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Poverty in Britain, 1900-1965

Author(s):Gazeley, Ian
Reviewer(s):Boyer, George R.

Published by EH.NET (November 2004)

Ian Gazeley, Poverty in Britain, 1900-1965. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. xiii + 239 pp. $75 (cloth), ISBN: 0-333-71618-3.

Reviewed for EH.NET by George R. Boyer, Department of Labor Economics, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University.

Recent decades have seen a sharp increase in publications examining the “origins,” “evolution,” or “foundation” of the British welfare state. These studies tend to focus on the adoption of government policies to alleviate poverty, and to devote little attention to the extent or causes of poverty. Ian Gazeley’s new book complements these studies, by examining the standard of living of the poor in the first half of the twentieth century.

The book is divided into three roughly equal parts, covering the Edwardian era and the First World War, the interwar years, and the Second World War and early post-war years. For each period, Gazeley begins by presenting data on movements in real wages, and then examines the poverty and nutrition surveys that were undertaken during the period. Some of these surveys (for example, the three poverty surveys of York by Rowntree and the New Survey of London Life and Labour) will be familiar to most readers, but others, such as the pre-World War I poverty surveys of rural England and the interwar studies of poverty in Merseyside (1929-30), Sheffield (1931), Southampton (1931), and Bristol (1937), will not. Each of the major poverty surveys is examined in detail — Gazeley discusses how the survey was undertaken, how many people were found to be living in poverty, differences in poverty rates across demographic groups (the elderly, children, etc.), and the causes of poverty. He also shows how fragile some of the estimates of poverty are. For example, household expenditure data suggest that Rowntree overestimated the food needs of children in his 1899 study of poverty in York, and therefore overestimated the share of the population living in primary poverty (pp. 28-9).

One of the most useful aspects of the volume is its detailed analysis of how the definition of poverty varied across surveys, and how it evolved over time. The early poverty surveys by Rowntree and Bowley defined the “primary” poverty line as the “minimum standard necessary for physical health.” Several of the interwar surveys used similar “physical efficiency” measures of poverty. However, Rowntree, in his second (1936) survey of York, adopted a far more generous “human needs” poverty line, which ensured “health and working capacity” and allowed expenditure for “social participation.” Adjusted for changes in prices from 1899 to 1936, Rowntree’s human needs poverty line for a family of two adults and three schoolchildren was 42% above his physical efficiency poverty line. Changing how poverty was measured had a large, and predictable, effect on the poverty rate. Rowntree found that 31.1% of York’s working-class population in 1936 had incomes below the human needs poverty line, but only 6.8% had incomes below the physical efficiency poverty line (pp. 93-4). A third definition of poverty was adopted by Brian Abel-Smith and Peter Townsend in their 1965 study, The Poor and the Poorest. They concluded that “poverty was entirely a relative concept,” and defined households to be in, or at the margins of, poverty if their income was less than “140 per cent of the then current National Assistance scale plus rent” (pp. 179-80). In 1960, 17.9% of households lived below this relative poverty standard. An unknown, but significantly smaller, share of the population had incomes below the “physical efficiency” or “human needs” poverty lines. As Gazeley makes clear in the text, because of these changes over time in the definition of poverty, it is not possible to use the numerous poverty surveys undertaken from 1899 to 1960 to measure long-term trends in the poverty rate.

This book is a useful addition to the literature on poverty during the first half of the twentieth century. Students and researchers will welcome its summaries of a large number of poverty and dietary/nutrition studies. However, those looking to find evidence on trends in poverty rates over time, or on the role of government policies in reducing poverty, will be disappointed. The first half of the twentieth century saw a transformation in government social welfare policy, beginning with the Liberal Welfare Reforms of 1906-11; from 1900 to 1930 social transfer payments increased from 1.0% of national product to 2.6%. Gazeley devotes little attention to this revolution in social policy. Thus, for example, there is little discussion of the effects of the 1908 Old Age Pensions Act or of the 1925 Widows’, Orphans’ and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act on poverty rates among the elderly. There is a brief discussion of the role of the Poor Law from 1900 to 1913 in Chapter 1, but only one paragraph on poor relief during the interwar period. This despite the fact that the number of poor relief recipients, which had fallen to 784,000 in 1913, averaged 1.3 million from 1922 to 1929, and peaked at 2.06 million in 1927. How can the sharp increase in the number of relief recipients be reconciled with Bowley’s finding that poverty declined significantly from 1912-14 to 1923-24 in the five towns he studied? This and many other questions regarding the role of government social policy go unanswered.

In sum, Gazeley’s book is more a history of poverty surveys during the first half of the twentieth century than a history of poverty. It is excellent at what it does, and it fills an important niche in the literature, but students examining poverty and working class living standards during these years will need to supplement it with other studies.

George Boyer is the author of An Economic History of the English Poor Law, 1750-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 1990), and, with Timothy J. Hatton, of “New Estimates of British Unemployment, 1870-1913,” Journal of Economic History, Vol. 62 (September 2002).

Subject(s):Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Heqanakht Papyri

Author(s):Allen, James P.
Reviewer(s):Silver, Morris

Published by EH.NET (November 2004)

James P. Allen, The Heqanakht Papyri. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, distributed by Yale University Press, 2002. xvii + 297 pp. + 57 Plates + CD. $50 (cloth), ISBN: 0-300-10318-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Morris Silver, Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics, City College of the City University of New York

I. Introduction The economic historian Karl Polanyi argued that markets became important only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of the present era. Instead of market-determined prices, the ruler (as representative of the gods) declared simple quantitative equivalencies to allow grain, oil, wine, and wool to be substituted for each other. A few main staples were received and given out at the palace gate (Polanyi 1981: 61, 134). Polanyi continues to enjoy major support. His influence becomes obvious in discussions of the economic mentality of ancient man, of the use of money/coinage and, especially, in the assertion that antiquity lacked markets for land and labor power.

When subjected to challenge, the validity of one or another of Polanyi’s positions is often shifted to times and places for which data are typically scarce and ambiguous, above all to Pharaonic Egypt. The latter is allegedly the epitome of a redistributional society. According to the Egyptologist Jacob J. Janssen (1982: 253) this means that “the surplus of peasant households was collected by the authorities, state and temple, in order to be redistributed among particular sections of society: officials, priests, the army, necropolis workmen, and so on.” However, Janssen (1975: 131, 185) maintains that the evidence is so scanty that “for the present, a study of the redistributional system in all its aspects seems the only possibility.”

The great value of the Heqanakht papyri is that they open a window to the kind of world with which economic historians are familiar. Private property, “economic man,” money and coinage and markets for land and labor-power become visible, however dimly. For these glimpses, economic historians are greatly indebted to Egyptologist James P. Allen and his predecessors for their monumental efforts. After a brief review of the background of the Heqanakht papyri attention is turned to the main economic features of the papyri as revealed in Allen’s translations (in Part I “The Texts”) and his Chapter 8 “Economics” (in Part II “Commentary”). These features are placed in the context of prevailing perspectives and additional relevant evidence is cited when necessary. Technical matters primarily of interest to Egyptologists are not discussed in this review.[1]

II. Background of the Heqanakht Papyri The Heqanakht papyri, part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are currently on display in its Egyptian galleries. They consist of five complete letters, four complete accounts, and four or five fragments. The papyri were discovered on the Museum’s Theban expedition of 1921-22 in the tomb of one Meseh. Each of the complete documents was found folded; two were tied with string and sealed with a lump of clay impressed with the same stamp. The papyri are dated to the early Middle Kingdom — i.e. to about 2000 B.C.

Allen improved on the previous readings of the text by means of examinations under various lighting conditions, with the aid of a microscope and by the application of computer technology.

III Economics 1. “Economic Man” According to Polanyi, “economic solipsism” is an outstanding feature of the market mentality. This is the view that commercial activity is “natural” to men and that markets would thus come into being unless prohibited by the government or other external forces (Polanyi 1981: 14-15). Polanyi’s main thrust anticipates classical scholars such as Moses Finley (1973, 1985) and Paul Millett (1991: especially 165-71), who maintain that, unlike modern economic man, ancient man was motivated primarily by considerations of status and communal solidarity. The postulate of wealth-maximizing used by contemporary economists is said to be utterly inappropriate to the “irrational,” that is, nonutilitarian, ancients.

It is not easy to find historical evidence casting direct light on motives, whether of status or profit. However, as Allen (142) points out, the Heqanakht letters deal almost entirely with economic matters and therefore “they offer unparalleled insights into the economic life of a moderately well-to-do Egyptian family at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.” Despite obscurities in meaning, it is clear that Heqanakht does not possess the antimarket mentality alleged by Polanyi and Finley. He calculates and makes plans concerning the amount and types of land (watered vs. unwatered) to put under cultivation; crop rotations (flax vs. barley vs. emmer); how to pay for rented land; how much to pay out in salaries; and he keeps and consults accounts of his enterprise. It is abundantly obvious that Heqanakht was very much concerned (obsessed?) with running his enterprise in a manner that would make a profit and augment his wealth. There is little or no reason to believe, moreover, that his objective in this endeavor was to increase his own or his family’s consumption of goods and services (cf. Baer 1963: 16-17)

Heqanakht, like the merchants (sheweteyew) of Papyrus Lansing (dating to the second half of the second millennium) who busied themselves in “supplying him who has not,” possessed the “marketing mind,” said by Polanyi (1981: 5) to be “peculiar to conditions of life under the type of economy the nineteenth century created in all industrial societies.” Let us also mention the warnings of Ankhsheshonqi (Papyrus British Museum 10508) that “the shewetey will charge for the water one drinks in his house” (16.5) and that “he disregards friendship to get his share” (28.4) (Allam 1998: 152).[2]

2. Private Landed Property The Egyptologist Menu (2001: 424) states that “The soil of Egypt is the exclusive property of the king.” This assertion is, however, the product of a “model,” not of evidence. Indeed, Menu (2001: 425) mentions fields termed nemehew “privately owned.” Further, when, in the fourteenth century BC, Akhenaten constructed the city of Amarna, the ruler did not claim (in his “Earlier Proclamation”) that the land, like the rest in Egypt, was his “exclusive property.” Instead, Akhenaten justified his claim by noting simply that the territory was not the property of a deity or ruler and “not the property of any people to do business of theirs with it.” In short, the land was unused and Akhenaten had found it “widowed”/”abandoned” (Murnane and van Siclen 1993: 37-8).

