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Easy Money: American Puritans and the Invention of Modern Currency

Author(s):Goldberg, Dror
Reviewer(s):Knodell, Jane

Published by EH.Net (August 2023).

Dror Goldberg. Easy Money: American Puritans and the Invention of Modern Currency. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2023. xi + 346 pp. $55 (hardback), ISBN 978-0226825106.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Jane Knodell, University of Vermont.


This book is the culmination of Dror Goldberg’s research into the bills of credit first issued by the Massachusetts Bay colonial government in December 1690. Other British North American colonies followed suit over the course of the 18th century, giving rise to a large economic history literature on the performance of colonial bills of credit. Goldberg’s purpose is not to contribute to this literature, in which Massachusetts is a case study in what not to do. Rather, he seeks to convince his readers that the bills of credit were a revolutionary monetary invention, and to explain why this monetary revolution happened where it did.

For Goldberg, the 1690 bills of credit were revolutionary as the first legal tender currency. Goldberg acknowledges, as he must, the paper currencies that appeared earlier and in other places, such as the paper notes issued by London goldsmiths and the playing card money of Quebec, but none of these marked a “fundamental change in the legal foundation of money”, and they did not shift the “anchor of money . . .from intrinsically valuable goods to the circulation of money in and out of the public treasury” (p. 5). The bills of credit were much more than just a “natural, almost trivial development from recent paper moneys . . .” (p. 193); their creation was an “intellectual triumph of uncovering the true nature of money in the fiscal state” (p. 258).

The December 1690 decision to issue bills of credit, and subsequent “upgrades” to the currency in 1691-92, are treated with detailed historical analysis in the third section of this book. The chapters leading up to the main event are written with a broad historical brush and cover monetary laws and practices in a wider geographic area (the British Empire in the Atlantic) and over a longer time period (late sixteenth century to late seventeenth century). These chapters help Goldberg make the case that Massachusetts was different and special, and primed for monetary invention. As an organizing conceptual device, Goldberg applies Joel Mokyr’s supply and demand framework for explaining inventive activity (Mokyr 1990) to the 1690 Massachusetts bills of credit.

Massachusetts had both high demand for a new monetary technique to supplement specie and the ability to supply the technique. Its monetary system had to be more complex than those of the colonies that produced goods demanded in England with slave labor. As a colony that made its living off multilateral trade and services, Massachusetts (or at least Boston) was more monetized. It was populated mainly by middle-class families that demanded a variety of goods and services. It had an accountable government, notwithstanding restrictions on citizenship. Perhaps most importantly, Massachusetts had a long history of monetary invention.

Goldberg makes effective and extensive use of the records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (later, Province) to explain exactly what these bills were from a legal and constitutional point of view, why they were issued, who issued them and how, and what gave the bills “currency.” The 1690 bills were essentially a printed promise on the part of the Colony to “the possessor” that the bills would be received in all public payments “equal to money.” Taxpayers could discharge their tax obligations to the Colony using the Colony’s printed promise; this was essentially a setoff of one debt against the other. Setoffs had previously been done bilaterally in the treasurer’s ledgers; now they could be done multilaterally, with an instrument that allowed one colonist to pay taxes using a debt instrument originally issued to other colonists to extinguish their claims on the Colony. The bills made possible a “coin-free settlement of public debts . . . on a massive scale” (pp. 191-192). This is an original and important insight into the economic mechanism behind the bills of credit. It also raises the question of whether the bills of credit were a public finance innovation (provide a better mechanism for public debt settlement and tax payments), a monetary innovation (provide an adequate stock of money for the local economy), or a combination of the two.

The timing of the decision is crucial for Goldberg. In December 1690, Massachusetts was provisionally operating under the framework of its annulled charter and waiting for its next charter. The Colony faced payment demands from soldiers and seamen returning from a failed expedition to Quebec, and there was no specie in the colonial treasury (the Colony did try, unsuccessfully, to borrow specie shortly before it issued the bills). It was of paramount importance not to offend either crown or Parliament. Colonial leaders went to great lengths to make it look as if they were not creating “money”, which their predecessors had done with the mint, to the displeasure of the crown. The Colony was only issuing promissory notes, which anyone was legally allowed to do.

The Colony used no coercive measures to get the bills circulating in the local economy. It simply gave its creditors (of which there were many, due to its war debts) the option of exchanging existing debt (debentures issued to soldiers and seamen, loans from the monied elite) for the bills. It was the creditor’s choice whether to take the Colony up on its offer, but Goldberg shows how the Colony made the offer attractive, and alternative options unattractive. From a creditor’s point of view, the money-like characteristics of the bills of credit (useful denominations, standard appearance, and easy transferability as bearer instruments) made them a more liquid instrument than the debentures, made payable to specific individuals in irregular and sometimes very large amounts.

Still, for the bills to function as currency, they had to be accepted by sellers in payment for goods and services. Individual sellers had to know that they would be able to pass the bills on to someone else. Goldberg acknowledges that the bills were initially rejected, or accepted at deep discounts, in retail trade. In 1691, the Colony responded by passing laws that made bills better than either specie or foodstuffs in public payments. In 1692, after receiving its new charter, the Colony ruled that the bills would “pass current within this Province equivalent to money.” With these upgrades, the bills “became normal money, circulating into the treasury and out of it . . .” (p. 217).

But did the bills circulate broadly in the economy? This strikes me as an important issue which is not fully addressed. Although the evidence on how different moneys were used is certainly limited, merchant account books and ledgers (such as Samuel Sewall’s) could have been used to show that the bills of credit were used as money in payments between private individuals. It was Boston merchants’ acceptance of the bills of credit that turned them into money that circulated at large in the colonial economy, and not just between taxpayers and the colonial treasury. In this sense, seen as a monetary invention, the bills of credit were a joint product of the colonial government and the merchants that were closely aligned with the government and its aspirations.

Easy Money is a major contribution to North Atlantic monetary history. There has been little economic history scholarship on the pathbreaking Massachusetts bills of credit since Davis (1901) and Felt (1839). The book is exceptionally well written. Goldberg uses an eclectic method, blending legal analysis, historical analysis, and economic reasoning, all clearly explained without models. The book pulls off a neat trick by being very engaging for economic historians and at the same time accessible to a broad audience.


Account book of Samuel Sewall, Mss 514, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society, online at

Davis, Andrew McFarland. Currency and Banking in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1901.

Felt, Joseph. Historical Account of Massachusetts Currency. Boston: Perkins and Marvin, 1839.

Mokyr, Joel. The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.


Jane Knodell is the Mark J. Zwynenburg Green and Gold Professor of Financial History at the University of Vermont. She is currently working on a book manuscript with Catalina Vizcarra on the production and regulation of money in colonial North and South America.

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (August 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at



Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):17th Century

The Postwar Economic Order: National Reconstruction and International Cooperation

Author(s):Hirschman, Albert O.
Editor(s):Alacevich, Michele
Asso, Pier Francesco
Reviewer(s):Pomfret, Richard

Published by EH.Net (August 2023).

Albert O. Hirschman. The Postwar Economic Order: National Reconstruction and International Cooperation. Edited by Michele Alacevich and Pier Francesco Asso. New York: Columbia University Press, 2023. viii + 342 pp. $30.00 (paperback), ISBN 978-0231200592.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Richard Pomfret, Adjunct Professor of International Economics at Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe and Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Adelaide.


This volume reproduces 21 reports that Hirschman wrote from 1947 to 1950 while employed as economist in charge of the Western European desk of the research branch of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The reports are lightly edited by Michele Alacevich (Professor of Economics at the University of Bologna) and Pier Francesco Asso (Professor of History of Economics at the University of Palermo) and preceded by a 44-page introduction based on the editors’ recent paper on Hirschman (Alacevich and Asso, 2023).

The collection is interesting on several levels. First, it illustrates key developments in Hirschman’s thinking, building on his pre-war experiences and education in Europe and on the opportunity to comment on post-war developments in Europe from an American perspective. As the Introduction states, “this book shows how Hirschman became Hirschman” (p. 35). Second, it provides insightful analysis of these developments by someone present at the origin of the current international economic order. Hirschman was a valuable commentator because he understood the long-term goal of non-discriminatory market-based international economic relations as well as the political constraints, especially in France and Italy, where he had personal pre-war experience, that justified short-term deviations from these ideals.

The drawback of the format is that the details of, say, Italian exchange rate policy changes in January 1947 may be tedious for the non-specialist. The Introduction provides a more concise guide than the original papers and has, of course, the benefit of hindsight and 75 years of historical analysis. What I missed was critical assessment of Hirschman’s views, which were sometimes controversial. Although most of the reports were “Confidential” or “Restricted”, several were published in academic journals after only a short lag (in a golden era of rapid acceptance and publication) and contributed to active debates.

The advantage of the format is the contemporary nature of the analysis. In addressing the macroeconomic challenges facing France and Italy in 1946-47, the papers in Part One capture the urgency and immediacy of challenges such as inflation, coal shortages, balance of payment deficits, and so forth. These papers also remind the reader of the ubiquity of economic controls as countries recovered from total war and of the reluctance of European policymakers to surrender their controls – to an extent difficult to recognize for anybody born after the 1950s. Indeed, the frustration of Part Two on the Marshall Plan is that Hirschman is analyzing a situation that is second-best in so many ways (high tariffs and non-convertible currencies are just the start), as well as dealing with a reconstruction process that varied considerably from country to country and rudimentary economic forecasting tools. He recognizes the difficulty and accepts the possibility that long-term suboptimal policies may have been justified in the short term in the late 1940s. The lessons for the last half century, when the extreme distortions have been removed, are unclear.

One topic covered in depth is economic integration (Part Three). Hirschman first mentions the topic in a Report from February 1949 which finishes with a one-page section on “Cooperation” as proposed in an Organization for European Economic Cooperation Report. Cooperation is desirable but difficult and must start with coordination of European countries’ investment policies and current production, to be accompanied by a considerable cooperative effort with respect to employment, manpower and migration policy (pp. 159-60). This has some resonance with the European Coal and Steel Community that would be formed a few years later but is out of touch with the more market-driven integration that would follow the 1957 Treaty of Rome and lead to the European Union.

By March 1950, however, Hirschman was arguing the benefits of free trade within Europe (Chapter 17). The prediction was that the benefits of trade creation among European countries would outweigh the costs of trade diversion due to discrimination against non-members, notably the USA. Hirschman’s analysis proved to be empirically valid, although the theory is set out more clearly and elegantly in Jacob Viner’s 1950 book The Customs Union Issue.

The creation of the euro was still half a century in the future when Hirschman wrote in November 1949 about a European monetary authority. It is, however, striking where he saw the limits to be:

“It is quite correct . . . that a common currency requires, among other things, the abandonment of fiscal sovereignty and is, therefore, inconceivable in the absence of political federation.” (p. 196)


“The creation of a European bank of issue would be called for only if and when a regular federal European government comes into being.” (p. 201)

The limits proved to be wrong in the 1990s, when the European Central Bank was established and the euro was created, before political federation. Nevertheless, by August 1950 (Chapter 18) Hirschman was acknowledging the potential of the European Payments Union to erode the costs of bilateralism, despite being far from general convertibility and being resisted by the United Kingdom, with its attachment to the Sterling Area.

The last two Reports from 1950 (Part Four) shift the focus from Europe to the impact of economic development abroad on the USA and the impact of US economic conditions on the rest of the world. The editors suggest that the first Report foreshadows Hirschman’s later thinking on economic development, but Hirschman (1958) was on a grander scale. What is interesting is Hirschman’s confident contrast between European governments that were fearful of competition from new industrializing countries and the positive US attitude towards development abroad, with the USA hoping to benefit from growing world markets. Thirty years later the USA would lead the protectionist response to the challenge from Japan and other Asian industrializing economies; that protectionism would be reversed in the 1990s, only to reappear after another thirty years in concerns about the challenge from China.

