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The European Macroeconomy: Growth, Integration and Cycles 1500-1913

Author(s):Craig, Lee A.
Fisher, Douglas
Reviewer(s):Broadberry, Stephen N.

Published by EH.NET (October 2000)

Lee A. Craig and Douglas Fisher, The European Macroeconomy: Growth,

Integration and Cycles 1500-1913. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA:

Edward Elgar, 2000. xii + 389 pp. $120.00 (cloth), ISBN: 1-85278-643-4.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Stephen Broadberry, Department of Economics, University

of Warwick.

European economic history currently lacks a good textbook that might appeal

to undergraduate students with a background in economics. Floud and McCloskey

(The Economic History of Britain since 1700, Cambridge University

Press, second edition, 1994) exists, but there is nothing comparable for any

other European country or for the early modern period. This book by Lee Craig

and Douglas Fisher, both from North Carolina State University, is thus to be

welcomed as filling an important gap in the textbook market. It is to be

doubly welcomed, however, for doing an excellent job. In many ways, this book

builds on two earlier volumes, the first by Fisher (1992), The Industrial

Revolution: A Macroeconomic Interpretation, and the second by Craig and

Fisher (1997), The Integration of the European Economy, 1850-1913.

Parts III and IV of this book are essentially compressed and simplified

versions of the earlier two volumes, while parts I and II provide a

theoretical overview and a new section on the early modern period.

Part I sets out the theoretical framework, emphasizing four basic ideas that

recur throughout the book: (1) Institutions have an important role to play in

determining economic performance. In particular, increasing political and

economic integration plays an important role in helping to bring about

convergence of per capita incomes within and between countries. (2) Within a

given institutional setting, the long run rate of economic growth is driven by

population growth and technological progress, with investment affecting the

level of per capita income, but not the long run growth rate, as in the basic

neoclassical growth model. (3) Money and financial services play an important

role in real economic activity, but excessive monetary growth causes inflation

along simple quantity theory lines. (4) Business cycles are driven largely by

shocks to real activity, as in real business cycle models. Armed with this

theoretical toolkit, Craig and Fisher cut a swathe through European economic

history between about 1500 and 1914. The starting date reflects the belief

that integration within nation states had largely occurred by 1500, while

subsequent developments are seen as reflecting integration between those


Part II deals with the growth of the European market economy 1500-1750 in four

chapters, covering population and agriculture (chapter 3), inflation, money

and banking (chapter 4), trade, industry and mercantilism (chapter 5) and

trends and cycles (chapter 6). There are some excellent sections here,

including the analysis of the price revolution in the sixteenth century and

the Kipper- und Wipperzeit inflation in terms of the quantity theory of money,

and the use of real wage data in England, Austria, Alsace, Germany and Spain

to make inferences about living standards. However, apart from population,

there is a serious shortage of macroeconomic data for many countries, so that

at times the authors seem constrained by their framework. Would it not be more

useful, for example, to get at the issue of European integration at this time

by using the abundant microeconomic data on variables such as grain prices,

rather than searching for a common European cycle in the fragments of

macroeconomic data?

Part III then turns to the First Industrial Revolution in Europe, 1750-1850,

with separate chapters on Britain (chapter 7), the “major” continental

economies of France, Germany and Belgium (chapter 8) and the “periphery”

(chapter 9). The discussion of Britain embraces the Crafts/Harley gradualist

view of growth during the Industrial Revolution, although I would have liked

more emphasis on the accompanying and more revolutionary structural change

that the British economy underwent at this time. Traditional microeconomic

themes such as the standard of living and other distributional issues receive

only the briefest mention, and although the “wave of gadgets” that spread

across the continent as well as Britain is discussed in chapter 8, the

treatment is brief by comparison with other texts. By contrast, a great deal

of space is devoted to an innovative attempt to identify a common

international cycle as a sign of the integration of the European economy.

Although the extent to which the peripheral countries can be seen as

integrated into the European economy and hence sharing in this common cycle is

limited, Craig and Fisher are keen to emphasize that right down to the “bottom

of the table,” all these countries were experiencing economic and population

growth rates that were uniquely rapid for any sustained period in their


Part IV contains three chapters on the maturing of the Industrial Revolution

1850-1913 and a final chapter on growth and cycles 1500-1913. The chapters on

the 1850-1913 period cover population and overall economic growth (chapter

10), financial issues (chapter 11) and business cycles (chapter 12). With a

much more complete data set than for earlier periods, it is possible to show

clearly that most West European countries converged towards British levels of

per capita income between 1850 and 1913, but that South and East European

countries did not share in this process of convergence. It is also possible to

show how convergence was linked to a willingness to permit a shift of

resources out of agriculture and out of the industries of the First Industrial

Revolution into the industries of the Second Industrial Revolution. The fuller

data set for this period also permits a much more detailed analysis of the

role of money, drawing on the monetary approach to the balance of payments.

The close correlation of inflation rates across countries during the gold

standard era, combined with the very low correlation of monetary growth rates

across countries is explained by arbitrage in goods markets combined with a

commitment to fixed exchange rates, rather than by a specie-flow mechanism. As

in the previous sections, the chapter on business cycles identifies a common

European cycle.

There is much to commend in this approach. A broad sweep of history can be

covered without getting lost in excessive detail. And by sticking to some

basic ideas, Craig and Fisher have made the book accessible to students with

only a basic knowledge of economics. However, there are also drawbacks. One

concern is that by sticking to a macroeconomic approach, many of the issues

that economic historians have traditionally emphasized are simply not covered

or mentioned only briefly in passing. Maybe traditional texts do sometimes get

a bit bogged down in the details of how the spinning jenny worked, but the

macroeconomic emphasis of this book also has its drawbacks. For one thing, we

can probably be more confident about our knowledge of what happened in the

cotton industry than we can about the growth of national income during the

Industrial Revolution. This makes it instructive to work up to the aggregate

data from the micro evidence, not just to present micro data when macro

estimates are unavailable.

A second area of concern is that economics students studying economic history

should pick up a clear message that history matters. The authors do state at

the beginning that institutions are important, but much of the subsequent

material emphasizes smooth convergence on a global optimum apart from a few

exogenous shocks. One obvious way of emphasizing the importance of the

particular historical path taken would be to cover the twentieth century more

fully, since the period of European integration before 1914 was followed by a

long period of disintegration, some of the consequences of which are still

with us. The excluded twentieth century anyway looks eminently more suitable

for the quantitative macroeconomic treatment favored by the authors than the

included sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Overall, I found this a stimulating book. European economic history badly

needs a fresh approach and this is one way of doing it. It is to be hoped that

a paperback version will be issued, otherwise it may prove too expensive for

the mass undergraduate audience that it undoubtedly deserves.

Stephen Broadberry is Professor of Economic History in the Department of

Economics, University of Warwick, United Kingdom. He is currently an editor of

the European Review of Economic History, and his 1997 book, The

Productivity Race: British Manufacturing in International

Perspective,1850-1990, was published by Cambridge University Press.

Subject(s):Macroeconomics and Fluctuations
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy

Author(s):Pomeranz, Kenneth
Reviewer(s):Lal, Deepak

Published by EH.NET (October 2000)

Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the

Modern World Economy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000. x

+382 pp. $39.95 (cloth); ISBN: 0-691-00543-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Deepak Lal, Department of Economics, University of

California, Los Angeles.

Kenneth Pomeranz (Professor of History at the University of California,

Irvine) has written an important and scholarly book. Yet, despite his

scholarship, at the end of the day I was not convinced by his basic thesis.

The question he asks is one that has tantalized scholars for over a century:

Why did Europe alone of the great Eurasian civilizations escape the binding

land constraint and initiate that process of unbounded Promethean intensive

growth which has transformed humankind’s economic prospects, so that, mass

structural poverty need no longer be the universal scourge it has been for

millennia? As a scholar of China he uses the comparative method to see if any

advantages can be discerned which led core areas in Europe to diverge so

markedly from the core areas primarily in southern China, but also in Japan and

India. In this task, he brilliantly deconstructs the various materialist

explanations that have been advanced by economic historians to explain this

great divergence.

He shows quite convincingly that, until the turn of the eighteenth century,

there was no marked divergence in living standards between the Chinese and

European cores. He then painstakingly shows with an impressive command of the

Chinese literature (much of it recent) that various purported differences in

demography, ecology, accumulation and the pervasiveness of markets which have

been claimed to have given the Europeans an inherent advantage do not stand up

to scrutiny. As late as 1750, the similarities between the Yangtze Delta and

England were greater than the differences. So why did England and subsequently

Europe not follow the labor-intensive path of the “industrious revolution” of

their Far Eastern cousins, and instead take the capital-intensive path of the

industrial revolution?

