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American Economic Association

Sowing Modernity: America's First Agricultural Revolution. by Peter D. McClelland Review by: G. H. Peters Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 217-218 Published by: American Economic Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2564752 . Accessed: 06/12/2011 05:53
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Book Reviews
historians, they seem to have gotten lost in the details. Extensive quotes are given from speeches, memos, and reports of verbal exchanges, some of which are important, while others are not. We are told that RosensteinRodan "reflected" (vol. 1, p. 3); that Garner "suddenlyedrewback, saying damn it" (vol. 1, p. 111); that "Acheson rebuked Harriman for not minding his own business" (vol. 1, p. 81); that "David Mulford . . . seemed to enjoy harassing the institution" (vol. 1, p. 31); and that McNamara "lost patience" (vol. 1, p. 279). All this adds realism to the story, but it also lengthens it. A reader who hopes to draw lessons from the Bank's 50-year experience is likely to be disappointed. Here is the authors' assessment of the Agricultural and Rural Development Program which, in the late 1970s and early 1980s absorbed every year over 5 billion 1995 dollars of World Bank loans: "The ARD . . . antipoverty agenda delivered resources to a large number of needy people, and many small cultivators achieved lasting gains in productivity. In Africa, however. . . [t]he Bank's interventions may have delayed the development of effective, self-reliant cadres and institutions" (vol. 1, p. 421), the overall conclusion being that "the ability and willingness to risk large sums on uncertain outcomes sometimes can achieve breakthroughsattainable in no other way" (p. 445). We are told even less about the effects of other programs. The Bank would be well advised to commission yet another (and, one hopes, a shorter) study to be titled: The First Half Century: An Appraisal.


ColumbiaUniversity Sowing Modernity: America'sFirst Agricultural Revolution.By Peter D. McClelland. Ithaca and London: Cornell UniversityPress, 1997. Pp. xii, 348. $45.00. ISBN 0-8014-3326-6. JEL 98-0723 Reading the work of economic historians (Peter McClelland is at Cornell) can be fascinating even when it might appear esoterically detailed. Sowing Modernity is the neat title for a book that deals with the initial transformation of American agriculture (its "revolution" if one pleases). It is dated to a short

period between the War of 1812 and around 1830. The book focuses on farm machinery for plowing, sowing, harrowing, cultivating, reaping, threshing and winnowing, and straw cutting. The seven chapters covering each subject-which come with many diagramsand prints-are preceded by two chapters to set the scene (the "problem"and the "approach") and are followed by a summary, Novus Ordo Seclorum (a new order of the ages). The seven technical chapters are interesting, in themselves, as an account of technical progress and as a source of telling anecdotes. In respect of the former they are, unsurprisingly, not confined to American experience. Babylon, Egypt, and ancient Rome had a role as, obviously, did Europe. Without dealing with each chapter in turn, one point is easily illustrated. As an example, the Englishman Jethro Tull (1674-1741), is famous in all the agricultural literature as the inventor of the seed drill (about 1733). But it hardly worked. As McClelland says "it was a farming innovation destined for the scrap heap" (p. 73). Others of various nationalities attempted improvement, many being American. In effect Tull was more important in suggesting what could be done, rather than being entirely successful in doing it. One anecdote concerns Thomas Jefferson, on a European visit, finding himself in Alsace-Lorraine and being struck by the low quality of the wine served in Nancy (it improved as he journeyed westward!), and by deplorable plow design. We are told that Jefferson attempted to specify the geometric form of a moldboard that would allow passage through the soil with least effort and best results. He appears to have failed, although he did advocate the use of cast iron rather than wood, which was an important innovation. In other cases, despite "mechanical failure and commercial fiasco" (p. 154) progress was notable. The work of Hussey and McCormick on reaping machinery, which began in the 1830s, provides examples. Fascinating though all of this is, McClelland is attempting to do more than trace out details of technical problems, and of disasters and triumphs in dealing with them. That aspect of his work reminds us that the problems were severe given the state of mechanical


Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. XXXVII (March 1999)

that mechanical innovation would be of paramount importance? Despite this central problem, nevertheless, the story which is told is one of pure fascination, which will appeal to a wide audience on both sides of the Atlantic. Even the endnotes (which run to 57 pages) are an education in themselves. G. H. PETERS OxfordUniversity
P Economic Systems

technique and the complete absence of anything hydraulic or electrical! The real aim is to study human motivation, with particular respect to the "willingness to innovate" (p. 5). McClelland argues that "what did not exist in the pre-modern world was the persistent, pervasive and systematic directing of a single question to the processes of production: Is there a better way?" Since any attempt to pinpoint an attitudinal chance is obviously fraught with difficulty, seeing how McClelland approaches the task is interesting. He notes, first, that many agricultural changes took place in the 50 years following the American Revolution (1783). These changes included increased fertilizer use, better crop rotations, pasture improvement, and improved animal breeding, which were followed in the latter part of the half century by a wave of mechanical innovation. The "chemical" and "biological" improvements-discussed in two interesting appendices-are not regarded as signals of a new spirit of enquiry. In part they are seen as a response to changing relative factor prices, reflecting declining land abundance at that time. This is familiar territory in agricultural economics following the copious work on induced technical progress by Yujiro Hayami and Vernon Ruttan. Strangely, however, McClelland does not mention them. What we have is an assertion that the proliferation of mechanical devices, of itself, appears to signify a change in attitudes and a realization that there may be a "better way." There is evidence, which is very carefully documented, of a surge in innovation over a short period of about 15 years. However, what appears to be missing in McClelland's treatment is any explanation of why this was not, perhaps, another response. He simply ascribes the innovatory surge to attitudinal change-the latter is known when we apparently see it. This may be unfair to McClelland since he does conclude by stating that his aim was to "document the facts," with explanation (following O'Henry) being "another story." However, that does strike this reader as a late recantation! Might it, perhaps, have been appearing increasingly apparent that land abundance was around the historical corner and

Going Global:Transition from Plan to Marketin the WorldEconomy.Edited by PadmaDesai. Cambridge,MA; London: MIT Press, 1997. Pp. xiii,507. $60.00. ISBN 0-262-04161-8. JEL 98-1190 The mass retreat from the state-led, inwardlooking development model is perhaps the most interesting global economic event in the past 15 years. This book is a collection of country studies of many of the most interest ing cases: Czech Republic (Josef Brada and Ali Kutan); Hungary (Andras Blaho and Peter Gal); East Germany (Jurgen von Hagen); Poland (Stanislaw Wellisz); Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (Kalev Kukk); Finland (Urpo Kivikari); Russia (Padma Desai); Kazakhstan (Heiner Flassbeck, Lutz Hoffmann, and Ludiger Lindlar); Uzbekistan (Michael Connolly); China (Richard Eckaus); Vietnam (David Dollar and Borje Ljunggren);and India (ManmohanAgarwal).The book also contains an introductory essay by Padma Desai that ranks these countries in terms of extent of reform, presents empirical associations between reform and other indicators, and provides a useful and systematic comparison of the performance with regard to global integration. The countries cover a diverse and interesting reform experience. The output collapse in several countries rivaled that of the great depression in the U.S., but there are important questions about the extent of the underreporting of'new activities. In the post-Soviet bloc, a huge reorientation of trade was necessary after the region's leading consumer, Gosplan, collapsed. This necessitated a new payments system and the reform of key monetary institutions. Pressures to print