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Manors and Markets: Economy and Society in the Low Countries, 500-1600

Author(s):van Bavel, Bas
Reviewer(s):McCants, Anne E.C.

Published by EH.NET (June 2011)

Bas van Bavel, Manors and Markets: Economy and Society in the Low Countries, 500-1600.? New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.? xiv + 492 pp. $140 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-19-927866-4.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Anne E.C. McCants, Department of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The search for the medieval origins of European economic growth over the long run has become something of a growth industry in recent years.? For example, since 2008 the field of economic history has witnessed the publication of major book-length contributions from Jack Goldstone, Jan Luiten van Zanden, Paolo Palanima, and Timur Kuran, all of which argue strongly that there are readily identifiable causal linkages that extend in a meaningful way from at least the High Middle Ages (or even earlier) to present realities.[1]? For anyone familiar with an earlier instantiation of medieval economic history this trend may be unexpected.? It wasn?t long ago that the medieval economy was interesting only in so far as it was quaint (serfs and their lords eking out a living in the autarkic wilderness of the manorial economy); or worse, as it was brutal (the Middle Ages as the quintessential locus of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Conquest, War, Famine and Death).? Or if one?s tastes were not quite so dramatic there was always the longue duree of the Annales School, in which a relatively stable world of European peasants ran more or less seamlessly from late antiquity to the eighteenth century.? Admittedly, the greatest spokespersons of this view were Early Modernists, but the Medievalists were never far behind.? Indeed, it wasn?t always easy to tell them apart, given that they depicted a world of little change other than the cyclical fluctuations in the climate and the ebb and flow of population within its fairly narrow neo-Malthusian bounds.? None of this suggested the likely emergence of a historiography in which modern economic growth (of the kind defined by Simon Kuznets in the middle of the twentieth century and countless followers since) could be attributed back to conditions that prevailed in the years around or even before 1000.

This is not to say that the modern, industrial world as something sui generis has disappeared from recent scholarship; not at all.? Yet another group of important books of recent vintage seeking to explain the extraordinary economic achievement of Western Europe in the last two and a half centuries either passes over the question of medieval origins,[2] or in one prominent case counters it explicitly.[3]?? Jan de Vries finds his explanation for the modern transformation rooted in the new, consumerist, decision making strategies of households in the sixteenth and later centuries, while Deirdre McCloskey turns instead to the new ethical attachments, and the rhetoric by which they were expressed, of a commercial and middle class culture, more or less about the same time period.? Joel Mokyr turns his attention just a bit later to the eighteenth century proper when Enlightenment ideas loom large for both the development of new methods for organizing economic activities and in the tools and techniques employed in production, that is to say technological change in the broadest sense of that term.? For all of these arguments, newness is the important point; what may or may not have happened in the Middle Ages is hardly decisive.? In Greg Clark?s analysis, it is completely irrelevant.? Any economic breakthrough that may have occurred prior to 1800 would have been so quickly dissipated in a Malthusian population response that according to Clark there is no discernible change in living standards prior to the end of the eighteenth century.? Indeed, this position requires what this reader sees as the ironic claim that the only way to increase welfare before the advent of the modern world was for human suffering to increase; i.e. when other people die, you could then benefit.? In any event, all trends break at 1800, much as they did in the older historiography that separated the medieval economy from what came later in every fundamental way.

This is a long introductory discussion that references a lot of books other than the one under review, for which I crave the reader?s indulgence.? In fact, Bas van Bavel?s Manors and Markets: Economy and Society in the Low Countries, 500-1600, is at least as important for what it contributes to the emerging literature on the medieval origins of modern European economic growth, as it is for its direct contribution to the more narrowly circumscribed economic history of the Low Countries.? I should add, however, that it does indeed offer a significant contribution to the latter.? It is rich in detail, documenting the substantial regional variation that existed there (shockingly so given the relatively small area overall), and the shifting locus of the most advanced areas across the thousand years covered by his survey.? The Meuse Valley figures prominently in the Carolingian period, followed by the flowering of urban and industrial inland Flanders during the High Middle Ages, and finally by mercantile and maritime Holland, and its coastal cities in particular, in a sixteenth century he still characterizes as the Late Middle Ages.? Van Bavel?s range of topics includes everything from soil types, hydrological projects, choice of grains between spelt, wheat, and rye, forms of lordship, technological innovations in agriculture and industry, labor contracting arrangements, the standard of living, biometric and material evidence from the archeological record, legal rights to land, the power of political authorities, the emergence of communes and guilds, processes of urbanization, the minting of coins, the location of trade routes and the products traded along them, disease, social unrest, household structure, and of course, the making of cloth.? This list is even so not comprehensive, but it conveys the right idea.? For any economic activity that took place in the medieval Low Countries, van Bavel?s book will be the go-to source for a long time to come.? This is especially helpful as much of the monographic work on which he relies for his own source material is written in languages not readily accessible to a global scholarly audience.?

As wonderfully rich as all this is, most readers of this review are likely to find the broader argument about the powerful continuities between the distant past and the present the most provocative aspect of van Bavel?s work.? Broadly speaking, his argument rests on three components.? First, he postulates that what he calls the ?socio-institutional organization of the economy,? more specifically ?the rules that govern exchange,? is the most productive explanation for economic development (p. 4).? Second, he argues that these factors can vary considerably across even relatively small areas.? Finally, he asserts that the socio-institutional characteristics of a community demonstrate remarkable persistence over the very long run.? Despite the seemingly logical intuition that beneficial institutions ought to be readily adopted by at least close neighbors, this seems not to have been in fact the case.? Instead, van Bavel finds evidence of substantial variation in the response of even micro-regions to similar economic opportunities and changes in climate or population, depending on the socio-institutional framework with which they began.? The attentive reader will of course worry about the problem of origins, but in this case much of the land in question was reclaimed from the sea or swamp over the long Middle Ages, so van Bavel can often build his case from the moment of the original period of settlement.? In the final analysis he finds in the medieval history of the Low Countries ?a clear demonstration of how great the degree of socio-institutional path dependency and long-term continuity in regional structures was? (p. 396).

It is his close attention to the remarkable complexity of regional variation that leads him to reject many of the other commonly proffered explanations for long term economic fluctuations found in the broader economic history literature.? So while he acknowledges the importance of technological change, climate shifts, and population movements for the specific experiences of economic actors, he is not willing to grant them explanatory power for economic development.? He argues that they are too blunt an instrument for parsing the remarkable geographic variation in outcome already witnessed in the Middle Ages.? For example he says of climate and demography that ?these factors often vary little over wide areas, whereas economic and social developments within these areas may differ widely? (p. 3).? Likewise with arguments about commercialization, which he admits seem especially attractive in discussing the history of the Low Countries, characterized as it was from an early date by large cities and unusually intensive trade networks.? All of these factors, ?climatic, geographical, demographic, and political,? had their impact of course, but those effects were ?directed? by the differing socio-institutional factors ?in divergent directions? (p. 387).? Not surprisingly, given this perspective, he also upends the more typical narrative about urbanization as a factor in economic development.? Instead of seeing urbanization as a cause of economic growth, he argues it was more likely the other way around.? Economic growth, especially as it concerned the agricultural sector, was the necessary precursor of rapid urban growth (p. 384).

