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Divergent Paths: How Culture and Institutions Have Shaped North American Growth

Author(s):Egnal, Marc
Reviewer(s):Carlson, Leonard

Published by EH.NET (August 1998)

Marc Egnal, Divergent Paths: How Culture and Institutions Have Shaped North

American Growth. New York, Oxford University Press, 1996. xi + 300 pp.

$19.95 (paper), ISBN: 0-19-510906.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Leonard Carlson, Department of Economics, Emory Univers


This book is provocative, informative, and fun-to-read. In the preface,

Marc Egnal, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto,

states that the book “. . . explores the impact of institutions (such as


and the seigniorial system) and culture (including religion,

literacy, and the entrepreneurial spirit, and intellectual activity) on

development” (p. vii). How institutions and culture shape economic growth are,

of course, important and controversial topics in economic history.

Egnal ventures into territory that is both novel and familiar. The work

compares the U.S. North, U.S. South, and Quebec. His single most important

contribution is his comparison of Quebec with the U.S. South and U.S.

North. Most comparative work has ignored Quebec and this has been a big

omission. An example of the familiar is Egnal’s use of Max Weber’s

“Protestant Ethic” hypothesis.

Egnal draws on the debates as to whether colonial British North America was


” or not, and a similar debate about Quebec. In a nutshell,

his conclusion is that all three regions were similarly pre-capitalist in

outlook and had comparable standards of living in 1750. The North,

however, had a tradition of thrift and hard work that differed from the South

and Quebec. Drawing on these traditions in the century after 1750,

the North became truly “capitalist,” while the South and Quebec stayed

hierarchical and pre-capitalist. To Egnal, capitalism is distinct from

capitalists. Capitalists could operate in the South and Quebec without their

values dominating the social and economic life of either region. By contrast

he concludes that capitalist values favoring entrepreneurship,

risk taking, and profits dominated in the North, making it truly capitalist.

I am on the side of those who do not find it useful to draw a distinction

between capitalist and pre-capitalist societies, but Egnal is part of a large

tradition that sees this as important.

Chapter one, “the paths diverge,” sets

the stage for the arguments that follow. Egnal makes a good case that as of

1750 there was relatively little difference in the material standard of living

in Quebec, the North,

and the South. All three were traditional, agricultural, slow growing, and

pre-literate (although literacy was widespread in the Northeast, according to

Egnal, it was not important in the economic realm). The South, with its wealth

in slaves and export-oriented economy was something of a special case, but

still pre-capitalist and hierarchical. By 1840, however, per capita incomes

in the North (the eight original northern states) were much higher than either

the South (the five original southern states) or Quebec.

The North also led the other two regions in urbanization and manu facturing.

The fact that Egnal leaves out the western states at this point in the

comparison is important. As he discusses in later chapters, the North Central

states in 1840 had lower than average per capita incomes while states in the

South Central region had much higher per capita incomes.

Since there was a notable east-west pattern of migration, many scholars treat

the old northwestern states as an extension of the “North,” and the old

southwestern states as an extension of the “South.” Egnal might

be right in limiting his comparison to the same states in 1750 and 1850, but

since it is so favorable to his argument, he could do more to justify the

choice. Similarly, the use of per capita income in 1840 is important,

since the south was a slave society and slaves are both part of the population

and treated as a capital asset. Thus most scholars discuss both per capita

income and per capita income of free persons. Egnal does discuss the

distributional consequences of slavery, but his arrangement of

the data in a way most supportive of his argument is typical of the book’s


Egnal is building a case that culture and institutions matter, not trying to

reject the null-hypothesis that there is no difference.

Chapters two through four look at the eighteenth-century origins of the

differences among the regions. As Egnal sees it, even in the eighteenth

century, there was a ” . . . gulf separating the entrepreneurial North and the

other two regions that were less concerned with money making” (p. 21


Egnal supports his claims by citing evidence from sources ranging from the

writings of contemporary observers to examples of how people chose to be

depicted in family portraits. Contemporary observers described the French as

more luxury loving and less concerned with making money than New Englanders.

Similarly, contemporaries saw the southerners as more concerned with luxurious

living and “lazier”

than northerners. In paintings, wealthy northerners had themselves portrayed

as busy and prosperous, while wealthy southerners had themselves pictured as

idle aristocrats. Quebecois portrayed themselves as pious. In contrast to

more quantitative historians,

Egnal uses this type of “soft evidence” to illustrate his points.

Legal structures also differed

among the regions. French Canada had the seignorial system and property rights

that made it hard to sell land outside the family. These feudal vestiges and

the outlook that went with them persisted after the English takeover of Canada

in 1765. The South had bound labor and, in Egnal’s view, slave labor was

obviously less motivated and efficient than free labor (a claim that Robert

Fogel and Stanley Engerman would dispute). French Canadian society was based

on traditions and hierarchy in the eighteenth

century and remained so throughout the nineteenth. By contrast southern

colonies developed new institutions as fast as the north, but plantation

agriculture and slavery lead to a commitment to hierarchy and status missing in

the north. Egnal sees the shared commitment to a hierarchical society as

factors that united the South and Quebec and caused both regions to trail the

northeast for so long. It is important, however, to keep in mind that the

North had a higher per capita income than any other region in the world except

Australia in 1860, not just Quebec and the South (Fogel and Engerman,

Time on the Cross, 1974, p. 250).

In chapters five through eight, Egnal argues that the differences in attitudes

played out in the growing differences among the three regions.

He conducts an imaginary dialogue with an advocate of the view that the South

was as profit oriented and rational as the North, and he rejects that claim.

Intellectually, the North in the nineteenth century had entered an “age of


. . . individualism, optimism, enthusiasm,

and reform.” (p. 120) These ideas helped make the North ready for the changes

needed to sustain modern economic growth. By contrast,

the southern intellectuals were closed off to new ideas, as the defense of

slavery became more intense. Similarly, Quebec saw the triumph of the Catholic

Church and a commitment to tradition.

This is not to say that Quebec and the South were identical. The French stayed

close to home, reflecting a desire to remain close to hearth and home that

Egnal traces back to the original unwillingness of the French to move to the

New World. Southerners were willing to move, but not to pursue manufacturing

and other risky activities in the same way as the northerners. In these


Egnal discusses the high rates of interstate migration of southern slaveholders

and high relative incomes in the southwest. From 1860 to 1940, incomes in the

South and Quebec remained low relative to both the North and English-speaking

Canada. Racism and

the politics of segregation may have held back the South, but what held back

Quebec? Gavin Wright (Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern

Economy Since the Civil War, 1986) emphasizes the isolation of the southern

labor market and the lack

of outside investment as key factors in the slow growth of the South. A

question for further research is whether Quebec was isolated in a similar way.

Chapter ten looks at the convergence of Quebec and the U.S. South to levels

close to the rest of the U

.S. and English-speaking Canada. Incomes in Quebec converged in the

mid-sixties, somewhat later than for the deep South. Egnal sees the narrowing

as based on the convergence of mind-sets. Southerners and Quebecois became

more entrepreneurial while New England businessmen became less aggressive and

more risk averse.

Again, adding Quebec changes the focus away from race. Did the Catholic

traditions and the active participation of the church lead to a lack of

entrepeneurship in Quebec in the first half of

the twentieth century? Did an increasing secularization change Quebec? Why

did New Englanders loose their edge (or did they?)?

In chapter 11, the author brings the story up to the present. This is,

perhaps inevitably, the weakest chapter. Egnal sees

the period since 1975 as the “Post-Industrial” economy. Fair enough, but it is

hard to use the tools of the historian to analyze the recent past, since it is

still too soon to know what will prove to be of lasting importance and what is


In the end, the value of this book lies in the thought-provoking questions it

raises, not with the definitive answers it provides. I still don’t know how to

test whether many of the “cultural factors” that Egnal cites are a cause of

lower incomes, an effect,

or a mere coincidence. But if “culture and institutions” (however defined) do

not explain the differences among the North and the other two regions, what

does provide the explanation? If they do provide the answer, we need to refine

the concepts to exp lain how this process worked. It is to Marc Egnal’s credit

that he raises these issues in such an interesting way.

Leonard A. Carlson Department of Economics Emory University

Leonard Carlson is author of Indians, Bureaucrats, and Land: The Dawes Act

the the Decline of Indian Farming(1981), “The Economics and Politics of

Irrigation Projects on Indian Reservations,” in Linda Barrington (ed), The

Other Side of the Frontier (forthcoming), and other articles on U.S. and

southern economic history.

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Alexander Hamilton on Finance, Credit, and Debt

Author(s):Sylla, Richard
Cowen, David J.
Reviewer(s):McNamara, Peter

Published by EH.Net (November 2018)

Richard Sylla and David J. Cowen, Alexander Hamilton on Finance, Credit, and Debt. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. xii + 346 pp. $30 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-231-18456-4.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Peter McNamara, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, Arizona State University.