The evidence provided by Heqanakht is not voluminous but it is to the point. Not only does Heqanakht refer three times to “my land,” (149) but the entire tenor of his communications reveals his unquestioned power over the land he cultivates. The only reference to the state is that Heqanakht budgets some grain for the payment of taxes which were assessed on his livestock.[3]

3. Grain Market Heqanakht’s letters attest to grain sales. Heqanakht (1.4-5) anticipates using cash proceeds from the sale of emmer for renting land. If this amount is not sufficient, he instructs his family, to use proceeds from the sale of cloth (1.6).

The papyri also signal the making of grain loans in Heqanakht’s mention of “what is to be collected from the things (debts) which are in Perhaa” (1.vo. 17) and tjabet “grain loan” in Fragment A.4). The tjabet was probably a loan of grain by Heqanakht rather than a loan of grain to him. Allen (163 with n. 125) suggests that a tjabet-loan does not bear interest. The evidence for this interpretation is not entirely conclusive. In any event, the Heqanakht letters mention neither interest nor charity. However, the entire spirit of the letters makes it seem unlikely that he would give loans of grain as a charitable act. As Baer (1963: 17) notes: “And however much one would like to suppose that Heqanakht used some of his resources to succour the poor and starving among his neighbors, charity is not likely to have been a significant element in the personality of a man who was capable of putting his family on short rations for profit.”

Van De Mieroop (2002: 60-2) maintains that “Egyptian material prior to the ninth century is limited, but the available evidence suggests that the concept of lending with the expectation of an increased future return did not exist. People gave one another credit in an atmosphere of reciprocity and mutual aid.” This may be an idyllic vision. However, it is not what the “available evidence suggests.” First, there is a reference to at en mes “interest-grain” in Gurob Fragment L that dates to the second half of the second millennium. Second, Papyrus Turin 1881, also of the second half of the second millennium, contains, Jasnow (2003: 339) reports, “a loan of grain made at the very high interest of some 100 percent yearly”(cf. Baer 1962: 45, n. 115).

4. Markets for Labor-Power and Land Polanyi believes that the French Physiocrats conceived the idea of the economy concurrently with the emergence of the market as a supply-demand-price mechanism. The innovation of markets for goods was eventually followed by the revolutionary innovation of price-making markets for labor and land (Polanyi 1981: 6-7).

a. Land Market Baer (1962: 25-26) notes that “private individuals could own farm land at all periods of ancient Egyptian history,” and the “acquisition of fields for private purposes is … mentioned, from the earliest periods.” In the mid-third millennium, the mother of the entrepreneur/official Metjen conveyed her estate by means of an amat-per “house document.” Metjen himself purchased arable land that was (k)her “under:” numerous persons termed neseweteyew “king’s people” or, better, “citizens, subjects” (see Eyre 1999: 41). Somewhat later in the third millennium, we encounter such testimonies as “I ‘sealed’ a field of 23 arouras,” and “I bought twenty head of people and the ‘sealing’ of a large field” (Fischer 1961: 49). The “sealing” refers, of course, to a deed. Baer (1962) explains that a term nemehew-na-land means “privately owned.”(cf. Menu 2001: 425).

There are no land sales in the Heqanakht papyri but rental contracts are clearly attested. In Letter 2, Heqanankt pays (in advance) a fixed rent to lease (kedeb) fields (154-58). Heqanakht also leases land to others (159) More generally, there is evidence of an active rental market for fields. There are inquiries and negotiations concerning the availability of plots and several qualities of land are available. Thus, Heqanakht instructs his family: “Don’t farm the land everyone else farms. You should ask from Hau Jr. If you don’t find (any) from him, you will have to go before Herunefer. He is the one who can put you on watered land of Khepshyt” (1. 7-9).

b. Labor Market Heqanakht specifies the (barley) wage (akew) to be paid to hired workers and household members in return for work — “only as long as they are working” (Letter 2.29-30) The evidence (Account 7) indicates that he also paid salary plus commission to the woman Sitnesbsekhtu for producing linen from his flax (173-75). Indeed, the evidence of in-kind payments to Egyptian craftsmen is ample for the second half of the third and second millennia. During the earlier period, these payments were often called asew, and there are references to asewew-people, who may be wageworkers or possibly craftsmen.

In Letter P? Heqanakht instructs his steward to “collect the copper of those two female slaves” (21). This probably refers to income from the rental of the slaves. The salaries paid by Heqanakht vary from one worker to another and it is not easy to identify the influence of differences in productivity. However, the highest wage is paid to Nakht who undertakes a skilled and responsible mission — Nakht must travel from Sidder Grove to Perhaa and there consult with various individuals about leasing land. Heqanakht has special land in mind — Nakht must not lease “the land everyone else farms.” Nahkt must handle the arrangements for paying the rent (1. 3-9, 14-17).

5. Evidence for Money/Coinage Although they are presently in the minority, some Egyptologists (e.g., Cerny 1954: 910-12) are inclined to believe that Egypt knew a silver coin in the second half of the second millennium. This belief is founded on the expression of prices in terms of the shat/shaty/shenat/seniu, an ideographically written word conventionally translated as “piece.”

There are texts in which the shaty displays a physical nature. The Heqanakht letters show us barter and cash transactions. Thus, in Letter 1 (4-5) we read: “If, however, they will have collected the shat in exchange for that emmer that is (owed me) in Perhaa, they should use it as well” (cf. Letter 2.vo 3). Allen (155) translates shat as “value” but he finds it “evident” that it “may have involved an actual exchange of commodities for some standard medium of ‘value’…. The nature of this medium is not specified, but a text of the early New Kingdom suggests it may have been metal.” In my view it is perfectly clear from the context that the shat took a material form: the emmer has been sold for shat which will be used to pay rent. I find it difficult to follow Bleiberg (2002: 269), an Egyptologist, when he says, “Egyptians living prior to the first millennium did not have a clear idea of the concept of abstract value.”

Allen’s excellent discussion of the economics of the Papyri concludes with a detailed analysis of Heqanaktht’s grain budgets. This section will repay the efforts of economic historians interested in the specifics of an agricultural enterprise in the early second millennium BC.


James P. Allen is Curator, Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Vice-President of the International Association of Egyptologists. Dr. Allen, a graduate of the University of Chicago, served as epigrapher while on the University’s expedition to Luxor, Egypt. Since 1986 he has held a research appointment at Yale University, and has taught graduate seminars there and at the University of Pennsylvania. Allen’s specialties include ancient Egyptian language, texts and religion. He has written extensively about these subjects, and on the history of the Middle Kingdom and Amarna Period. Allen is the author of Genesis in Egypt, The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts, and Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs.

1. The latter include “Epigraphy and Paleography,” “Language,” “People,” “Places,” and “Chronology.”

2. The main manuscript of this Demotic text dates from late in Ptolemaic times. However, based on linguistic analysis the original date should be placed in late Saitic times.

3. Heqanakht’s letters and accounts make no mention of a tax on the grain grown in his fields. Allen (161) suggests that this was “either because the taxes had already been paid when the documents were written or because they had yet to be expended, like the grain needed for seed. The rate of taxation in the Middle Kingdom is unknown, but it may have been about ten percent of the harvest, as was true for crops grown on normal land in later times.”


Allam, Schafik (1998). “Affaires et Op?rations Commerciales.” In Nicholas Grimal and Bernadette Menu (eds.), Le commerce en ?gypte ancien, Cairo: Institut Fran?ais d?Arch?ologie Orientale, 133-56.

Baer, Klaus (1962). “The Low Price of Land in Ancient Egypt.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 1, 25-45.

Baer, Klaus (1963). “An Eleventh Dynasty Farmer’s Letters to His Family.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 83, 1-19.

Cerny, Jareslav (1954). “Prices and Wages in Egypt in the Ramesside Period.” Journal of World History, 1, 903-21.

Eyre, Christopher J. (1999). “The Village Economy in Pharaonic Egypt.” In Alan K. Bowman and Eugene Rogan (eds.). Agriculture in Egypt: From Pharaonic to Modern Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-32.

Finley, Moses (1973, second edition 1985, updated edition 1999). The Ancient Economy. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fischer, Henry George (1961). “The Nubian Mercenaries of Gebelein during the First Intermediate Period.” Kush, 9, 44-80.

Janssen, Jacob J. (1975). “Prolegomena to the Study of Egypt’s Economic History during the New Kingdom.” Studien zur Alt?gyptischen Kultur, 3, 127-85.

Janssen, Jacob J. (1982). “Gift-Giving in Ancient Egypt as an Economic Feature.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 68, 253-58.

Jasnow, Richard. (2003). “Egypt: New Kingdom”. In Raymond Westbrook (ed.). A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, Vol. I. Leiden: Brill, 289-359.

Menu, Bernadette (2001). “Economy: Overview”. In Donald B. Redford (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Vol. I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 422-26.

Millett, Paul. (1991). Lending and Borrowing in Ancient Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Murnane, William J. and Charles C. van Siclen III (1993). The Boundary Stelae of Akhenaten. London: Kegan Paul.

Polanyi, Karl (1981). The Livelihood of Man. Harry W. Pearson (ed.). New York: Academic Press.

Van De Mieroop, Marc (2002). “A History of Near Eastern Debt?” In Michael Hudson and Marc Van De Mieroop (eds.), Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East. Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press.59-94.

Morris Silver is Professor Emeritus of Economics in the City College of the City University of New York. His most recent publications about ancient economies are Taking Ancient Mythology Economically (Leiden: Brill, 1992) and Economic Structures of Antiquity (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995). “Modern Ancients” is in press in Rollinger and Ulf (eds.), Commerce and Monetary Systems in the Ancient World, Fifth Annual Melammu Conference 2002. Professor Silver maintains a website on “Ancient Economies” at

Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Middle East
Time Period(s):Ancient

Emergence of Economic Society in Japan, 1600-1859

Author(s):Hayami, Akira
Saito, Osamu
Toby, Ronald P.
Reviewer(s):Mosk, Carl

Published by EH.NET (October 2004)


Akira Hayami, Osamu Saito, and Ronald P. Toby, editors, Emergence of Economic Society in Japan, 1600-1859. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. xviii + 420 pp. $160 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-828905-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Carl Mosk, Department of Economics, University of Victoria.

