April 11: Econ 101b: International Finance and "Global Imbalances": Introduction
On Jared Bernstein's Book "Crunch"

The Old New Husbandry...

George Grantham (2007), "In Search of the Agricultural Revolution" http://www.american.edu/cas/econ/WAEHS/Invitations/PAPERS/Grantham%204-6-07.pdf:

The outstanding agricultural performances of fourteenth-century Europe resulted not from massive deployment of hand labour on tiny plots but from the application of both labour and animals cultivating large fields. In this respect the "agricultural revolution" of the thirteenth century was more an economic than a technological phenomenon. At the early fourteenth-century peak, regions isolated by geography or unable to support dense population because of the poverty of their soil remained almost totally self-sufficient, attached to the rest of Europe only by the occasional passage of travellers and peddlers; others organized in local economies centred on rural market towns had more contact with other regions, but continued to produce almost entirely in response to local opportunity. However, a small, but most dynamic section developed between 1100 and 1300 in the context of a geographical extension in the market for a selected list of manufactured commodities. In the north it concentrated in Flanders and the adjacent districts of northern France, Hainault, and southeast England; another set of centres emerged in northern Italy and Catalonia. The economies of these regions tended to be highly specialized, especially in the north, where they were almost exclusively based on manufacturing woollen cloth for distant markets. If the rapid growth of manufacturing centers provided the critical impetus to agricultural improvement, it also left farmers highly vulnerable to monetary, and especially to political shocks affecting the urban textile economy. The history of agriculture in the period of medieval economic growth, then, is inseparable from the history of urbanization....

Classical economists from Cantillon to Mill held that inelastic agricultural supply was a logical implication of a static agricultural technology and a fixed supply of land. The belief in a steady state characterized by a ‘subsistence’ standard of living rested the belief that diminishing returns would inevitably shut down economic expansion. Yet we have seen that as a technological proposition, that pessimism was unwarranted. Did the great economists miss the ‘agricultural revolution’, or did they underestimate the capacity of traditional husbandry to respond to growing demand for foodstuffs?

The swings in agricultural output and productivity from the early middle ages to the industrial revolution occurred within a the confines of an agricultural technology that emerged at the end of the iron age. New plant introductions, notably a few crucially important species of leguminous fodder plants long present in Europe but rarely exploited economically, alimented the stock of exploitable genetic material, and craftsmen modified carts, ploughs, and harrows to provide an increasing range of adaptations to the physical and economic environment, but until advent of maize, potatoes, squashes and beans in the sixteenth century, products of the the American agricultural civilization of the hoe, European agricultural technology remained much as it had always been, biologically determined by the requirements of the bread cereals, and the exigencies of mechanical cultivation. Traditional technology was capable of achieving high levels of productivity and performance, but it could not indefinitely sustain productivity growth. It is now time to investigate the nature of both the limitations and the responsiveness of agricultural supply in the age of traditional husbandry.