The evolution of his thinking on a customs union and on monetary cooperation illustrate Hirschman’s flexibility and the rapid pace of change in European institutional arrangements for trade and finance in the years 1948-51. However, the book can be tedious and sometimes repetitive. Non-specialists may find the succinct Introduction by Alacevich and Asso to be enough.


Alacevich, Michele, and Pier Francesco Asso (2023). “Albert O. Hirschman, Europe, and the Postwar Economic Order, 1946–52.” History of Political Economy 55 (1): 39–75.

Hirschman, Albert (1958). The Strategy of Economic Development. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Viner, Jacob (1950). The Customs Union Issue. New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


Richard Pomfret is Adjunct Professor of International Economics at Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe, Bologna, Italy, and Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Adelaide, Australia; email His books include The Age of Equality: The Twentieth Century in Economic Perspective (Harvard University Press, 2011), The Central Asian Economies in the Twenty-first Century: Paving a New Silk Road (Princeton University Press, 2019) and The Economic Integration of Europe (Harvard University Press, 2021).

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (August 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economic Planning and Policy
Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):Europe
North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics

Author(s):Ngai, Mae
Reviewer(s):Dighe, Ranjit

Published by EH.Net (July 2023).

Mae Ngai. The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics. New York: W.W. Norton, 2021. xx + 440 pp. $30 (hardback), ISBN 978-0393634167.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Ranjit Dighe, State University of New York at Oswego.


In the English-speaking world of the late nineteenth century, the Chinese question was more a comment than a question. Within a decade of the first wave of Chinese workers in the California gold rush, the state of California passed draconian exclusionary legislation. Within two decades, the US Congress passed a bipartisan bill to effectively exclude Chinese immigration by limiting the number of Chinese passengers on any boat arriving in the US to fifteen. (For context, the steamships arriving from Europe at Ellis Island often carried 2,000 passengers.) President Hayes vetoed the bill, saying it violated the US-China open door treaty, but said he agreed that Chinese immigration was a problem and urged that the treaty be amended to allow Congress to restrict Chinese immigrants. Both of those things happened in short order. The resulting legislation became known as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Chinese exclusion was by no means unique to the US. New Zealand enacted similar restrictions in the 1880s. Australia did so in 1901, South Africa in 1913, Canada in 1923. While the US and Canadian bans were lifted during World War II, the Australian and South African bans remained until the 1970s and 1980s. What was it that caused these current and former European settler colonies to pass such transparently racist bans on Chinese immigration?

Mae Ngai’s The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics deftly explains the events that led to Chinese exclusion in these English-speaking areas, focusing on the US, Australia, and South Africa. As the book’s title implies, Ngai puts the gold rushes of the second half of the nineteenth century into global perspective. The gold rushes were concentrated in these countries, as well as Canada and New Zealand (which also prohibitively restricted Chinese immigration, as noted above).

The book has already won the Bancroft Prize for American history, so its historical bona fides would appear obvious. Ngai’s empirical methodology is clearly that of the historian. In researching this book, Ngai used archives from five continents and in several languages. Economic historians may note approvingly that the sources include economic statistics from various censuses, as well as from labor, immigration, and mining reports. But most of all for an economic historian, especially one studying immigration, the book provides valuable context.

Although this is not a work of cliometrics – there are maps but no tables or charts, let alone regression analysis – it is clearly one of economic as well as social history. If it weren’t for the extraordinary pull factor of potential gold mining riches, the Chinese would not have been in these countries in the first place. There is an element of political economy here; as Ngai puts it, her book tells “how the Chinese Question grew out of an alchemy of race and money in nineteenth-century global economic and political relations.” (p. xviii).

The introduction, “Yellow and Gold,” describes the international economics and geopolitics of gold and silver at the time the gold rushes began. Despite the centrality of gold in this story, the world’s leading economic powers were on a bimetallic standard for most of the nineteenth century. Silver had flowed into China for the previous two centuries. So much British silver, in fact, had been drained in exchange for Chinese tea that Britain sought to replace silver with opium as their medium of exchange with China. The resulting Opium Wars were sandwiched around the California gold rush that began in 1848. The treaty that ended the first war opened five ports to foreign trade and gave Hong Kong to Britain. The treaties that ended the second one opened ten more ports. The Chinese emigration to the gold fields of the English-speaking settler colonies and nations was a consequence of these wars that pried open the door to China. And yet, with or without irony, anti-Chinese agitators would later refer to Chinese immigration as an “invasion.”

Part I, “Two Gold Mountains,” is by the far the longest section of the book and would work well as a slim volume of its own. It details the initial emigration from a small section of Southeast China to California and Australia; the nature of the labor the Chinese immigrants performed; their reception, often but not always antagonistic, from local whites; the language and cultural gaps that contributed to Chinese immigrants’ lack of legal standing; the adoption of Chinese-bashing as a winning strategy for California politicians; and Australia’s failed attempt to establish segregated “protectorates” for Chinese immigrants.

The California gold rush involved Chinese laborers as early as its second year. The international dimensions of the gold rush are striking. The first gold discovery, in January 1848 at Sutter’s Mill, was on the property of John Sutter, a Swiss-American who settled the land in 1839, when it was still Mexico, with the aid of a land grant from the Mexican government. Ninety percent of the gold diggers in the first year of the gold rush were Native Americans. Others included “Californios” (Mexican descendants of the original Spanish settlers) and American soldiers who had fought nearby in the Mexican War, the peace treaty to which was not signed until a month after the discovery. With most Americans thousands of miles away and a transcontinental railroad two decades away, the gold rush became an international affair. Pacific Ocean voyagers from Mexico, Chile, and Hawaii were later joined by many more waterborne arrivals from Europe, Australia, and China, though most miners were white Americans.

The second gold rush began shortly after the first, in 1851 in Bathurst, Australia, about 125 miles inland from Sydney. Months later, prospectors struck gold near Geelong, not far from Melbourne, and the province of Victoria became the chief destination of the Australian gold rush. Australia’s small population and massive gold deposits made it inevitable that most of the miners would be foreign-born. Indeed, more than three times as many (573,000) would come from abroad than from Australia. In addition to China, which sent three times as many migrants to Australia as to the US, the migrants came from the United Kingdom, continental Europe, and even California. Even more so than in California, the rush of mining and miners was devastating – often as a matter of official policy – to the local aboriginal population.

Economic historians will naturally be curious about the labor arrangements the Chinese immigrants worked under. While virtually no historians believe the charges of some contemporaries that most Chinese laborers were slaves or indentured servants on fixed-term contracts, there has been heated debate over just how free the Chinese immigrant laborers were in America. Chinese laborers emigrated freely to the US, but the voyage itself was prohibitively expensive, about five times the typical Chinese income, and debate has focused on who financed their voyages and how repayment was enforced. Cloud and Galenson (1987, 1991) say the system was similar to colonial indentured servitude but without a set number of years and with payments being made by the workers to local Chinese associations (known as huiguan) and enforced primarily by a credit-ticket system that denied return voyage to laborers who could not produce a certificate stating that they had paid off their earlier debt. McClain (1990) says the huiguan were primarily mutual aid societies and did not import labor.

Ngai, who cites these authors but otherwise does not mention them, says most of the voyages to California were locally financed “with family funds or borrowed from clan or district associations” (34). Poorer emigrants had to borrow externally, and the credit-ticket system would become important. (Credit tickets were common in Australia, too.) Ngai offers an in-depth description of the huiguan (literally “meeting hall”), including their long history in China itself, as mutual aid societies that performed important clearinghouse functions. Instead of being importers of labor or direct financers of voyagers, their economic functions were more as intermediaries, with bilingual members who could connect the laborers with local employers, collect payments on voyage debts, and certify to China-bound steamship operators that a particular person was debt-free. The Chinese, then, were basically free laborers whose debt repayment was enforced through extralegal means, thus making them somewhat less free (i.e., less able to walk away from debts) than white laborers.

Ngai distinguishes these essentially free laborers from their predecessors. Before (and after) the gold rushes, there were desperately poor Chinese workers who worked as fixed-term contract laborers beginning in the 1830s in Caribbean sugar farming and Peruvian guano harvesting. Ngai says they were “coolies” in the sense of being bound laborers. The earliest Chinese arrivals to California were indentures on multi-year contracts, but the contracts proved unenforceable, as workers could easily desert and seek their fortune in other goldfields. The term-based indenture system was abandoned. Afterward, the Chinese who followed the gold rushes into North America and Australia “were farmers, rural workers, artisans, mechanics, and merchants who, in many respects, were just like other people from around the world who came seeking gold.” (34) Nevertheless, opponents of Chinese immigrant labor in other countries would inaccurately label all Chinese workers as “coolies,” to whom servility was second nature and who could never assimilate into western society. Ngai does not weigh in on the effect of low-wage Chinese labor on others’ wages, but she implies that the wages were well above subsistence in her discussion of the large volume of remittances from California and Australia. Moreover, most Chinese in Australia paid off their debts in less than a year.

Despite the formidable language barrier, relations between Chinese laborers and their white neighbors were not hostile from the start. Some California politicians in the early 1850s introduced bills encouraging the use of Chinese “coolies” to shore up the state’s agricultural labor force; the free-soilers who blocked those bills said they welcomed free Chinese laborers but not bound labor. But other politicians, notably California’s first governor, John Bigler, were all too eager to conflate Chinese and “coolies” for political gain, creating an opening for blatantly racist anti-Chinese arguments that countless other politicians would exploit. Like those others, Bigler’s arguments were not just about labor standards; he called the Chinese a menace to public safety. But the leading argument, among politicians and public figures such as Henry George and Samuel Gompers, was that the Chinese were a “coolie race” whose presence invariably degraded white labor. Many Chinese were expelled from mining districts and subject to violent, even murderous, attacks.

Early anti-Chinese legislation in California took the form of a monthly foreign miners tax, meant to be prohibitive for Chinese mine laborers, as the lump sum tax was set at what Bigler thought was a Chinese miner’s entire monthly earnings. The tax backfired as an anti-Chinese measure, as Chinese were able to pay it, even after it was increased the following year, and the state and counties came to depend on those revenues. But the hostility of white miners to the Chinese led to some private exclusions, such as by the underground quartz mining companies. In that industry, white workers struck for twenty months in 1869-70 and lost on every issue except their demand for Chinese exclusion. This episode seems instructive as a case of dwindling business support for Chinese immigration: apparently, the companies saw the marginal profits from hiring Chinese workers as outweighed by the marginal increase in good will among other workers from not hiring Chinese.

In the early decades of Chinese settlement in Australia, by contrast, anti-coolieism was negligible compared to the fear of a Chinese takeover. After all, Australia was a thinly populated island receiving immigrants from a heavily populated country. “The alarm over the ‘Chinese invasion’ was ubiquitous and often hysterical in tone.” (117) Although many whites got along with their Chinese neighbors, there was sufficient antagonism – over mining claims, water pollution from different mining techniques, religious differences, and general incompatibility – that the colonial government forcibly separated the Chinese population from the rest, in an apartheid-like policy called “protection.” This policy, in effect from 1854 to 1863, failed to stop anti-Chinese violence and created transportation and storage obstacles for Chinese miners. It also added to the heavy “race tax” burden on the Chinese, as each Chinese resident had to pay a “protection tax” of one pound per year. Chinese vessels arriving in Victoria were already subject to a landing fee of 10 pounds per immigrant. The protection tax was followed in Victoria by a residency tax on Chinese of twelve pounds per year (later reduced and mostly evaded).

