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Center for Historical Enquiry & the Social Sciences
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The Persistence of Economic Inequality

May 18, 2016 - 9:23am

Does inequality persist over hundreds of years? Over at Vox, Matthew Yglesias discusses new research in economic history that suggests that it might.

http://www.vox.com/2016/5/18/11691818/barone-mocetti-florence


Empire: Never Dead, Not Even Past

May 13, 2016 - 12:40pm

The Yale Center for British Art reopened this week after a year-long renovation. In addition to its outstanding collection from the British Isles, the gallery now prominently features art from India, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. Art historians have only recently begun to take colonial art seriously, but seeing art from all over the British Empire under one roof shows how both colonizers and colonists influenced each other. And it serves as a powerful reminder of how globalization is both an old process and one that is inseparable from the rise and fall of empires.

For many people, empire means the rule of one country or people over another. We often think of pith helmets and racial domination when we think about empire, but as historians are increasingly making clear, empires have existed throughout history and taken a wide variety of forms. They’re not particularly European, even if European empires serve as our largest and most recent examples. And even those empires were often very different depending on where one stood. The British Empire, with its trading companies, dominions, protectorates, mandates, and several hundred years long history was not so much a single, monolithic entity but a patchwork of different of institutions, connections, and people that changed dramatically over time. The same could be said of the French or Spanish empires.

And yet those European did have tremendous consequences for the world we inhabit today. By 1913, they ruled more than half of the world’s surface and more than half a billion people. That expansion shaped economies, institutions, and political systems all over the world. The legacy of that experience was one not only one of European domination and violence, but of cultural exchange and migration that often blurred the lines between imperial powers and the colonies they ruled.

What the relationship between colonizer and colonized was might seem a question for the history books, but it still matters a great deal. In some cases, the persistence of colonial ties is cosmetic, like Bermudan police uniforms. In others, it’s more substantive, like the Indian legal system’s debts to the common law and to the Raj. In still others, it’s tragic, like the sectarian divisions at the heart of the Syrian Civil War. Those powerful legacies, which shape everything from economic inequality to contemporary racial politics, help explain why on both sides of the Atlantic we continue to debate figures like Cecil Rhodes, John C. Calhoun, and Woodrow Wilson.

These debates ultimately boil down to whether the present ought to atone for the empires of the past. But while it’s easy to see empire as a one-sided exercise in European domination that all right-thinking people ought to repudiate, it’s not clear that for all of its violence and inequality empire’s legacy has been one of unremitting evil. Last week, London elected Sadiq Kahn Mayor of London. The son of Pakistani immigrants, Khan is the first Muslim to be elected mayor of major European city. His election shows how one consequence of the British Empire has been to create to transform London into fantastically diverse and globally engaged metropolis. Indeed, London has a long history of embracing leaders with colonial connections. In the eighteenth-century, Barlow Trecothick, who spent much of his early life in Boston, and William Beckford, who was born in Jamaica and became the island’s richest slaveowner, both served as Lord Mayor of London. That history show that in a world of empires what it means to be British or colonial is not always clear cut. Like Khan, they demonstrate that even as empires multiplied the inequalities between rulers and ruled, they also created opportunities for business, politics, and culture to flourish.


Are Liberals to Blame for Donald Trump?

May 1, 2016 - 12:49pm

CHESS steering committee member and Yale historian Beverly Gage shares her thoughts

on the front page of this week’s New York Times Book Review.


Does Google Make the State Stronger?

April 27, 2016 - 4:29pm

When the news broke that Google and Microsoft had shared user data with the NSA, it provoked angry editorials and impassioned discussions about privacy. Just how closely technology companies collaborated with the American government remains unclear, but it raises the fascinating issue of how much the power of the state depends on coopeartion from people and organizations within society.

At a recent CHESS workshop, Cornell political scientist Sid Tarrow shared his thoughts about the often cozy relationship between government and civil society. Part of what makes the modern American state so powerful, Tarrow argues, is that it doesn’t just exercise control, it works through institutions like corporations, non-profits, and the family. This is particularly true of national security in wartime when institutions often make a significant effort to help keep the country safe.

In the case of the United States, Tarrow points out that this relationship is reinforced by the fact that there are lots of competing groups. Those groups not only struggle for influence over the state; the state itself plays companies and non-profits against each other. For Tarrow, the recent controversy over whether Apple ought to decrypt a terrorist’s iPhone is a great example of this. When it came to hacking the phone, the FBI turned to an Israeli company. And while the iPhone is a great engineering achievement on Apple’s part, much of the underlying technology relies on government-funded research. It turns out that the line between government and society is much less clear than we often think.

The fact that modern states tend to rule through institutions and not just despotically helps explain why they’re so powerful. When governments work through society, they not only give people a say in how the state is run, they also give people an interest in preserving that state.

Whether we think it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s clear that national security depends on much more than just the NSA and CIA and the Defense Department collecting intelligence and fighting terrorism on their own. There’s an entire network of individuals and institutions outside of government who shape the ability of the state to carry out its goals. That’s true whether we’re talking about providing health care or eliminating terorists. The big question is why the American state has been so successful at winning the support of civil society even as government surveillance and national security policy remain controversial.

 


How European Culture Became Global

April 25, 2016 - 3:35pm

How did we come to imagine ourselves
as part of a wider world? Before Facebook and Google Maps, people read epic poems and hand-drawn maps. In this video, CHESS Associate Director
Ayesha Ramachandran discusses her new book, World Makers and the fascinating history about how European culture became global in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries:
http://macmillanreport.yale.edu/…/worldmakers-global-imagin…


Biography and Social Science History

March 29, 2016 - 3:23pm

On April 8, Jean Strouse will deliver CHESS’s annual lecture “History and Imagination: ‘Finding’ J. Pierpont Morgan.” Biography would seem an unlikely subject for a major CHESS event. Such stories are necessarily concerned with the particular, with the life of a single individual. The point of social science history, on the other hand, is to generalize about the past in an analytically, theoretically, and empirically rigorous way. Whether biography can help us do that is a fascinating but difficult question. I think that it can. The best biographies capture the stakes and consequences of paradigms and models that social scientists use.

One of the truly great biographies of the last fifty years is Robert Caro’s monumental account of the rise and fall of Robert Moses. To call The Power Broker magisterial would be doing a disservice to its ambition. Caro sought to capture not only one man’s relentless pursuit of power but to explain New York’s decline in the late 1960s and 70s. He condemned Moses for destroying a once great city, for flattening neighborhoods with vast expressways, for building inferior facilities for the city’s black residents, and for running roughshod over democratic institutions. But whether you loved or loathed Caro’s Moses, there could be no mistaking that he mattered. He used his power to transform what was then the largest city in the world.

And yet the social scientist wants to know why New York changed the way that it did and whether those changes resembled those of other cities. How different would New York have been without Robert Morris? 1950s Boston had its Central Artery, 1960s Los Angeles the half dozen freeways that slashed their way through Boyle Heights. Those communities didn’t need Moses to tear apart their urban fabric, and it’s not entirely clear how much his story alone can tell us about the larger processes of urban renewal, white flight, and ghettoization that transformed postwar cities from Minneapolis to Manchester. Indeed, the ways in which New York is different from most American cities reflect Moses’s failure to transform the metropolis. For all of his efforts to promote the automobile, New York remains one of the few places in America in which it is possible to live from cradle to grave without a driver’s license, a city in which women in furs ride the Long Island Railway to the opera house Moses built half a century ago.