“The effect of energy and system is to vulgar and feeble minds a kind of magic which they do not comprehend and thus they make false interpretation of the most obvious facts. The people of several parts of the state relieved and happy by the effects of the assumption execrate the measure with its authors to which they owe the blessing” (p. 289). So wrote Alexander Hamilton in his “Defense of the Funding System,” soon after resigning his post as the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. “The Defense” is one of a number of Hamilton’s economic writings that have not received the scholarly attention they deserve. The piece contains not only polemics and technical discussions of Hamilton’s financial program, it also contains a number of important philosophical reflections, rare in Hamilton’s writings, on the nature, especially the moral costs and benefits, of commercial societies. Richard Sylla, professor emeritus at the Stern School of Business at New York University and David J. Cowen, president and CEO of the Museum of American Finance have included the “Defense” in their new collection of Hamilton’s writings, Alexander Hamilton on Finance, Credit, and Debt.

In addition to drawing attention to neglected documents, Sylla and Cowen’s broader goal with this volume is to create a kind of Hamiltonian primer on public finance, to explain its magic to “citizens, financiers, and policy makers” (p. 322). To this end, they have brought together writings from across Hamilton’s career beginning with the young soldier thinking through the political and financial woes of the would-be new republic. In an effort to make Hamilton’s ideas more accessible, Sylla and Cowen have engaged in a drastic pruning of Hamilton’s voluminous, sometimes prolix output and have modernized spelling and punctuation. By my rough count, they have trimmed over 100,000 words, almost 60 percent of the original documents. The result is a unique, highly readable, and very useful collection of Hamilton’s writings on political economy, broadly understood. By including documents that are usually overlooked, they also give us a fuller picture of Hamilton.

Hamilton displayed a remarkable consistency in his economic thinking over the years. As noted, he began to think through the American situation while on Washington’s staff and quickly identified the most important problems. For solutions, he looked to the Dutch and British examples for guidance and to writers such as David Hume, James Steuart, Malachy Postlethwayt, and later Jacques Necker and Adam Smith. The lessons he learned were many but the key lesson, according to Sylla and Cowen, was that what the United States needed was a “financial revolution” of the kind the Dutch and British had experienced. Sylla and Cowen acknowledge the contributions of their sometime collaborator Robert E. Wright of Augustana College in developing this particular interpretation of Hamilton and of America’s economic take-off. What specifically was needed? Based on his inquiries: a national bank, a sound currency, assumption of the states’ Revolutionary War debt, an efficient and equitable tax system, and most immediately a plan to restore the public credit of the United States, then a bankrupt nation. Hamilton and the United States benefited from being late arrivers because they were able to innovate on Dutch and British precedents. This is, for example, evident in Hamilton’s plan for a national bank. As the editors point out, the Bank of the United States differed from the Bank of England as regards its voting procedures, its partial government ownership, its species reserve requirements, and branch banking. Hamilton’s vision and recommendations went beyond matters of pure public finance. If it was to realize its potential, the American private sector economy needed modernization as well. Hamilton recommended the encouragement of manufactures through modest tariffs and a variety of other government incentives. According to Sylla and Cowen, however, the critical thing was to make capital readily available to entrepreneurs. The Bank of the United States was one way to do this. It could lend to entrepreneurs and it provided the states with an incentive to encourage the creation of banks and a model to emulate. The editors include documents relative to Hamilton’s drafting of charters for the Bank of New York and the Merchants Bank (also of New York).

Hamilton’s neglected final report on public credit of January 15, 1795 is included in the volume. A clearly irritated Madison characterized it as Hamilton’s “arrogant valedictory Report” (p. 231). Hamilton did remark that the nation’s finances were “prosperous beyond expectation” (p. 239), a judgement with which Madison took issue. This piece is most important because it clarifies Hamilton’s views on public debt which were misunderstood at the time and have often been since. In a 1781 letter to Robert Morris, Hamilton had written that “A national debt if it is not excessive will be to us a national blessing; it will be powerful cement of our union” (p. 45). Hamilton enemies believed that he saw maintaining a high level of public debt as a weapon for subverting republican government. They feared a class of permanent government pensioners living off the debt would support the government and in turn the government would be beholden to them. Hamilton’s final report made clear his views. He warned against high levels of public debt and given the inevitability of future government borrowing he advised that new debt should be incurred only if the means of extinguishing it were also created. With respect to the current debt he proposed a plan that would extinguish it in thirty years. As matters turned out, it was forty years until Andrew Jackson (much as he loathed the Hamiltonian system) could announce in 1835 that the debt had been paid off. This period, of course, included the War of 1812, which by itself more than doubled the national debt at the time.

Hamilton does not fit neatly into contemporary categories. Free market economists will have difficulties with some of Hamilton’s argument about trade and with his belief that funding the debt would add to the nation’s stock of “active capital.” Notwithstanding the success of Hamilton: An American Musical, contemporary progressives will find Hamilton’s enthusiastic embrace of business and modern finance off-putting to say the least. Nor, it must be emphasized, does Hamilton provide us with ready answers for today’s problems. During the 2008 financial crisis, would Hamilton have bailed out the banks or would he have provided relief to embattled home-owners? Or would he, given his remarkable inventiveness, have come up with some third option? We cannot know. That said, there is much to learn from this collection of writings by the man who more than any other of the time thought through the complex problems of securing American power and prosperity.

Peter McNamara is the author of Political Economy and Statesmanship: Smith, Hamilton and the Foundation of the Commercial Republic.

Copyright (c) 2018 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 ( Published by EH.Net (November 2018). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):18th Century

California Greenin’: How the Golden State Became an Environmental Leader

Author(s):Vogel, David
Reviewer(s):Kanazawa, Mark

Published by EH.Net (November 2018)

David Vogel, California Greenin’: How the Golden State Became an Environmental Leader. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. xi + 280 pp. $30 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-691-17955-1.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Mark Kanazawa, Department of Economics, Carleton College.

This is a highly readable broad-sweep account of California environmental history in a nutshell. But it goes way beyond mere description to advance a thesis that explains how California has attained a position of leadership among U.S. states in environmental policy, while still managing to support a vibrant economy. The argument is essentially a series of stories of how environmental policy has been shaped by competing political and economic interests. The basic thesis, stripped to its bare bones, is that three factors have made California’s enviable position possible: citizen mobilization, selective support from businesses, and a steady growth in regulatory capacity over time.

The argument progresses in a nicely-structured series of chapters that literally span the history of the state. The first substantive chapter is about gold mining, which was the main environmental issue of nineteenth century California, especially after use of the environmentally destructive process of hydraulic mining became widespread. It then proceeds to devote a chapter to each of the main environmental issues — land protection, coastal protection, water management, clean air policy, and energy policy — that the state has experienced, in a series of overlapping phases, over time. It turns out that each issue has presented a different set of challenges because of differences in factors that fostered citizen mobilization and in the economic stakes of different segments of the business community. The contrasting ways in which the politics and economics of each issue played out is used to illustrate the roles played by citizen mobilization and business stakes. The overall explanation is compelling and nuanced.

A key recurring theme is the active support for environmental protection by some businesses, not out of any sort of humanitarian concerns but rather, when it was in their own best interests. In cases where the business community was unified in opposition, it was typically difficult to enact effective environmental protection. However, when business was divided, we often observed unholy alliances between some set of businesses on the one hand, and citizens and environmental groups on the other, to enact environmental policy. This “bootleggers and baptists” coalition idea has been around since at least the early 1990s but has made surprisingly modest headway in penetrating popular debates over environmental policy, which all-too-often portray businesses as staunchly and unreservedly anti-environmental. In contrast, Vogel shows how commonly such unholy alliances have appeared in California environmental history.

Another recurring theme is the importance of the visibility and salience of environmental problems in mobilizing citizen support for environmental protection. What has often mattered in California history in rousing citizens to action has been direct experience with environmental degradation. For example, offshore oil drilling that sometimes caused damaging oil spills led irate coastal communities to effectively push for coastal protection. On the other hand, environmental problems that were out of sight — such as the famous flooding of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley to provide San Francisco with drinking water — were often out of mind and failed to provoke the necessary citizen ire to bring out sufficient support for environmental protection. On a number of occasions, physical topography was a key factor that increased the salience of a particular environmental problem. For example, the fact that the Central Valley was basically a floodplain exacerbated the environmental damages of hydraulic mining. And later on, the peculiar topography of the Los Angeles basin trapped smog at a very early date, leading to early demands for policies to control air pollution.

