"How Deregulated Was the US Economy In 1880?"
My friend Sam Rosenfeld, studying for his PhD in US History at Harvard, wrote in the following apropos the golden age of liberty debate:
FWIW, it’s interesting for me to see that this conversation doesn’t seem to have been affected by a relevant recent research agenda in actual academic history: one of THE hot things in 19th century American historiography is a series of works unearthing major and pervasive realms of state regulation and intervention in the economy — even leaving slavery aside and limiting our perspective to white men and matters of political economy relevant to white men. One of the major books kicking this whole movement off — “finding the state in the 19th century,” “the myth of the laissez-faire Eden,” etc. — was William Novak’s The People’s Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth Century America, which concentrated mainly on the antebellum period and, crucially, looked at statutes at the state and local rather than federal level, finding all sorts of highly interventionist moral and economic regulations. At the national level, a recent book that synthesizes a lot of the recent literature in this school of thought is Brian Balogh’s “>A Government Out of Sight: The Mystery of National Authority in Nineteenth Century America. (I haven’t actually read this one.) I think most of these folks acknowledge that the Gilded Age really is somewhat different in these respects than previous periods, though not categorically so.
All worth keeping in mind.