And yet, there’s something enormously compelling about Moses’s story, an inescapable sense that New York would have been a far different city without him. As Caro observes, “the very shoreline of the metropolis was different before Robert Moses came to power.” Although social scientists are inclined to think in terms of broad categories like race, class, and gender and to be skeptical of accounts driven by individuals and personalities, biography challenges us to take seriously the causal implications of individual actions. There’s a certain irony that many professional historians are convinced that individuals today—Donald Trump or the Koch brothers—matter profoundly for politics and society, even as they remain critical of “great man” theories of history. That skepticism is healthy, but there clearly are people who have punched above their weight, who changed politics, or economics, or culture in significant ways. What biography can add to social science history is both a proximate cause and a personification of certain phenomena. Individuals like Robert Moses or J.P. Morgan exemplify different models of economics, politics, and governance. Learning their stories and their motivations can help us understand those models and their consequences better. In Moses’s case that was the post-war faith in government planning and development. In Morgan’s, it was the belief in economic stability and in the need for economic elites to manage the financial system. Whatever we think of those models, and however large their implications, biography can help us make sense of the models and processes that are the stuff of social science.


CHESS Chart: Reading History through Interest Rates

February 10, 2016 - 5:27pm

No one would call government bond yields sexy, but sometimes its the arcane details that move history. While most people were focusing on the antics of the New Hampshire primary, the Bank of Japan lowered interest rates below zero on some of its accounts. What followed was near panic in the bond market and a further decline in sovereign debt yields (the return investors receive when they hold that bond divided by the face value), which are now near or below zero for Japanese, Swiss, and German 10-year bonds. There’s now $7 trillion in government debt worldwide with yields below zero (where investors are actually paying to hold the bond) and that number seems likely to grow. All of this tells us that markets are expecting low inflation and slow growth for the foreseeable future despite the best efforts of central bankers and policy makers alike.

With the recent kerfuffle in the bond market, now is a great time revisit the history of government bond yields. Not only can yield rates help predict recessions, they can tell us a great deal about why the past turned out the way that it did. Yields reflect investors’ confidence in both the government’s ability to pay back its creditors as well as those creditors’ faith in the economy. For that reason, yields tend to go up during wars. Not only does the government’s demand for credit increase so too does the risk that investors might not get paid back (a country that looses a major war will have a much harder time paying back its debts).

In the eighteenth century, the difference between Britain’s lower borrowing costs relative to France reflected investors’ greater confidence in its political and financial system. Not only did Britain have a Parliament committed to paying the country’s debts (it helped that creditors were also often voters and Members of Parliament) but a central bank that managed those debts. The difference in interest rates also helps explain why Britain eventually defeated its larger geopolitical rival, especially during the Napoleonic Wars when inflation and uncertainty drove French borrowing costs through the roof. Bond yields also show how the ratification of the American constitution and the assumption of state debts during the 1790s (Hamilton really does deserve his own musical) not only brought inflation and borrowing costs under control but generated new confidence in the political and economic future of the United States.

Yields still reflect investors’ assumptions about the likelihood of default, but high yields don’t necessarily mean that they think that a government is likely to go bankrupt. In the 1950s and 60s, Japan’s economy boomed, but bond yields went up because inflation was quite high and because the government encouraged people to invest their savings in the country’s rapidly expanding industries (rather than buying government bonds). More recently, yields on government bonds have fallen, despite the fact that governments are increasingly in debt. All of this suggests that investors have a lot more confidence that these governments will remain solvent than that they will succeed in reviving their economies–a daunting prospect and one for which there is little historical precedent.


Best Books of 2015

January 25, 2016 - 2:47pm

Happy New Year! In honor of the start of 2016, I offer my favorite CHESS-related books of 2015. These books were picked because they not only cross disciplinary boundaries, but because they use history to tell us something important about the world we inhabit today. What are some of the best books that you’ve read in the past year?

Peter Brown, The Ransom of the Soul (Harvard University Press)
“What happens to the soul after we die?” is a question that doesn’t seem as though it would have much bearing on economics and institution building. But in Peter Brown’s The Ransom of the Soul we discover a distant world in which anxiety about sin and its consequences for the afterlife contributed enormously to institutional growth of early medieval Catholicism. Through much debate over the course of the sixth and seventh centuries, the biblical declaration that “The ransom of the soul of a man is his wealth” came to mean that wealthy Christians could avoid the torments of Hell through their financial contributions on Earth. Sin was both inevitable and a debt to be repaid. The Church promised the rich salvation through both almsgiving and prayer. As late antiquity became the early middle ages, giving to the Church and its institutions increasingly took the place of giving to the poor as a means of assuring salvation. The wealthy’s desire to secure their place in heaven–their anxiety for what eternity held in store–led them to donate generously to monasteries, which in becoming “antechambers to the afterlife,” transformed the Medieval landscape. Brown’s book not only reveals us how Christianity changed between antiquity and the Middle ages, it shows just how the dynamic the relationship between theology, institution building, and economics can be.

Christine Desan, Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism (Oxford University Press)
Pretty much anyone who has ever taken an economics class has learned that money originated out of people bartering goods and services with one another. That’s to say we tend to assume that money and the markets it creates is a natural response to basic economic needs, one that predates government. In her path-breaking history of money, Harvard historian and legal scholar Christine Desan turns this story on its head. Tracing the history of money from antiquity to the nineteenth century, she shows how money was created by sovereigns to mobilize society’s resources, especially for war. Governments issued tokens for services and goods that people used to pay taxes and other fees. These tokens then circulated throughout the economy. This system, whose essence persisted throughout the Middle Ages, failed, however, to provide nearly enough liquidity to meet economic needs. This changed, Desan argues, in the late 17th century when England began to allow private investors to create their own forms of money, touching off a revolution that vastly increased the amount of money in circulation. It was this monetary revolution, Desan argues, that encouraged the growth of capitalism in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Far from being a neutral and timeless institution, money was a contested and evolving project, one in which the tension between money as a store of value and money as a means of exchange created both winners and losers. As governments continue to debate the prudence of expansionary monetary policy, Desan’s book serves as an important reminder that money itself has always been intertwined with power.

Gary Gerstle, Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government (Princeton University Press)
Historians, politicians, and the public all seem to agree that Americans, especially when compared with their counterparts abroad, are libertarians at heart. Cambridge historian Gary Gerstle offers a provocative rejoinder to this assumption in his new history of the American state. Reconstructing politics and development of the American state since the Revolution, Gerstle argues that for much American history government was marked by a tension between extensive use of police power, especially at the local level, and a strong desire to limit government’s reach, especially at the national level. Gerstle shows just how far the states went to regulate morality, behavior, and racial segregation during the nineteenth century, even as Americans expressed antagonism toward the central state. This tension between nearly unlimited state government and a sharply limited national government only really began to change after World War II when the national government increased its power over American economic and social life while at the same time curtailing the power of the states. In recent years, historians have been drawing increasing attention to the role of the state in American history and showing us that America has never really been a land of small government. Gerstle’s synthesis, which shines important light on the enduring importance of money in shaping political outcomes, offers a new way of thinking about the past and future of American politics, especially as we head into an election year.

Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth (Princeton University Press)
Economic history has a reputation for dullness and minutiae. This could not be less true of Robert J. Goron’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Gordon recounts the long, revolutionary transformation in the American standard of living between 1870 and 1970. His is the story of how and why a world without running water and washing machines became a world of jet planes and color TV. Gordon draws attention to the fact that economic growth doesn’t happen evenly across centuries–it accelerates and slows down depending on a variety of different conditions. What are the long-term sources of productivity and can we expect that new inventions will increase productivity in the future? Gordon shows how the Great Depression, New Deal, and World War II–along with rising rates of education and literacy–contributed to the great increase in productivity, real wages, and consumption during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Since 1970, however, growth has slowed as education, demography, and indebtedness have worked against productivity. Even worse, the great productivity-enhancing inventions of the past 150 years, from electricity to frozen food, cannot be repeated. Whether Gordon is right to be pessimistic about the future prospects for American growth, both his history and his proposals for countering the headwinds facing the economy are especially relevant in an era of stagnant wages and growing inequality. If you’re looking for a sequel to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, look no further.