Much of the argument of this book will resonate with many public choice scholars, who may interpret the episodes as reflecting the imperatives of political coalition building, conditioned by perceived stakes and transaction costs of political organization. Relatively large and concentrated stakes in policy outcomes have mattered a great deal. Divisions across different business sectors have increased the political transaction costs of the business community. Citizen and environmental groups have been galvanized by environmental problems that posed clear and present dangers. Droughts, smog events, and oil spills all served to provoke demands for changes in environmental policy.

Perhaps the biggest question I have concerns the broader lessons of the California experience for environmental policy more generally, in other contexts and looking forward into the future. On one level, it is hard to argue against the ideas that direct personal experience with environmental problems galvanize popular support for policy and that ‘bootleggers and Baptists” coalitions may arise. Both of these seem clearly correct. However, given the present state of extreme political polarization and ideology-based opposition to policy actions on issues like climate change, one wonders about the explanatory limitations of a narrative that focuses on relative special interests while largely ignoring the role of ideology.

It is striking to me, for example, that except perhaps for the concluding substantive chapter on energy use and climate change, political parties are largely invisible in Vogel’s story. This is counter to a number of narratives that highlight the importance of political parties, such as Robert Kelley’s scholarship on nineteenth century hydraulic mining, and my own reading of the early historical development of California state water policy. As an economist, I would not be inclined to go on the record as arguing that ideological factors swamp economic pressures: I do not believe that they do. Indeed, there is something ironic in an economist criticizing a political scientist for not paying more attention to party politics. However, lessons from these areas and others lead me to believe that models based solely on relative economic interests, though powerful in many respects, may be too simple and perhaps misleading in enabling us to draw lessons regarding effective environmental policy for the future. Especially now in our present political climate where too many people are calling climate change a “hoax” and science is sometimes demonized by a significant portion of the population.

These concerns aside, however, this book is well worth reading for its careful, detailed, judicious, and sensible interpretation of the historical record. On the whole, this may be the best single brief overview of California environmental history that I have read. In this book, David Vogel continues to cement his well-deserved reputation as one of our leading scholars in the academic study of environmental regulation and policy.

Mark Kanazawa is Wadsworth A. Williams Professor of Economics at Carleton College. His recent book Golden Rules: The Origins of California Water Law in the Gold Rush was published in 2015 by University of Chicago Press.

Copyright (c) 2018 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 ( Published by EH.Net (November 2018). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State

Author(s):Rao, Gautham
Reviewer(s):Brown, Kate Elizabeth

Published by EH.Net (October 2018)

Gautham Rao, National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. xiii + 273 pp. $45 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-226-36707-1.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Kate Elizabeth Brown, Department of History, Western Kentucky University.



Historians have long called attention to the fact that the American marketplace, and the capitalists doing business in it, rely on the power of the state. For example, Sven Beckert’s recent tome, Empire of Cotton, makes this case for the U.S. as well as across the globe, while William Novak’s The People’s Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America highlights the many regulatory interventions made by the federal and state governments in nineteenth century America. The marketplace and the state have never existed in separate spheres from each other; instead, they are mutually dependent. This interconnectedness is at the heart of National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State by Gautham Rao, who further demonstrates how law, commerce, and state-building went hand-in-hand in the early American republic.

Rao, an associate professor of history at American University, focuses on the revolutionary and early republic eras to explore how merchants and shippers helped to “define the boundaries of the state” during the United States’ decades-long transition from imperial colonies to established republic (p. 10). The key to building and sustaining a thriving American republic, Rao tells us, lay in the customs house. For the young, indebted republic to survive — let alone to become the fiscal-military state the founders envisioned — the U.S. would have to understand the “negotiated authority between officeholders and merchants that had helped cohere the British Empire [and] would help sustain the early federal government on its maritime frontier” (p. 12)

This negotiated authority was a discretionary authority, and Rao’s excellent narrative describes how political crises of the era oftentimes were precipitated by a disintegration of negotiations between merchants and customs officers. When, for example, the British Parliament decided to raise revenue in the wake of the Seven Years’ War, the ensuing crack-down on smuggling as well as collecting customs revenue helped precipitate imperial crisis and ultimately, American independence from the bonds of British empire. The next crisis — what to do now that the United States won its independence — raised the question of whether or not American statesmen had learned anything from the 1760s and 1770s. Atlantic-world trade remained the most important way for individual states as well as the United States to raise revenue; but could the new secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, raise enough revenue to stave off national bankruptcy without alienating merchants (as the British failed to do)?

As usual, Hamilton proved up to the task. But the real heroes of Rao’s story are the many collectors of customs, naval officers, surveyors, and inspectors who ultimately reported to the secretary of the treasury, but were on the front-lines of negotiations with local merchants. These customs officials realized the need for discretionary authority when dealing with importers, and thus they did the real work of negotiating when to assert the power of the state, and when to let merchants do as they wished. Note, however, that this negotiated authority was not corruption; most of the discretionary authority wielded by customs officials arose from the fuzziness of statutory law. This allowed collectors to plausibly interpret the law in ways that benefited merchants, allowing them more time before paying back duty bonds, for example. Statutory vagaries and customary practice even prompted customs officials to allow smuggling during the embargoes put into place by the Washington and Jefferson administrations.

Rao’s exploration of the power of the maritime frontier is particularly good when he explores the nitty-gritty of the customs house, including the myriad duties of personnel stationed at the waterfront or the many ways in which Congress’s poorly constructed laws created the necessary gray areas for negotiated authority. The Federalists in charge of the customs houses in the 1790s were good at turning imprecise statutory language and loopholes into opportunities to please importing merchants, all the while collecting revenue for the U.S. Treasury. But revenue collection was not the only benefit for the young republic. As Rao explains, “The cozy relationship between customs houses and commerce did much to legitimize the new federal government” because the collectors’ “careful manipulation of the laws” illustrated how the government gained authority over and credibility with local merchants, and by extension, the local community (p. 88).

Federalists successfully negotiated the first implementation of revenue laws. But after the uncertainties of transatlantic trade under Washington’s neutrality policy as well as the heightened tensions of the Quasi-War with France, Republican customs officials had their turn to negotiate with local merchants. They, too, understood the benefits of negotiated authority at the waterfront — even if it meant defying policies set by the Jefferson administration — and remained exercising it until revenue-related scandals, new administrative oversight, and Jacksonian patronage ultimately ended the customs officers’ authority to interpret the law with discretion.

Rao is an excellent legal historian and National Duties reflects this through the compelling case it makes for state building at the waterfront in the early American republic. Still, Rao occasionally cannot fully account for the successes of this negotiated authority — for example, why importing merchants were more willing to pay into the U.S. treasury than the British treasury. But this never diminishes the strength of his argument, or his account of a young republic gaining legitimacy through difficult geo-political circumstances. He excels when he describes legal forces at work — particularly when he takes us into the courtroom, something I wish he would have done more of at the outset of the book. The only substantive oversight in his story might be Rao’s lack of attention to the other government agents influencing the waterfront: the district attorneys and district court judges who, along with customs officials, helped to hold importers accountable to the law. Also there are some copy editing issues that proved distracting. Nevertheless, National Duties is a well-researched, well-written account of statebuilding, law, and commerce in the formative years of the young American republic.

Kate Elizabeth Brown is an assistant professor of history at Western Kentucky University. The University Press of Kansas recently published her first book Alexander Hamilton and the Development of American Law.

Copyright (c) 2018 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 ( Published by EH.Net (October 2018). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century

Before the Neoliberal Turn: The Rise of Energy Finance and the Limits to U.S. Foreign Economic Policy

Author(s):Selva, Simone
Reviewer(s):Naef, Alain

Published by EH.Net (October 2018)

Simone Selva, Before the Neoliberal Turn: The Rise of Energy Finance and the Limits to U.S. Foreign Economic Policy. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. xv + 423 pp. $75 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-137-57442-8.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Alain Naef, Department of Economics, University of Cambridge.

An abundant literature focuses on Bretton Woods on the one hand, or the liberalization of markets and exchange rates in the 1970s and 1980s on the other. Little is known on the transition between these two periods, however. Simone Selva’s book attempts to make sense of this transition before the “Neoliberal Turn” in the late 1970s, by giving an account of U.S. currency and the functioning of the international monetary system. A Research Fellow in the history of international economic relations at the University of Naples L’Orientale, Selva brings an interesting approach to the subject, specifically tracking the role of the dollar from the 1950s to the late 1970s. Indeed, U.S. balance of payments issues first found their roots in Europe and were linked to postwar loans in the 1960s before the problem moved to Gulf countries in the 1970s. Petrodollars accumulated by oil producing countries had to be disposed of without causing the dollar to suffer. The book explores the struggles of different U.S. presidents to manage both their balance of payments and the dollar.

