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The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece

Author(s):Schaps, David M.
Reviewer(s):Silver, Morris

Published by EH.NET (April 2004)

David M. Schaps, The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. xvii + 293 pp. $75 (cloth), ISBN: 0-472-11333-X.

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

Briefly stated, David Schaps’ central argument runs as follows:

Coinage = Money (in the Greek experience the two are equated) was invented in Greece or Asia Minor (Lydia) in the later seventh or earlier sixth century. The Greeks eagerly copied/adapted this innovation and it spread rapidly in their cities during the sixth century. The result was a profound transformation in Greek economy and society. Before the Greek adoption of coinage, the ancient Mediterranean world knew only primitive money, not money as we know it. Primitive money was incapable of generating the revolution that Greece experienced.

I begin with a number of quotations capturing the argument and then, in the main part of the review, move on to consider the details.

This book will tell the story… of the development of money both in the Near East and in Greece up to the invention of coinage and its widespread adoption by the Greek cities, the only communities that adopted it wholeheartedly at its first appearance. (17)

Something new happened with the invention of coinage, and it produced a new idea that persists to our day. (5)

I have tried throughout only to sketch the ways in which Greek thought and behavior were changed by the introduction of money. (vii)

From the Greeks onward, we find a new way of speaking and ofthinking. Now a person might state the entirety of a household’s possessions in terms of money, as no member of a premonetary society would ever do. (16)

One of the central propositions of this book is that when we speak historically, the invention of coinage was the invention of money: that is, the concept that we understand as “money” did not exist before the seventh century B.C.E., when coins were first minted. There surely had been many items before that we may recognize correctly, as money, there were even places…where a single item performed all the functions associated with money. Never before, however, had these items been conceptualized as money, for money to the Greeks, as to us, was the measure of all things, something different in nature from all the valuables that might represent it. (15; emphasis in original)

All ancient Near Eastern societies had a conventional standard of value, usually precious metals or a specified grain. The standard of payment was always “primitive money,” never coin, and it did not always perform all the functions that coin was later to perform…. If Greece was the cradle of coinage and Lydia its birthplace, the societies of the Near East were its ancestors. (34)

Schaps links the unprecedented Greek adoption of coinage with Greek backwardness. The Greeks… who had only very primitive forms of currency, thought of coins as they had never thought of those items in which they had once traded, evaluated and paid. An ideal that had grown up in the East at a time when Greece had no need for it suddenly dawned on the Greeks when coins appeared. It was a time when the Greeks were in a period of economic and intellectual expansion for which their relatively primitive economic concepts did not provide an adequate basis…. Precisely because of their economic backwardness, they had no sufficient preexisting conceptual structure to compete with or subordinate the idea of money. (16-17)

Why did the ancient Near East (ANE) not move from a very evident monetization to “money, as we know it”? Technology would not have raised a barrier to the transformation. Why were coins so exciting to the Greeks and so uninteresting to their neighbors? The answer is that they filled a need peculiar to Greek society…. It was Greece that was searching for new forms of government and administration to manage the new complexity of the poleis and new ways of organization to maintain its people, and coins made that administration and that organization simpler and more manageable than spits and cauldrons [primitive money] could have done. (108)

This is interesting, but not entirely convincing. An alternative line of explanation is that coinage (guaranteed money) is not nearly as important economically as Schaps supposes. The alleged special interest of the Greeks in coinage may then reflect an ideological dimension peculiar to the Greeks. Schaps mentions “the particular Greek appreciation of the universality of money” (196). There is also a real question, explored below, whether Greece was really so backward monetarily as Schaps suggests.

Schaps’ presentation is quite clear and, obviously, there is rich material here. The view that coinage was invented by the Lydians is one that is generally accepted by scholars. I do have some problems with the equation of money with coinage and the meaning of “primitive money.” There is also something of a problem with respect to whom, according to Schaps, invented coinage: On the one hand, the Lydians invented coins and then the Greeks eagerly used them. On the other hand, the time when the Greeks eagerly used coins is the time of invention. These are relatively minor issues and I put them aside. On to the details!

I. Did the Ancient Near East Know Coinage?

A. Indirect Evidence

1. Schaps states that a “discussion of the factors that go into price determination does not form part of this book, for their importance arises in a money economy, and the point at which the Greeks achieved a money economy is the point at which this study ends” (30). I am not sure exactly what this means. Schaps is perhaps suggesting that the forces of supply and demand determine prices only in an economy with money, which he equates with coinage. This is, of course, completely false. Later Schaps adds “The Babylonian economy was still not, as it would become in the Hellenistic period, dominated by a market where prices changed each day; but it was not immune to the law of supply and demand” (49). This is a heroic understatement! Although we do not have daily price data, there is ample evidence of price changes and of the operation of supply and demand. Indeed, the Old Babylonian period (earlier second millennium BCE) has been characterized by Hallo (1958: 98) as one in which “there was a price on everything from the skin of a gored ox to the privilege of a temple office.”

2. Silver was indeed used as a means of payment in the ANE. However, rather than spreading through the population, it remained in the hands of merchants. “It never became, as coins eventually would, synonymous with wealth itself. It could not have done so, if only because too few people owned it. For this reason, the Babylonians never thought of silver as we think of money” (51).

The surviving documents do not demonstrate that Mesopotamians thought of money in the same way the Greeks did. Caution is justified about the reason for this presumed difference. There is evidence for the dispersal of precious metals in the population. As early as the middle of the third millennium in Ebla (in Syria) silver was used to purchase ordinary goods including clothing and grain as well as wine and semi-precious stones (Archi 1993: 52). Mesopotamian texts of the middle of the second half of the third millennium already show us street vendors, and, according to Foster (1977: 35-36, nn. 47, 48), the use of silver to pay rents and purchase dates, oil, barley, animals, slaves, and real estate; in addition, “silver was widely used in personal loans and was often in possession of private citizens and officials.”

3. Schaps asserts “The silver of the Near East had never been coined; it was weighed at each transaction, and the scale was an essential accessory to every sale” (49). This statement may reflect general belief, but it goes beyond the evidence. It is not true that ANE texts invariably mention weighing and/or scales. Indeed, to my knowledge, the mention of scales is infrequent. Nevertheless, Schaps is on strong ground in stressing the centrality of weighing in transactions recorded in the Bible.[1]

B. Direct Evidence

Schaps maintains that “an examination of the various primitive items that have at one time or another been claimed to be coins fails to reveal any clear example, and it may be useful to clear the air of the various hypotheses, which by their very number can create the false impression that coinage was common in the eastern Mediterranean Basin long before the Lydians and the Greeks” (222-23). Elsewhere he maintains that “the verisimilitude of the preceding suggestion is not much above zero” (235). Schaps may well be correct in rejecting this hypothesis. However, his treatment of the evidence leaves something to be desired.

1. The evidence is reasonably clear that the ANE went a good part of the way toward coinage by circulating ingots of guaranteed quality. Assyrian loan contracts of the eighth to seventh centuries use various formulas to advance “silver of (the goddess) Ishtar (of the city) Arbela (or Nineveh or Bit Kidmuri).” Lipinski (1979) argued brilliantly against interpreting this phrase to mean “temple capital.” Expressions of this kind, he suggested, refer to the quality of the metal, and their inclusion in contracts makes no sense unless the metal is impressed with a stamp of guarantee. The practice of guaranteeing metal quality, it may be added, probably goes back to the second millennium. The expression “silver of the gods” is found in texts from Mari in Syria and Amarna in Egypt. For example, in a letter concerning the disposition of an inheritance the king of Mari refers to the deceased person’s “silver of the gods” (Malamat 1998: p. 185; cf. CAD s.v. ilu 1.e).

In discussing the ingots from the temple of Arbela Schaps concludes: There was nothing particularly important about this development as far as Assyria was concerned. The temple’s ingots, even if stamped, were no more than good quality silver…. It will have been the business of a merchant to recognize them and to know good silver from bad, but there was nothing revolutionary about them. They may have come in convenient sizes…, but they were hardly standardized, and it is hard to imagine that a merchant would have failed to put them on the scale before accepting them. (92)

A guarantee of metal quality surely reduced the transaction cost of using money and it is therefore puzzling that Schaps considers this a development little or no importance. Moreover, he goes beyond the evidence in saying that the ingots were not standardized in weight. The texts do not say that the ingots were weighed.

2. Schaps writes of the Egyptian shaty “piece”: “It is regularly used as an item of account, not a medium of trade: that is, not ‘pieces’ but other items changed hands, bartered for each other and evaluated in terms of ‘pieces'” (224-25). In fact, there is evidence for the circulation of shaty‘s in texts of the Ramesside era (second half of the second millennium). In the Eighteenth Dynasty, a text (Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1453A) records the delivery of silver shaty‘s to a woman at the meryet “quay, marketplace” (Condon 1984: 63-65). In Papyrus Boulaq 11 merchants pay for quantities of meat and wine with shaty‘s (Castle 1992: 253, 257; Peet 1934). The texts do not say that the shaty‘s were weighed or tested for quality.

3. Schaps discusses the Egyptian Hekanakht letters of about 2000 BCE, but he does not refer to the following significant detail. Copper coins may be indicated when Hekanakht sends to his agent “24 copper debens” for renting land. James (1984: 245) explains that “the letter says quite clearly ’24 copper debens,’ not ’24 debens of copper,’ which ought to signify 24 pieces of copper each weighing, one deben.”

4. Schaps does not mention texts from the Assyrian trading station in Anatolia (earlier second millennium BCE) in which we sometimes find prices being expressed in terms of copper ingots, patallu and sad?lu. Thus, one Dakuku “owes 12 copper sad?lus as the price of donkey.” Dercksen (1996. 60, n. 179) notes that “quantity is expressed by simply giving the number of ingots instead of their weight [which] points to a more or less customary weight and size for this type” (emphasis added). I would add that use of the number of ingots also points to a standard quality.

5. Schaps defines “coin” as follows: “[A] coin is an object, usually but not necessarily of metal, which circulates as a medium of trade, and whose value is guaranteed by the stamp of the issuing authority” (223). He adds: “We may thus ignore without further discussions such items as spits, rings, and sealed bags of silver, which although they served many of the purposes that coins later served were not by themselves coins at all. They belong to the history of ‘primitive money’… (223).

Schaps’ dismissal of sealed bags of silver is most puzzling and instead of ignoring these, he offers a brief discussion of their significance. He concludes that “When silver was to be reused, a certain amount was given to the assayer in advance. Whatever the assayer did not use was sealed with a royal seal, obviating the need for weighing and assaying it again. The ‘sealed silver,’ then, is ordinary silver sealed in a sack, not a coin” (223-24).

In my view, sealed bags provide evidence for widespread use of “coinage” in the ANE. The background is as follows. Cuneiform sources of the first half of the second millennium refer to sealed bags of silver (e.g. kaspum kankum). We hear of “(silver) in lumps-sealed in a bag” (CAD s.v. kankua) and “x silver which is placed in its sealed bag” (CAD s.v. kan?ku 2). There is also mention of silver “marked” (udd?) with its weight (CAD s.v. id? 4.a). Copper might also be packed into purses called (c)hurshianu (CAD s.v.; Dercksen 1996: 66)

The sealed bags might be transferred: “I needed (and asked you for in writing) ten shekels of silver under seal.” x silver which PN gave to PN2 , and which is marked with the name of the merchant. (CAD s.v. s(umu 1.e); “you have sent me silver which is not fit for business transactions… send me silver, (in) a sealed bag” (CAD s.v. kaniktu 2). Oppenheim (1969) makes brief mention of cuneiform sources of the first half of the second millennium that refer to sealed bags of silver deposited with persons who used the silver in various transactions. Most directly, the practice of transacting with sealed bags of silver is reflected in the call, in eighteenth-century contracts from Mesopotamia (the city of Larsa), for merchants to pay for palace-owned goods with “sealed silver” (Stol 1982: 150-51). The transactional use of sacks is ignored by S.[2]

Some years ago, in reflecting on these references, it occurred to me that in eleventh-century-CE Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa, in Talmudic times (400-500 CE) and earlier in Carthage and in Rome (the tesserae nummulariae), various coins and (probably) metal fragments were kept in purses labeled on the outside with the contents and sealed by governments or private merchants. In addition to keeping the coins “fresh” — that is, preserving their full weight — Udovitch (1979: 267), who studied the usage in medieval Islam, explains: “these packaged and labeled purses made settlement of accounts much more convenient… by obviating the need to weigh, array, and evaluate coins for every individual transaction. Significantly, most payments and transfers of funds were executed by the actual physical transfer of the purses.” We may assume that these purses circulated among the wealthier classes.

Schaps responds as follows: “[Morris] Silver (126-27) obfuscates this point, going so far as to say that (medieval Islamic!) sealed purses ‘in short… were large denomination coins.’ This is surely to broaden the definition of a coin far beyond reason” (224, n. 9). Schaps obtained this quote from my 1985 edition. In 1995 I wrote: “In short, the sealed purses functioned as large-denomination ‘coins'” (161). The reason for the change in formulation is that numismatic specialists and antiquarians insisted that coins had to be made of metal. I was hammered on this, to an economist, unimportant detail. Schaps? properly broadened definition of “coin” makes my original formulation perfectly appropriate. Under his definition a “nickel,” as he says, can be wooden and “a dollar bill would also count as a ‘coin’ (223, n. 3). The important point is that there is evidence to suggest that the kaspum kankum functioned as/were coins!

6. Schaps does not mention evidence provided by Joann’s (1989). Hammurabi (1792-1750) paid/rewarded Mari’s soldiers with (mysterious) shamsh?tum “sun discs,” gold rings, silver of 5 or 10 shekels, and with small pieces of silver impressed with a seal. Joann?s bases himself on ARMT 25, 815 and a letter (A-486+) to Zimri-Lim, the king of Mari. The key word here is kaniktum from kan?kum “to mark a seal” (see CAD s.vv.). In the absence of (additional?) evidence for the use of kaniktum to make payments, Joann?s suggests that these sealed metal objects may have been “medals.” Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps they were coins. Indeed, as far as I am aware, the evidence for coinage is more ample than the evidence for “medals”! The text is silent about whether and how Mari’s soldiers spent the small pieces of sealed silver.

