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date: 21 April 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This introduction offers an overview of the research discussed in the 37 chapters in the Oxford Handbook of American Economic History. It discusses the path of economic growth and development and the methods that economic historians have used to measure and analyze them. Over the last 300 years population growth has slowed, and the population has lived longer and healthier lives. The economy has shifted from predominantly agricultural through a major industrialization period into a service-based modern economy largely located in urban areas. Per capita incomes have grown largely through increased productivity from improved technologies, better education, improved organizations of processes, and governments that established private property rights, rule of law, and protections of individual freedom. Capital aspects of the economy have varied more than commonly known, and financial institutions have gone through several innovations as their regulatory regimes have waxed and waned. A diverse population of men, women, ethnic groups, races, and ages played major roles in labor markets. Labor market institutions changed with the elimination of slavery, the development of “at will” contracts, internal labor markets, and changing treatment of collective bargaining. In the federal system of governments, states were initially the dominant actors, followed by local governments in the late nineteenth century, and then an expansion of all governments and the national government in the last hundred years, partially in response to the major crises of the World Wars and the Great Depression.

Keywords: economic growth, industrialization, economic structure, development, population growth, diversity, capital, labor, property rights, federal system of government, institutions, financial institutions

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