What then were the critical socio-institutional factors to which we can attribute the largely successful economic development of the Low Countries, at least as measured by the standards of a wider medieval Europe?? The answer to this question is not always entirely clear.? But it seems safe to say that van Bavel gives particular pride of place to two factors:? ?a relatively efficient system of exchange combined with social balance? (p. 405).? His definition of an efficient system of exchange is straightforward enough.? It includes unhindered regional interaction, the presence of open and flexible markets, and the early disappearance of non-economic coercion (p. 11).?? But his understanding of what might constitute social balance is more elusive.? The closest he comes to a concrete definition is to say that social balance occurs directly when ?independent actors and their associations played an important social and economic role,? and indirectly when those actors have ?influence on the authorities? (p. 408).? The Low Countries were blessed with this ?social balance? on account of ?the large degree of freedom for ordinary people? that occurred quite early in their history (p. 409).?

In the final analysis then, we have a story about the medieval period that resonates closely with our understanding of what makes a modern economy work best: relatively unrestricted and autonomous individuals, with access to efficient and well integrated markets, whose worst instincts are held in check by social institutions that promote balance.? No wonder their world proved to be such a good predictor of ours — their world was essentially ours, just on a smaller scale.? Some readers might be daunted by the level of detail that van Bavel dives into in order to substantiate his most important fact: the incredible complexity and variety of micro-regional differences in social institutions in the medieval Low Countries.? But for those who persevere to the end of this long book, his is a happy, and persuasive, tale indeed.

1. Jack Goldstone, Why Europe? The Rise of the West in World History 1500-1850, McGraw-Hill: 2008; Jan Luiten van Zanden, The Long Road to the Industrial Revolution: The European Economy in a Global Perspective, 1000-1800, Brill: 2009; Paolo Malanima, Pre-Modern European Economy: One Thousand Years (10th-19th Centuries), Brill: 2009; and Timur Kuran, The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, Princeton University Press: 2010.
2. See for example, Deirdre McCloskey, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World, University of Chicago Press: 2010; Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present, Cambridge University Press: 2008; or Joel Mokyr, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1850, Yale University Press: 2010.
3. Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, Princeton University Press: 2008.

Anne E.C. McCants teaches medieval and early modern economic history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.? Her research interests in the Low Countries have ranged from historical demography to the role of social welfare institutions and the rise of consumer culture.? She is currently working on a project to explore the financial underpinnings of Gothic cathedral construction in the High Middle Ages.

Copyright (c) 2011 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 2011). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

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

Living Standards in Latin American History: Height, Welfare, and Development, 1750-2000

Author(s):Salvatore, Ricardo D.
Coatsworth, John H.
Challú, Amílcar E.
Reviewer(s):Salvucci, Richard

Published by EH.NET (June 2011)

Ricardo D. Salvatore, John H. Coatsworth and Am?lcar E. Chall?, editors, Living Standards in Latin American History: Height, Welfare, and Development, 1750-2000. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010. iii + 313 pp. $30 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-674-05585-8.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Richard Salvucci, Department of Economics, Trinity University.

In 1999, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University published a milestone work in the field of economic history, Latin America and the World Economy Since 1800.? I reviewed the book for EH.Net and concluded something to the effect that if you wanted to know where the action was in Latin American history, you had come to the right place. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I can?t help thinking much the same about this volume. Sixty percent of the book (measured crudely, by page count) is still about Argentina, Brazil and Mexico ? and whatever ?Latin America? is, it isn?t that. However, its authors are an altogether different group and part of a new generation of scholars, which is only fitting. While it is true that there were historians, especially of the ?Berkeley School,? who had concerned themselves with historical patterns of indigenous diet and nutrition in Mexico under the stress of European colonization, when Woodrow Borah died in 1999, his publications were still regarded as the best work on the subject.? The highest compliment I can pay to these authors is that Borah would have admired and appreciated their efforts as a decisive advance. For like its predecessor, Living Standards in Latin American History is pioneering work.

Mexico ???

Appropriately enough, the volume begins with two studies of Mexico, and even if they were not intended to be read together as a revisionist work, they amount to just that. Am?lcar Chall? and Morimay L?pez Alonso have given us two centuries of Mexican anthropometric history, and if they don?t precisely answer all the questions, they reframe the debate. Based on comparable archival records (from the military ? some draftees, others volunteers) and methods of analysis (Maximum Likelihood Estimation of Truncated Distributions), they tell a story something like the following. After 1730, the stature of the lower classes (especially peasants, but later, urban workers too) fell for nearly a century. Starting for generations born around 1830, there was a recovery until 1850, and then another fall for generations born around 1860 and continuing through 1880, after which there was some recovery through the outbreak of the Revolution in 1910. Whereas the Revolution of 1810 seems to have had little effect on stature (even though population losses, at perhaps a million people, were enormous), the Revolution of 1910 (with catastrophic losses placed as high as three million) exacted a cost in lost stature reflected in a sharp decline in life expectancy. Recovery did not begin until the generations of 1920 and 1930. The sample size after 1940 is too restricted to draw firm conclusions, although elsewhere, L?pez Alonso has cast some doubt on the ubiquity of the heyday of the so-called ?Mexican Miracle.?

I think economic historians will be arguing about the significance of these results for years, for they both support and contradict the long-standing thesis of the ?decline of Mexico,? which has now become something like conventional wisdom, although there are dissenters.? Nor do Chall? and L?pez Alonso propose merely some trivial modification of chronology. There is now reason to suspect that Mexican independence actually meant something, after being told for years that rupture in government and its institutions was an outdated fetish of political historians. Specifically, Chall? implies that the much-vaunted ?Bourbon Reforms? and their spectacular translation into mineral wealth and imperial revenues coincided with the start of an equally impressive decline in popular welfare. On the other hand, the disintegration of the Bourbon state, which may have approximated its nadir in the 1830s and 1840s, coincided with the first signs of a temporary recovery. It is probably deeply significant that our hesitant attempts to reach some approximation of the value of national output ? in truth, hardly much of an advance on what contemporaries could conjure up in the nineteenth century ? have suggested precisely the opposite. There are, it appears, lies, damned lies, and Mexican GDP.
Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile

Similar themes emerge in these essays. According to Adolfo Meisel and Margarita Vega, who employ a sample of nearly 16,000 passports, the standard of living in Colombia in 1870-1905 was stagnant, something reflected in the largely unchanged height of the Colombian elite. The general impression of a much-delayed onset of export-led growth is confirmed by very slow population growth (perhaps one percent per year) and essentially flat terms of trade.? If anything, the work of Meisel and Vega leads one to have somewhat greater confidence in the pre-1905 price data and population data, which are by no means as abundant as the passport data from the wide range of cities they employ.