Istvan Hont, Politics in Commercial Society: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith (Harvard University Press)
We usually think of Adam Smith as a great theorist of laissez-faire economics and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as a romantic critic of modernity. In Istvan Hont’s posthumously-published Carlyle Lectures, he argues that these thinkers were both more similar than we might expect and that their insights can help us understand the political and economic challenges of the twenty-first century. By revealing that Smith and Rousseau both thought about the relationship between the human desire for recognition, self-regulation, and morality, Hont makes a strong case that both Smith and Rousseau were both trying to solve a very similar intellectual problem: what kind of politics are appropriate for a commercial society? As Hont shows us, Smith recognized that we don’t live in a world of balanced economic growth—war, politics, institutions, and history have all conspired to create economies in which some sectors are stronger than others and in which real economic relations look nothing like those offered in introductory economics textbooks. The challenge for political leaders and economists is to find ways to muddle productively through those imbalances. Hont’s Rousseau offers a darker picture of the relationship between economic growth, greed, and inequality, one that seems to oscillate between extreme democracy, revolutionary crisis, and dictatorship. As we continue to grapple with aftermath of the financial crisis and the struggles of the European Union, Hont’s exploration of eighteenth-century political thought offers provocative suggestions for how we address the problems of our own commercial societies.

Noel Malcolm, Agents of Empire: Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies in the Sixteenth-Century Mediterranean World (Allen Lane / Oxford University Press)
Albanian history would seem an unlikely source for a work that changes the way we think about nationalism and empire. But in Noel Malcolm’s Agents of Empire, an account of relations between Venice and the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century, we discover a world that challenges many of our assumptions about relations between Christendom and Islamic world. He uses the story of the Bruni and Brutti families of Ulcinj, an Adriatic port that was part of the Venetian Empire until the Ottomans conquered it in 1573, to tell an engaging story about how early modern empires worked. He follows their exploits for over a century and uses them as a prism for understanding political and military developments throughout the Mediterranean, from North Africa to the Balkans. In so doing, he shows how despite clashes between East and West, the reality on the ground was not one of ineluctable strife, but of improvisation, negotiation, and exchange. Christians lived happily under the Ottomans and personal or local loyalties often trumped imperial identities. That’s not, however, to say that the world described by Malcolm was a peaceful one. On the contrary, it was racked by dangerous conflict and political instability, and it was defined by war and poverty, piracy and disease. Many of these themes will be familiar to students of early modern empire, but Agents of Empire in nonetheless a great example of how it is possible to write engaging microhistory–chock full of fascinating historical details–while also shedding light on larger political and religious issues. Ultimately, it offers a powerful rejoinder to those scholars and commentators who assume that national, religious, and ethnic conflict is inevitable or insurmountable.

Josiah Ober, The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (Princeton University Press)
Classical Greece has a long reputation as the fountainhead of European culture and civilization. But in Josiah Ober’s new The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece’s we learn how Greece’s exceptional cultural achievements were connected to its economic accomplishments. Greeks, Ober tells us, enjoyed unusual prosperity, urbanization, and equality for the pre-modern world. So why were Greeks so prosperous? Ober argues that its city states existed in a world of economic and institutional competition, which encouraged innovation while the diversity of resources throughout the region encouraged specialization and exchange. High levels of equality encouraged both military morale while institutions such as written law codes and citizen-centered governing institutions encouraged good government and robust militaries. Strong institutions, institutions that prioritized the well-being of citizens, promoted Greece’s economic, cultural and geopolitical success. Even after the Greeks succumbed to Macedon in the fourth century BC, the cultural and economic strength of their city states meant that they succeeded in maintaining considerable independence–at least until they were conquered by the Roman Empire. This is a great book for anyone interested in classical history, the relationship between institutions and economic growth, and the reason why some societies enjoy particular moments of efflorescence.

Sidney Tarrow, War, States & Contention (Cornell University Press)
In a year that saw continued war and civil unrest in Ukraine and Syria, the relationship between social movements, Sidney Tarrow’s War, States, & Contention offers a useful historical perspective on the growth of state power and its connection to both war and social movements. Examining the ways in which draft riots, worker strikes, ethnic conflicts, civil rights movements, antiwar protests, and nationalist campaigns have affected state building and war making in France, the United States, and Italy since the French Revolution, he argues that social movements both encourage and constrain states’ power. Although such movements have often challenged state’s when they go to war, they have also—especially in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—met with more limited success in the face of those states’ ability to contain contentious politics. Ultimately, Tarrow offers a fascinating discussion the relationship, at different historical moments, between civil rights, contentious politics, war making, and hierarchical and/or infrastructural power. In observing that citizens more often than not support states when they go to war, Tarrow adds a useful wrinkle to Charles Tilly’s dictum that war makes states.


The Changing Color of History

December 9, 2015 - 2:26pm

What can the history of color tell us about how we became modern? We usually assume that color is a constant, but we don’t always agree about what color means, and those meanings have changed dramatically over time. Indeed, color raises deeply philosophical questions: do we detect color or simply construct it in our minds? At a recent workshop held in preparation for a special issue of Eighteenth-Century Studies, historians, art historians, and literary scholars came together at Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library for a conversation about what was distinct about color in the eighteenth century and why this matters for the present. Their conversation revealed a wide range of economic and social developments that radically transformed the ways in which people all over the world understood color and its meanings.

In the eighteenth century, the growth of both capitalism and globalization led to changing perceptions of tints and hues. Seventeenth-century Europeans often thought of color as feminine and sentimental, associating it with both makeup and with luxury more broadly. But new developments in textile production—as well as innovations in how colors were produced—made it possible for people to consume a far more colorful array of goods than ever before. Cheap Indian calicoes flooded the European market and were then painted with patterns drawn from around the world in order to suit the tastes of people on both sides of the Atlantic. Artisans developed new techniques for creating dyes and pigments like Prussian blue that could be produced without natural colorings like indigo. These innovations led to new expectations for clothing and style. Color played a pivotal role in fashion, and constantly changing tastes meant that people sought out new articles of clothing well before old ones wore out. That contributed both to more consumption and even more innovation in manufacturing and in industry. New technologies and falling costs allowed working people in the eighteenth century to consume more colorful clothing than ever before—everything from blue and white checked workwear to military uniforms in standardized colors.

But there’s also a much more disturbing side to the globalization of color in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: the vast expansion of race-based slavery. Although chromatically inaccurate, the use of “black” and “white” to describe skin color came into use in the sixteenth century, at the beginning of European expansion, and was joined by “red” and “yellow” two centuries later. Color increasingly became the basis not only for dividing and categorizing human beings but of legitimizing their enslavement. Still, eighteenth-century Europeans and European Americans were uncertain about what these differences in complexion meant—and they debated them fiercely. For many Europeans white was both the default color of human kind and the color of civilization. Such views were expressed both in Europe and the new United States and were offered by natural philosophers in order to explain how human beings could vary so much in physical appearance and color while still remaining human. Princeton’s president, Samuel Stanhope Smith, for example, argued that skin color was a product purely of environmental factors and that whiteness was a product of both refinement and a temperate climate. Although wrong and troubling today, Smith’s argument about color was actually an argument for people’s common humanity. For his contemporary Benjamin Franklin, white was not so much the color of mankind as the default color of the British Empire. He identified himself as white and advocated  “excluding all blacks and tawneys” from British North America and instead “increasing the lovely white and red.” Conceptions of color were thus at the heart of ideologies that legitimized slavery and empire, even though colors were themselves abstractions and their meanings far from conclusive. Indeed, color as a measure of racial identity has continued to prove contentious. In 1962, Crayola renamed its much-criticized “flesh” color crayon “peach,” and in 1999 it changed “Indian red” to “chestnut.” Even as the names and meanings of colors have changed, what hasn’t is their centrality to commerce and their crucial role in how we make sense of a complex and multi-ethnic world.


Chart of the Week: Do Books Cause Revolutions?