His answer is in two parts. The first is that coal, which fueled the English

industrial revolution, was geographically not as readily available to the

eighteenth-century core in southern China, since it was concentrated in the

Northwest. The spectacular development of the coal and iron complex in the

northwestern China in the eleventh century, documented by Hartwell, was

dismantled and depopulated by the invaders of the twelfth century, and by the

fifteenth century when the region was stabilized China’s economic and

demographic center of gravity had shifted to the South. He notes that,

retrospectively, the returns to linking the Yangtze delta with the northwestern

coal deposits were huge, but that these returns were invisible ex ante, and it

is not clear what could have been done to realize them. But this explanation

surely will not do, for the Chinese state had acted under the Sung to

disseminate the new wet rice technology to southern China. If the coal-steam

technology had been available to China — as it was in principle but not

developed for reasons to be taken up below — could the powerful bureaucratic

authoritarian state that has ruled China not have taken the necessary action to

link these two geographical regions under its sway?

Nor does the relative geographical distribution of coal reserves in the various

Eurasian civilizations bear up as the decisive factor in the European

divergence, if we consider their location in another Eurasian civilization —

India. Its core lay in the eastern Gangetic plain — in modern Bihar — because

it was here that they found the iron deposits they needed for the iron

implements needed to clear the forests and the iron ploughshares for deep

ploughing. We now know that this area also contains India’s coal reserves. But

despite this, no one has claimed that the Indians could have developed the

coal-steam industrial revolution. By contrast, we know China had nearly all the

ingredients of this revolution in place by the eleventh century, and it still

did not take place. It is highly dubious that the geographical distribution of

its coal reserves had anything to with this lapse.

The second part of Pomeranz’s answer about the causes of the great divergence

is Europe’s discovery and exploitation — partly through trade — of the New

World. There can be no doubt that this extended Europe’s land frontier. But how

decisive was it and why could China not do something similar?

Pomeranz, himself in his last chapter in a section called “Comparisons and

Calculations: What Do the Numbers Mean?” admits the increment to the supply of

land- intensive products from the New World to Europe could not have been

large, but then uses various forms of handwaving including an appeal to chaos

theory to justify his thesis that they were the basis of the great divergence!

But it is the larger question — why did China not seek to exploit areas where

free land was available overseas to overcome its growing land constraint —

which points to the basic flaw in Pomeranz’s and other purely materialist

explanations for the great divergence. As Pomeranz shows, there were empty

lands in South East Asia which “like the post-contact New World, was sparsely

populated and capable of supplying vast quantities of land-intensive resources

that were in demand ‘back home.’ Chinese went there in significant numbers, but

South East Asia never became for coastal China what the New World was for

western Europe” (p. 200). Why? Because unlike Europe’s New World empires, “the

Chinese merchants . . . established themselves in South East Asia without state

backing” (p.200). This is the crucial point. To see why, it is important to

note two important points not even taken into account by Pomeranz.

First, under Kublai Khan the Chinese had created a powerful navy. The famous

admiral Cheng Ho took his “treasure ships” on expeditions to the India Ocean in

the fifteenth century, and William McNeill (The Pursuit of Power:

Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000, University of Chicago

Press, 1982) notes that these expeditions eclipsed anything that the later

Portuguese explorers could muster. Nor did Cheng Ho desist from coercion. He

sealed Chinese suzerainty everywhere he went if necessary by force. McNeill

argues that if the Chinese had continued to expand their overseas empire “a

Chinese Columbus might well have discovered the west coast of America half a

century before the real Columbus blundered into Hispaniola in his vain search

for Cathay. Assuredly Chinese ships were seaworthy enough to sail across the

Pacific and back. Indeed, if the like of Cheng Ho’s expeditions had been

renewed, Chinese navigators might well have rounded Africa and discovered

Europe before Prince Henry the Navigator died (1460)” (p.45).

But instead — the second point — after 1433 the Chinese abandoned their navy

and began to restrict foreign trade and contacts. The shipbuilding and

sea-going skills thereafter degenerated, and China continued in relative

isolation until the “new barbarians” came knocking at its doors in the

nineteenth century.

To understand this shift in policy and the accompanying closing of the Chinese

mind — and the comparable one in Japan following its adoption of the policy

sakoku under the Tokugawa — one has to look at what I have elsewhere (in

Unintended Consequences) called the “cosmological beliefs” of the

various Eurasian civilizations. As these cosmological beliefs are also related

to the different polities, they also help to explain the divergences in state

policy. It would take me too far afield to outline this story here. But without

bringing the mind back in, there is no way to explain China’s failure to

generate the coal-steam industrial revolution and the overseas empire, which

Pomeranz with so many other economic historians rightly see as the proximate

causes of the European miracle.

The great historian of Chinese science, Joseph Needham, used to maintain that

the rise of the West could not be explained in terms of a single or a few

factors but was due to a “package.” Pomeranz’s greatest service is to show that

the material differences in this “package” cannot account for the great

divergence — particularly once one discounts his own materialist differences

as being unconvincing. So as both Weber, and more recently Landes have

maintained, we are back to culture. Both, however, in my judgment got the date

of this cultural divergence wrong. I have argued in Unintended

Consequences that it goes back to at least the sixth century. But that is

another story.

One indication of this cultural divergence is provided by a visit to the great

archeological museum in Xian. The first few rooms of the collection show the

great cultural and scientific efflorescence in China from neolithic times to

the middle ages, and then in room after room there are the same shapes, the

same forms continuing in unending repetition — at least to this untrained eye.

It is to see a civilization that seemed to have seen itself as reaching

perfection and then being frozen in aspic from about the sixteenth century. By

contrast in England this was to be the age of Shakespeare, followed by those of

Locke, Newton, Hume and Smith. The sheer intellectual curiosity and

creativeness of these centuries preceding the industrial revolution are in

stark contrast to what was happening in the other great Eurasian civilizations.

If we are to understand the modern world it is this great divergence which

needs to be explained, and which Pomeranz’s book does not even touch upon.

Deepak Lal is James S. Coleman Professor of International Development Studies,

University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of Unintended

Consequences: The Impact of Factor-Endowments, Culture and Politics on Long Run

Economic Performance (MIT Press, 1998). A third collection of his essays

entitled Unfinished Business, was published by Oxford University Press

in 1999.

Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Europe in the International Economy, 1500-2000

Author(s):Aldcroft, Derek H.
Sutcliffe, Anthony
Reviewer(s):Persson, Karl Gunnar

Published by EH.NET (August 2000)

Derek H. Aldcroft and Anthony Sutcliffe, editors, Europe in the

International Economy, 1500-2000, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing,

1999. xi + 289 pp. $90 (cloth), ISBN: 1-85898-670-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Karl Gunnar Persson, Institute of Economics, University

of Copenhagen.

This volume carries an endorsement on the book jacket by Peter Mathias saying,

“This will surely prove to be the definitive account — an authoritative text

by six leading authors. Well integrated, clearly written, objective and

balanced in judgment, excellently documented with key bibliographies — the

answer to the needs of all students of the subject.” This assessment sounds too

good to be true, but it is not completely wrong. Although the well-read in the

profession will learn little new from the book, it can be a very useful text

for a course in European economic history when little time can be devoted to

the subject and a comprehensive text is needed — say, at business schools or

at non-European universities.

The purpose of this book, according to the editors, is to explain the

pre-eminence of Europe and its impact on the international economy from the

early modern period, surveying the recent “rise of the west” literature in the

introductory chapter. There are few surprises here, but it gives a

comprehensive overview of the subject.

The first substantial chapter, by Jan L. Van Zanden and Edwin Horlings, offers

a balanced account of recent re-interpretations of early modern and

pre-industrial growth (c.1500 to c. 1800). It stresses the regional and

national differences in growth experiences and contrasts that story with the

traditional view of general stagnation in productivity levels before the

industrial revolution. Most of the quantitative results stem from van Zanden’s

recent research, most of which is not easily available, and the underlying

methodology is not extensively discussed. The results seem plausible, however,

with growth centers in the Low Countries, England and some parts of France as

suggested by other researchers such as Robert Allen, Philip Hoffman and myself.

Sidney Pollard, who died just before the book went to press and to whom the

book is dedicated, writes about the “Europeanization” of the international

economy from 1800 to 1870, giving a fair amount of attention to dissenting

voices when presenting the mainstream account. Like the preceding chapter, the

quantitative information is extensive and the focus is not only on Europe but

also its impact on the rest of the world.