The very loose association between stature and conventional measurements of national product is again taken up by Ricardo Salvatore in his study of Argentina between 1901 and 1940. To reduce Salvatore?s argument to its essentials, conventional macroeconomic indicators ? per capita GDP, exports, real wages ? provide rather different, and not necessarily consistent, measures of welfare, although the nature of the series themselves casts some doubt on whether rank-order correlations are necessarily the best way of disentangling them.? Nevertheless, after constructing Ordinal Quality of Life indices, Salvatore concludes that Argentines were unambiguously better off in 1929 than they had been in 1914. On the other hand, whether they were better off in 1914 than in 1901 is ambiguous, and depends on the measures of welfare chosen. But by 1939 Argentines were unambiguously better off than they had been in 1901. Salvatore has underscored the point that neither stature nor GDP can possibly be considered decisive measures of welfare, although presumably, to have been better off in 1939 than 1901 you still had to be breathing. Death and the long run require no introduction to readers of this review.

The paper on growth and inequalities of height in Brazil by Leonardo Monasterio and his coauthors is, by contrast, somewhat more conventional. Its principal focus is the dimensions of inequality, social, ethnic and geographical, and their reflection in anthropometric data. In a way, the results are less controversial, for they find that severe inequalities at personal and regional levels affected the height of Brazilians between 1939 and 1981.? It will be very interesting to see the extent to which the recent, much ballyhooed surge in Brazilian growth and the ostensible reduction in the country?s persistently deep inequalities show up in the anthropometric data as well. Realistically, what better confirmation could there be of whether or not reduction of poverty and inequality in Brazil in the twenty-first century ? as it is portrayed in the international media ? has occurred.?

Luis B?rtola and his coauthors are not concerned with anthropometric issues per se, but are rather involved with questions of convergence and its estimation, and of human development indices rather than of rates of income growth per se. For Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, their analysis also makes the reasonable supposition that inequality matters (although historical cynicism inclines me to wonder if more could not be explained by elite efforts to maintain inequality in some countries rather than to reduce it, at least until rather recently). But by all accounts the results of their exercise, which is explicitly concerned with issues of data specification and measurement, are provocative. To the extent that there is a consensus view, it has been that convergence in Latin America occurred mostly between 1940 and 1980, rather than before or (at least until 2000) since. For B?rtola and his coauthors, the effect largely disappears under disparities in measured educational achievement, a very significant and suggestive result in light of recent discussions of the decline of inequality in Latin America.? For this reason, this is a paper that merits wide reading and debate: it goes to the heart of some of the more interesting explanations for the recent ?end of poverty,? if not end of history discussions in the financial press that have left some observers shaking their heads.

James McGuire?s work on Chile is not anthropometric either, but it raises pertinent questions about what he terms the ?wealthier is healthier? conjecture. Even though democratic Chile was relatively affluent in 1960, infant mortality was high and life expectancy unexpectedly low, in part because the state responded to the organized demands of urban constituencies rather than concern itself with basic needs or absolute poverty. Ironically, much of this changed under the harshly repressive government of August Pinochet (1973-1990), although historians familiar with public health campaigns in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy might not be shocked by the coincidence. Whatever the case, McGuire makes it clear that the military government targeted the poorest areas in Chile for a larger share of public spending, with impressive results, including a 70 percent decline in infant mortality from 1974 to 1983. To the question of whether democratic governments necessarily improve public health, McGuire?s answer is necessarily ambiguous.


The paper by Luis R?os and Barry Bogin covers disturbingly similar ground, and then some. By and large, there is very little anthropometric evidence for an improvement in twentieth century Guatemala, and much to the contrary. Guatemalan migrants to the United States do better, at least in terms of body size and stature, which suggests that the facile characterization of indigenous peoples as ?short but healthy? misses the point, let alone a measure of lost human potential. But even worse, the skeletal evidence for the pre-contact population, while admittedly based on small samples and resulting in indirect projections of stature, suggests that the nutritional and disease environment for the ancient Maya were less stressful than for their twentieth century descendants. If there is anything that encapsulates the dismal view of the consequences of modernization that many historians of Latin America harbor in some recess of their consciousness, surely this paper provides some explanation. Yes, there is a lot of naive romanticism in the prelapsarian view of the Americas as a world that the Europeans destroyed. But as Freud is said to have famously remarked, ?The paranoid is never entirely mistaken.? I would like to know what Woodrow Borah, who thought somewhat differently, would have made of this paper.


The volume provides no overall conclusion, so the reader is more or less left to consider its implications on his or her own. Surely, there are plenty of provocative directions in which this fine, path-breaking collection could lead us. One that immediately occurred to me is its relation to the ongoing debate over declining inequality in Latin America since 2000.? I am really not competent to bring the findings of those scholars into this anthropometric perspective, but it is hard not to be struck by the fact that we are essentially being asked to believe that generations, if not centuries of a particular pattern ? a ?colonial heritage? ? have been permanently reversed in a decade, and in some cases, by nothing more than imaginative and sophisticated, but nevertheless relatively basic Conditional Cash Transfer programs in Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, to name only those with which I have some familiarity. Was it really that easy (or that difficult)? Or do we conclude that virtually every misguided policy had to be exhausted in a sort of chronicle of political, ideological and technical ineptitude before emerging from absolute poverty and profound inequalities was possible? Did we really have to put the people of ?Latin America? through colonial repression, national revolution, liberal reformism and lost decades of structural adjustment before we could get them back to square one? After 500 years? I want to say ?I hope not,? but sad to say, I?m afraid so.

Richard Salvucci is writing a history of the Lizardi Brothers in Mexico, the United States, Great Britain and Europe from 1750 through 1890. He is the author of Politics, Markets and Mexico?s ?London Debt,? 1823-1887 (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Copyright (c) 2011 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 2011). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):Latin America, incl. Mexico and the Caribbean
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Paying for the Liberal State: The Rise of Public Finance in Nineteenth-Century Europe

Author(s):Cardoso, José Luís
Lains, Pedro
Reviewer(s):Dincecco, Mark

Published by EH.NET (August 2010)

Jos? Lu?s Cardoso and Pedro Lains, editors, Paying for the Liberal State: The Rise of Public Finance in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010. xii + 310 pp. $85 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-521-51852-9.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Mark Dincecco, IMT Lucca Institute for Advanced Studies.


Paying for the Liberal State is a novel collection of case studies about the development of modern systems of public finance in core and peripheral European countries from the start of the nineteenth century to the eve of World War I. The work is edited by Jos? Lu?s Cardoso and Pedro Lains, both Research Professors at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon. The contributors are prominent scholars in European economic history.