November 30, 2015 - 11:08am

CHESS hosts Robert Darnton this Friday (Whitney Humanities Center, 208 @ 12:30) for a conversation about his most recent project, A Literary Tour of France. The site captures the supply and demand of literature in France during the Enlightenment and on the eve of the French Revolution. The story told here is one not just of brilliant ideas or great books but about smuggling, literary surveillance, and illicit attacks on the French monarchy. It also shows how many of the most popular books of the French Enlightenment were on subjects like public administration and political economy.

Although it would surprise no one that the consumption of books increased between the middle of the fifteenth century and the end of the eighteenth, European countries experienced the growth of print culture very differently. Britain became a nation of readers during its contentious 17th century while absolutist France lagged far behind until catching up somewhat during its own age of revolutions. But the Netherlands, which became a major source of books for French readers, put them all to shame, consuming more than twice as many books per capita during the eighteenth century than the British. Spain and Russia, however, consumed few books per capita, suggesting that reading remained the province of a small elite rather than a growing middle class pursuit.

Source: ELTJO BURINGH AND JAN LUITEN VAN ZANDEN, “Charting the ‘Rise of the West’:Manuscripts and Printed Books inEurope, A Long-Term Perspective fromthe Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries,” Journal of Economic History 69, no. 2 (June 2009): 421.

What can book publishing tell us about politics and political culture? What is the relationship between book publishing and the growth of capitalism? For more on these fascinating and important subjects, join CHESS’s workshop this Friday or add your own thoughts to the comments below.


Sophia Rosenfeld on Choice

November 16, 2015 - 11:25am

CHESS welcomes Sophia Rosenfeld to both the Yale History Department its steering Committee. Professor Rosenfeld is a scholar of the intellectual and cultural history of eighteenth-century Europe. She’s currently writing a book exploring how the idea of choice became a proxy for freedom in the modern world. For some her thoughts on the history of choice and its consequences, see her article in The Nation.


Chart of the Week: America Isn’t Working

November 16, 2015 - 11:17am

This Friday, Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard, will be discussing her paper “Career and Family: Collision or Confluence” with the Chess Workshop. Goldin shows how over the twentieth century women went from either having a family or job, to having a family and then job, to, following the introduction of the birth control pill in the 1960s, having both a family and a job. Today, there are more college-educated women than ever before, but the pay gap between women and men persists and more women continue to opt out of the labor force. To close the gap, she proposes increasing the flexibility given to workers, allowing them to work fewer and more predictable hours.

Although Goldin tells a story of women’s progress, the most recent Annual Report of the Council of Economic Advisors to the President shows how Americans, and particularly women, are increasingly lagging behind their peers in other advanced countries in workforce participation. Historically, the United States was a leader in the percentage of women working, but, more recently, this has changed. American women in the between 24 and 54 are now about as likely to work as their Japanese counterparts. The decline is even more pronounced for men, although they continue to work in greater numbers than women. Many countries with greater labor participation also have stronger worker protections, early childcare provision, and flexible leave policies for parents. Is improving workplace flexibility enough to bring women back into the labor force? Join the discussion at CHESS next Friday, November 20 at 12:30 in Whitney Humanities Center, 208.


Chart of the Week: Why do Financial Crises Happen?

November 5, 2015 - 9:48am

Next week Alan Taylor visits CHESS to discuss his paper on the history of financial crisis. Taylor shows how credit booms often lead to both financial crises and to longer and deeper recessions than normal. This chart shows that financial crises were fairly common in the 19th and early twentieth centuries, happening about every 15 to 20 years, stopped after World War II, and resumed following the end of the Bretton Woods System. So the question is whether we’re better off with the regulations that followed the Great Depression and Bretton Woods, including high capital requirements for banks. strict regulation of the financial system, and controls on international capital flows.

The percentage share of countries worldwide experiencing the onset of a financial crisis in each year since 1800 for both the advanced (high-income) and emerging (middle- and low-income) groups of economies. From Alan M. Taylor, “Credit, Financial Stability, and the Macroeconomy,” Annual Review of Economics  7 (2015):313.

Join the discussion next Friday, November 13 at 12:30 in Whitney Humanities Center, 203.


Welcome to the new CHESS blog

November 5, 2015 - 8:36am

Welcome to the new CHESS blog. Yale’s Center for Historical Enquiry & the Social Sciences (CHESS) is dedicated to idea that solutions to seemingly intractable contemporary problems can be found placing them in historical perspective. Our new blog promises to make that goal a reality by making commentary and analysis from Yale’s outstanding faculty and students available to the public. Check back here for a historical perspective on the most pressing issues facing the world today. As part of the Center’s mission to transcend the divide between the humanities and social sciences, we’ll have posts and links from scholars working in history, economics, political science, law, sociology, anthropology, psychology, literature, music, and the arts. You’ll also find announcements for CHESS events, historical data and charts that shed light on where we’ve been and where we’re going, and links to commentary and analysis from around the web. In addition to contributions from CHESS participants, we welcome posts from Yale faculty and students in all fields. And don’t forget to check out our new facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/yalechess/) and twitter feed (@YALEChess), where you’ll find updates about CHESS events and programs. We look forward to the conversation.

Julia and Steve


Daniel Breslau Comment, “The Pricing Machine: The Science and Politics of a Reflexive Market”

April 5, 2014 - 3:20pm

The following is a post by Amy Dunagin, graduate student in Music History and Renaissance Studies. 

In his paper “The Pricing Machine: The Science and politics of a Reflexive Market,” Professor Breslau sets out to historicize the role of economics in the formation of designed markets. Designed markets, he claims, result from both the logic of political, legal, and technological processes of market formation, and from the logic of instrumental-rational state intervention.

Breslau notes that recent scholarship has “drawn attention to the role of economics in the constitution of economic institutions and markets in particular,” and some of this work focuses on the concept of ‘performativity,’ which casts the relationship between economics and the economy in a new light: specifically, he writes, in this view “economics is not of interest as a representation of the real economy…Rather, the economy performs economic theory.” Breslau finds that the literature on performativity has “not accounted for the novelty of market design,” but has rather “associated the performativity of economics with market formation in general.” He seeks to “isolate the specific contribution of economics, and what is distinctive about designed markets,” by distinguishing between generic legal, political, and technological market-building processes and the scientific formulation and justification of state intervention,” a process that he claims has promoted the dramatic growth in the economics profession.

Breslau observes that this new rationale for state intervention ran the risk of shattering “the belief in a depoliticized market,” and thus depended on a “re-depoliticization” of the economy, accomplished by “states aligning with scientific rationality, particularly that of economists.” This type of justification of state intervention developed in part in response to a particular set of problems facing electricity markets, and the result was a new type of institution: the reflexive market, which Breslau defines as “a concrete synthesis of the logic of just exchange and the logic of scientific instrumental-rational intervention, a synthesis of liberalism and technocracy. “These are markets that are interventions,” he writes. They are “legitimated,” he argues, “not by means of the inherent justice of equal exchanges, freely entered into, but by the economic logic of their aggregate efficiency.”

            To describe the unique features of reflexive markets, he turns to a particular case: the introduction of Locational-Marginal Pricing, or LMP, in US electricity markets. In the mid-1990s, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order that would reorganize the power industry, which had been dominated by regulated monopolies – vertically-integrated companies that both produced and distributed power, to a new system in which “the transmission and distribution systems would remain natural monopolies subject to regulation,” while power generation would become subject to competitive markets. Because of the particular nature of electricity, however, pricing was a very difficult problem to solve. Electricity cannot be stored economically, and is therefore more prone to congestion, which affects price. And, electricity does not move in a discoverable path from producer to consumer, (as does, for example, gas), but is subject to loop flow, making the pricing problem even more complicated.

            The solution, Breslau writes, relied on earlier work of a group of MIT engineers who developed “the first comprehensive model for pricing electricity on a real-time basis.” Their process “allows system operators to model the power flows on the transmission system at any moment in time,” in other words, as the load (or demand) for energy fluctuates, operators can respond to those changes in real time by adjusting the power output.