The book proceeds chronologically to the 1870-1918 period, which James

Foreman-Peck describes as the “zenith” of European power. Although clearly the

most thought provoking of the contributions, it does not fit well into the

narrative stream of this volume. Where the rest of the book relies on main

economic indicators, this section concentrates on institutions and regulation

of the international economy. Foreman-Peck also returns to the discussion of

the costs and benefits of empire, offering something for all tastes.

Derek H. Aldcroft follows Foreman-Peck with his chapter on the disintegration

of Europe in the interwar period. Barry Eichengreen and others have made this

narrative familiar to us, and the reference list to this chapter, like most of

the others, is extensive and accurate, as is the survey of the topic. I am

surprised, however, that the excellent little textbook by Charles Feinstein,

Peter Temin and Gianni Toniolo (The European Economy between the Wars,

Oxford University Press, 1997), which is a more wide-ranging alternative to

this compact chapter, is missing from Aldcroft’s list.

The final two chapters by Anthony Sutcliffe and Steven Morewood deal with the

present and focus quite a bit on European institutional integration. By and

large I find these chapters rather less penetrating, and they do not satisfy

the quantitative economic historian’s appetite for numbers and rigorous

economic reasoning. However, both chapters survey the main issues discussed in

relation to the acceleration and decline in European growth rates.

All in all, this book can be useful as a comprehensive textbook on European

economic history since it surveys, over a limited number of pages, such an

extended period. It gives little specific information on national experiences,

so one must go elsewhere for that. If I were teaching this course I would

probably replace the final chapters with excerpts from Economic Growth in

Europe since 1945 (Cambridge University Press, 1996) edited by Nick Crafts

and Gianni Toniolo. I would also like to have a text on the European backlash

to free trade from the 1870s in the O’Rourke-Williamson vein.

The price of the hardcover version of the book might deter teachers from

recommending it. However, if the publisher decides to print a paperback

edition, it should urge the editors to add a workbook section that would assist

students in facing the issues and controversies surveyed in the main text.

K.G. Persson is professor at the Institute of Economics, University of

Copenhagen and co-editor of the European Review of Economic History. His

most recent book is Grain Markets in Europe, 1500-1900: Integration and

Deregulation, Cambridge University Press, 1999 and a recent article

(jointly with Mette Ejrn?s) is “Market Integration and Transport Costs in

France, 1825-1900: A Threshold Error Correction Approach to the Law of One

Price,” in Explorations in Economic History, Vol. 37, pp. 149-73, 2000.

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

The Russian Economy: A Very Short Introduction

Author(s):Connolly, Richard
Reviewer(s):Voskoboynikov, Ilya

Published by EH.Net (November 2020)

Richard Connolly, The Russian Economy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. xv + 151 pp. $12 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-198-84890-5.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Ilya Voskoboynikov, Department of Economics, HSE University.


The Russian economy is, modifying Winston Churchill (1939), “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”; Russian economic performance is volatile. In the last three decades its institutional environment changed from a command to a market economy. Its industrial structure shifted from overinvestment in manufacturing and agriculture in the late 1980s to market services and mining (Voskoboynikov 2020). Trade conditions seem to be unpredictable. This is a sensitive issue for the economy, which depends on oil and gas exports. How can one understand the Russian development pattern over its centuries-old history and, possibly, outline Russia’s prospects for the future?

Perhaps there is a key. Richard Connolly dubs that key the “Russian system of political economy” — the System. For centuries, Russia could be characterized by (1) the weakness of its legal system, (2) the underdevelopment of modern economic activities, (3) technological underdevelopment and (4) lower living standards in comparison with major developed economies. The System explains why these features have proven to be so persistent.

Connolly departs from the system of political economy of Robert Gilpin, who highlights three main respects of any economy: the primary purpose of economic activity, the role of the state in the economy and the structure of private business. Historically, in Russia, this purpose was the subordination of economic activity to national security, both external and internal. This has predetermined the primary role of the state in the economy, reallocating resources to national security. Consequently, the position of private business is relatively weak and is characterized by weak property rights. To be successful, it is much more important to connect with state officials and block competition, rather than to produce competitive products.

The System explains the persistence of features (1)–(4). The central state delegated to the so-called state agents — pomeshchiki (landowners), governors or individual communist party bureaucrats — power to extract and reallocate resources and match target objectives at the cost of other activities. The central state granting agents autonomy and overlooking some abuses of power fueled the weakness of the legal system and of property rights. The threat of expropriations reduced the incentives of local private businesses to invest in new production, qualified workers, new technology and innovation. As a consequence, modern economic activities remained underinvested and technology underdeveloped. All these factors impacted productivity growth negatively and led to the deterioration of living standards.

The chapters of the book demonstrate effectively how this framework was formed and how it has worked throughout Russian history. Chapter 1 covers the four centuries from the formation of the Tsardom of Russia (later the Russian Empire) in sixteenth century to the October Revolution in 1917. This period demonstrates that the subordination of economic activities to national security originated from threats from several strong powers in the West and nomadic raiders in South and East. Russia was not alone in dealing with such external pressures, but with no natural geographically defined borders, such as mountains, coastlines, border lakes or rivers, the challenge for Russia was much stronger than for other Eurasian empires. Chapter 2 shows that the Soviet system of political economy, which formed by the mid-1930s and remained unchanged until the end of 1980s, turned out to be the extreme version of the traditional Russian System. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 discuss the formation of the modern system of political economy, which passed through the stages of market stabilization, liberalization and privatization in 1990s; the recovery of the role of the state in 2000s, accompanied by soaring growth rates; and the economic stagnation of 2010s.

The book is worth reading for economic historians. It provides a very simple and consistent conceptual framework, which helps to deal with the wealth of facts and data on the last five centuries of Russian economic history. This framework also demonstrates the difference between modern Russia and its predecessors – the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, the Russian Empire. Although national security remains one of the priorities for modern Russia, general social and macroeconomic stability are also the priorities (pp. 78, 85-89). The level of inflation is now at the historically lowest level since 1990. The budget deficit and unemployment are more than reasonable (pp. 83, 87).

The real challenges for Russia are demography, energy dependence and, probably the biggest, the weak legal system. The origins of this weakness are of specific interest and are of my main concern about the book. Connolly states (pp. 6-9) that the use of agents helps the central government to extract revenue, control vast territories and the population, and mobilize resources in times of the crisis with few formal controls. Most of the time the agents ruled their areas as their own domain and sometimes ignored the law. The central government needed the agents and controlled them weakly. As a result, national laws and informal local rules co-existed and collided, weakening the legal system and fueling the conflict between the central government and its agents for centuries.

A related issue is the lack of clarity on the ambiguous concept of the state in the book – specifically, a lack of clarity about the role of the state or its agents in proizvol (the arbitrary treatment) of serfs by their landlords or of a collective farmer by the local Communist Party authority. The same conflict appears in relations among the Soviet government, the ministries and managers of state enterprises (Gregory and Harrison 2005) and in the illusion of State Planning Committee control (p. 14). In all these cases, the state is both strong and weak. It is strong, because the landlord in eighteenth century and the local Communist Party authority in the Soviet era had power within their responsibilities or communities. It is weak, because the central government usually lacked the capacity to keep such agents under control and overlooked the abuse of law by its agents.

The central government made multiple attempts to enforce law and bind its agents. Kormlenie (feeding — the practice in pre-modern Russia of maintaining local officials at the expense of those they governed) was cancelled in sixteenth century. These attempts can also be seen in the constraints of serfdom up to the Emancipation Manifesto (1861) of Aleksandr II, which abolished serfdom. Unfortunately, the abolition of serfdom and its consequences are not discussed in the book, except the short paragraph of consequences of reforms after the Crimean War (p. 11). Scholars link Russian economic growth in the second half of nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to these reforms, including the abolition of serfdom and the subsequent progressive judicial reform. This was an important step forward, which improved the legal system and had a strong impact on economic performance (see, e.g., Markevich and Zhuravskaya (2018)). That is also an important lesson for Russia today.

Another concern is the issue of human capital, closely connected with the middle class and prospective future growth and development. Connolly notices that the Russian population now is highly educated by global standards (p. 114). I would add that the advances of education at all levels and healthcare system are achievements of the Soviet period (see, e.g., Nove 1992, pp. 359–62). This legacy of the Soviet Union makes the position of modern Russia in the global economy different from the Russian empire. In the early twentieth century, the illiteracy rate in Russia was 60% (1913) versus 11% (1900) in the US (Gregory and Stuart 2001, tab. 2.5).