Chapter 2 describes how American balance of payment deficits in the 1960s conflicted with the country’s military objectives across the world. The Vietnam War was one of these commitments and was a strong inflationary force. As the Federal Reserve increased the money supply to support the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, the dollar weakened, eroding the U.S. competitive position in global markets. Chapter 3 shows how successive devaluations in Europe put more pressure on the U.S. balance of payments. The 1967 devaluation of sterling especially destabilized U.S. policies. This chapter also offers a detailed narrative of the gold crisis in 1967-68, when the price of gold surged and the Gold Pool was disbanded. The author nicely shows how troubles in the USSR prompted the regime to sell gold on the international gold market.

In Chapter 4, Selva argues that inflationary pressures were building up long before the first oil crisis of 1973 — arguing in effect that not all 1970s inflation can be blamed on the price of oil. He describes the Nixon Administration struggling to understand the link between developments in energy markets and the international monetary system. The chapter also offers an interesting account of how U.S. policymakers pushed American banks to open branches in Gulf countries, in an attempt to increase U.S. manufacturing and financial service exports to dollar surplus countries. These U.S. banks then channeled money into the Eurodollar (or Eurocurrency) market in London, where it was then loaned to European countries with balance of payments deficits. This was possible only as long as the Eurodollar market was capable of absorbing currency from oil producing countries.

Around 1974 OPEC countries shifted their investment from short-term (mainly Eurodollar) investments, to long-term ones (mainly loans to governments). Chapter 5 explores what happened when OPEC dollar surpluses overtook the Eurodollar market’s ability to absorb them. Oil producing countries began offering loans directly to governments starting with Egypt, Syria, and France, expanding to other Western countries. The American administration realized that direct investments in the U.S. would have a less detrimental effect on the dollar. Despite public outcry and fears of oil producing countries taking over U.S. firms, the Ford administration promoted direct petrodollar investment into the country. The Treasury actively encouraged OPEC investments in the US, which Selva illustrates with the example of a $100 million investment in telecoms giant AT&T, “openly approved by the Ford Administration” (p. 301).

The research is well documented with archival material across Europe and the U.S. Beyond the archives from international financial institutions, governments, and central banks, the author also relies on archives from the CIA which offer an objective and strategic assessment of the international monetary questions at the time. Selva does not shy away from the complexity of the international monetary system and manages to connect the domestic situation in the U.S. to the troubles of the international monetary system with skill. However, he sometimes lets this complexity cloud the clarity of his argument. The writing is dense. Some paragraphs extend over many pages, some sentences over many lines.

Nonetheless, Simone Selva’s contribution is a solid piece of serious scholarship that helps better understand the origins of the 1970s oil crisis, and how the U.S. managed its balance of payments. It offers a review of American policies at the point when markets became more open and oil production took the center stage in international finance. As such, this detailed analysis will benefit financial historians of the period as well as scholars interested in energy finance and modern American historians.



Alain Naef is a teaching fellow at the Economics Faculty of the University of Cambridge, where he is finishing a PhD on the role of reserve currencies during the Bretton Woods period. His latest working paper on the Gold Pool with Michael Bordo and Eric Monnet is available at and his work on central bank intervention is available at

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Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Economic Planning and Policy
Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Middle East
North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Open Sea: The Economic Life of the Ancient Mediterranean World from the Iron Age to the Rise of Rome

Author(s):Manning, J.G.
Reviewer(s):Harper, Kyle

Published by EH.Net (October 2018)

J.G. Manning, The Open Sea: The Economic Life of the Ancient Mediterranean World from the Iron Age to the Rise of Rome. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018. xxvii + 414 pp. $28 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-691-15174-8.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Kyle Harper, Department of Classics and Letters, University of Oklahoma.

We could easily imagine the equivalent of 1066 and All That for ancient economic history. First, following the technological advances and entrepreneurial audacity of the Phoenicians, the Greeks set sail and became traders and colonizers across the Mediterranean; they flourished until Alexander brought an end to the age of creativity and experiment. Then the Romans strode onto the scene. With a combination of military power and legal expertise, they not only came to rule the Mediterranean but unified it into a common economic zone. That lasted for a while too, before the rot set in and another Dark Age arrived. This caricature probably has more purchase than we would care to admit. J. G. Manning’s The Open Sea is in every way the opposite of such a potted view of classical economic history, one that asks us to consider everything before and in between the traditional highlights. It is a geographically, chronologically, and thematically expansive treatment of economic history in the millennium or so between the Bronze Age collapse and the ascent of Rome.

Manning’s expertise is in Ptolemaic Egypt, and he asks us to consider the economic history of Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Near East on their own, not simply as sources (e.g. of coinage or the alphabet) or precursors to the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome. Although the treatment is still strongly tilted toward the eastern Mediterranean (there is little here on the Celts or Etruscans), the lens is wider than usual. Of course, it is not simply prejudice or notions of “the classical heritage” that cause historians to focus on Athens and Rome. That is where much of the evidence is. Manning is often forced to work from limited sources, but he ably makes the most of the exiguous record, particularly calling upon the papyrological remains from Hellenistic Egypt. He convincingly argues that many of the institutional and technological developments that facilitated economic progress happened outside the classical zones or perhaps along the margins, in the exchange between various cultures around the sea. Change was gradual and evolutionary, and often happened in response to stress — in the interplay between growth and instability.

The Open Sea is thematically organized. There is no overarching narrative, and the reader is presented a series of essays reflecting on various interconnected themes. The first part of the book, “History and Theory,” might be of more interest to scholars of antiquity than economists; the lengthy debate (by all accounts put to bed more than a generation ago as overly “Manichean,” Manning’s own term on pages 5 and 269) between “primitivists” and “modernists” is recounted — competently but at some length. Economists might want to start with the end, by reading Chapter 8, “Growth, Innovation, Markets, and Trade.” Manning argues that there were periods of genuine, intensive growth — what Goldstone called “efflorescences” — but these were not sustained in the long run. Growth was due to technical innovation (e.g. better ships and irrigation devices or even plant stock) or institutional advances (e.g. better legal frameworks or monetary systems or credit markets). The New Institutional Economics is an important influence throughout. Growth was interrupted or reversed by Malthusian stagnation, interstate violence, or environmental shocks. Was there real growth overall in the period covered by The Open Sea? Here the book is equivocal — or restrained. There were more people, and better technologies, in 200 BC than there had been in 1000 BC, and Roman advances would build directly on the platform created by the late Hellenistic states, but whether per capita incomes had changed overall remains a challenging and perhaps intractable question. What we cannot doubt is that even though incomes may have remained close to subsistence on a per capita basis, this was a period of dynamism and development. Societies were larger, more complex, and more interconnected at the beginning than at the end.

The truly new ground explored in The Open Sea lies at the intersection of environmental and economic history. The Open Sea fits in with other recent work that underscores the importance of exogenous shocks in cycles of development and disruption. Manning provides a thoughtful overview of the challenges and prospects we face in integrating the paleoclimate into the study of ancient economies. He reviews the kinds of evidence now at our disposal in the form of paleoclimate proxies, surveying their strengths and limitations. The focus is heavily on volcanism, one of the most important mechanisms of short-term forcing in Holocene climate variability and change. Volcanic eruptions could trigger sudden, sharp cooling as well as disturbance in the Nile inundation, and Manning carefully teases out the causal pathways through which this particular kind of environmental shock could reverberate throughout economic and socio-political systems. Of course, The Open Sea also shows how much work remains to be done, particularly in trying to measure the impact of climate change on agricultural productivity (which must have been significant not only in the Nile Valley but elsewhere) and therefore economic performance. Readers can hope this study prepares the way for testing bold hypotheses about the direction and magnitude of relationships between the environment and the economy.

In a synthesis this broad, any reader is likely to find a theme that could have received a deeper engagement. Given the book’s exciting openness to environmental history and the natural sciences, more attention might have been given to the role of biological change, and infectious diseases in particular, as a source of instability. This possibility is repeatedly recognized but never pursued, yet given the fundamental importance of demography and demographic movements in premodern economic systems, and the role of mortality shocks in demographic movements, a clearer provisional map of what we know and don’t know about the first millennium BC remains a major desideratum. There is a passing reference to the Plague of Thucydides (overconfidently diagnosed as typhus or smallpox) and “a series of plagues” from the 420s to 360s BC (p. 179). It could be pointed out that these “plagues” are probably not bubonic plague, but rather pestilences with unidentified pathogenic agents. Similarly, the Justinianic Plague is called “the first recorded pandemic,” and while it was the first recorded pandemic of bubonic plague, it was not the first major pandemic, considering the scope of the Antonine Plague (from 165 AD) and the Plague of Cyprian (from ~249 AD). The evidence for infectious disease in the first millennium BC is not as good as for the Roman Empire and early Middle Ages, so this will be a challenging research frontier, but we need fresh hypotheses about how to conceptualize the first millennium in the broader history of health and mortality.