Revolutionized by the techniques of historical demography and family reconstruction and the statistical approaches of cliometrics, the mainstream field of economic history in Japan has experienced a groundswell transformation. Gone are applications of Marxist stage theory. Today long-run quantitative analysis of economic and demographic activity in villages, towns and urban centers or analysis of government policy largely conceived in neo-classical categories command central stage. Concepts like industrious revolution, proto-industrialization, income elasticity of demand, Gresham’s law, Marshall’s k (propensity to hold money), and budgetary balance dominate the contemporary literature.

The present volume consisting of ten chapters culled from contributions to the series The Economic History of Japan originally published in Japanese by Iwanami Shoten in 1988-1990, exemplifies the new mainstream approach. In his introduction the noted demographic and economic historian Akira Hayami firmly characterizes the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) as the first period in Japanese history when a national economy was created, when market related behavior came to dominate life in the most remote regions of Japan. Describing long-run population growth estimates for the Tokugawa era (that suggest population totals in 1600 are considerably lower than was once believed), Matao Miyamoto develops a sophisticated flow of funds model of the national economy that links major regional markets to two central markets, one with Osaka as its hub, the other linked up through Edo, the capital of the shogunate that acted as a national authority with a confederation-style government in which warlords were given authority over fiefs with populations typically running into the tens of thousands. An important strand in the argument developed in the book is that economic incentives were strengthened under this system of confederation government. Masaru Iwahashi argues that the national land survey carried out just before Tokugawa rule, policies separating peasants from warriors, standardization of weights and measures, and a tax system that was not too burdensome to the peasantry (a view that flies in the face of the Marxist view that warlords exploited their villagers to the maximum degree possible) created incentives for economic growth.

One of the traditional pictures of Tokugawa Japan is that it was almost completely isolated from the rest of the world, save for a window onto the west at Dejima in Nagasaki harbor where Dutch traders were allowed to reside. While it has been recognized for some time that Japan continued to participate in tribute trade with China and Korea during the reign of the shogun, the extent of that trade has been underestimated, or at least that is the argument advanced by Kazui Tashiro who shows that Japanese agents continued to import raw silk and silk textiles in volume, paying for these products with silver.

Monetary and fiscal policy undertaken by various shogunate governments is a major theme in this volume. Surveying long-run macroeconomic dynamics, Matao Miyamoto studies the recoinage campaigns of various administrations, those operating within a relatively closed country environment, and those struggling with the forced opening of the country in the 1850s. Taking another tack, Yujiro Oguchi analyzes shogunate taxation and forced loan policies, linking them up to the monetary accounts of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Theories of peasant and craftspeople behavior rooted in the proto-industrial model motivate four chapters: one by Akira Hayami and Hiroshi Kito that focuses on population dynamics, analyzing them in terms of conflicting regional patterns (post-1720 population stagnation resulting from decline in population in the Northeast countered by modest growth in the Southwest); a second by Osamu Saito and Masayuki Tanimoto that focuses on changes in the rural economy in late Tokugawa; a chapter by Ronald Toby that draws inferences from a study of the records of an entrepreneurial family in central Japan about the growth of finance in the nineteenth century; and a summary overview of late Tokugawa policy and regional economic activity penned by Hiroshi Shimbo and Osamu Saito.

Finally, a valuable contribution by Shunsaku Nishikawa and Masatoshi Amano links up the regional and local to the national through an analysis of fief fiscal and monetary activities, and the growing interest of fiefs in promoting fief monopolies stretching into the burgeoning proto-industrial economy.

As the reader can (I hope) see, this book provides an excellent summary of recent research in Japanese economic history, covering all of the major bases that one would like to see covered. Conceived from a merging of Western concepts in economics and demography with long-standing Japanese historical scholarship attentive to the hustle and bustle of village life at one end, and the practices of elite fief and shogunate administrators at the other, this volume is an indispensable read for those who want to dive into the thriving field of Japanese economic history.

Note: Akira Hayami is Emeritus Professor, Keio University; Osamu Saito is Professor of Economic History, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University; and Ronald Toby is Professor of Asian History, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign.)

Carl Mosk is Professor of Economics at the University of Victoria and the author of a number of books on Japanese economic and demographic history. He is presently completing a book for Routledge titled Trade and Migration in the Modern World, and is working on the economics of the nation state.


Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):19th Century

A World History of Tax Rebellions: An Encyclopedia of Tax Rebels, Revolts, and Riots from Antiquity to the Present

Author(s):Burg, David F.
Reviewer(s):Vedder, Richard

Published by EH.NET (October 2004)

David F. Burg, A World History of Tax Rebellions: An Encyclopedia of Tax Rebels, Revolts, and Riots from Antiquity to the Present. New York: Routledge, 2003. xxxiv + 502 pp. $125 (cloth), ISBN: 0-415-92498-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Richard Vedder, Department of Economics, Ohio University.

David Burg’s new reference volume on tax revolts is better described by its subtitle: “An Encyclopedia of Tax Rebels, Revolts, and Riots from Antiquity to the Present.” The bulk of the book is a description of some 392 different tax protests through history, ranging in length from a couple of paragraphs to eight or nine pages. Like most encyclopedias or dictionaries, this is not a volume sane persons pick up and reads from beginning to end, although, somewhat irrationally, that is what this reviewer tried to do.

The bottom line is this is a nice, well written reference book that should prove useful to persons interested in the history of taxation. Want to know about rising concerns about taxation during the Roman Empire? This volume has perhaps two dozen entries of various incidents where the populace, or an important subset of it, expressed displeasure. Interested in intellectually driven anti-tax movements, say the single tax idea as promoted by Henry George? There are nice descriptions of these incidents, with references to other longer works. Want a bit of titillation? Read of Lady Godiva’s possibly mythical naked ride to protest high taxation.

The book does not stint on references to early tax rebellions in order to emphasize the post-industrial era. Indeed, almost the opposite is true. There are almost as many references (38) to the fourteenth century as there is to the twentieth (45). If the incidence of tax protest were proportional to the number of entries in the Berg volume, one would conclude that tax protestation peaked in the eighteenth century (59 entries), remaining strong in the nineteenth century (56 entries), before subsiding a good bit in the century recently concluded. One might almost believe tax rebellions are in significant decline — it takes 91 pages to describe the revolts of the eighteenth century, including such biggies as the American and French Revolutions, but a mere 48 pages to describe the fewer and less momentous modern ones.

And that brings me to the greatest deficiency of the volume, the lack of analysis and interpretation. This weakness of the book is understandable and predictable, given that it is a reference book. But reading the entries gives rise to lots of questions, the grist for many more volumes trying to explain the changing relationship of citizens to the state.

For example, given the fact that government in most parts of the world has grown substantially relative to output over time, and taxes have risen accordingly, why have not tax revolts multiplied in number and intensity? Why is it that people would kill over taxes (and many of the early revolts boiled down to killing tax farmers and collectors) when they took 10 or 15 percent of people’s income, but be relatively complacent and compliant when they absorbed 40 or 50 percent?

Has the rise in democratic political processes reduced tax revolts by giving citizenry a sense of participation? Is that, indeed, one of the more compelling arguments for democratic forms of government? Were tax revolts virtually unknown in the modern authoritarian state of the Communist or Nazi variety because of fear of brutal police power or because the state professed a benevolence towards the citizenry not found in the old monarchies such as ruled leading European countries before the French Revolution? A supplemental or competing explanation for the decline in tax protest would be that early revolts centered heavily on kleptomania — anger over the redistribution of funds from taxpayers to rulers. While modern day rent-seeking is very real and in my judgment substantial, perhaps a smaller proportion of taxes today in most countries are directly used for taxing a comparatively less affluent population to enrich already affluent plutocratic rulers.

Is there a threshold level of taxation beyond which the citizenry revolts? What determines variation in that threshold over time and space? For example, I think that roughly speaking contemporary Americans will not tolerate federal taxation exceeding 20 percent of GDP except in emergencies, nor state or local spending much greater than 10 percent. But also I think the people of New York and Vermont have a greater tolerance for taxation than those of nearly New Hampshire. Is this the result of a Tiebout effect working in the American federal system? How and why did the New Deal and Great Society raise the threshold level of tolerable taxation, and has there been some slight but perceptible decline in that threshold in modern times, manifested in the tax revolts in California and Massachusetts in the late 1970s (the latter, Proposition 2 1/2, totally ignored by Berg), and by the election of Ronald Reagan (also ignored)?

Returning more to the task at hand, Berg does not provide much in the way of economic analysis surrounding tax revolts. There is little information provided on tax rates, on the impact that levies had on revenues raised (were there Laffer Curve effects?), etc. In large part, that may reflect inadequate information, but that is not generally the case for the modern era. For example, as Berg notes (p. 250), the Sugar Act of 1764 actually cut sugar duties in half but increased enforcement. Revenues apparently rose (no discussion). Was this the Laffer Curve in action, or something else?

In short, the book raises far more questions than it answers, but that is as it should be. This is, after all, a reference volume, a nice addition to other works (e.g., Charles Adams) for those interested in the history of taxation.

Richard Vedder is Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University. His latest book is Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute Press, 2004).

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Search for a Historical Movement

Author(s):Hilton, Matthew
Reviewer(s):Black, Lawrence

Published by EH.NET (September 2004)

Matthew Hilton, Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Search for a Historical Movement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xiii + 382 pp. ?17.99/$24.99 (paperback), ISBN: 0-521-53853-X

Reviewed for EH.NET by Lawrence Black, Department of History, University of Durham, UK.

Historians in Britain are currently entranced by consumption — not only due to the ?5 million AHRB/ESRC “Cultures of Consumption” program, but because it offers a bewildering array of topics and approaches to choose from (surveyed by Frank Trentmann, Journal of Contemporary History 39:3, 2004). It poses fundamental questions: do we work to earn, or earn to spend? Its appeal also lies in the shift from modernist producer to postmodern consumer identities. Simply, as Hilton (University of Birmingham, UK) contends “consumerism has been a mobilizing force at the heart of twentieth-century social and political history” (p. 3).

