In the decades between 1850 and 1950, the United States decisively transformed its place in the world economic order. In 1850, the US was primarily a supplier of slave-produced cotton to industrializing Europe. American economic growth thus remained embedded in established patterns of Atlantic commerce. One hundred years later, the same country had become the world’s undisputed industrial leader and hegemonic provider of capital. Emerging victorious from the Second World War, the US had displaced Britain as the power most prominently situated — even more so than its Cold War competitor — to impress its vision of a global political economy upon the world. If Britain’s industrial revolution in the late eighteenth century marked the beginning of a ‘Great Divergence’ (Pomeranz) of ‘the West’ from other regions around the world, American ascendance in the decades straddling the turn of the twentieth century marked a veritable ‘second great divergence’ (Beckert) that established the US as the world’s leading industrial and imperial power.
That is an excerpt from a new essay in Past and Present by Stefan Link and Noam Maggor. (You’ll find the best summary of the actual thesis in the last few pages of the piece, not in the beginning.) It is one of the more interesting economic history pieces I have read in some time. The pointer is from Pseudoerasmus, who also has been doing some running commentary on the article in his afore-linked Twitter feed.