The Open Sea is an expert and bracing survey of what we can know from traditional, current, and cutting-edge approaches to ancient economies, particularly in times and places that fall outside the canonical “Golden Ages” of the classical past.

Kyle Harper is Professor of Classics and Letters — and Senior Vice President and Provost — at the University of Oklahoma. His research focuses on the social and economic history of the period spanning the Roman Empire and the early middle ages. He is the author of Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275-425 (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (Princeton University Press, 2017).

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Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Middle East
Time Period(s):Ancient

Routledge Handbook of the History of Global Economic Thought

Editor(s):Barnett, Vincent
Reviewer(s):McCann, Charles R. Jr.

Published by EH.Net (October 2018)

Vincent Barnett, editor, Routledge Handbook of the History of Global Economic Thought. London: Routledge, 2015. ix + 348 pp. $255 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-415-50849-0.

Reviewed by Charles R. McCann, Jr., Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh.

This volume, viewed by the editor as a Cosmoconomy or Economographia, is but a “modest attempt to map the global contour-lines of economic ideas” — modest, that is, with respect to Ptolemy’s Cosmographia, itself “an early attempt to delineate the world’s physical geography” (p. 1). The editor freely admits to a lack of comprehensiveness, instead opting for “a condensed introductory overview and regionally coordinated analytical account of a significant number of national/regional traditions in economics . . . that will facilitate comparisons across nations and between historical eras” (p. 1).

In addition to Barnett’s Introduction and Conclusion, there are twenty-eight substantive chapters surveying the progress of economic thought as it developed in more than forty countries and regions. The volume is divided into five parts: Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific. Coverage includes not merely individual countries, but as well entire regions and even cultural groups, such as Spanish-speaking South America, Arab-Islamic Economics, North Africa (included among the Middle-Eastern countries), West Africa, Southern Africa, and the Asian Tigers.

Given the scope of the coverage, and the different approaches employed, it is not surprising that the quality and tone of each is uneven. The chapters are, for the most part, approximately ten pages or less in length, with two notable exceptions, these being the chapter on the United States (John King, 27 pages) and the one on England (Roger Middleton, 21 pages). It seems rather obvious why each would require more extensive coverage. Given the material and the manner of its presentation, it seems best to comment briefly on each chapter.

The United Kingdom is represented in the first three substantive chapters – England (Middleton), Scotland (Alexander Dow and Sheila Dow), and Ireland (Renee Prendergast). This is perhaps understandable, as their cultural and intellectual environments differed and to a somewhat great extent. Middleton, having noted the difficulty in identifying an “English” economics as distinct from a “British” variant, nonetheless defined “English economics” as “that produced by ‘English economists,’ with these defined as those working (at least for a major part of their career) in England which, in turn, encompasses Wales and Ireland (Northern Ireland from 1923)” (p. 17). Notably, however, this excludes Scotland, which, as Dow and Dow explain, became, with the development of an Enlightenment philosophy that “combined reason and evidence within a theory of human nature,” itself the product of a uniquely Scottish cultural and social milieu, the catalyst for the emergence of classical political economy (p. 38). As to Ireland, Prendergast informs us that, while Ireland may have produced economic theorists of great renown, nonetheless “there was nothing specifically Irish about their contribution.” Their recognition may be in the “models” they employed, “designed to facilitate an understanding of the real economy,” inspiring an awareness “of both specific institutional features, and the dangers of general maxims” (p. 56).

With respect to the development of economic thought on the continent, we have chapters on Italy (Pier Luigi Porta), Greece (Michalis Psalidopoulos), Spain and Portugal (José Luis Cardoso and Luis Perdices de Blas), Germany (Erik Grimmer-Solem), Sweden (Lars Magnusson), and Russia and Ukraine (Francois Allisson). Curiously, there are no chapters on the development of French or Austrian economic thought! The Italian Enlightenment is “the greatest contribution of Italian culture to the development of a common European tradition of civil rights and enlightened governance,” distinct from its French and Scottish counterparts “in its attention to the interplay between legislation and moral sentiments, civic culture and economic development, fiscal technique, and social structure” (p. 60). Significantly, the core of Italian economic thought lies in the civil tradition, “the product of a special blend of lay and religious motives, which stems from the re-discovery . . . of antiquity or the pre-Christian world” (p. 58). This focus continued through the nineteenth century. The presentation of the Greek tradition is somewhat disappointing, as its primary focus is on the period from 1830 to the present, thus omitting what should have been a fascinating discussion of the development of the ancient roots of modern economic thought. By contrast, Cardoso and Perdices de Blas set the stage for a review of the development of Spanish and Portuguese economics beginning in the sixteenth century with the works of the Scholastics, the contributions of which “were some of the side effects of their musings on the spiritual salvation of human beings in all their activities, especially those related with dangerous trading activities completely divorced from the honorable, virtuous life in the countryside” (p. 78). Sadly, note the authors, Spanish economists in the eighteenth century in particular, while cognizant of European contributions, nonetheless produced little in the area of economic theory, “showing a noticeable preference for studies on applied economics” (p. 81).

The chapter on the development of economic thought in Germany focuses primarily on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the occasional nod to the eighteenth, due perhaps to the fact that Germany as a unified nation-state was formed only in 1871. Of significance is the influence it was to have in the United States and Japan, where the transfer of German ideals were implanted in the universities and ultimately became the foundation for the emergence of the American welfare state. Sweden is something of a late-comer if one employs the metric of “printed works,” which date only from the early eighteenth century; prior to this, Swedish economics “was defined in its Aristotelian meaning as an Art of Household Management” (p. 96). English, French, and German, and later Austrian, influences are particularly noticeable in early Swedish economic thought into the early twentieth century, when an identifiable Swedish School emerged. Finally, economic thought in Russia and the Ukraine, combined here due to the common history, did not really come into their own until the nineteenth century; again, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the publication of legal, political, and religious texts presenting economic ideas.

Part II, the Americas, is comprised of six chapters – the United States of America (J. E. King), Canada (Robin Neill), Mexico and Central America (Richard Weiner), the Caribbean (Mark Figueroa), Spanish-speaking South America (Veronica Montecinos), and Brazil (Patrice Franko). While American economic thought may be said to antedate independence from Britain, King’s primary focus is on the development of economic thought from the early nineteenth through the twentieth century. The story has been told numerous times, but the presentation is nonetheless quite compelling. Canadian economic thought is inextricably entwined with that of the United States, with Canadian economists having held important posts in American universities. The chapter on Mexico and Central America focuses primarily on Mexico, noting the influence of outside forces on the development of economic thought until the twentieth century, when there came into being a Mexican variant, rooted in culture and history (p. 145). The Caribbean economies suffered greatly from colonial administrations; the approaches to economics in these societies vary greatly, from Keynesian to Marxist, focusing primarily on issues of development and administration. Economic thought in Spanish-speaking South America developed in a highly-politicized atmosphere, with the influence of the Catholic Church assuming a prominent role. Finally, Brazilian economics tends to pragmatism, with approaches tuned to the needs of the times.

Part III, the Middle East, contains five chapters — Turkey and the Turkic linguistic zone (Eyüp Özveren), Israel (Yuval Yonay and Arie Krampf), Arab-Islamic economics (S. M. Ghazanfar), Persia/Iran (Hamid Hosseini), and North Africa (Hamed El-Said). The chapter of Turkish economics is more an excursion into economic history than the history of economic thought, as much of Turkish economics was absorbed from outside. In Israel, Don Patinkin and the “Patinkin boys” assume a starring role in the Americanization of an “Israeli economics” (pp. 194-97). The Arab-Islamic and Persian/Iranian contributions are taken to have roots in the seventh and eighth centuries with the writings of Arab and Islamic scholars; indeed, many of these scholars were producing important, if neglected, works during the European Dark Ages! Finally, the history of the economics of North Africa — Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Sudan — “suggests that the impact of economic ideas as pure theory has (at least in the short-run) been limited,” with economic policies “often generated by factors outside the economics profession” (p. 238).

Part IV, Africa, includes three chapters — West Africa (Gareth Austin and Gerardo Serra), Southern Africa (Tidings P. Ndhlovu and Nene Ernest Khalema), and Angola and Mozambique (Steven Kyle). African economics in general is a development of and reaction to colonialism and dependence on western European ideals. In West Africa, competition developed between those who advocated the assimilation of Western economic ideas and those who advocated an indigenous West African model, and, following independence from colonial rule, there emerged a sort of pan-African model, incorporating elements of Leninist socialism (pp. 246-47) and the identification of backwardness with dependency (p. 250). In southern Africa, colonialism “imprisoned the African ways of understanding commerce, utilising indigenous economic ideas, traditions, beliefs and ideologies” (p. 266). In Angola and Mozambique the Marxist ideology that came to dominate following the collapse of Portuguese colonial rule “is virtually indistinguishable from general justifications for authoritarian extractive regimes of any political stripe,” and so the post-independence ideologies “are in many ways simply extensions of the old colonial regimes under new management” (p. 270).