Consumerism assembles the politics of free trade, empire, citizenship, the state and environment (the latter absent from the Cambridge Economic History of Britain). But it has been disconcertingly marginal in accounts of twentieth-century Britain — whether due to producerist bias amongst historians, the pre-eminence of cultural studies in interpreting it or twentieth-century consumerism seeming more private and parochial or less radical or ideological than other social movements (peace, environmental) or than nineteenth-century consumerism (food rioters, moral reformers, the Co-op, free trade). The “search for a historical movement” is then both about plugging a historiographical gap by opening a consumer lens on modern Britain, but also about activists’ efforts to make a consumer movement. It reminds contemporary consumer campaigners of their antecedents — linking Mclibellers and BSE to Upton Sinclair or Which? magazine and the Co-op.

In discussions of free trade as a consumer-based political economy, the centrality of the politics of bread to working-class activity and how prices as much as wages were key to standard of living debates from the nineteenth century is outlined. World War One tied together diverse strands of consumer politics in criticisms of profiteering and the idea of state provision of necessities. Manifest in the Ministry of Food’s Consumer Council (1918-21), this had revolutionary implications (certainly compared to the meager Food Council that succeeded it), involving women, working-class consumers at the expense of the middle class and retailers.

Inter-war consumer politics reverted to a characteristic diversity — in so much as no agreed program emerged and it was powerless vis-?-vis producer ideologies, of labour or business. G.D.H Cole’s Guild Socialism and the ILP’s “Living Wage” platform had consumerist aspects (reminiscent of U.S. debates), yet could not command support within the British Labour movement. Contenders for a third way politics were the non-party experts of Political and Economic Planning (PEP), broadening consumer politics beyond necessity in the 1930s. Consumer politics disclosed much about inter-war British politics: the breakdown of free trade and rise of state intervention (also in forms like the Empire Marketing Board) and the entry of women into the public political arena.

If the “people’s war,” through state intervention and a recognition of popular desires, suggested a more consumerist prospect, it also reinforced some of the left’s traditional dichotomies. The Utility scheme, bringing key commodities within a state design and price regime and exempting them from purchase tax, differentiated utility and luxury goods both economically and morally. Extended post-war it seemed more paternalist than about “fair shares.” The Conservatives targeted women consumers by critiquing Attlee’s bureaucratic fondness for rationing. Initiatives like the Council of Industrial Design did more than gesture towards consumer rhetoric, but the opaque consumer Boards and Councils of the nationalized industries were less promising. As Hilton would have it, the idea of a state Consumer Advice Centre, which Young inserted into Labour’s 1950 manifesto, had the potential to bridge the politics of necessity and affluence and prefigured later developments. Certainly Harold Wilson’s investigations at the Board of Trade were more even-handed between producers and consumers than previously (or subsequently), but as had been (and would be) the case the idea fell foul of a small parliamentary majority, budgetary constraints and the left’s enduring prejudices. In short, it was judged a luxury. Were Conservatives more skilled in perceiving the consumer? Not innately, but it is suggested the left missed an opportunity to set an agenda of advice to match the Conservatives’ rhetoric of choice. Fatally, Hilton judges that by the later 1950s the Co-Op “lacked the imagination to step beyond an older politics of necessity” (p. 170).

It was thus business-influenced groups (and the press) that had started consumer advice and testing — Good Housekeeping Institute, the British Standards Institution in Shopper’s Guide — when affluence eroded the division between needs and wants in the 1950s. But their parochial, amateurishness, meant Which?, that the Consumers’ Association (CA) started up in 1957 soon dominated this market. The value-for-money information essential during austerity translated into a buyers guide when goods, advertising and brands proliferated under affluence. Professional technocrats almost to a man, the CA turned the comparative testing of goods and services from what one commentator styled “wittering drabness” into a hugely successful enterprise and the largest new voluntary association in post-war Britain. Started by ex-PEP and Labour figure Michael Young out of frustration with the left’s indifference to consumer matters, by the 1970s it was influential on (and indispensable to) official consumer policy.

CA was independent of business and often riled it, but this frankness endeared it to readers. Its economic impact on those at the receiving end like the British car industry is hard to gauge. CA was committed to realizing consumer sovereignty in the market by manufacturing rational consumers. It conceived the irrationalities of the market were produced by consumers’ lack of knowledge as well as the profit motive of business. CA was more than a product of the authority of the post-war expert — this was a grassroots social movement, connected to local campaigning groups by the 1960s. But for most of Which?‘s overwhelmingly middle class subscribers it was comparative test reports on washing machines and such like that were of use. This tension between everyday trade and broader agendas was reminiscent of the working-class Co-op. CA had a split personality, emblematic of consumerism, between a neo-liberal and social democratic ethos. Young urged consumerism should be more “than servants of the washing machine” and most ambitiously touted the idea of a consumers’ political party. Young himself emerges as epicentral to the thought and practice of modern consumerism.

The first peacetime state incursion into consumer matters as a whole (rather than specific commodity or industry) and new legislation might seem to signal the emergence of a consumer-citizenship, but in practice the Consumer Council (1963-70) marked a piecemeal change — dovetailing with rather than filling in for voluntarism. Its budget was small and it did not sit on government economic committees. The product of the business-minded Molony Committee, it was conciliatory towards manufacturers and retailers and treated consumers as shoppers. Its impact was felt through Teltag (rationalizing merchandise marks), education and a raft of legislation. The 1968 Trades Description Act attracted 40,000 cases in its first year and a half. The Office of Fair Trading, likewise pursued an individualist consumerism from 1973, clipped of broader concerns and by the 1980s chiefly administering competition policy.

The consumer movement’s proneness to drift from activism to materialism (or ‘self-interested complaining’, as Hilton saw one of CA’s TV rivals) impacted CA. Its million members by the late 1980s (it had been larger than the political parties since the late 1960s) were shoppers more than activists – the difficulty remained up-grading from a single issue to speaking for a collective. By isolating its leaders from members’ votes and hiving off other activities that were funded by everyday comparative testing, CA could circumvent consumer apathy. Its credit card issued in 1996 caused consternation amongst CA’s committed members (as in Labour ranks when the SDP allowed dues payment on credit cards). Equally, green and anti-globalization agendas renewed the CA’s social sensibilities.

By the 1970s Young (and others) recognized the state was needed to reach poorer consumers and even revived the mutual aid beliefs of the Co-Op. The National Consumer Council set up in 1975 and chaired by Young (who accepted with the proviso that he sat on the National Economic Development Council) was like the first Consumers’ Council a bolder entity and faced wage-price instability. It targeted disadvantaged consumers, encouraged credit unions, local advice centers (although these perished under 1980s local government cuts) and notions like consumer directors (paralleling workers on the Board). The NCC-CA Consumer Congress, an umbrella group for campaigners from Age Concern to the Protection of Rural England and Real Ale, that Young envisioned as a consumers’ TUC, proved too open-ended to have a cutting edge as a “third force.” Yet it also prefigured the extension of consumerist rhetoric in the 1990s in citizens charters and pervasive under New Labour — often more deliverer-driven than consumerists desired but not always as windy as skeptics surmised.

High profile anti-globalization protests against corporate hegemony, genetic modification, the WTO, or what Monbiot termed “affluenza,” do not unduly impress Hilton. While a by-product of the moderate style of the consumer movement Hilton has traced, they nonetheless charge material culture with political baggage and there is little novel in that. Adbusters or Naomi Klein’s No Logo (2000) tender characteristically hazy manifestoes. Except where openly anti-consumerist, Hilton can locate their more radical environmental and ethical tinges in the International Organisation of Consumer Unions (now Consumers’ International) that started in 1960. Funded by testing magazine subscribers, it has sustained a reforming agenda. In 1970 Young addressed the IOCU to the social costs of the “effluent society” and CI had a contingent at Seattle in 1999. Alongside headline-grabbers like Greenpeace, the IOCU forged networks with NGOs, the UN and developing nations for whose consumers necessity was more pressing than rational choice. In short, middle-aged housewives matter as much to consumerism as hooded protesters. Ethical Consumer‘s concern with workers’ (besides animal, environmental) rights had echoes in the U.S. consumer movement and for most consumers ethical purchasing — fairtrade coffee, Britain’s one million vegetarian — likewise assuages the luxury-need gap.

The book is divided — roughly around the Second World War — into sections on “necessity” and “affluence.” This usefully differentiates wants and choices from needs, but elsewhere Hilton is at pains to stress how a consumer politics might subvert such dichotomies. Equating affluence with material plenty, serves to downplay the manifold meanings affluence might bear in the context of a post-colonial, post-industrial and Cold War, besides post-war, Britain.

Hilton extols the virtues of the “consumer-citizen” (to borrow Cohen’s categories from A Consumer’s Republic) over the “consumer-customer.” The former has social and political characteristics, whereas the latter is reduced to economic transactions. A consumer politics might transcend the self-interested producer ideologies of business and workers in Labour and Conservative politics, plot a “third way” between the market and state control, enable a participatory civil society and act as a conduit for women into the public sphere. Hilton is persuaded of this potential radicalism, but much of the story is of constraints, shortcomings, waylaying tactics of incumbent powers and missed opportunities.

All too aware of “the difficulty of outlining a coherent politics of consumption” (p. 51), Hilton’s narrative at times sounds like a twentieth-century extension of E.P. Thompson’s “moral economy” making good market failures. But Hilton stresses the variety (except in World War One) of consumer consciousness, wary of making it a hostage to fortune as socialists did with class. A customer definition of consumerism, manageably confined to issues of choice and protection, could be as self-interestedly sectional as business or labour; a broader, more inclusive definition was prone to fragment. The Co-Op faced this dilemma and the CA, which occupies a heroic role in Hilton’s narrative, is admitted to have “not resolved this tension between consumerism and citizenship” (p. 341).

Especially under Young’s counsel, consumerism’s “attempt to create a new basis for social democracy” becomes “the dominant narrative within this history” (p. 337). In this respect, Hilton’s narrative can sound a little like Peter Gurney’s championing of the Co-op or Hutchinson and Birkitt’s of Social Credit in the 1920s, in its quest to locate alternatives to capitalism and its frustration at Labour’s marginalizing of the consumer. Hilton powerfully conveys a sense of consumerism as often invigorating the politics of the left, but also the trade union and Fabian reflexes that gave Labour its producerist outlook that saw consumerism (beyond necessity) as frivolous, unproductive or private luxury.

