Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History

    Full details

    Authors & editors

    Fischer, David Hackett [Author]

    Publisher Oxford University Press
    Year of publication 1996

    Medium Book

    Economics & commerce > Data & reviews
    Economics & commerce > Feeding the World


    Scope & contentWikipedia entry
    First wave
    Fischer says this began with the medieval price revolution, 1180-1350. There followed crisis in the 14th and 15th centuries, featuring the Black Death and Hundred years war. Then equilibrium during the early Renaissance, 1400-1470.p36-60

    Second wave
    This began with the “price revolution of the 16th century”, in fact lasting from about 1470-1590.p91 Crisis followed; depression, famine, the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), English Civil War, Dutch Revolt and other conflicts.p98

    According to Fischer the Enlightenment equilibrium which followed lasted from 1660-1730.p102

    Third wave
    The price revolution of the 18th century began about 1729.p117 Commodity prices rose in England (sic), France and the United States (sic!).p120 large population increases occurred in most of Europe.p124 Wage rates failed to keep pace with grain price rises, and wealth inequality increased.p138 A rising spirit of rebellion led to a “revolutionary crisis”, 1789-1820.p141 The French revolution was followed by the Napoleonic wars and Latin American wars of independence. Stability was regained in the “Victorian equilibrium”, 1820-96. Consumer prices fell in England (sic).p158 There were revolutions in transportation, agriculture, industry and commerce.p168 But by the end of this era, young Englishmen were “bankrupt, bored and bloody-minded… the dark clouds began to gather.”p164

    Fourth wave
    Fischer identifies a further “price revolution” in the 20th century, by which time there were no new lands left to explore or colonise. The German hyperinflation of 1923 and the Great depression of 1929 were followed by accelerating worldwide inflation after 1962.p203 Though inflation had ended by 1996,p233 Fischer speculated (1996) that “the great wave of the 20th century (approaches) its climax” and that “A major war in the Middle East or eastern Europe or elsewhere could reignite inflation.”p234

    Fischer observed that these movements were not cycles but waves, with no fixed periodicity. Each wave had six common features. Chronologically, these were; 1), prolonged prosperity, 2) political disorder, 3) inflation spiral, 4) spiritual crisis, 5) revolution, deflation, 6) long era of equilibrium.p237

    Limitations of the theory
    Fischer predicted (1996) that “the price revolution of the 20th century has yet to reach its climax”.p240 Recent works by Steven Pinker[2] and Joshua S Goldstein[3] suggest that war and violence are decreasing, an trend which seems at odds with some of Fisher”s conclusions, which are now proved correct. Fischer did remind his readers that volatility would occur and increase

    Paul Krugman[4] offers the comment that “most big-think books about history offer only strained analogies mixed with pretentious statements of the obvious.” Thomas J Archdeacon[5] calls the theory “vivid”, “shrewd” and “strongly persuasive”, but suspects it is “blood in the water for academic sharks hunting outsiders venturing into their territory.” The argument that the world is heading for a crisis “has the vagueness of analogy.” In the wake of the disruption of the covid-19 pandemic over 2020-21, Fisher's argument that the west is heading for a crisis appears more convincing.

    In a long and detailed review, John H Munro of Toronto university [6] deplores the absence of mathematical modeling; the theory is “rather too neat” for him to accept.

    Finally, the book has a Eurocentric or western bias, with no data at all about the significant Asian economies.[7]

    Copies held

    Accession no. 231787

    • Shelf location: D600-FIS
    • Donor: Ron Cookson