Monday, July 20, 2009

economics and the american revolution


NYTimes | When Benjamin Franklin returned to America in 1762, after almost five years in London, he was shocked at the housing prices.

“The expence of living is greatly advanc’d in my absence,” he commented. “Rent of old houses, and value of lands ... are trebled in the past six years.”

Franklin, it seems, had come home to a real estate bubble. It eventually popped — bringing on a credit crunch and deep recession that was the macroeconomic backdrop to the American Revolution.

Sound familiar?

The parallels between the current economy and the one Franklin saw highlight a debate among historians: how big a role did economics, as opposed to ideas, play in fomenting revolution?

“I think there’s reason to doubt the Revolution would have happened as it did if it weren’t for these economic conditions,” said Ronald W. Michener, an economics professor at the University of Virginia, in a radical departure from today’s popular notion that the Revolution was a product primarily of grand ideas about self-government.