Part II, “Making White Men’s Countries,” traces the roads to anti-Chinese immigration laws in the US and Australia. After about 1875, the arguments for restrictions were much the same in both places: pauperization of labor, unchecked immigration leading to invasion, and the supposed inability of Chinese to assimilate in white Christian societies. In the US, anti-Chinese agitation spread through California, most visibly in the “sandlot” rallies in San Francisco, led by labor leader and third-party politician Denis Kearney, whose rallying cry was “The Chinese Must Go!” Violence against Chinese settlers and settlements became commonplace. Banning Chinese immigration became increasingly popular at the national level, even though few Chinese lived outside of the sparsely settled West, and the US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Anti-Chinese violence and harassment only increased after the Act’s passage.

Australians increasingly imitated the anti-Chinese rhetoric of the US, including anti-coolieism and claims of Chinese social deviance. This time it wasn’t just Victoria but other colonies as well, like Queensland and the Northern Territory. Demands for a White Australia, including exclusion of Chinese and other nonwhites, became increasingly common. Australia did not ban Chinese labor outright, but it did pass the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, which included a 50-word dictation test in a European language. As in the US, it only led to more anti-Chinese exclusions and harassment.

Part III, “The Asiatic Danger in the Colonies,” deals with the brief and sordid episode of Chinese labor use in South Africa’s gold mines. South Africa’s “Chinese labor experiment” began in 1904, with the importation of a thousand Chinese men to the Witwatersrand mines (“the Rand”) in the Transvaal, then a British colony. The Rand was the richest gold region in the world, but labor had been scarce since the dislocations of the Boer War, inducing the mining companies to look abroad for low-wage labor. Altogether, 63,296 Chinese laborers came via ship to South Africa in 1904-1907. This was a contract labor program. It was called an indenture system, but unlike the familiar colonial American indenture system, there was no option to stay and prosper in the new land. Instead, the Chinese – “raw Chinese coolies,” in the approving words of a representative of the Chamber of Mines – were required to return to China as soon as their terms were up. Work conditions were brutal and antagonistic, leading to the deaths of 3,192 Chinese and work stoppages involving another 19,530, dozens of whom were executed or sentenced to at least ten years imprisonment. In South Africa, Britain, and even in China, there were at least two “Chinese questions”: How should the Chinese miners in South Africa be treated, and should they be there at all? The larger Cape Colony, 800 miles away from the Rand, answered that question with a Chinese Exclusion Act in 1904, just three months after the first Chinese miners had arrived.

The Transvaal Immigration Act of 1907 effectively ended the importation of Chinese laborers. Although technically not a ban, it raised a prohibitive hurdle by requiring immigrants to demonstrate literacy in a European language and went out of its way to insult and inconvenience “Asiatics” by requiring them to be fingerprinted and registered. After South Africa’s four colonies united, a national immigration law in 1913 kept the literacy test and allowed immigration agents to apply it unfairly, sometimes allowing a European to pass on the basis of their signature while requiring an Asian to recite fifty words in a European language, a la Australia’s Immigration Restriction Act. South Africa also banned indentured labor imports at that time. (Also that year they passed the Natives Land Act, which placed 93 percent of the country’s land out of the reach of the country’s black majority.)

The “Asiatic Danger” did not pertain to all of the colonies, just the British “settler colonies,” like South Africa and Australia, where whites settled in large numbers. The anti-coolieism argument had been honed into an argument for the dignity and solidarity of white labor. This argument, Ngai says, was key to the successful launch of Britain’s Labour Party. Opponents of Asian immigration turned anti-slavery rhetoric on its head, patting the white race on the back for “‘freeing the civilized world from slavery’” and arguing that the way to keep it free of slavery was to ban the naturally servile, heathen races from their countries and settler colonies.

The book’s epilogue, “The Specter of the Yellow Peril, Redux,” says the Chinese question has not gone away. Although race-based restrictions on Chinese immigration may have disappeared, suspicion of the Chinese and their government is its highest in decades. Even the “Chinese coolie” stereotype is still with us, as many westerners instinctively view factory workers in China’s export zone as slaves and Chinese students as automatons. Fears of China are vastly different today than during the period covered in this book, which Ngai says was squarely in China’s “century of humiliation.” Back then, China was called “a sleeping giant, who when she wakes will shake the world.” Today’s world is well shaken. Chinese exports are ubiquitous, and the supposed invasion is not of low-wage Chinese labor, but of cheap Chinese goods produced with low-wage labor. China is involved in African mining again, this time with its capital; total Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa is roughly $50 billion. China-bashing is popular among American politicians from both major parties, and the previous president launched a trade war against China. The Wuhan-based coronavirus elevated anti-Chinese paranoia to new heights. The “China virus” could occupy a whole chapter and likely gets considerably more coverage in the 2022 paperback edition.

The basic China question – How should the west engage with China? (Or how should China engage with the west?) – is an old and enduring one. Ngai’s meticulously researched, well-written book offers valuable perspective on a key aspect of that question and would be a fine addition to any China-and-the-west or immigration reading list.


Cloud, Patricia, and David W. Galenson. “Chinese Immigration and Contract Labor in the Late Nineteenth Century.” Explorations in Economic History 24(1): 22-42 (1987).

–. “Chinese Immigration: Reply to Charles McClain.” Explorations in Economic History 28(2): 239-247 (1991).

McClain, Charles J. “Chinese Immigration: A Comment on Cloud and Galenson.” Explorations in Economic History 27(3): 363-378 (1990).


Ranjit Dighe is Professor of Economics at the State University of New York at Oswego. His publications include “Factors Influencing the Timing and Type of State-Level Alcohol Prohibitions Prior to 1920,” with Eline Poelmans, John A. Dove, and Jason E. Taylor (Public Choice, 2022), and he is currently researching Congressional opposition to the US Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (July 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Servitude and Slavery
Labor and Employment History
Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):Africa
Australia/New Zealand, incl. Pacific Islands
North America
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII

Scotland: The Global History, 1603 to the Present

Author(s):Pittock, Murray
Reviewer(s):Wardle, William

Published by EH.Net (July 2023).

Murray Pittock. Scotland: The Global History, 1603 to the Present. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2022, xiv + 485 pp. $40 (hardback), ISBN 978-0300254174.

Reviewed for EH.Net by William A. Wardle, former Principal of York St John University and James Watt College of Further and Higher Education.


Imperial Scotland wasn’t built in a day! According to Murray Pittock it took four centuries, beginning in the seventeenth century and ending only in the 1970s, superseded by nationalist demands for an independent nation-state.

The fact that Scotland only looked to recapture its political form in the late twentieth century emphasises that this is an existential study of Scots, not of Scotland. From the 1960s, Scotland has presented an academic pulse revealing a revisionist history and a re-calibration of its global significance. This re-interpretation has taken place at the same time as the nationalist movement for independence has reached its contemporary zenith. The new historiography looks to provide an alternative history of Scotland, moving away from one-dimensional cultural sentimentality and a deficit model depicting Scotland as simply politically barren after 1707 and the Act of Union with England. At best, it was a shared national history, wrapped within the emergence of modern, imperial Britain.

The revisionist school catalogues the disproportionate contributions of Scots in a global diaspora, identifying decisive contributions in key sectors of the modern world. As well as the distributed, existential history of Scots, there is a special place for the global economic prominence of Scotland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, based largely on heavy industry.

Pittock comes late to the party. But he has rich provenance, providing a prolific output ranging from literary criticism to military history. A book of this scale can hardly be a synthesis. There is no doubting the depth and range of the author’s knowledge. But does this volumetric form equate to the self-proclaimed ‘scholarship’ highlighted in the Introduction as the defining characterisation of this book? It has a structure that follows the recent historiographical trend. We get more, a lot more, of the same but not a historiographical step-change or breakthrough.

The author’s justification for the book is that national history, British history, is a shared framework that does not give sufficient prominence to separate and contributing Scottish actions. ‘Non-national’ seems to be the author’s rationale, falling some way short of taking full account of the historiography of empires, globalisation, and modern world systems.

As Scotland’s activities were on a global stage, albeit distributed, Pittock deploys a wide-angle lens. He introduces the term and concept ‘imperial’, but without definition or comparison, and apparently equates this to ‘global’. The analysis describes how Scotland’s imperial presence is at variance with the modern world of nation-states and empires without emphasising strongly enough that this is the essence of Scottish exceptionalism. It would have been instructive to set the Scottish experience within the historiography connecting the local and global and contextualising globalisation in history. We learn nothing of the place of Scotland and Scots in the successive geo-systems from the seventeenth century. Did Scots go with the wave or ahead of the curve? And a bit of counterfactual musing would have entertained: what would have happened without these Scots’ contributions?

The book’s assertion that it is the first global history of Scotland is contestable. There has been a revised focus on the Scottish diaspora. And the genre of narrative survey is certainly headlined by Sir Thomas Devine, his trilogy identifying in turn Scotland’s profile as a nation and its expression through its ‘empire’ and diaspora (1).

On the basis of scale and empirical detail, this book convinces on the extent of Scottish intervention and influence, but less so on its primary significance. Pittock steers clear of the most extravagant claims, notably Herman’s assertion that the eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment created the modern world (2). Equally, Pittock leaves untouched the wider interpretations of formative influences and turning points in determining the shape of the modern world system. Rather, Pittock covers familiar ground without being explicit about whether he is pivoting a new hypothesis. There is clear demonstration of the continuity and adaptability of the Scottish presence, sustaining prominence through different phases, military endeavour to mercantile enterprise and, by the nineteenth century, extending industrial dominance. Thus, the book is likely to shift perceptions by degree rather than more fundamentally by kind.

This is not a work of economic history. The author self-identifies as a ‘cultural historian’, and the methodology is more akin to ethnography than economics, sociology rather than statistical analysis of impact or influence. Individual and collective biographies proliferate. There is not presentation of a major re-interpretation of the causes of British imperialism. The descriptions of the operational mechanics of the British Empire reinforce Devine’s epithet that the English controlled the empire, while Scotland ran it. There is a frustrating historiographical void, with Pittock making no reference to the established debates on the nature of British imperialism and, in particular, the primacy of the concept of ‘gentlemanly capitalism’(3).

We learn an enormous amount about the roles of individuals, the importance of networks and the contributions of mercenary and displaced Scots. We also have new terminology to understand and accept. The term ‘Imperial Scotland’ does not convince that it is other than a description of geographical and demographic distribution rather than power dynamics. There is no sense of the British imperial system being run from Scotland or that there were alternative vectors, and which might disturb or displace prevailing interpretations.


The narrative follows a conventional structure. There are three chronological sections, with thematic subdivisions. The first part ranges from the seventeenth century to the second half of the eighteenth century, tracking Scotland’s incorporation into the Union (1707) and its absorption into the overseas endeavours of the British state. By the eighteenth century, a rebellious Scotland…Covenanters and Jacobites…had been suppressed, its domestic militarism converted into significant participation in overseas conflicts. Differentiating seventeenth century freedom of expression from an eighteenth century straitjacket within the Union, Pittock demonstrates how Scotland’s political outlook was narrowed within the Union but that the eighteenth century saw Scots leading in diverse fields and in a variety of organisations. This is not a novel hypothesis. It was in the eighteenth century that Scotland made a defining contribution to the emergence and consolidation of the British Empire.

The second part of the book covers the period from late eighteenth century to the eve of the First World War. The narrative covers the importance of Scots to military campaigns in North America…fighting on both sides…and in constructing the constitutional and economic frameworks of the emergent state. Pittock highlights the interesting paradox of the Scots subscribing to English laws and liberties while influential Scottish concepts on constitutional forms were exported to North America.

The mercantile activities of prominent Scots were in evidence in North America, the Caribbean, India, the Far East, and China, and the book gives detailed biographies. Scotland’s participation in the tobacco and sugar trades, based on slavery, gave it international prominence.