            The MIT group’s pricing algorithms could work well in a situation in which a single monopoly utility calculated spot prices at regular intervals at thousands of nodes on the transmission system; but it was much less applicable to a newly deregulated system with multiple generators. Breslau gives a quote comparing this idea to giving everyone on a 747 a joystick and expecting them to be able to land the plane. [you need centralization to make this work] The solution to this problem, Breslau writes, “involved integrating centralized calculation of locational prices with centralized dispatch of power,” a system that is widely used today known as Locational Marginal Pricing, or LMP. LMP involves buyers and sellers of power projecting how much power they expect to buy or sell per hour, and on the basis of these bids an operator determines the lowest-cost way to balance supply and demand per hour, taking into account local prices for several thousand nodes.

            Breslau describes the political conflict surrounding the introduction of LMP in the US, focusing on the first power system to adopt it, the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland Interconnection, or PJM. Those within PJM who supported it, Brelsau suggests, “probably understood [LMP] as a way to manage the political environment around their organizational field.” Federal regulators had a mandate to ensure that electricity prices were “just and reasonable,” and in the mid-1990s, Breslau argues, “they came to redefine ‘just and reasonable’ in economic terms”; they “showed their preference for a market that would yield prices consistent with the predictions of economic theory, rather than leave market pricing to a disorganized and decentralized bilateral trade.” Furthermore, he finds that “the reasons for the adoption of this design are simultaneously technical and political. The prices determined by this system yield optimum transactions for all the parties involved, making the market “unassailable in its aggregate effects.” This achieves the desired scientific-rational foundation that serves as a justification of state intervention.

            Breslau concludes that we can expect to see reflexive markets where markets are expected not just to protect property rights and ensure just exchanges, but also to produce “aggregate social benefits.” “The neoliberal order,” he writes, “in light of the reflexive market hypothesis, is marked not only by the retreat of state intervention and the liberation of markets, but by the proliferation of markets as interventions.” Reflexive markets provide a “technical and apolitical framework” for state intervention in the economy. The imperative that these reflexive markets be efficient with regard to an impersonal standard,” he concludes, explains the growth of the field of market design.

            In response to this very interesting paper, I had a couple of questions:

1)    First, I am curious about how other examples of reflexive markets differ from the case study you describe in the paper?

2)    You identify reflexive markets as a new institution, and contextualize the development of your case study of this new institution as a response to a particular set of problems having to do with the nature of electricity and how to price it, and a set of political and economic circumstances surrounding this industry. You also frame the development of this institution as a kind of theoretical solution to the problem of legitimizing state intervention in the economy. I’m curious about broader social or political reasons why a need was felt for this new kind of institution, and especially for a logic of instrumental-rational state intervention at this point in time. In response to what economic and political needs did this new institution develop?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Daniel Breslau Comment, “The Pricing Machine: The Science and Politics of a Reflexive Market”

April 5, 2014 - 3:20pm

The following is a post by Amy Dunagin, graduate student in Music History and Renaissance Studies. 

In his paper “The Pricing Machine: The Science and politics of a Reflexive Market,” Professor Breslau sets out to historicize the role of economics in the formation of designed markets. Designed markets, he claims, result from both the logic of political, legal, and technological processes of market formation, and from the logic of instrumental-rational state intervention.

Breslau notes that recent scholarship has “drawn attention to the role of economics in the constitution of economic institutions and markets in particular,” and some of this work focuses on the concept of ‘performativity,’ which casts the relationship between economics and the economy in a new light: specifically, he writes, in this view “economics is not of interest as a representation of the real economy…Rather, the economy performs economic theory.” Breslau finds that the literature on performativity has “not accounted for the novelty of market design,” but has rather “associated the performativity of economics with market formation in general.” He seeks to “isolate the specific contribution of economics, and what is distinctive about designed markets,” by distinguishing between generic legal, political, and technological market-building processes and the scientific formulation and justification of state intervention,” a process that he claims has promoted the dramatic growth in the economics profession.

Breslau observes that this new rationale for state intervention ran the risk of shattering “the belief in a depoliticized market,” and thus depended on a “re-depoliticization” of the economy, accomplished by “states aligning with scientific rationality, particularly that of economists.” This type of justification of state intervention developed in part in response to a particular set of problems facing electricity markets, and the result was a new type of institution: the reflexive market, which Breslau defines as “a concrete synthesis of the logic of just exchange and the logic of scientific instrumental-rational intervention, a synthesis of liberalism and technocracy. “These are markets that are interventions,” he writes. They are “legitimated,” he argues, “not by means of the inherent justice of equal exchanges, freely entered into, but by the economic logic of their aggregate efficiency.”

            To describe the unique features of reflexive markets, he turns to a particular case: the introduction of Locational-Marginal Pricing, or LMP, in US electricity markets. In the mid-1990s, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order that would reorganize the power industry, which had been dominated by regulated monopolies – vertically-integrated companies that both produced and distributed power, to a new system in which “the transmission and distribution systems would remain natural monopolies subject to regulation,” while power generation would become subject to competitive markets. Because of the particular nature of electricity, however, pricing was a very difficult problem to solve. Electricity cannot be stored economically, and is therefore more prone to congestion, which affects price. And, electricity does not move in a discoverable path from producer to consumer, (as does, for example, gas), but is subject to loop flow, making the pricing problem even more complicated.

            The solution, Breslau writes, relied on earlier work of a group of MIT engineers who developed “the first comprehensive model for pricing electricity on a real-time basis.” Their process “allows system operators to model the power flows on the transmission system at any moment in time,” in other words, as the load (or demand) for energy fluctuates, operators can respond to those changes in real time by adjusting the power output.

            The MIT group’s pricing algorithms could work well in a situation in which a single monopoly utility calculated spot prices at regular intervals at thousands of nodes on the transmission system; but it was much less applicable to a newly deregulated system with multiple generators. Breslau gives a quote comparing this idea to giving everyone on a 747 a joystick and expecting them to be able to land the plane. [you need centralization to make this work] The solution to this problem, Breslau writes, “involved integrating centralized calculation of locational prices with centralized dispatch of power,” a system that is widely used today known as Locational Marginal Pricing, or LMP. LMP involves buyers and sellers of power projecting how much power they expect to buy or sell per hour, and on the basis of these bids an operator determines the lowest-cost way to balance supply and demand per hour, taking into account local prices for several thousand nodes.

            Breslau describes the political conflict surrounding the introduction of LMP in the US, focusing on the first power system to adopt it, the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland Interconnection, or PJM. Those within PJM who supported it, Brelsau suggests, “probably understood [LMP] as a way to manage the political environment around their organizational field.” Federal regulators had a mandate to ensure that electricity prices were “just and reasonable,” and in the mid-1990s, Breslau argues, “they came to redefine ‘just and reasonable’ in economic terms”; they “showed their preference for a market that would yield prices consistent with the predictions of economic theory, rather than leave market pricing to a disorganized and decentralized bilateral trade.” Furthermore, he finds that “the reasons for the adoption of this design are simultaneously technical and political. The prices determined by this system yield optimum transactions for all the parties involved, making the market “unassailable in its aggregate effects.” This achieves the desired scientific-rational foundation that serves as a justification of state intervention.

            Breslau concludes that we can expect to see reflexive markets where markets are expected not just to protect property rights and ensure just exchanges, but also to produce “aggregate social benefits.” “The neoliberal order,” he writes, “in light of the reflexive market hypothesis, is marked not only by the retreat of state intervention and the liberation of markets, but by the proliferation of markets as interventions.” Reflexive markets provide a “technical and apolitical framework” for state intervention in the economy. The imperative that these reflexive markets be efficient with regard to an impersonal standard,” he concludes, explains the growth of the field of market design.

            In response to this very interesting paper, I had a couple of questions:

1)    First, I am curious about how other examples of reflexive markets differ from the case study you describe in the paper?