These aspects, however, do not diminish the merits of the book, which helps us reflect on the centuries of Russian economic history and outline its future. Demography, energy dependence and the weak legal system (chapter 7) are particular challenges. The latter was explicitly exposed by the case of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky (pp. 44-45, 60-61) with the questionable legacy of privatization of oil company Yukos in the early 1990s, his payments to deputies in Russia’s parliament to support legislation of his business interests in the early 2000s and the transfer of the main oil-producing arm within Yukos to the state-owned company Rosneft. However, the Russian economy now is in a better position in comparison with 1917 or 1991. In spite of the importance of security issues and the high military expenditure, nobody seriously considers the big push approach or mass property confiscations and deportations, similar to the industrialization or collectivization of late 1920s–early 1930s. The primary purpose of the state is not only security. The role of the state is high, probably excessive, but not as high as three decades ago, and the chances of returning to a Soviet-like planned economy are negligible. In contrast with the period of the empire, the level of education in Russia now is much higher. In contrast with the Soviet period, the middle class, formed in 1990s, is also remarkable. Success will come when not only the government, but also Russian citizens, start considering improvements to the legal system as the top priority. The new book of Richard Connolly is very supportive of this idea.


Churchill, Winston. 1939.  “The Russian Enigma.” London: BBC. The Churchill Society.

Gregory, Paul, and Mark Harrison. 2005. “Allocation under Dictatorship: Research in Stalin’s Archives.” Journal of Economic Literature 43 (3): 721–61.

Gregory, Paul, and Robert Stuart. 2001. Russian and Soviet Economic Performance and Structure. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Markevich, Andrei, and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya. 2018. “Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire.” American Economic Review 108 (4–5): 1074–1117.

Nove, Alec. 1992. An Economic History of the USSR. 1917-1991. 3d ed. Penguin Books.

Voskoboynikov, Ilya B. 2020. “Economic Growth and Sectoral Developments, 1990-2008.” In The Economic History of Central, East and South-East Europe: 1800 to the Present, edited by Matthias Morys, 520. Routledge (forthcoming).


Ilya Voskoboynikov is a Leading Research Fellow and an Assistant Professor at National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He is currently focuses on consequences of a command economy period for development and long run growth.

Copyright (c) 2020 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (November 2020). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):16th Century
17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Colonial Ecology, Atlantic Economy: Transforming Nature in Early New England

Author(s):Roberts, Strother E.
Reviewer(s):Land, Jeremy

Published by EH.Net (September 2020)

Strother E. Roberts, Colonial Ecology, Atlantic Economy: Transforming Nature in Early New England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019. vi + 271 pp. $45 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-8122-5127-2.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Jeremy Land, Department of History and Ethnology, University of Jyväskylä.


Colonial Ecology, Atlantic Economy is a welcome addition to the historiography of several subsets of literature, including but not limited to colonial America, Atlantic World, New England, and Native American history. However, its most important contributions come from the intricately developed combination of environmental and economic history by Strother Roberts (Bowdoin College). He deftly weaves seemingly disparate narratives and aspects of the Connecticut Valley’s environmental history into the larger, transnational economy of the eighteenth-century Atlantic World. In asking how and to what extent the Connecticut Valley’s environment was altered by its integration into the global economy, Roberts highlights the ways in which humans, both Native Americans and European settlers, altered the environs of the Connecticut Valley to meet the consumer demands of the local and Atlantic economies.

In five chapters, an introduction, and a short epilogue, Roberts provides a dense and detailed analysis and history of the Connecticut Valley’s environment from just before European settlers arrived through the end of the eighteenth century. Throughout, Roberts makes it painfully clear that environmental history must be intimately local in its scope, while maintaining a clear eye on the global forces that encourages local actors to exploit their environments in particular ways. This book, therefore, is a prime example of a history that tangibly connects the local and the global. In the introduction, Roberts concurs with William Cronon in his famous environmental history, Changes in the Land, when he argues that commodity markets are intricately tied to environments. However, Roberts takes an additional step to show how this interaction “predated capitalist modernity” by exploring the changes Native Americans made to the landscape to meet the growing demand of the fur trade (p. 8).

In chapter one, Roberts describes the environment of the Connecticut River Valley prior to 1614 when Dutch explorers first arrived. Beaver dominated the valley, and as a result, the Connecticut River flowed steadily throughout the year as beaver ponds were created along its path. These ponds also sustained a wide variety of other species that helped feed and clothe Native Americans. Once Europeans arrived and began to trade with Native Americans for beaver pelts, Native Americans hunted beavers at an ever-increasing rate, initiating cascading effects on the environment of the valley. As beaver colonies were eliminated, the accompanying beaver ponds dried up, decimating entire ecosystems and reliant species. The river’s flow was no longer regulated, leading to flooding and increasing levels of erosion. By the turn of the century, the valley was unrecognizable to Native Americans who inhabited the area, and European settlers arriving in the valley encountered an already altered environment.

European agriculture, the subject of chapter two, slowly consumed native lands, and the Connecticut Valley’s environment was radically transformed from subsistence-based needs to market-focused crop and livestock production by the end of the seventeenth century. Roberts explores how the Connecticut Valley, like New England in general, developed intricate economic ties with the Caribbean and other mainland colonies. By the 1750s, regional specialization in the North American colonies pushed settlers in the Connecticut Valley to focus on wheat, livestock, and timber production to provision the rest of the British Empire. This specialization drastically reshaped the Connecticut Valley from a fertile, species-rich region into an agricultural production zone that resembled Europe more than the beaver-dominated valley of the first chapter.

Of these specialized goods , timber was simultaneously the most abundant and scarce resource that dominated the local economy. Chapter three details how European settlers arrived with a well-established understanding and practice of woodland conservation, though enacting and preserving those practices varied over time. Initially, the chilly winters and fledgling agricultural economy of New England pushed settlers to fell trees further and further into the ample forests of the region, but as the population grew and agricultural and livestock needs diversified, colonial and local governments pursued legal limits and policies to protect the dwindling timber resources of the region. Nevertheless, Roberts shows how regional and Atlantic market forces convinced Connecticut Valley residents and towns to abandon timber preservation in order to clear more land for agriculture and market production, leaning on regional marketplaces to find timber for their energy needs.

In the following chapter, perhaps the most important of the book, the region’s timber production placed Connecticut Valley residents squarely in the crosshairs of imperial efforts to both control and earmark the timber trade of the region for naval outfitting of the Royal Navy. The efforts of the British government to regulate the local use and felling of timber in the Connecticut Valley created a festering anger and antipathy toward imperial rule. Roberts provides numerous examples of local resistance to imperial policies and nicely situates the local resistance of Connecticut Valley residents with the growing regional and continental resistance of other North American colonies. By the 1750s and 1760s, settlers in the Connecticut Valley regularly ignored imperial limits on timber production, and colonial governments and courts frequently refused to enforce imperial policies or efforts to punish guilty parties. While placing the valley within the greater political and economic struggle of the coming American Revolution, Roberts remains focused on how these developments affected the environment, noting that salmon disappeared from Connecticut waters by 1800 due to the cumulative effects of sawmill waste and sawdust from timber production.

In the fifth and final chapter, Roberts explains how livestock production became a vital component of the Connecticut Valley’s economy. Market forces again were the primary reason why valley settlers sought to expand their production and trade in livestock and preserved meats. Ports such as Boston and New York continued to grow throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as did their appetites for provisions for commercial and fishing fleets. In addition, the West Indies required an enormous supply of livestock and preserved meats to feed its massive slave populations, and Connecticut Valley residents were more than happy to meet that need. However, livestock production is enormously destructive of local environments, especially as lands are cleared and waters redirected for its use. Combined with agriculture and timber production, livestock production fundamentally altered the natural environment of the Connecticut River Valley. Roberts closes the book with an epilogue discussing the valley’s changes post-1800 when the Montague Canal opened, providing even greater access to the region’s interior to river-bound vessels. In addition, the growing industrialization of the area, initially reliant on waterpower, hastened the environmental change caused by humans.

On the whole, the book is enormously beneficial to understanding the ways in which the local environment is inextricably linked, via human activity, to the larger, global economy. The fourth chapter is by far the most important and impactful in its clear view of conflicting local and imperial needs, but the first chapter is essential reading for those seeking to comprehend the environment and economy of Native Americans prior to Europeans arriving. It should be essential reading for any Early American or Atlantic seminar, especially those discussing environmental history.

Jeremy Land is currently a CRISES Fellow at the University of Jyväskylä and, starting in 2021, will be a Postdoctoral Fellow in Economic and Social History at the University Helsinki. His recent articles include “Colonial Military Garrisons as Labor‐Market Shocks: Quebec City and Boston, 1760–1775” (with Vincent Geloso) Social Science Quarterly (2020) and “Illicit Affairs: Philadelphia’s Trade with Lisbon before Independence, 1700-1775” (with Rodrigo Dominguez) Historia (2019).