By my count, Paying for the Liberal State makes three key contributions. Prior to its publication, there was no book-length investigation of the development of public finances in Europe after 1815. I view Paying for the Liberal State as a nineteenth-century counterpart to works on pre-modern public finances like The Rise of the Fiscal State in Europe, 1200-1815, edited by Richard Bonney (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). With its focus on detailed case histories, Paying for the Liberal State also complements the cross-country, econometrics-oriented literature that covers the classic gold standard era from the 1870s to 1913. Finally, by providing a clear and accessible account of the evolution of public finances over the long run, Paying for the Liberal State will be of use to scholars in neighboring disciplines that study the interplay between politics and fiscal change. I describe other notable attributes of this book throughout my review.

The chapter ordering of Paying for the Liberal State runs according to relative fiscal sophistication. Britain represents the benchmark tax system. According to contributor Martin Daunton, the establishment of parliamentary budgetary control in 1688 was just one of many steps towards the creation of a fiscal regime that was truly legitimate in the eyes of taxpayers. Changes in tax composition, the extension of voter franchise, and instances of political leadership over the nineteenth century were also crucial elements to engender public trust.

Lack of legitimacy was one feature that distinguished the fiscal systems on the European continent from that of Britain. The chapter on the Netherlands by Jan Luiten van Zanden and Arthur van Riel draws heavily from their recent book (The Strictures of Inheritance: The Dutch Economy in the Nineteenth Century, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004). Van Zanden and van Riel provide a useful timeline of Continental political processes over the nineteenth century: the restoration of absolutist rulers after 1815, the transition to liberalism in the 1840s, and the extension of voting rights from the 1870s onwards. Their analysis of the failure of the ?enlightened? autocrat William I (reign, 1815-40) illustrates how transparency and political representation helped create a credible tax regime. Van Zanden and van Riel?s description of the importance of colonial possessions like Indonesia to the sustainability of Dutch finances is also of particular interest. The chapter on France by Bonney emphasizes two related factors that prevented nineteenth-century fiscal innovations. The longevity of an oligarchic social order, coupled with the broad failure of population growth, slowed the establishment of public trust in the French tax system.

The next chapters are dedicated to polities east of the Rhine River, where issues of state formation were crucial. The contribution by Mark Spoerer on Germany neatly describes the political geography of the German territories before unification in 1871. Spoerer concentrates on Prussia, the largest nineteenth-century state, and W?rttemberg, an example of the sort of impersonal tax systems that prevailed in the South. His discussion of tax competition and free-riding among pre-unitary polities should be of particular interest to political economists. The chapter on Italy by Giovanni Federico illustrates how the aggressive pre-unitary state of Piedmont made fiscal innovations to further its nationalistic ambitions. Federico also documents the continuity between Piedmontese tax institutions and those in the Kingdom of Italy, established in 1861, as well as the shortcomings of Piedmontese (and later, Italian) fiscal policies. The chapter on Austria-Hungary by Michael Pammer provides a lucid account of tax differences within the vast Empire. In contrast to Germany and Italy, Pammer?s work shows how fiscal problems can lead to the dissolution of states.

The remaining case studies are devoted to other aspects of the European experience. The chapter on Sweden by Lennart Sch?n highlights the unique features of its fiscal system. Peasants were represented in parliament since late medieval times and played an important role in Swedish politics, often forming alliances with the king against the nobility. The link between the traditional political power of the peasantry and the modern Swedish welfare state illustrates how history can influence current outcomes. Surprisingly, Swedish public finances relied upon archaic tax structures including payments in kind through most of the nineteenth century. The chapter on Spain by Francisco Com?n describes the interplay between politics and public finances in great detail. Negative political shocks including civil war repeatedly undermined efforts to enact fiscal reforms, no matter how important they may have been. The chapter on Portugal by Cardoso and Lains follows suit. Their take on the excruciating process of institutional change over the nineteenth century is sympathetic, as Portugal (like Spain) was ultimately able to establish modern fiscal structures.

The conclusion by Larry Neal employs comparative analysis to bring together the divergent case studies. Neal makes compelling use of Harley Hinrichs? classic model of tax transformation from traditional to modern economies (A General Theory of Tax Structure Change during Economic Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966). His contrast between Britain and the European continent is of particular interest. Drawing upon the carefully-established results from previous chapters, Neal argues that it was difficult to transfer British fiscal institutions abroad, though they were widely recognized as superior. This subtle point has implications for current policy debates: if Anglo tax structures were not easily replicated throughout Europe, with its shared history of economic and political traditions, then we might think that it will be even harder to export updated versions of them to the modern developing world, which has diverse historical legacies.

In total, Paying for the Liberal State is a valuable addition to the historical literature on European public finance. Jean-Laurent Rosenthal claims that the main policy problem for governments since 1800 has been to design and implement growth-enhancing fiscal strategies (Review of The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, by Robert Allen. Journal of Economic History 70, no. 1 [2010]: 242-5). Through its detailed evaluation of the diverse ways in which nineteenth-century governments taxed, borrowed, and spent public funds, Paying for the Liberal State provides insights that help us to better understand this key challenge. By and large the book does not use the language or tools of modern political economics to frame its analysis. Now that a coherent set of case histories are in place, however, there is ample opportunity for enterprising research that builds upon the solid foundations that Paying for the Liberal State sets.


Mark Dincecco is Assistant Professor in the research area of Economics and Institutional Change at IMT Lucca Institute for Advanced Studies, located in Tuscany. His current manuscript, under contract with Cambridge University Press, examines political transformations and public finances in Europe from 1650 to 1913. Email:

Copyright (c) 2010 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (August 2010). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

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

Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History

Author(s):North, Douglass C.
Wallis, John Joseph
Weingast, Barry R.
Reviewer(s):Margo, Robert A.

120 1024×768 Normal 0 false false false EN-US ZH-CN AR-SA

Published by EH.NET (June 2009)

Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History.? New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. vii + 308 pp. $30 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-521-76173-4.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Robert A. Margo, Department of Economics, Boston University.


One recent Sunday morning my wife and I were reading the New York Times.? ?Darling,? she said, ?have you noticed how often the word ?iconic? appears in the Times lately??

I looked up from the Arts section.? ?Hmm — you?re right! Everything and everybody is iconic these days.? Wonder what it means.?? She looked bemused as if I were insufficiently caffeinated.? ?Iconic — an icon perhaps??

If anyone is iconic in the economic history world Doug North certainly qualifies (along with Robert Fogel, Stanley Engerman, and a few others).? In my book people are iconic if I can summarize their life?s work in ten words or less.? North takes two: ?Institutions matter?.? The opposite perspective — viewed in isolation most institutions don?t matter much, being Harberger triangles and small ones at that — has its fans in modern economics.? But North has convinced the majority of economic historians, a goodly share of world?s development wonks, and the Nobel Prize Committee that he?s right.

I was taught by Robert Fogel to be catholic in my tastes and respectful of my elders. Hence for a while I read each North book that came along.?? But eventually I became frustrated — the books seemed ever more repetitious, with less and less in the way of real economic history.