Pittock gives less exposure to the progress and influence of Scotland as a global industrial power in the nineteenth century. Economic historians of Scotland have written extensively of the co-existence of economic power with poor domestic income distribution and appalling social conditions. As a result, as well as exporting goods throughout the globe, Scotland continued to export people. It is a weakness of this book that the external dimension of global success is not complemented by illustration of persistent socio-economic problems created through weak wages, poor housing, urban squalor and inadequate public infrastructure and health provision.

The third part of the book addresses the Scottish experience in the twentieth century, highlighting the first world war, the inter-war period, the second world war and the period from 1945 and which sees the re-emergence of a political role for Scotland. By the 1960s a catalogue of persistent economic and social problems had led to meaningful political agitation, along with the perception in Scotland that centralist planning in Westminster was treating Scotland as a branch economy. Economic marginalisation of Scotland worsened with the decline of empire, a contributing rather than fundamental factor. The end of empire reduced economic opportunity for Scotland, but the author illustrates three, more powerful variables. First, the failure of the UK government to understand the significance and potential of oil revenues. Second, the prevarication, inconsistency, and misjudgement on devolution. Third, from 1979, the impact of attitudes and policies of the Conservative Government led by Margaret Thatcher. Failure to make the transition to a modern economic format stimulated alternative political strategies, a including a proposed radical return to a re-invented nation-state.

Pittock identifies revitalised social cohesion in Scotland as a reaction to an arrogant and distanced UK government. He also supports the notion of re-awakened cultural self-awareness, underpinning nationalist resurgence, what he classifies as the ‘Matter of Scotland’. He aligns implicitly with those economic historians seeing Scotland as different to the rest of the UK, benefitting until the 1970s from shared awareness between employers and the workforce of the elements of co-operation and, ultimately, economic growth and recovery. That common enterprise or ‘moral economy’ is broken by the clumsy intervention…and ignorance and indifference…of the Westminster government. The author is not openly sympathetic to the more radical notion, as represented by Tom Nairn, that the demise of empire was the spur to Scottish nationalism (4). However, he cannot resist the sideswipe that an introspective, post-imperial UK was unattractive to the more cosmopolitan Scottish mind. Pittock is silent on the European Union (EU) Referendum of 2016, but its result would confirm his assumption that a more outward-looking Scotland would feel uncomfortable with formal UK policy. Scotland, of course, voted massively in favour of remaining in the EU. The post-industrial nationalist surge was not a reaction to the loss of empire but a consequence of economic downturn and the UK government’s mishandling of discontent in Scotland. In the end, devolution asked more questions than it provided answers or compromise.

There are a couple of omissions here. First, the self-inflicted damage caused by the fact of the Scottish economy clinging to the staple, heavy industries even as they lose post-WW2 competitiveness. Second, a global or imperial Scotland reverting to a political shape without having ever solved disproportionally severe social and infrastructural issues.


In identifying ‘Imperial Scotland’, the book sets up a revised and bold concept but also a question that it does not answer: whether the varied actions across continents and centuries were simply coincidental and accidental. The convincing answer as to whether the ‘Imperial Scotland’ had a sense of purpose would lie in the stimulus behind the different interventions and achievements. Since there was no Scottish ‘state’ as such we are left looking at the actions and motivations of individuals. The impact of Scottish education is referenced, but there is not a wider cultural argument.

For a small country, the judgement is one of disproportionate influence. The book in large part provides lists of locations, individuals and achievements. There is a sense of being presented with the weight of evidence rather than the strength of the argument. We learn more about motivation, individual and collective achievement than we do about quantified impact.

There isn’t sufficient reciprocal analysis of the impact on Scotland. There is description of intellectual self-congratulation, and the formation of different intellectual and cultural schools. There is, however, no discussion on why Scotland has emerged from its imperial and post-industrial phase with some of the worst performance indices in Europe: huge income inequality, persistent child poverty, poor popular health, deteriorating educational achievements, a worsening drug profile, endemic violence, urban decay, and inadequate transport infrastructure. The desire for independence is promoted as a desperate move away from treatment as second-class rather than crowning contemporary high achievement.

As such there are challenges for economic historians. First, the narrative: not its accuracy but its significance. While we have extensive, exhaustive illustration of the actions of Scots, individually and collectively, the chapter and verse are not located in an analytical framework. Second, the shortfalls in the author’s understanding of the processes and dynamics of globalisation and which have an extensive historiography. The fact that there is little attempt at comparative analysis means that the narrative is one of Scottish individualism or uniqueness. This shortcoming is compounded by the author’s denial of Scottish exceptionalism, while contemporaneously profiling the significance of the Scottish contribution across a range of spheres.

Readers will learn much from this work but are unlikely to find its explicit message convincing. History should not be written or read backwards. By contrast, this book nudges it forwards, cataloguing achievement, a sense of identity and, just maybe, destiny.


(1) T. M. Devine, Scotland’s Empire, 1600-1815 (Gardners Books, 2003); To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland’s Global Diaspora, 1700-2010 (Penguin, 2011); The Scottish Nation: A History, 1700-2000 (Allen Lane, 1999).

(2) Arthur L. Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World (Three Rivers Press, 2001).

(3) P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins, British Imperialism, 1688-2015 (Routledge, 3rd edition, 2016).

(4) Tom Nairn, The Break-Up of Britain (NLB, 1977).


Professor William Wardle is a former Principal of York St John University and James Watt College of Further and Higher Education. He has been a member of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and his bespoke consultancy engages internationally with institutions, agencies and governments.

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (July 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII
21st Century

Pioneers of Capitalism: The Netherlands, 1000-1800

Author(s):Prak, Maarten
van Zanden, Jan Luiten
Reviewer(s):McCants, Anne

Published by EH.Net (July 2023).

Maarten Prak and Jan Luiten van Zanden. Pioneers of Capitalism: The Netherlands, 1000-1800. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2023. ix + 261 pp. $39.95 (hardback), ISBN 978-0691229874.

Reviewed by Anne EC McCants, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


This is a gem of a book about the long early history of a relatively small place whose consequences for the global economy and our thinking about how economies work is much greater than its footprint might suggest. The title alone has much to tell the prospective reader. It directs our attention to the emergence of “capitalism,” which it places in the Netherlands, not England, home of the first Industrial Revolution. If that were not enough, the account begins in the year 1000 when the Low Countries, especially their northern reaches, were comprised of little more than some small fishing villages and half-submerged peasant holdings. Finally, in what might be the boldest claim, the book takes for its terminus the year 1800, a time when the word capitalism had not yet even made its first appearance in print, and when its forerunners, “capital” and “capitalist,” were themselves hard to pin down to a clear definition (Braudel, 237). Thus, for anyone steeped in the standard narratives of economic history, the provocations of the title are an invitation to read further.

Happily, the text does not disappoint. Having first read the book in final proofs, and now again to write this review, I offer a most enthusiastic assessment, both for the merits of the argument and the elegance of the prose. It is the rare book that improves on a second reading in the span of only a year. So let me explain why I think everyone interested in economic development, the strength of civil society, the “history of capitalism,” or our prospects for a prosperous and more equitable future should read this book.

Like many people, the authors are interested in what they call the “how” and “why” of the emergence of a capitalist market economy (10). But unlike the many who despair at what they believe to be the iron logic of the ravages of capitalism (say, ever-increasing inequality or environmental destruction, to name two frequent charges), Prak and van Zanden leave open the possibility for a positive role played by civil society, both preceding the development of capitalism, and maintaining its power even after market transactions take on the dominant role in provisioning society. While far from blind to the actual ravages of Dutch capitalism abroad – or should one say colonialism, leaving open the possibility that they are not of necessity the same thing? – the chronology of their story makes clear that Dutch capitalism was able to flourish and enrich Dutch society in advance of the establishment of a colonial empire. Since the evidence for historical timing is such an essential component of their argument, let me begin with a discussion of their chronology.

Historians always struggle with the problem of when to begin their investigations, because there is always something that came before whatever starting point one selects. That something will almost certainly bear relevance for the narrative to come. However, at about the year 1000, as the authors correctly point out, there was remarkably little human activity in what would become the Netherlands. It was an “empty country,” not literally of course, but near enough (30). So their work begins at the beginning, or as near to it as historical writing usually achieves. This matters, not only because it allows them to account for historical territory that is little known outside the narrow circle of Low Countries medievalists, but it also gives them an unusually flexible platform on which to build their explanatory framework.

What then was so special, or potentially special, about those small, isolated fishing villages and half-submerged peasant farmers? Two things stand out most in their telling. First, of necessity and opportunity, the people who lived on these marginal lands, so well-connected via water transport but not well suited to the cultivation of staple grains, were fiercely independent by the standards of medieval society; at the same time they were also deeply dependent on trade with outsiders and cooperation within for the ever-essential management of water. The resulting balance struck between the two poles of autonomy and mutuality, matches the second key feature posited by Prak and van Zanden, namely what they argue was just the right historical mix of feudalism/not feudalism. Their statement of this argument is worth quoting directly. “To summarize, capitalism appears to have originated in a society that was relatively egalitarian, with a strong and continually developing civil society that was characterized by a balance between bottom-up influences and top-down institutions” such that “the capitalist engine became most dynamic in the border region between feudalism and freedom” (89).

There is something deeply satisfying about arguments that invoke the virtuous medium –Aristotelian balance, as Janna Coomans framed it at a recent workshop on the book (I had the example of Goldilocks in mind as I was reading). But this comfort is, of course, insufficient to guarantee that such arguments are correct.  How persuasive then is their case, for either the unique medieval origin story, or the balance struck between market economy and civil society? That the territory which would eventually become the Netherlands had a medieval past unlike that of its neighbors seems indisputable; likewise, that it was characterized by an unusual degree of commercialization from a very early date. The authors are also persuasive that Dutch society was more egalitarian (although far from fully of course) across multiple metrics than those around it and that the Dutch were able to protect their freedoms at home even when they were challenged by the temptations (if that is the right word) of inegalitarian colonial practices abroad, most notably slavery, polygamy, and restrictive racial hierarchies. That so many individuals and transplanted Dutch institutions easily adopted and promoted those practices abroad serves as a reminder in Prak and van Zanden’s telling that the Dutch held no special moral standing. Yet, their argument for a precocious capitalism working hand in hand with civil society to promote a long and largely sustained growth of prosperity for the Dutch at home, also does not depend, or not much anyway, on the spoils of empire. Indeed, as they point out with both data and argument, the period of most rapid economic growth in the Dutch Republic precedes the period of Dutch overseas expansion.

It seems fair to conclude, that for Prak and van Zanden the medieval origins of Dutch society hold more sway in the history of capitalism’s emergence than do the early modern vices of the East India and other companies. Consider their understanding of the contrast between the dynamic of economy and society at home versus abroad. They write: “Our comparison of institutional changes prompted by the rapidly developing form of capitalism in which the Republic participated around 1600 shows, above all, that the ‘excesses’ of capitalism experienced in the Republic were curbed, that the pursuit of short-term profit was restrained by institutional buffers, meant to ensure long-term thinking –generally with positive effects for the economy and society. Such corrections and buffers figured less prominently in its overseas expansion: nobody prevented the use of slaves, nor was the creation of ‘extractive institutions’ impeded” (143).

Capitalism understood in this way, as definitely preceding and at least plausibly separate from colonialism, has much to offer in the way of prosperity and well-being, but only so long as its potential for excesses can be curbed. Where they are not, growth is stymied, and well-being compromised. In this framing there is no one single thing as capitalism, the same in every time or place that it manifests. Instead, there are multiple varieties of “capitalism,” and what makes any one of them either good or bad (to put it crudely) is the nature of the norms of the society in which they are embedded. For Prak and van Zanden, this is a message of hope. The Dutch example shows that it is possible for capitalism and a (relatively) open civil society to coexist. Indeed, the latter might just be a prerequisite for the full realization of market-centered society. What is required is finding that balance between autonomy and mutuality, or to use their terms, between feudalism and freedom. Sadly, looking around the world, such balance may be more elusive in practice than it is in fairytales.


