Theories of Economic Obsolescence, Revisited

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This paper reviews some early technological theories of competitiveness and (what often is left out of account) the obverse side of the coin: economic obsolescence. The implications of technological change, industrial head starts and the causes of economic backwardness were analyzed above all by American economists in the mid-19th century who no longer are well remembered today: Calvin Colton, Henry Carey and E. Peshine Smith. These writers were associated with Whig (and, after 1853, Republican) politicians in shaping the industrial policies that transformed the United States from a raw-materials producing ("Southern") economy into the world's major industrial power as a "Northern" economy. Members of the American School typically are dismissed (if they are discussed at all) as protectionists. A more accurate ...