2)    You identify reflexive markets as a new institution, and contextualize the development of your case study of this new institution as a response to a particular set of problems having to do with the nature of electricity and how to price it, and a set of political and economic circumstances surrounding this industry. You also frame the development of this institution as a kind of theoretical solution to the problem of legitimizing state intervention in the economy. I’m curious about broader social or political reasons why a need was felt for this new kind of institution, and especially for a logic of instrumental-rational state intervention at this point in time. In response to what economic and political needs did this new institution develop?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Response to Mark Phillips’s “History Painting Redistanced: from Benjamin West to David Wilkie”

April 4, 2014 - 1:06pm

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians By Benjamin West

The following is a comment from Susan Morrow, graduate student in the Department of German Languages and Literatures.

Professor Phillips’s paper is driven by a central concern with what defined the historicity of British history painting. His core analytical tool is the concept of historical distance: by tracing the way history’s “distance” was represented in eighteenth and nineteenth century painting, Phillips is able to detect changing measures of historical truth within art and differing views of its relationship to historical writing.

The paper starts out from two complexities undergirding the issue of distance in history painting. First, while history painting occupied the highest rank among the hierarchically ordered genres of early modern British painting, the definition of this genre was itself unclear, since what distinguished it was not just its historical theme but also the premium it placed on what Prof. Phillips calls “grandeur” and “distance.” Second, the paper points to an ambiguous line between fact and fiction given by the term “history/istoria” in 18th century painting, so that the conventions of visual representations of history did not necessarily coincide with a history writing bound by documented fact until the 19th Century. Hence the paper’s central argument: as a representation itself subject to changing notions of history, history painting maintained the characteristic elevation of its genre by reorienting itself according to the “political needs and historical sensibilities of each age” (Phillips, 2). The paper’s argument is then structured by the contrast in historical sensibilities that it argues are visible in the work of Benjamin West and David Wilkie, two history painters a generation apart, and the effect of the argument is thus to show that historical distancing is present in their work not as a uniform relationship they both establish between the present and the past, but rather as the evolving conception of this relationship itself.

In order to understand West’s stance on historical distance, Phillips places it in the context of 18th century neoclassical history painting, whose exponent, Joshua Reynolds, viewed the truths of art as different in kind from those of history—that difference being that art’s general, ideal truth need not be faithful to particular facts and details. The ability to deviate from the historical record in pursuit of “sacred history, ancient myth, dynastic allegories, the memory of Rome and Greece”(3) was indeed the criterion of grandeur for Reynolds’s “Great Style.” West’s declaration that “the same truth that guides the pen of the historian should govern the pencil of the artist” (4) thus represents a break with Reynolds’s view of history painting as beholden solely to ideal truth. Nonetheless, Phillips maintains that West’s position was a moderate one whose incorporation of historical fact still relied heavily on heroic and sacred imagery to mediate the past and render its significance elevated.

Phillips identifies various mechanisms of such distancing in West’s Death of General Wolfe, whose depiction of contemporary dress was certainly a nod to historical fact. Chief among the painting’s other devices, however, is a formal arrangement including the figuration of the general as the dying Christ and of an indigenous warrior as his silent counterpart, himself both emblem of America’s past and witness of its future. As Philips puts it, such figures are “at once highly idealized and historically precise” (8) because they trade “the artificiality of traditional allegory” for “natural symbols”—finding within the very particulars of the historical event, as it were, the means of elevating its history to myth.

If West’s challenge to the neoclassical priority of idealization in fact still needed to transfigure historical particulars into recognizable icons and heroic symbols, then a history painting genuinely committed to facts rather than ideals, Phillips argues, is found not in West but in Wilkie. In works like Village Politicians and the Gazette of Waterloo, Wilkie combined faithfulness to quotidian detail with conceptual and formal devices linking the everyday to matters of national concern. In the Gazette, for instance, Phillips focuses on Wilkie’s composition, which suspends the bustling crowd in a moment of shared anticipation as they first hear the news of Napoleon’s defeat. The unity of this moment is embodied in the canvas’s focal point: the luminous document that delivers the news, a “natural symbol” like West’s indigenous warrior, yet one that no longer brings together historical precision and a heroic order but that rather combines the utterly familiar with an extraordinary outburst of patriotic sentiment.

Phillips devotes the remainder of the paper to a comparison of Wilkie’s reception by two of his contemporaries to illustrate their divergent views of history. One of these, John Burnet, was an artist and neoclassicist who nonetheless differed from earlier figures like Reynolds in that the nationalist political realities of the nineteenth-century led him to “plac[e] the secular state in the position once held by less worldly symbols of the ideal” (14). In his view, Wilkie’s work only sometimes rose above the level of genre painting onto that of “history,” and an abiding resistance to public art in Britain indeed made it difficult for any painter to successfully venture beyond private, domestic subject-matter. Wilkie’s Biographer, Allan Cunningham, tells a different story, celebrating Wilkie’s Village Politicians as the result of imagination, capable of expressing the highly consequential political sentiments of its ordinary figures. It was in virtue of such evident inventiveness that Cunningham classified Wilkie’s works as historical or not, maintaining the neoclassical hierarchy of genres but reinterpreting it with more romantic criteria.

With respect to the central problem of how to define the distance that gave history painting its status atop the hierarchy of genres, Phillips’s conclusion is thus that the concept of “history” and with it the measures of the relationship between past and present, public and private, ideal and fact were themselves undergoing reinterpretation in the context of secular, nationalist, political transitions in the 19th century. History painting maintained its distance despite changing its scene, because the conception of distance was itself in flux: Wilkie was, as Phillips puts it, “a product of the historiographical impulses of his times” (21). The paper’s contribution is thus to dispels the notion that history painting was a monolithic genre reflecting an allegorical, sacred, or idealized view of history that must be sharply distinguished from the factual commitments of historical writing, and to shows that changing conceptions of history were being worked out and expressed on canvas just as much as in writing. Furthermore, in connection to Professor Phillips’s own methodological reorientation of history from an emphasis on prose narrative to “history’s mediatory purpose,” this suggests that a range of representations other than written ones play a bigger role in mediating the past to us than might otherwise be acknowledged.

I’d like to finish by posing three questions. First, the paper alludes several times to historiographical thinking associated with Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment as preparing the way for Wilkie’s new brand of history painting. Here I’m just curious to hear more about these currents of historical thought and how they relate to Wilkie’s representations. Second, what exactly is the priority of visual versus written mediation of history? To what extent does history painting reflect the historiography of its time and to what extent does this historiography draw upon innovations in visual representation in order to rethink historical distance and the significance of the past? For example, I wonder how the changing notion of distance is related to the change from sacred or heroic allegory to what the paper calls “natural symbolism.” That leaves me with my final question: what conception of nature or naturalness do such symbols entail in contrast to a sacred or dynastic history whose symbols have come to appear artificial?

 


Response to Mark Phillips’s “History Painting Redistanced: from Benjamin West to David Wilkie”

April 4, 2014 - 1:06pm

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians By Benjamin West

The following is a comment from Susan Morrow, graduate student in the Department of German Languages and Literatures.

Professor Phillips’s paper is driven by a central concern with what defined the historicity of British history painting. His core analytical tool is the concept of historical distance: by tracing the way history’s “distance” was represented in eighteenth and nineteenth century painting, Phillips is able to detect changing measures of historical truth within art and differing views of its relationship to historical writing.