This social democratic subtext unduly shortchanges Conservative approaches to the consumer. Paternalist and libertarian strands of Conservatism might usefully have been explored through their consumer rhetoric. Baldwin’s party mastered the appeal to the housewife after 1918 more than opponents, couching it in terms of rising prices; Thatcher cultivated the aspirational property / shareowner consumer, warning of trade union wage demands. On the politics of inflation, Baldwin and Thatcher were at one on. Electoral politics are not always surely handled. The impression on voters of Labour’s proposed Consumer Advice Centre in 1950, Resale Price Maintenance (abolished by the Tories in 1964 despite business wishes) and the Office of Fair Trading are alleged. Debates over EEC entry — about prices and the fate of commonwealth trade — are thin. Hilton’s supposition that as it eclipses other identities “consumerism will eventually find political as well as cultural expression” (p. 11) verges on the determinist, not least since it is apparent political parties have co-opted besides sidelined consumer rhetoric.

Hilton resists the idea that the flourishing of consumerism — as a self-realizing act — in the 1950s and 1960s was a foretaste of 1980s’ free market individualism. The consumer movement shows that far from a nascent neo-liberal agenda, on offer was a negotiation with the market — recognizing both its dynamism and iniquities and crafting a rational, socially-conscious individual consumer. If anything it was a forerunner of Third Way politics of a 1990s Blair-Giddens variety: ideologically tentative, vaguely social democratic in ambition, disparate but inclusive.

Sourced from official committees, Consumer Councils, the Board of Trade and the Consumers’ Association archive, the focus is resolutely on the organized consumer movement and its institutional expressions. Since nowhere else is this surveyed in such detail, this is welcome and novel. It attends to a nation of shoppers, where historians have tended to focus on goods as evidence of “consumer society.” But this might disappoint readers seeking a more cultural history of consumerism. Hilton confesses “there is a book waiting to be written on the shaping of the consuming self” (p. 183), sourced from advertising, business and the “psy” industries. But this is not it, though Hilton is not unconcerned with identities vested in the world of goods. The “consuming self” features fleetingly, if often insightfully — such as in Hilton’s case for the more masculine qualities of the post-war consumer, as white-collar workers transposed productivist rationality into consumptive practices. Commodities themselves are scarce — this is an institutional account of material culture. This offers respite from the interpretive abandon of postmodernism and cultural studies and Hilton notes how Klein’s No Logo was premised upon a rejection of “self”-identity politics and takes to task the more “exaggerated interpretations” of department stores that have been offered.

An asset of Hilton’s remit is to focus on regular, everyday consumption — bread, domestic durables — rather than being dazzled by its more spectacular, conspicuous incidences. Nor does Hilton lack a rangy theoretical engagement — Bourdieu’s “habitus” trumps class in understanding precisely the disposition of CA activists and Castells’ informational “network society” draws out the potential for an international civil society of consumerism. But might the reader be entitled to some analysis of patterns, trends and forms of consumption: what and how much was consumed and by whom. Key dimensions of this story, as material as semiotic, are surely to be found in the role of (a selective list): TV (a media of advertising, taste, information), cars, washing machines, holidays, credit and debt, diet, marketing, supermarkets, Retail Price Index, fashion, the “black” market, fags and fuel (tax included), refrigeration and self-service shopping.

This is a hugely impressive study. It is hard to imagine how Hilton’s study will fail to establish consumerism squarely (and rightly) at the center of historical understanding of twentieth-century Britain or to become itself, for scholars and students alike, vital reading in the debate about interpreting this. As buys go, this is a must — not least it is even good value in paperback!

Lawrence Black is lecturer in Modern British History at the University of Durham. His latest book, edited with Hugh Pemberton, is An Affluent Society? Britain’s Postwar Golden Age Revisited (Ashgate, 2004). Current projects include studies of postwar British political culture and of playwright Arnold Wesker.

Subject(s):Household, Family and Consumer History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Regulating Railroad Innovation: Business, Technology, and Politics in America, 1840-1920

Author(s):Usselman, Steven W.
Reviewer(s):Schramm, Jeff

Published by EH.NET (September 2004)

Steven W. Usselman, Regulating Railroad Innovation: Business, Technology, and Politics in America, 1840-1920. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xv + 398 pp. $70 (hardback), ISBN: 0-521-80636-4; $29.95 (paperback), ISBN: 0-521-00106-4.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Jeff Schramm, Department of History and Political Science, University of Missouri — Rolla.

The railroad was the quintessential industrial technology. It has also been the subject of much economic and historical analysis since the days of the Vanderbilts and Jay Gould. While one would think that there was little new to be gained from an exhaustive look at railroads during their height of influence, this book clearly and definitively negates such an assertion. The railroad, America’s first big business, had a need to remain on the cutting edge technologically but also to order and channel those technological innovations to productive ends. The inherent tension between new innovations and existing management and business structures is one of the themes at the heart of the book. It is more than just a look inside the board room, engineering, and accounting departments, however. Railroads, while private businesses, were in the public eye in a way that few other industries were, certainly at the time. Politics, therefore, was also a constant concern. Usselman, an associate professor of History at Georgia Institute of Technology, opens the black box and takes a long look at the process and players involved in railroad innovation. He asserts that railroading during the period of study, “opens a uniquely revealing window into the dynamics not just of technical change but of American history” (p. 4). He clearly wants to tie technological history to the larger stream of American history and even to draw lessons from past attempts to regulate technology to our current efforts.

After a brief introduction stating the above objectives, Ussleman divides his work into three parts. The first is titled Assembling the Machine, 1840-1876, and itself is composed of three chapters. In this section he deals with the initial growth and development of the railroad system, broadly conceived. Railroads were more than just transportation for people and goods. Usselman correctly states that they were seen as transformative enterprises and, therefore, in the public eye from the beginning. This public inspection manifested itself in various ways, from an advantageous legal environment to land grants and other perks. Competition between railroads was less than expected as they were all engaged in the extraction of resources from a seemingly limitless and virgin land. As might be expected during this phase, railroads tried many ways to manage technological change, some more successful than others. Patent disputes were the major source of friction during this period.

The second part is titled Running the Machine, 1876-1904, and is composed of four chapters. With the initial expansion into untapped territory essentially over and with increasing inter line competition, railroads sought to refocus from expansion to efficiency. The public was increasingly turned off by the control that some railroads had over transportation of goods. This concern began to influence policy as the government became less accommodating and began to threaten increasing regulation. To respond to these challenges, railroads settled into a “middle age” where they increasingly turned to professionals for management and engineering expertise. Many railroads, most notably the Pennsylvania, enshrined these specialists in their own, in house, research and development facilities. Other roads embraced industry-wide trade associations, professional organizations, and engineering conferences to set standards and mediate technological development. Railroads also consciously chose not to be all things to all people but to concentrate their energies on what they did best, hauling bulk commodities long distances. Innovations that augmented the chosen mission were embraced while those that did not were shunned. In doing so, railroads elevated engineering and engineering principles above the forces of the market and economics. “The health of the industry as a whole,” was described in engineering, not economic terms (p. 268).

The final portion of the book is titled, Friction in the Machine, 1904-1920, and is composed of two chapters. Usselman asserts that the well-oiled and ordered machine that engineers and managers constructed during the late nineteenth century came under increasing assault from all sides after 1900. Mergers and consolidations left the railroad industry with seven large systems that controlled almost two thirds of the mileage in the United States. With increasing consolidation, government regulation also increased, culminating with a strong and forceful Interstate Commerce Commission that actively intervened in railroad business and set rates and policies. Traffic volumes increased and began to stress existing infrastructure and technologies. Finally, competition in the form of motor transport began to be a concern, although the inroads made by trucks and automobiles prior to 1920 were slight. To respond to these new challenges railroads backed away from the engineering ethos that they had embraced earlier. They sought more flexible ways of serving their customers. Ironically, as the railroads lessened their dependence on engineering and efficiency, the public and the government became enraptured with Scientific Management and even used these techniques against the railroads in rate disputes. The book is well documented with extensive footnotes and index. Usselman consults a wide variety of archival sources including government reports and trade magazines and journals. He focuses on two large and progressive railroads for much of his analysis — the Pennsylvania and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, although the Baltimore & Ohio is also mentioned at length. This leads to one small problem with the work. By choosing railroads that were clearly in the vanguard, others that may not have been as progressive are not explored. During the period of his analysis, there were literally hundreds of railroads with a wide variety of operating, management and engineering cultures. Bringing other roads into the narrative would serve to enhance the work. Railroads were not quite the monolithic industry that Usselman presents. Full standardization of such things as locomotive design was not achieved until the diesel revolution after World War II. At times Usselman may overstate his case to make his points. Railroads did experience much expansion after 1876 and the engineering ethos was strongly felt throughout the 1920s. The first section can be a bit slow and plodding but once the book gathers steam the second and third sections shine like well burnished steel rails. These problems, however, are minor compared to what Usselman has accomplished with his work. He sets out to look at a hugely important industry and its struggles with innovation over a long period of time and to tie it into the larger stream of American history. He succeeds at this task and then some. This will stand as an important work, not only in the history of technology and economic and business history but in American history in general for years to come.

Jeff Schramm, Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri — Rolla, is currently working on a manuscript about the dieselization of American railroads.

Subject(s):Transport and Distribution, Energy, and Other Services
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Globalisation? Internationalisation and Monopoly Capitalism: Historical Processes and Capitalist Dynamism

Author(s):Milward, Bob
Reviewer(s):Benneworth, Paul

Bob Milward, Globalisation? Internationalisation and Monopoly Capitalism: Historical Processes and Capitalist Dynamism. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2003. xii + 198 pp. $85/?55.00 (hardback), ISBN: 1-84064-869-4.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Paul Benneworth, Institute for Policy and Practise, Newcastle University.

