Skip to comments.What caused westward expansion in the United States?
Posted on 02/28/2008 3:21:48 PM PST by decimon
Study reveals that the price of land was less important than technological innovation
Western Expansion during the nineteenth century was an important determinant of geographic distribution and economic activity in the United States today. However, while explanations abound for why the migration occurred from the low price of land to a pioneering spirit little empirical work has been done to determine which specific market forces were the most important drivers.
Applying quantitative analysis to historical explanations, a new study by economist Guillaume Vandenbroucke of the University of Southern California finds that the price of land was significantly less important to Westward Expansion than population growth and technological innovation leading to a decrease in transportation costs.
From 1800 to 1900, the United States tripled in size, from less than one million square miles to more than three million square miles. The geographic distribution of population also shifted, from about seven percent living in the West to roughly 60 percent. To examine what forces were most directly responsible for the magnitude of this movement and land accumulation, Vandenbroucke takes into account such factors as the amount of land available in the Eastern United States, wage and productivity growth in the East, and improvements in technologies and transportation infrastructures.
To account for the range of variables and possible factors, Vandenbroucke determined a model in which each factor was held at a constant level while the others shifted at historical rates.
The most important forces are population growth and the decrease in transportation costs, Vandenbroucke said. Population growth is mostly responsible for the investment in productive land without it less than half of the land accumulated in 1900 would have been accumulated.
Surprisingly, Vandenbroucke found that changes in productivity in the East had little effect on the Westward Expansion, relative to population growth and a decrease in transportation costs as he explains, rising wages and productivity makes it easier to move, but it also makes it less pressing to move.
Instead, he finds that population growth and technological innovation worked in concert as the main driving factors of Western Expansion. Specifically, the decrease in transportation costs induced Western migration and the redistribution of the American population without it only 30 percent of the population would have been in the West in 1900, compared to an actual historical figure of 60 percent. Land improvement technology, such as the use of barbed wire to cut down on the time needed to build a fence, had a small effect on the accumulation of land in the West.
Vandenbrouckes findings, appearing in the current issue of International Economic Review, have important implications for how to understand current population patterns and international immigration to the United States.
About the University of Southern California: Established in 1880, the University of Southern California is one of the worlds leading private research universities and the oldest private research university in the western United States. USC enrolls more international students than any other U.S. university and offers extensive opportunities for internships and study abroad. With a strong tradition of integrating liberal and professional education, USC fosters a vibrant culture of public service and encourages students to cross academic as well as geographic boundaries in their pursuit of knowledge.
< high-pitched, smarmy liberal voice >Everyone knows that it was caused by the imperialist caucasians of European extraction and their desire to rape Mother Gaia and to subjugate and murder the peaceful, non-confrontational Native Americans who only wanted to coexist with their neighbors and live in harmony with the biosphere!< /voice>
Civil war vets were offered land out West. That is how some of my people wound up in the Washington Territory.
In the 1970s it was color television images of the warmth and sunshine at the Rose Parade every January 1st.
I thought it was Disneyland but that explanation seems more complete.
Not to be smartarsed but just factual, it sounds as though they kept moving out of what was the United States.
They kept running away from the federal guberment.
Too many furriners from Europe invading the East coast pushing us out!
While all true, it was the evil gun that made it possible. If it wasn't for guns we would all be able to live together in peace and harmony.
The guber was not yet so uber but I can believe that some were drawn to what was a nearly uncontrolled land.
The earth rotates to the east so naturally anything not nailed down will move in a westerly direction. Simple.
Clearly, if you didn't have a growing population you wouldn't have seen that kind of rapid expansion.
And if you didn't have open land, there also wouldn't have been anywhere to expand to.
So it doesn't seem like the most productive question to ask.
Perhaps more interesting after all these years is the Fogel thesis:
Fogel's first major study involving cliometrics was Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History (1964). This tract sought to quantify railroads' contribution to U.S. economic growth in the nineteenth century. Its argument and method were each rebuttals to a long line of non-numeric historical arguments that had ascribed much to railroads without rigorous reference to economic data. Examining transportation costs for primary and secondary goods, Fogel compared the actual 1890 economy to a hypothetical 1890 economy in which transportation infrastructure was limited to wagons, canals and rivers. The difference in cost (or "social savings") attributable to railroads was negligible - about 1%.
Wish that damned ocean weren't there so we could do the same thing today.
My family stayed in the South. We had no ambition.
“What caused westward expansion in the United States?”
Because going east was pretty much a non-starter.
That reminds me! I haven't done any raping or subjugating in almost a week! Wondered why I felt a little down.
That's cuz you folk had the Gores to keep things warm.
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