The paper starts out from two complexities undergirding the issue of distance in history painting. First, while history painting occupied the highest rank among the hierarchically ordered genres of early modern British painting, the definition of this genre was itself unclear, since what distinguished it was not just its historical theme but also the premium it placed on what Prof. Phillips calls “grandeur” and “distance.” Second, the paper points to an ambiguous line between fact and fiction given by the term “history/istoria” in 18th century painting, so that the conventions of visual representations of history did not necessarily coincide with a history writing bound by documented fact until the 19th Century. Hence the paper’s central argument: as a representation itself subject to changing notions of history, history painting maintained the characteristic elevation of its genre by reorienting itself according to the “political needs and historical sensibilities of each age” (Phillips, 2). The paper’s argument is then structured by the contrast in historical sensibilities that it argues are visible in the work of Benjamin West and David Wilkie, two history painters a generation apart, and the effect of the argument is thus to show that historical distancing is present in their work not as a uniform relationship they both establish between the present and the past, but rather as the evolving conception of this relationship itself.

In order to understand West’s stance on historical distance, Phillips places it in the context of 18th century neoclassical history painting, whose exponent, Joshua Reynolds, viewed the truths of art as different in kind from those of history—that difference being that art’s general, ideal truth need not be faithful to particular facts and details. The ability to deviate from the historical record in pursuit of “sacred history, ancient myth, dynastic allegories, the memory of Rome and Greece”(3) was indeed the criterion of grandeur for Reynolds’s “Great Style.” West’s declaration that “the same truth that guides the pen of the historian should govern the pencil of the artist” (4) thus represents a break with Reynolds’s view of history painting as beholden solely to ideal truth. Nonetheless, Phillips maintains that West’s position was a moderate one whose incorporation of historical fact still relied heavily on heroic and sacred imagery to mediate the past and render its significance elevated.

Phillips identifies various mechanisms of such distancing in West’s Death of General Wolfe, whose depiction of contemporary dress was certainly a nod to historical fact. Chief among the painting’s other devices, however, is a formal arrangement including the figuration of the general as the dying Christ and of an indigenous warrior as his silent counterpart, himself both emblem of America’s past and witness of its future. As Philips puts it, such figures are “at once highly idealized and historically precise” (8) because they trade “the artificiality of traditional allegory” for “natural symbols”—finding within the very particulars of the historical event, as it were, the means of elevating its history to myth.

If West’s challenge to the neoclassical priority of idealization in fact still needed to transfigure historical particulars into recognizable icons and heroic symbols, then a history painting genuinely committed to facts rather than ideals, Phillips argues, is found not in West but in Wilkie. In works like Village Politicians and the Gazette of Waterloo, Wilkie combined faithfulness to quotidian detail with conceptual and formal devices linking the everyday to matters of national concern. In the Gazette, for instance, Phillips focuses on Wilkie’s composition, which suspends the bustling crowd in a moment of shared anticipation as they first hear the news of Napoleon’s defeat. The unity of this moment is embodied in the canvas’s focal point: the luminous document that delivers the news, a “natural symbol” like West’s indigenous warrior, yet one that no longer brings together historical precision and a heroic order but that rather combines the utterly familiar with an extraordinary outburst of patriotic sentiment.

Phillips devotes the remainder of the paper to a comparison of Wilkie’s reception by two of his contemporaries to illustrate their divergent views of history. One of these, John Burnet, was an artist and neoclassicist who nonetheless differed from earlier figures like Reynolds in that the nationalist political realities of the nineteenth-century led him to “plac[e] the secular state in the position once held by less worldly symbols of the ideal” (14). In his view, Wilkie’s work only sometimes rose above the level of genre painting onto that of “history,” and an abiding resistance to public art in Britain indeed made it difficult for any painter to successfully venture beyond private, domestic subject-matter. Wilkie’s Biographer, Allan Cunningham, tells a different story, celebrating Wilkie’s Village Politicians as the result of imagination, capable of expressing the highly consequential political sentiments of its ordinary figures. It was in virtue of such evident inventiveness that Cunningham classified Wilkie’s works as historical or not, maintaining the neoclassical hierarchy of genres but reinterpreting it with more romantic criteria.

With respect to the central problem of how to define the distance that gave history painting its status atop the hierarchy of genres, Phillips’s conclusion is thus that the concept of “history” and with it the measures of the relationship between past and present, public and private, ideal and fact were themselves undergoing reinterpretation in the context of secular, nationalist, political transitions in the 19th century. History painting maintained its distance despite changing its scene, because the conception of distance was itself in flux: Wilkie was, as Phillips puts it, “a product of the historiographical impulses of his times” (21). The paper’s contribution is thus to dispels the notion that history painting was a monolithic genre reflecting an allegorical, sacred, or idealized view of history that must be sharply distinguished from the factual commitments of historical writing, and to shows that changing conceptions of history were being worked out and expressed on canvas just as much as in writing. Furthermore, in connection to Professor Phillips’s own methodological reorientation of history from an emphasis on prose narrative to “history’s mediatory purpose,” this suggests that a range of representations other than written ones play a bigger role in mediating the past to us than might otherwise be acknowledged.

I’d like to finish by posing three questions. First, the paper alludes several times to historiographical thinking associated with Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment as preparing the way for Wilkie’s new brand of history painting. Here I’m just curious to hear more about these currents of historical thought and how they relate to Wilkie’s representations. Second, what exactly is the priority of visual versus written mediation of history? To what extent does history painting reflect the historiography of its time and to what extent does this historiography draw upon innovations in visual representation in order to rethink historical distance and the significance of the past? For example, I wonder how the changing notion of distance is related to the change from sacred or heroic allegory to what the paper calls “natural symbolism.” That leaves me with my final question: what conception of nature or naturalness do such symbols entail in contrast to a sacred or dynastic history whose symbols have come to appear artificial?

 


Comment for CHESS Workshop on Just Deserts: The Moral Economy of Welfare in Europe and the United States by Sigrun Kahl

February 28, 2014 - 11:49am

 

The following is a post by Amanda Gregg a PhD in Economics at Yale University 

 

Thank you for inviting me to give this comment.  I loved the paper, which is the beginning section of a book project.

 

The book’s goal is to understand how different societies view their impoverished citizens and how those societies then care for their most vulnerable.  The focus is on welfare programs, which the book defines as “the means-tested and tax financed safety net of last resort for working age, able-bodied individuals who have no other source of income” (Kahl 32).  Kahl explains variation in welfare provision by introducing what she calls the “moral economy theory of the welfare state,” in which “the source of variation is the judgment of need, ability, and willingness: who can make a claim, what they have to do in return, and whether they are indeed doing their part” (31).

 

The selection begins by introducing our two protagonists, Arno and Karl, whose stories frame much of the Introduction. Both German and both on welfare for much of their lives, Arno and Karl’s stories are completely different. Arno is pretty memorable.  Perfectly able to work but evading his captors at every step, he has a great punch line dismissing the value of work, which I will not repeat. Karl, on the other, wants nothing more than the opportunity to work and stop depending on state assistance, but his illnesses and bad luck hold him back. Their stories motivate a key issue: “whether societies believe that welfare recipients are more like Arno or more like Karl – lazy freeloaders who should be punished, or victims of circumstances beyond their control who should be helped” (Kahl 3).

 

Arno and Karl, however, both fit into a particular moment in the history of welfare provision. After the Second World War, writes Kahl, the creation of unemployment insurance separated the poor from the unemployed, so welfare did not focus on reintroducing beneficiaries to the workforce (Kahl 5). However, this separation could only work in an economy without long-term, structural unemployment.  When these programs encountered the problems of “outdated and eroding skills and lack of work experience,” they found themselves stuck between “a rock and a hard place” (6).

