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August 22, 2007


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Oh, man, that's beautiful. That is truly beautiful.

Umm... explain?

Doug M.

You could probably draw up similar graphs from Finland from the same time period.

There might be more of a peak for the war years, as well as correspondingly more of a collapse for the Civil War year. I'm not an economic historian, though.


J. J.

The two regions of the U.S. with the largest softwood lumber production in the first third of the twentieth century were the Pacific Northwest, for this data set defined as Washington and Oregon, and the Lower Mississippi valley, defined as Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma.

For the former, it was mostly Douglas fir; for the latter, yellow pine. Close substitutes.

The lower Mississippi valley also produced a lot of hardwood. Mixed forest. The Pacific Northwest produced very little hardwood in comparison.

There was also very little net import or export of lumber to the U.S. over this period -- tariffs. However, there was a thriving interregional trade, via shipping and rail.

So. All else being equal, you'd expect lumber production to follow similar trends across regions, given the demands of the American economy. And this is true for interregional production of softwood, and intraregional production of softwood versus hardwood.

Until after World War One. Then, Pacific Northwest softwood went into overdrive, while lower Mississippi softwood fell into the doldrums -- and yet, lower Mississippi hardwood experienced a boom (if smaller) as well.

Clearly, something happened in the late teens that gave Pacific Northwest softwood an advantage over lower Mississippi softwood in the American market. The lower Mississippi wasn't logged out. It was being outcompeted.

(Usually, "clearly" is a weasel word which means that that the narrator is trying to get something past you. But this is as clear of a result as I've ever seen. Two woods diverged on a yellow road.)

Carlos, I've been waiting for the punchline on this one for a few days now. Are you going to fill us in on the cause of the divergence? Enquiring minds want to know.

It looks like a map of New York State.

There's a pothole and sunken-in area outside my office window that looks like the Austro-Hungarian Empire when it rains.

Well, the cost of ocean shipping from the West Coast to the East Coast appears to have dropped sharply in the late teens. The rates are surprisingly hard to track down, as is stumpage data from that period, so I've had to go by volume.

There are several causes for the drop. Much of the Pacific Northwest's lumber trade was carried by sail until a surprisingly late date. The postwar period saw the consolidation of steamers in that niche. Incidentally, if it weren't for the Jones Act, which prohibited foreign tramp steamer trade between American ports, the steamers carrying the lumber would often have been Japanese. (Of course, the combination of protectionism and racism of the time made the act a shoo-in.)

There's a ridiculous surge of tanker traffic from southern California in the 1920s as well: it was much cheaper than rail, and a California-Texas pipeline wasn't built until the 1980s, although one was technologically feasible much earlier.

(This is a little goofy: southern California was briefly an _importer_ of oil in 1920. Tanker cars from Texas and Oklahoma.)

Some guy named Henry wrote a thesis on these effects, by state, in 1929. So something of the distributional pattern has been known --though not very widely -- for a while. And many of the local gains are due to out-of-market rail prices set by the ICC: some types of Pittsburgh steel, for instance.

But the lumber data is nice and clean, and I think a good example of national market integration (even without the stumpage data).

Next: how the United States deliberately engineered a depression as part of its "muscular" foreign policy.

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