Braudel, Fernand. The Wheels of Commerce: Civilization & Capitalism, 15th-18th Century. Vol. 2. New York: Harper and Row, 1982.


Anne EC McCants is the Ann F. Friedlaender Professor of History and Director of the Concourse Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among her recent publications is “Economic History and the Historians” (Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 2020).

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (July 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval
16th Century
17th Century
18th Century

The Backbone of Europe: Health, Diet, Work, and Violence over Two Millennia

Editor(s):Steckel, Richard H.
Larsen, Clark Spencer
Roberts, Charlotte A.
Baten, Jörg
Reviewer(s):Staub, Kaspar

Published by EH.Net (July 2023)

Steckel, Richard H.; Larsen, Clark Spencer; Roberts, Charlotte A.; Baten, Jörg (eds.). The Backbone of Europe: Health, Diet, Work, and Violence over Two Millennia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 476 pp. £83.99 (hardcover), ISBN 978-1108421959.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Kaspar Staub, Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zurich, Switzerland.


This book makes a strong impression, in more ways than one. The weight of the hardcover edition, about 1.1 kilograms, hints at the effort, commitment, and perseverance that must have been put in by all those involved, especially the main driving forces, to complete this nearly two-decade project and finally bring the results between two book covers. For this, the responsible scientists deserve a lot of respect. The book reviewed here is part of the larger Global History of Health Project ( and focuses on Europe. In terms of dataset, health indicators, context, and methods, it substantially extends an earlier subproject on the Western Hemisphere, which was the subject of a book published in 2002 (Steckel and Rose 2002).

As befits the 20-year Herculean effort that went into this project, its scale and purpose are large. Based on the largest skeletal dataset ever assembled, it aims to assess how human health and well-being have changed in Europe over the last two millennia. To achieve this ambitious aim, a large transatlantic network of collaborators has been established, using the same protocol to record health indicators from the skeletal remains of more than 15,000 individuals buried at 103 sites across Europe (representing 16 modern European countries) from the 3rd to the end of the 19th century.

When working with skeletal remains as historical sources, which are still one of the few ways to look back 2,000 years, sample size, context specificity, and generalizability or bias are often limiting factors. Therefore, the approach of the book to bring together as many skeletal remains as possible is certainly the right one. Thus, in addition to the book, the compiled large open access dataset (over 15,000 rows and over 180 variables) is a major output of the project. According to the editors, it is the largest database ever collected and analyzed in bioarchaeology. Making the numerous individual datasets comparable was certainly another major challenge, and the path via software that the researchers have taken here is certainly exemplary. It is great that the codebook for data collection and the coding process are very well documented, both in the book itself (chapters 14 and 15) and on the dataset website (

The book was edited by four renowned senior scholars in the field, whose experience and overview of the field are reflected in key chapters. A foreword and preface are followed by 15 chapters written by a total of 19 different contributors. The introduction by the four editors provides all the information necessary to understand and contextualize the project, the book, and the chapters that follow. As a side note, the precise data documentation here and later in the book is perhaps a little bit lacking in clarity as to how the dataset reduction process from the mentioned initial ca. 190,000 individuals identified at the start of the project to the ca. 15,000 at the end worked. Even when the understandable balancing ideas behind the reduction are described, it remains unclear, for example, whether there were large and important bone collections that were not accessible or had to be excluded for some reason.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the archaeological and historical context, as well as information about the natural and socio-cultural environment, and highlights the potential of stable isotope analysis. Chapter 3 attempts an overall health assessment using the soc. health index, which combines seven skeletal variables or components that are recognized to represent a person’s health in early and later life. Chapter 4 focuses on oral health, Chapter 5 on proliferative periosteal reactions, Chapter 6 on growth disruption, Chapter 7 on anemia and related nutritional deficiencies, Chapter 8 on estimated stature, Chapter 9 on degenerative joint disease, and Chapter 10 on violence and trauma (a particularly interesting chapter from the reviewer’s perspective). Chapter 11 applies the developmental origins of health and disease approach to the dataset, and Chapter 12 assesses the all-important link between climate and health. The chapters are structured differently, are fully documented, and could therefore stand alone. However, as far as the reviewer has noticed, cross-links between the chapters are mostly missing. Thus, the reader is left alone with the sometimes contradictory results of the individual thematic chapters until the concluding Chapter 13, in which the four  editors compare the different dimensions.

In this recommended concluding chapter, the editors state that “collectively, these chapters explore longstanding bioarcheologically relevant topics using the most comprehensive and diverse skeletal sample yet available.” They go on to highlight some surprising findings (e.g., the unexpectedly favorable health situation in the early modern period) and otherwise provide guidance with interpretation, as the various indicators do not always point in the same direction. As a result, their overall conclusion is nuanced: The history of welfare in Europe over the past two millennia has been multifaceted in time, and many different components must be weighed against each other.

While reading, the reviewer wondered once or twice whether the full potential of this amazing dataset had already been exploited, and whether one or two more things could have been done here or there. For example, would modern quantitative methods of pattern recognition have made it possible to compute more complex synthesis models? Would such more complex methods have made it also possible to even better integrate uncertainties and deal even better with blind spots or missing data (e.g., the Mediterranean region covers only 5% of the dataset, and 28% of the dataset has missing age and sex information) to get towards the bottom of the complexity and perhaps resolve some of the contradictions? Would it have been beneficial to work with geographers to geovisualize or even model the spatial results in a more comprehensive way? Could the importance of major epidemics perhaps have been emphasized in a separate chapter to better acknowledge their impact (as repeatedly pointed out in individual chapters)? And, of course, one wonders how things might have gone after 1900, the book’s temporal end, during the 20th century, with its enormous changes in welfare and health in Europe.

But all this is subjective and does not detract from the book, it just shows how inspiring the whole project is. And that’s the way it is with these 20-year Herculean tasks: There is always more that could be done, but in this case more than enough has been done already and at some point one has to draw an (interim?) finish line. All of the above and certainly more could-haves are now left to other scientists, as this great dataset and its excellent documentation are helpfully available in open access.


Steckel, Richard H., and Jerome Carl Rose. The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.


Kaspar Staub is a historian and epidemiologist with almost 20 years of research experience in the field of Historical Anthropometry and Health History. Since 2014 he has led the Anthropometrics and Historical Epidemiology research group at the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich.

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (July 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Health, including Medicine, Disease, and Pandemics
Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):General or Comparative
16th Century
17th Century
18th Century
19th Century

Essays in Economic History: Purchasing Power Parity, Standard of Living, and Monetary Standards

Author(s):Officer, Lawrence H.
Reviewer(s):Devereux, John

Published by EH.Net (July 2023).

Lawrence H. Officer. Essays in Economic History: Purchasing Power Parity, Standard of Living, and Monetary Standards. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022. xxvii + 542 pp. $109.99 (hardback), ISBN 978-3030959241.

Reviewed for EH.Net by John Devereux, Department of Economics, Queens College, City University of New York.


Lawrence Officer has had a long and productive career. His second collection of articles, Essays in Economic History: Purchasing Power Parity, Standard of Living, and Monetary Standards, covers the highlights of his research in these areas, on which he has worked for most of his career.

The collection begins with purchasing power parity (PPP). Over the past fifty years PPP has gone in and out of fashion. The continuing relevance of PPP is shown by the influential work of Itskhoki and Mukhin (2021), whose reconciliation of the various paradoxes in international macroeconomics hinges on the properties of the real exchange rate.

First up is the history of thought on PPP taken from Officer’s definitive account from 1982.  Here Officer makes clear his intellectual debt to Gustav Cassel. What follows is an exhaustive study of empirical work on PPP, focusing on years before 1940.

Next are three empirical studies, published in 1978, 1986 and 1989, on absolute PPP, the relative price of nontraded goods, and the absolute price level. The papers differ in key respects from the recent empirical literature on PPP. As we might expect, Officer emphasizes getting the data right before starting empirical work. He favors broad-based price indices such as the GDP deflator. At a more subtle level, he identifies thorny index number problems that arise when comparing absolute price levels. In simple terms, we get vastly different price levels if we use Fisher-Ideal or Geary-Khamis measures. For the most part, the literature ignores such problems.  Berka, et al. (2019) is one of the few exceptions.

A second difference with the PPP literature is that Officer evaluates PPP using mostly economic criteria. For example, what are the errors using PPP to forecast absolute price levels (p. 90), and what size of error is consistent with accepting absolute PPP. McCloskey and Zecher (1984) make a similar point. The focus on economic rather than statistical criteria may explain why Officer (p. 50 and elsewhere) appears lukewarm on testing for PPP by looking at real exchange stationarity. He is more receptive towards cointegration tests as they have clearer economic interpretations. Officer’s intellectual honesty is refreshing given that some of the strongest evidence supporting PPP comes from the findings of real exchange rate stationarity in very long run data.

Before leaving PPP, it is worth noting one omission from the book. In 1979, Officer published a paper with Morris Goldstein of the International Monetary Fund providing price indices for tradables and non-tradables derived from output side GDP measures. The paper showed, probably for the first time, that the relative price of nontradables increases with growth. Their methodology is superior to the other measures of nontraded prices developed before or since. It is a wonderful paper that stands with the best work in the area.

Chapters 9 through 12 provide long-run U.S series on the terms of trade, compensation in manufacturing, and the consumer price index. For earnings and the consumer price index, the U.S has seen nothing like British controversies on standards of living during the industrial revolution so there is less work for Officer to begin with. In each case, Officer breaks new ground, improves on previous work, and provides close to a definitive series given the material that he had available to him.

The collection then turns to Officer’s recent work on monetary standards. What follows are chapters on metallic standards – silver and gold – with a short interlude on Bretton Woods. Chapters 17 and 18 on sterling and the dollar are particularly good. Even scholars who work in the area will learn something. A unifying theme is Officer’s notion that the floating and fixed periods for the U.S and U.K should be considered as a single specie standard. The U.S specie standard therefore lasts from 1792 to 1932. There is, however, replication across the various essays that might have been avoided.

Next there are discussions of the bullionist periods in Sweden, Britain, and Ireland, along with the highlights of his well-known work on the efficiency of the dollar/sterling exchange. Chapter 22 is an important chapter as it gives the monetary base for the entire U.S specie standard with a new series before 1867. After 1867, Officer is in the exalted company of Friedman and Schwartz (1963). But he holds his own and he arguably improves on Friedman and Schwartz for the greenback era, where they added estimates in gold and depreciated dollars – apples and oranges. Officer uses gold prices which is surely the correct procedure. The differences are dramatic. Consider 1867, where Officer’s base estimates are half those of Friedman and Schwartz, thereby changing our interpretation of an important period in U.S monetary history. Officer also provides a series for the British base after 1790. It is a pity that he did not present the British results in more detail, as they might fill a large hole in the British series put together by Palma (2018).

The collection concludes with something completely different — a foray through science fiction through the lens of an economist.

Throughout the book, Officer is a happy warrior whose enthusiasm for history and economics is infectious. He is generous in his praise of other scholars and gentlemanly with his critics. Only Paul Samuelson’s gibes against PPP arouse his ire (pp. 32-33). Who should read this book? Clearly, it should be read by anybody interested in PPP or in U.S and British monetary history. Most certainly, it should be read by those who use the long-run data series he creates. Outside of these areas it can be read with pleasure by those of us who enjoy seeing a master craftsman at work.


Berka, Martin, Michael B. Devereux, and Charles Engel (2018). “Real Exchange Rates and Sectoral Productivity in the Eurozone.” American Economic Review, 108, 1543-1581.

Friedman, Milton, and Anna Jacobson Schwartz (1963). A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Goldstein, Morris, and Lawrence H. Officer (1979). “New Measures of Prices and Productivity for Tradable and Nontradable Goods.” Review of Income and Wealth 25: 413-427.

Itskhoki, Oleg, and Dmitry Mukhin (2021). “Exchange Rate Disconnect in General Equilibrium.” Journal of Political Economy 129: 2183-2232.

McCloskey, Deirdre N., and Richard Zecher (1984). “The Success of Purchasing-Power Parity: Historical Evidence and its Implications for Macroeconomics.” In A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, 1821-1931 (pp. 121-172). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Officer, Lawrence H. (1982). Purchasing Power Parity and Exchange Rates: Theory, Evidence and Relevance. Greenwich Conn.: JAI Press.

Palma, Nuno (2018). “Reconstruction of Money Supply over the Long Run: the Case of England, 1270–1870.” The Economic History Review71(2), 373-392.


John Devereux is professor of economics at Queens College, City University of New York. His areas of research are International Economics and Economic History.

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (July 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
North America
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII
21st Century

C. Vann Woodward: America’s Historian

Author(s):Cobb, James C.
Reviewer(s):Coclanis, Peter A.

Published by EH.Net (July 2023).

James C. Cobb. C. Vann Woodward: America’s Historian. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2022. 490 pp. $37.50 (hardcover). ISBN978-1469670218.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Peter A. Coclanis, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.


Any shortlist of the greatest American historians of the twentieth century would include C. Vann Woodward. The Arkansas-born historian, who spent most of his career teaching at Johns Hopkins and at Yale, was not only an adroit chronicler of the history of the U.S. South, particularly in the period after 1865, but also a masterful prose stylist, known especially for his adept use of irony in his myriad works. Irony informed Woodward’s life and career as well, as James C. Cobb makes clear in this excellent new biography. One can in fact argue that no other term captures the essence of Woodward so well.

For starters, Woodward was a renowned historian who as a young man disliked history and was bored by, if not dismissive of historians and their work. In his own view and that of others, he was a mediocre Ph.D. student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and reluctant to become a professional historian. Over the course of his storied career, most of his conventional works were under-researched and many of his major arguments were eventually overturned. Friends and foes alike often found his use of evidence strained and his present-oriented interpretations tendentious, however useful politically. He was a poor lecturer, grudging teacher, particularly of undergraduates, and throughout his career worked assiduously to get out of as many classroom commitments as he could. He essentially stopped doing primary research in mid-career and, by modern standards, commonly breached ethical protocols by reviewing the grant applications of friends and colleagues and the books of his former graduate students without hesitation, much less acknowledgement of probable conflicts of interest.

Just to be clear, let me reiterate that, the above considerations notwithstanding, Woodward is considered one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, with which assessment I concur. Why? To cut to the chase, so original and often brilliant were his critical insights, so well-wrought his classic essays and influential book reviews, so crystalline his prose, so important a public intellectual was Woodward that, even after acknowledging his scholarly and professional deficiencies, one legitimately can and should append an interrogatory “so what?” Indeed, Woodward’s keen moral vision and the sense of hope it inspired among many southerners during the age of segregation alone render his scholarly and professional flaws minor, even petty in comparison.

* * *

Comer Vann Woodward was born in eastern Arkansas in the town of Vanndale in 1908. He was of eminently respectable, if not particularly wealthy stock, his family line populated by landowners, merchants, clergy, and educators. His father was an educator at the time of “Vann’s” birth and remained one for most of his working life, although in his later years, after stints at the secondary-school, junior college, and university levels in Arkansas and Georgia, he made ends meet as a sales agent for an insurance company. Vann was an intellectually curious child, who, after graduating from high school in Morrilton, Arkansas, spent two years at Henderson-Brown College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, before transferring to Emory University in Atlanta, whence he graduated with a major in philosophy in 1930. After a short stint teaching English at Georgia Tech, he enrolled in graduate school at Columbia, receiving an M.A. in history there in 1932. He spent the next two years knocking about a bit—travelling to Europe (including a month-long stay in the Soviet Union), returning to Georgia Tech to teach for a time, and, after getting laid off there, working for the Works Progress Administration.

At Columbia, he had developed an interest in studying southern demagogues, and in time homed in on Tom Watson, the Georgia populist firebrand turned race baiter. Woodward started writing a biography of Watson in the years following his M.A. It was his avid interest in finding a way to fund the completion of his study on Watson that got him interested in Chapel Hill—the Watson Papers were housed at UNC—and that eventually led him into the graduate program in history there in September 1934. Employing his own and his family’s educational contacts and networks–cultural capital, as it were –Woodward secured private foundation support for his biography, which, supplemented by funding from UNC, would enable him to complete his biography, and, almost incidentally, to acquire a Ph.D. (“the Cursed Degree,” as he put it). Woodward did the latter in May 1937, submitting his study of Watson as his dissertation, which study was published shortly thereafter by Macmillan in spring 1938 as Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel, the first major notch on Woodward’s remarkable scholarly belt.

Woodward’s controversial take on Watson was very much influenced by the economic interpretation of history of Charles and Mary Beard. Woodward’s Beardian tendencies were reinforced by his dissertation adviser at UNC, Howard K. Beale, an eminent Beardian in his own right. Such tendencies led Woodward both to (mis)interpret Georgia populists as “a vanguard against the advancing capitalist plutocracy” and to overstate the inter-racial, class-based, anti-capitalist dimensions of Watson’s populist appeal in the late nineteenth century, before the Georgia pol’s notorious turn toward racial bigotry, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, and intense white supremacy later in life. That said, the book was well written and certainly had a dramatic (“tragic”) narrative arc. It was generally well received at the time, and struck a blow against the long regnant, intellectually stifling Lost Cause/Redemptionist view of New South history, in so doing, opening up more interpretive space for others—as well as for Woodward himself– to mount further challenges in the years ahead.

The success of Tom Watson soon brought new teaching and scholarly opportunities to Woodward. interrupted by military service during World War II. Woodward served short teaching stints at the University of Virginia, the University of Florida, and at Scripps College in California before entering the military in 1943, serving in Washington, D.C. as a commissioned intelligence officer with the Navy. While in D.C. his work focused mostly around writing intelligence reports, one of which– on the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines– was published by Macmillan in 1947. By then, Woodward was out of the military and back in academe, having accepted a position at Johns Hopkins in 1946, at which school he would remain until leaving for Yale in 1961.

Woodward’s principal scholarly efforts during the 1940s and early 1950s revolved around the volume that became The Origins of the New South, 1877-1913, a field-defining work if ever there was one. After the publication of Tom Watson, Woodward had begun a few other projects, later aborted—one on Eugene V. Debs and another on New South promoter Henry Grady—before signing a contract with the LSU Press in 1939 to write a synthesis of the late nineteenth-century/early-twentieth-century period for the press’s new “History of the South” series. World War II, along with problems posed by the relative lack of secondary literature on the period in question set back Woodward’s timetable for completion considerably, but when his book finally appeared in November 1951 it proved well worth the wait.

Although still marked—in my view, marred—by the Manichean economic determinism characteristic of the Beardian approach, with crass economic self-interest at once driving and reflected in political behavior, Origins represented a turning point in the historiography. After its appearance, it would prove virtually impossible to retain, let alone to sustain the heroic, heavily romanticized Lost Cause, pro-Redeemer view of the era once so dominant in the literature, specialist and popular alike. Indeed, to Woodward it was none other than the so-called Redeemers, the unscrupulous Democratic elites, mostly merchants and manufacturers, who controlled southern politics in the era after Reconstruction, who bear the brunt of the blame for the region’s protracted economic and political misfortunes. To be sure, they worked in collusion with plutocratic Republican capitalists from the “Industrial Northeast,” who, after being courted successfully by New South promoters of the Grady ilk, in time came to dominate the southern economy (in Woodward’s view at least). Far from redeeming the South, the region’s Democratic elites sold out the southern masses, black and white alike, only to become, ironically, the junior partners of northern capital in the “colonial economy” that emerged and long persisted, so the author argues in his famous Chapter XI (“The Colonial Economy”).

Origins was not only a turning point in southern historiography, but also a critical success, to which its receipt of the prestigious Bancroft Prize in 1952 attests. In some ways Woodward had already laid the groundwork for its success through the publication earlier in 1951 of Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction, which was essentially a spin-off or outtake from Origins, wherein the author interpreted the famous compromise through his familiar Beardian lens. Rather than being a partisan compromise over the presidency and over the removal of remaining federal troops in the South, the real issue in Woodward’s complicated, conspiratorial interpretation was one of competition between northern railroad magnates over the southern railroad route to California, the terms for whose ultimate resolution included the ascension of the Republican Hayes to the presidency, railroad subsidies, internal improvements of various types for the South, enhanced patronage for southern Democrats, etc. In other words, a Beardian feast. Over time, Woodward’s intricate interpretation came in for heavy fire—particularly his rudimentary analysis of the voting behavior of southern Congressional Democrats–but in the short run it served with Origins as another powerful shot against the Lost Cause historiographical bow. And from a twenty-first century perspective, both Origins and Reunion and Reaction—indeed, Tom Watson too– can be seen as works with a sense of political economy that, along with W.E.B. DuBois’ Black Reconstruction in America, anticipated interpretive lines associated in recent decades with the new history of capitalism.

As Woodward and others worked to tear down the intellectual support for the Lost Cause, parallel developments in the public sphere during the early postwar period were in the process of dismantling the most egregious policy architecture associated with so-called New South: Racial segregation. The key demonstration of this process in the policy realm was, of course, the Supreme Court’s Brown decision pertaining to school segregation (1954). Woodward had played a minor role in the preparation of materials for the challenge to school segregation, but his principal importance to desegregation efforts obviously was via his most famous book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955)—originating in a set of lectures Woodward presented at the University of Virginia in September 1954–wherein he attempted to delimit and delegitimize the policy regime through historicization. Whereas many at the time believed or at least wanted to believe that segregation was inherent to, even constitutive of southern life and mores, Woodward argued in Strange Career that segregation was a relatively recent policy phenomenon in the South, appearing in piecemeal fashion, and never in a general codified way until the 1890s and 1900s. The upshot of this argument, of course, was that segregation was not foreordained, much less inevitable: The South had existed for a long time without de jure racial segregation and could –and, assuming the good will of its citizenry, would– do so again.

At this remove, it is difficult for me, a non-southerner, fully to grasp or even imagine the sense of hope that Woodward inspired among many reform-minded southerners at the time through his effort in Strange Career to unsettle settled history and thereby to destabilize the segregation narrative. The book’s timing was as propitious as its tone measured. Sales were brisk and enduring–the book went through multiple printings and several editions—proving useful, even instrumental to various constituencies working for desegregation, and raising Woodward’s profile both in the historical profession and with the broader public. If subsequent researchers challenged some aspects of his argument, particularly his contention that segregation emerged as late as it did in the postbellum South, the book remains Woodward’s most famous work, a touchstone of activist history, that is, of history that is concerned with the creation of “a usable past,” as the Progressive Era critic Van Wyck Brooks famously put it in 1918. It was largely because of Strange Career that Woodward earned the descriptor used in the title of Cobb’s biography: America’s Historian.

In some important ways, the years 1951-1955 marked the apogee of Woodward’s scholarly career, especially if one adds to the above mix his masterly essay “The Irony of Southern History” which first appeared in 1953 in the Journal of Southern History. In this famous piece, an outgrowth of his 1952 presidential address to the Southern Historical Association, Woodward invokes what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr had recently referred to as Americans’ “illusions of innocence and virtue” in making a case for a greater sense of national humility. In Woodward’s view, the South, the only region in the U.S. to have experienced defeat and, thus, to have had “history” happen to—or, perhaps more to the point, imposed upon– its people, might as an ironic result be in position to help America to mature, and thereby, to develop the national humility and broad sympathies needed not merely to survive but to thrive in an diverse and perilous world. If Woodward’s hopes in this regard were not realized—the South has yet to play the role Woodward laid out for it—his essay, a model of the form, is of enduring interest.

Although most of those who have studied Woodward concede that his most important scholarly contributions were made by 1955, they would be quick to add that Woodward would continue to produce valuable work through the remainder of his career, indeed, almost until the time of his death at the age of 91 in 1999. Most of his later writings appeared in the form of essays, published lectures, and reviews, not in research monographs or syntheses, but he also published an interesting memoir/career retrospective in 1986, as well as an edited work for which he would win an unexpected Pulitzer Prize in 1982: His controversial 1981 “blended” edition of South Carolinian Mary Boykin Chesnut’s Civil War era diary/memoir. Woodward’s Pulitzer, many believed, was more a lifetime achievement award than an honoring of his editorially odd rendering of Chesnut’s diary/memoir itself, but it was a Pulitzer nonetheless.

If the latter half of Woodward’s career is sometimes seen as anti-climactic after its dazzling start, such an assessment seems unfair, or at least incomplete. He never did produce a promised general history of Reconstruction, but his essays and reviews were often noteworthy and sometimes “buzzworthy,” as they say: His profound 1958 essay (“The Search for Southern Identity”) exploring southern regional distinctiveness and the implications of its decline, and his insightful (to some, inciteful) essay “Clio with Soul,” which appeared in the Journal of American History in 1969 are cases in point. Regarding the course of Woodward’s career: It is interesting to note that “Clio with Soul” originated as his presidential address to the Organization of American Historians, one of two large, powerful historical associations he presided over in that year (the American Historical Association being the other).

During his “later” period, Woodward trained impressive graduate students both at Hopkins and especially at Yale, where he moved in 1961, succeeding his longtime friend and undergraduate classmate at Emory, David Potter, who had decamped for Stanford. Many of Woodward’s students themselves became major figures in the field of southern history, to which the all-star cast included in a 1982 festschrift in honor of Woodward, edited by two of his former students, J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson, amply attests.

If Woodward preferred research and writing to teaching, he clearly had a knack for attracting and training – or at least encouraging and inspiring—talent, and for promoting his students’ careers in enormously helpful ways once they had completed their training. Such help came in a variety of forms: Well-timed phone calls, letters of recommendation, introductions to publishers, and, more controversially, his glowing reviews in prominent venues of books by former students without specifying for readers the nature of his relationship with the author.

When not writing or teaching, Woodward also spent a good deal of his time reading manuscripts serving on professional committees, and participating in editing projects, including co-editorship of the (almost comically) long-gestating Oxford History of the United States series, which originated in 1961. By the time of Woodward’s death in 1999, only four volumes in the projected eleven-volume series had appeared, although five more have been published since then.

Woodward’s preferential option throughout his career was to avoid academic politics, which he generally did, but late in the game he found himself embroiled in several major brouhahas at Yale, each of which is treated by Cobb: Woodward’s stance against “Black Studies” in the late 1960s and early 1970s; his fierce defense of free speech at Yale in the early 1970s, the principal result of which was the inspiring Woodward report of 1974; and his ferocious, incongruous and seemingly out-of-character campaign in the mid-1970s to keep Marxist scholar and Communist Party of the USA member Herbert Aptheker from teaching a course on W.E.B. DuBois at Yale.

As the above activities suggest, Woodward’s career after Strange Career was hardly uneventful, and perhaps not even anti-climactic, at least from the point of view of mere mortals like this reviewer. Later life often seemed to bring happiness to Woodward, along with inevitably, sadness and loss. As Arthur C. Brooks has often noted, happiness later in life frequently comes in the form of meaningful work—in Woodward’s case, writing, teaching, mentoring, etc.—and strong, enduring relationships with family and friends, which Woodward enjoyed. Woodward had married Glenn Boyd Macleod of Greensboro, North Carolina in 1937, and, according to Cobb, the couple had a “mutually loving and appreciative marriage” until Glenn’s death of cancer in 1982. The great tragedy of the Woodwards’ marriage and family life was the death of Vann and Glenn’s much-loved only child, Peter, of metastatic Melanoma in 1969 when he was only 26. Glenn, prone to depression, never seems to have recovered completely from Peter’s death. Indeed, death and loss punctuated Woodward’s later life, with many of his closest friends—Potter, Richard Hofstadter, Alexander Bickel, and Robert Penn Warren among them—dying well before him, and others drifting away.

Late in his career some colleagues in the profession seemed to drift away as well, as Woodward—a lifelong liberal, after a short dalliance in the 1930s with positions further to the left –began to be seen as listing toward the right. As evidence of his rightward tilt, critics pointed to Woodward’s opposition to identity politics and identity-studies units in the academy, as well as what they considered his absolutist defense of free speech. In addition, in making their case, critics brought up Woodward’s acceptance in 1993 of a National Association of Scholars’ memorial award named for conservative philosopher Sidney Hook. To this reviewer at least, Woodward’s stances in the above matters were at once principled and liberal outgrowths of his lifelong commitment to integration and his longtime and well-documented defense of what was once known (without irony) as the marketplace of ideas. It was not Woodward who moved, but others, tending portside, around him.

In C. Vann Woodward: America’s Historian, Cobb, one of the most distinguished living historians of the American South, treats all the matters discussed in this review and more, including several examples of Woodward’s social activism. Building on earlier studies by historians John Herbert Roper and Michael O’Brien among others and on the extensive critical literature on Woodward’s scholarship, Cobb has produced a deeply researched, judicious, and eloquent biography worthy of the man chosen for study. Cobb clearly admires Woodward a great deal, but is fair and balanced throughout, never shying away from difficult issues, whether problems in some of Woodward’s work or instances of hard-to-explain behavior by Woodward—his relentless campaign in the mid-70s to keep Herbert Aptheker from teaching a course at Yale, most notably.

As a bit of a coda, intended for readers of the EH.Net site specifically, let me stress that Woodward was not an economic historian. To be sure, he wrote on matters economic, from a Beard-inflected political economy perspective, but he was at heart a traditional historian more at home with literary than economic or even social scientific approaches. He was interested in the work of social scientists—the UNC sociologist Rupert Vance was a major early influence—but felt uncomfortable and a bit impatient with mainstream economic history produced after the rise of the new economic history in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was critical of quantitative techniques, which he admitted to not fully understanding, and never evinced any abiding interest in, let alone sympathy for the use of economic theory or formal methods in doing history. His fundamental doubts about, and possibly even disesteem for, the new economic history come through, for example, in his reviews of Fogel and Engerman’s Time on the Cross in the New York Review of Books in 1974 and of Fogel’s Without Consent or Contract in the New York Times Book Review in 1989. Whether these reviews should be viewed as arch or merely as late examples of Woodwardian irony is for individual readers to decide. In any case, the reviews are part and parcel of what I call–with a nod to Miles Franklin’s ironically titled novel –Vann’s Brilliant Career.


Peter A. Coclanis is the Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and the director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of numerous works in U.S. and international economic history, including The Shadow of a Dream: Economic Life and Death in the South Carolina Low Country, 1670-1920 (1989); with David L. Carlton, The South, the Nation, and the World: Perspectives on Southern Economic Development (2003); and Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Globalization in Southeast Asia over la Longue Durée (2006); and with Sven Beckert, Barbara Hahn, and Richard Follett, Plantation Kingdom: The American South and Its Global Commodities (2016).

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (July 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Urban and Regional History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality

Author(s):Galor, Oded
Reviewer(s):Ziebarth, Nicolas L.

Published by EH.Net (June 2023).

Oded Galor. The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality. New York: Dutton, 2022. 301 pp. $28 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0593185995.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Nicolas L. Ziebarth, Auburn University and NBER.


Oded Galor is not one for understatement. In the introduction he states that the goal of this book is nothing less than “develop[ing] a unified theory that seeks to encompass the journey of humanity in its entirety,” putting himself in a line of thinkers including “Plato, Hegel, and Marx.” I admit that there is something almost refreshing about such bold pronouncements and lofty goals. Economists have gotten very good at answering very small questions very precisely, but too often that has come at the expense of trying to answer the big questions at all.

The problem is that the book doesn’t really deliver on this unified theory, which I assume should cover both the takeoff of economic growth, the first half of the book, and the divergence in living standards, the second half. The first half does have a unified theory in the form of the aptly named Unified Growth Theory (UGT) to which Galor has made major contributions. The thing is that this theory is never really brought forward in an explicit manner. If you did not know what UGT was before you read this book, you would probably miss it. Instead, the discussion of UGT is mixed with a lot of discussion about the role of institutions, culture, and pretty much every other hypothesis ever put forward for the “great enrichment.” Galor is evenhanded in discussing these alternative hypotheses to the point that you could easily forget he is trying to argue for a “unified” explanation.

That search for a unified theory gets even murkier when the book in its second half switches to a focus on explaining variations in living standards. In this half, we get a summary of some of the greatest hits of the institutional literature, from the Spanish forced labor system known as the mita to settler mortality to the effects of slavery on trust. Again, I thought Galor was quite reasonable in his presentation of this other work. I was happy to see that I’m not the only one who thinks the exclusion restriction in the seminal Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson paper (2001) is rather implausible. (Their exclusion restriction was that “the mortality rates of European settlers more than 100 years ago have no effect on GDP per capita today, other than their effect through institutional development” (p. 1371).)

It was only in the last two chapters, in which Galor goes rummaging through the very ancient history of humanity to find the determinants of inequality today, that he lost me. The last chapter makes the audacious claim that a country’s current living standards are related to the distance humans coming out of East Africa long, long ago would have had to travel to arrive at that particular place. Galor argues that the observed inverted U-shape pattern between living standards and this migratory distance from East Africa is due to differences in “population homogeneity.” Places with low diversity are dull but stable. Places with lots of diversity are interesting but a mess. So there is a “sweet spot” (Galor’s term) level of diversity in terms of a country’s level of development.

But why is migratory distance related to diversity in the first place? Galor appeals to the serial founder effect from evolutionary biology. The logic for this effect is simple. A small number of “founders” will not be able to represent all the diversity of the population from which they were drawn. In Galor’s example, if you start with one red, one blue, and one yellow bird and draw one to be the “founder” of a new population, that new population is not going to have all the colors of the original population represented. Hence the diversity of populations started by a small number of founders will appear to have been put through a funnel. In the case of humans, the process of migration out of Africa was a process of successive generations of founders pushing further and further away from that starting point somewhere in Ethiopia, decreasing (genetic) diversity at each step of the way. Galor points to anthropological and genetic evidence for this decline in diversity as the distance from East Africa grows.

The question is whether this diversity really amounts to anything. The genetic evidence is so-called “neutral” genetic diversity, meaning diversity in alleles that have no discernible effect on fitness. The anthropological evidence is in the form of “particular dental attributes, pelvic traits and the shape of the birth canal.” We have to take on faith that these measures of diversity are correlated with the dimensions of diversity that actually cause societies to fracture. Moreover, Galor is frustratingly vague on whether he thinks deep down the dimensions of diversity that matter are genetic or cultural. It is true that the serial founder effect would also apply to cultural evolution. The problem is that, as Galor admits, for this to work, “the rate of migration has to exceed the rate of mutation.” Is there any reason to believe this is true in the cultural context?