In the UK, there is a very famous advertisement for a proprietary wood treatment product, with a man repeatedly shouting the slogan, “Does exactly what it says on the tin!” That would also make a good sub title for Bob Milward?s latest book, Globalisation? Internationalisation and Monopoly Capitalism, which does precisely what it says on the cover. The book’s main contention is that globalisation has mainly been understood as the extension of neo liberal structures and regulation, and has consequently been assumed to produce freely operating markets producing optimum welfare outcomes. To his titular question “Globalisation?” Milward instead answers “no!” and offers that the alternative answer is “internationalisation and monopoly capitalism.”

The central thesis to this book is that internationalisation has produced very stable and monopolistic institutional and business forms, and contemporary patterns of uneven economic development are created and sustained by these nexuses of business and political interests in a form which is far more international than multinational. He argues that wherever you begin to explore this system, it is hard not to conclude that the systems these structures provide are so far removed from the “free markets” that neo classicism/globalization advocates that they are not a useful conceptual structure for understanding modern capitalism. The book provides a tour through a number of such explorations, covering thematic areas such as industry, culture, trade regulation and international development, in a revelatory rather than didactic tone — that is the central message of the book becomes apparent through the chapters, rather than being explicated at every stage.

The book includes four framing chapters, three at the start and one at the end, which set up the main argument, that modern capitalism is best understood as a form of international, monopoly capitalism. Sandwiched in between are nine chapters each covering a separate analysis of the world economic system, which support this main contention. Each chapter follows a similar structure; the introduction problematizes the theme, then there is a presentation of evidence which leads to an analysis which in turn supports the main thesis.

This approach is neatly illustrated by the chapter on industry. The problematization is the Marxian standard, that labor saving innovation continually reduces the amount of labor inputs required in production. The requirement for increasing profitability has led to a shift to exploitation of cheaper labor outside home markets, illustrated through differential wage rates in the world?s textile industry (p. 68). The chapter also helps to establish the uneven exchange that is mediated through these commodity producing chains, something which is further expanded on in great depth in chapters 11 to 13. The chapter finishes, in common with the others, with a summary of what the chapter has sought to demonstrate.

This exploration approach is very interesting, because it ensures the book retains a degree of attachment to reality, which in turn makes the book very accessible to readers such as myself who have a general sympathy with, rather than deep involvement in, Marxian economics. Each chapter has a certain amount of empirical evidence and historical observation, and the use of the nine chapters has the effect of producing a crescendo, as the value of arguments in the early chapters which seem a little forced become more apparent as the thesis develops. The book is largely clearly written, and does bear reading from start to finish, which is a necessity for this book more than many because the argument does develop its weight and force over its fourteen chapters.

My main issue with the book is its poor treatment of a personal bugbear, the issue technological innovation and change. Innovation to Milward is important in the sense of labor saving and increasing the organic composition of capital, but there is no well argued model or conceptual framework for explaining how the devaluations which innovation brings are geographically distributed through monopoly capitalism. Monopoly theories of innovation assume that innovations are controlled by monopolists to maximize the returns they yield from them. Consequently, devaluations of capital are managed to maintain profitability, and do not change the geographical balance of power within capitalist relations of production.

While this is a perfectly acceptable model for closed states in sectors with single technological producers — such as privatized utilities industries — it is not a particularly useful model for complex markets where innovations shift and shape preferences and consequently the balance of power between various quasi monopoly capitalists in various locations.

This is important because of the later emphasis of the book on the way that underdevelopment is created and controlled. The argument is that because existing monopoly capitalists control the flow of technologies into less successful places, they are able to prevent less successful countries from developing their own technological bases. As Milward writes, he assumes that “the foreign firm always has the advantage over the domestic enterprise in terms of technology, markets, finance and know how” (p. 142).

China is an example of a country that has had great economic success by refusing to accept this logic, imposed by intellectual property regimes, and using copying techniques to stimulate industrialization. Although the book makes passing reference to the “Green Revolution” of high yield varieties, and the rise of IT in Bangalore, it does assume that the benefits and dynamics of these particular events are functionally controlled by monopoly capitalists. The book seems to beg a theory of knowledge capitalism which gets beyond the breathless individualism of a new transnational elite rhetoric.

I was also personally irritated by the error of fact on page 162 which claimed the European Coal and Steel Community was created in 1957. It was of course the European Economic Community and European Atomic Energy Community which were created in 1957, with ECSC created in 1952 as a precursor organization.

However, with respect to these criticisms, I accept that developing a theory of knowledge capitalism would have disrupted the development of the argument, which relies on a gradual accretion towards the final thesis. The book is generally speaking, well written and convincing in the way it develops its argument towards this thesis, and I personally enjoyed the book the more I read. In particular, the incorporation of contemporary events, such as the collapse of Enron, and the critique of the Washington consensus from Joseph Stiglitz, were a timely reminder that structuralist approaches to economics have indeed retained (regained?) their salience. Milward has used these and other examples to provide a welcome reflection on the precise significance of the late 1990s bubble economy in terms of the early 1990s assumptions of the victory of a particular kind of neo liberalist capitalism.

The market for this kind of research monograph appears to have decreased in recent years, and on the basis of Milward’s book, this must be regarded as a shame. Globalisation? is comparatively rare in apparently being written because of the author’s intrinsic passion for the topic, rather than as a money spinner, project output or Ph.D. thesis publication. And there is no doubt that Bob Milward has written a book which is intrinsically interesting, has a clear message, and is a useful contribution in a debate often muddied with hyperbole. At ?55, the book is probably outside the price range of individual academics and students, but it deserves a wide readership from those in both groups interested in making sense of persistent economic imbalances in twenty-first century capitalism.

Dr. Paul Benneworth is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Policy and Practise at Newcastle University, and a lecturer in socio-economic geography at Nijmegen University in the Netherlands. He contributed entries on the decline of British manufacturing and changing female unemployment to the recent Reader’s Guide to British History, and has published articles on innovation and economic development in Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, European Planning Studies and Urban Studies.

Copyright (c) 2004 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (; Telephone: 513-529-2229). Published by EH.Net (September 2004). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Finance, Intermediaries, and Economic Development

Author(s):Engerman, Stanley L.
Hoffman, Philip T.
Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent
Sokoloff, Kenneth L.
Reviewer(s):Guinnane, Timothy W.

Published by EH.NET (September 2004)


Stanley L. Engerman, Philip T. Hoffman, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, and Kenneth L. Sokoloff, editors. Finance, Intermediaries, and Economic Development. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ix + 350 pp. $70 (hardback), ISBN: 0-521-82054-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Timothy W. Guinnane, Department of Economics, Yale University.

The ten essays that comprise this volume all study intermediaries in the markets for capital, for labor, and for inventions. Intermediation is now a central issue in the economics and economic history literature: how do economic agents find each other, and how do the problems of finding each other affect economic growth? This constellation of questions not surprisingly has been an area in which conversations between economists and economic historians have been especially fruitful. The essays collected here should be a part of that conversation.

Larry Neal and Stephen Quinn lead off the volume with a discussion of the personal networks at the heart of London’s financial activities in the seventeenth century. Such networks were especially important in London, they stress, because London lacked a public bank that processed bills of exchange. This imposed a cost, as defaults in London were harder to observe, and London bills less secure; but the authors stress that the recycling of gold reserves through fractional-reserve banks helped fuel London’s dynamic, market-oriented financial system in this period.

Eugene N. White traces the efforts to devise a set of rules to govern the Paris bourse in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The competing (and complementary) goals are familiar to us today: the government wanted a thick, liquid market in its own securities, wanted to earn revenue by taxing the market directly or indirectly, and was concerned about fair securities pricing (or at least the perception of fairness). Before the Revolution a very highly regulated market provided low-cost trades to investors, but this system died with the financial ruin of the intermediaries who made it work. Napoleon had little love for financiers, but under his regime the markets recovered.

Philip T. Hoffman, Gilles Postel-Vinay, and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal study the competition between bankers and notaries for the role of intermediary in financial markets in nineteenth-century Paris. (The chapter is entitled “No Exit,” the English title of Jean-Paul Sartre’s meditation on hell, Huis Clos. This play, which deals with three characters who have been shut in together for far too long, includes the famous line “l’enfer, c’est les autres.” Hoffman, Postel-Vinay, and Rosenthal have been working together for a long time … perhaps they are trying to tell us something?) Each type of agent had distinct advantages; the banker enjoyed greater liquidity and less cumbersome bankruptcy proceedings, while the notary could more effectively commit to prudence, since in the event of failure he risked ejection from the notarial corporation forever. Eventually the bankers prevailed, in part because of the nature of the changing financial market, in part because of the government’s concern to preserve the core functions of the notaries.

Angela Redish’s study of the mortgage market in Upper Canada in the early nineteenth century starts from the fact that Canada, like the U.S., had no specialist mortgage banks. This study draws on the mortgage-registration system to estimate the amount of mortgage indebtedness and both the sources and reasons for mortgage debt. Her estimates show a large increase in new mortgages in the latter part of the study (1830-1850), and imply that mortgages were for significant amounts, more than the cost of a fully-stocked farm. Lending patterns suggest the importance of local sanctions for failure to repay; only the elite could borrow outside the local area. Most mortgages appear to have been made to finance purchase of a farm.

John B. Legler and Richard Sylla return to an old and central theme in U.S. economic history, the spatial integration of capital markets. Their focus is the New Orleans stock market in the period 1871-1913. They ask whether southern capital markets were integrated with the national capital markets (here represented by the New York stock exchange). Their answer echoes Howard Bodenhorn’s conclusion that the Southern capital market became less integrated with the national markets after the Civil War.

Kenneth A. Snowden’s contribution traces the transformation of the local Building and Loan associations of the 1880s to the Savings and Loans that collapsed in the 1980s. This is an admirable contribution to American financial and institutional history. Snowden stresses that the Depression-era regulation that probably doomed the Savings and Loan industry was itself a product of the development of the Building and Loan, the predecessor institution.

Naomi R. Lamoreaux and Kenneth L. Sokoloff present an intriguing and important part of their long study of the role of patent rights in the development of U.S. technological leadership in the nineteenth century. Here they focus on the creation of a set of intermediaries, lawyers and patent agents who matched inventors with investors, and thus allowed each side of this market to specialize in what they did best. They emphasize that these intermediaries in turn succeeded because of two features of the U.S. infrastructure, the patent system itself, and the transportation and communication system that facilitated trade in goods and ideas.