Anyone who feels like I do should read Violence and Social Orders.? This time, North is joined by two prominent and strong-minded co-authors, John Wallis and Barry Weingast.? Their collaboration has been fruitful.?? Wallis has written many important articles on the growth of government and, equally important, has helped produce fundamental long-term data series from archival sources.? He remains grounded in the nitty-gritty of history no matter where his theoretical musings take him.? Weingast is a political scientist of real and lasting distinction, the co-author (with North) of a celebrated paper in the Journal of Economic History.?? (North is the Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts and Sciences at Washington University at St. Louis; Wallis is Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland; and Weingast is the Ward C. Krebs Professor of Political Science at Stanford University.)

After a brief preface, Violence is divided into seven chapters.? Chapter one, ?The Conceptual Framework,? sets the stage and effectively summarizes the book?s arguments.? This is a book about the organization of society.? North and co-authors (NWW, hereafter) concentrate on two ?social orders? — limited access or ?natural states? versus ?open access? orders.?? Open access orders offer their members a high and growing standard of living, lots of organizations, a bigger but more decentralized government, and equal treatment under rule of law.? Limited access orders offer a lower standard of living, a consequence of lower trend growth and a more volatile growth rate; less social capital and fewer organizations; and limited, if any access to the polity, because the polity is based on privilege and unequal treatment.? Organizations matter because North has been and always will be a Smithian — growth is about the division of labor.? Division of labor goes hand in hand with organizations — the pin factory, after all, was a firm.

In NWW?s view, the fundamental problem that any social order must solve is the problem of violence.? If I cannot prevent you from stealing my freshly-killed game or, worse, killing me, I do not have much of an incentive to engage in trade with you.? For people to form groups of size capable of generating aggregate economies of scale they must be convinced that threats of violence within the group do not overwhelm the benefits from group formation.? The first time this happens in human history in a big way is when limited access social orders form.

In a limited access social order some individuals — ?elites? — are assumed to be endowed with a comparative advantage in violence.? NWW envision a scenario in which the elites simultaneously ?lay down their arms? — that is, refrain from violence.? The ?limited? in limited access means that people other than elites are on the scene.? For the sake of argument, let?s call them ?peasants.?? The peasants get something from the elites — protection from marauding bandits that they pay for by tilling the lands, for example, under the control of the elites (shades of North and Thomas!)? But the peasants cannot readily join the elites — the elites are the coalition that keeps the group together.?? The elites may grant privileges, rights, and so on to each other but these are always under the shadow of the gun; the natural state is an ?adherent organization? meaning that interactions among elites must be incentive compatible at all points in time.?

The limited access order may do some things quite well.? It maintains order, and it may even keep the peasants? bellies full.? A priestly class, one that helps with rent distribution, may generate a belief system that keeps the peasants happy even if they are not that well fed.? But the limited access order does not permit organizations to form freely, nor does it treat people equally.? In NWW these features of the limited access social order create incentives that limit at the margin, for example, innovation.? However, the limits the limited access order imposes on the problem of stemming violence are essential such that, if they were not imposed, the order would dissolve.?

Next, NWW describe open access social orders.? An open access order has a positive rate of economic growth and a low degree of volatility to its growth rate.? This is important because economic growth is something that happens in the long run.?? An open access order controls violence in a very different way from the natural state.? In the open access order there are separate, ?third party? organizations — the military, the police, and the courts — that control violence.? However, these organizations do not operate independently nor do they operate at the caprice of politicians.? They are constrained by institutions — rules of the game — as are the politicians.? No individual is above the law. Open access means that politics and, more broadly, organizations are free-entry in the sense of economics.? Moreover, the right to form an organization is defined ?impersonally? — one does not need to seek a privilege.? Impersonality plus equality under the law facilitates the formation of new organizations.? NWW are careful not to claim causality but they clearly think that more organizations (more social capital) are better.? Rent seeking occurs in the open access order but it is more likely to be growth enhancing and to benefit large numbers of people than in the natural state.

The 64 trillion dollar question is:? How do we get from the natural state to the open access order? According to NWW this cannot happen without three ?doorstep? conditions.? These collectively describe a more or less open access order among the elites.?? Elites must be ready and willing to treat each other impersonally; there should be rule of law among elites, if not the rest of the population; and elites, as a group, should have control over a military.? Once these conditions are met the transition to open access can take place fairly quickly in historical time.

The remaining chapters of the book flesh out these ideas in greater detail.? The chapters follow a similar protocol — the theory is embellished and illustrated by examples from history, often very wide ranging in time and place.?? Chapter two elaborates on the natural state, drawing on the Aztecs and Charlemagne for examples of state formation, and France and England in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries for mature examples of the form.? The evolution of English land law, crucial to the emergence of secure property rights, is the subject of chapter three.? Open access orders are explored in greater detail in chapters four and five and crucial transitions in Britain, France, and the United States are covered in chapter six.? Chapter seven concludes by recapitulating the main points and by arguing that a proper political economy must recognize the complex, symbiotic relationship between political and economic development.

Although I think that Violence has a lot going for it, that is not to say it is a successful book overall.? It is useful, in my opinion, to contrast NWW with another work of ?big think,? Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson?s Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.? This is fair because NWW do so themselves in their book. Imagine that yours truly is to teach a graduate class on ?Institutions and Economic Performance.?? My goal is to train students to do independent research.? Which of these two works would better serve as a text? For me the answer is easy — Acemoglu and Robinson.

The reason I prefer Acemoglu and Robinson has to do with a core failing of NWW as economics.? Violence goes beyond earlier North by providing a better taxonomy for what he has been writing about since forever.? No question this is worthwhile:? economic historians have a clearer language for describing crucial features that distinguish one society from another.? However, NWW do not really provide an operative equilibrium theory of natural versus open access orders derived from the ?bottom up? (micro-behavior) or of the transition from one to the other in ways that are useful to researchers like me. They purport to think in game theoretic terms but they do not ?do? game theory.? Here the contrast with Acemoglu and Robinson is telling (and decisive, in my opinion). ?One can either like or dislike Acemoglu and Robinson?s specific dynamic games but at least they are there on the page to be debated.? Not so with NWW.? In this sense, chapter seven is very premature in its title (?A New Agenda for the Social Sciences?).

Although I do not think NWW is particular useful as a practical blueprint for research beyond taxonomy I emphasize that many of the ideas in the book have merit and are worthy of further exploration, particularly in a policy setting where formal theory (as opposed to ideas) may be counterproductive.? Above all, the notion that one cannot simply ?get rid? of the superficial exterior of natural states and thereby uncover the beating heart of an open access order yearning to be free is the book?s most important idea, and profound.


Robert A. Margo is Professor of Economics at Boston University.?? He recently stepped down as editor of Explorations in Economic History.

Copyright (c) 2009 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 2009). All EH.Net reviews are archived at


Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Military and War
Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Common Land, Wine and the French Revolution: Rural Society and Economy in Southern France, c. 1789-1820

Author(s):Plack, Noelle
Reviewer(s):Liebowitz, Jonathan J.

