While Waiting for Rain

Community, Economy, and Law in a Time of Change

Subjects: Law, Legal History, Political Science, Political Economy, Political History
Paperback : 9780472055616, 438 pages, 1 map, 6 x 9, December 2022
Hardcover : 9780472075614, 438 pages, 1 map, 6 x 9, December 2022
Open Access : 9780472902972, 438 pages, 1 map, 6 x 9, August 2022

Funding is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as part of the Sustainable History Monograph Pilot
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How innovation will save the United States—and Buffalo—from economic decline

Table of contents

Part I -- Law and Economic Change in America
Before 1865: An Archipelago of Agricultural/Trading Economies
The Seventies and Eighties: Competition and its Avoidance
The Nineties and Teens: Trying To Tame Competition in the Real Economy
The Twenties and Thirties: An Associationist Ideal
The Forties and Fifties: Associationalism at Work
The Sixties and Seventies: A Troubled Economy
The Eighties and Nineties: Trying to Build an Economy
The Twentieth Century: And Then It All Collapsed
Understanding Economic Change
Part II – Community and Economic Change in America: Buffalo, Queen City of the Great Lakes                                
Buffalo’s Geographic Setting
The Local Geography
Buffalo’s Community Structure
Before 1865: A Small, But Growing Place on the Niagara Frontier
The Seventies and Eighties: No Longer a Small Town
The Nineties and Teens: A Big City
The Twenties and Thirties: Moving Ahead While Lagging Behind
The Forties and Fifties: “These Precious Days”
The Sixties and Seventies: The Centre Did Not Hold
The Eighties and Nineties: Bottoming Out
The Twentieth Century: Maybe, . . .Hard To Tell
Understanding Economic Change in Buffalo: A Coda
Part III – Thinking About Economic Development                    
Cities and the Wealth of Nations Recounted
Of Nature
Of Grace
Of the Invisible Hand
Of Drift
Saving Pieces
Part IV – Consider Buffalo                                
Some Perspectives 
Strengths, Problems & Political Context
The Difficulty of Avoiding Transactions of Decline
Making Buffalo Attractive to the Middle Classes
And Well Schooled
Et Cetera
Part V – What Then About America?
Some Perspectives on America
Strengths, Problems & Political Context
Transactions of Decline?
Making America Attractive to the Middle Classes
And Well Schooled
Et Cetera
Is Conclusion Even Possible?                                
A Note For Historians                                
Suggested Readings


What might a sensible community choose to do if its economy has fallen apart and becoming a ghost town is not an acceptable option? Unfortunately, answers to this question have long been measured against an implicit standard: the postwar economy of the 1950s. After showing why that economy provides an implausible standard—made possible by the lack of economic competition from the European and Asian countries, winners or losers, touched by the war—John Henry Schlegel attempts to answer the question of what to do.

While Waiting for Rain first examines the economic history of the United States as well as that of Buffalo, New York: an appropriate stand-in for any city that may have seen its economy start to fall apart in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. It makes clear that neither Buffalo nor the United States as a whole has had an economy in the sense of “a persistent market structure that is the fusion of an understanding of economic life with the patterns of behavior within the economic, political, and social institutions that enact that understanding” since both economies collapsed. Next, this book builds a plausible theory of how economic growth might take place by examining the work of the famous urbanist, Jane Jacobs, especially her book Cities and the Wealth of Nations. Her work, like that of many others, emphasizes the importance of innovation for economic growth, but is singular in its insistence that such innovation has to come from local resources. It can neither be bought nor given, even by well-intentioned political actors. As a result Americans generally, as well as locally, are like farmers in the midst of a drought, left to review their resources and wait. Finally, it returns to both the local Buffalo and the national economies to consider what these political units might plausibly do while waiting for an economy to emerge.

John Henry Schlegel is UB Distinguished Professor of Law and Floyd M. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar at the University of Buffalo School of Law.

“Once upon a time, the story of the economic history of the United States was also the story of Buffalo. In this incisive, illuminating, and beautifully written book, an eminent historian tells us why drought, metaphorically, dried up both the United States and Buffalo and explores how we should behave ‘while waiting for rain’ to restore them.”
—Laura Kalman, Distinguished Research Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara

- Laura Kalman

“This is an ambitious and extremely interesting meditation on the many causes of the decline of the American economy from its high-point of widely distributed prosperity in the 1950s and 60s; and on the likely prospects and effects of various ideas about how to revive it. There is a great deal of astute observation in this book, and of wisdom too.”
—Robert W. Gordon, Professor of Law, Emeritus, Stanford University

- Robert W. Gordon

“John Henry Schlegel’s While Waiting for Rain is characteristically well-written, engaging, unexpected, thoughtful, and provocative. It is also timely, important, and a remarkable scholarly contribution.”
—G. Edward White, David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law

- G. Edward White