Dianne Newell studies a different type of intermediary in Vancouver in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The historiography has long stressed that British Columbia needed to import both capital and labor to deliver on the promise of its abundant natural resources. We know where the capital and labor came from, but who put it all together? Newell focuses on the amazing careers of two ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs, Chang Toy and Yip Sang. They leveraged their merchant activities and experience to become investors, labor brokers, and, as Newell argues, important but neglected players in the development of the local economy. Efforts to restrict the role of Asians in the British Columbia economy shaped their efforts, but did not frustrate these and other immigrant intermediaries.

Robert C. Allen’s chapter characteristically poses an important puzzle, and uses economic reasoning to flesh out admittedly imperfect evidence. Soviet industrialization in the 1930s clearly required capital accumulation. Where did that capital come from? As Allen notes, “even Stalin balanced his budget,” so that capital must have come from either foreign lending or transfers from other parts of the Soviet economy. For decades a favored account has stressed transfers from agriculture: the state used its control over pricing to extract real resources from farmers. Allen notes that this agricultural surplus hypothesis has undergone attacks both empirical and theoretical. His own account stresses that the actual changes in relative prices were small relative to other sources of accumulation, such as terror-induced migration into cities. Allen’s discussion will certainly not be the last word on the subject, but clarifying lines of his discussion he has certainly advanced understanding of the issue.

Michael Bordo, Michael Edelstein, and Hugh Rockoff ask whether the Gold Standard was a “Good Houskeeping Seal of Approval” during the inter-war period. Partly because of Bordo and Rockoff’s work on the late nineteenth century, many scholars believe that the Gold Standard served precisely this function for the period 1880-1914 or so. But the inter-war gold standard was very different: feeble and short-lived, nobody really knew who was committed to playing by the rules. More important, it was less a Gold Standard than a gold exchange standard, which implied a more fragile situation. Bordo, Edelstein, and Rockoff find, however, somewhat to their surprise, that the Good Housekeeping model applies to the interwar period as well. Countries that appeared to be committed to gold paid less for credit than countries that lacked this commitment. As they note, there are other features of the political and economic situation they do not try to account for, but this chapter as it stands is another useful clue to the performance of the world economies in the 1920s and early 1930s.

The essays published here were all presented at a conference held in honor of Lance Davis. The volume is, in all but name, a Festschrift. (The only clear indication of its real function is an afterword on Davis’s career. This afterword is both a nice appreciation and an interesting overview of the career of one of the original cliometricians.) Academic publishers have decided that they do not like the Festschrift format, presumably on commercial grounds. I have been told that the Festschrift is little more than a dumping grounds for papers unpublishable in journals, and that the honoree’s friends usually bloviate on their pet themes rather than present fresh work. Examples of such collections exist, but it’s an unfortunate generalization, as this book ably demonstrates.

This is an unusually strong and coherent collection of essays, much better than most conference volumes and similar collections that publishers seem only too happy to bring out. Most of the essays here would be good candidates for publication in refereed journals. Some are even better, as the authors put to good use the less stringent space limitations of the chapter format. The Lamoreaux and Sokoloff chapter, to take one example, is an excellent piece of research, and would be accepted enthusiastically by any of the major economic history journals. Many journal editors would balk at a publishing a paper the length of Snowden’s chapter, to take another example, but as it stands the piece is a very fine, self-contained economic and institutional history of the transformation of an important institution. At half the length it could only be superficial and incomplete. Redish’s chapter is primarily descriptive, and might not pass muster in the “hypothesis – test – conclusion” world of cliometrically-oriented journals. Yet both the topic and the quality of her discussion make this a useful paper for anyone interesting in either Canadian economic history or the broader question of mortgage finance. The Festschrift format also helps to place some papers in context. The Legler and Sylla chapter, for example is a fine contribution on its own. But it is best viewed as an elaboration of a theme forcefully argued by Lance Davis, who famously demonstrated the slow and imperfect integration of U.S. investment markets after the Civil War. On commercial grounds alone the publishers would have done well to announce the book as what it is, a Festschrift for Lance Davis, one of the leading economic historians of his generation. The essays do justice to his extensive and wide-ranging body of work, and being frank about what it is would have garnered the volume a wider audience.

This is an excellent collection of essays and will find a welcome place on the shelves of any library, as well as any economic historian who admires the work of Lance Davis.

Timothy W. Guinnane is professor of economics and history at Yale University. His recent publications include “Delegated Monitors, Large and Small: Germany’s Banking System, 1800-1914.” Journal of Economic Literature (2002); and, with John C. Brown, “Fertility Transition in a Rural, Catholic Population: Bavaria, 1880-1910,” Population Studies (2002). He is co-editor, with William A. Sundstrom and Warren C. Whatley, of History Matters: Essays on Economic Growth, Technology, and Demographic Change (Stanford University Press, 2003), which is a Festschrift-in-drag for Paul A. David.


Subject(s):Labor and Employment History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Yankee Don’t Go Home! Mexican Nationalism, American Business Culture, and the Shaping of Modern Mexico, 1920-1950

Author(s):Moreno, Julio
Reviewer(s):Schell Jr., William

Published by EH.NET (September 2004)

Julio Moreno, Yankee Don’t Go Home! Mexican Nationalism, American Business Culture, and the Shaping of Modern Mexico, 1920-1950. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. xi + 319 pp. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8078-2802-5; $21.95 (paperback), ISBN: 0-8078-5478-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by William Schell, Jr., Department of History, Murray State University.

University of San Francisco professor Julio Moreno opens his book Yankee Don’t Go Home with a description of Sears Roebuck’s grand opening in Mexico City and a question: “Why was Sears so successful at entering the Mexican market a few years after popular nationalism drove American companies out of Mexico” (p. 1)? From this question flows a series of inquiries. How did Mexican and American domestic and geopolitical interests come to coincide? Why did Mexico’s promoters of import substitution industrialization (ISI) encourage American reentry into its economy? What role did Mexican advertising and media professionals play in this convergence?

By the late-1920s Moreno explains, pragmatic Mexican politicos, scrambling to institutionalize the revolution and their legitimacy, decided to pursue the “reconstruction of modern Mexico … under the banner of industrial capitalism” (p. 229). The most efficient means to that end and to turn Mexican workers into consumers would be to infuse Mexican economic culture with yanqui business methods. Obviously that would necessitate some degree of American economic involvement, a significant problem given Mexican national consciousness was shaped by a revolution laden with anti-Americanism.

State-building politicos faced a conundrum — how to put “a nationalist and revolutionary spin” on their plan to substitute “consumer democracy” for political democracy (pp. 151 and 44). Fortunately Mexico’s advertising agents then organizing as a profession proved willing collaborators. Versed in advertising techniques pioneered by American firms like J. Walter Thompson, these self-styled “prophets of capitalism” sold their fellow citizens a Mexican version of the American dream with consumer goods as revolutionary rewards. In doing so, they refashioned Mexican national identity “syncretizing … American and Mexican values … [to] forg[e] … a middle ground that allowed the coexistence of apparently conflicting values” (pp. 6 and 82-112).

American-style modernization evoked opposition by Catholic conservatives, just as it had during the Porfiriato. While desiring “a comfortable standard of living” for Mexicans, conservatives felt unbridled materialism and consumerism would erode traditional family and spiritual values. Nonetheless Acc?on Cat?lica readily employed mass media and techniques of modern advertising to warn of the dangers of “obsession with material wealth” — particularly on women (p. 226). They decried sexually suggestive advertising for cosmetics, hosiery, and (especially) feminine hygiene products (figs. 3.4, 3.5 and 7.3) fearing their daughters and wives would become “preoccupied with [their] physical appearance[s]” and “spend most of [their] time at beauty salons and movie theaters” (p. 221). Thus the Church resisted the consumerism preached by Thompson’s “commercial missionaries” and their Mexican acolytes (p. 155).

Official Washington only slowly recognized that Mexico’s pragmatic revolutionaries had adopted “consumption and material prosperity as synonyms for democracy and national identity” and was slower still to take advantage of the opportunity offered (p. 4). Not until the eve of World War II did it established the Office of Inter-American Affairs under Nelson Rockefeller to merge commercial speech and political propaganda. Although U.S. trade with Mexico was relatively insignificant, Rockefeller encouraged American businesses to take the long view and continue advertising in Mexico. To promote American products was to promote American cultural values and thus undercut German fascism and, during the Cold War, Communism. Over time yanqui businessmen came to see this iteration of Dollar Diplomacy carried on by Sears and other “commercial diplomats” as more “progressive” and effective in promoting U.S. interests than State Department diplomacy (pp. 172, 230-231).

In the final analysis, Mexican state builders and official Washington employed the same means to achieve different ends. Mexican state builders opened markets to American firms while simultaneously promoting ISI. American firms seeking Mexican markets had to appeal to national traditions and culture while simultaneously finding ways to accommodate or circumvent government ISI programs. Thus Palmolive adorned its soap with the image of Nuestra Se?ora de Guadalupe (fig. 4.8) while the Westinghouse subsidiary Industria Electrica de M?xico ran ads supporting nationalist “buy at home” campaigns (fig. 4.11). American operations south of the border were Mexicanized which facilitated the transmission of things Mexican to the other side while, pari passu, Mexican consumer culture and modernity took on a yanqui color.

Moreno’s inquiry into the interplay of cultures and economics in post-revolutionary Mexico is a worthy enterprise that taps fresh and rich archival sources. Moreno gets the big picture right. Architects of the institutional revolutionary state pursued a two-track policy — supporting Washington’s geopolitical positions while offering American businesses limited entry into the Mexican economy to supply consumer goods, an essential precondition to recast Mexican workers as consumers. Once a consumer mentality was established, demand for goods and services would create the conditions for successful ISI. Moreno also deserves praise for emphasizing Mexico’s primacy in directing and shaping its relationship with the U.S. by anticipating Washington’s responses to global events.