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Published by EH.NET (June 2010)

Noelle Plack, Common Land, Wine and the French Revolution: Rural Society and Economy in Southern France, c. 1789-1820.? Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009. xiv + 215 pp. $100 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-7546-6728-5.

Reviewed by Jonathan J. Liebowitz, Department of History, University of Massachusetts Lowell.


Since Arthur Young and the physiocrats, common land has been regarded as a burden on agriculture.[1]? Because no individual had a property right to the commons, all villagers would pasture more animals than it could sustain and overuse it.? In Young?s eyes, common lands were a sorry sight, run down and desolate, a picture that Garrett Hardin?s famous article, ?The Tragedy of the Commons.? has helped transform into a stylized fact of modern economics.[2]

From social history comes the other widely accepted fact about common land, that poor peasants needed it for survival — grazing for their animals, wood for fires — and resisted enclosure. The loss of the commons is said to have doomed them to proletarianization.?

Recently these conclusions have been challenged.? Historians have discovered that early modern farmers were as smart as modern economists and understood the dangers of an unregulated commons.? To avoid overgrazing, villages limited how many animals could be pastured.? And rather than the poor, it was often the wealthy, with large herds of animals, who benefited from the unenclosed commons.

Noelle Plack, senior lecturer at Newman University College in Birmingham, UK, accepts the conclusions of the last group of scholars.? Her thesis it is that the privatization of the commons begun during the Revolution gave peasants in southern France, specifically in the department of the Gard, land for the vineyards that transformed wine production in nineteenth century France.? Though this argument calls for an emphasis on the connection between privatization and wine production, the actual focus of the book is on the privatization process itself.? For a brief volume of 159 pages of text, it is unfortunate that the author felt the need to cover both national legislation and its local consequences.? She could have made a greater contribution had she focused on the latter topic, which, as she herself writes, is where research is needed.

Instead, the bulk of the book is a detailed narration of the legislative activity that affected the status of the commons from the start of the Revolution through the early post-Napoleonic years.? Plack begins just after 1789 when the revolutionaries set about to put into practice their belief that common lands should be eliminated because they were a drag on agriculture.? The revolutionaries wanted to privatize them, but how much to give each family or individual proved contentious.? The radical Jacobins decreed in the law of June 10, 1793 that all inhabitants of a commune should share the land equally, but it remains uncertain how much the law was put into practice.? Plack?s evidence shows that only 18 out of 361 communes in the Gard actually carried out the division of the commons (p. 83).

When the conservatives and then Napoleon took power, further division of the commons was halted because of property holders? concern that their rights were threatened by the 1793 decree.? Those who had gained land under that decree and even so-called usurpers (who occupied land without following official procedures) were able to keep it.? Further decrees of the Napoleonic and early Restoration eras moved additional land to private ownership.

Plack?s history of the French Revolution and common land is mostly told from the perspective of the various Parisian legislative and administrative organs.? It follows closely and adds little to Nadine Vivier?s presentation in Propri?t? collective et identit? communale: Les biens communaux en France 1750-1914 (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1998), which she frequently cites.

The original feature of the book is its focus on privatization in a single department, the Gard, which Plack introduces at the start in best Annales fashion.? Situated on the Mediterranean coast just west of the Rhone River, its territory included the marshy Camargue, near the sea; a fertile plain inland from that; bushy scrub known as garrigues; and the rugged C?vennes Mountains.? With the diverse terrain came diversity in the regional economy.? Not only wheat, but grapes, olives, and in the C?vennes chestnuts were grown.? Silk had been important, but it, along with livestock, was declining in the late eighteenth century.? ?Almost everyone? owned some land, but there were considerable divisions between the owners of tiny plots (0-1 hectares) at one extreme and those whose properties exceeded 40 hectares at the other (p. 28). The land that no one owned, that is the commons, was mostly used for pasture.? It comprised about 14% of the total area of the department in 1846 when it was first measured.? Access to the commons was determined by the amount of taxes paid, but the landless were allowed to pasture a few beasts.? Because of its central role in animal husbandry, the commons was vital to the functioning of the agricultural economy.? Plack provides the reader with a well crafted sketch of the Gard landscape as it appeared on the eve of the Revolutionary changes.?? Where there are gaps, like the important absence of data on the extent of pre-Revolution common land, these derive from gaps in the sources themselves

Plack returns to rural economy and society in her conclusions.? Since a significant portion of the Gard?s villages (42%) were affected by privatization and much of the former commons (about half), especially the garrigues, was converted to vineyards, she believes it legitimate to conclude that ?the origins of the ?viticultural revolution? that occurred in the mid-nineteenth century in southern France can be traced back to the Revolution of 1789 and its legislation to privatize common land? (pp. 150-151).??

She may well be right.? Certainly the understanding of the department she has gained from her deep immersion in its archives and other sources is impressive.? Yet evidence of the link she posits is sparse.? There is room for her in future work to study vineyards in the Gard and the even more productive neighboring H?rault to determine whether the privatized commons did lead the way in the expansion of viticulture.


1. Note that Plack and therefore the present discussion is about land held undivided, not about common rights over property otherwise used individually (as in open fields).

2. Garrett Hardin, ?The Tragedy of the Commons,? Science, Vol. 162, No. 3859 (13 December 1968), 1243-1248


Jonathan J. Liebowitz is professor of history at the University of Massachusetts — Lowell.? His research interest is French agriculture during the late nineteenth century with an emphasis on responses to the crisis of that time and on land tenure.

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

Agriculture and Economic Development in Europe since 1870

Author(s):Lains, Pedro
Pinella, Vincente
Reviewer(s):Grantham, George

Published by EH.NET (January 2010)

Pedro Lains and Vincente Pinella, editors, Agriculture and Economic Development in Europe since 1870. London: Routledge, 2009. xviii + 407 pp. $40 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-415-42487-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by George Grantham, Department of Economics, McGill University.

The seven decades leading up to World War II represent a distinct epoch in Europe?s long agricultural history as a transitional phase between late organic agriculture based on farm-produced inputs and the modern industrial forms that since 1960 have transformed western agriculture out of all recognition. Despite intervals of stagnation (and in war-torn economies contraction) productivity rose two to three times faster than in pre-industrial times. With the exception of Britain, whose precocious industrialization prior to the transport revolution provoked industrial hyper-specialization, Europe as a whole nevertheless remained fundamentally agricultural. In industrially advanced economies agriculture occupied a quarter to a third of the work force; on the backward periphery the proportion was half to four-fifths into the 1950s. Certain features of the agricultural history of this period are well-known: the politics of agricultural protection has been exhaustively studied, as have institutional innovations like the Danish cooperatives and German land banks. For advanced countries the statistical record is fairly complete. The main gap in our quantitative knowledge concerns eastern and southeastern Europe, where boundary changes and massive displacement of rural population make it difficult to collate and interpret the statistical record, and the Iberian peninsula, where scholars were late to mine the rich veins of data deposited in Spanish and Portuguese archives. The result is that until recently, it has been difficult to get an idea of the evolution of European agriculture as a whole.