Copyright (c) 2020 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (September 2020). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Historical Geography
International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):16th Century
17th Century
18th Century

Europe’s Growth Champion: Insights from the Economic Rise of Poland

Author(s):Piatkowski, Marcin
Reviewer(s):Guzowski, Piotr

Published by EH.Net (June 2020)

Marcin Piatkowski, Europe’s Growth Champion: Insights from the Economic Rise of Poland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. xxv + 370 pp. £25 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-19-883961-3.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Piotr Guzowski, Faculty of History and International Relations, University of Bialystok.


Marcin Piatkowski’s book is a study of the contemporary history of Poland and its economic success after the fall of communism. Simultaneously, the author tries to assess the current position of Poland in a long-term historical perspective stretching back to the end of the Middle Ages. Piatkowski claims that the term “Golden Age” ought not to be used with reference to sixteenth-century Poland, but, more appropriately, to Poland after 1989. All his arguments are presented from the perspective of an economist. The author is a senior economist at the World Bank and Associate Professor at Kozminski University, Warsaw.

The book is divided into ten coherent chapters, each of which is followed by a brief summary and conclusions. In addition to tables and charts, it contains boxes with short discussions of specific topics that could not be given sufficient attention in the main body of the text. The first chapter is a universal synthetic presentation of institutional, cultural and ideological sources of economic growth. The following three chapters are concerned with Poland’s distant past — its economic history in the early modern period, and the country’s less distant past — post-war communist era and transformation after 1989. Further, the author presents his own interpretation of the reasons for Poland’s economic success in the last three decades and offers scenarios of its future growth.

Piatkowski, drawing on the achievements of contemporary economic thought, especially the institutional approach, constructs logical models of growth (chapter 1) and applies them to the study of economic development of contemporary Poland (chapters 6 and 7). He seeks to prove the thesis that late twentieth and twenty-first-century Poland experienced unprecedented economic growth, incomparable with any other historical period. Although many (if not most) of the author’s theses provoke discussion and definitely require deeper justification, his analysis of the role of institutions, culture, ideas and leadership is very clear and persuasive. The clarity of the author’s reasoning is in fact one of the book’s greatest merits, even though the resulting simplifications add unnecessary journalistic quality to the narrative. Upon publication of the book, the author frequently presented his economic views to the press, commenting on current economic policies.

It is hard to disagree with the author that one of the major sources of post-communist economic transformation and a key reason for adaptation of western institutions in Poland was a desire “to return to Europe and feel European again” on the part of the political elite (p. 237). Piatkowski is also right stating that “there is no single explanation for Poland’s success since 1989” (p. 201). His interpretations are definitely worth considering in discussions on the course of socio-political and economic reforms in post-communist Poland, but it must be born in mind that they are the result of the reflection undertaken from the macroeconomic perspective of financial institutions.

Piatkowski’s detailed analyses concerning both the events from the recent history of Poland and from the early modern period vary in quality. Apart from relatively balanced deliberations, for example on the importance of religion in the lives of Poles and its impact on economic activity, the book also contains many grossly anachronistic opinions about the past. This is illustrated by the author’s approach to the legacy of communism. Only in one short subchapter does he mention that “Communism fell because of extractive political and economic institutions that supported growth in the short term, but failed to sustain it in in the long term. […] Economic institutions did not provide incentives for entrepreneurship, ‘creative destruction’, and innovation. They promoted the status quo and frowned upon change” (p. 88). In the light of these facts, the author’s insistence on emphasizing the advantages of socio-economic changes in Poland between 1944 and 1989, one of which was to be the creation of egalitarian society, appears self-contradictory (“Why communism was not all bad,” “Positive legacy of communism,” “How communism destroyed feudalism”).

The anachronism of such an approach is in comparing the effects of half a century of communist rule with the situation in Poland before World War II. The author assumes that if Poland had never fallen under communism, remained independent and capitalist for 50 years after the war, it would not have modernized, like Spain or Italy did, but would have remained a backward peripheral economy in the shadow of the Soviet Union (p. 107-12). However, what Piatkowski sees as a chance for Poland, can also be viewed as a major obstacle by which the communist system deprived the country of a prospect for much earlier growth. The author tends to forget that in 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Poland and this fact had grave consequences. One of the elements of Soviet occupation in the years 1939-1941 and later in post-war years was physical extermination of the Polish intellectual elite. Its loss should be regarded as a lost chance for growth. These people were the lost human capital; they could have become the leaders of economic modernization after 1945.

The author mentions that Poland’s transition did not much benefit the communist elites, because only 9 percent of the Polish former top communist party members held higher political offices after 1990. Nevertheless, considering the fact that the first president of Poland elected by the national assembly in 1989 was a communist general, Wojciech Jaruzelski (responsible for the deaths of dozens of protesters killed in 1970 and under whose leadership in the 1980s Poland had experienced its deepest economic crisis), the third president (for two terms between 1995 and 2004) was Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who had been a minister in the last two communist governments, and two prominent communists served as Prime Ministers (Józef Oleksy, 1993-95; Leszek Miller, 2001-2004), it can be concluded that quality was much more crucial here than quantity. Moreover, the starting point in building an economic position for members of the former communist establishment favored them in comparison with all other post-1989 entrepreneurs.

Piatkowski emphasizes that one of the most important achievements of the egalitarian communist system was that it allegedly provided lower-class youth with unparalleled educational opportunities. As he stresses, many Polish ministers of finance/economy after 1989 were the beneficiaries of this system and gained their professional experience in the communist era, doing their scientific internships in international institutions. However, the author ignores the fact that in communist Poland the freedom to travel abroad was a privilege for the few. The ministers whom he praises as leaders of economic transformation after 1989 (Leszek Balcerowicz, Andrzej Olechowski, Marek Belka, Marek Borowski, Grzegorz Kołodko) were the same people who had for years worked to maintain the communist system in Poland and had been to a lesser or greater extent responsible for the economic crisis in the 1980s. Presumably Piatkowski’s positive attitude towards the role of communism and specifically towards former members of its establishment should be viewed in the context of the fact that he was a doctoral student of Grzegorz Kołodko, an adviser to the President of the National Bank of Poland in communist era, and later Minister of Finance in 1994-1997, 2002-2003, praised by the book’s author as a “hero of post-communist transition” (p. 221).

While accepting many of the author’s theses concerning economic growth in general, it is still worth considering alternative interpretations of the processes and events described in the book. Several omissions appear particularly conspicuous. One of them is the author’s failure to mention Mieczyslaw Wilczek’s Act. It was introduced in 1988 by the minister who, although he served in the last communist government, was an entrepreneur and inventor, and supported a radical liberalization of economic activity. The Act contributed to the explosion of private economic initiative in Poland between 1989 and 2001. The author also omits to mention a number of problems related to the social cost of the transformation model chosen by the political elite, such as the emigration of over two million citizens seeking a better and faster road to wealth abroad.

Piatkowski’s deliberations upon the early modern period require separate assessment. They are not the result of any in-depth studies conducted by the author. Instead, he compiles data from a single study of Polish historical data provided by Statistics Poland and uses them to support the thesis that it was not the sixteenth or seventeenth, but the twenty-first century that truly is the Polish Golden Age. Piatkowski does not manage to eliminate stereotypical or misguided opinions from his narrative (e.g. that the gentry turned peasants into alcoholics), revealing his limited knowledge of the historical reality in the early modern period. In his attempt to debunk the myth of sixteenth-century Poland as the granary of the West, Piatkowski compares the Polish Kingdom to today’s developing countries and writes: “Poland was not a banana republic, but for sure a wheat republic” (p. 48). Having appreciated the witticism, it is worth clarifying that 90 percent of grain exported from Poland to western Europe was rye. Wheat was neither an important export nor domestic consumption product, hence using data for wheat trade to support the claim that “Poland was […] not the West’s ‘breadbasket,’ as the Polish stereotype maintains” may easily lead to false conclusions.

Sixteenth-century Poland, with its GDP per capita at the level of 53 percent of the average for four most developed countries of the period is described by Piatkowski as backward. Such an opinion appears hardly justified in the light of the author’s further claim that twenty-first-century Poland, twenty-five years after the fall of communism, with its GDP per capita at the level of 60 percent of the average for the Netherlands, Germany and the UK should be described as “Europe’s Growth Champion.” Piatkowski’s historical conclusions are best characterized as falling into the category described by Gregory Clark in his renowned, though also controversial book A Farewell to Alms: “The popular misconception of the preindustrial world is of a cowering mass of peasants ruled by a small, violent, and stupid upper class that extracted from them all surplus beyond what was needed for subsistence and so gave no incentives for trade, investment, or improvement in technology. These exclusive and moronic ruling classes were aided in their suppression of all enterprise and innovation by organized religions of stultifying orthodoxy, which punished all deviation from established practices as heretical” (Clark 2007, p. 145).


