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Economist Claudia Goldin on the Origins of “Capital in the Nineteenth Century”

April 3, 2020

Contemporary debate around inequality is centered on a common theme: capital. Capital, broadly speaking, is wealth. People who have capital enjoy more leverage, security, and flexibility in their economic lives. Capital in the Nineteenth Century is a history of how and where capital was originated and consolidated in the United States’ first century as an independent nation. It is an utterly original and painstaking work of economic history, one that illustrates the power of the field to inform our thorniest debates in the present. Here, the eminent economist Claudia Goldin recounts the origins of the project: an unexpected (and not entirely organized) mailing from the late Robert Gallman. In August 1998 a large envelope arrived from Bob Gallman, who was then a distinguished economic historian at the University of North Carolina. Inside was an unwieldy set of chapters that Bob was asking me to consider for the National Bureau of Economic Research monograph series, Long Term Factors in Economic Development, for which I served as editor for almost three decades. Bob and I had no prior discussions of the book he was proposing, which is not to say I was surprised by the manuscript’s arrival since I knew Bob had . . .

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