The present work takes a big step in that direction. It consists of twelve country studies ranging from Portugal to Poland and Sweden to Turkey preceded by three fine introductory essays by Lains and Pinella, Olmstead and Rhode, and Broadberry that set out the methodological and historical issues raised by the collection, and in Broadberry?s essay, estimate the effect on aggregate productivity of agriculture?s declining share of the work force. The editors are to be congratulated for having gotten contributors to observe a common format, which helps bring out the common threads in a fascinating tapestry of national experiences. The format is a set of questions formulated by development economists in the 1960s to measure the effect of agricultural change on developing economies. To what extent did agriculture ?release? labor and capital to modern sectors? In what measure did agricultural demand support domestic manufacturing? In what measure did agricultural exports support the import of capital? How fast did productivity grow? I would have preferred a format based on historical categories of opportunity and response, but these are useful and important questions that do good service as a framework for assembling and interpreting the statistical material.

That material constitutes one of the collection?s major strengths. The series are well-presented and many are new, making the work an indispensable reference for economic historians of late nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Europe. Special care was taken to adjust the data for boundary changes in the case of Germany, Poland, Greece, and Turkey. The French data are an exception and those interested in the statistical record to 1914 are referred to my reconstruction of the French agricultural capital stock and its attached estimate of total factor productivity.[1] The German data are especially helpful in showing the regional diversity of productivity growth in this period. Federico?s new capital stock series alters the traditional picture of utter stagnation in the 1880s and early 1890s, putting the long-term growth record before World War I on a par with other late nineteenth-century industrializing nations.

What generalizations can one draw from the forest of country studies? The number of countries covered makes it impossible to summarize individual contributions. All are excellent, and the best, like Wolf?s essay on Poland, Petmezas?s on Greece, and Pamuk?s on Turkey, are outstanding. Perhaps the simplest way is to interpret the outcomes as the product of the responses of millions of farmers and a dozen or so governments to the period?s specific sequence of opportunities and shocks. The main opportunity was expanding markets for farm produce in regions undergoing industrialization, which sustained cash flows needed to finance agricultural investments and the purchase of modern inputs. The regional unevenness of that opportunity goes a long way to explaining the regional unevenness in agricultural development on the eve of the Second World War. Agricultural countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, which did not experience intense industrialization benefitted from their proximity to markets in Britain, Belgium, and Germany. By contrast, farmers in southern Italy obtained almost no benefit from northern Italy?s late nineteenth-century industrialization. Pre-war Poland is a special and interesting case. Divided among three occupying powers, its western German partition experienced relatively high productivity growth based on markets around Berlin and the industrial district of Silesia. By contrast, a chain of mountains separated Austrian Galicia from urban and industrial districts in Lower Austria and Bohemia, and a tariff wall separated the province from the Russian partition centered on Warsaw, which had a deficit in foodstuffs. North-south differences in dietary traditions also mattered. The comparative advantage of Mediterranean agriculture in olive oil and wine could not be exploited because the cuisine of northern industrializing districts was based on beer and animal fats. The region might still have managed to find an opportunity in the export of citrus fruits, but that market was pre-empted in the 1880s and 1890s by California. The infestation of French and Italian vineyards by phylloxera in the 1880s gave a temporary boost to Greek currant exports, but recovery of French production after 1895 ended the brief boom, precipitating massive emigration of Greek peasants to America.

On the whole then, it would appear that agricultural development in this period was tributary to industrial and urban development rather than the other way round. As to the globalization of the grain trade, about which so much has been written, its impact was felt mainly by farmers provisioning urban markets, to which it was disproportionately oriented. Overall, however, declining transport costs, of which the ?grain invasion? was a prominent consequence, contributed to productivity growth by inducing more efficient land use. As to new technologies and new inputs, the main conditioning factors were the strength of market outlets, the availability of credit, and in the case of agricultural machines employed in field operations, farm size. In northern Europe yields rose most rapidly in districts where declining transport costs made it possible to import fertilizers and soil amendments onto poor soils. These advantages were largely lacking on the periphery, where high transport cost, poorly organized markets and credit, and low demand provided little incentive to invest in new inputs.

As to the farmers? responses, nothing in the record suggests that their reaction to events was economically irrational. The same cannot be said of governments, which adopted protectionist policies supporting rural incomes at the expense of urban consumers, and attempted to soften the cost of those policies by rationing and price controls. That autocratic as well as democratic governments pursued such strategies suggests the continuing need to accommodate the landed interest, including a generally conservative peasantry that still made up half the population. Yet in a long-run perspective it is unclear whether on balance protectionist policies significantly depressed productivity growth. Tariffs were often part of a broader program of public investment. In Portugal and Spain it took the form of roads, hydroelectric projects, and irrigation projects; in Italy, Spain, and Greece autocratic governments subsidized the draining and resettlement of malarial plains; the Swedish government promoted rural electrification. The major exception seems to have been Germany. In the 1930s Germany?s nationalistic pursuit of agricultural self-sufficiency deprived her farmers of the imported feed for livestock, with the result that per capita production of meat in 1939 was less than in 1913. There is no question that agricultural protection in the 1930s depressed real incomes. Yet given worldwide contraction in agricultural demand during the Great Depression it is doubtful that productivity would have grown significantly faster under a regime of free trade. On the whole, the responses of farmers and governments seem to have mattered less for growth in agriculture than the opportunities.

The other feature of this period was war. In successively reading the agricultural histories of the peripheral countries (Poland, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, and Greece and Turkey) one is impressed by the effect of political instability on productivity growth. It does not seem to make much sense to reduce that instability to the effects of insecure property rights, however. Wars, civil or foreign destroyed property, disrupted commercial connections, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people independently of the legal protection of private property. The Civil War in Spain brought large numbers of people to the brink of starvation and malnutrition that lasted through the 1940s. The most important expropriations occurred on disputed territory on the Ionian coast and the southern Balkans that were jointly populated by Greeks and Turks. But once the ethnic cleansings were carried out, the rights of the new owners were fully protected. Even so, productivity stagnated.

Few books can be said to be ?essential reading.? The present book is one of them. The bibliographies are in general full and up to date. The interpretations are within the space limitations imposed by this kind of work sensitive to the political and social context of agricultural change in this period. It is, however, only a beginning of the effort to place the development of Europe?s agriculture through the Continent?s classic phase of industrialization in a long-run perspective that incorporates the period?s technological and social-political specificity.


1. George Grantham, ?The French Agricultural Capital Stock, 1789-1914,? Research in Economic History 16 (1996): 37-83.

George Grantham is a recently retired Professor of Economics at McGill University. His recent work includes ?Explaining the Industrial Transition: A Non-Malthusian Perspective,? European Review of Economic History (2008); ?Creating Abundance: Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development: A Research Perspective,? Explorations in Economic History (2009) with Jeremy Atack and Peter Coclanis; ?French Agriculture, 1250-1550: Crisis or Continuity?? (forthcoming); ?Female Labour Supply in the Industrial Revolution? (forthcoming) with Franque Grimard; ?Science and Its Transaction Cost: The Emergence of Institutionalized Science in Europe, 1650-1850? (forthcoming); and ?What’s Space Got to Do with It? Distance and Agricultural Productivity before the Railway,? Journal of Economic History (forthcoming). He is also engaged in a translation of Francois Crouzet’s La Grande Inflation: La monnaie en France de Louix XVI a Napoleon.

