Labor Scarcity and the Problem of American Industrial Efficiency in the 1850's (Classic Reprint)by Peter Temin
Europeans have been coming to America and commenting about the nature of American technology for over a century. Despite the evident economic changes in the course of this century, the comments on the differences between American and European technology - or, more properly
Excerpt from Labor Scarcity and the Problem of American Industrial Efficiency in the 1850's
Europeans have been coming to America and commenting about the nature of American technology for over a century. Despite the evident economic changes in the course of this century, the comments on the differences between American and European technology - or, more properly for the nineteenth century, on the differences between American and British technology - have stayed remarkably constant. The factors noted by a few British visitors of the 1850's, perhaps the first technically qualified foreign group to take a careful look at American manufacturing, still form the backbone of discussion today. Chief among the factors noted is the high cost of American labor, but this explanation of American peculiarities by no means stands alone.
The purpose of this paper is to reexamine the statements of the British visitors of the 1850's and the labor-scarcity explanation of American conditions to see if they can be formulated in terms of modern concepts and if they are supported either by logical inferences or by empirical evidence. As the views of these observers have been amplified and restated by several modern authors, our efforts to reformulate the contemporary comments in modern language need not be based on the antebellum documents alone.
Two groups of visiting Englishmen are of interest here. The first group came to see the industrial exhibition in New York in 1853, but arrived to discover that the exhibition was not ready.
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