7. Several bread-shaped ingots of the eighth century inscribed with the name of a king preceded by the Aramaic letter lamed have actually been found in the palace of Zinjirli, a north Syrian state located on the only good crossing of the Amanus mountains from east to west. The meaning of the possessive l is debated. One possibility is that it means “belonging to” in the sense of personal possession. Balmuth (1971: 3), however, suggests that it means “on behalf of” or “in the name of” (its meaning on coins of later times) and, therefore, that the inscription represents a royal guarantee of the metal. Any such guarantee might refer only to the quality of the metal or to both quality and weight. Schaps responds as follows: “But there is no indication that this disk… was ever meant to be currency at all, and coins did not become current in this area until centuries later” (91, n.52). Thus, Schaps comes close to saying that the ingot could not be a coin because they had not been invented yet! Schaps believes that the disks were designed for storage of wealth, not for making payments. Perhaps he has guessed right. The fact is, however, that there is simply no evidence beyond the inscribed ingots themselves.

As I will show next, Schaps requires much more from the Near Eastern coinage evidence than from the Greek.

II. Greek Coinage Evidence

1. There is clear evidence of a double standard in Schaps’ consideration of the Lydian evidence (93-6). The “Lydian” coins excavated in the Artemision at Ephesus are mostly dated to the seventh and earlier sixth centuries BCE. However, the dating remains controversial. Two of the pieces were dumps not coins. The significance of their inscriptions is still being debated. All but two of the ninety-three pieces conformed to the Milesian weight standard. There is no evidence that merchants would not have had to weigh them. There is no direct evidence that the coins circulated. The coins are made of the wrong metal, electrum instead of silver, gold, or copper. (Variation in the ratio of gold to silver, would seem to call for quality testing.) In short, despite numerous opportunities for raising objections, Schaps does not hesitate to call the finds in the Artemision, the “earliest datable coins” (93; emphasis added).

Schaps explains further: “The motivation behind the ‘cutting’… of such coins must have been quite different from the motivation of the temple of Arbela in casting its ingots. Ingots of a pound or so are a convenient way in which to store silver, and they were probably made for that purpose. Small and minutely subdivided weights of electrum [as in the Ephesus hoard], however, were undoubtedly made for payment not storage” (100). Possibly. However, there is evidence for the circulation of the Arbela ingots. A contract in which neither the temple nor its commercial agent is a party shows the silver being loaned out. The document originates some 50 miles from Arbela. On the other hand, no direct evidence is presented that the Ephesus coins circulated.

Contrast Schaps’ evaluation of the Artemision coins with his view of the Cappadocian lead disks, which may date to the mid-second millennium (225-26). The “ornamentation” on (one side) of the disks is similar but not identical. The disks “vary irregularly in weight.” They are made of the “wrong metal.” There is no evidence of “circulation from place to place.” Scholars have expressed doubts that “such small bits of lead could have had much monetary value” (225). “Nothing suggests that they are coins except their size and shape and the fact that they are made of metal…” (225). It would seem that ANE candidates for designation as early coins are always too large or too small or whatever.

2. Schaps does not demonstrate that the Greece took its inspiration from Lydian coins. Schaps explains: “The Greek coins were silver, not electrum…. The change to silver indicates that coins, even if they had begun as a solution to the problem of the variability of electrum, had come to be appreciated as what they now were: a countable unit of value” (104; emphasis added). Clearly, this terminology simply assumes an imitation and modification of Lydian coinage practices.

3. There are hints that the Greeks had long been familiar with “primitive money” or even coinage. Greek traditions and legends place coinage much earlier than the sixth century. Thus, Plutarch (Theseus 25.3) wrote in the first century CE that Theseus, the legendary unifier and king of Attica, issued coins. In the second century CE, the scholar Pollux (9.83), claimed that coinage was invented by the even more shadowy Athenian figure Erichthonius, an early king. We find reports in ancient literary sources that Pheidon, king of Argos, introduced a silver coinage possibly as early as the eighth century (see S 101-4).

Hacksilber “cut-silver” hoards have not been found inside Greece. However, an eighth century hoard was excavated in Eretria in Euboea. (The Taranto 1911 hoard is dated to c. 600.) Balmuth (1975: 296) suggests that “although many of these have been called silversmith’s hoards, the practicability of exchange by weight suggests that Hacksilber could simultaneously be both material for a jeweler and material for exchange.” Schaps does not “believe there was ever an internal bullion economy in Greece” (195).[3] However, Kim (2001) has presented evidence that money of weighed silver bullion was employed in the Greek world well before the introduction of coinage. There are references to the use of silver to pay fines in Solon’s time.

More importantly, Schaps provides evidence consistent with bullion usage. In the eighth century, at Gortyn in Crete, the leb?s “cauldron” was used to make payments. Schaps explains that “it is hard to escape the impression that cauldrons, as inconvenient as they may seem to be, were functioning as a means of payment… in which fines could be assessed and deposits demanded” (83, cf. 195). Actually, it is preposterous that physical cauldrons were used as means of payment. More reasonably, “cauldrons” might be the name for an ingot, perhaps stamped with the image of a cauldron. Mysterious monetary units are, after all, commonplace in the historical documents. Thus, a text from the ANE (Isin) records the purchase of an orchard for copper “hoes” ((c)haputu) inscribed with the name of the goddess Ninisina. Payments are also made in “sickles” and “axes” (CAD niggallu 1.b).

III. Alleged Revolutionary Effect of Coinage/Money

Schaps’ central proposition is not documented in a credible manner. In this endeavor, he receives only limited mileage from his strained identification of coinage with money. Sometimes he claims for money/coin the effects of Greek economic growth. In other instances, he admits that no revolution occurred. The quotations cited below illustrate his difficulties.

1. “The conceptual revolution that identified coins with wealth turned money into an item of which one could never have too much, or, indeed, enough” (175). What then of the Assyrian merchants of the early second millennium BCE whose wives scolded them “You love only money, and you hate your own life!” (Larsen 1982: 42)? More to the point, what of Solon (Fragment 13.43-45. 47-48, 71-73 West):

One hastens after one thing, another after something else; one man, desiring to bring home profit, wanders over the fishy sea in ships … another, whose concern is the curved plow, cleaves the thickly wooded land and slaves away for a year… but no limit of wealth [ploutou d’ouden terma] is clearly laid down for men; for those of us who now have the greatest livelihood [pleiston…bion] have twice the eagerness [diplasion specdousi]; who can satisfy [koreseien] all? (Balot 2001: 90)Presumably, this view originates in the late archaic period — i.e. before the Greeks adopted coinage. In any event, Solon does not link human acquisitiveness with coinage or money.

2. “To the extent, then, that Homeric society had distinguished prestige goods from nonprestige goods, money subverted the distinction: money could buy anything and could be gotten in exchange for anything. It follows that even a peasant or a shopkeeper could amass enough money to buy the most prestigious goods; and it followed from this that the possession of those goods, which is now open to everybody, no longer distinguished the best from the worst” (117).

3. “The history of the late archaic age in Greece is the story of the crumbling of oligarchies. This development was already underway before coinage had been invented…. Nevertheless, it is more than probable that money and the market had their share in continuing the process and in changing the entire concept of oligarchy” (120).

4. An (alleged) trend from socially embedded transactions to impersonal economics should not be attributed to the adoption of coinage. There is no doubt that economic transactions tended, as Greek society developed from the archaic age to the classical and the Hellenistic, to be more a matter of immediate mutual economic benefit and less a form of discharging social obligations. The invention of coinage certainly facilitated this change, which may, however, have been propelled more by simple population growth than by any technological or cultural development. (33)

5. “The agora grew up in the Kerameikos, the potters quarter, and excavations have found evidence of potters’ waste as far back as 1000 B.C.E., but there are not other signs of commercial or industrial activity before the growth of the agora itself [in the sixth century]” (113). “We cannot… prove that there was no retail trade before coins were invented; but what we have seen suggests that if there was any, there was not much” (115). The latter suggestion, however, does not depend so much on “what we have seen” as on what we have not, namely the archaic agora! “The place in which Athenians had previously congregated was hardly remembered by the Athenians and has not been securely identified to this day” (113).

In the end, Schaps offers a more balanced appraisal. The various participants “were all making a profit, and they were doing it in a way that would have been a good deal more difficult before the invention of coinage” (115). “Money, we may reiterate, did not create trade, but it marked the beginning of a new age of commerce in Greece” (122). “An expansion of retail trade was the first visible concomitant of coins. At this distance, we cannot tell which is cause and which is effect, but we can say at least that the marketplace and coinage grew up together” (196).

6. “Without money, the great temples, the dramatic festivals of Athens, its navy, and its democracy would have taken a very different form, if they had come to exist at all” (197). This is simply a reach.

7. “Merkelbach’s observation that a bordello was hardly conceivable before the invention of money is a plausible one, though the ‘money’ involved need not have been coins: the weighed silver of the Levant would also have been sufficient” (160). “Merkelbach’s observation” is “plausible” only because he does not identify money with coinage. How did Greeks pay for sexual services before the (alleged) “invention” of coinage/money in the sixth century? Schaps does not tell us.

8. “The ancient Greeks, even when money had become the universal medium of exchange, still considered the exchange of labor for money to be the exceptional case” (162). No revolution in the labor market.

9. “In sum, it appears that money never truly transformed Greek agriculture” (172).

Schaps, however, underestimates the market orientation of Greek agriculture in the later archaic period. Citing Hesiod (Works and Days 618-94), he (89, cf. 119) suggests that “Peasants might try to change an agricultural surplus into a more lasting form of wealth by sailing abroad during the seasons when the farm could be left alone.” What exactly was the “more lasting form of wealth” in these days (allegedly) before money/coin? With respect to Schaps? “agricultural surplus,” Redfield 2003: 168) points out that Hesiod advises “peasants” to “leave the greater part, and load as cargo the lesser” (Works and Days 690). Hesiod it seems can actually imagine farming entirely for export, although he is against it.” Moreover, Hesiod’s comment that “wealth means life to poor mortals” indicates an appreciation of production for the market.

IV. Peripheral Contributions

Apart from his central argument, Schaps makes a number of rather interesting and useful observations. Some examples follow.

“When the [Mycenaean] palaces had been burned and their far-flung bureaucracy dispersed, there will have been more need for exchange. The Homeric heroes did indeed have to weigh the value of a slave against the value of a tripod; if this seems to us a step toward the concept of money, it is not for that reason a sign of an expanding economy” (71). Thus, as I would see this, the Homeric era can be viewed and an “Intermediate Period” of a type familiar in Egyptian economic history.

Speaking of the marketplace in Athens, Schaps notes: These merchandises were not mixed: not only was there no one ‘general store’ that sold them all, but there was not even a single place where one could ‘do the shopping.’ Each merchandise had its own part of the agora, and a person would speak of being ‘among the fish’ or ‘among the banks.’ (167)

Or even, citing Aristophanes, “among the tragedies” (S 167, n. 19)!

Schaps (123) cites Aristophanes’ joke that a politician could win public support by lowering the price of sardines.

Schaps takes up private enterprise in the coinage business: It might, in theory, have happened that coining would have become a form of business, in which private individuals turned silver into coins that would have been accepted by the reputation of the coiner…. It did not happen in Greece. Once coinage was generally adopted in Greek cities, the coining of money was normally a state monopoly. (179)

By contrast, I would suggest, some of the inscriptions on the coins from the Artemision coins seem to be personal names, which leaves open the possibility that the issuers were private individuals.

Large business loans were made at Athens. “It is true, however, that large loans at Athens were, as far we can tell, never designed to be paid off in drips and drabs out of one’s regular income” (245).

There are also some rather unfortunate observations. “Behind the [Greek] prejudice [against merchants] though hardly ever explicitly expressed, lies a real paradox, namely, the syllogism that: (a) a trade should be fair; (b) if a trade is fair, both sides should remain with the same value; whence it follows that (c) if a person can increase his capital by trade, he is cheating someone” (177). It should be needless to say that there is no “real paradox.” An uncoerced exchange benefits both parties. Unless each contractor views his postexchange position to be superior to his preexchange position, exchange will not take place. Contrary to the Marxist perspective, exchange is productive. Specifically, trade rearranges an existing stock of goods in a way that enables each participant to become better off as measured relative to his own values at the time of deciding to trade. The creative nature of trade is little appreciated by scholars untrained in basic economic principles. Schaps (177, n. 7) compounds the problem by minimizing the contribution of the middleman in “making a market.” Later, he redeems himself by crediting the obolostat?s “obol weigher” for smoothing the function of the marketplace by “redistributing — for a fee — the coins that circulated in the market so that any seller could count on finding enough coins to start a day’s business” (186).

Concluding Remark

Not surprisingly, Schaps fails to demonstrate his thesis that coin=money revolutionized Greek economy and society. In my judgment, it is not nearly enough to cite the obvious advantages of coins in retail trade and to note that a Greek household might now express the entirety of its possessions in terms of money. With respect to the invention of coinage, the communis opinio has long been that it first appeared in the Greek world, not in the Near East. Schaps, to his credit, does explore the evidence for coinage in the Near East. However, he omits or misrepresents much and treats the remainder in an unbalanced manner. He has a tendency to make definitive statements not supported by evidence. Outside his central argument, he has many worthwhile things to say. The latter insights are sufficient to justify a favorable evaluation of the book.

Notes:

1. In Genesis 23.16, Abraham “weighed” for Ephron’s field the sum of 400 shekels of silver kesep ‘?ber lass?cher. The latter phrase is usually translated “current money of the merchant,” but the literal meaning is “silver passing for the merchant.” The expression makes us focus on the kind of silver that would be employed in commerce. Hurowitz (1986: 290, n.3), taking note of the Old Assyrian usage kaspum asshumi PN (personal name) equlam ittiq — “silver will travel overland to the name of PN” — concludes that the silver “must have been of a standard, recognized quality.” There is no mention in Genesis of a test of the quality of the metal. Hence, it seems reasonable that a merchant’s stamp or seal guaranteed the silver. Schaps (91, n. 50) rejects this interpretation. He (228, n. 37) is correct in insisting that the silver was weighed

2. Despite the dangers, some biblical evidence should be noted. In 2 Kings 12.10-12 we read that in the ninth century under King Jehoash: a box with a hole bored in it was set up in the temple for the collection of silver [presumably silver pieces] for a repairs fund; at a certain point the Temple officers removed the silver from the box and “tied it up”/”bagged it” [warrasuru]; then the silver was counted [wayyimnu]; and then the “measured”/”regulated” [metukkan] silver was given to contractors who delivered it to various workers at the Temple who used it to purchase timber and stone. The text does not say that the sacks were opened in order to make payments. Thus, expressing all due caution, the most direct understanding is that the sacks circulated outside the Temple.

3. There is some reason to believe that terms originally meaning “weigh” came to have the meaning “pay” (compare S 228, n. 37) The Greek material provides a possible example of this kind of development in meaning. A law of Solon states: “Silver is to be stasimon at however much the lender may choose” (Kroll 2001: 78; Schaps 2001: 97). The orator Lysias (later fifth-earlier fourth century BCE) explains “This stasimon, my good man, is not a matter of placing in a balance but of exacting interest at whatever rate one may choose” (10.18). Schaps (2001: 98) concedes that stasis may refer to weighing but he opposes Kroll’s interpretation of Lysias as referring to an obsolete procedure, the weighing of silver on a scale: “The claim hinges on the presumption that stasimon ‘properly’ should mean ‘weighable'; but there are no parallels for such a meaning.” What then does stastimon mean in Solon’s law? According to Schaps (2001: 98) the word means “nothing more than ‘is to be paid’.”

In fact, there are no other examples of the use of stasimos in the meanings “weighing” (Kroll) or “paying” (Schaps). What is clear is that “There is an absolute connection between the adjective stasimos and the noun stasis, both derived from the verb hist?mi ‘to stand up, to cause to stand up” (David Tandy personal correspondence dated March 2, 2004; LSJ s.v. hist?mi). The verb hist?mi is well attested in the meaning “to weigh.”

In classical Athens, long after the introduction of coins, we find the term obolostate? “weigh obols” in the meaning “making small loans” (LSJ s.v.). There is evidence here of an evolution from “weighing” to “paying.”

Abbreviations:

CAD: Gelb et al., The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute (University of Chicago)

LSJ: Lidell, Scott, Jones, Greek-English Lexicon References

References:

Archi, Alfonso. (1993), “Trade and Administrative Practice: The Case of Ebla.” Altorientalische Forschungen, 20, 43-58.

Balmuth, Miriam S. (1971). “Remarks on the Appearance of the Earliest Coins.” In David G. Mitten et al. (eds.), Studies Presented to George M.A. Hanfmann. Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, 1-7.

Balmuth, Miriam S. (1975). “The Critical Moment: The Transition from Currency to Coinage in the Eastern Mediterranean.” World Archaeology, 6, 293-98.

Balmuth, Miriam S. (ed.) (2001). Hacksilber to Coinage: New Insights into the Monetary History of the Near East and Greece. New York: American Numismatic Society.

Balot, Ryan K. (2001). Greed and Injustice in Classical Athens. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Castle, Edward W. (1992). “Shipping and Trade in Ramesside Egypt.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 35,239-77.

Condon, Virginia. (1984). “Two Account Papyri of the Late Eighteenth Dynasty (Brooklyn 35.1453A and B).” Revue d’?gyptologie, 35, 57-82.

Dercksen, Jan Gerrit. (1996). The Old Assyrian Copper Trade in Anatolia. Leiden: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul.

Foster, Benjamin R. (1977). “Commercial Activity in Sargonic Mesopotamia.” Iraq, 39, 31-44.

Gelb, I.J. et al. (eds.) (1956-). The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Locust Valley, N.Y.: Augustin.

Hallo, William W. (1958). “Contributions to Neo-Sumerian.” Hebrew Union College Annual, 29, 69-107.

Hurowitz (Avigdor), Victor. (1986). “Another Fiscal Practice in the Ancient Near East: 2 Kings 12:5-17 and a Letter to Esarhaddon (LAS 277).” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 45, 289-94.

James, T.G.H. (1984). Pharaoh’s People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Joann?s, F. (1989). “108) M?dailles d’argent d’Hammurabi?” Nouvelles Assyriologiques Br?ves et Utilitaires, (no. 4 D?cembre), 80-1.

Kim, Henry S. (2001). “Archaic Coinage as Evidence for the Use of Money.” In Andrew Meadows and Kirsty Shipton (eds.), Money and Its Uses in the Ancient Greek World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 7-21.

Kroll, John H. (2001). “Observations on Monetary Instruments in Pre-Coinage Greece.” In Balmuth (ed.), Hacksilber to Coinage, 77-91.

Larsen, Mogens Trolle (1982). “Caravans and Trade in Ancient Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.” Bulletin of the Society of Mesopotamian Studies, 4, 33-45.

Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott. (1968). A Greek-English Lexicon. Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie, rev. ed. London: Oxford University Press.

Lipinski, Edward. (1979). “Les temples neo-assyriens et les origines du monnayage.” In Edward Lipinski (ed.), State and Temple Economy in Ancient Mesopotamia, II. Leiden: Brill, 565-88.

Malamat, A. (1998). Man and the Bible. Leiden: Brill.

Oppenheim, A. Leo. (1969). “Review of R. Bogaert.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 12, 198-99.

Peet, Thomas Eric. (1934). “Unit of Value s(‘ty in Papyrus Bulaq 11.” In M?langes Maspero, Vol. 1, Fasc 1. Cairo: Institut Fran?aise d?Archa?ologie Orientale du Caire, 185-99.

Refield, James M. (2003). The Locrian Maidens: Love and Death in Greek Italy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Schaps, David M. (2001). “The Conceptual Prehistory of Money and Its Impact on the Greek Economy.” In Balmuth (ed.), Hacksilber to Coinage, 93-103.

Silver, Morris. (1985), Economic Structures of the Ancient Near East. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books.

Silver, Morris. (1995). Economic Structures of Antiquity. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Stol, M. (1982). “State and Private Business in the Land of Larsa.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 34, 127-230.

Udovitch, Abraham L. (1979). “Bankers without Banks: Commerce, Banking, and Society in the Islamic World in the Middle Ages.” Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, The Dawn of Modern Banking. New Haven. Conn.: Yale University Press, 255-74.

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

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):Middle East
Time Period(s):Ancient

Origins and Growth of the Global Economy: From the Fifteenth Century Onward

Author(s):Seavoy, Ronald E.
Reviewer(s):Cruz, Laura

Published by EH.NET (November 2003)

Ronald E. Seavoy, Origins and Growth of the Global Economy: From the Fifteenth Century Onward. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. xii + 301 pp. $65 (cloth), ISBN: 0-275-97912-1.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Laura Cruz, Department of History, Western Carolina University.

Ronald Seavoy’s latest book, Origins and Growth of the Global Economy: From the Fifteenth Century Onward, will not surprise readers of his previous works, including Famine in Peasant Societies (1986), Famine in East Africa (1989) and Subsistence and Economic Development (2000), as the primary argument in each is similar, i.e. that economic development requires political intervention and forced social disruption. In the case of Origins and Growth, Seavoy has placed the argument in a new framework, namely the historic growth of European mercantile empires and their evolution into a world system.

The book begins with an overview of European expansion and commercial development in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and then moves to an in-depth examination of English agricultural policy, especially the enclosure movement, which Seavoy sets up as a model for others to follow. The narrative then abruptly jumps to the late nineteenth century, drawing comparisons between old and new styles of imperialism, with particular attention paid to the political forms adopted by the latter. Nearly half of the book focuses on the late twentieth century, especially the economic problems faced in former colonies and the attempts by developed countries to address those problems, of which Seavoy is highly critical.

Seavoy is selective and eclectic in his use of historical sources and does little to address the historiography of European expansion in earlier periods. His historical overview is hardly exhaustive and a list of what-would-seem-like critical omissions would be long. Arguably, however, comprehensiveness is not the purpose of his book. He uses history not so much to contextualize but to highlight cases that illustrate his main focus — the failure of current development policies.

In doing so, he directly challenges neo-classical psychology. Beginning with Adam Smith, economists have claimed that their tenets are universal through time and across space, as they are based on assumptions about basic, inherent human nature — Smith’s homo economicus. Policies based on this assumption seek to bring out the economicus in peasants by providing incentives for them to participate in their own transformation to commercialized capitalists. Seavoy’s fundamental insight is that the main actors (usually male heads of households) in subsistence economies are not latent capitalists and, in fact, possess radically different mentalities than those assumed by policy makers. Capitalistic development, according to Seavoy, cannot be induced by such policies and must instead be forced upon populations who will never be willing participants in their own transformation. In Seavoy’s account, the English enclosure movement demonstrates this basic truth not just because it represents one of the most successful transformations from subsistence to commercialized agriculture but especially because it was accomplished almost entirely by coercion via collusion between the English Crown and the seigniorial landlords.

The colonial empires of the late nineteenth century also illustrate Seavoy’s great revelation, in this case not because of their success but because of their failure. Seavoy believes that the British imperial rulers had sufficient insight into the backwardness of their dependant populations and recognized the need for force. Unfortunately, they lacked the ability and/or the resources to effectively implement the necessary actions. In the end, they were precipitously cut short in their attempts to do so by the great wave of decolonization following World War II. Since that time, the fundamental insight into peasant mentality has been lost and replaced with neo-classical theories that have done nothing more than exacerbate the unfinished business of European, especially British, colonialism.

Seavoy does not examine nearly any recent work in developmental theory, most of which he dismisses simply as political correctness rearing its ugly head. Instead, he focuses on a few select policies and analyzes their results. According to Seavoy, these policies, as enacted by self-serving corporations, often-corrupt post-colonial regimes and well intentioned but misguided international agencies, coddle subsistence producers under the guide of social justice. Seavoy’s examples indicate that the problem is not laziness on the part of the peasants, but rather a radically different set of goals, which lead to an altered calculation of self-interest. Put simply, peasants choose less work because they do not see any increased benefits to working harder. In normal years, their efforts produce enough food for satisfy their basic needs. In bad years, problems do arise but there are plenty of agencies willing to bail them out of their predicament. Increased life expectancy, largely the result of better medical care coming from the developed world, and industrial expansion have strained the limits of these traditional economies and made famine more, rather than less, likely.

Seavoy’s arguments can perhaps justifiably be labeled as oversimplification because in many of his books he distills multivariate outcomes down to the same, single cause. This does not mean, however, that this book is without its contributions. Seavoy, now professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University, maintains unflagging optimism that economic development is possible. He posits a powerful, if problematic, defense of the idea that not everyone is born with a willingness and ability to play in the capitalist playground. The book also serves as a reminder that simple solutions (including those of the accuser and the accused in this case) will not solve complex problems with deep historical roots. Few readers will be able to deny that he has provoked them to think about the difficulties that underlie underdevelopment, even if the main source of that provocation is disagreement.

Laura Cruz is the author of “The Paradox of Prosperity: The Leiden Booksellers’ Guild and the Distribution of Books in the Golden Age” (forthcoming from Oak Knoll Press).

Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Peasant Cotton Revolution in West Africa: Cote D’Ivoire, 1880-1995

Author(s):Bassett, Thomas J.
Reviewer(s):Boko, Sylvain H.

Published by EH.NET (September 2003)

Thomas J. Bassett, The Peasant Cotton Revolution in West Africa: Cote D’Ivoire, 1880-1995. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. xix + 243 pp. $65 (cloth), ISBN: 0-521-78313-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Sylvain H. Boko, Department of Economics, Wake Forest University.

This book tells the story of how small-scale cotton farmers have used their adherence to free trade principles to revolutionize the cotton sector in West Africa, particularly in Ivory Coast. The books provides details of the historical development of the cotton industry in West Africa, and the innovative roles played by various African communities and groups in the economic and agronomic evolution of cotton in Africa. For example, it turns out from the author’s analysis that “in contrast to the dominant cotton development narrative that emphasizes the critical role played by Europeans in introducing new cotton varieties to West Africa, these ‘exotic’ varieties were in large part derived from African sources.” Further, the research reveals that half of the genetic components were derived from African sources and that African cotton farmers “actively experimented” with new cotton varieties. As the author, Thomas Bassett, points out: “this image of African cotton growers as innovative agents contrasts with the conventional representation of them as passive recipients of introduced technologies.” The research further reveals that in addition to their economic interest in cotton production, Africans had a scientific interest in this sector as well. Hence, Bassett notes that “female cotton spinners [in colonial French Sudan] were quick to appreciate the labor-saving qualities of medium and long-staple cotton.”

The analysis of the historical development of cotton in Africa is also conducted for the colonial period. Indeed, Bassett provides evidence that the French colonial government pursued a policy of cotton export promotion through coercion. In the end this strategy failed, however. The French colonial officers and the colonial textile companies were never able to convince, through coercion, including forced labor, the African cotton producers to produce in sufficient quantities for France’s textile industry. The reason is quite simple. During the colonial period there existed a parallel local cotton market in which prices received by local producers were more attractive than the prices offered by the colonial textile industry. Indeed, Bassett shows that African cotton producers took advantage of the existence of a local handicraft weaving industry that offered producers more competitive prices than were being offered by the colonial textile companies. The author explains that “only when compelled through administrative coercion would cotton growers produce for the export market. When the coercion let up, cotton exports fell dramatically.”

The main point of the book is that the cotton sector represents a success story in the history of agricultural development in Africa. According to this thesis, this success took the form of a dramatic expansion of cotton production, since pre-colonial times, as a result of two processes: “intensification” and (in more recent years) “extensification.” Intensification is explained as “some technical change that involves greater use of labor or other inputs per land unit,” and “extensification” is defined as “an expansion in cultivated area [or] situations in which farmers spread their labor and other inputs more thinly over a larger or smaller area.” Intensification resulted from the farmers’ choices of innovative and labor-saving technologies and usage of inputs such as fertilizer, to increase land productivity. This has been an on-going process since pre-colonial times. However, “extensification” became a farming strategy in more recent years as a result of the glut in the world cotton market, the subsequent drop in cotton prices and the World Bank-mandated elimination of subsidies for cotton farmers by the state textile company.

But regardless of the actual process of expansion, as explained by the book, the dramatic expansion in cotton production came about as a result of the “interplay of directed and induced technological and socio-cultural innovations that have developed in a dialectical and incremental manner since the early colonial period.” This “revolution” in the cotton sector was fueled by “negotiations” among African peasants and various external and internal agents, and the result of these interactions was that “new farming techniques and crop mixes, and different forms of labor organization and conjugal relations …” were adopted. Further, the book attempts to show, through detailed historical and field analysis, that the Africans themselves were largely responsible for this “cotton revolution” and that the role of foreign development experts in this African agricultural success story is exaggerated. African cotton producers, Bassett maintains, contributed to the “cotton revolution” in Ivory Coast through the adoption of innovative and labor-saving technologies, and their influence on government-directed research and price support policies, as independent producers who have proven their rationality over the decades by responding to price signals and profit opportunities rather than institutional price fixing or coercion. The book also points to important social changes in the cotton producing regions of Ivory Coast, including “flexible ways of interpreting culturally prescribed rest days, new forms of labor mobilization, and the greater importance of women’s work in household fields” as another important set of factors that have also contributed to the innovative success of cotton production in Africa.

The book is well detailed in its research and historical account of the development of the cotton sector in Africa. There is no question that this is one of the success stories coming out of the region. Indeed since 1980, cotton production has quadrupled for the main West African cotton producing countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Ivory Coast and Togo. For the region, cotton production now ranges from 5 to 10 percent of GDP and accounts for 30 percent of exports (for some individual countries such as Benin, cotton accounts for over 70 percent of exports). As maintained by the UN 2003 Human Development Report (HDR), many of these countries rely on cotton revenues to finance economic and social infrastructure in rural areas. However, the book fails to capture the important dynamics and distortions in the global cotton market which have direct impacts on small-scale producers in African countries. This omission may limit the usefulness of the analysis for policy-making.

As this review is being written, a group of African countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, are negotiating with their WTO partners in Cancun, Mexico to enact a “sectoral initiative in favor of cotton” as one of the tools for poverty reduction. These countries and their co-sponsors base their request on the following facts: whereas African countries have undertaken a number of reforms in their cotton sector and have cut costs and improved productivity, a number of other exporting countries, including the United States, the European Union and China, have heavily subsidized their cotton industries, including providing export subsidies. According to the 2003 HDR, “in 2002 direct financial assistance (from the US, EU and China to cotton producers) was estimated to equal 73 percent of world production, considerably higher than the 50 percent recorded five years before.” Further, the report explains that “in 2001 these programs cost $4.9 billion, with about half provided by the United States” (p. 157). The heavy subsidization of the cotton sector by the Northern countries causes distortions in the global market since the resulting artificial glut is a direct cause of the price drops that have been experienced over the last few years in the sector. Clearly, poor exporting countries like those in West and Central Africa, that do not subsidize their production, but enjoy a competitive advantage and are forced to sell at close to cost suffer the most. Small farmers in these countries, for whom cotton is for the most part the only commodity they can export competitively, have only experienced a steady decline in their incomes beginning in 1985. Thus poverty continues to deepen as these farmers work more and more to maintain their productivity and competitive edge.

The solution proposed by the African producers group at the Cancun meeting is two-prong: a) the establishment of a mechanism to phase out support for cotton production with a view to its total elimination, and b) transitional measures in the form of financial compensation for cotton-producing LDCs to offset their loss of revenue (which resulted from dumping by the EU, US, and China), until support for cotton production has been completely phased out.

It remains to be seen whether these countries will be successful in Cancun, but there is no question but that more than development aid and other hand-outs, the best tool to combat poverty in poor countries is for them to receive fair and competitive prices in the world markets for the products in which they hold comparative advantage.

Reference: United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Human Development Report: Millennium Development Goals: A Compact among Nations to End Human Poverty, 2003, Oxford University Press.

Sylvan Boko is the author of Decentralization and Reform in Africa (Kluwer, 2002).

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):Africa
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Money, Land and Trade: An Economic History of the Muslim Mediterranean

Author(s):Hanna, Nelly
Reviewer(s):Cosgel, Metin

Published by EH.NET (August 2003)

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Nelly Hanna, editor, Money, Land and Trade: An Economic History of the Muslim Mediterranean. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002. vii + 294 pp. ?39.50 (hardcover), ISBN: 1-86064-699-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Metin Cosgel, Department of Economics, University of Connecticut.

Economic historians of the Middle East have recently made significant progress in studying the region’s history. Only a generation ago scholarship in the field was fraught with such obstacles as restricted access to sources, misguided methodologies and approaches, and misconceived notions about the peoples, institutions, and economic processes of the region. Thanks to the increasing availability of sources and the efforts of dedicated scholars, the influence of these obstacles has been gradually diminished. Although there is still much room for improvement, the field has reached a healthy stage of debating established ideas, revising misconceptions, and being open to new types of sources, methods, and approaches.

The collection of essays edited by Nelly Hanna (Professor of Arabic Studies at the American University in Cairo) in Money, Land and Trade: An Economic History of the Muslim Mediterranean attempts to contribute to this process. The book consists of thirteen essays presented in seminars at American University in Cairo under the research program called “Individual and Society in the Mediterranean Muslim World,” sponsored by the European Science Foundation.

The collection has three parts. The first part is titled “Land,” consisting of five chapters. In the first chapter Nicolas Michel examines the relationship between the individual and the collectivity in pre-colonial Morocco, showing that individual economic decisions were only partly influenced by social customs and obligations. In the next chapter Abbas Hamid emphasizes the importance of studying individual ownership and identifies the specificities of Egypt’s experience that must be considered in analyzing its historical development. Studying the multiplicity of rights on land, Muhammad Hakim examines in the third chapter agricultural land relations and social conflicts in Egypt in the nineteenth century. In chapter four Amina Elbendary examines state-peasant relations by analyzing Nile floods during years of crises. In the last chapter of Part 1, Peter Gran notes weaknesses in the study of nineteenth century Egypt and proposes an alternative approach based on a model of Italian history in order to articulate the internal dynamic of struggle.

The four chapters in the second part of the book are devoted to “Crafts and Trades.” Focusing on the guild system in Damascus, Abdul-Karim Rafeq investigates in chapter six the sources of vastly different incomes among craftsmen. In the next chapter Pascale Ghazaleh documents the transition from the guild system to the factory system, based on a case study of a firm called Al-Khurunfish in Egypt in the nineteenth century. In another case study of an Armenian merchant family in the Ottoman Empire, Armin Kredian examines in chapter 8 the business correspondence of this family to shed light on the historical development of the textile industry. Abbas Hamdani uses literary sources as evidence in chapter 9 to contribute to the debate about the origin of craft guilds in the early Islamic societies, finding strong support for the presence of professional urban organizations.

The final part of the book is titled “Money,” consisting of four chapters. Sevket Pamuk leads off by examining the interaction among the monetary regimes of Istanbul, Cairo, and Tunis during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Monetary causes of the financial crises and bankruptcy of Egypt during 1875-8 are the subject of chapter 11 by Ghislaine Alleaume. In the next chapter Magdi Girgis studies the financial resources of Coptic priests in the nineteenth century Egypt. In the final chapter of the book, Sayyid Ashmavi uses literary sources to understand the role of Greek money-lenders in the deteriorating status of the peasants and the image formed in the collective memory of Egyptians about Greek money-lenders at the turn of the twentieth century.

Most papers in the collection attempt to challenge a prevailing perception, methodological approach, or some other trend in the literature. One of the primary topics of emphasis is the individual, whose decisions have traditionally been viewed as dominated by other concerns such as the family, state, guild, and religion. Several of the papers refuse the traditional view and attempt to show the prominence of individualism even in earlier Islamic societies. Some papers challenge the “impact of the West” model of economic change, showing the way the internal dynamics of the region also contributed to change and development. Other departures from previous approaches include emphasizing not only urban centers but traditionally neglected rural and peripheral areas, and going beyond traditional sources such as government documents and introducing new sources like business correspondence, family papers, and literary sources.

Some of the book’s shortcomings may have been inevitable consequences of bringing together a collection of essays by different scholars. The book lacks a coherent framework or a consistent approach, even within each of its three parts. Papers also differ significantly in their use of economic theory and quantitative analysis and in their reference to broader economic or historical debates. Although some of these differences may also be viewed as reflecting the diversity of approaches in the field, there does not seem to be a systematic attempt for comprehensive coverage. For example, despite the wide geographic coverage suggested by the book’s title, a majority of the papers (eight of the thirteen) deal exclusively with the Egyptian experience. Page limitations may also have limited detailed, comprehensive, or in-depth analysis of issues or potentially useful comparisons with relevant phenomena in other parts of the world.

Despite these shortcomings, the collection nevertheless points toward a fascinating array of new areas of research. For example, rather than view the behavior and institutions observed in the Islamic world as being distinct, irrational, and beyond the boundaries of economic analysis, we may more appropriately use the available sources, economic theory, and tools of quantitative analysis to better understand these phenomena. Similarly, rather than let the content or availability of sources dictate our research agenda, we may search for new sources or use old sources in novel, creative ways.

The collection is probably a required reading for those interested in the questions of land, trade or money in this region and a supplementary source for those interested in the same issues in other parts of the world. The collection can also be a useful guide to the general historian interested in learning about some of the controversial issues in the history of the Muslim Mediterranean, received views about the peoples and institutions of the region, and current attempts at revising these views. Each chapter typically has a good discussion of the relevant literature and bibliographic notes and references, which are useful guides for further research. Although the collection may not be representative of the type or quality of current research in the field, it can still serve as a supplementary book of readings for undergraduate or graduate courses on the economic history of this region or for the Middle East or North Africa sections of courses on world history.

Metin Cosgel is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Connecticut. His current research interests include the tax system of the Ottoman Empire. Links to his publications and recent working papers can be found in www.ucc.uconn.edu/~cosgel.

Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Middle East
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Corn and Capitalism: How a Botanical Bastard Grew to Global Dominance

Author(s):Warman, Arturo
Reviewer(s):Bogue, Allan G.

Published by EH.NET (August 2003)

Arturo Warman. Corn and Capitalism: How a Botanical Bastard Grew to Global Dominance. (Translated by Nancy L. Westrate). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003 (originally published in Spanish in 1988). xiii + 270 pp. $49.95 (cloth,) ISBN 0-8078-2766-5; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8078-5437-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Allan G. Bogue, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The distinguished Mexican anthropologist, Arturo Warman, published the Spanish language edition of this sweeping survey of the place of corn in world history since the sixteenth century in 1988. The colorful subtitle refers to corn’s disputed parentage and the fact that through history the crop has stayed outside “the system of accepted norms” (p. xiii). As a Mexican social scientist Warman became deeply interested in the social and economic significance of corn and planned a history of the crop’s place in Mexican life. Various scholarly projects prepared him for that work but he ultimately deferred it in favor of the current volume.

Several preliminary chapters lay a foundation for the book. Warman begins by describing the many useful American plants that have had major “repercussions” in “the development of the world economy, and the world market place.” At the heart of corn’s story, he writes, “lies the history of capitalism” (p. 11). The corn plant (Zea mays), Warman explains, has various amazing characteristics. Evolved from the grass teosinte, it does not propagate itself in nature, is self-pollenizing, is remarkably responsive to hybridization, is adaptable to a wide range of environments, has outstripped other food plants in its yields, is accommodative to complementary crops, is easily converted to edible form, and is capable of conversion into a myriad of derivative products ranging from bourbon to adhesives and automotive fuel, as well as providing livestock feed that enters the human diet as animal protein. Debate has raged as to whether the birthplace of corn was the Americas or Asia. Sketching the archeological evidence, Warman accepts Mexico as the place of origin.

Warman devotes most of the remainder of the book to tracing the history of corn in major areas of the world, dealing first with Asiatic locales. First introduced there in the early sixteenth century by the Portuguese, corn became a crop of the mountains and frontier regions and particularly a food of the poor. He links its history to the complex land tenures and labor intensive systems of cropping in that great region and the relation of this crop to other major crops including a number of other western immigrants. Corn, he explains, was an important part of the second great agricultural revolution that occurred in China during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He follows with an account of the place of corn in the Atlantic slave trade. Slaves endured their passage to the new world on a diet consisting almost solely of corn meal paste, the grain’s high vitamin content warding off scurvy. Introduced primarily by the Portuguese, corn became a major crop in the African slave shipping areas and their hinterlands to meet the provisioning needs of the slavers. The crop adapted well to slash and burn agriculture. By the seventeenth century, corn was well established on the Atlantic coast of Africa and probably in much of the interior. With the decline of the slave trade in Africa, European nations developed colonial relations with its peoples. Corn now became increasingly important as a subsistence crop grown by peasants. Colonial administrators and white settlers emerged as a ruling class in the colonial dependencies and a native worker class emerged to provide labor for extractive ventures and settler agriculture. Corn products also sustained this labor sector but corn’s resistance to disease, short growth cycle, versatility, low requirements of capital and labor, and high yields also commended it to white farmers. Colonial land policies, Warman explains, benefited white interests and confined native populations in restricted areas, thus limiting native livestock operations. Hampered by natural hazards and colonial policies, peasants used corn both as sustenance and to provide agricultural surplus. Corn became, Warman concludes “one of the secret weapons in peasant resistance to colonial rule” (p. 81). In the era of national independence that followed the colonial era in Africa growth in the volume of commercial export crops — coffee, tobacco, cacao, and cotton — far outstripped growth in domestic food crops; a condition of dietary dependence prevailed. Corn flour was one of the cheapest foods per thousand calories available in urban African markets. The hope for future growth in food production in Tropical Africa lies, Warman suggests, in land reform.

Turning to Europe, Warman reviews the treatment of corn in European publications from the sixteenth century to the modern era. First grown as a curiosity in Andalusia and later as an agricultural crop, by the eighteenth century it had displaced long established cereals both in irrigated areas and in the subsistence peasant economy of northern Spain. By the end of that century corn was planted from the Black Sea to Gibraltar and, it was said, south of a line from the mouth of the Garonne to the Rhine above Strasbourg. It was often planted on land that formerly had been fallowed. Ripening at a time that had typically been one of food scarcity, it reduced the threat of famine and became the food of those who lived in “poverty, rural deprivation, and primitive … conditions.” Corn contributed vitally to the ongoing, “intellectual, political, industrial, and agricultural revolutions” then underway (p. 111). Finding no “ubiquitous and precise cultural agent” that accounted for the diffusion of corn growing through much of early Modern Europe, Warman identifies four “natural and social factors”: “growing conditions and the agricultural systems or their associated methods: population dynamics; trade, prices, and markets; and landownership and the relations of domination existing between landowners and direct producers” (p. 112). Their interaction, sometimes affected by more subtle influences, made corn “the bread of southern Europe’s poor.” But it also “generated wealth for landowners, shopkeepers and money lenders, overlords, and the new middle class,” who, ironically, ate wheat bread (p. 131). This occurred as an agricultural revolution took place between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries involving more intensive cultivation of the land and dwindling use of fallow.

Two American agricultural exports had tragic consequences — the potato famines of the mid nineteenth century and the widespread incidence of pellagra in southern Europe and later in the southern United States. Those highly dependent on corn as a food might develop pellagra and this chronic disease, causing dermatitis, diarrhea, and ultimately dementia, battered the population of European corn growing regions during the nineteenth century. Warman describes the various efforts to explain the disease and the developing conviction that diets heavily dependent on corn were responsible. Such dependence was usually associated with poverty and such onerous rents that peasants could not eat a balanced diet. Pellagra was “a symptom of a process of fierce modernization in peripheral areas” (p. 150).

In telling the story of corn in the United States, Warman stresses the importance of Native American tutelage. “Once the settlers had fully grasped the secrets and potential of corn, they no longer needed the Native Americans. Indigenous peoples were wiped out, scattered or relocated as settlers penetrated even further inland” (p. 155). Warman’s discussion of American economic development sketches many of the familiar facts of that story. Corn was a basic crop in the long continuing American frontier experience but played “its most important and long-lasting role,” he writes, ” in the predominantly rural world of the American South” (p. 159). It was a staple of slave diets but these were apparently sufficiently varied that the slaves did not suffer from nutrition deficiency diseases. Corn cultivation was far more extensive than cotton in the South but the latter produced the wealth and contributed most to the development of class differences. Sharecroppers became so hard pressed that pellagra was endemic by the early twentieth century. U.S. Public Health Service researchers discovered that a diet rich in milk, meat, and beans countered the disease. In the 1930s the University of Wisconsin’s Conrad A. Elvehjem showed that nicotinic acid deficiency was the specific cause. The human digestive process failed to unlock corn’s content of this vitamin when it was prepared as food in certain ways. Warman here comments that “pellagra was a disease born of development, a product of a type of progress that was imposed, unjust, and unequal”(p. 173).

Prior to the nineteenth century corn’s history was “tied directly to human nutrition.” In the expanding, industrializing, railroad-building United States, however it also became “the raw material for the production of meat and dairy products” and in the first half of twentieth century the U.S. crop accounted for half of the world’s production. It was the “very backbone” of American agriculture (pp. 181, 183). During that era U.S. corn production was more or less stable. The successful development of hybrids, however, along with improvements in mechanization, and fertilizer and herbicide use resulted in unprecedented yields of the crop after World War II. Now American corn became a significant factor in the world trade in cereals. By the beginning of the twentieth century U.S. pioneer subsistence agriculture had been replaced by commercial farming but farmers still continued “to supply the largest part of the means of production”– “labor, motive power, seeds, organic fertilizers.” Now the farmer became increasingly dependent on the market for these things. A massive institutional framework developed to sustain and direct agriculture and agribusiness became the “dominant force” in American agriculture (pp. 186, 188). In 1954 the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954 was designed “to use U.S. agricultural surpluses abroad in the effort to eradicate world hunger” (p. 190). Related programs followed and corn was a major element in the U.S. contribution. Because “corn entered the world market … as a food stuff for the poor and as forage for the rich it surmounted the inelasticity of demand typically associated with cereals” (p. 192).

In a final substantive chapter Warman describes the world market for food as it developed between the 1950s and the mid 1980s. Prior to World War II, Western Europe was the only major agricultural region that did not meet its own needs and also provide some export grains. By the 1960s only the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada were independent producers. U.S. aid programs exacerbated this trend and “food dependence became a chronic and widespread phenomenon in many Third World countries” as did population explosions (p. 203). Wheat dominated in U.S. exports until the 1970s and then corn became increasingly important. American aid had generated “an entirely new market, whether by introducing the consumption of wheat or by displacing existing domestic production” (p. 205). The U.S., charges Warman, distributed aid with a view to its strategic political impact. The political considerations of the United States and its allies dictated the magnitudes of supply and demand, prices and the conditions of sale, that defined the world cereal market and interacted with domestic tariffs, subsidies, and other production controls (p. 209). By the 1970s five great multinational grain handling companies dominated world trade in cereals. After a food production crisis in Russia and a failure of the hybrid corn crop in the U.S. during the early 1970s, however, food production outpaced population growth. Although “corn’s incredible growth as a commodity for reexport was the most outstanding phenomenon.” most third world countries had entered a condition of dietary dependence (p. 212). Despite adequate world supplies of food at the time of writing, Warman identifies a major problem of distribution and future vulnerability to shortages.

In two concluding chapters Warman discusses the recent phenomenal expansion of food production in which corn has been an important part and the possible ways in which growth in food production may be sustained. He sees two available agricultural modes — “capitalized intensive agriculture, also known as scientific agriculture or production by the wealthy.” The other is traditional peasant agriculture, utilizing few resources beyond those readily available and controlled by the production unit. This is farming by the poor” (p. 218). The first of these, he argues, has not improved world diets in the past nor solved the problem of distribution. Advocates of the Green Revolution tried to increase production in peasant agriculture by the use of hybrid crop varieties but had very limited success because of the high costs involved. Warman identifies less expensive ways of increasing peasant production — reduction of fallowing, bringing marginal lands into production and land reform. “The only way to confront the problem of world hunger,” he argues, “is to increase peasant production, using the many and at times unimaginable means to achieve that goal” (p. 231).

In the final chapter “New Reflections on Utopia and the New Millennium,” Warman explains that he has attempted “to analyze some social processes in which corn has played an important role” (p. 232). From one perspective his book is a sweeping historical survey of the adoption of corn as a major food and feed crop in much of the world. In this respect it is a fascinating compendium of thought-provoking facts and illustrative statistics. The volume is also a somewhat sour Marxist critique of modernization and, one may argue, a defense of peasant agriculture. A few passages illustrate Warman’s perspective. Concluding his discussion of the Chinese case, he writes “Growing rural surpluses did not remain in the rural countryside or even in China itself. … They were transferred to foreign powers’ spheres of economic influence and accumulated there. Peasants were the source of agricultural know-how and labor, yet they were increasingly threatened … settling marginal lands on the nation’s domestic frontier. For many decades they accepted the destiny of peasants everywhere, unable to eat what they produced because it was prohibitively expensive. Thus they transformed corn and other American plants, previously foods for the poor, into essential resources for their very survival. They did even more, they carried out a [social] revolution” (p. 50). He summarizes the slave trade this way: “the slave trade was not destiny or fate, but a series of opportunities and limitations.” Those “opposed to slavery … were social groups with the emerging power and will to confront that circumstance. The slave trade was an aberration, but neither was it the result of a general law of historical development. Rather, it was history; something that happened, but that just as easily could not have taken place at all” (p. 65). In considering the European agricultural revolution of 1600 to 1800, Warman rejects the common assumption that it was “the result of the application of scientific knowledge to production, diffused by elites and intellectual vanguards,” preferring instead “the idea of revolution as a result of collective knowledge and collective action” (p. 119). Leaving discussion of pellagra, he argues, “Change was promoted in the periphery from above and from abroad in order to recreate society in accordance with an ideological model; the industrial millennium that sought to establish a homogenous world. … Pellagra was not simply a disease of poverty and deficiencies, but one of the many diseases of modernization, of development, of prodevelopment capitalism” (p. 150). And finally, the history of U.S. agriculture is a process of accumulation with very different and increasingly accelerated rhythms. It is also a history of inequality, of exclusion, and of subjugation. Each process created its own marginal groups” — Native Americans, rural poor, urban poor, migratory workers, food stampers (p. 193). “Marginalization threatens the American farmer, the most outstanding product of the U.S. democratic ideal” (p. 194). He contrasts these developments with the diversity, stability, community reinforcement, and population controls found in peasant societies.

Although the principle of comparative advantage was at work in the spread of corn, it was conditioned by relations of power and dominance, argues Warman; accumulated wealth put less powerful groups at severe disadvantage. He was apparently unaware of ongoing cliometric research on the profits of imperial enterprise. He does not offer a rigid formula of class differentiation; to him the process was one of diverse conditions and forces but invariably involved exploitation. In considering the sections dealing with corn’s history in the United States, Americanists will consider some of his judgments to be overstated. The achievements of American plant scientists are brushed aside in a sentence, and the mechanics of diffusion are described in terms more general than modern scholarship has achieved. Warman emphasizes the need for increasing the effectiveness of peasant agriculture’s national or regional dietary independence but he gives much less attention to the issue of population control. Warman’s translator has produced a lucid, stimulating, and informative narrative but the reviewer remains happy that he is not one of Warman’s peasants nor sentenced to relive the existence that he, himself, experienced as a farm boy, living the democratic ideal.

Allan G. Bogue is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and has published widely in American agricultural and political history. His most recent book is The Farm on the North Talbot Road (University of Nebraska Press). His next article, “Oxen to Organs: Chattel Credit in Springdale Town, 1849-1900,” will appear in the forthcoming summer number of Agricultural History.

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Agricultural Development in Jiangnan, 1620-1850

Author(s):Bozhong, Li
Reviewer(s):Pomeranz, Kenneth

Published by EH.NET (July 2003)

Li Bozhong, Agricultural Development in Jiangnan, 1620-1850. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, and

Li Bozhong, Jiangnan de zaoqi gongyehua (Proto-Industrialization in the Yangzi Delta). Beijing: shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2000.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Kenneth Pomeranz, Department of History, University of California at Irvine.

Like most other aspects of Chinese intellectual life, economic history suffered badly during the 1960s and 1970s. In the generation that began rebuilding the field thereafter, probably the single most productive scholar has been Li Bozhong, now of Qinghua University. Professor Li has also been noteworthy for his efforts throughout the last twenty years to encourage Chinese scholars to engage seriously with the very different paradigms favored by most of their colleagues in the West, Taiwan and Japan — and vice versa. Yet only a fraction of Li’s massive scholarly output is available to those who do not read Chinese. The following review attempts to hit many of the highlights of his work by considering two recent complementary volumes, only one of which is translated: Agricultural Development in Jiangnan, 1620-1850 and Jiangnan de zaoqi gongyehua (Proto-industrialization in Jiangnan). Together, they paint a fascinating, though incomplete, picture of the economy of the Yangzi Delta (or Jiangnan),1 which was the richest region in China, and among the richest regions in the world from roughly 1000 until the mid-nineteenth century, when the Opium Wars, Taiping Rebellion (1851-64 — probably the most destructive civil war in history, killing perhaps as many as 20,000,000 people), and the onset of rapid industrialization in Northwestern Europe fundamentally changed the social, political, and economic landscape.

In Agricultural Development, Li argues forcefully against two basic views of the Delta’s agriculture in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) periods: 1) the claims of some Chinese Marxist scholars that the Delta remained a subsistence-oriented “feudal” economy in which most peasants had very limited contact with the market until the nineteenth century; 2) the claim of some Western scholars that Malthusian pressures and very limited technological change produced a slow but steady trend of immiseration over the period from roughly 1250 (when the rate of technological progress seems to have slowed considerably) until at least the mid-nineteenth century, and perhaps until well into the twentieth century. (A variant of this latter view, sometimes called the “involutionary” position, claims that living standards remained basically unchanged over the long haul, while the amount of labor required to obtain this standard kept increasing, so that immiseration came in the form of more work for the same rather limited per capita output rather than in the form of a decline in per capita output.) Li argues instead that: a) positive technological change continued in Jiangnan agriculture throughout this period, particularly in the areas of fertilizer use and water control; b) local factor markets continued to become more efficient, facilitating the increasingly rational allocation of labor and capital; c) long distance trade in various products expanded dramatically, allowing the region to benefit by pursuing its comparative advantage in cotton and silk production, and importing rice, timber, soybeans, etc.; d) the gradual decline in farm size as population increased did not lead to under-employment.2 On the contrary, increased double-cropping and other measures meant that the labor year for peasant males stayed about the same, while output per labor day actually rose; meanwhile women increasingly exited agriculture (in which they had never been very productive anyway), and earned more per day by moving into rapidly-growing textile trades; e) deliberate fertility control became fairly widespread by the eighteenth century, considerably reducing any Malthusian pressures and; f) because of all these factors, both aggregate and per capita income increased slowly but steadily during this period. (Li does not attempt to calculate total factor productivity, but makes it clear that he thinks growth in output outstripped the rate of growth in inputs.) He sees these positive trends coming to an end — and even then, only a temporary end — with the coming of the Opium War (1839-42) and the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64), which he argues aborted the development of a national market, and led to the breakdown of law and order. (In a more recent paper, he has suggested a slightly earlier turning point, arguing that a prolonged period of exceptionally bad weather and flooding began about 1820, doing lasting ecological damage and contributing to the calamities of the mid-nineteenth century.)

The basic arguments of Proto-Industrialization are similar in spirit. Li’s most basic point — that handicraft production for the market by Delta households grew enormously between the mid-Ming and mid-Qing — is not much in doubt, but he adds a number of important further observations. First, he broadens the scope of inquiry beyond the relatively well-studied silk and cotton cloth industries, providing very useful discussions of food-processing, tool-making, bleaching and dyeing, residential construction, boat-building, and so on. While he does not have the level of detail on any one of these sectors that one would hope for, his work on most of these industries is a significant advance over anything we had before.

