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James Livingston: The American Anomaly, 1870-1950: Testing Thomas Piketty’s Comparative History
October 8, 2015 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The so-called Gilded Age of the late-19th century was not a moment of increasing income inequality. In fact, capitalists and their allies in journalism, academia, and Congress claimed on solid empirical grounds that the benefits of economic growth accrued mainly to workers, turning capitalists into public servants. Piketty’s formulae for the Belle Epoque cannot, then, explain this historical moment. Nor can they explain the period 1910-1950, when neither world wars nor the Great Depression damaged the American capital stock, as they clearly did in Europe. From roughly 1920 to 1940, there were no net additions to that capital stock in the US, and yet the rate of economic growth (productivity, output, per capita income) was spectacular in the 1920s and even more spectacular between 1933 and 1937. How to explain this anomaly?
James Livingston is Professor of History at Rutgers University, where he has taught for 27 years. Before arriving there, he taught in a community college, a maximum security prison, a small liberal arts college, and four large state universities. He is the author of six books and many articles on topics ranging from the Federal Reserve to Shakespeare, on toward pragmatism, feminism, and horror movies. His new book, from UNC Press, is Fuck Work: Why Full Employment Is A Bad Idea.