Although I think the evidence insufficient to support his assertion that “government leaders … saw advertising as the driving force of Mexico’s industrial and commercial growth” (p. 25), I tend to agree that “advertising images bridged conflicting values in Mexican society (by) creat(ing) a setting in which the national and the global coexisted” (p. 151). Still Moreno’s development of his theme and use of evidence seems haphazard. For instance, he reproduces ads for Colgate and Hormel from 1943 (figs. 2.3 and 2.4) ostensibly to show American use of advertising to carry anti-Axis propaganda and to “‘militarize’ the Mexican population” (p. 77). While this militarization is central in Hormel’s ad, Pueblo Sano ?Patria Fuerte!, juxtaposing exercising children with an infantryman under arms, it is illustrated less well, if at all, by Colgate’s use of the inconspicuous win-the-war unity logo routinely placed in wartime ads.

The ads do, however, raise questions relating to Moreno’s major themes of cultural syncretism and the emergence of a “middle-ground” between Mexican and American values. Colgate’s ad uses Mexican models and Moreno later examines Colgate’s cultural sensitivity in its advertising at length but without reference to this ad (pp.137-146). Meanwhile the visual evidence of Hormel’s shows little syncretism. Its cartoon pitchmen look as if they sprang from the Dick-and-Jane reader, leaving me (if not Moreno) to wonder just whose nation might be strengthened by eating Spam.

Moreno recognizes that, in their “reconstruction of modern Mexico (revolutionaries) … recycled processes that were fundamental to nation building during the (Porfiriato)” (p. 113). Yet his work seems oddly disconnected from Porfirian studies. He caricatures the Porfiriato, fashioning strawmen to heighten contrasts between the ancien r?gime and its revolutionary successor as when he notes: “Unlike the D?az administration, government representatives after 1917 believed that the state should sponsor or direct the economy and … actively support Mexico’s industrial and commercial growth.” This differs not at all from the protectionist, interventionist Porfirian state described by Steven Haber, Edward Beatty, Sandra Kuntz Ficker and others.

More disconcerting given his focus on media management to achieve geopolitical and domestic goals, Moreno seems unaware of the D?az regime’s innovative international press operation. Porfirian spin-doctors used advertising and propaganda techniques every bit as sophisticated as those Moreno describes for the post-revolutionary period. The regime’s Bureau of Information, headed by Paul Hudson, a powerful and influential publisher, sold Mexico and D?az to the world while burying all negative reports. His Mexican Herald introduced Mexicans to consumer culture, generating the same sort of syncretism, while his Modern Mexico shamelessly touted wildly over-valued tropical lands to na?ve North American investors. In 1910, he directed an amazingly successful propaganda campaign pumping up Mexico’s Centennial while refuting charges of barbarism and rumors of political unrest then circulating. As a result American investment actually increased as Francisco Madero launched his revolution.

Linda Hall has judged Moreno’s book a “highly readable narrative (that) … makes a significant contribution to the field” (cover notes). I found it plodding, uninteresting, and, with the substitution of repetition for analysis, rather less informative than might be expected. Ultimately, when reviewers disagree so sharply, all those interested in the important questions of culture and economy Moreno presents should read and decide for themselves.

William Schell, Jr. is a professor of history at Murray State University in Western Kentucky. He authored Integral Outsiders: The American Colony of Mexico City, 1876-1911 (2001) and “Silver Symbiosis: ReOrienting Mexican Economic History,” Hispanic American Historic Review 81 (2001). His commentary “Opposing Military Tribunals,” aired on NPR’s Morning Edition (Dec. 2001).


Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):Latin America, incl. Mexico and the Caribbean
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Status of Women in Classical Economic Thought

Author(s):Diman, Robert
Nyland, Chris
Reviewer(s):Rima, Ingrid H.

Published by EH.NET (August 2004)


Robert Dimand and Chris Nyland, editors, The Status of Women in Classical Economic Thought. Cheltenham UK: Edward Elgar, 2003. ix + 315 pp. $95 (hardcover), ISBN: 1-8440644-78-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Ingrid H. Rima, Department of Economics, Temple University.

Robert Dimand and Chris Nyland have brought together fifteen essays, six of which have been previously published in leading journals, to examine little known insights that eighteenth and nineteenth century classical economists had about the relatively inferior status of women in their societies. Despite their disparate national backgrounds and areas of contemporary specialization, the contributors’ essays “hang together” surprisingly well. This is surely attributable to the skill of the editors, both in inviting contributions and guiding their cohesiveness. The leitmotif that links them is their recognition that classical economists were neither without interest or voice relating to the status of women. The historical origins of modern day gender conservatism is quite clearly attributable to classical thinkers who, like Jean-Baptiste Say and William Nassau Senior, were politically rather than philosophically oriented. Given the political unrest implicit in the class inequalities of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the concern of Say and Senior was directed chiefly to maintaining civil stability and order in spite of the harsh working conditions of unmarried single mothers and widows. Their argument, which still has present-day adherents, was that the lower wages of women (and their associated poverty) is in large part a reflection of the fact that a man’s wage is necessarily a requisite for a family, rather than a single person. Counterarguments were being expressed in the writings of reformers like Mary Wollstonecraft in her A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), and Priscilla Wakefield’s “Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex” (1798), which extended the relevance of Smith’s productive labor to women. Editor Dimand provides further details about her work in his chapter 10. Along with the insights provided by Evelyn Forget about the alternative work opportunities provided for unmarried women in quasi-convent communities established by the state, and favored by J. B. Say, we learn that the harsh era of post-Napoleonic France was not without influential socially concerned classical thinkers.

While the great English jurist Jeremy Bentham shared the concerns of most conservative English thinkers who feared the repetition in England of the revolutionary attitudes that prevailed in France, he also recognized that English law excluded women from their rightful freedoms and opportunities. Even though Bentham’s Utilitarianism provided a philosophical foundation for greater gender equality as a modus operandi for realizing greater social “happiness,” it was the fear that these revolutionary attitudes were capable of crossing the English Channel that prevailed. The essays in this volume thus establish that the conventional wisdom that classical thinkers, with few exceptions, which included John Stuart Mill and his wife, Harriet, focused almost exclusively on the economic role of men, and were unconcerned with women, is patently untrue. Each of the contributors, Annie L. Cot, Evelyn Forget, Peter Groenewegen, Thomas Heenan, and David Levy, in addition to the two editors, provide analyses that enlighten us about the nature of classicists’ interest in the sources of gender inequalities, and the possibilities for readdressing them.

The secondary theme of the collection — namely that the cultural and economic transformation of the status of women lends itself to explanation in terms of Adam Smith’s “stages of social history” view of economic progress — is presented with less assurance than the first. The origin of Smith’s stages of social history perspective is attributed by editor Nyland to one John Millar, a fellow Scotsman and faculty member at Glasgow. Smith is said to have developed the stages of history perspective in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1766). Nyland explores the theme in two chapters: Chapter 5, “Adam Smith’s Stage Theory and the Status of Women,” and Chapter 6, “Women’s Progress and the End of History.” The essential conclusion of Chapter 5 is that with the achievement of the commercial stage “productivity and wealth accumulation reaches a stage that makes possible very important changes in the state of society and particularly in relation to women” (p. 117). Yet, Millar is reported to have opined that “an end point to the rise of women had (by then) been reached” (p. 120). Thus, in chapter 6 “Women’s Progress and the End of History,” the focus shifts to Malthus’s views on the importance to society of preserving the traditional form of marriage, leading Nyland to an ambivalent assessment of the likely ongoing progress of women and the inference that the social evolution of women may well require a society that has developed beyond capitalism. Nyland further suggests Smith’s “stages of economic development” perspective for explaining the possibilities for changing the status of women has been obscured partly because his Lectures languished unpublished for more than a century, so that “he never published the [stages of history] argument” (p. 6). This is not entirely accurate; the sequel to the Lectures (1766) was his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations (WN) (1776), which carries forward the theme of stages of social history in its Book III “of the Different Progress of Opulence in Different Nations.” This is the briefest and least studied part of the five books comprising The Wealth of Nations, and has yet to receive the critical attention it deserves. With this book, Smith is returning to the “stages of social history” theme introduced earlier in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1766) to speculate about the origin of economic surplus and its role in the relationship between “the higher and lower orders” of the economic hierarchy.

Joseph Schumpeter once observed that the materials of Book III of WN would have made an excellent starting point for an historical sociology of economic life (Schumpeter 1954, p.187.) Smith’s focus in the Lectures is on the societal aspects of economic behavior, and on the institutions within which the economic process is carried out during the stages of economic development that preceded the nascent industrial economy of the England of his own day. This differs from the perspective of the four other books, in which Smith’s focus is on the relationship between economic rather than social classes.

Class conflict (of which gender conflict is surely an integral part) is the likely outcome when the stationary state “in which that full complement of riches which the nature and its institutions permits it to acquire” (Smith 1776, I, viii, p. 82) — in which there are no ongoing additions to the economic surplus — has been attained. When the growth process becomes attenuated at some future time that is still too distant to contemplate, with the emergence of a stationary state (which Smith describes China as having already achieved), the inference can be made that gender conflict is as likely to become aggravated as class conflict. The prospect for both gender and class conflict in a “slow growth” or “no growth” economy seems inevitable as those who are poor come to recognize they are involved in a zero-sum game.

A difficulty that is encountered in understanding Book III is that it is often necessary to interpolate passages from the Lectures and from other Books of WN to develop Smith’s underlying historical perspective and their relationship to class enmity. Thus it seems that the extension of Smith’s stages of social history perspective to incorporate gender conflict (as well as class conflict) requires a linking of the argument to the growth of society’s social surplus, which is ongoing until the advent of the stationary state. The conflict to which the classical economists addressed themselves is among social classes — workers (women as well as men), capitalists and landlords. Book III extends the stages of history analysis from the Lectures to anticipate that class conflict is the likely outcome when the stationary state is reached. It is surprising to encounter the renaming of the classical stationary state, which is so central to classical thinking, especially after Smith, as “the end of history stage.”

Be that as it may, this is a small distraction that does not take away from the recognition this volume provides about the contributions of classical thinkers to the origins of gender conflict.


Ingrid Rima (1998) “Class Conflict and Adam Smith’s Stages of Social History”, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 20 (1).

Joseph Schumpeter (1954), History of Economic Analysis, Oxford University Press, New York.

Adam Smith (1937 [1776]) The Wealth of Nations, Modern Library, New York.

Ingrid Rima’s publications include Development of Economic Analysis, Routledge (sixth edition), 2000.


Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century