list below and present these papers in class. These articles are usually interesting and relatively recent. Before the presentation, I will introduce the general topic to provide background information. The presentation will last for about 30 to 45 minutes, and each presentation should cover at least the following elements:

  1. The historical background of the topic

  2. Literature review

  3. The issue and the theoretical prediction

  4. Description of data

  5. Empirical strategy

  6. Result of the empirical analysis

  7. Critiques and suggestions for further research

Students are also expected to participate in the discussion after each presentation. You will need to send me the PowerPoint presentation and meet with me a week prior to your presentation so we can go over the details.

Term Paper

The term paper asks students to write a review article on a topic in American economic history. The paper may be based on the topic the student presented in class. However, students are also encouraged to search for a topic of their choice and review the relevant literature. Students will be required to submit the topic of their choice no later than week 10. The article has to synthesize at least 5 original research articles and should be 7-10 pages long.

Grading Schedule :

Two Exams

25% each

One data project


In-class presentation


Term paper


Grading Scale:




















Below 60

Course Policies

  1. Academic honesty is expected. You will receive a mark of zero on any work (including exams) where cheating occurs. Please make sure you read the University Policy on Academic Honesty: There is also a useful student tutorial on this issue:

  2. There will be no make-ups on any of the graded assignments or exams unless you have a valid written excuse (such as medical emergency). Missed assignments and exams will count as zero towards your final grade.

  3. Attendance is highly recommended. If you miss a class, be sure to check with your fellow classmates, and the course web page to see what material you missed.

  4. I will do my best to respect everyone, and I hope you do the same to your fellow colleagues, especially since everyone will present in this class. Please minimize disturbances (such as cell phone ringers.)

  5. If you have a disability and require accommodations, you need to provide disability documentation to SSWD, Lassen Hall 1008, (916) 278-6955. Please discuss your accommodation needs with me after class or during my office hours early in the semester.

Weekly Course Outline and Tentative Reading List

Week 1-Week 4:

Economics Review and An Overview of American Economic History (4 lectures)

Week 1: Economics Review

Lecture notes on producer theory, profit maximization, and factor markets.

Week 2: Colonial and Antebellum America

Nettels, C. P. (1952) British Mercantilism and the Economic Development of the Thirteen Colonies. Journal of Economic History 12, 105-14

Wright, G. (2003) Slavery and American Agricultural History. Agricultural History 77, 527-552.

Week 3: Post-bellum: Northern Industrialization and Southern Reconstruction

Rosenberg, Nathan. (1981) Why in America? in Exploring the Black Box, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Week 4: Introduction to 20th Century

Wright, Gavin. (1987) The Economic Revolution in the American South. Journal of Economic Perspectives 1, 161-178.

Week 5: Financial Markets and Early American Development

Lamoreaux, Naomi R. (1986). Banks, Kinship, and Economic Development: The New England Case. Journal of Economic History 46, 647-67.

*Bodenhorn, Howard (2007). Usury Ceilings and Bank Lending Behavior: Evidence from Nineteenth Century New York. Explorations in Economic History 44, 179-202.

Rockoff, Hugh. (2003) Prodigals and Projectors: An Economic History of Usury Laws in the United States from Colonial Times to 1900. NBER Working Paper.

*Mitchener, K. J. and Wheelock, D. (2010) Does the Structure of Banking Matter for Economic Growth? Evidence from U.S. State Banking Markets. NBER Working Paper

[optional] Sylla, Richard (2006). The Transition to a Monetary Union in the United States, 1787–1795. Financial History Review 13, 73–95.

Week 6: US Agriculture

David, Paul A. The Mechanization of Reaping in the Ante-Bellum Midwest, In Fogel and Engerman. The Reinterpretation of American Economic History. Harper and Row, 1971

Olmstead, A. L. and Rhode, P. The Red Queen and the Hard Reds: Productivity Growth in American Wheat, 1800-1940. Journal of Economic History 62, 929-66

*Davis, J. H., Hanes, C, and Rhode, P.W. (2009) Harvests and Business Cycles in Nineteenth Century America. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1675-1727.

*Hansen, Z. K. and Libecap, G. (2004). Small Farms, Externalities, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Journal of Political Economy 112, 665-694.

Week 7: Slavery and the South

Conrad, A. H. and Meyer J. R. (1958) The Economics of Slavery in the Ante Bellum South. The Journal of Political Economy 66, 95-130.

