“From Commodity Gluts to General Gluts: Crises of Overabundance in Atlantic Economies, 1602-2008”
All economic systems have problems of scarcity, but only capitalism also has problems of overabundance. Throughout the nineteenth century, the concept of a “crisis of overproduction” was one of the central tools for understanding and arguing about whether markets are self-equilibrating systems or whether they endogenously produce crises. However, by the middle of the twentieth century, the concept was dead, killed by Keynesian demand management and Hayekian concepts of market calculation. But the concept had been developed in an argument among Malthus, Ricardo, Say, and Sismondi to explain the recurrent commodity gluts of early modern trade, and commodity gluts continue to appear in global trade today. A generation of historians of economic thought have shown that Keynes’ critique was based on a misreading of Say’s Law. Moreover, subsequent alternative models of nineteenth century business cycles are plagued by conceptual and epistemic problems. These difficulties, and the current challenges of secular stagnation, global savings gluts, and supply chain disruption all suggest the need to revisit the defunct concept of overproduction with new data and new questions, leading to new implications for further research.
Trevor Jackson is assistant professor of economic history at George Washington University, where he teaches and researches on the history of inequality and financial crisis, mostly in early modern Europe. This year he is a research fellow at the Charles H. Warren Center at Harvard University. His first book, Impunity and Capitalism: The Afterlives of European Financial Crises, 1690-1830 is out now from Cambridge University Press.
Please note that the seminar will be in a hybrid format (presence + Zoom meetings at the following link: https://unibocconi-it.zoom.us/j/94878304230