Piotr Guzowski — economic historian and historical demographer – is the author of two books published in Polish (Peasants and Money in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, 15th-16th c. (Krakow 2008) and Noble Family in Pre-partition Poland: Demographic Study (Bialystok 2019). Other publications include “The Influence of Exports on Grain Production on Polish Royal Demesne Farms in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century,” Agricultural History Review 59 (2011) and “Village Court Records and Peasant Credit Market in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-century Poland,” Continuity and Change 29 (2014).

Copyright (c) 2020 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 2020). 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):16th Century
17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Averting a Great Divergence: State and Economy in Japan, 1868-1937

Author(s):Vries, Peer
Reviewer(s):Koyama, Mark

Published by EH.Net (May 2020)

Peer Vries, Averting a Great Divergence: State and Economy in Japan, 1868-1937. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. iii + 310 pp. $120 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-350-12167-6.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Mark Koyama, Department of Economics, George Mason University.


Peer Vries is well known for several monographs on the historical origins of modern economic growth. In particular, in State, Economy, and the Great Divergence: Great Britain and China, 1680s-1850s (Vries, 2015), he emphasized the nature of the British state as one decisive factor in the different economic paths taken at either end of Eurasia. In this book, Vries turns his attention to Japan, but as the subtitle indicates, he retains his focus on the state.

Vries’s book serves two purposes. First, it is an excellent overview of Japanese economic development from the Tokugawa (1600-1867) period until 1937. Vries’s book is reliant on the secondary literature published in, or translated into, European languages; he has not written extensively on Japan prior to researching this book; but while this might appear to be a limitation, it gives him a bird’s-eye view of the literature. He provides a detailed, scholarly, and strongly argued account of economic and political developments as Japan modernized. Second, the book is also an argument for the importance of the state in economic development, more generally. There is a voluminous literature on the developmental state in East Asian growth after 1945 but far less written about the late nineteenth century. Vries applies Michael Mann’s concepts of despotic and infrastructure power to make the case that Japan’s economic success after 1867 was inconceivable without a transformation in the nature of the Japanese state, that is, the emergence of a powerful, developmental state.

The path of Japanese economic development has long puzzled observers. The traditional view held that Tokugawa Japan was very poor and backwards. Beginning in the 1960s, revisionists, however, found evidence of a market orientated society, one with comparatively high levels of urbanization and literacy. Far from being subsistence farmers, many villagers participated in rural handicrafts and trade and were integrated into a monetary economy. Measured in terms of urbanization rates, literacy, or live expectancy, Tokugawa Japan compared quite favorably with all but the most advanced regions of northwestern Europe. A puzzle remained, however, as real wages in Tokugawa Japan were very low. Incomes per capita, though slightly higher than Qing China, were also substantially lower than those observed in Europe (Bassino et al, 2019). So was Tokugawa Japan advanced or backwards? Recent work by Yuzuru Kumon (2018) reconciles this apparent puzzle, demonstrating that it was a consequence of an egalitarian distribution of land in Japan, which in a Malthusian environment led to lower incomes. Vries provides an excellent summary of the literature. His assessment that the Tokugawa economy was a fairly prosperous and successful organic economy strikes me as fundamentally correct.

From this perspective, Japan had many important preconditions that would help it make the transition to modern economic growth. But nothing about this transition was guaranteed. It was only possible because of the decisive efforts made by Japanese statesmen to build a centralized state. While the Tokugawa era certainly left many positive legacies, Vries argues that had the decentralized Tokugawa system remained in place, the transition to sustained economic growth would not have happened. The deeper question is: What enabled this dramatic and successful transformation in political institutions?

Averting a Great Divergence seeks to answer this question. It is divided into nine substantive chapters. Chapter 1 considers the Japanese economy in the Tokugawa period. Chapter 2 considers the nature of the Japanese state. It asks how the Japanese were able to avoid being colonized and how, instead, they successfully built an overseas empire. It assess the extent to which the state built by the Meiji era reformers was “modern.” Chapter 3 considers the successes of the Meiji era, particularly in building a powerful army and navy. Chapter 4 studies the fiscal system. It asks: How did the Meiji state succeed in establishing a modern tax system? Chapter 5 looks at the relationship between business and the state. It make the case the Meiji state should be considered an avowedly “capitalist” one. Chapter 6 makes the case that the Meiji reformers intentionally created what we now call a developmental state. Economic growth and catchup was their political goal because they understand they if they failed Japan would lose its political independence. Chapter 7 considers education and human capital. Chapters 8 and 9 are very short; the former touches on possible failures in the Japanese path to modern economic growth (very few in Vries’s assessment) and the latter summarizes the overall argument of the book.

This is an excellent book. It represents precisely the kind of detailed, scholarly, comparative economic history that helps broaden and deepen our understanding of the origins of economic growth. Vries displays impressive command of both the secondary literature on Japanese development and the wider economic history literature.

In a short review it is impossible to fully summarize the entire contents of the book. Nor is there space for a detailed scholarly engagement with every aspect of the argument. I am fundamentally in sympathy with the overall thrust of the Vries’s argument (see Koyama, Moriguchi, and Sng, 2018). But at times I was frustrated with various claims and arguments! And a review would not be complete without noting some points of disagreement.

In general Vries excels in both explaining how the achievements of the Tokugawa period laid many of the foundations for the Meiji Restoration and in making clear quite how dramatic these achievements were. Less usefully, Vires places great emphasis on the notion that “[t]he state in Japan . . . wanted to develop Japan” (p 163). But it is not clear what is gained by anthropomorphizing the state this way. Individual policymakers across nineteenth century Asia wanted to develop their economies and states, as the examples of individuals like Li Hongzhang in China testify. The question is not their desire but their ability to access power — to overcome or convince those who benefited from the existing distribution of economic and political rents. Rather than treating the state as a unitary actor, I think Averting a Great Divergence could have benefited from a more systematic analysis of the internal political economy of the Meiji state. What political coalitions made these reforms sustainable? In short, more public choice analysis. There is little attempt a looking “under-the-hood” so to speak of the Meiji state.

The book would also have benefited from a more focused engagement with the literature on economic and state development. Vries discusses relevant authors are various points — Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) are taken to task in Chapter 3 for arguing that the Meiji Restoration represented the formation of inclusive institutions in Japan: “Everyone with even the slightly acquaintance with the history of the Japan between 1868 and the beginning of the Asia Pacific War will be struck by the extreme naive ‘optimism’ and historical incorrectness of Acemoglu and Robinson’s interpretation of the Meiji Restoration and its implications” (p. 82). The presentation in Why Nations Fail is certainly overly simplified. But surely what Acemoglu and Robinson mean is that the Japanese state became more inclusive (i.e. the statement is not an absolute one but a relative one, comparing the Meiji regime to its predecessor). In general, Vries convincingly makes the case that a powerful state was critical to Japan’s successes in the Meiji period in both domestic and foreign policy. But he neglects to discuss what (if any) formal or informal institutional constraints ensured that the despotic and infrastructure power of the state was directed towards developmental ends.

I have some other quibbles. The writing is needless wordy at times. A shorter and punchier version of the argument, minus the inessential digressions would attract a wider audience, as would a lower price tag.

Considering the importance of Meiji Japan as the first non-Western country to achieve sustained economic growth, the absence of comprehensive, up-to-date, comparative assessment of its success has long been a lacuna in the literature. Instead, attention has focused on China as a comparator to Western Europe. As major survey of the Japanese experience by a leading scholar of the Great Divergence, Averting a Great Divergence belongs on the shelves of all economic historians interested in comparative economic development.


Acemoglu, Daron and James A. Robinson. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. New York: Crown Publishing.

Bassino, Jean-Pascal, Stephen Broadberry, Kyoji Fukao, Bishnupriya Gupta and Masanori Takashima. 2019. “Japan and the Great Divergence, 730–1874,” Explorations in Economic History.

Koyama, Mark, Chiaki Moriguchi, and Tuan-Hwee Sng, 2018. “Geopolitics and Asia’s Little Divergence: State Building in China and Japan after 1850,” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.

Kumon, Yuzuru. 2018. “How Equality Created Poverty: Japanese Wealth Distribution and Living Standards 1600-1870.” Working Paper. October.

Vries, Peer. 2015. State, Economy, and the Great Divergence: Great Britain and China, 1680s-1850s. London: Bloomsbury Academic.


Mark Koyama is an Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University. He is the author of Persecution and Toleration: The Long Road to Religious Freedom (with Noel Johnson) which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2019.

Copyright (c) 2020 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 (May 2020). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII

Stocks, Seasons and Sales: Food Supply, Storage and Markets in Europe and the New World

Editor(s):Ronsijn, Wouter
Mignemi, Niccolo
Herment, Laurent
Reviewer(s):Jones, Eric

Published by EH.Net (January 2020)

Wouter Ronsijn, Niccolo Mignemi and Laurent Herment, editors, Stocks, Seasons and Sales: Food Supply, Storage and Markets in Europe and the New World. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2019. x + 224 pp. 74 euros (paperback), ISBN: 978-2-503-58509-3.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Eric Jones, Senior Fellow, University of Buckingham.

One of my summer jobs as a student was working in an English grain silo on the accounts of the 1953 harvest, which had been nationalized. The losses resulting from this venture were simply written off by the government; hence, I remain suspicious of interventions in the market and expect corruption among farmers. The present volume is about a passably similar topic, arranged like a Festschrift and containing tenuously interrelated pieces. The themes are food supply, food storage and food markets during recent centuries in Europe, with an outlier in Mexico (which was in any case a European anatopism). The thrust runs from producer behavior to provisioning by city governments. But, it covers seven countries and is even more disparate because several periods are addressed. Methods vary too, from quantitative studies to conventional political history. As with Festschriften, corralling such diverse authors is like herding cats. Apart from recognizing that getting enough to eat was a central historical issue, it is hard to discern much commonality.

This leaves the reviewer little choice other than to pick and choose among the items, awarding bouquets according to personal interest. I can do no more than select those that seem promising for further research. Start, then, with the motives of farmers, most closely tackled in studies of English farm accounts by Richard Hoyle and by Liam Brunt and Edmund Cannon. The sins here are not of commission but of what might be called involuntary omission — unavoidable gaps in the available records and serious concerns about the representativeness of the farms investigated. The authors are well aware of these problems. What is unclear is how they can be addressed.

Gaps in the sources affect other pieces. Those that deal with the provisioning of cities sometimes have considerable quantitative data to hand but not necessarily everything required. Decisions about public storage were bedeviled by high costs, the complexities of management in the face of variable seasons, and infighting among political groups; a purely economic history seems scarcely possible. Another line of enquiry relates to a rather modern-sounding concern with urban self-sufficiency, where the finding is that towns with populations under 15,000 were more likely than larger cities to supply their own food from gardens. What might be missing is that incomes were lower in small towns, prompting supplementation by vegetable growing. This leads to the whole question of substitutions, which is sometimes discussed; the (obviously limited) trade-off between food and heating is however not mentioned.

A further intriguing line concerns the alternatives of expanding the “urban food frontier” versus the intensification of crop growing. The large city of Vienna drew in enough food to supply itself more or less satisfactorily by extending its reach even before the advent of rail and steamships. Changes in the quality of food were also significant and warn against over-simplified price series. Above all, interest attaches to the implication in more than one contribution that the motive of stabilizing grain supplies dominated the harsher market behavior an economist might expect.

A common sensation when an author finishes writing a book is that a somewhat different approach should have been taken. In the introduction, which is informative despite the disparate contributions, two of the editors, Wouter Ronsijn and Niccolo Mignemi, hint they could perhaps have reached beyond a focus on crops. They can see that the livestock sector has been largely left out. A chapter on fish is suggestive from the conservation point of view, but the fishing economy was not so immediately connected with grain production. The introduction also serves as conclusion, despite listing rather than summing up what is offered. It does point out a brace of distortions in the literature on storing food, meaning grain. First, scholars have striven to deduce the motives of farmers from pre-harvest movements of prices and fallen into wrangling over how far producers were rational maximizers. Although current opinion tends to emphasize motives other than profit, the results are indeterminate. I am sympathetic to the shift away from a priori assumptions but worry where it might take us. No one has yet set out a sharp alternative to the maximizing calculus — must economic history, then, deliquesce into special cases?

Secondly, the editors note that econometric historians tend to skirt technical aspects of producing and storing grain, just as they do in similar investigations. They can behave as though the world is fully represented by columns of prices. Perhaps it is, but the result is to gloss over aspects of the physical or biological world and be blind to features on the ground that may affect the series. As an example, the expense of barns is mentioned several times but less so that of the cheaper granaries. Nor did I find a single reference to staddle stones — which supported over 300 granaries in one English county alone — although without an index it is hard to be sure. At least the introduction to this collection does notice the methodological quirks of a fixation on price series and lack of concern about relevant technology. Furthermore, it presents what is in total a usefully wide-ranging non-Anglophone literature — although simultaneously demonstrating how nationalistic economic history can still be. Conflict between free-traders and regulators raged in the past and is not laid to rest today. Thus the chapter on Mexico is supported by few English language sources and those mostly of the Hobsbawm persuasion; unsurprisingly, but uninterestingly, it dismisses “liberal doctrine” tout court as naïve or disingenuous. Nevertheless, despite patchiness in this collection, the editors (being based in Ghent University, Bocconi University and CNRS Paris) are in as good a position as any to recruit an international team and I hope they will turn next to the pastoral economy.

Eric Jones, Senior Fellow, University of Buckingham, and Emeritus Professor, La Trobe University, is the author of Barriers to Growth: English Economic development from the Norman Conquest to Industrialisation (Palgrave Macmillan, in press) and Landed Estates and Rural Inequality in English History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)

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Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Latin America, incl. Mexico and the Caribbean
Time Period(s):17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII

Controlling Credit: Central Banking and the Planned Economy in Postwar France, 1948-1973

Author(s):Monnet, Eric
Reviewer(s):Quennouëlle-Corre, Laure

Published by EH.Net (January 2020)

Eric Monnet, Controlling Credit: Central Banking and the Planned Economy in Postwar France, 1948-1973. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. xxii + 327 pp. $120 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-108-41501-9.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Laure Quennouëlle-Corre, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).
Many studies have been published about central banking in the second half of the twentieth century, before the recent convergence of central banks towards independence and orthodoxy. Most of them have focused on monetary policy or banking supervision. However, the primary interest of Eric Monnet’s Controlling Credit is to shed light on credit policy, a field of central banking activity which has been overlooked, and which is studied here during the postwar period in France. In that period of the “nationalization of credit,” when “monetary policy and credit policy were conflated” (p. xvii), the book aims at giving a comprehensive understanding of the various facets of credit policy. The first part of the book is dedicated to the institutional framework of credit in France after World War II. The second part explores the ways in which credit was managed under fixed exchange rates and in a domestic perspective, as “a monetary policy without interest rates.” The book provides an accurate study on the allocation of capital across sectors by exploring credit statistics using quantitative analysis. The last chapter compares French credit policy to those of other European countries and associates the end of credit policy in the 1970s to the construction of the European Union.

Controlling credit was, in fact, one of the main tasks of the Banque de France at the time of the planned economy, when the independence of central banks was not even a dream or a wish. Revisiting the so-called “Trente Glorieuses” period (the post-war golden age) in a monetary and financial perspective, Eric Monnet sheds light on the pro-active policy of the central bank in favor of growth, whereas it was traditionally considered as a passive institution which was focused only on the fight against inflation. By studying selective credit policy rather than interest rate policy, the author reevaluates the role of the institution in credit distribution and in doing so, he seriously relativizes the idea of a central bank entirely in the hands of the Treasury. And by accurately studying the selective credit policy, he makes an important contribution to the highly topical issue of industrial policy and credit transmission channels.

For those who are interested in the history of European capitalism, the second main contribution of the book concerns the exploration of the forgotten seventies, which are here revisited as a period of reforms and change. Long perceived as a decade of crises — the end of Bretton Woods system, the 1973 oil crisis, the end of the Golden Age in Europe — and as the beginning of financial globalization, it is more and more considered as a crucial time in recent economic history. In fact, the 1970s marked the beginning of changing attitudes in European domestic financial and monetary policies and Monnet’s research plays an important part in the academic studies which have recently re-assessed this transitional period. The book sheds light on this phenomenon by revealing the desegregation of planned capitalism in France, its difficulty to adapt to the new international order and to join the general movement toward liberalization and openness — especially in the field of money and credit. For instance, at the same time the money market was liberalized and credit supervision (“encadrement du credit”) was reinforced.

To back up his demonstration with the history of ideas and of economic thought, Monnet convincingly demonstrates that, at the time, the central bank was not Keynesian let alone monetarist, but it was inspired by the traditional French reluctance to open market policies since the 1930s. His conclusion, which is based on factual evidence and historical knowledge, brings supplementary interest to the study on credit policies in other European countries and calls into question the common idea of a European convergence of financial systems over the period — the fruit of ideological or teleological points of view.

