Items Vol. 13 No. 2 (1959)

Page 1





THE economic growth of nations has become a topic of leading concern to economists and other social scientists during the last 15 to 25 years. As usual in social science, the reasons for this relatively sudden shift into the focus of attention lie in the emergence of widely perceived problems, in this instance, the danger of secular stagnation of the "mature" capitalist economies, the challenge of forced industrialization under authoritrian auspices behind the iron curtain, the risks of ailure in the struggles for development on the part of the "underdeveloped" areas of the world. And as usual, such rapid intensification of interest in a suddenly emerging complex of problems leaves economists, as well as other social scientists, relatively unprepared: in economics the problems of the growth of nations have been lying dormant practically since the middle of the nineteenth century. These notes deal with the activities of the Social Science Research Council's Committee on Economic Growth, present some reflections on the state of work in this field, and conclude with some questions that these reflections suggest. STUDIES IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES The work of the Committee on Economic Growth should be familiar to readers of Items and the successive • The author. Professor of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University (currently on leave as Frank W. Taussig Research Professor of Economics at Harvard University). has served as chairman of the Council's Committee on Economic Growth since its appointment in 1949. Its other members are Richard Hartshorne, University of Wisconsin; Melville J. Herskovits. Northwestern University; Edgar M. Hoover, Har'ard University; Bert F. Hoselitz. University of Chicago; Wilbert E. iloore, Princeton University; and Joseph J. Spengler, Duke University. Mr. Kuznets presented this report informally at the spring meeting of the board of directors of the Council. March 21, 1959.


A nnual Reports of the Council, and I can therefore be brief. One major division consists of a program of studies in a number of foreign countries, designed to produce comparable series of long-term records of economic growth, largely estimates of national income, wealth, and their components.1 Since economic growth is a process whose quantitative aspects, in the aggregate and structurally, are central to its study, the committee deemed it important to try to organize at least the major quantitative eyidence in a systematic form, over as long a period and for as many countries as the supply of data and of competent scholarly personnel warranted. We thus arranged for initiation of studieli for the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and in a somewhat different form for Japan and Australia. In addition, such studies were already (in 1953) available for the United States and Canada. Efforts are now being made by the committee to extend this program to at least the major Latin American countries. as well as to some others in Southern Europe. A word is in order about the organization of these projects in the countries, mostly European. with which we have had some experience. In general, such studies are feasible where: (a) the basic data and estimates extend over sufficiently long periods. and there is a record of past work in the field; (b) there are younger scholars familiar with the techniques of national income accounts and the analytical uses to which the national income totals and components are usually put. Given such a situation, it is possible to interest senior scholars in one of 1 For a more detailed description of this program of the committee, see my earlier report, "Comparative Study of Long-Term Records of Economic Growth." Items, December 1955. pp. 42-46.


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