So after this whole discussion of institutions, the Agricultural Revolution, and the migration of humans out of East Africa, I was left wondering what exactly is Galor’s unifying theory of differences in living standards. Is it simply that these differences have “deep roots”? Would anyone deny that claim (at least at some level of generality)? Galor, in any case, thinks that establishing the deep roots of economic and cultural institutions is critical for formulating good policy. But, of course, institutions are sticky, slow to change, and have a history. If they did change rapidly, we wouldn’t call them institutions in the first place. So does it really matter if the institutions were determined 25 years ago? 100 years ago? At the dawn of the Neolithic era? At the Big Bang? While there are certainly interesting intellectual questions here, what is at stake when it comes to formulating policy?

There is, in fact, a weird inconsistency between the determinism Galor has so strenuously argued for (if subtly) throughout the book and the “voluntarist” thinking that overtakes him at this point. Galor (rightly?) pans the “misguided approach” of the Washington Consensus with its “one size fits all” policy recommendations that did not take into differences between countries in their “social and cultural prerequisites for growth.” Yet only five pages earlier, Galor makes the pronouncement that if only Bolivia would “foster its cultural diversity, its per capita income could increase as much as five-fold.” Who knew it was that easy?

In the end, this is a book of economic history, but not one that any card-carrying economic historian would write. Galor approaches the study of history with a totally different mindset than a historian. Nothing is out of place in Galor’s world: “Random events – dramatic and substantial as they loom in our minds – have played a transitory and largely limited role in the progression of humanity as a whole.” “Everything in its right place,” as the Radiohead song goes.

There was a time when I found this view of history very attractive. I went through a UGT phase as a graduate student and read (too many) books of evolutionary psychology. I think I was, at least, partly drawn to the type of thinking reflected in both UGT and evolutionary psychology because, like Galor, it seemed like the only two choices were determinism or randomness, and randomness didn’t seem all that fun. I’m not sure what changed, but at some point, I realized that those aren’t the only two possibilities, and, in fact, being able to integrate both of those viewpoints is the defining mark of true economic history.


Acemoglu, Daron, Simon Johnson and James A. Robinson. “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.” American Economic Review 91(5): 1369-1401 (December 2001).


Nicolas L. Ziebarth is the Ekelund and Hebert Professor of Economics at Auburn University and a Research Associate at NBER. His publications include Credit Relationships and Business Bankruptcy During the Great Depression” (American Economic Journal: Macro, 2017) and “Identifying the Effects of Bank Failures From a Natural Experiment in Mississippi During the Great Depression” (American Economic Journal: Macro, 2012).

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (June 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy

Author(s):Berman, Elizabeth Popp
Reviewer(s):Kuehn, Daniel

Published by EH.Net (June 2023).

Elizabeth Popp Berman. Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. 344 pp. $35 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0691167381.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Daniel Kuehn, The Urban Institute and George Washington University.


Something significant changed in the political economy of the U.S. in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Efficiency was elevated as a social goal, while New Deal and Great Society aspirations were increasingly seen as unrealistic or anachronistic. Arguably, some of this new thinking was beneficial, but much of it was definitely not, and economists had something to do with it. Typically, this turn in U.S. policymaking is tied to neoliberalism, and often a subgenre of neoliberalism emerging from the University of Chicago. Neoliberalism has been defined in several different, though related, ways. David Harvey (2005) suggests that neoliberalism elevates market exchange to be “an ethic in itself.” Thomas Biebricher (2018) and Quinn Slobodian (2018) provide a more honed and serviceable definition of neoliberalism as a philosophy of state design that provides the preconditions for a market order that is shielded from democratic manipulation or accountability.

Elizabeth Popp Berman’s book, Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy, is clearly related to the neoliberalism literature, although Berman spends almost no time discussing neoliberalism directly and does not see Chicago as an exclusive origin point. Instead, Berman argues that the tectonic shift in U.S. political economy was primarily ushered in by centrist and center-left economists who entrenched an efficiency-centric “economic style of reasoning” that was, at least superficially, relatively free of political ideology. Berman’s book is balanced, well-argued, and well-written. She avoids the extremes of both Cass Sunstein’s (2018, xi) “technocratic conception of democracy” in his paean to the cost-benefit analysis revolution and Binyamin Appelbaum’s (2019) Chicago-centric attempt to implicate the whole field of economics in a dramatic “fracture of society.”

Appreciating Berman’s use of the concept of a “style of reasoning” is essential to a full understanding of the book. Economists may be prone to dismiss Berman as offering a flat and unfair description of economics if they gloss over her discussions of “styles of reasoning,” and indeed I think this confusion is at the root of many critical reviews of the book by economists, such as Jason Furman’s (2022) attempted exculpation of economists in the pages of Foreign Affairs. The point of the “economic style of reasoning” is not that economists are, as individuals, scientifically obligated to value efficiency over equality, or that they mastermind all policy decisions in Washington. Instead, Berman’s argument is that economists’ basic framework for characterizing and analyzing public problems has been adopted as a way of framing policymaking, crowding out other approaches and values. In some case economists absolutely aid and abet this style of framing policy decisions. In other cases they do not, and many economists speak out loudly for justice, action on climate change, etc. But regardless of what individual economists advocate or value in any given policy domain, the governing logic of the economic way of thinking constrains policy horizons. I think Berman’s original subtitle for the project, “How Economics Became the Language of U.S. Public Policy,” does a better job than the Princeton University Press subtitle of highlighting the “styles of reasoning” concept without treating efficiency and equality as necessarily conflicting goals.

The economic style of reasoning dominates as a logic of governance in part because it provides policymakers with a multipurpose technology that can demarcate what counts as “good policy” and “bad policy” across multiple policy domains. Berman’s book is organized around three policy domains. After providing a history of the emergence of the economic style of reasoning in the academy, the RAND Corporation, and the Defense Department, Berman considers the cases of antitrust policy (Chapters 4 and 6), social or antipoverty policy (Chapter 5), and environmental policy (Chapter 7). Along the way, she takes up related policy areas such as transportation, occupational health and safety, and education. Each policy area illustrates different ways that the economic style of reasoning became embedded in federal agencies. At the risk of oversimplifying a complicated historical process, the experience of antitrust illustrates how academics directly spread the economic style in legal and regulatory communities. The case of social policy illustrates the diffusion of the economic style across federal agencies, with the Lyndon B. Johnson-era Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) acquiring the staff and practices of the Defense Department more or less directly. In contrast, the economic style was introduced in environmental policy by legislation (the National Environmental Policy Act) that required cost-benefit analysis by federal agencies. In all three cases the intellectual argument grew out of a common rootstock, but the circumstance of adoption in federal policymaking were widely divergent.

If I were inclined to defend the economic style of reasoning, I would probably focus on Berman’s choice to weigh the economic style of reasoning against that of advocacy communities and interest groups. A natural alternative to this would be to compare economists to other social scientific styles of reasoning that were and are in competition with economics. Historian and political science professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report on the Black family, and the various “culture of poverty” framings from scholars such as the political scientist Edward Banfield and the anthropologist Oscar Lewis, come immediately to mind as alternatives to economists working in the antipoverty space. More recently, one might add the even more controversial political scientist Charles Murray and his influence on the welfare reform debate of the 1990s. These men were not incidental to the history Berman tells, and their analysis was central to pathologizing poverty in the United States. They shaped public discourse and policymaking in their time, just like economists did, and they held the attention of politicians and policymakers in both parties. When economists’ analysis is compared to advocates and sympathetic interest groups, of course the economists come across as lacking passion and warmth. It is the job of the advocate to advocate, and it is the job of the analyst (from any discipline) to analyze. These are different spheres of activity in the policymaking process. If economists are instead compared to other social scientists of the era such as Moynihan, Banfield, Lewis, or Murray, we see some of their relative strengths (and weaknesses) in a new light, at least during that period.

Another related problem is that the advocacy community is of course not always so egalitarian. Plutocrats have their advocates as well, and a commitment to conducting a cost-benefit analysis forces those less sympathetic interest groups to at least confront the costs they impose on the public. It would be easy enough to opt for egalitarianism if egalitarianism was always the alternative to efficiency, but that simply isn’t the case in the political economy of the United States. A world without cost-benefit standards may be more egalitarian, or it may be a polluter’s and plutocrat’s paradise. It’s difficult to say.

It may be a self-serving reading, but to a certain extent, I come away from the book less ashamed of or concerned about the nature of the economists’ analysis and more frustrated with how much responsibility policymakers have abdicated to the economic style of reasoning. It is difficult for me to see the Council of Economic Advisors or the Congressional Budget Office per se as the problem, so much as a Congress that constrains itself to arbitrary budget rules or Democrats that parrot junk economics on the deficit. A major lesson of Berman’s book is that problems arise when economics transcends the boundaries of social science and becomes an all-encompassing governing logic, crowding out other values and lulling policymakers into naivete about the exercise of power.

One theme of the book is that Republicans have been more willing than Democrats to ignore the strictures of the economic style of reasoning when it conflicts with their priorities. This rings true, but if so, it implies that the governing logic of efficiency is fairly easy for politicians to get out from under. That raises the question of why Democrats don’t get themselves out from under it more often. How is cost-benefit analysis supposed to be such an all-encompassing governing logic if it so clearly does not act as a constraint on half of Washington? It seems like a political choice Democrats make as a party rather than a logic that economists are imposing.

Berman (232) concludes with a call for progressives to stand firm when their values conflict with “the values of economics.” This is sound advice, as is her call “to recognize the values within expertise,” that is, the values that are imported into policymaking through the economic style of reasoning. I think Berman is right that simply asserting that economics is value-free would be naïve. But I also think we can be more assertive in identifying and rejecting the economic style of reasoning that smuggles in efficiency as a value unto itself.

A good guide to this commitment to constrain the economic style of reasoning is provided by William Gorham, a character in Berman’s book responsible for bringing the Planning-Programming-Budgeting System to HEW. Gorham (1967, 6-7) warns that “even if we could conceptualize and measure the benefits of particular programs, there is the fact that benefits of different programs go to different people. Shall equal benefits to different individuals in the population be weighted equally? Is it equally important to raise the educational attainment of a suburban child and a slum child?” The importance of these equity considerations put real limits on what cost-benefit analysis could and could not do for policymakers. Gorham continued that “the incommensurability of the benefits makes it difficult for cost-benefit analysis to contribute greatly to the choices that must be made among major categories like health, education, and welfare. For such decisions, the major contributions of analysis will be in providing the ‘trading’ terms of resources devote to different purposes.” The economic style of reasoning, in other words, is one tool that we can use to define the policy space in a meaningful way, but it cannot set agendas or make decisions. This is a much humbler vision for cost-benefit analysis as one component of an informed choice that required weighing values well beyond economic efficiency.


Appelbaum, Binyamin. The Economists’ Hour: How the False Prophets of Free Markets Fractured Our Society. New York: Little, Brown, 2019.

Biebricher, Thomas. The Political Theory of Neoliberalism. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019.

Furman, Jason. “The Quants in the Room: How Much Power Do Economists Really Have?” Foreign Affairs 101(4): 182-189 (July/August 2022).

Gorham, William. “Notes of a Practitioner.” The Public Interest 8: 4-8 (Summer 1967).

Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Slobodian, Quinn. Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018.

Sunstein, Cass R. The Cost-Benefit Revolution. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2018.


Daniel Kuehn is a Principal Research Associate at the Urban Institute, where he studies registered apprenticeship, and an adjunct instructor at George Washington University, where he teaches cost-benefit analysis. He independently studies the history of economics, with a focus on James M. Buchanan and Warren Nutter, including the recent article “James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, and the ‘Radically Irresponsible’ One Person, One Vote Decisions,” in the Journal of the History of Economic Thought.

Copyright (c) 2023 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (June 2023). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economic Planning and Policy
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII
21st Century