Second, Li shows us that the growth of production in almost all of these sectors was accompanied by increasing levels of specialization, in two senses: a) in the sense that the tasks of production were increasingly sub-divided; and b) that consumers were increasingly purchasing these goods rather than making them for themselves, and so increasingly concentrating their work effort on production for the market rather than “Z-goods” for auto-consumption. (The latter point is less well documented than the former; while Li is able to show burgeoning urban markets, both in the Delta and beyond, for all sorts of ready-made goods, the evidence on rural consumption is sparser.) Along with this increased specialization, Li also assembles evidence that the average size of production units was growing in most of these sectors. In the case of spinning and weaving, where most production continued to be done in households, he makes a generally convincing case that an increasing share of output was controlled by merchants operating on a large scale, who controlled access to often distant markets, imposed increasingly exacting quality standards in order to maintain those markets, and thus had an increasing influence on the production process, even without using credit and the provision of raw materials to control direct producers the way that European “putting-out” merchants often did.

Third, Li’s surveys of specific industries other than textiles make a strong case showing slow but continuing technological development, expansion of markets, and an increasingly complex division of labor. In contrast to an older version of Chinese economic history (pioneered by Japanese scholars in the 1930s, but later widely accepted around the world), which saw an enormous spurt of technological change during the Song dynasty (960-1279), followed by stagnation or even regression thereafter, Li argues that the Song revolutions have been over-emphasized: not because they weren’t important, but because the diffusion and subsequent small improvements of many major inventions pioneered in that period took centuries, and it was those processes that gave Song-era breakthroughs much of their impact. This, too, is a revision of the conventional wisdom that is gaining adherents among both Chinese and Western scholars. While Li has not unearthed enough quantitative data to let us make reliable estimates of, for instance, labor productivity for most of these sectors, what little we can do with this data tends to suggest continued improvements in most sectors, and snapshots of productivity levels in particular sectors that would compare well with other advanced areas in the world until probably some time in the eighteenth century. What we do not see, however, is a shift over time among sectors toward more capital intensive and energy intensive pursuits — and this, as we shall see, is crucial to Li’s overall argument.

Fourth, Li argues that the combination of proto-industrialization and rising yields in agriculture (discussed above) propelled a significant improvement in per capita income and standard of living between 1550 and 1850, despite significant setbacks in the mid-seventeenth century ( a period of civil war, foreign invasion, and massive epidemics) and a decline in the average size of family farms. Here he not only disagrees with the still-regnant Chinese Marxist orthodoxy, which insists that China remained essentially a subsistence economy until the Opium War, but also with American partisans of “involution,” who maintain that the late imperial period was characterized by miniscule gains in income achieved at the expense of very large increases in labor inputs. By contrast, his position comes much closer to what is sometimes called the “California school” of social and economic historians, who argue that economic development in the Delta more or less kept pace with that in the most advanced parts of Europe until the onset of widespread factory industrialization. (Full disclosure statement: this reviewer is a charter member of the California school.) But in some ways, he goes even further than they do: while most of the “Californians” see economic expansion (or at least per capita economic growth) in the Delta slowing by the late eighteenth century, Li’s argument in these two books (though not always since then) suggests that the basic dynamics of growth continued unchanged until China’s mid-nineteenth-century catastrophes.

But while Li is content to rely on largely exogenous factors to explain the decline of the Delta after 1840, he does devote considerable attention to analyzing why the highly productive agriculture, commerce and handicrafts he describes did not spawn something more like classical English industrialization sometime before that date. He argues that institutional structure, surplus available for investment, and the educational level of the workforce were all quite adequate, and that there was widespread interest in productivity-enhancing technological change. Consequently, he looks beyond social, intellectual, and political factors, and finds his answers in geography and the supply of natural resources. In particular, he emphasizes a dearth of energy sources that he says gave Jiangnan production a marked bias away from anything energy-intensive, creating what he calls “a super light industrial” economy. Being very densely populated (and to a great extent reclaimed from marshes, rather than by clearing forest), the Delta had relatively few trees and not very many large work animals; it had no coal or peat, and, being at sea level, relatively little water power. Conditions were even unfavorable for the large-scale use of wind power, though some windmills were established. Thus, Jiangnan did what it was best at: sustaining a very productive agriculture (especially in rice: cotton yields do not seem to have been outstanding), mobilizing the large numbers of people it could feed to produce handicrafts, and taking advantage of its location at the mouth of a river system draining roughly a third of China, plus the coastline and the one thousand mile Grand Canal, to engage in very widespread trade. That it did not shift much labor into areas in which it had serious natural deficiencies, such as energy-intensive heavy industry, should not blind us to what it did achieve, or to the ways in which, Li argues, Jiangnan’s “proto-industrialization,” like its Western counterpart, laid the basis for the growth of modern industry in the region later on.

Much of Li’s argument here parallels the arguments of Western scholars in the so-called “California school,” including myself: thus it is not surprising that I find most of his argument convincing, and welcome the wealth of additional data he has brought to bear. His reconstructions of agricultural productivity and factor inputs, while certainly open to question, are generally the best we have: in particular, I think his claim that both male and female labor productivity rose significantly between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, despite a large increase in population, is at least well-enough based that the burden of proof should now rest on those who wish to argue for stagnation or decline. (The problems with these estimates are that a) the documentary base is fairly narrow, and b) because this was an agriculture with both very high inputs of labor, fertilizer, etc., and very high outputs per acre, relatively small percentage changes in assumptions about either yields or the costs of inputs can lead to uncomfortably large changes in estimates of net output.) The particular care that Li has lavished on changes in fertilizer use and their effects has important implications for environmental history as well as economic history. In terms of industry, his attempt to broaden discussion beyond textiles is particularly welcome, as is his general argument that we should look at what happened within the major sectors of this economy, rather than focusing on why the relative size of light and heavy industrial sectors did not shift. And his attention to environmental and resource problems is also quite helpful, though I think there is evidence that these problems began to constrict the Jiangnan economy somewhat sooner than Li allows, and that some of them were exacerbated by state policies (especially restrictive mining policies, and very limited government investment in transportation infrastructure beyond maintaining the massive Grand Canal) in ways that he does not address. His discussion of the conditions for technological change also seems to me a bit too hurried. While he has certainly made an important contribution by showing that such change had not stopped in Qing-era Jiangnan, there is still some reason to think that its pace had slowed, and no sign that it was speeding up the way it was in Europe. And while Li makes a good case for enough literacy, availability of various manuals, and so on to perpetuate continued diffusion of best practices, we need to know considerably more than we currently do about the rate at which new innovations were being introduced, and about such matters as patterns of association among artisans, the extent to which they were aware of elite science, and what was happening in that science, among other things. But this is only to say that no one scholar can do everything. The main problem, for the foreseeable future, will remain data: Li’s re-interpretations of Chinese economic history have generated new hypotheses considerably faster than we have been able to find material that will satisfy skeptics. But this simply means that we can thank Li, along with his other contributions, for keeping ourselves and our students employed for quite some time to come.

Notes: 1. Technically, these two expressions are not synonymous, but they are now used interchangeably in Chinese studies. “Jiangnan,” meaning “South of the (Yangzi) River,” in Chinese, refers to only part of the geographic Delta, omitting the generally less prosperous North Bank. Most Westerners now use “Yangzi Delta” to refer to Jiangnan, rather than to a more geographically accurate, inclusive region. Jiangnan is also somewhat vague, since it does not refer to a political jurisdiction with officially set boundaries. Professor Li uses a fairly broad definition of the area, though still not as broad as that used by, for instance, Wang Yeh-chien or myself; some other scholars, such as Philip Huang, have adopted a much narrower definition, including only the most densely populated prefectures near Suzhou. Li’s Jiangnan, with an area of roughly 43,000 square kilometers (16,000 square miles), had perhaps as many as 36,000,000 people by 1850.

2. Li favors a population figure of 20,000,000 for Jiangnan in 1620, and 36,000,000 in 1850, for a 0.3 percent per annum growth rate. These figures roughly match those of Cao Shuji’s recent work on Chinese population (Zhongguo renkou shi (History of Chinese Population), Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 2000), and appear to be widely accepted among Chinese scholars. Many Western scholars, however, favor a lower figure for 1850, following G. William Skinner’s argument that mid-nineteenth century population totals for various parts of China were seriously inflated. (“Sichuan’s Population in the Nineteenth Century: Lessons from Disaggregated Data,” Late Imperial China, 8:1 (1987): 1-79.) Population growth appears to have been minimal in the region after about 1770.

Ken Pomeranz is author of numerous works including The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Princeton University Press, 2000 and The Making of a Hinterland: State, Society, and Economy in Inland North China, 1853-1937, University of California Press, 1993.

Subject(s):Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):Medieval

Sexual Revolutions: Gender and Labor at the Dawn of Agriculture

Author(s):Peterson, Jane
Reviewer(s):Steckel, Richard H.

Published by EH.NET (June 2003)

Jane Peterson, Sexual Revolutions: Gender and Labor at the Dawn of Agriculture. New York: Altamira Press, 2002. xii +177 pp. $70 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-7591-0256-2; $26.95 (paperback), ISBN: 0-7591-0257-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Richard H. Steckel, Departments of Economics and Anthropology, Ohio State University.

Generations of economic historians have examined the evolution of labor organization, emphasizing patterns of the industrial era. Many recent efforts consider changes in women’s work over the past century that accompanied declining fertility, rising levels of education and new opportunities for employment in the industrial world. Sexual Revolutions extends the agenda far back in time, to the dawn of settled agriculture. Jane Peterson, who is assistant professor of Anthropology at Marquette University, asks how the rise of farming may have created or changed the sexual division of labor in the southern Levant (the modern regions of Palestine, Israel, and Jordan) as long as 10,000 years ago. One strand of the literature cites biological differences between men and women such as size, strength and the burden of pregnancy and childrearing as the fundamental sources of sexual labor patterns. Others claim that agriculture triggered significantly new labor roles for men and women.

There are no drawings or graphic images, much less written accounts of the process, and so anthropologists and archaeologists must construct their portraits from surviving remains of ancient cultures. Skeletons occupy center stage in this study, suggesting ways that the body adapted to mechanical and biological stress. Peterson explains that the wellsprings of this methodology originated in the late nineteenth century, when surgeons and anatomists observed that the type and intensity of work helped to sculpt the body. Doctors identified skeletal modifications with various occupations or habitual activity patterns, features that have been refined by modern industrial, sports and forensic medicine.

Skeletal Markers of Occupational Stress (MOS) may be confounded by nutrition, disease and other factors, and so Peterson is appropriately cautious in qualifying results. Bony changes are commonly interpreted within the framework of Wolff’s Law, which states that skeletal tissue places itself in the direction of functional demand. Because it has a blood supply, the skeleton remodels or responds to mechanical forces throughout life. Indicators used in the book include joint modification, trauma, and the sizes and shapes of ligament attachments. The latter take the form of bone buildup, rough patches and projections that can be graded using a visual reference system, as illustrated by photos in the book. Some repetitive motions, such as throwing, leave well-defined bony signatures, but other actions are the complex outcome of a large suite of muscle groups that are not easily identified with particular activities. Many actions utilize similar muscle groups, making it impossible, for example, to distinguish repetitive downward blows in pulverizing soil from chopping wood. Contextual information about inhabited sites, obtained from the remains of structures, tools, material goods, animal bones and so forth help to identify likely activity patterns associated with specific skeletal formations.

Although Peterson draws upon the work of other researchers to formulate and test hypotheses, her major contribution originates from careful study of 158 individual remains (93 males and 65 females) that were excavated at 14 sites. Seventy-two of the skeletons fall into the Natufian period, which predates settled agriculture. The hypothesis of sexual division of labor is supported for this period, with well-developed muscle attachments for overhand throwing among the males, while female musculature was oriented toward bilateral tasks associated with processing. During the Neolithic, male activities became increasingly bilateral, more closely resembling the female pattern while activity patterns became more intense for both sexes.

In appraising the book by standards familiar to economic historians, who often work with large quantities of data, one could easily complain about the small sample sizes. Economic historians are familiar, however, with ambiguous or qualified results, which in this case follow from limits in connecting detailed features of skeletal development with specific activities. On the upside, this is a local study and far more evidence is available on a continental or global scale for the transition under consideration. Moreover, the methodology on display is relatively recent and the outlook is promising for developing more nuanced and robust interpretations of activity patterns from skeletal evidence.

At first blush the methods articulated in Sexual Revolutions may appear to be uninteresting or of little use to economic historians, but applications do exist. One involves interpretation of high rates of productivity among American slaves, reported by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman in Time on the Cross. They claim this follows from the organization of work in gangs — a type of factory in the field. An alternative explanation, however, is exertion or speed-up– drivers simply forced slaves to work more intensively so that they produced more than free white farmers. Skeletal evidence may be able to distinguish between these explanations, in that slaves who worked intensively in the field should have had more robust skeletons and larger muscle attachments than those of free whites. Second, Robert Fogel recently argued that prior to the agricultural revolution of the nineteenth century, many European peasants had such poor diets that they were incapable of a full day’s work (and by extension, considerable physical exertion). If correct, their skeletons should have been relatively frail and lacking large muscle attachments that characterize more vigorous populations. In sum, skeletons provide useful markers of physical vigor and activity that can be useful for interpreting sources of long-run productivity growth. Thus, economic historians have good reasons to remain tuned to developments in this area of research.

Richard H. Steckel’s latest book (co-edited with Jerome Rose) is The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere (Cambridge, 2002), which employs skeletal remains to investigate long-term trends in health.

Subject(s):Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):Middle East
Time Period(s):Prehistoric

The Record of Global Economic Development

Author(s):Jones, Eric L.
Reviewer(s):Altman, Morris

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

Eric L. Jones, The Record of Global Economic Development. Cheltenham, UK

and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2002. xviii + 226 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN:

1-84064-806-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Morris Altman, Department of Economics, University of

Saskatchewan.

Throughout his illustrious scholarly career, Eric Jones has made significant

contributions to both world and English economic history. In this vein, this

book contains contributions to both general and local economic history, albeit

the bulk of this text deals with issues raised in his European Miracle

(1981), relating to world economic development. This discourse on questions is

here further contextualized by more contemporary English and Australian

economic history.