Part V covers, in five chapters, the Asia-Pacific Region — Australia and New Zealand (William Coleman), China (Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi), Southeast Asia (Cassey Lee and Thee Kian Wie), the Asian Tigers (Takashi Kanatsu), and India (Balakrishnan Chandrasekaran). Again it is curious that no chapter appears on the development of Japanese economic thought. Coleman begins with the assertion that “any story of economic thought in Australia and New Zealand will necessarily tell of the attempt to plant and cultivate in uncleared ground the long developed vine of older societies” (p. 281), and concludes with the observation that “there is no Australia in economics any longer. Australian economics is at an end” (p. 290). With respect to China, it is culture and religion more than anything else that influenced the development of economic thought, with Confucianism and Taoism, legalism and Maoism, at various times competing for dominance (p. 295). Indonesia and Malaysia, representative, we are told, of Southeast Asia, developed under Dutch and British rule, respectively, and so there emerged “no singular or identifiable school of thought in these countries.” Such writings on economic matters as there were centered problems of “reconstruction and development,” and a concern with ethnic conflict (p. 312). The Asian Tigers — Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan — to varying degrees relied on state-directed development, with the government working in concert with the private sector to achieve high levels of industrial growth. Finally, culture has been a dominating influence in Indian economic thought, which is seen as being “based fundamentally on the liberty and freedom of individuals within the ambit of the family system” (p. 323). Chandrasekaran argues that any commitment to a unique, indigenous economics was abandoned after independence, with academic economics focusing on Marxism and neoclassicism (p. 374).

This is indeed an interesting project, one that by its nature requires a great degree of selection as to the material to be included. One may point to flaws in the coverage — obvious choices excluded, unusual ones given treatment; the choice is quite idiosyncratic. Yet in many of the offerings there is much to find that should provoke more extensive study.


Charles R. McCann, Jr. is a Research Associate at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of Individualism and the Social Order and Order and Control in American Social Thought, both published by Routledge, and, with Mark Perlman, the two-volume Pillars of Economic Understanding (University of Michigan Press), among other publications.

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Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

The Age of Ruth and Landis: The Economics of Baseball during the Roaring Twenties

Author(s):Surdam, David George
Haupert, Michael G.
Reviewer(s):Bradbury, John Charles

Published by EH.Net (October 2018)

David George Surdam and Michael G. Haupert, The Age of Ruth and Landis: The Economics of Baseball during the Roaring Twenties. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. xi + 405 pp. $45 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-8032-9682-4.

Reviewed for EH.Net by John Charles Bradbury, Department of Economics, Kennesaw State University.

David Surdam (University of Northern Iowa) and Michael Haupert (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse) have both made notable contributions to the economic history of baseball. Surdam has authored several authoritative books in the field (e.g., The Big Leagues Go to Washington (2015) and Wins, Losses, and Empty Seats (2013)). Haupert has written several articles on baseball economic history, and he is responsible for compiling an extensive database of baseball player salaries through archival research.

The Age of Ruth of Landis is what you might expect from two baseball economic historians writing about baseball during the 1920s. The book includes many facts and figures from the era, including profit and loss statements, payroll data, franchise values, host-city characteristics, and important performance statistics. It is meticulously sourced with nearly seventy pages of notes and references. Two appendices offer descriptions of the New York Yankees’ financial records and player compensation data that was painstakingly culled from paper card files in the National Baseball Hall of Fame by Haupert. In short, it is a well-documented work of history that anyone who wishes to understand the economic atmosphere of the game during this period can use as a trusted source.

Yet, the book also diverges from what you might expect. The facts and figures are there, but to understand this era, it is important to understand the stories behind the numbers. The book is dominated by prose, so much so that the reader can grasp the information without turning to the notes or tables that are relegated to the back matter. This structure makes for a more readable book, similar to the style of Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills’s book series on the early history of baseball; therefore, it remains a pleasant read for the layman with a casual interest in the economics of early baseball. The downside of this style is that it is more difficult to skim the book for hard numbers. Researchers seeking to hone in on particular aspects of history contained in the book will need to make heavy use of its thorough index and multiple bookmarks.

A lot happened in the early-twentieth century that shaped the game to be what it is today. Baseball would emerge as the national pastime, rules became standardized, and the play on the field would evolve into a game with clean pitches and home runs from its smallball origins with spitballs and shenanigans on the basepaths. On the economic side of the game, the National and American Leagues would vanquish their final corporeal competitor, the Federal League, in 1915. This not only established the leagues as a monopoly cartel, but subsequent legal decisions regarding the entrant’s challenge gave professional baseball its antitrust-exempt status that continues to insulate baseball from antitrust scrutiny. By 1920, the business and play of baseball had begun to stabilize into its current form; thus, this date is often used to denote the birth baseball’s “modern era.”

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a subject of the title, played a major role as a key jurist in the legal decisions that established baseball’s antitrust exemption. He would also transition, with an awkward overlap, to become the heavy-handed Commissioner of Baseball from 1920 to 1944. The book also covers several other important off-field figures of the time. American League President Ban Johnson deftly led the fight against the rival Federals, which was aided by the experience of his successful challenge of the National League a few years earlier, but butted heads with Landis. Charles Comiskey, the powerful and influential owner of the Chicago White Sox — which were shamed by the 1919 World Series gambling scandal that caused the owners to recruit Landis to reestablish baseball’s credibility — supported the new commissioner even after he banned eight of his players for life. Harry Frazee owned the Boston Red Sox for only a short time, but during his tenure he managed to irritate his fellow owners and fans, stripping the team of its talent before selling it for a hefty profit as if they were they were the modern-day Miami Marlins. His most infamous transaction was the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, setting the stage for changes to the game’s business and play on the field, which were closely intertwined.

The authors record that the 1920s were a prosperous decade, but the owners were aware of competition for their customers’ growing discretionary incomes, especially from the upstart motion-picture business. And what brought fans to the ballpark? Winning! Success on the field was a key determinant to financial success then, as it is today; and losing teams could limit losses by avoiding spending too much on players that brought little in return. The owners anticipated Scully (1974) by fifty years, and Moneyball (2003) by eighty years.

Babe Ruth transformed the game on the field, becoming baseball’s answer to movie stars, switching from being one of the game’s best pitchers to being undoubtedly its best hitter. Ruth changed the way teams scored, hitting more home runs than all but one team in the major leagues in 1920 — Ruth had 54 dingers, only ten fewer than the Philadelphia Phillies. Ruth became a draw for home and visiting fans alike, which translated into dollars at the gate, making the Yankees generally more profitable than a similar investment in the stocks listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Yankee dominance raised concerns regarding competitive balance, but the limited potential remedies owners instituted, such as roster limits and revenue sharing, did not stop the growing imbalance. Yet, baseball remained financially sound, indicating that concerns over competitive balance may have been over-stressed.

Ruth and Landis were no doubt the key figures of their time in their respective roles. Though they are focal points, the breadth of the material covered in this long book makes it clear that the game was bigger than just these two men. Labor relations, minor leagues, and the Negro leagues are also covered at length. The economics of baseball are unique, if not peculiar (Neale 1964), and Surdam and Haupert make a worthy contribution to our understanding of this pivotal era of the game’s economic history.


Lewis, Michael (2003). Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. New York: W.W. Norton.

Neale, Walter (1964). “The Peculiar Economics of Professional Sports.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 78: 1-14.

Scully, Gerald (1974). “Pay and Performance in Major League Baseball.” American Economic Review, 65: 915-930.

Seymour, Harold and Dorothy Seymour Mills (Various years). Baseball, New York: Oxford University Press.

John Charles Bradbury is Professor of Economics at Kennesaw State University and is the author of two books on the economics of baseball, The Baseball Economist and Hot Stove Economics. He wrote this review in the shadow of the actual Kennesaw Mountain.

Copyright (c) 2018 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 ( Published by EH.Net (October 2018). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Business History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Landed Estates and Rural Inequality in English History: From the Mid-Seventeenth Century to the Present

Author(s):Jones, Eric L.
Reviewer(s):Broad, John

Published by EH.Net (September 2018)

Eric L. Jones, Landed Estates and Rural Inequality in English History: From the Mid-Seventeenth Century to the Present. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. xi + 129 pp. $55 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-3-319-74868-9.

Reviewed for EH.Net by John Broad, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, University of Cambridge.

