Harold Innis, an underappreciated economist, on commodity-driven growth

This Canadian economist (1894-1952) deserves an installment in the “underappreciated economists” series.  In addition to his seminal work on the economics of media and communications (better and earlier than McLuhan), he has some excellent pieces on the fur trade in Canadian economic history, and they are more contemporary than at first meets the eye.  Innis’s editor, Daniel Drache, sums up the main point:

Innis could not stress strongly enough that internal markets respond to a different logic and set of needs than externally based systems of exchange.  This occurs because the international price mechanism is volatile and subject to violence and instability in income fluctuation.

Most of all, Innis is worried about commodity and resource-based growth.  Five or ten years from now, will Canadians, Australians, and Brazilians be talking about Harold Innis as we do Hyman Minsky?

Innis also argued that the importance of the fur trade gave Canada a somewhat more peaceful history with its Native Americans than we had in the United States.  Here is a very good Wikipedia entry on Innis, who is still worth reading.


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