 

Therefore, countries have to choose along the “welfare to work” spectrum, and their choices turn out to be relatively stable over time.  In social democratic countries like Sweden and Denmark those classified as “difficult to place in employment” are provided with a wide array of services to get them back on their feet. The US, by contrast, has no federal program for those are simply poor and not working. French programs (which would fall along the conservative spectrum) seem the most generous. What explains these differences?  Or, as the author puts it, “given that the problems in countries’ welfare systems and the characteristics of the least employable are very similar across countries, why is it that certain solutions are self-evident to policy makers and practitioners in one country but not in another country?” (Kahl 14)

 

The key to explaining these differences is how societies view the “deservingness” of the poor. Generally, the most deserving are those who are willing but unable, and the least deserving are the able and unwilling. This idea has implications: differences in attitudes about deservingness should correspond to differences in welfare policy, which can be supported by exploring variation across countries, over time, within countries, and across policies.  She breaks down this idea of “deservingness” into a few variables she can quantity: the characteristics of the poor themselves, how people perceive those characteristics, and how willing people are to support poor people.  Economists would frame this issue as a moral hazard problem.  The outcome, in this case income, depends on a combination of effort and chance, and it is difficult to distinguish which one is more important. Deservingness, in this sense, is a way to perhaps classify people’s gut reaction to problem of disentangling effort and luck.

 

The book will use four data sources: first, what I would call macro data on the size and provision of welfare programs across countries and relevant macroeconomic variables like unemployment; second, public opinion and survey data across countries; third, information from interviews, including interviews with politicians and administrators and results from focus groups; and fourth, published documents like speeches, laws, and debates (Kahl 37).  Putting all of this information together in one place already represents a real accomplishment.

 

From here I move on to the first chapter, a theoretical exploration of the welfare state, drawing on political theory, history, and even economics experiments.  The central goal of the chapter, as I see it, is to reconnect the ideas of rights and responsibilities, and show that they can exist at the same time. The key controversy is whether social rights can be conditional: in other words, whether it makes sense to say that we all have a certain right to a level of subsistence but that that “right” is conditional on seeking work.

 

The chapter begins with an account of the transition from the so-called moral economy to the market economy of the industrial age. Reflecting on this transition led Polanyi to advocate the de-commodification of labor, or what T.H. Marshall later calls this the social rights of citizenship. Welfare-to-work, to fans of Marshall, contradicts the theory of the welfare state, since rights cannot be made conditional.  Kahl’s contribution here is to point out that  “Marshall saw rights and duties as a union; Marshallians adopted only the rights.” (52) Further, evidence from economics experiments and anthropology shows, as she write, “how deeply embedded the principles of sharing, cooperation, and punishment are into both traditional and modern societies” (58).  I do not have enough time to do this section justice, but the experiments are revealing, and they might be fun to try with your friends.

 

Let me leave the summary here and pose a few questions for the author.

 

First, a very small question: There is an interesting account in the Introduction of foreign observers coming to study the Wisconsin Works program.  A German interviewee states that “`one can see’ the negative effects of the work first approach ‘very well in America.’”  If you remember: what, exactly, were those “negative effects”?

 

Second, the introduction seems to focus on differences across countries, but of course, within the same society, there can be both Arnos and Karls. You mention in the introduction that the book will also consider identifiable populations within the same country.   Can you give us a preview of those results?


Comment for CHESS Workshop on Just Deserts: The Moral Economy of Welfare in Europe and the United States by Sigrun Kahl

February 28, 2014 - 11:49am

 

The following is a post by Amanda Gregg a PhD in Economics at Yale University 

 

Thank you for inviting me to give this comment.  I loved the paper, which is the beginning section of a book project.

 

The book’s goal is to understand how different societies view their impoverished citizens and how those societies then care for their most vulnerable.  The focus is on welfare programs, which the book defines as “the means-tested and tax financed safety net of last resort for working age, able-bodied individuals who have no other source of income” (Kahl 32).  Kahl explains variation in welfare provision by introducing what she calls the “moral economy theory of the welfare state,” in which “the source of variation is the judgment of need, ability, and willingness: who can make a claim, what they have to do in return, and whether they are indeed doing their part” (31).

 

The selection begins by introducing our two protagonists, Arno and Karl, whose stories frame much of the Introduction. Both German and both on welfare for much of their lives, Arno and Karl’s stories are completely different. Arno is pretty memorable.  Perfectly able to work but evading his captors at every step, he has a great punch line dismissing the value of work, which I will not repeat. Karl, on the other, wants nothing more than the opportunity to work and stop depending on state assistance, but his illnesses and bad luck hold him back. Their stories motivate a key issue: “whether societies believe that welfare recipients are more like Arno or more like Karl – lazy freeloaders who should be punished, or victims of circumstances beyond their control who should be helped” (Kahl 3).

 

Arno and Karl, however, both fit into a particular moment in the history of welfare provision. After the Second World War, writes Kahl, the creation of unemployment insurance separated the poor from the unemployed, so welfare did not focus on reintroducing beneficiaries to the workforce (Kahl 5). However, this separation could only work in an economy without long-term, structural unemployment.  When these programs encountered the problems of “outdated and eroding skills and lack of work experience,” they found themselves stuck between “a rock and a hard place” (6).

 

Therefore, countries have to choose along the “welfare to work” spectrum, and their choices turn out to be relatively stable over time.  In social democratic countries like Sweden and Denmark those classified as “difficult to place in employment” are provided with a wide array of services to get them back on their feet. The US, by contrast, has no federal program for those are simply poor and not working. French programs (which would fall along the conservative spectrum) seem the most generous. What explains these differences?  Or, as the author puts it, “given that the problems in countries’ welfare systems and the characteristics of the least employable are very similar across countries, why is it that certain solutions are self-evident to policy makers and practitioners in one country but not in another country?” (Kahl 14)

 

The key to explaining these differences is how societies view the “deservingness” of the poor. Generally, the most deserving are those who are willing but unable, and the least deserving are the able and unwilling. This idea has implications: differences in attitudes about deservingness should correspond to differences in welfare policy, which can be supported by exploring variation across countries, over time, within countries, and across policies.  She breaks down this idea of “deservingness” into a few variables she can quantity: the characteristics of the poor themselves, how people perceive those characteristics, and how willing people are to support poor people.  Economists would frame this issue as a moral hazard problem.  The outcome, in this case income, depends on a combination of effort and chance, and it is difficult to distinguish which one is more important. Deservingness, in this sense, is a way to perhaps classify people’s gut reaction to problem of disentangling effort and luck.

 

The book will use four data sources: first, what I would call macro data on the size and provision of welfare programs across countries and relevant macroeconomic variables like unemployment; second, public opinion and survey data across countries; third, information from interviews, including interviews with politicians and administrators and results from focus groups; and fourth, published documents like speeches, laws, and debates (Kahl 37).  Putting all of this information together in one place already represents a real accomplishment.

 

From here I move on to the first chapter, a theoretical exploration of the welfare state, drawing on political theory, history, and even economics experiments.  The central goal of the chapter, as I see it, is to reconnect the ideas of rights and responsibilities, and show that they can exist at the same time. The key controversy is whether social rights can be conditional: in other words, whether it makes sense to say that we all have a certain right to a level of subsistence but that that “right” is conditional on seeking work.

 

The chapter begins with an account of the transition from the so-called moral economy to the market economy of the industrial age. Reflecting on this transition led Polanyi to advocate the de-commodification of labor, or what T.H. Marshall later calls this the social rights of citizenship. Welfare-to-work, to fans of Marshall, contradicts the theory of the welfare state, since rights cannot be made conditional.  Kahl’s contribution here is to point out that  “Marshall saw rights and duties as a union; Marshallians adopted only the rights.” (52) Further, evidence from economics experiments and anthropology shows, as she write, “how deeply embedded the principles of sharing, cooperation, and punishment are into both traditional and modern societies” (58).  I do not have enough time to do this section justice, but the experiments are revealing, and they might be fun to try with your friends.

 

Let me leave the summary here and pose a few questions for the author.

 

First, a very small question: There is an interesting account in the Introduction of foreign observers coming to study the Wisconsin Works program.  A German interviewee states that “`one can see’ the negative effects of the work first approach ‘very well in America.’”  If you remember: what, exactly, were those “negative effects”?

 

Second, the introduction seems to focus on differences across countries, but of course, within the same society, there can be both Arnos and Karls. You mention in the introduction that the book will also consider identifiable populations within the same country.   Can you give us a preview of those results?


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