In the 1960s and early 70s, Eric Jones’s articles and book contributions on English landed society and agricultural history stood at the forefront of the discipline, combining a deep understanding of the sources and secondary literature with a creative mind and persuasive writing style. Jones then moved abroad to the U.S. and then La Trobe University in Australia and his interests also went global, using his fertile mind to incisively chart the role of risk mitigation in development of modern economies, and in The European Miracle (Cambridge University Press, 1981) to initiate debate on why Europe became economically dominant. When he and seven other historians came under broadside for their Eurocentric stance, his antagonist conceded that Jones’ revised edition successfully addressed most of perceived deficiencies of the original.

In retirement to rural England, Jones returns to his original interests in this short volume, providing a provocatively argued overview of the dominance of the landed elite in the countryside and its power over both local and national politics. Jones is quite explicit in his methodology. He uses apposite case studies and examples to illuminate his theories. Into this narrative are pitched a variety of high order generalizations about political and economic power, illustrated by micro-studies often drawn from less well known, not to say obscure, secondary literature. The landed elite is treated as a body for whom the countryside is not primarily an economic asset to be developed but instead a place where social power is applied and displayed.

He starts with a discussion of the place of the English Civil War and the “revolution” of 1688 in cementing the economic dominance of the landed classes. The book then devotes short chapters to a selection of illustrative features across the whole period rather than any attempt at a comprehensive discussion. It begins with a short study of how newcomers entered the world of the landed elite, using Lancashire cotton masters and their purchases in the west Midlands and the area around Bristol to make his case. A chapter on the lower orders follows, viewing them as engulfed by landed estates that created poverty and rural overcrowding as rural industry in southern England was stifled from the later eighteenth century onwards, thereby reinforcing deferential power relationships in the countryside. The much-discussed issue of English enclosure is considered in a rather off-beat way in two chapters focused on the remodeling of the landscape to make parks that demolished and reoriented existing villages, and on the manipulation of road and footpath links to enhance elite privacy at the expense of the customary well-worn ways used by working people — a story continued to the present.

Two further chapters consider the recreational use of the countryside by the landed elite for blood sports — particularly fox hunting and pheasant shooting — and the way in which the protection of these assets was used to cow and politically dominate the rural population. The two final chapters return to more abstract ideas about rural institutions and inequality in the countryside. The hierarchical structure of rural society became fossilized and its nature fostered increased inequality of both capital and income that outweighed the economic efficiency of the capitalist agricultural system of large farms that it created. For Jones the estate system should be viewed long-term as an example of market failure.

The book overall addresses big themes and introduces some theoretical concepts worth testing. There are only 123 pages of text, while each chapter begins with a one-paragraph abstract and a list of half a dozen keywords. This suggests that its intended audience is undergraduate students. If so, it serves the cause of good history teaching poorly. The narrative is one-sided and barbed. Previous historians of English estates and landed society are variously derided as nostalgic and lacking critical intent — a judgement which readers of Sir John Habakkuk, Lawrence Stone, F.M.L. Thompson, and John Beckett, to name but a few, might with English understatement regard as more than a trifle harsh. The short bibliography attached to each chapter is frankly bizarre: partial, eclectic, and certainly no adequate guide to further study by students and readers intrigued by the book’s themes.

Jones appears to work from a neoliberal economic outlook in which the economic potential of ordinary country folk was stifled by rural institutional structures and the economic and social power of a rural elite unable to look beyond their own narrow interests. But he does not appear to be immersed in the wider research portfolio of English rural history since the 1970s. Rural religion is treated purely in terms of the power relationships of the Anglican Church, but the village chapels proliferating across England from the eighteenth century onwards tell a different story. Most readers coming new to the topic might take from this book a view that a rural tyranny was exerted by lords and ladies alternating philanthropy with harsh punishments and sexual exploitation to a subservient rural population. Yet from the eighteenth century onwards the landed elite appears to have spent most of its time in London, pleasure resorts such as Bath, Tonbridge Wells, Cheltenham Spa and Scarborough, or travelling. Much of the tyranny (and directed philanthropy) of the countryside was carried out by the stewards and Anglican clergy who acted as magistrates as well as land agents, and — if they were lucky — were grudgingly admitted to the outer circle of fox hunters and pheasant exterminators. The over-arching narrative may have some applicability to the English countryside within a hundred miles of London, but the North was different, less landlord dominated except in certain enclaves. Overall it reminds us that an up-to-date understanding of English rural society is much more nuanced than the partial story told here by Jones.

John Broad most recent publications are “English Agrarian Structures in a European Context, 1300-1925” in James Bowen and Alex Brown, Custom and Commercialization (University of Hertfordshire, 2016) and “Joan Thirsk and Agricultural Regions: A Fifty-year Perspective” in C.C. Dyer et al. (editors), Farmers, Consumers and Innovators: The World of Joan Thirsk (University of Hertfordshire, 2016). He is currently completing a book on rural housing in England from the late medieval period to the present day and researching themes in the distribution of landownership and social welfare c.1800.


Copyright (c) 2018 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 ( Published by EH.Net (September 2018). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Historical Geography
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development

Editor(s):Lamoreaux, Naomi R.
Wallis, John Joseph
Reviewer(s):Troesken, Werner

Published by EH.Net (July 2018)

Naomi R. Lamoreaux and John Joseph Wallis, editors, Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. ix + 380 pp. $130 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-226-42636-5.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Werner Troesken, Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh.

Freedom of association has long been viewed as a tenet of individual liberty, and a prerequisite of any well-functioning social order. In this way, institutional rules protecting the individual’s right to voluntarily organize with others around friendship, shared beliefs, and economic goals, are not only bulwarks against political oppression but also sources of community, religious and creative expression, social and political change, and economic progress. Growing literatures among development economists and economic historians suggest the connection between freedom of association and economic progress is particularly relevant to economists. Perhaps the simplest way to appreciate this connection is to note the obvious: a state that suppresses the ability of economic agents to organize new business arrangements is also a state that is likely beholden to entrenched monopolistic interests hostile to innovations that would otherwise enhance consumer welfare and long-term growth prospects.

The history of freedom of association, and its relationship to political economy, runs throughout Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development, an NBER conference volume edited by Naomi Lamoreaux and John Wallis. In organizing the conferences and volume, the editors appear to have drawn much of their motivation from North, Weingast, and Wallis (2009). Consistent with this motivation, the editors write that “the central question of this volume is how societies transition to open access” (p. 10). Or more precisely, how do societies transition from closed (natural-order) states that limit access to markets and the political system to open-access orders that allow a broad range of individuals and groups to engage in market activities and organize politically to influence the state?

For much of history, states undermined the ability to freely associate and form voluntary organizations by refusing to formally incorporate groups that could potentially threaten the existing social order. This, in turn, hampered the ability of these groups to engage in collective action and affect change, whether political or economic. At the same time, the groups most likely to enjoy the protections and benefits of incorporation were those favored by the state, which helped to protect and perpetuate the status quo and suppress changes that were potentially welfare improving. It is unsurprising, therefore, that many of the essays in this volume use the history of incorporation law as a setting in which to explore the transition from natural states to open-access orders. Yet the assumption that state recognition of voluntary associations through formal incorporation is a defining feature of an open access order, might also have been worthy of circumspection.

In the first essay, Dan Bogart uses the decline of the East India Company to explore England’s transition to open access. Before 1750, the East India Company “was a privileged company with monopoly over all trade between England and Asia,” and as such, is an “excellent example of limited access.” First granted its charter in 1600, the company shared its rents with the monarch in return for special protections and privileges. A key move to open access occurred in 1813 when Parliament passed the Charter Act, revoking the company’s monopoly and allowing others to freely engage in Indian trade. Bogart suggests this move toward open access stemmed from a growing ideological commitment to free trade, the declining revenues and relevance of the East India Company, and the assassination of Prime Minister Perceval. Perhaps the central historical message to emerge from Bogart’s essay is that the fortunes of the East India Company waxed and waned with the company’s political influence, which is precisely what you would expect under a limited access order.

In the volume’s second essay, Barry Weingast recasts Adam Smith’s arguments about the centrality of violence in deterring economic growth. Liberally quoting Smith, Weingast explains that “given the risk of violence, rational investors will not” save or accumulate capital. The state has the potential to protect potential capitalists from plunder, but enforcing property rights itself requires a requisite level of growth and resources without which the state cannot act effectively. In this way, societies get caught in a violence trap: because there are no resources for the state to control violence and protect private property rights, there is no investment or growth, and because there is no investment and growth, there are no resources for the state protect private property. Escaping this trap requires a non-incremental change in either resources or in the relative capacity to do violence across players: once one player gains an advantage in violence it can prevent others from plundering the resources of the industrious while at the same charging (taxing) the industrious to provide such protection. On the heels of such a change, sustained growth can follow.

To highlight how the escape from the violence trap might proceed, Weingast follows Smith’s history of feudalism. Under feudalism, there was constant fighting among the feudal lords and little growth. Only when the King combined forces with local governments and merchants did these groups gain the upper hand, and replace the violence of feudalism with inter-city trade and long-term economic progress. The history Weingast and Smith recount brings to life Mancur Olson’s classic essay on roving and stationary bandits — the competition and fighting among feudal lords seems reminiscent of a world with roving bandits, while the alliance among the monarchy, municipal burghers, and merchants seems akin to world with a single bandit.

Two of the essays use the origins of general incorporation laws in the United States as a laboratory in which to explore the transition from closed to open access. Before general incorporation, businesses could only incorporate after lobbying for, and securing, a corporate charter from the state legislature. Corporate charters in this setting were most likely to have been granted to businesses with close political connections and firms without such connections would not have been able to incorporate. Because incorporation promotes access to capital markets, limiting access to corporate charters likely would have deterred market entry and economic growth. In “Corporation Law and the Shift toward Open Access in the Antebellum United States,” Eric Hilt gathers data on twenty-nine states and shows that states with large agricultural and commercial sectors were slower to adopt general incorporation. He also presents evidence that the introduction of general incorporation laws was often more a change in degree than in kind; the exact construction of general incorporation laws varied across states; and some states adopted general incorporation earlier than is often thought.

Similar to Hilt, Qian Lu and John Wallis explore the transition to open access in the chartering of banks in Massachusetts. Before 1812, banking and politics exhibited a close and unhealthy relationship, with more than 70 percent of all bankers in the state having been a legislator at some point in their lives. During this period, the Federalists in Massachusetts dominated banking in state. Critics complained that this domination was not only contrary to American values, but given the importance of credit to industry and commerce, also a burden on economic development. This domination broke down when a competing political party (the Democrat-Republican) gained control of the legislature and implemented reforms allowing for free entry into banking in the state. Although these reforms were not wholly successful in eliminating the connection between politics and entry into banking (as late as 1860 roughly 40 percent of the bankers in the state had been legislators at some point), non-elite banks without political connections were growing increasingly common.

In their essay, Victoria Johnson and Walter W. Powell use the concept of “poisedness” to explain when and why new organizations emerge, persist, and spread. Poisedness, they write, refers to “the availability or vulnerability of a social and historical context to the reception of an innovation and subsequent reconfiguration by it.” Their analysis then focuses on the history of botanical gardens in New York City during the nineteenth century.

One of the most compelling and important contributions to this volume is the Ruth Bloch and Naomi Lamoreaux chapter, “Voluntary Associations, Corporate Rights, and the State.” Challenging a large body of Tocqueville scholarship, they “contend that the voluntary associations so admired by Tocqueville never really operated independently of the state. Instead, nineteenth-century lawmakers systematically discriminated against certain groups by constraining their access to valuable entity and personhood rights” (p. 235). To make their case, Bloch and Lamoreaux show how throughout the early nineteenth century, state legislatures restricted access to corporate charters for groups that might threaten the status quo, such as antislavery organizations, labor groups, and women’s charitable groups.

In “The Right to Associate and the Rights of Associations: Civil-Society Organizations in Prussia,” Richard Brooks and Timothy Guinnane extend Bloch and Lamoreaux. They begin by noting that a 2012 survey of all the constitutions in the world found that 93 percent included a right to assembly and 94 percent a right of free association. Focusing mainly on Prussia but drawing many comparisons to the United States and other countries in Western Europe, they argue that it is a mistake to think that the West always had open access and protections for freedom of association. Much as Bloch and Lamoreaux, they suggest Western governments were reluctant to formally recognize associations that might pose a threat to existing political elites, even when the threat seems minor to historical observers. In the case of the United States, they uncover a South Carolina law that discouraged free blacks from associating with slaves during antebellum period, and show that even when African American citizens sought to organize for something as innocuous a park they could engender opposition from the state. They also suggest, however, that at least in Prussia the state was most concerned about social and political unrest and seems to have shown more openness in relation to business organizations.

Equally compelling is Jacob Levy’s “Pluralism without Privilege.” Social observers have long seen federalism and the devolution of power to state and municipal governments as a source of individual liberty and a check on the power of the state. Such a structure promotes competition across competing jurisdictions and the sort of oppositional politics that discourage agglomerations of economic and political power. This idea has been expressed and re-expressed in a myriad ways by scholars across the social sciences. Recent examples include the highly cited work of North, Wallis, and Weingast (2009) and Barnett’s (2013) notion that polycentrism might secure the consent of the governed. Levy is skeptical and suggests that jurisdictional competition by itself might by insufficient and that free societies can draw sustenance from privilege and entrenched institutional arrangements that exist outside the state. He begins by quoting Montesquieu’s argument that without the nobility, monarchy descends into despotism. He then turns to Smith, Constant, and Tocqueville. The central theme here is that while elites and privileged groups are odious in themselves, they can also help forestall more despotic regimes.

Absent Levy’s essay, nearly all the essays assume that free association is desirable because it promotes access to the state and the desirability of state access increases in a non-monotonic way: more is always better and unfettered populism is political bliss. Factions, the tyranny of the majority, and rent seeking are forgotten or secondary. While he never invokes rent seeking and only briefly mentions the Federalist, Levy’s suggestion that elite extra-legal institutions might help constrain the state, democratic or otherwise, serves to counter-balance the unqualified embrace of open access. More generally, throughout nearly all of the volume there is a quiet celebration of giving all comers equal access to the levers of state power. Amidst that celebration it would have been useful to at least consider the possibility that administrative independence, whether in the context of the judiciary, central banking, or scientific agencies, might serve to protect individual liberties and/or promote human welfare.

The final essay is “Opening Access, Ending the Violence Trap: Labor, Business, Government, and the National Labor Relations Act” by Margaret Levi, Tania Melo, Barry Weingast, and Frances Zlotnick. Here, Levi et al. argue that before the passage of the NLRA in 1935, the United States failed “two critical conditions” of a true open access order: the denial of access to labor (a variety of legal institutions inhibited the formation of labor unions), and the use of violence to suppress labor. In this setting, violence frequently emerged because it was impossible for all parties (labor, business, and government) to commit to non-violence. After the NLRA and the creation of the National Labor Relations Board, however, the law constrained actions and made it costly for any one of the players to engage in violence. According to Levi et al., with the passage of the NLRA and creation of the National Labor Relations Board, government became an impartial arbiter of the law, rather than an advocate and enforcer for business interests.

It is not clear me, however, that the state’s hostility to unions in the pre-NLRA era stemmed from an unholy alliance between business and the state as Levi et al. and others in this volume suggest. The common law had always been hostile to combinations that had the potential to restrain trade, and that hostility was not unique to unions (Hovenkamp 1991). Indeed, corporate charters frequently included provisions that if the chartered firms engaged in restraints of trade or otherwise acted monopolistically the state had the authority to revoke those charters, which states sometimes did through quo warranto proceedings (Troesken 1995). Moreover, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, state antitrust laws were unconstitutional if they exempted labor and agriculture from antitrust prosecution (Connolly v. Union Sewer Pipe Co., 184 U.S. 540 1902). The courts saw such exemptions as evidence of unequal treatment under the law (capital was being treated differently than labor) and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. One, of course, can challenge the underlying premise here and reject the idea that there is no fundamental difference between firms organizing than workers (Cox 1955). However, if one is willing to at least entertain the logic of nineteenth century courts, the reluctance of state governments to recognize unions appears similar (though not identical in terms of violence) to their reluctance to incorporate potentially monopolistic enterprises.

Despite these criticisms, my overall assessment is positive and enthusiastic. This well-done volume merits a wide ridership among economic historians and other readers that find North, Wallis, and Weingast (2009) a relevant framework. I found the contributions by Bloch and Lamoreaux, Levy, and Weingast especially important and thought provoking, independent of any connection to debates about open access and the origins of economic development.


Barnett, Randy E. Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty. Princeton University Press, 2013.

Cox, Archibald. “Labor and the Antitrust Laws. A Preliminary Analysis.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 104.2 (1955): 252-284.

Hovenkamp, Herbert. Enterprise and American Law, 1836-1937. Harvard University Press, 1991.

North, Douglass C., John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast. Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Troesken, Werner. “Antitrust Regulation before the Sherman Act: The Break-up of the Chicago Gas Trust Company.” Explorations in Economic History 32.1 (1995): 109-136.
Copyright (c) 2018 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 ( Published by EH.Net (July 2018). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Business History
Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Labor and Employment History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
North America
Time Period(s):17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII