« Back to Results

Applied Economics in the Progressive and Interwar Eras: Mutually Contextualizing Economic History and the History of Economics

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 6, 2023 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM (CST)

New Orleans Marriott, Preservation Hall Studio 3
Hosted By: History of Economics Society & Economic History Association
  • Chairs:
    Spencer Banzhaf, Georgia State University, PERC, and NBER
  • Randall Walsh, University of Pittsburgh and NBER

How to Promote the Common Good through a New “Business Ethics”: The Contribution of Charlotte Per-Kins Gilman

Rebeca Gomez Betancourt
,
University of Lumière Lyon 2
Guillaume Vallet
,
University of Grenoble Alpes

Abstract

TBD

Hell with a Lid Off: Households' Locational Choices in America's Most Polluted City

Spencer Banzhaf
,
Georgia State University, PERC, and NBER
William Mathews
,
University of Pittsburgh
Randall Walsh
,
University of Pittsburgh and NBER

Abstract

A large literature documents the relationship between air pollution and neighborhood demographics since the late 20th century. However, much less is known about these relationships in pre-war U.S. cities. Using a series of studies on the deposition of soot in the city of Pittsburgh, we construct a unique spatially delineated, panel data set on neighborhood-level air pollution in America’s most polluted city. The resulting data (discussed in the next paper in the session) span 1910 thru 1940. By matching these data to decennial censuses and county employment rosters, we explore the link between pollution and demographics in the early 20th century. While the data show a significant negative relationship between income and exposure to pollution, we find race and ethnicity to be much stronger predictors of pollution exposure. We also find that while single working women were often exposed to high levels of pollution, many of them escaped these high exposure rates by working as live-in domestic servants in affluent neighborhoods. On the other hand, divorced and widowed women appear to have been vulnerable, moving into lower socio-economic status neighborhoods.

Smoke from Factory Chimneys: The Applied Economics of Air Pollution in the Progressive Era

Spencer Banzhaf
,
Georgia State University, PERC, and NBER
Randall Walsh
,
University of Pittsburgh and NBER

Abstract

As today, one hundred years ago air pollution was a matter of grave concern in the world's most polluted cities. In the wake of its famous 1908-9 social survey, the City of Pittsburgh commissioned an "Economic Survey of Pittsburgh" from John T. Holdsworth, a prominent institutional economist at the University of Pittsburgh. Although wide ranging, the report opened by stating that "The first fundamental need in Pittsburgh is the eradication of smoke." This report was followed by a series of Smoke Investigations, in which, astonishingly, buckets were placed around the city and the ash weighed monthly. In one application, Holdsworth's assistant, John J. O'Connor, estimated the economic costs from smoke. O'Connor's work challenges our understanding of what counts as "economic" in the progressive era. Before Lionel Robbins's definition of economics as a way of relating scarce means to given ends, it usually was defined as the study of material welfare. Accordingly, most proto-environmental work at the time stated that environmental considerations were too immaterial to count as "economic." Air pollution may have counted as "material welfare" because it was so obviously connected to industrial production and because it damaged materials. Notably, materials damage played a bigger role in the discussion than did health effects. This paper will touch on themes of interest to historians, including, (1) Smoke as an unexplored aspect of the social survey movement; (2) Home economics and social work; (3) Urban economic conditions.

Municipal Socialism in the United States, 1900-1940

James Siodla
,
Colby College
Tate Twinam
,
College of William and Mary

Abstract

In the early 20th century, a sizable socialist movement emerged across the United States, drawing support from populists, unions, and Eastern European immigrants. While socialist political candidates had little support at the national level, they were considerably more successful at the municipal level. Between 1900 and 1940, nearly 1,000 socialist officials were elected or appointed across 350 cities and towns, and 145 cities elected socialist mayors. While some of the more prominent examples, such as Milwaukee, have been the subject of extensive research by historians, there has been no broad quantitative analysis of the resulting differences in governance and outcomes. We remedy this by examining how socialist officials affected local government spending, taxation, and infrastructure investment using data from the Financial Characteristics of Cities as well as the universe of municipal bond issues and credit characteristics documented by Moody's. We also examine their impact on numerous other outcomes, including the municipalization of utilities, form of government, and adoption of land use regulations.

Discussant(s)
Martin Saavedra
,
Oberlin College
Rebeca Gomez Betancourt
,
University of Lyon 2
Price Fishback
,
University of Arizona and NBER
Sandra Peart
,
University of Richmond
JEL Classifications
  • B2 - History of Economic Thought since 1925
  • N3 - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy