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Education Matters: Global Schooling Gains from the 19th to the 21st Century

Author(s):Barro, Robert J.
Editor(s):Lee, Jong-Wha
Reviewer(s):Go, Sun

Published by EH.Net (June 2016)

Robert J. Barro and Jong-Wha Lee, Education Matters: Global Schooling Gains from the 19th to the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. xi + 289 pp. $35 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-19-937923-1.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Sun Go, School of Economics, Chung-Ang University.

Can we analyze the role of education in economic, political, and social development using cross-country panel data? Robert J. Barro (Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard University) and Jong-Wha Lee (Professor of Economics and the Director of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University) have long been studying this subject and have published numerous academic works on it for more than twenty years. Education Matters is a comprehensive volume of their contributions to the literature on human capital and development, compiled by creating and analyzing their own long-term panel data at the country level. The book is mainly composed of two parts. The first part (Chapters 2 and 3) explains how they created cross-country panel data on average school years, and projects the growth of educational attainment to 2040. The second part (Chapters 3, 4, and 5) presents their analysis of the panel data on the effect of educational attainment on growth, fertility, and political institutions. In Chapter 5, in particular, Barro and Lee create another set of educational attainment data considering the quality of schooling, and repeat their analysis using the new quality-adjusted data set.

A conspicuous contribution of Barro and Lee is the creation of the cross-county educational attainment data sets. They first collect 146 countries’ enrollment rates of school-age population at the elementary, secondary, and tertiary levels at five-year intervals from 1950 to 2010. Most of the enrollment data are collected from UNESCO statistics based on each country’s census reports. By applying school-entering ages, term lengths, and the dropout rates to the enrollment rates by year and country, they compute the average years of schooling of the young cohorts, such as the 15 to 19 or the 20 to 24 year-old population. The average years of schooling for the older cohorts are estimated by applying cohort and education-level specific mortality rates to the educational attainment of younger cohorts under the assumption of no adult education. Finally, the educational attainment of the working population of a country for a year are calculated by the average years of schooling of the five-year-interval birth cohorts weighted by their population sizes. In addition to the total educational attainment data, Barro and Lee also estimate country-level educational attainment by sex. This is the baseline data that they have created and updated since the 1990s.

The book introduces another historical panel of educational attainment at the country level from 1870 to 1945, which is constructed in a similar way. The starting point is again a collection of the enrollment rates at elementary, secondary, and tertiary levels of 89 countries from 1820 to 2010 at five-year intervals. They calculate the enrollment rates using various historical statistics of school enrollments and school-age populations. Historical enrollment statistics are compiled from diverse sources such as Databanks International, Mitchell’s International Historical Statistics, Benavot and Riddle (1988), Lindert (2004), U.S. Bureau of Education’s Annual/Biannual Reports, Barnard (1854), and Monroe (1911). School-age population statistics are collected from Mitchell’s International Historical Statistics, the United Nations’ Demographic Yearbooks, and the League of Nation’s Statistical Yearbooks. However, due to the limited availability of historical enrollment data, a portion of the enrollment rates are created by linear interpolation or estimation assuming a logistic trend. About 38 percent of the school enrollment rates of total population from 1870 to 1945 are either interpolated or estimated. The share of the artificial data is greater for the female population and the period before 1870. Using the historical enrollment rates, Barro and Lee estimate the historical data on educational attainment by sex in a similar way to their baseline data for 1950-2010.

The two data sets are freely downloadable from the authors’ webpage (http://www.barrolee.com). The baseline data on educational attainment from 1950 to 2010 have already been widely used by researchers in social sciences, and their unique historical panel is expected to attract the interests of scholars. The historical panel will be useful in capturing long-run trends and examining over-time correlation between the expansion of formal schooling and other variables in the long run. However, the Barro-Lee historical panel of educational attainment may not be the best for identifying moments of change in educational expansion or research that requires identifying the timing of variation in formal schooling, as it contains values structurally estimated only by the trend.

Barro and Lee also present various results from the cross-country panel analysis using their own data sets. Although they have created balanced panels of educational attainment, the data sets for further analysis become unbalanced panels because other dependent and control variables, such as GDP per capita, fertility, and the democracy index, are not available for all the countries and years. Their development accounting shows that about 6 to 20 percent of the cross-country variation in output per worker can be explained by educational attainment. The contribution of human capital to economic growth is estimated to be a bit higher in growth accounting. The authors also present results from the three-stage least squares regressions with country fixed effects, which use lagged explanatory variables as instruments to deal with a possible endogeneity problem between education and the outcome variables — the growth rate of GDP per worker, fertility, and the democracy index. The results are not exactly the same as in the existing literature. The effect of educational attainment on growth is weak and statistically insignificant. The effect on fertility differs by gender. Women’s schooling leads to lower fertility, while men’s schooling is positively associated with fertility. The effect on democracy is nonlinear. Controlling for the country fixed effects, the higher average years of schooling, particularly of women, raise the democracy index at a decreasing rate. The panel regressions using the baseline data of 1950-2010 and the historical panel of 1870-2010 return similar results.

In Chapter 6, Barro and Lee repeat the panel regression analysis using another cross-country panel of 70 countries containing the quality-adjusted human capital stock measures from 1960 to 2010 at five-year intervals. The quality-adjusted human capital stock is calculated by weighting the average schooling years of each five-year birth cohort by the relevant test scores representing the quality of education and associated labor market returns. Their collection of standardized test scores spans 134 countries from 1965 to 2010 at the elementary and secondary school levels, despite a significant portion of the observations being missing, especially for the earlier period. Barro and Lee again fill the missing observations with estimates by linear interpolation or regional trends. The real and artificial standardized test scores for each five-year interval then become cohort-specific aggregate measures of school quality at each level of schools. The quality-adjusted panel of educational attainment is constructed in a similar way to the previous data sets. Further, from the panel IV regressions, Barro and Lee find that quality-adjusted educational attainment has a positive effect on the growth rates of GDP per worker if average years of schooling are controlled.

Education Matters offers a bird’s eye view of the role of education in the long-run development in the global context. It clearly shows the pioneering endeavor of Robert Barro and Jong-Wha Lee for the construction and analysis of their unique cross-country panels of educational attainment data. Anyone interested in cross-country analysis on the effect of human capital on economic, social, and political outcomes will undeniably find this volume a practically helpful starting point. This book also contains good teaching resources for undergraduate courses, such as maps showing the expansion of formal schooling in the world or figures presenting correlations between the average years of schooling and other socioeconomic indicators. On the other hand, the book may not be perfect for studying what really happened in history, as descriptions of historical or institutional backgrounds are not sufficiently accompanied by the valuable work of data construction and analysis. The book also contains little discussion of the contributions by economic history research to the literature on the rise of formal schooling and its associated effects on various outcomes since the nineteenth century.

References:

H. Barnard (1854), National Education in Europe: Being an Account of the Organization, Administration, Instruction and Statistics of Public Schools of Different Grades in the Principal States, New York: C.B. Norton.

A. Benavot and P. Riddle (1988), “The Expansion of Primary Education, 1870-1940: Trends and Issues,” Sociology of Education, 61(3): 191-210.

P. Lindert (2004), Growing Public, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

P. Monroe (1911), A Cyclopedia of Education, New York: Macmillan.

Sun Go is an Associate Professor of Economics at Chung-Ang University. His research focuses on the development of public school finance in the nineteenth-century United States and twentieth-century Korea.

Copyright (c) 2016 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (June 2016). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Education and Human Resource Development
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Economic Thought: A Brief History

Author(s):Kurz, Heinz D.
Reviewer(s):Hébert, Robert F.

Published by EH.Net (June 2016)

Heinz D. Kurz, Economic Thought: A Brief History (translated by Jeremiah Riemer). New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.  ix + 208 pp. $27 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-231-17258-5.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Robert F. Hébert, Department of Economics, Auburn University.

Writing a brief history of any subject requires its author to be organized and selective.  The former requires skill; the latter judgment.  Heinz Kurz, professor of economics at the University of Graz in Austria, displays his literary skill in this volume, a survey of economic thought from ancient times to the present, in less than 200 pages.  The author does a good job of linking various ideas scattered through time and space, weaving an abstruse narrative into a cohesive fabric.  This is no mean feat, and its accomplishment contributes in great measure to the readability of the present work.  His judgment, however, is more likely to be in the critics’ crosshairs, which is, not surprisingly the case here.

In Kurz’s literary time machine the reader reaches the sixteenth century after seven pages, and arrives at the eighteenth after another fifteen pages.  Kurz resists the temptation to anoint Adam Smith the “father of economics,” opting for the more defensible claim that “Smith permanently shaped the new field of political economy, both thematically and methodologically, and won it an important place in the circle of the venerable sciences” (p. 28).  Although he had numerous precursors, the long train of economic analysis that left the Smith station followed mainly the tracks he laid down.  Kurz takes us down those tracks in successive chapters on Marx, marginalism, Marshall, utilitarianism, welfare theory, imperfect competition, Schumpeter, Keynes, reactions to Keynes, general equilibrium and welfare theory, and developments in selected fields.

