Friday, December 9, 2011

David Montgomery, 1927-2011

There's little question that Montgomery's influential studies painted a vivid picture of the complex political culture and shopfloor experiences of American workers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Yet what exactly was there in the new labor history that an aspiring young economic historian interested in labor markets could use? Deep description, yes, but tainted by a certain willful ignorance of the overall record of market capitalism in (eventually) raising living standards and opportunities. To me, the contrast between the approach taken by the mainstream of my discipline and that taken by the historians (and some radical economists) remains an unbridged divide, one that raises an unanswered and profound question: What is the relative importance of power vs. opportunity in shaping the lives and prospects of ordinary people?

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