A key objective of this book is to show that (p. vii) “plain economic history

can help pick out the more durable of the arrangements that favour growth.” He

argues that the conditions favoring long run growth are largely political and

include competitive markets, free trade, decentralized institutions, democracy,

the rule of law, and property rights. These themes surface throughout the text,

although free trade and anti-protectionism are the more dominant ones. This is,

in part, a response to the contemporary anti-free trade and anti-globalization

‘populism’ that has gained force in recent years. In his focus upon the

importance of political factors to the growth and development process, Jones

joins a growing literature on the subject exemplified in the work of North

(1990), Olson (2000) and, of course, Jones (1981). Additionally, Jones takes

aim at the thesis that ‘culture matters’ with regards to either promoting or

impeding long run economic growth. Culture, he contends, ultimately adjusts to

economic change. Jones’ critique of the ‘culture matters’ perspective, however,

is largely focused upon a critique of Deepak Lal-type (1998) theses that East

Asian values are superior to ‘Western’ values in terms of facilitating,

fostering, and maintaining socio-economic development.

More generally, Jones critiques the view that the development of the West was

and is a product of ripping-off the rest of the world and related to this view,

that free trade, markets, and capitalism are bad for growth, socio-economic

development and, more generally, for improving the well-being of all members of

society, including workers and peasants. Development, argues Jones, is a

product of the right institutions, just as development failure is largely a

product of failures in constructing institutions that are conducive to the

process of growth and development. This book makes for a provocative read,

raising important questions for all who are interested in questions of

contemporary economic development.

The Preface to this book serves as an excellent introduction to what is

discussed in the text, as Jones succinctly summarizes the thrust of each

chapter. The book is divided into four parts. The first deals with long-term

economic development, the second with protectionism and free trade, the third

with East Asian Development (where the culture-related discourse is focused),

and the fourth deals with adjustments to more recent global economic changes,

with a focus on the Australian experience.

Jones argues, in Chapter One, that economic history of the long dur?e-type has

a lot to teach us about those conditions that facilitate the process of both

extensive and intensive economic growth. Thus, economic history is not simply

of esoteric scholarly interest, but should also be of vital interest from a

public policy perspective. He raises concerns about most quantifiers — Angus

Maddison being the clear exception — as greatly exaggerating the importance of

nineteenth century growth and of those who maintain that the West developed

first fortuitously or because of its exploitation of the less developed

economies, causing the actual underdevelopment of the latter. Jones argues that

it is important to note that extensive growth — output simply keeping pace

with population growth and some urbanization — was and is an important facet

of growth since it indicates important changes in economy and society, such as

investment in infrastructure, new technology, and new crops, which served to

avoid Malthusian crises. Such growth has taken place for centuries prior to the

dramatic tipping over into intensive growth in the West during the nineteenth

century. Thus, intensive growth flowed from the far-from-static extensive

growth societies. However, for intensive growth — increasing per capita output

– to occur and be sustained required, as ‘first order conditions,’ political

stability and the security of property. Also of importance were the rule of law

(and the related decrease in arbitrary and royal power) and good information

markets (and the related decrease of censorship). For intensive growth to

occur, elites could no longer engage in taxing the marginal product at high

rates, thus shifting from a regime of rent seekers to a regime that accrues

income from the increasing marketization of society.

Chapters Two and Three further elaborate upon the themes planted in Chapter

One, pointing out in the process that finding that the West developed first is

not indicative of Western triumphalism and chauvinism as some of the critics of

Jones’ European Miracle would have it. Rather, understanding and

recognizing the fact that the West was the first to engage in sustained

intensive growth, to be followed by Japan, allows us to glean some of the

general conditions necessary for the process of sustained socio-economic

development. He points to the importance of decentralized political

institutions which allowed for the politically and economically oppressed to

flee (thus the importance of labor mobility) and the importance of increasing

markets which allowed for significant ‘Smithian’-based intensive growth. He

points out, for example, that China blocked exploratory market expanding and

enhancing activities. Such negative state intervention was not possible in the

much more decentralized Western Europe. Jones also underlines the importance of

political pluralism, the rule of law (equality before the law) and a free press

for sustained intensive growth. Only under such an institutional regime can

systematic economic and political errors be critiqued and corrected. Also of

importance are the incentives for growth provided by a regime wherein

individuals have a right to retain the fruits of their labors. Jones also

maintains that culture, in terms of particular values, was not important to the

rise of the West. Rather values change to accommodate economic development.

However, this rather dismissive perspective on culture pays little heed to the

contemporary ‘culture matters’ literature (Harrison 1992; Harrison and

Huntington 2000), which points to the importance of institutional change as

necessary to the development process, where the latter is affected by the norms

and mores of society, especially by the decision makers of society.

Long run agricultural development is the focus of Chapter Four. Jones argues

that agricultural growth was a product of both supply and demand changes, very

often a product of independent changes in supply, related to intercontinental

crop and animal transfers, new methods of farming, trade flows, and

institutional innovations. Agricultural progress is also related to the

breaking up of large estates into smaller units thereby releasing

entrepreneurial energies, mechanisms for facilitating the transfer of new ideas

(including education), and incentives to adopt new ideas. Jones critiques the

view that the importance of long run world agricultural exchange should largely

be measured in terms of the convergence of agricultural prices. Rather, he

argues one has to determine counterfactually what might have occurred to

agricultural prices, population growth, and standards of living in the absence

of the type of international agricultural exchanges that transpired from the

sixteenth century. He argues that these exchanges allowed for an unprecedented

increase in population, which marked a significant economic achievement. Thus,

the ‘Age of Discovery’ was not an era dominated by rent seeking, but rather of

highly significant economic advance. Jones views agricultural protectionism as

a key deterrent to further agricultural progress and views the agricultural

protectionism in the contemporary West as damaging the economic well-being of

the population of both developed and less developed economies.

Chapters Five and Six focus on different aspects of protectionism. In Chapter

Five, focusing on contemporary England, Jones addresses the issue of

multifunctionality — unpriced positive spillovers from agricultural production

– as a raison d’?tre for the protection of uncompetitive agricultural sectors.

Jones argues that, on the contrary, there is no evidence of such positive

externalities. Indeed, farmers tend to generate significant negative

externalities, which are only exacerbated by protectionism. Moreover,

protectionism itself comes at a huge direct public expense, including keeping

too much land in agriculture as opposed to providing more tourist space —

urbanites escaping to ‘pristine’ rural settings — which is what the market

demands but which protected farmers will not provide. Resources are

misallocated at the expense of the general public. In Chapter Six Jones argues

against linguistic protection wherein society subsidizes the learning and

spread of ‘dead’ or dying languages at the expense English, which has become,

for historical reasons, the lingua franca, of the world economy. Jones argues

that linguistic nationalists are largely rent seekers who pay little attention

to the opportunity costs incurred by the larger society by their policies. He

argues, for example, that efforts to dissuade the use of English are

particularly damaging in terms of reducing the mobility of labor, increasing

transaction costs, and negatively impacting productivity. The losers in the

game of linguistic nationalism are the people at large — not the elites. Jones

does not argue against the preservation of local cultures and languages per se

as much as critiquing such policies when they interfere with learning proper

internationally understood English where the latter enhances the capacity of a

society as a whole to develop and prosper.

At this point it is important to note that Jones’ critique of protectionism is

narrowly focused on agriculture and language, although he maintains that the

absence of protectionism is a key cause of growth and development. He pays no

heed to the literature which points to the potential importance of selective

protection in newly developing economies to their development process and to

the clear positive correlation, pre-World War Two, between protection and

intensive growth (Bairoch 1993; O’Rourke 2000). The same can be said for the

rapidly developing East Asian economies after the Second World War. In a world

where comparative advantage is dynamically affected by learning-by-doing, for

example, temporary protection can serve as a development tool (Altman 1999).

Related to this is the unanswered question of how should less developed

economies respond to the protectionism of the more developed economies? Should

the less developed world choose the route of unilateral free trade or should it

use its own protectionism, in certain instances, as a tool for bargaining for a

more even tariff-related playing field?

In Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine Jones critiques the perspective that culture

matters to the process of economic development in the context of East Asian

development. He intends to critique the view that culture either impeded or

caused economic development as opposed to political factors. Moreover, Jones

apparently identifies the ‘culture matters’ perspective with the notion that

culture is immutable. Instead he argues that culture can changes and does as

economic variables change. Economic change yields cultural change and ‘good’

culture can be learnt. Once again, Jones’ views do not contravene the

contemporary culture matters school which views cultural change as possible and

institutional change as key to economic change. In these chapters Jones argues

that for contemporary East Asia to flourish economically requires a more

pluralistic society, with a freer press, and a more independent judiciary — in

a word to be less authoritarian. This increases the capacity for society to

self-correct. He argues that one reason for the current crisis in East Asia has

been that these economies have not gone far enough down the road towards a more

pluralistic and less authoritarian society. He also maintains that the current

crisis demonstrates the failure of the statist approaches to development

adopted in many of the East Asian economies, inclusive of Japan. However, can

one important (financial) crisis, in itself, undermine the hypothesis that an

activist state in a mixed market economy can play a positive role in the

process of economic development, where such activism is positively related to

decades of unprecedented intensive economic growth in key East Asian Economies?

Should one pay heed to the policies of the IMF which, some have argued, played

a critical role in causing and exacerbating the recent East Asian crisis

(Stiglitz 2002)?

In Chapter Ten, Jones discusses the failure of the Australian economy to move

fast enough into the service sector as compared to other developed economies

and relates this to protection and inadequate investment in education. Chapter

Eleven, exploits a narrative on the rise of the supermarket in Australia to

discuss the hypothesis that structural change involving the destruction of the

smaller shop is somehow bad for society and economy. Jones argues that the rise

of the supermarket is in part a product of consumers choosing to shop at these

food retail outlets, which have dramatically increased the quantity and quality

of choices afforded to consumers. He also argues that the supermarket has

changed in response to dramatic shifts in consumer tastes over time. Efforts to

protect the old forms of food retailing would, Jones argues, only negatively

impact upon consumer well-being.

In Chapter Twelve Jones presents a highly polemical critique of the

anti-globalization forces and, on the other side of the coin, a strong defense

of market capitalism. He argues that the available statistics clearly show that

over the course of the past one hundred years most of the world’s population

has seen its socio-economic position improve in absolute terms, indicated by

improvements in life expectancy for example, and the absence of major

Malthusian crises which had plagued the world in previous centuries. Jones

argues that free trade and globalization are the means to resolve the world’s

socio-economic problems. But undemocratic institutions, especially NGOs, led by

misguided individuals, have seriously damaged the capacity of markets to

resolve problems of poverty and overall economic underdevelopment, by attacking

growth and freer trade as unequivocal forces of evil. The anti-globalization

activists, argues Jones, effectively serve the interests of rent-seekers both

at home and abroad, not those of the poor and dispossessed. In this instance,

one must contextualize Jones’ polemic in terms of the narrative presented in

previous chapters wherein markets and trade yield widespread benefits, which

can be sustained only in the context of an appropriate institutional setting.

It would also be important to note that although the NGOs are undemocratic so

are the multinational corporations who are lobbying for a particular path of

competitiveness, which involves lower wages and related benefits to labor and

an overall deterioration in labor standards and working conditions. This is

deemed to be the only path possible for capitalist development to take. The

evidence clearly shows that this is not the case. There indeed exist multiple

paths to competitiveness (Altman 2002). But then the NGOs, however misguided

about the great potential contained in capitalism for fostering and promoting

the human good, serve as a countervail to those who would maintain that

capitalism and globalization require that the population at large must see

their socio-economic position deteriorate (Stiglitz 2002). Needless to say,

Jones makes an important point in underlining the dangers posed, from the point

of view of institutional design and long run intensive growth, by misinformed

and misguided critiques of capitalist production and trade.

Overall, Jones’ most recent book represents an important contribution to the

literature on the role of institutional design in economic growth and

development and the contribution which economic history can make in furthering

our understanding of some of the key forces underlying the process of economic

growth.

References:

Altman, Morris (1999), “Free Trade and Protectionism.” In P. O’Hara, ed.

Encyclopedia of Political Economy, vol. 1 (London: Routledge), pp.

372-375.

Altman, Morris (2002), Satisfaction and Economic Performance (Armonk,

NY: M.E. Sharpe Publishers).

Bairoch, Paul (1993), Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes

(Chicago: Chicago University Press).

Harrison, Lawrence .E. (1992). Who Prospers? How Cultural Values Shape

Economic and Political Success (New York: Basic Books).

Harrison, Lawrence E. and Samuel P. Huntington, eds. (2000). Culture

Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress (New York: Basic Books).

Jones, Eric L. (1981), The European Miracle: Environments, Economies, and

Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia (Cambridge/New York:

Cambridge University Press).

Lal, Deepak (1998), Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Factors

Endowments, Culture, and Politics on Long-Run Economic Performance

(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).

North, Douglass C. (1990), Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic

Performance (New York: Cambridge University Press).

Olson, Mancur (2000), Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and

Capitalist Dictatorships (New York: Basic Books).

O’Rourke, Kevin (2000), “Tariffs and Growth in the Late Nineteenth Century.”

Economic Journal, vol. 110, pp. 456-43.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. (2002), Globalization and Its Discontents (W.W.

Norton and Company).

Morris Altman is Professor and Head, Department of Economics, University of

Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He has published extensively in

both economic history and economic theory. His most recent article are: “Staple

Theory and Export-Led Growth: Constructing Differential Growth,” Australian

Economic History Review, 2004 (forthcoming) and, with Louise Lamontagne,

“On the Natural Intelligence of Women in a World of Constrained Choice: How the

Feminization of Clerical Work Contributed to Gender Pay Equality in Early

Twentieth Century Canada,” Journal of Economic Issues, 2004

(forthcoming).

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

Modelling the Middle Ages: The History and Theory of England’s Economic Development

Author(s):Hatcher, John
Bailey, Mark
Reviewer(s):Richardson, Gary

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, Modelling the Middle Ages: The History and

Theory of England’s Economic Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press,

2001. xiii + 254 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-924411-1; $19.95 (paperback),

ISBN: 0-19-924412-X.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Gary Richardson, Department of Economics, University of

California, Irvine.

Modelling the Middle Ages, by John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, provides a

cogent and comprehensive survey of the history and economics of late medieval

England and an invaluable survey of the history of thought concerning those

topics. Scholars interested in these issues should read this book. It will be

especially valuable for graduate and undergraduate economic history courses,

where I expect it to be widely adopted, and for researchers, like myself, with

an interest in medieval England but who had to learn the material on their own,

because they studied at institutions that lacked leading (or any) scholars in

the field. I base my strong recommendation on three features of the text:

First, the book is insightful. It demystifies the beliefs underlying the

arguments of most economic historians — beliefs derived from intellectual

foundations established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by Adam

Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and other eminent scholars. It

explains how and why the work of those intellectual forefathers generated three

grand explanatory models, “population and resources,” “class power and property

relations,” and “commercialization,” and how those models influenced debates

among historians and social scientists concerning the causes and consequences

of economic development during the Middle Ages.

