Economic history makes a comeback

When the economy is going well, we talk about the bright future. Why is it only when it is going bust that we look to the past?

The Economist recently published an interesting article on the resurgence of economic history after the global financial crisis. No-one who reads about the international economy would have been surprised to see the headline ‘Long Live Economic History’, given the success of authors the likes of Barry Eichengreen and Thomas Piketty. Eichengreen uses his extensive knowledge of the Geat Depression to shed new light on the 2008 crisis in his bookHall of Mirrors. Piketty’s unique contribution to the study of inequality in Capital in the Twenty-First Century lies in the use of tax records from the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is not only the global financial crisis that has warranted historical treatment. Charles Kindleberger’s 1978 bookManias, Panics, and Crashes, about speculative market bubbles, was revised and reprinted in 2000 after the end of the dot com boom. In the ABC program Making Australia Great, which aired last month, George Megalogenis used the example of the collapse of Melbourne’s economic boom in the late 1800s to warn Australians not to waste the fruits of the economic growth of the last 25 years.

What makes this trend so interesting is that the disciplines of economics and history make strange bedfellows.

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