Friday, September 17, 2010

Boardwalk Empire

HBO has a new series called Boardwalk Empire airing this Sunday. I'm sure a lot of you have heard about it by now, but for those of you who haven't it's about the gang activity and corruption spawned by Prohibition. The series starts in January, 1920 - a period in U.S. history that I've become deeply fascinated with. I didn't touch Prohibition in my paper on the 1920-21 depression, but clearly there is a lot to be said about it. Doug French discusses some of the economics of Prohibition here, citing Boardwalk Empire. Michael Perelman demonstrates the relationship between Prohibition fortunes and the Chicago School of Economics (the Walgreen's chain apparently may have owed its rapid growth in the 20s to bootlegging, and Charles Walgreen went on to donate money to the University of Chicago Economics Department, cultivating specific academics, including George Stigler). Russ Roberts interviews Okrent on his new book on Prohibition here. I haven't listened to it yet - but I'm going to. Esquire has a post about gangster fashion in the 20s and how the producers of Boardwalk Empire are thinking about it here. No explicit discussion of economics in that link, but Veblen's "conspicuous consumption" is prominent. I don't get HBO, but I'm going to try to catch these where I can.
This was a very active period in economics and economic policy, despite the attention that the 30s would receive. Frank Knight and John Maynard Keynes were exploring how our psychological response to uncertainty fit into economic decision making, with both men publishing their thoughts on the subject in 1921. This would, of course, be a crucial element of twentieth century economics. For the first time, the NBER and the government began collecting economic statistics, fueling the revolution in empirical economics. Coming out of the 1920-21 depression, Governor Strong began to develop the modern approach to monetary policy which would spread throughout Europe as well.

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