Both an economist and an historian, affiliated with the Paris School of Economics (PSE), the author founds his research on radical empiricism and uses a variety of sources and different methodologies for his demonstration: exploration of archives, econometrics, and an institutionalist approach. He enters the study of actors by legal framework, economic thought, and institutional arrangements — but also by quantitative analysis and historical files. This multi-disciplinary approach brings particular value to his work. Perhaps some blind spots are regrettable, such as neglecting the group of other players outside of the central bank that were also involved in credit policy — the Treasury, private and public banks, Caisse des dépôts et consignations. As the French financial system was based on political relationships and connections between many financial institutions, the undervaluation of the interactions between them should not be underestimated. Lastly, taking into account the intellectual affiliations of individual actors would be very fruitful to explain the evolutions, the divergences, the resistances to an unfinished convergence and to reconnect the whole story with the history of economic thought.

The book is very rich and addresses many additional topics in financial, monetary and economic areas as well. It offers a new vision of the role of central banking in Europe that can be of use for credit policies in the so-called emergent countries such as China, India or Brazil. Beyond monetary and financial history, it provides an important contribution to the history of capitalism and its variety through time and space.
Laure Quennouelle-Corre is Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, her main fields of research relate to economic and financial history in an international perspective, including work on public debt, money markets, financial elites, and women in the banking sector. She co-edited (with Gerard Beaur) Les crises de la dette publique XVIIIe-XXIe siècle (2019).

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Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Agrarian Change and Imperfect Property: Emphyteusis in Europe (16th to 19th Centuries)

Editor(s):Congost, Rosa
Luna, Pablo F.
Reviewer(s):Dimitruk, Kara

Published by EH.Net (July 2019)

Rosa Congost and Pablo F. Luna, editors, Agrarian Change and Imperfect Property: Emphyteusis in Europe (16th to 19th Centuries). Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2018. 311 pp. €71 (softcover), ISBN: 978-2-503-57923-8.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Kara Dimitruk, Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University.

The fourteen chapters in this edited volume detail the use of emphyteutic contracts, which were of ancient Greek origin and came under the purview of Roman law, across Europe. Emphyteutic contracts had two main features: (1) they divided property rights of land into an ownership right and a use right in return for an annual rent and (2) they were long-term, which, in most cases, was perpetual or indefinite.

This volume on the practice and evolution of emphyteutic contracts is a result of an international workshop by the authors. The introductory chapter by Gérard Béaur, Rosa Congost, and Pablo F. Luna offers several broad themes that, rather loosely, tie the chapters together. The characterization that these contracts were versatile and flexible — a result of decisions made by the parties to the contract and economic and social forces as much as formal legal changes — is intriguing. The authors of this chapter (and most of the chapters), unfortunately, do not connect the volume to other scholarship on property rights generally, for example by Douglass North (1990) or Naomi Lamoreaux (2011), or on Europe during the early modern era, for example by S.R. Epstein (2000).

The chapters are organized by region. Chapter 2, by Giorgio Chittolini, overviews emphyteutic contracts in central-northern Italy. The title reflects its non-specific content “Some points on emphyteusis in central-northern Italy.” Chapter 3, by Michela Barbot, assesses the use of emphyteutic contracts along the rural-urban dimension in Lombardy. In addition to connecting the study to more general work on property rights, the chapter assesses the evolution of emphyteutic contracts (enfiteusi and livello) into full property rights. It then compares their effectiveness relative to contracts giving full rights. On this question, it uses court cases and lawsuits to show that the divided property rights of emphyteutic contracts did not generate more lawsuits for land or water resources relative to contracts with full ownership.

Chapters 4 through 6 cover areas across France and Germany. Using contracts from tax collection registers responsible for recording property transfers, Gérard Béaur shows that emphyteutic contracts in their “pure form” were under-used across France relative to similar alternatives in Chapter 4. He then uses post-mortem records for the Meaux region to document that emphyteutic contracts were used by a variety of actors: religious communities, in rural communities for agricultural development, and in urban areas to let lands as towns were built. Jean-Michel Boehler, in Chapter 5, compares Germanic emphyteutic contracts (erblehn and hoflehn) in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Alsace and connects the contracts’ evolution to changing economic and legal practices. The chapter largely, unfortunately, relies on bulleted lists for points of comparison. The author suggests emphyteutic lessees often had what amounted to full property rights in this context. Chapter 6, by Fabrice Boudjaaba, summarizes the fieffe, an emphyteutic contract in use in the region of Normandy in the second half of the eighteenth century. It compares the types of property in fieffes compared to property under sales and leases. In a different approach than the other chapters, Bodjaaba argues that these different contracts were used to solve problems throughout the life cycle of lessors and lessees using a demographic database (ages) of the parties to the contracts.

Chapters 7 through 12 take us to Spain and Portugal. Rosa Congost, Pere Gifre, and Enric Saguer, in Chapter 7, find that sub-emphyteutic contracts (subestabliments), which transferred small parcels of land, had come to dominate in Girona during the final stages of the Ancien Régime. Using a sample of contracts from notaries, they argue this evolution was a result of the disappearance of common rights and the loss of power of the lessor landowners relative to the lessees. Chapter 8 presents a complementary study. Llorenç Ferrer-Alòs and Belén Moreno Claverías document the origins and evolution of the rabassa morta contract, which gave the lessee rights specifically for growing grapevines, in Catalonia. They show the use of the contract expanded with the spread of viniculture in the region, and, interestingly, disappeared with the collapse of the phylloxera plague that killed grapevines and therefore terminated the contracts.

In Chapter 9, Antònia Morey Tous and Gabriel Jover Avellà trace the ideological defense of emphyteusis during the period of liberal reform in Majorca and examine its role in large-scale fragmentation of estates on the island using information from land registers. The case is particularly interesting, as the authors note, because the evolution of the economy with tourist-based urbanization to the present has created frictions with these property rights.

The foro, a type of land tenure that allowed lords to bring land under cultivation and was often emphyteutic in Galicia, is the subject of Chapter 10 by Pegerto Saavedra. The chapter overviews the extent of the use of the foro, how and why it was a source of conflict between lessors (landowners and monasteries) and lessees, and the evolution of rents and crops in the terms of contracts from the 1500s to the 1830s. In contrast to the broad picture of the preceding chapter, Pablo F. Luna in Chapter 11, reviews emphyteusis specifically for religious institutions in Galicia. It uses the monastery of San Pelayo of Oviedo as a case study to trace how contracting practices, such as the types of contracts used by the monastery, evolved from about 1660 to 1890.

Chapter 12, by Benedita Camara, argues that reform efforts to regulate or formalize the colonia, a semi-emphyteutic contract, were linked to changes in relative prices that necessitated the adaptation of the contract to land use and to place it in the framework of the Civil Code in nineteenth-century Madeira. It draws on qualitative evidence and broad comparisons with changes in English leasing practices during period to support this argument.

The book closes with two chapters on the Greek archipelago (the Cyclades and the Ionian Islands). Eleftheria Zei, in Chapter 13, briefly overviews the development of a new elite, who gained power through the development of wine production and viniculture, using information from emphyteutic contracts in the Cyclades during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The final chapter, by Efi Argyrou and Sevasti Lazaari, uses emphyteutic contracts from the isle of Lefkada while it was under Venetian rule from 1684 to 1797 to provide a sketch of the types of landholders on the isle.

The main contribution of the book, in my perspective, is the encyclopedic nature of the work. The details of the contracts covered in each chapter in particular make it a useful reference. I imagine specialists of the different regions or scholars working on property rights will be interested in the arguments and particularly the types of evidence used, such as the types of property in and terms of the contracts.

The chapters generally touch on important themes, such as the development of private property rights or how contracts interacted with changes in land use, or interesting periods, such as liberal reform efforts in the mid-nineteenth century, that may be of interest for general readers. The ambitious scope, however, comes at the cost of a coherent narrative across the chapters that are also of varying quality. The legal details that comprise most of the work, I suspect, will go beyond most readers’ interest.


Epstein, S. 2000. Freedom and Growth: The Rise of States and Markets in Europe, 1300 1750. London: Routledge.

Lamoreaux, N.R. 2011. “The Mystery of Property Rights: A U.S. Perspective.” Journal of Economic History 71 (2): 275-306.

North, D.C. 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kara Dimitruk is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. She studies property rights and political change in early modern England and the British Cape Colony.

Copyright (c) 2019 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 2019). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):16th Century
17th Century
18th Century
19th Century