Second, the book is useful, in the most practical sense of the term. It

summarizes two hundred years of scholarly literature in a few hundred pages

while building a framework, a lexicon, and a syntax that will allow scholars to

compare and contrast their ideas more precisely than they currently can. It

will have wide applications in other fields, such as global history,

particularly global history, where similar models form the foundation of

similar debates.

Third, the book is clear, lucid, and accurate. In some cases, the book explains

author’s ideas better than the original expositors did themselves. The clarity

of the prose and the organization of the argument assure the material will be

accessible to students at all levels.

The foreword and introduction establish the motives of the authors and sketch

an outline of their argument. The authors hope to fulfill a “pressing need of

undergraduate students studying the medieval economy for an introduction to the

theory and practice behind the grand models of development which dominate the

subject (p. vii).” As I mentioned earlier, they more than accomplish that goal.

The authors also hope to contribute to the ongoing scholarly debates concerning

the economic development of medieval England. They plan to compare and contrast

the intellectual and empirical content of the methods and models used to study

medieval English economic history and in doing so shed light on the advantages

and disadvantages of each method as well as advance our knowledge of the Middle

Ages. They also accomplish this goal, as my description of the remainder of the

book, and hopefully your reading of the text, should demonstrate.

Chapter 1, Methods and Models, explains “why the medieval period has proved so

attractive to the builders of historical models, and theorizing so attractive

to medieval historians (p. 3).” The Middle Ages lasted for more than five

centuries. During that long era, transformations occurred in almost every area

of economic and social life. Merely describing these changes is a challenging

task. “Historians cannot hope to describe, analyze, and explain them by

gathering and narrating factual information alone (p. 4).” They must choose to

present certain facts and materials but not others. Their emphasize depends

upon their point of view, their prior beliefs, and the point which they wish to

make. Theory and speculation are therefore indispensable ingredients of any

grand survey. They impose a degree of coherence and clarity and force scholars

to fit the facts into a manageable working framework. In this way, order can be

imposed upon the chaos of vast numbers of pieces of information and answers

formulated to crucial questions. In addition, abstract concepts and formal

models help scholars explain why things happened as they did and what might

have happened in counterfactual cases. Explaining such things requires more

than mere narration. Historical changes lasting several centuries and

penetrating all spheres of economic, social, and political activity were the

culmination of an infinite number of individual events. No one can describe

them all. Comprehending them requires analysis, a systematic approach to the

material, the sorting and grading of information, and the weighing of the

relative merits of different concepts. Models, in other words, are needed to

seek the reasons behind vast historical processes such as the rise and decline

of serfdom and feudalism, the rise of the money economy and capitalism, the

rise and contraction of economic activity, and the growth of urbanization and

industrialization.

Chapter 2, Population and Resources, focuses on the first of the grand

supermodels, and the ways in which assumptions influence its results and in

which it impinges on historical analysis “in both a helpful and harmful

manner.” The population and resource model, also known as the demographic or

Malthusian model, stems from a core set of simple economic relationships. The

productivity of agriculture depends upon the relative scarcity of the two prime

factors of production: land and labor. As addition units of one input are

employed while the others are held constant, the output generated by each

additional unit will eventually fall (diminishing returns). Thus, when land is

abundant relative to labor, the productivity of the land will be low. The

productivity of labor will be high. Products of the land, like foodstuffs and

raw materials such as leather, wool, and wood, will be inexpensive. Wages will

be high. When labor is abundant relative to land, the productivity of the land

will be high. The productivity of labor will be low. Food and rents will be

expensive. Real wages will fall. There is clear potential for applying such

basic supply and demand analysis to conditions prevailing in medieval England.

“There is abundant evidence to show that over the longer term there was a

strong correlation between rising population, on the one hand, and increasing

land values and agricultural prices, and falling real wages, and, on the other,

between declining population, falling prices and land values, and rising real

wages. By this analysis the Middle Ages falls into two sharply contrasting

periods; with the broad experience of much of the era up until the fourteenth

century conforming to the former set of circumstances, and the later

characteristics persisting throughout much of the late fourteenth and fifteenth

centuries” (pp. 22-23).

Chapter 3, Class Power and Property Relations, examines the second grand

supermodel, which begins with the presumption that the keys to understanding

the economic development lie in the social relations and political and legal

institutions of society. Of particular importance are the “relations between

the leading classes and in developments of what are termed the ‘mode of

production'” (p. 67). The most popular models of this type are those

constructed by Karl Marx and his intellectual descendants. For Marxists,

“history is a dialectical process in which the future is shaped by the present,

just as the present was shaped by the past, and each distinct era of human

development — ancient, oriental, feudal, capitalist — generates from within

itself the conditions which will ultimately transform it” (pp. 67-8). Marxists

focus their attention on a limited range of issues, particularly relations and

conflicts among social classes as well as the mode, means, and relations of

production, as the main agents of social and economic change and development.

Thus, the dynamic for the transformation of medieval society lay primarily in

the relationship between lords and peasants, who were the two principle classes

of feudal society. The relationship was inevitably one of conflict, due to the

opposing interests of landlord and tenant, and eventually resulted in a ‘crisis

of feudalism,’ whose “onset is usually located in the late thirteenth and early

fourteenth centuries” (p. 71). At that time, the increasingly excessive

depredations of the landlord class undermined agricultural productivity,

plunged the peasantry into poverty, and inspired them to struggle against the

exploitative social system.

Chapter 4, Commercialization, Markets, and Technology, focuses on commercial

activity and technical progress. The bulk of the space is devoted to the

rapidly expanding evidentiary base and to the discussion of ways in which

markets and technology could overcome Malthusian, Ricardian, and Marxist

constraints on economic development. There are two basic theories. Improvements

in agriculture — such as improving land management, crop rotation, and

selective breeding of crops and animals — raised the productivity of land and

labor. Urbanization and commercialization expanded the scope of the market, the

division of labor, and the wealth of nations.

Chapter 5, The Importance of Time and Place, explores the weaknesses of the

models discussed in the previous chapters from three different perspectives.

The first exposes the difficulties that emerge when the models are applied to

both the early and later Middle Ages. In each case, assumptions needed to apply

and conclusions drawn from the application of a model to the earlier era

conflict with those from the later period. The second reviews the wide range of

alternative models that have been proposed and which illuminate inadequacies in

existing models. The third tests the validity of the assumptions and methods of

each of the major supermodels by applying them to a particular test case: the

rise and decline of serfdom in medieval England.

Chapter 6, Beyond the Classic Supermodels, stresses the limitations of the

models described during the previous chapters. The principal flaws are their

neglect of social factors, institutions, historical contingency, and the

uncertainties inherent in individual behavior and group dynamics. The chapter

ends on a hopeful note, by suggesting ways in which the limitations of these

models might be overcome historically, empirically, and theoretically.

Overall, the book does an excellent job of accomplishing its two goals. The

first was to provide a clear and accessible introduction to the conceptual

frameworks that have dominated this field for many decades. The second was to

assess the strengths, weaknesses, relevance, and credibility of the models. The

book itself has many strengths and few weaknesses. I think that in the future

students interested in this topic will read it.

Gary Richardson is Assistant Professor of Economics at UC-Irvine. His

dissertation, “Social Change and Industrial Expansion before the Industrial

Revolution” was completed at the UC-Berkeley.

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

Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain, 850-1520

Author(s):Dyer, Christopher
Reviewer(s):Masschaele, James

Published by EH.NET (September 2002)

Christopher Dyer, Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain,

850-1520. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. x + 403 pp. $35.00

(Cloth), ISBN: 0-300-09060-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by James Masschaele, Department of History, Rutgers

University.

Christopher Dyer’s latest book, Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The

People of Britain, 850-1520 appears as part of The New Economic History

of Britain series published by Yale University Press. The aim of the series

is to offer monographs that are sufficiently scholarly to be taken seriously by

academic historians, but sufficiently accessible to appeal to a broader market

of sophisticated amateurs curious to understand why a small island off the

coast of Europe came to have such an inordinate influence on the history of the

world’s economic development. Dyer, now professor of regional and local history

at the University of Leicester, has achieved this objective by providing a

thorough synthesis of existing literature in a book that is highly readable.

Specialists may come away from the book feeling that he hedged his bets on some

of the more controversial issues in the field, but most readers will find the

book to be a clear and well-articulated account of the medieval British

economy.

Dyer divides the period covered into three eras: from 850 to 1100; from 1100 to

1350; and from 1350 to 1520. The first era was one of vigorous and creative

growth, during which the basic patterns of village life, manorial economy, and

urban geography that would survive beyond the medieval period were put in

place. In making the argument for substantial and influential growth, Dyer

relies heavily on archeological evidence to support the meager written evidence

of the period, and his use of archeology and his arguments for major advances

in economic sophistication in the period are among the most original and

interesting parts of the book. Reginald Lennard once famously remarked that by

1066 England was already an old country. Compared to later medieval periods,

relatively little has been written about the economic history of this early

period, but Dyer makes a convincing case that we need to give more heed to

Lennard’s old saw. Whether one looks at settlement patterns, at the exchange

economy, or at the social relations of production, one finds an economy that

looks surprisingly familiar to those better versed in the economic structures

of later centuries.

Dyer divides his second era (1100-1350) into the two phases traditionally

depicted by historians, one of growth in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries

followed by a period of crisis in the early fourteenth century. The growth

phase is presented as a continuation of the first era, essentially a process of

filling in the mold set in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Population grew

quickly, for example, but mostly within settlements founded before the Domesday

Book; similarly, the money supply grew dramatically, but its growth was

associated more with a change in degree of commercial orientation than a change

in kind. Dyer portrays the crisis phase primarily in Malthusian terms, the

consequence of too many mouths feeding from too few acres of land. He expresses

dissatisfaction with several key components of the neo-Malthusian approach

championed by Michael Postan, but like most other economic historians, he finds

it difficult not to view the crisis phase as a consequence of the growth phase.

Dyer’s third era is one of flux, in which different sectors of the economy

experienced different phases of growth, stagnation, and decline, preventing any

easy generalizations. Dyer favors a high estimate of plague mortality, arguing

that a death rate of fifty percent accords well with the evidence. He also

argues for a relatively late date for a return of population growth, offering

1540 as his best guess. Most economic trends in the era are related to this

severe demographic regime. Some towns clearly suffered through the period as

markets shrank and new rivals emerged, but overall Dyer believes that towns

held their own through the period, noting that urban populations comprised

about the same proportion of total population in 1520 as they had in 1300. The

countryside saw considerable conversion from arable to pasture land, as

producers sought to cope with the collapse of the market for cereals in the

fifteenth century. Individual holdings of land increased in size, but many

proprietors of these larger holdings still had difficulty making ends meet. The

principal beneficiaries of the new circumstances of the era were laborers and

smaller landholders, while lords and those who employed labor had the greatest

hurdles to overcome. Dyer insists that collective action by peasants and

laborers, particularly in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, was instrumental in

bringing about the redistribution of wealth that favored the lower orders in

the period.

Viewed as a whole, the book has many features to commend it. Dyer’s survey of

existing literature is thorough and his synopsis of the work of other scholars

is intelligent and fair. His inclusion of economic trends in Scotland and Wales

adds refreshing geographical breadth to the work, and often makes for

interesting comparative observations. Reports of archeological fieldwork are

skillfully integrated with documentary sources, and furnish considerable

support for the author’s contention that the material world of medieval

peasants and townspeople was richer and more accomplished than is generally

recognized. (The inclusion of twenty plates and illustrations also is helpful

in this regard.) One is particularly struck by the author’s use of anecdotes

and vignettes to enliven the general description of economic trends. Dyer

insists that individual decision making needs to be set along side impersonal

economic forces to explain why the economy behaved as it did. The story of

deserted villages, for example, is not simply a consequence of the exogenous

influence of disease on society, it is also a consequence of decisions made by

individual peasants to leave particular villages to seek better fortunes

elsewhere. Recapturing the motives, fears, and aspirations of a wide spectrum

of medieval people is not an easy task, and few, if any, medieval economic

historians do it better than Christopher Dyer.

The purpose of a good synthesis is to draw attention to what we don’t know as

well as to highlight what we do know. By adopting relatively broad geographical

and chronological frameworks, Dyer’s book raises a number of issues that beg

for further study. Regional variation is one such example. The author notes on

a number of occasions that pastoral areas differed from arable regions in their

responses to prevailing economic circumstances, but it is far from clear in

these discussions what such shifts mean and how we ought to relate them to the

economy as a whole. Why, for example, did the southwest fare so much better in

the late medieval period than other parts of the country? Similarly, the

author’s reconstruction of population trends over the period raises a host of

questions that defy easy explanations. His reconstruction (seen most readily in

Figure 2 on p. 235) opts for gentle growth from 850-1150, followed by

dramatically faster growth from 1150-1300. Given his emphasis on the structural

continuity between these periods, one is puzzled to explain their fundamentally

different demographic trajectories. One also wonders why late medieval

population levels stagnated for so long. Dyer suggests that both mortality and

fertility issues need to be included in the explanation, but he fails to give a

clear statement of how they ought to be weighted, nor does his treatment of the

subject offer many insights into earlier population dynamics. Perhaps the most

interesting issue raised by his population estimates is the aberrant nature of

the thirteenth century. Dyer’s model suggests that the population of England

ranged between two and three million for every century between the ninth and

sixteenth, except for the thirteenth, when it rocketed to about six million. By

crafting such a fine synthesis of other aspects of the medieval economy, Dyer’s

work suggests that we still have much to learn about the inner dynamics of

medieval demography, as well as about the structural relationships between

population movements, commercial change, and the social relations of production

and income distribution.

James Masschaele is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University. He

is the author of Peasants, Merchants, and Markets: Inland Trade in Medieval

England (St. Martin’s Press, 1997), and “The Public Space of the

Marketplace in Medieval England,” Speculum 77 (2002).

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