Ransom, R. and Sutch, R. (1988) Capitalists Without Capital: The Burden of Slavery and the Impact of Emancipation. Agricultural History 62, 133-149.

*Olmstead, A. L. and Rhode, P. (2009) Slave Productivity in Cotton Production by Gender, Age, Season, and Scale. Working Paper

*Naidu, S. (2010) Recruitment Restrictions and Labor Markets: Evidence from the Postbellum U.S. South. Journal of Labor Economics 28,

Week 8: Technology, Innovation, and Productivity

Khan, Z., and Sokoloff, K. (2001). The Early Development of Intellectual Property Institutions in the United States. Journal of Economic Perspectives 15, 233-246.

*Moser, P. (2005). How do Patent Laws Influence Innovation? American Economic Review 95, 1215-1236.

David, P. A. (1990) The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox. American Economic Review 80, 355-361

Week 9: Education and Human Capital

Goldin, C. (2001). The Human Capital Century and American Leadership. Journal of Economic History 61, 263-292.

*Lindert, P. and Go, S. (2010) “The Uneven Rise of American Public Schools to 1850”. Journal of Economic History 70, 1-26.

*Goldin, C., and Katz, L.F. (2000). Education and Income in the Early Twentieth Century: Evidence from the Prairies. Journal of Economic History 60, 782-818.

*Parman, J. (2012). Good Schools Make Good Neighbors: Human Capital Spillovers in Early 20th Century Agriculture. Explorations in Economic History 49, 316-334.

Week 10 & 11: The Great Depression

Bernanke, B. S. (1983). Nonmonetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in the Propagation of the Great Depression. American Economic Review 73, 257–276.

*Richardson, G. (2007). Categories and Causes of Bank Distress during the Great Depression, 1929-1933: The Illiquidity versus Insolvency Debate Revisited. Explorations in Economic History 44, 588-607.

Eichengreen, B. (2007). Did International Economic Forces Cause the Great Depression? Contemporary Economic Policy 6, 90-114.

*Rose, J. (2011) The Incredible HOLC? Mortgage Relief During the Great Depression. Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking 43, 1073-1107.

*Cole, H. and Ohanian, L. (1999). The Great Depression in the United States: From A Neoclassical Perspective. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Quarterly Review 23, 2-24.

Week 12: 20th Century Labor Market Development and Discrimination

*Foote, C. L., Whatley W., and Wright, G. (2003). Arbitraging a Discriminatory Labor Market: Black Workers and the Ford Motor Company, 1918-1947. Journal of Labor Economics 21, 493-531.

*Boustan, L. P. (2010) Was Postwar Suburbanization 'White Flight'? Evidence from the Black Migration. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 417-443.

Prescott, E. (2004). Why Do Americans Work so Much More than Europeans? Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Quarterly Review 28, 2-13.

*Hornbeck, R. and Naidu, S. (2014) When the Levee Breaks: Black Migration and the Economic Development in the American South. American Economic Review 104(3), 963-990.

Week 13: Changes in Women’s Status

Wright, G. (1991). Understanding the Gender Gap: A Review Article. Journal of Economic Literature 29, 1153-1163.

Costa, D. (2000). From Mill Towns to Board Rooms: The Rise of Women’s Paid Labor. Journal of Economic Perspectives 14, 101-122.

*Bailey, M. (2006). More Power to the Pill: The Impact of Contraceptive Freedom on Women's Life Cycle Labor Supply. Quarterly Journal of Economics 121, 289-320.

Week 14: Natural Resources, American Economy, and California

Sachs, J. D., and Warner, A.M. (2001). The Curse of Natural Resources. European Economic Review 45, 827–38.

Wright, G., and Czelusta, J. (2004). The Myth of the Resource Curse. Challenge, 6-36.

*Libecap, G. (2009) Chinatown Revisited: Owens Valley and Los Angeles—Bargaining Costs and Fairness Perceptions of the First Major Water Rights Exchange. Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 25, 311-338.

*Allen, Robert C. (2014) American Exceptionalism as a Problem in Global History. Journal of Economic History 74, 309-350.

Week 15: Economic Inequality in 20th Century America

*Goldin, C. and Katz, L. F. (1998) The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarity. Quarterly Journal of Economics 113, 693-732.

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