Clearly, publishing forces a tradeoff between brevity and depth.  Some things must be sacrificed in order to keep the narrative (and costs) within bounds.  Kurz provides a good compass for navigating the journey before us, but reviewers are duty-bound to pay attention to what is excluded as well as included.  I don’t quite know what to make of the statement (p. 7) that the difficulty of evading taxes on invisible wealth (e.g., money or interest) was a probable source of the long-lasting opposition to credit and interest by the Roman Catholic Church.  A more nuanced view is that the medieval Church’s outward opposition to credit and interest was curious and one-sided, i.e., the Vatican operated on both sides of the loan market, borrowing freely from its own merchant bankers while quietly making usurious loans to its prelates, all the while outwardly denouncing usury as a sin.[1]

The author’s interpretation of Mercantilism and Cameralism, a part of what Mark Blaug called “pre-Adamite” economics, follows tradition while either ignoring or rejecting the alternative interpretation based on public-choice theory[2], for which no explanation is given.  The spare mention of Richard Cantillon in mere passing (p. 17) can easily be overlooked, also in passing, and might be judged an opportunity lost, especially in light of Cantillon’s seminal influence on the theory and method of many economic thinkers who followed.  Karl Marx gets appropriate attention as the premier architect of a socialist system, but Kurz’s discussion of Marx’s impact stops at the twentieth century, which is a shame because so much of contemporary cultural politics in Europe and America has a distinctly Marxian odor.

Henry George is much misunderstood by historians of economics, and Kurz perpetuates the popular myth by unqualifiedly lumping George among the proponents of land nationalization (p. 43).  George in fact advocated a nuanced view of land value taxation not far removed from Alfred Marshall, who took George more seriously than other economists.[3]   Both George and Marshall recognized that taxing the “public value” of land did not require public ownership, which Marshall, not George, nevertheless qualifiedly endorsed (after a hundred years) in his lectures on George’s Progress and Poverty.[4]   It has somehow escaped historians of economics that by his own (public) admission Marshall would have been a de facto socialist after 1983!

Thünen, Rau and Gossen (Chapter 4) are appropriately singled out as forerunners of marginalism, but Kurz doesn’t explain how to reconcile his claim for Rau’s primacy “in substance (not verbatim) [regarding] the concept of marginal utility” (p. 67) with Rectenwald’s judgment that Rau “was not an original thinker.”[5]   Despite better coverage of some German predecessors, the story Kurz tells about early marginalism is incomplete, especially in regards to France.  By now Kurz should be aware of the peculiar institutional and cultural dimensions of French society that gave us Dupuit and his pioneering band of ponts engineers attached to the École des ponts et chaussées.  To be sure, Cournot formulated the demand curve, a succinct treatment of monopoly and duopoly, and the neoclassical theory of profit maximization, but Dupuit gave us a neoclassical concept of surplus (later retro-fitted by Marshall), a thorough treatment of utility and demand, novel concepts of monopoly and competition, price and product differentiation, and a clear explication of the relationship between property rights and economic welfare.[6] Continuing to ignore Dupuit and his contributions to economic science merely furthers what Jevons called “the noxious influence of authority.”

Having passed through marginalism and Marshall’s “neoclassical synthesis” Kurz capably guides us next through imperfect competition, Schumpeter and Keynes, general equilibrium theory and welfare economics, concluding with developments in the selected fields of game theory, capital theory, growth theory, spatial and urban economics, development economics and the new economic geography, behavioral and experimental economics, new institutional economics, and financial market theory.  Adequately covering the significance and impact of so many selected fields in less than twenty pages is a monumental challenge, and hence, some fields get very short shrift.  For example, public choice theory and new institutional economics are each encapsulated within a single paragraph; whereas behavioral/experimental economics and financial markets theory each get three paragraphs.  Whether this tells us something about the author’s evaluative priorities or not is left for the reader to guess.

This brief history concludes with the lofty hope that knowing the history of economics should help us resist superstition, hysteria and exuberance in economic and social questions; as well as immunize us against the naive idea that it is the privilege of living economists to articulate only correct ideas (“A Final Word,” p. 185).  If it were only that easy, perhaps courses in the history of economics would not be disappearing from university curricula at such a rapid rate.

Since the author is a seasoned scholar undoubtedly aware of the tradeoff between brevity and depth, fairness dictates that this book be evaluated primarily for what it does rather than what it does not do.  As long as the limitations of books like this are understood, there is a place for them in the field of economics.  Economics is not the dismal science claimed by historian Thomas Carlyle, unless one has little understanding of and appreciation for its complexity and relevance, which can, in large measure, be gained only from a study of its history.  For those untutored in the history of economics, this little book is not a bad place to start.

Notes:

1. See Robert B. Ekelund, Jr., et al., Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 120.

2. Cf., Robert B. Ekelund, Jr. and Robert D. Tollison, Mercantilism as a Rent-Seeking Society: Economic Regulation in Historical Perspective (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981); and same authors, Politicized Economies: Monarchy, Monopoly and Mercantilism (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997).

3.  Robert F. Hébert, “Marshall:  A Professional Economist Guards the Purity of His Discipline,” in Critics of Henry George, ed. R. V. Andelson (London: Associated University Press, 1979), pp. 47-71.

4. Ronald Coase, “Three Lectures on Progress and Poverty by Alfred Marshall,” Journal of Law and Economics, 12 (April 1969), 184-226.

5. H.C. Rectenwald, “Rau, Karl Heinrich,” in The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, ed. J. Eatwell, M. Milgate, and P. Newman (London: Macmillan Press, 1987), IV: 96.

6. See Robert B. Ekelund, Jr. and Robert F. Hébert, Secret Origins of Modern Microeconomics: Dupuit and the Engineers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

Robert F. Hébert is Emeritus Russell Foundation Professor of Entrepreneurship at Auburn University.  With Robert B. Ekelund, Jr., he is the author of A History of Economic Theory and Method, sixth edition, and several other books.  rfhebert@cox.net.

Copyright (c) 2016 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (June 2016). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

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

Rural Society and Economic Change in County Durham: Recession and Recovery, c.1400-1640

Author(s):Brown, A. T.
Reviewer(s):Bailey, Mark

Published by EH.Net (April 2016)

A. T. Brown, Rural Society and Economic Change in County Durham: Recession and Recovery, c.1400-1640. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2015. xv + 288 pp. £60 (cloth), ISBN: 978-1-78327-075-0.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Mark Bailey, School of History, University of East Anglia.

Alex Brown is an Addison Wheeler postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Durham, and this publication is based on his Ph.D. thesis.  Modern Ph.D.s in economic and social history tend to offer an in-depth study of a single community, but Brown tackles a large geographical area over an unusually long timeframe.  In doing so, he establishes a platform from which to offer perspectives on a number of major debates, such as the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of the gentry and the crisis of the aristocracy.  His ambition is largely justified and fulfilled: this is a well-researched, clearly structured, uncomplicated and thoughtful study.

County Durham is chosen for a number of compelling reasons: the two major institutional landlords within the county — the bishopric of Durham, and Durham cathedral priory (renamed the Dean and Chapter in the 1540s) — have left a substantial archive; the precocious local development of the coal industry offers an opportunity to explore whether mercantile capital was invested in industry or diverted into land; and, finally, the region’s geographical diversity provides a contrast between the arable lowlands in the  east and the pastoral uplands in the west.

Brown begins by charting the impact of the fifteenth-century economic recession on rural society in Durham, and then assessing how decisions made in its depths shaped the ability of local people to respond to galloping inflation in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  In particular, he contrasts the responses on the estate of the priory with those on the bishopric. During the course of the fifteenth century customary land on the former was largely converted to leases, and holdings were reorganized into larger units often held by syndicates, enabling the priory to staunch the hemorrhaging of its revenues.  During the sixteenth-century inflation, leases presented the priory estate with a mechanism for increasing revenues at a level commensurate with rises in land values.  Unusually, the standardized leasehold units were seldom fragmented or absorbed into larger leases, and, as a consequence, the settled landholding structure supported in each township a sizeable group of middling yeoman, each of whom held consolidated farms of between fifty and one hundred acres.

In contrast, the bishopric responded to the cash crisis of the mid-fifteenth century by exploiting revenues from coal rather than reorganizing the structure of tenant landholding, and therefore little customary land was converted to leases or reorganized into standardized units.  The persistence of the old tenures and landholding structures meant that after c.1550 the bishopric was unable to extract a commercial value from its agricultural holdings, whose rents were ossified at a low level by custom.  Consequently, small numbers of tenants were able to exploit the favorable combination of low rents and rising agrarian profits to construct large farms, so that in c.1600 many townships on the bishop’s estate possessed a polarized social structure characterized by a small but wealthy yeoman elite and a large number of cottagers, smallholders and laborers.

The prior and the bishopric managed estates whose composition was essentially fixed, whereas lay landlords were able to acquire and dispose of manors more freely.  The depressed demand for land during the fifteenth century enabled a handful of lay landlords to construct sizeable estates across Durham, so that in c.1500 a small seigniorial elite controlled around one half of all lay manors in the county.  By c.1600 these estates had fragmented, such that no lay landlord owned more than a dozen manors.  Brown avoids regarding this dramatic change as evidence of either a rising gentry or an aristocracy in crisis, but instead argues that “passive” rentier landlords — who in Durham tended to be the great lay lords — were caught in a pincer movement of inflation and stagnant rents leading to financial ruin.  Landlords who actively exploited opportunities in agriculture, trade and industry fared better, and in Durham these tended to be the lesser gentry.  The growth of the coal industry, especially after the 1570s, provided some leading Newcastle merchants with the capital to enter the rural land market, although they did so in order to secure control over coal seams rather than to establish themselves as landed gentry.  New money from Newcastle trickled rather than flooded into the Durham countryside.

The novelty of Brown’s approach is to contrast the managerial policy on two contiguous estates in the same part of England: thus, by holding constant the variables of time and place, he can isolate accurately key differences in institutional decision-making and so chart their subsequent impact upon both lords and tenants. The shift to standardized leaseholds on the prior’s estate, and the bishopric’s adherence to the old forms of landholding, locked each estate onto a different pathway of development with starkly different consequences for lords and tenants in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  He cites this as a powerful illustration of path dependency theory and of how managerial policies created major institutional constraints on seigniorial estates.

The study’s broad sweep means that some important points of detail escape closer scrutiny.  The reasons why the priory chose the leasehold pathway, and the bishopric did not, remain vague.  The exact nature and evolution of the bishopric’s copyholds, and, indeed, of the prior’s leaseholds, attract little analysis for a study placing so much emphasis upon tenure.  Indeed, the leases were neither straightforward nor unchanging, evolving over time from life leases, to short-term leases, and finally into longer-term leases with reversionary rights benefiting the tenant and protecting the integrity of the holding.  Each phase required careful elucidation, including any evidence for changes in the formulae of grants.

But these are quibbles.  Overall, this is an admirable and ambitious first monograph from a promising young scholar.

Mark Bailey is Professor of Late Medieval History at the University of East Anglia.  He has published on the decline of serfdom in England, and has been invited to deliver the Ford Lectures in British History at the University of Oxford in 2019.  mark.bailey@uea.ac.uk

Copyright (c) 2016 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (April 2016). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Urban and Regional History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval
16th Century
17th Century

The Engine of Enterprise: Credit in America

Author(s):Olegario, Rowena
Reviewer(s):Wright, Robert E.

Published by EH.Net (February 2016)

Rowena Olegario, The Engine of Enterprise: Credit in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016. v + 301 pp. $40 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-674-05114-0.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Robert E. Wright, Thomas Willing Institute, Augustana University.
Rest assured that I did not judge this book by its cover, ugly as the 1940 GMAC advertisement the book designer chose to use appears to my eye. But try as I might, I could not find an appropriate audience for this (perhaps overly) ambitious undertaking after perusing it for several days. There is no preface to help readers to understand the author’s goals or the book’s purpose and the introduction launches directly into the content.

As its title suggests, the thesis of The Engine of Enterprise is that “the United States was built on credit” (p. 1) or, with more nuance, “despite problems with credit that were at times severe, and which Americans have never fully solved, credit has been the invigorating principle that turned potential wealth into national prosperity” (p. 226) (my emphases). The proof comes in the form of five narrative chapters covering the colonial and early national (Chapter 1: “The Foundations of Credit in the New Republic”), antebellum (Chapter 2: “Credit, Enterprise, and Risk in the Antebellum Era”), postbellum (Chapter 3: “Credit in the Reconstructed Nation”), interwar and postwar (Chapter 4: “A Nation of Consumers and Homeowners”), and late twentieth century (Chapter 5: “The Erosion of Credit Standards”) periods, plus a brief postscript (“Creative and Destructive Credit”) on the causes and consequences of the Panic of 2008. The chapters do not follow a cookie cutter format but many cover the same topics, e.g., consumer credit, business credit, bankruptcy, and so forth.

While narrative descriptions of the evolution of different types of credit abound, the book does not show the primal importance of credit in statistically rigorous (e.g., Rousseau and Sylla 2005) or internationally comparative (e.g., Beck, Demirguc-Kunt, Levine 2007) ways, or even cite the finance-led growth literature (see Levine 2005 for a review). Moreover, the finance-led growth hypothesis was tempered by studies (e.g., Martin 2010; Wright 2008) that showed that financial development is just one of a series of growth-inducing economic changes that begin with secure human rights and end with improvements in physical and human capital that drive productivity gains. Because microfinance failed to spur growth in anarchic or dictatorial states, few continue to baldly assert the primacy of finance, let alone just its credit component. Alexander Hamilton had it exactly right when he argued that credit “was among the principal engines of useful enterprise” (p. 4) (my emphasis), i.e., that credit is a necessary but not a sufficient cause of economic growth. It is the fuel injection system, in other words, not the entire engine.

The book is unlikely to appeal to other specialists, either, as it is not based on new or extensive archival research or even novel interpretations of printed primary sources. As a senior research fellow at Said School of Business, author Rowena Olegario lives thousands of miles from scores of archival U.S. bank records that range from underutilized to completely untouched (for a partial list, see New Bedford Whaling Museum 2011), but one would think that Oxford University could afford to pay for the filming of, and/or travel to, at least one set of U.S. banking records. Moreover, although Olegario occasionally alludes to the theory of asymmetric information, the book is largely devoid of pertinent economic theories. So in her narrative, the early economy was “vulnerable to external shocks” (p. 24) due to unregulated banks and banknotes rather than the nation’s solution to the Trilemma or Impossible Trinity, a bimetallic standard demanding free international capital flows and fixed exchange rates in lieu of a central bank with significant monetary policy discretion.

Although The Engine of Enterprise presents more evidence about what people thought than how they behaved, the book is not a compelling “history of thought” either. Olegario, for instance, credits Henry C. Carey with being “the most notable economist of his time” and with anticipating “the new institutional economics by a century and a half” (p. 7). Carey’s life (1793-1879) overlapped those of important American political economists like Edward Atkinson (1827-1905), Alexander Bryan Johnson (1786-1867), and Erasmus Peshine Smith (1814-1882), not to mention numerous European economists of far more probity. Moreover, most of Carey’s ideas merely reiterated the thought of Hamilton and other financial founding fathers and even his own biological father. Olegario herself later (p. 59) admits that Carey was less important than Henry George (1839-1897).

Given its long coverage, from the colonial period to the present, the book might have been designed as a survey text, but for what course and at what level? Graduate students would quickly dismiss The Engine of Enterprise because it does not discuss historiography and glosses over the few debates that it explicitly recognizes without describing the major issues or even mentioning the major contributors. For example, Olegario informs readers that “historians are not in full agreement about how stringently” (p. 28) usury laws were enforced in colonial America but the corresponding note refers only to Geisst (2013). Most other debates are not even hinted at in the notes. For instance, the author blithely asserts that some colonial bills of credit depreciated because they “were insufficiently backed by land or taxes” (p. 21) without mentioning the long debate over “backing theory” (e.g., Michener 2015). Moreover, many endnotes point to a relatively limited set of broad secondary sources, like Wood (1991), Morgan (2000), and Calomiris and Haber (2014), rather than relevant specialized monographs like Kamoie (2007), which details the credit relations of the important Tayloe family in Virginia, or Roney (2014), which describes how NGOs in colonial Philadelphia served as financial intermediaries. Worse, works long since superseded are cited, some with disturbing frequency (e.g., Foulke 1941; Trescott 1963).

I also doubt that anyone teaching a financial history survey would adopt this book as an undergraduate text. The prose, while competent, is pedestrian throughout and hence more likely to bore Millennials than to spur their interest in financial history. Similarly, general readers usually demand ripping yarns like those spun in Kamensky (2008) or Mihm (2009). Lucid sections can of course be found (particularly recommended are the discussions of bankruptcy), but their benefits are outweighed by conceptual flaws and errors of commission and omission. By the latter, I mean missing important supporting data, superior examples, or more telling points. For instance, to make the point that Benjamin Franklin “took for granted that credit was essential to commerce” (p. 2), Olegario adduces mere words, Franklin’s “Advice to a Young Tradesman,” rather than Franklin’s actual actions, most notably his establishment of microfinance institutions in Philadelphia and Boston (Yenawine and Costello 2010). Likewise, the best evidence that the “new banks were meant not just to serve the needs of governments and merchants but also tradesmen, farmers, and manufacturers” (p. 24) is not Pennsylvania’s Omnibus Banking Act of 1814 but studies like Lockard (2000) and Wang (2006) that document actual bank lending patterns, a type of direct evidence that the author suggests does not exist (p. 64).

Olegario has particular difficulty astutely narrating the history of early U.S. finance because she accepts a narrow anthropological literature (e.g., Muldrew 1998) that sees much of the colonial credit system as pre-capitalist, as part of a “moral economy” characterized by “trust” and “barter” (pp. 24-25). But Olegario herself destroys both claims, presumably inadvertently. “Households bartered produce, game, and animal skins to obtain the services of blacksmiths, coopers, and other artisans,” she claims, but then adds that such exchanges were “notated in rough ledgers [sic] using monetary values even though no actual cash changed hands” (p. 24). So such transactions were not barter (trading one good for another without the use of money in any of its forms) at all but rather a form of open account, book credit, or “bookkeeping barter” (Michener 2011). Olegario also subverts the supposed reliance of colonial creditors on “trust” by detailing the widespread use of collateral, co-signers, lawsuits, prison, threats of reputation tarnishing, and other devices designed to induce borrowers to repay their debts. Colonists were certainly more apt to be lax when lending to family and friends, but that does not mean a “noncommercial morality” (p. 25) suffused the economy as family matters stand no differently today.

Other errors abound and many would flummox students and general readers. Olegario claims, for example, that bills of exchange “functioned as currency” (p. 21) by conflating negotiability (via endorsement) and currency (passing from hand to hand without formal assignment). By conflating banknotes with bank loans, she can assert that “entrepreneurial society desired … paper money” (p. 23) when in fact it sought intermediation. Imagine the confusion that would ensue were students to read that retailers “notated the value of purchased goods in a day book or ledger without issuing [sic] formal instruments like notes or bills of exchange” (p. 24). (Borrowers, not lenders, issue debt instruments.) Or that the Bank of the United States (1791-1811) was “rechartered [sic]” (p. 42) to be “in existence … again [sic]” (p. 49) as the Bank of the United States (1816-1836)!

I could continue but won’t for fear of drawing a flag for unscholarly-like conduct. Perhaps some readers will think I deserve a flag already but when the author’s school and publisher are so prestigious I think it incumbent upon reviewers to support negative generalizations with sufficient citations, details, and examples. The dust jacket can be removed if readers don’t like it, but the same can’t be said of the text, so potential readers must be credibly pointed elsewhere, like to the recent works cited below.

References:

Beck, Thorsten, Asli Demirguc-Kunt, and Ross Levine. 2007. “Finance, Inequality, and Poverty: Cross-Country Evidence.” Journal of Economic Growth (March): 27-49.

Calomiris, Charles and Stephen Haber. 2014. Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Foulke, Ray. 1941. The Sinews of American Commerce. New York: Dun and Bradstreet.

Geisst, Charles. 2013. Beggar Thy Neighbor: A History of Usury and Debt. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kamensky, Jane. 2008. The Exchange Artist: A Tale of High Flying Speculation and America’s First Banking Collapse. New York: Viking.

Kamoie, Laura Croghan. 2007. Irons in the Fire: The Business History of the Tayloe Family and Virginia’s Gentry, 1700-1860. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Levine, Ross. 2005. “Finance and Growth: Theory and Evidence.” Handbook of Economic Growth, edited by Philippe Aghion and Steven Durlauf. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.

Lockard, Paul. 2000. “Banks, Insider Lending, and Industries of the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts, 1813-1860.” Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Martin, Joe. 2010. Relentless Change: A Casebook for the Study of Canadian Business History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Michener, Ron. 2011. “Money in the American Colonies.” EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. http://eh.net/encyclopedia/money-in-the-american-colonies/

Michener, Ron. 2015. “Redemption Theories and the Value of American Paper Money.” Financial History Review (December): 1-21.

Mihm, Stephen. 2009. A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Morgan, Kenneth. 2000. Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy, 1660-1800. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Muldrew, Craig. 1998. The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

New Bedford Whaling Museum. 2011. “Records of the Merchants Bank Finding Aid, Appendix C,” MSS 107, New Bedford, Mass. http://www.whalingmuseum.org/explore/library/finding-aids/mss107#idp10883696

Roney, Jessica Choppin. 2014. Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Rousseau, Peter and Richard Sylla. 2005. “Emerging Financial Markets and Early U.S. Growth.” Explorations in Economic History (March): 1-26.

Trescott, Paul. 1963. Financing American Enterprise: The Story of Commercial Banking. New York: Harper and Row.

Wang, Ta-Chen. 2006. “Courts, Banks, and Credit Markets in Early American Development.” Ph.D. Dissertation. Stanford University.

Wood, Gordon. 1991. Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Random House.

Wright, Robert. 2008. One Nation under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson, and the History of What We Owe. New York: McGraw Hill.

Yenawine, Bruce and Michele Costello. 2010. Benjamin Franklin and the Invention of Microfinance. London: Pickering & Chatto.

Robert E. Wright is the Nef Family Chair of Political Economy at Augustana University and the author or co-author of seventeen books, including, with Richard Sylla, Genealogy of American Finance (Columbia University Press, 2015).

Copyright (c) 2016 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (February 2016). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

States of Obligation: Taxes and Citizenship in the Russian Empire and Early Soviet Republic

Author(s):Kotsonis, Yanni
Reviewer(s):Nafziger, Steven

Published by EH.Net (January 2016)

Yanni Kotsonis, States of Obligation: Taxes and Citizenship in the Russian Empire and Early Soviet Republic. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. xx + 483 pp. $80 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-4426-4354-3.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Steven Nafziger, Department of Economics, Williams College.

This deeply researched study by a leading Russian historian centers on Tsarist and early Soviet experiences with tax reform in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The book presents a complex argument that centers on the movement towards individual assessment of wealth and personal income taxes that, while never fully realized, reflected Russia’s advancement towards modern citizenship and statehood between roughly 1870 and 1930. During this period, the state generated knowledge of the Empire’s population, income and wealth, and economic activities through new assessments of taxable resources. As policymakers collected this information and undertook more targeted tax collections (at the firm, household, and, eventually, individual levels), the Russian state was drawn into closer oversight of the economy, while the population was, at least in theory and as the title suggests, nudged towards becoming a real citizenry by the acts of declaring incomes and paying taxes. Although this was the case in cities and for the commercial elite, the retention of more indirect and collectivist fiscal practices in the countryside sharpened the urban-rural divide, limiting the identification of the peasant population with the modernizing efforts of the Imperial and Soviet states.

The book is divided into four interconnected parts. Following an introduction that very nicely places Russia’s tax history in a comparative light (drawing on works like Seligman (1914)), the first chapter in part one describes the Russian state’s fiscal knowledge, taxes, and tax reform efforts through the middle of the nineteenth century. From tax farming and regional apportionment for excise taxes to the use of communal collective responsibility to extract taxes from the peasantry, Kotsonis points out the pre-modern and hands-off (and information deficient) nature of early Imperial fiscal policies. The second chapter summarizes the tax reforms that the regime subsequently embarked upon, including urban and commercial tax reforms, changes to poll and land taxes (especially among the peasantry), and modifications of the excise tax system. This chapter postulates that each type of reform engaged with the relevant base in different ways, with a different set of information requirements and degrees of direct interaction (from individual assessment, to collective obligation, to transaction-dependent).

Utilizing archival records, contemporary publications, and insights drawn from a number of secondary literatures, the second and third parts of the book then focus on a series of policy discussions and tax reforms that emerged in the last third of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The second part considers the progression towards individualized assessment of income and wealth among urban and commercial tax units over the period. Chapters 3 and 4 examine how previously ad-hoc, collective, or apportioned tax bills evolved towards person and firm-specific assessments of urban property, inheritance, and business taxes. These chapters describe the difficulties the regime faced in accurate assessment of taxable resources, and how a reliance on commissions of taxpayers (whether urban property holders or small businessmen), direct reporting (the corporate sector), and a new but limited tax inspectorate emerged. Chapters 5 and 6 then focus on the debates and proposals surrounding a personal income tax, which was only to come to fruition in 1916. It is particularly in Part 2 that Kotsonis emphasizes the evolution of more modern concepts of individual citizenship and legal personhood within tax discussions among Russian intellectual and policy-making elites.

Part 3 first considers indirect taxation (Chapter 7), especially in the form of alcohol excise taxes, and then studies the persistence of collective (i.e. non-individual) taxation of the peasant majority (Chapters 8 and 9). Kotsonis nicely summarizes the large literature on the evolution of Russia’s fiscal treatment of alcohol, from tax farming, to excises laid on producers, to the state monopoly after 1894, to the surprising declaration of prohibition in 1914, which gutted state revenues and partially led to the income tax. As others have noted, Kotsonis points out Russia’s dependence on alcohol revenues, which numerically greatly overshadowed any other types of taxes. This included the various assessments placed on the 85 percent of the population who were peasants. As nicely detailed in Chapters 8 and 9 (particularly with respect to the mechanisms of tax collection), the state actually lowered land and other tax burdens on the peasants from the 1880s onwards. However, into the Soviet period, the regime retained the system of collectively apportioning peasant obligations by province, district, township, and communal body. The frequency of mismatch between tax obligations and payment capabilities that resulted from such a system sharply contradicted the individualization of taxation and state interactions that was happening in the urban and commercial sectors.

Early Soviet tax policies endeavored to chip away at this urban-rural fiscal divide, but this quickly lost momentum, as Kotsonis documents based on a wealth of archival material in Chapters 10-12 of Part 4. Soviet authorities lowered exemption levels for the income tax, thereby doubling down on the commitment to connect taxation and citizenship. But attempts to expand this system to the peasantry failed during the War Communism period (1918-1921), and so authorities reverted to the earlier structure of collective imposition at the level of village, enforced by a greater level of violence. Prohibition ended between 1921 and 1926, with a renewed importance of indirect taxes and allowing some market relations to function under the New Economic Policy. But by 1928, growing state revenue and food demands led to the shift towards collectivization, with the direct imposition of state authority into the rural locality. By this point, Stalin was in charge and the Soviet regime carried state oversight of the economy to its (Communist) conclusion, with large-scale nationalizations and the tightening of state controls across the board. As Kotsonis argues, this was largely repeating the Imperial experience, with more violence thrown in.

I have long thought about many issues discussed in this book and greatly admire the job Kotsonis does in unpacking the intellectual, political, and economic conditions of tax reform in Imperil and early Soviet Russia. Each page delivers an insightful comment or little known but significant fact. The skilled employment of archival evidence and little known official records and contemporary publications generates a nuanced and largely convincing account of the rise of Russian fiscal modernity. The detailed discussions of urban and commercial tax reforms, the ways that indirect (i.e. vodka) taxes functioned, and the collection of collectively imposed obligations from the peasantry are real feats of historical scholarship. The study is impressively engaged with the Russian historiography (including some work in economic history), as well as the broader and comparative histories of taxation in this period. Indeed, a key contribution is to illustrate how Imperial Russia largely shared the experiences of fiscal evolution and state building with many contemporary states, albeit with a distinctive absolutist twist. However, and perhaps unfortunately, I imagine that only a few economic historians will be as interested in or impressed by this study as I was. There are several reasons for this.

The first has to do with style. Kotsonis is a skilled writer, but this study is repetitive at times and probably 20 percent too long. The writing is regularly overtaken with statements and paragraphs that complicate rather than clarify the argument. Sometimes this stems from the odd phrasing of an economic concept or argument (e.g. “The commercial and industrial sector was easily or only expressed as money,” p. 89; “Russia . . . had an inelastic system of revenue,” p. 236); sometimes this is due to almost gleefully convoluted or cryptic sentences (e.g. “The future was folded into the present,” p. 187). Making things more difficult for the non-specialist is the rather erratic utilization of quantitative evidence, where numbers are frequently offered without much effort paid to comparisons across space or over time (for example, the six tables in the book only draw on data from 1913). These stylistic features do not detract from the work’s careful and largely qualitative analysis, nor do they make the text unreadable (far from it!), but they do make the writing quite dense and the argument hard to track at times. While this critique might just speak to this reviewer’s own limitations, it would seem like even very interested specialists will find grappling with this study a difficult task.

A second and more significant difficulty with this book is its relationship to economic analysis and modern economic history. In a nutshell, Kotsonis seems uninterested in engaging with recent economic research on topics ranging from the history of the social welfare state (e.g. Lindert, 2004) to the interconnection between political liberalization and fiscal reform in the long nineteenth century (e.g. Aidt and Jensen, 2009). Economists and economic historians have made major advances in these and related areas over the past twenty years, very little of which is reflected in the footnotes or bibliography of this book. To take one important example: in a book detailing the construction of economic knowledge, administrative practices, and fiscal policy reform proposals, the concept of “state capacity” is never once mentioned, despite its growing prominence in the social sciences (e.g. Besley and Persson, 2009; Dincecco, 2015). To his credit, Kotsonis is interested less in the economics of Russian fiscal policy than the surrounding political and intellectual contexts. Indeed, I would go so far as to argue that economic historians should engage with such contexts when considering the causes and effects of tax changes. However, social science historians without special interests in Russia might feel put off by the absence of direct connections to more familiar literatures and methodological approaches.

A third, related, issue that might limit the appeal of this book to the broader economic history community is the nature of the questions it tackles. While Imperial Russian authorities and policymakers might have been deeply engaged in debates over the proper structure of business and income taxes for decades, no broad income tax was enacted until 1916 (just before the fall of the regime) and it was largely ineffectual in terms of raising revenues in the chaos of the war or during the early Soviet period. Kotsonis discusses myriad other tax reforms over the period, some of which (e.g. changes in alcohol policy) had major revenue implications. However, the main theme of the book — that the move towards income taxation was both cause and effect of a shift towards both individualization and control in the state/citizen relationship — only comes to a head at the very end of the Imperial era and it seems to be contradicted by the absence of real change in the countryside. Thus, all the discussions and debates over taxes among Petersburg elites that Kotsonis details in Part 2 appear to have mattered little on the ground in effecting real change in Russia’s economy and society. The absence of perspectives from small businessmen, commercial farmers, traders, factory workers, and peasants makes it difficult to know whether changes in tax policies really mattered for non-elite conceptions of Russian citizenship. And since the book exclusively focuses on government revenues and ignores expenditures (and largely limits itself to discussing central government taxation), the reader gets little sense as to whether any fiscal developments over the period mattered for the provision of public goods and services.

But Kotsonis does not really have such objectives in mind in writing this book. His intention is to identify how tax discussions among the Russian elite, and the subsequent policies that these generated, reflected and affected the Imperial and Soviet regimes’ engagement with modern state building. In this, he largely succeeds, thereby providing an important contribution towards our understanding of how Russia became modern. For scholars interested in the political and intellectual contexts for fiscal reforms in other (especially lower income) societies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Kotsonis’s work offers much food for thought. For specialists or fellow travelers in Russian business and economic history, this book is required reading.

References:

Aidt, Toke, and Peter Jensen. “The Taxman Tools Up: An Event History Study of the Introduction of the Personal Income Tax.” Journal of Public Economics 93 (2009): 160-175.

Besley, Timothy, and Torsten Persson. “The Origins of State Capacity: Property Rights, Taxation, and Politics.” American Economic Review 99 (2009): 1218-1244.

Dincecco, Mark. “The Rise of Effective States in Europe.” Journal of Economic History 75 (2015): 901-918.

Lindert, Peter. Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Seligman, Edwin R. A. The Income Tax: A Study of the History, Theory, and Practice of Income Taxation at Home and Abroad. Second edition. New York: Macmillan, 1914.

Steven Nafziger is an Associate Professor of Economics at Williams College and a Center Associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard. He is currently working on numerous projects related to the economic development of Imperial Russia.

Copyright (c) 2016 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (January 2016). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII

Natural Resources and Economic Growth: Learning from History

Editor(s):Badia-Miró, Marc
Pinilla, Vicente
Willebald, Henry
Reviewer(s):Mohamed, Rahim

Published by EH.Net (December 2015)

Marc Badia-Miró, Vicente Pinilla, and Henry Willebald, editors, Natural Resources and Economic Growth: Learning from History. New York: Routledge, 2015. xix + 374 pp. $160 (hardback), ISBN: 978-1-13-878218-1.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Rahim Mohamed, Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Natural Resources and Economic Growth offers a timely and multifaceted look at the often double-edged relationship between natural resource wealth and long-term economic development. The volume’s sixteen chapters, which range in format from single-country case studies to cross-national statistical analyses, address natural resource governance issues that have been encountered on each continent at various points in (generally post-industrial) history. Specific country cases include Australia, Botswana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Norway, Spain, the United States, and Venezuela. Contributors focus heavily, although not exclusively, on the political and economic challenges associated with the endowment of coal, petroleum, precious metals, and other coveted mineral assets. This makes the book an especially informative read in light of the ongoing slump of global commodity prices and the concomitant political fallout now being felt in many resource rich countries.

Broadly speaking, the volume’s contributors take on two major propositions. The first is the existence of (or lack thereof) a “natural resource curse,” as posited by Sachs and Warner (1995, 2001). This term refers to the hypothesized tendency of natural resource rich countries to underperform economically due to self-destructive governance patterns enabled by resource windfalls. The second is the ubiquitous claim that many of the negative externalities associated with natural resource-driven economic growth strategies can be mitigated through the development of effective political institutions, often those associated with democracy and the rule of law (see Acemoglu et al. 2001). The authors mostly re-affirm these positions but, at the same time, bring some much-needed context to the discourse.

The general consensus that emerges from the chapters of Natural Resources and Economic Growth is that abundant natural resources are “non-neutral” for economic development, but their precise effect on a given economy is heavily mediated by a myriad of intervening variables. This is spelled out clearly in the book’s opening chapter by the editors, who write “History teaches us that (resource) ‘curses’ and ‘blessings’ are constructions — they are the result of the socioeconomic system” (p. 17). Moreover, several of the book’s case studies demonstrate that, while good political institutions and public policies can certainly help countries manage natural resource wealth, such configurations are often embedded in unique national histories. This means that policy remedies that have proven effective in one setting will not necessarily work elsewhere.

One excellent example of the non-replicability of distinct natural resource governance schemes is found in the book’s chapter on Norway (chapter 15), co-authored by Andreas R. Dugstad Sanders (of the European University Institute) and Pål Thonstad Sandvik (of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology). Dugstad Sanders and Sandvik, who reconstruct the evolution of Norway’s natural resource regulatory regime over more than a century, portray the country’s vaunted system of oil wealth management as the ultimate product of a complex set of political interactions between social democrat and conservative elements. Specifically, they argue that, while Norway’s dominant Labor Party built the regime’s edifice, its Conservative Party (which governed through much of the 1980s) placed crucial constraints on Statoil (Norway’s state oil company) and other powerful industry players (pp. 326-27). This resulted in a robust yet constrained regulatory framework that, over time, closed off opportunities for rent seeking.

As a group, the authors do an impressive job of providing nuance to the instructive but oversimplified resource curse thesis. The book’s second chapter, written by eminent development economist Richard M. Auty, jumps out in this respect. Auty, who himself coined the term “resource curse” in his 1993 book Sustaining Development in Mineral Economies, argues that “rent curse” is now a more appropriate term for the sharp boom-bust cycle that characterizes many resource rich economies. He holds that the deleterious macroeconomic effects catalyzed by natural resource windfalls can also be sustained by inflows of other types of rent, such as foreign aid and remittances. This happens when high rents encourage the ruling elite to pursue a course of immediate self-enrichment, versus the less expedient strategy of making the growth-promoting investments necessary to build a broad, revenue-generating tax base. Auty’s notion of a rent curse helps explain why the pattern of growth collapse exhibited by resource dependent economies can also be observed in several aid dependent countries, such as those in the largely barren Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa (p. 31). This more precise diagnosis of the problem at hand will ideally lead to a more effective course of treatment.

One small editorial note is that the volume’s chapters are somewhat lacking in coherence. The book’s final chapter, which examines the emergence of water scarcity as a source of political conflict in Spain, feels especially out of place. While water is unquestionably our most vital natural resource, the chapter clashes somewhat with the rest of the book’s focus on mineral resources. Moreover, the chapter’s authors (Ignacio Cazcarro, Rosa Duarte, Miguel Martín-Retortillo, and Ana Serrano) focus on the geographic and ecological dimensions of the issue, eschewing the macroeconomic perspective of the other essays. The book also suffers from the absence of a proper concluding chapter that could tie together several of the disparate insights offered by its contributors. These are, of course, minor drawbacks that do not take away from the quality of this highly informative and superbly crafted volume.

Natural Resources and Economic Growth is an authoritative text on one of the most vexing problems in development studies and a must read for academics, graduate students, and anybody interested the pivotal role that commodities play in the global economy.

References:

Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., and Robinson, J. A. 2000. “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation” (No. w7771). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Auty, R. 2002. Sustaining Development in Mineral Economies: The Resource Curse Thesis. Routledge.

Sachs, J. D., and Warner, A. M.    1995. “Natural Resource Abundance and Economic Growth” (No. w5398). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Sachs, J. D., and Warner, A. M. 2001. “The Curse of Natural Resources.” European Economic Review, 45(4), 827-838.

Rahim Mohamed is a Ph.D. Student in Political Science at the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill. He is broadly interested in development and governance issues surrounding natural resource wealth and is the author of “Unfinished Business: Reflections on Canada’s Economic Transformation and the Work Ahead,” The Independent Review (forthcoming).

Copyright (c) 2015 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (December 2015). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

An Economic History of Early Modern India

Author(s):Roy, Tirthankar
Reviewer(s):Chaudhary, Latika

Published by EH.Net (December 2015)

Tirthankar Roy, An Economic History of Early Modern India. New York: Routledge, 2013. x + 174 pp. $53 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-415-69064-5.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Latika Chaudhary, Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Naval Postgraduate School.

The literature on Early Modern India is characterized by debates surrounding the decline of the Mughal Empire, the rise of the East India Company and the timing of when India fell behind Europe. Despite strong claims on each side, the evidence underlying the arguments is often weak because of insufficient or unreliable economic data. Against this backdrop Tirthankar Roy’s book is a welcome addition to the field. It offers a measured assessment of the salient transitions in this important period of Indian history beginning with the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 and ending in the early 1800s as the English East India Company came to control large territories including most of coastal India.

Drawing on an impressive reading of the primary sources and secondary literature, Roy’s analysis moves away from traditional debates surrounding colonialism and draws cautious conclusions about urbanization, living standards and agrarian conditions. His main argument is that political turmoil at the top between the different warring factions led to a general decline in public goods but did not substantially weaken peasant property rights. In India, many people could claim the final agricultural output ranging from military nobles and tax collectors at the top to landlords in the middle and finally peasants cultivating the land at the bottom. While states needed more public money to fund wars, Roy argues they were limited in their ability to coerce peasants because land was abundant and labor was scarce in the eighteenth century. In support he points to qualitative evidence of peasant communities moving and clearing forest for cultivation across many Indian regions. The available evidence on living standards also matches this account of peasant property rights. Based on a careful reading of the economic trends, Roy argues that agricultural production, crop yields and standards of living did not fundamentally change over the long eighteenth century.

Roy begins by describing the process of state formation as new successor states wrestled power from the Mughal Empire in the first half of the eighteenth century. Success was contingent on the ability of these states to improvise old, or devise, new fiscal structures that could extract necessary revenues to support the military campaigns. By the end of the eighteenth entry, the English East India Company emerged victorious signaling a fundamental break. Unlike former states, the Company employed its own standing army relying less on earlier forms of military-agriculture relationships with landlords and tax collectors. By eliminating such middlemen, the Company made tax collection more efficient.

As a successor state, the East India Company was also special because of its strong naval presence. This contributed to the coastal shift in business as the Company transitioned to a colonial state. Overland trade within India declined over this period as maritime trade increased.  That said, maritime trade accounted for only a tiny share of the economy. Some groups with inland interests lost, while others that successfully transitioned to working with European firms gained. Roy argues that this change in orientation is also reflected in urbanization patterns. Agra, Delhi and Lahore among other interior towns of the Mughal Empire declined as the coastal towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras came to dominate the urban landscape. The latter were new industry hubs, which was as important in accounting for their rise as their status as colonial company towns. That said, there was no long run urbanization trend. Old centers of production tied to the Mughal Empire experienced decline but, this was balanced by the rise of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.

This book has much to recommend itself. A newcomer to Indian economic history will appreciate the military-political history of the eighteenth century successor states, the nature of military-agriculture interactions and the organization of agricultural production.  The chapters on urbanization and living standards are among the best I have read on the topic. They summarize the existing debates, describe the data and then draw sensible conclusions while acknowledging gaps in the literature. While general histories may overlook regional patterns, Roy gives the regional stories their due importance. My only quibble is the book shortchanges the story of the East India Company despite its presence in many chapters. The rise of the Company and its transition to colonial power deserves more attention. This book tells the story up to the early nineteenth century, by when it is clear that the East India Company will be dominant. Roy takes up the rest of the story in The East India Company: The World’s Most Powerful Corporation (New Delhi: Allen Lane, 2012).

Latika Chaudhary is an Associate Professor of Economics at the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. She has studied the provision of primary education and railways in colonial India. Her articles include “Determinants of Primary Schooling in British India” published in Journal of Economic History and “Regulation, Ownership and Costs: A Historical Perspective from Indian Railways” (with Dan Bogart) published in American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.

Copyright (c) 2015 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (December 2015). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century

Century of the Leisured Masses: Entertainment and the Transformation of Twentieth-Century America

Author(s):Surdam, David George
Reviewer(s):Hanssen, F. Andrew

Published by EH.Net (October 2015)

David George Surdam, Century of the Leisured Masses: Entertainment and the Transformation of Twentieth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press. xviii + 305 pp. $99 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-19-021157-8.

Reviewed for EH.Net by F. Andrew Hanssen, Department of Economics, Clemson University.

Economist David Surdam takes on an enormous task: To explore what leisure is and how it has changed, both in conception and fact, over the last hundred years or so. He not only draws liberally on the work by his fellow economists, but copiously cites research and writings by sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and social commentators of various orders. For a scholar contemplating research in the field of leisure, the bibliography alone is worth the price of the book. Anecdotes abound, many tremendously interesting. The author is very good at explaining the economic issues, when economic issues arise.

The book’s biggest weakness is that the author makes no overarching argument and advances no particular thesis (despite a title inspired by Thorstein Veblen, Veblen’s work comes up only briefly, most interestingly in a preface by economist Ken McCormick). Rather, the author appears content to recount what others have said. This can yield gems: Many of the quotes from long forgotten books and articles are priceless (like the commentator addressing the worry about all those washing machines sitting around idle). But the result is a disjointed work. Topics appear and disappear, sometimes to reappear again and sometimes not. There is too much repetition.

The author begins in Chapter 1 with an attempt to define leisure, and returns to the task from time-to-time throughout the book. Leisure is voluntary, and presumably unpaid. But is unpaid, voluntary time in the classroom leisure? How about paid but well-enjoyed tennis matches? How about mowing the lawn on the weekend? And where do “unhealthy” activities, like drinking or drug taking, or consuming pornography fit in? Indeed, Surdam’s attempt to define leisure brings to mind Potter Stewart’s famous comment about pornography, with the difference that leisure is hard to know even when one when one sees it.

Chapter 2 examines changing attitudes towards leisure, a topic that provides some of the most entertaining anecdotes in the book. Or should I say, unchanging attitudes? It is clear that from the dawn of time (or at least from the early twentieth century) leisure has generated two pressing fears: 1) that the quantity of it is “wrong” (usually there is too much; occasionally there is too little), and, 2) that whatever leisure there is, it is being badly used. The consistency with which these two points come up is quite striking; whether talking about the working class and their nickelodeons, black Americans and their jazz clubs, or teenagers and their drive-ins (to name just a few), things are going to the dogs! The author trots out a number of predictably ponderous and very amusing quotes about the problem du jour. I’m going to stop worrying so much about my daughter’s iPad.

Chapter 3 provides a reasonably good discussion of the economics of leisure, and the effect of rising incomes on leisure taken, both in amount and form. In Chapter 4, the author describes how leisure has evolved over time. The perhaps unsurprising bottom line is that time taken for leisure has increased and leisure activities have become more varied. In Chapter 5, he reviews expenditure on leisure, using annual data from the Census Bureau. Not surprisingly, he finds that spending rose as the twentieth century progressed. His analysis of the changing mix of spending is mostly anecdotal. Chapter 6 is a somewhat rambling discussion that seeks to contrast the leisure activities of the young and the old. The chapter is a grab bag of topics that includes comic books, jazz and rock-and-roll, the “swinging bachelor” of 1950s fame, and the leisure activities of African Americans. (As always, the fear of badly used leisure rears its ugly head.) Chapter 7 looks at trends in public health, and appears only tangentially related to leisure. Chapter 8 contains a very interesting discussion of how jobs went from dirty and dangerous to clean and safe to downright pleasant. The discussion illustrates how hard it is to draw a bold line between work and leisure — as one bats a volleyball across a net with fellow employees on the campus of a Silicon Valley high tech firm, is one recreating or working? It would have been nice to see the author explore that line of argument more thoroughly; for example, do farmers have very little leisure — they are constantly busy — or a whole lot? (One might ask the same thing about economics professors as they conduct their research!)

Chapter 9 focuses on the household, and illustrates the book’s strength and weaknesses in microcosm. It has an interesting starting point: the change in technology, social mores and so forth that gave rise to a massive increase in female labor force participation. It provides an intelligent review of the labor-leisure tradeoff in the context of household work. It presents some basic data in tables, and discusses cogently empirical analyses conducted by a number of researchers, mostly economists. Descriptions of how arduous many household tasks were in former days are fascinating, and the discussion of technological advances that changed things is interesting. I particularly enjoyed the author’s recounting of the debate over whether women used the time freed up for more leisure or to expand the set of household “chores.” But since there is no overarching theme, and no particular argument being made, it is hard to say what it all adds up to.

Chapter 10 begins to address the industries of mass leisure. The author provides good brief histories of amusement parks, saloons and cabarets, music, and theater and vaudeville. But it once again has a grab-bag feel. A paragraph on radio is followed by a paragraph on phonographs is followed by a paragraph on 45 rpm records and rock-and-roll. Chapter 11 continues with movies, sports, radio, and television. Chapter 12 covers the rise of mass transport, electricity, automobiles, the suburbs, and air conditioning. Chapter 13 briefly discusses the role of government in the leisure business, while Chapter 14 reviews antitrust cases involving music, movies, television, and professional sports. Surdam ends with an epilogue, in which he recounts that — guess what? — people are worried about how leisure is being used! There is nothing new under the sun.

I found the book great fun to dip in and out of. For example, in writing this review, I opened the book at five random points, and came up with: 1) a discussion of the “affable” Puritans; 2) Thomas Sowell’s views on acculturation; 3) the recounted astonishment of a 1959 Life magazine journalist who discovers that “the amount spent on dogs is equal to all the salaries and fees paid on legal services”; 4) a discussion of nineteenth century rag pickers; and 5) a description of how Vaudeville houses were established along newly developing New York City subway lines. (The thing I enjoyed most was reading again and again how one set of people deplored another set’s use of leisure.)

As enjoyable as all this is, because it lacks an organizing thesis, the book becomes, for the most part, a recounting of a lot of “stuff.” Thus, as a volume to browse for entertainment, I recommend it. For its terrific bibliography of work on leisure in myriad fields, I heartily endorse it. But as a means to understand mass leisure in the twentieth century, unfortunately, it comes up a bit short.

F. Andrew Hanssen’s publications include “Explaining Changes in Organizational Form: The Case of Professional Baseball” (with J. Meehan and T. Miceli), Journal of Sports Economics (forthcoming) and “Vertical Integration during the Hollywood Studio Era,” Journal of Law and Economics (2010).

Copyright (c) 2015 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (October 2015). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Household, Family and Consumer History
Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Cultivating Success in the South: Farm Households in the Postbellum Era

Author(s):Ferleger, Louis A.
Metz, John D.
Reviewer(s):Harris, J. William

Published by EH.Net (September 2015)

Louis A. Ferleger and John D. Metz, Cultivating Success in the South: Farm Households in the Postbellum Era. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.  xiii + 206 pp. $90 (cloth), ISBN: 978-1-107-05411-0.

Reviewed for EH.Net by J. William Harris, Department of History, University of New Hampshire.

Cultivating Success in the South offers an illuminating examination of the South’s post-Civil War cotton economy.  Most of the important scholarship on that subject focuses on the momentous change from slave-based plantations to tenant/sharecropping plantations, and to the place of African Americans on those postwar plantations.  Economic historians have made use of macroeconomic data and samples from the agricultural censuses to analyze, and sometimes argue over, the roles of racial discrimination, credit and debt, technical changes such as fertilizer use, and cotton prices in shaping the postwar cotton regime.

Louis A. Ferleger (Boston University) and John D. Metz (Library of Virginia) address this subject in a study of three agricultural counties in Georgia from 1880 to 1910.  Crawford and Jasper are in the lower Piedmont, where cotton was king and a large majority of white households included slaveholders in 1860.  Franklin, in the upper Piedmont, had a shorter growing season, with smaller farms growing less cotton and more grains, and many fewer slaves; just one out of six households included slaves in 1860.

The authors’ contributions are two-fold.  The first is methodological: their systematic use of probate records to analyze patterns in both production and consumption on farms. The main evidence comes from a sample of 228 estates from the three counties between 1880 and 1910, with data on decedents cross-checked in the records of the 1880, 1900, or 1910 censuses.  Probate records have been used with great profit by economic historians of colonial America, but rarely for more recent times, and never for the postwar South, at least in this systematic fashion.  The authors’ meticulous analysis of the probate inventories supports their contention that their study “calls into question the long-standing notion of an impoverished postbellum South characterized by a stagnating economy, political turmoil, and racial tension” p. (4). (They do not address either politics or racial tension, although one of the counties was stronghold of Populism, and in two of them black men were lynched in these years.)

The second innovation, directly related to the methodology, is in subject matter.  Estates worth less than $500 did not go through probate, and wealthy property owners usually avoided probate by writing wills.  The sample is thus overwhelmingly made up of “yeoman” farmers, 88 percent of them white men, who owned small and medium-sized farms.  While this obviously leaves out much of the farming population, it is arguable that we know less about white small farmers than any other major group in the postwar South, even though most of the increase in cotton production in these years took place on small farms owned by whites.

The key findings come from analysis of 199 probate inventories with enough detail to show, most often with simple cross-tabulations and means, not only general patterns of production and consumption, but also quite specific information on the types of tools used and items purchased for household use.  The findings with respect to production are often interesting but rarely surprising.  Franklin County’s farmers, thanks to fertilizer and improved transportation, moved firmly into cotton monoculture, but in all three counties, production patterns and tool use indicate a cautious, safety-first emphasis on “how to achieve self-sufficiency without assuming a dangerous level of risk” (p. 91). Home production of food, diversification into alternate marketable crops, and the taking up of secondary occupations like blacksmithing helped to reduce risk.  With increasing farm size, farmers purchased specialized plows and cultivators, cotton gins, and even steam engines.  Inventories for African Americans and women are too few in number for a full analysis, but the limited data do suggest that those farm owners were not greatly different in their patterns of purchases.  The authors conclude that, overall, farmers “showed creativity and persistence in trying to improve their lot in life” (p. 180).

The analysis of consumption offers fresh information on a little-studied subject.  The most important conclusion is that yeoman farmer households participated fully in the growing consumer economy, although the authors go too far in claiming that the rural economy was “every bit as dynamic as the urban model characterized by increased consumption” (p. 95). Farmers and their wives were “shrewd if conservative consumers” (p. 175) for whom “the practical superseded the niceties” (p. 179).  Half of the families owned stoves, and many purchased sewing machines, coffee mills, and other labor-saving products.  At higher levels of wealth they owned pianos, organs, clocks, and furniture suitable for a parlor.  The authors point out that estate auctions were alternatives to country stores and mail-order catalogues as a source for purchases, at a discount, of tools and consumer items.

Readers should be aware that there are occasional errors in the text.  For example, the authors write that “blacks comprised one-fifth” of Georgia’s population in 1850, when the actual proportion was more than two-fifths.  Tables on pages 48 and 49 indicate that the Crawford County sample included 51 white males, 4 black males, and 5 females, but only 56 cases in total.  More problematic is the broad claim that “middling farmers who owned their property … accounted for the majority of the population,” and that “owner-operators outnumbered renters by at least two to one” (p. 15). This is simply untrue over the thirty-year period.  According to the Census of Agriculture for 1900, there were in these three counties 1,762 white farm owners or part-owners, and 2,257 white cash or share tenants.  If black farmers are included, tenants outnumbered owners overall by more than two-to-one, not the other way around.  Indeed the presence of so many tenants points to the biggest limitation of the study, in that the analysis of production is mainly limited to mules, tools, and other capital inputs, with no discussion of labor arrangements or of the relationships between labor arrangements and the use of technology.

Still, the authors’ meticulous examination of a new (for this period) source for the study of the rural southern economy deserves praise.  It may be that their demonstration of the value of probate records, more than their specific conclusions, proves to be their most influential contribution.

J. William Harris (jw.harris@unh.edu) is Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire.  He is currently writing a general history of the South since the Civil War.

Copyright (c) 2015 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (September 2015). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII

The Merchant Republics: Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg, 1648-1790

Author(s):Lindemann, Mary
Reviewer(s):Ryckbosch, Wouter

Published by EH.Net (September 2015)

Mary Lindemann, The Merchant Republics: Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg, 1648-1790. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. xv + 356 pp. $99 (hardback), ISBN: 978-1-107-07443-9.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Wouter Ryckbosch, Centre for Urban History, University of Antwerp.

Although few would deny the importance of Northern Germany or the Low Countries to the economic history of early modern Europe, we know relatively little about the self-perceptions that reigned in these places, the political ideas that circulated, or the political economies that governed them. Compared to the libraries that have been written on Florence, Paris or London, the list of works dealing with the politics and ideas of the North-West European cities is rather short. It is this gap that Mary Lindemann ( Professor of History at the University of Miami) aims to fill with The Merchant Republics. The book focuses on three major port cities in the long eighteenth century (roughly from 1648 to the 1790s): Antwerp, Amsterdam and Hamburg.

All three towns were — to rather varying degrees — important commercial centers during this period, as well as “republics.” In this book, a republic is understood as “a political entity governed by citizens who assumed the task of administration as part of the civic and political duties incumbent on them.” Moreover, according to Lindemann all three cities were specifically “merchant republics,” in the sense that they considered merchants and mercantile values as essential components of their republicanism. Starting out from this loose but nevertheless informative definition, Lindemann explores the similarities and differences (both of which are numerous) in the political economy of the three cities.

After a first chapter that presents a general introduction to the three cities under scrutiny, the second and third chapters examine the structures of government and the political ideas surrounding them. The political issues that dominated the agenda were very different in all three cities: Amsterdam was characterized by conflicts between the party of the stadhouder and the party of true freedom; Hamburg was marred by recurrent disagreements between the Bürgershaft and the Senate; and in Antwerp the opposition of the ruling elites to centralization from the monarchical rulers in Brussels/Madrid/Vienna proved the dominant theme. Nevertheless, Lindemann makes a convincing argument that in all three there existed a general self-perception of republicanism — which at the very least implied an opposition to monarchical political structures, even if that did not preclude these urban elites from demonstrating strong aristocratic and oligarchic tendencies, or from preaching civic virtue while being plagued by corruption.

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 shift attention towards the mercantile aspect of these “merchant republics,” considering how the (upper crust of) these cities’ inhabitants perceived themselves and their values as opposed to aristocratic and monarchical societies. This includes a very illuminating segment on the problems presented by “impostors” and how these were perceived as antithetical to mercantile and republican values, as well as chapters on the problems posed to republican virtues by speculation and bankruptcy. To scholars interested in the history of economic thought these latter two chapters will be of most interest, as they lend themselves most easily to comparisons with the extensive literature on the republican tradition and the development of enlightenment mentalities on commerce, virtue and the common weal elsewhere.

Unlike much scholarly work on the republication tradition, political self-representation, or early modern economic thought, Lindemann does not limit herself to studying only the most well-known authors and publications of the time, but instead delves into a wonderfully rich variety of pamphlets, court cases, and political commentaries to substantiate her arguments. Admittedly, Antwerp, Amsterdam and Hamburg did not bring forth political commentators of the same renown as Machiavelli, Mandeville or Montesquieu (with the possible exception of Amsterdam’s Pieter de la Court), but the wide range of sources on which Lindemann draws her story is nevertheless impressive. To be sure, this can at times be overwhelming. The number of protagonists that crowds the pages, as well as the three different political structures with their specific terminologies in which they figured, does not always make for light reading.

The title of the book does not simply describe the common features of the three cities studied. It also advances a specific historical interpretation (p. 310). What The Merchant Republics, in all its nuance and complexity, argues is that in the commercial ports of north-western Europe a peculiar republicanism developed that was compatible with a highly commercial society (quite contrary to Pocock’s classical republicanism), and that celebrated trade and merchants for their republican virtues. As valuable and generally convincing as this interpretation is, it also raises many questions, some of which unfortunately remain unanswered in the book.

To begin with, the structure of the book presents plenty of comparison between three merchant republics — and thus highlights the large potential for variety within this concept — but the overarching argument actually seems to call for comparison between these merchant republics as a whole, and the political economies of other “republicanisms” throughout the classical, early modern and modern world. In the end, I could not help wondering how the political economy of these merchant republicans differed from that of Machiavelli and quattrocento Florence. And how does it compare to enlightenment economic thought across the channel, and Adam Smith in particular? Most of all, perhaps, the argument invites comparison with the French tradition of assessing the virtue in commerce, including Montesquieu and the concept of “le doux commerce.”

Despite the wide range of sources on which the book draws, most of the voices heard throughout belonged to the (mercantile) upper crust of these cities. This raises the question whether the self-image of a merchant republic was limited to the mercantile community alone, or whether it did indeed encompass the whole town. Although Lindemann pays plenty of attention to dissent and conflict within the ruling classes, there’s relatively little attention to conflict between the mercantile groups and those who had been only relatively recently excluded from political power (at least in Antwerp and, to a lesser extent, Amsterdam): the middling groups, and the craft guilds in particular. After all, in sixteenth-century Antwerp the Chambers of Rhetoric only embraced a more positive view of commerce after merchant-entrepreneurs had wrested political power from the craft guilds.  It is perhaps ironic that they did so with the support of their monarchical overlord, which makes one wonder if the “mercantile” and “republican” components of the book’s argument were everywhere and always as closely tied to one another as Lindemann suggests.

The applicability of the term “merchant republic” to this or that city and this or that timeframe can be endlessly debated, but Lindemann shows that as a conceptual framework for understanding politics, self-representation and economic thought in eighteenth-century North-Western Europe it has clear value. Moreover, as a historical interpretation it serves as a useful reminder that both “republicanism” and “mercantile mentalities” could take many forms in early modern Europe. However, first and foremost this volume is a rich and erudite account of political economy in three different stages of success and decline in merchant capitalism.

Wouter Ryckbosch is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Urban History, University of Antwerp. He specializes in the histories of inequality and consumption in the early modern period, with a particular focus on the Low Countries in the eighteenth century.

Copyright (c) 2015 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator (administrator@eh.net). Published by EH.Net (September 2015). All EH.Net reviews are archived at http://eh.net/book-reviews/

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):17th Century
18th Century