Alexander Gerschenkron (in Russian Александр Гершенкрон, * 1904 in Odessa, Russian Empire, now Ukraine, † 26 October 1978 in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was a Russian-born American Jewish economic historian and professor in Harvard, trained in the Austrian School of economics.
Gerschenkron kept to his roots - in his economics, history and as a critic of Russian literature. His early work concentrated on development in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In a celebrated 1947 article, he found the Gerschenkron effect (changing the base year for an index determines the growth rate of the index). His early work often pursued the statistical tricks of Soviet planners.
Gerschenkron also advanced the linear stages theory of economic development which posits that economic development goes forward in fairly determined stages. However, he did accept that different periods exhibit different types of development: for instance, with the coexistence of advanced and backward countries, that the latter could skip several stages which the former had to go through by adopting their advanced technology. This was illustrated by the peculiar paths of industrialization of Meiji Japan and the Soviet Union.
Gerschenkron postulated that the more backward an economy was at the outset of development the more certain conditions were likely to occur during growth, which he called "backwardness": consumption would be squeezed in favor of investment (i.e., savings) in countries starting from farther behind, and there was likely to be a greater reliance on banks, state entities, and other means of directing investment, among other conditions. He never exactly defined how 'backwardness' was to be measured, though he alluded to a northwest-to-southeast axis within Europe, with the United Kingdom at the most advanced extreme and the Balkan countries at the least developed extreme.
Despite his roots in the Austrian school he criticized the "penny pinching, 'not-one-heller-more-policies'" of the prominent Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk when the latter was Austrian Minister of Finance and laid much of the blame for Austria's economic backwardness on Böhm-Bawerk's unwillingness to spend heavily on public works projects.
In a recent research article, the Dutch social historian Marcel van der Linden demonstrates that Gerschenkron was a member of the social democratic party and, later, the communist party in Austria, but kept this a secret after he was able to emigrate to the United States.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1943). Bread and democracy in Germany, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California press.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1945). Economic relations with the U.S.S.R., New York.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander and Alexander Erlich (1951), A dollar index of Soviet machinery output, 1927-28 to 1937, Santa Monica, California: Rand Corporation.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander and Nancy Nimitz (1952), A dollar index of Soviet petroleum output, 1927-28 to 1937, Santa Monica, California: Rand Corporation.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander and Nancy Nimitz (1953), A dollar index of Soviet iron and steel output 1927/28-1937, Santa Monica, California: Rand Corporation.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1954), A dollar index of Soviet electric power output, Santa Monica, California: Rand Corporation.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1954), Soviet heavy industry: a dollar index of output, 1927/28-1937, Santa Monica, California: Rand Corporation.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1962), Economic backwardness in historical perspective, a book of essays, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1966), Bread and democracy in Germany, New York: H. Fertig.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1968), Continuity in history, and other essays, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1970), Europe in the Russian mirror: four lectures in economic history, London: Cambridge U.P.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1977), An economic spurt that failed : four lectures in Austrian history, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
- Gerschenkron, Alexander (1989), Bread and democracy in Germany with a new foreword by Charles S. Maier, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
- Gerschenkron, A., 1947. "The Soviet indices of industrial production." Review of Economics and Statistics 34, 217–226.
- Marcel van der Linden, "Gerschenkron’s Secret. A Research Note." Critique: A Journal of Socialist Theory, Vol. 40, No. 4, 2012, pp. 553-562.
- Rosovsky, Henry, ed., Industrialization in two systems; essays in honor of Alexander Gerschenkron by a group of his students, New York, Wiley & Sons (1966) ISBN 0-471-73674-0
- Forsyth, Douglas J. and Daniel Verdier, eds., The Origins of National Financial Systems: Alexander Gerschenkron Reconsidered, London and New York, Routledge, (2003) ISBN 0-415-30168-8
- Albert Fishlow, "Alexander Gerschenkron: A Latecomer Who Emerged Victorious", a review of Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective at EH.net (2003)
- Oscar Gass, "Russian Economic Development", New York Review of Books, vol. I no. 1 (February 1, 1963)
- Dawidoff, Nicholas, The Fly-Swatter: Portrait of an Exceptional Character, New York, Vintage (2003) ISBN 0-375-70006-4