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

Secular Cycles

Author(s):Turchin, Peter
Nefedov, Sergey A.
Nefedov, Se

Published by EH.NET (December 2009)

Peter Turchin and Sergey A. Nefedov, Secular Cycles. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. ix + 349 pp. $35 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-691-13696-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Harry Kitsikopoulos, Department of Economics, New York University.

This book is an audacious and ambitious attempt to promote the viewpoint that historical progression runs according to certain regular patterns. In its effort to prove this hypothesis it lays out a number of predictions testing them against empirical time series for four countries during different epochs: Rome (350BC-285AD), France (1150-1660), England (1150-1730) and Russia (1460-1922). The argument is constructed on the basis of measuring (sometimes speculating) four fundamental variables: actual population figures contrasted against ?ideal? population levels, i.e., upper limits defined by agricultural productivity; social structure measured by numbers and consumption levels of elites as well as annual budgets of typical peasant households; the power of the state measured by its fiscal health; and socio-political instability reflected in relevant events (e.g., uprisings, rebellions, civil wars) or, used as a proxy, in coin hoards.

According to Turchin (University of Connecticut) and Nefedov (Institute of History and Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ural Branch) each secular cycle lasts for several centuries and unfolds through the following phases: 1) An expansion phase characterized by relatively stable prices and modest wage declines (if any). 2) As population density tends to approach the limits imposed by the productive capacity of agriculture, we enter a stagnation or stagflation phase. A typical Malthusian scenario develops with an increase in the price of land and its products and a cheapening of labor. The ranks of the elite grow both due to biological reproduction and upward mobility and, simultaneously, its members get accustomed to higher levels of consumption. Gradually, however, we encounter a state of elite overproduction, so to speak, which leads to a relative (but not absolute, as in the case of commoners) decline of their living standards. Intensified oppression of peasants ensues as well as increased competition among members of the elite and between the elite and the state whose growth rate of revenues slows down. 3) A general crisis unfolds either abruptly or gradually which, in theory, can be addressed by raising productivity through technological innovations but more often than not it leads to military expansion into new territories and is resolved through the visitation of pandemics, extreme episodes of famine, or state collapse followed by intense civil war (or a combination of such events). The crisis lasts for a prolonged period. 4) It is followed by a depression phase during which resources per capita increase but fail to lead to population recovery due to the continuation of civil wars. This phase can be prolonged, particularly if the state continues to be dysfunctional, or it can lead to the beginning of a new cycle if the ranks of the elite are sufficiently pruned.

Secular cycles can acquire a periodic character but in societies with complex characteristics the dynamic may incorporate elements of sensitive dependence and non-linear feedback loops which lead to outcomes envisioned by chaos theory. The latter scenario is particularly plausible in the event of exogenous disturbances relating to geopolitical factors and the ecological environment as well as through the reaction of individual actors which can be portrayed ?as a stochastic process, a kind of Brownian motion that also results in erratic, unpredictable changes in the macrosocial trajectory? (p. 22).

The book relies on data drawn from the secondary literature but the authors? handling is not always as refined as it could be nor are they always accurate. For instance, in reconstructing the annual budgets of peasant households in pre-plague England, the authors neglect to include spending on the purchase of consumption goods not produced by the household or investment goods; the typical rent per acre was less than 1s and seigneurial dues at over half of the value of annual output exaggerate typical peasant obligations; gross yields of wheat were not at 10 and 8 bushels per acre before and after the Black Death but 10.5 and 11.9 bushels respectively (based on extensive demesnial records analyzed by Campbell), and when all grains are taken into account yields remained stationary between the two periods. In referring to seigneurial dues of French peasants during the same period, the authors take into account only the terrage and the tithe in reconstructing peasant budgets. But additional dues included the cens (a fixed cash payment), the taille (demanded both by lords and the state), and various payments stemming from the judicial and administrative authority of lords, conventionally known as seigneurie banale. Some of these payments may have been of nominal value, others irregularly imposed, but they amounted collectively to a significant draining of peasant resources; the authors are aware of their existence, since they mention them in other contexts, but for whatever reason they do not take them into account when reconstructing peasant budgets. Including such information is important in defining the acreage necessary to ensure subsistence and estimate the proportion of the population which fell below such thresholds.

Such issues may be deemed minor quibbles given the impressive breadth of evidence considered by the authors. But I found a little more problematic the lack of reference to publications presenting viewpoints inconsistent with the typology outlined in this book. Campbell (English Seigniorial Agriculture, 2000), for instance, argues that grain output per capita remained stable during the thirteenth century (corresponding to the stagflation phase in Turchin?s and Nefedov?s typology), hence challenging the notion of a growing immiseration of the peasantry. I happen to find this notion implausible but I am struck by the failure of the authors to address this viewpoint and to include in their bibliography Campbell?s book, the most important publication in this field of the last several decades. I am also skeptical as to whether Turchin?s and Nefedov?s description of the stagflation phase is applicable to the pre-plague economy of northern Italy (not considered in this book) whose non-agricultural sectors raised close to half of the value of total output (according to Malanima) creating impressive amounts of wealth that could be used to import grains and hence negate the worst effects of a Malthusian scenario. Most importantly, it is unclear how the model presented in the book fares in the case of capitalist-industrial societies. Despite the aforementioned shortcomings in terms of failing to include and discuss relevant empirical evidence, the presentation of the latter is superb through the use of a plethora of graphs.

In the end, notwithstanding the noted shortcomings, I am fascinated by this book, particularly by the theoretical framework which is laid out in the introductory and concluding chapters. Economic historians, particularly those dealing with the Middle Ages where my expertise lies, have tended to advance explanations of historical dynamics based on a fairly dogmatic adherence to particular models and downplay the merits of competing explanations. In contrast, Turchin and Nefedov stress the need of coming up with ?a synthetic theory that encompasses both demographic mechanisms (with the associated economic consequences) and power relations (surplus-extraction mechanisms). In the dynamical systems framework, it does not make sense to speak of one or the other as ?the primary factor?. The two factors interact dynamically, each affecting and being affected by the other? (p. 4).

But the main strength of the book lies in its scope, reminiscent of the broad perspectives of classical economists. It is the type of scholarship which proves that historical narrative can be fascinating.

Harry Kitsikopoulos is Clinical Professor, Department of Economics, New York University (e-mail: He has just completed editing a book which examines the topics of agrarian change and crisis across Europe during the period 1200-1500.

Subject(s):Macroeconomics and Fluctuations
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval

Economy and Society in the Age of Justinian

Author(s):Sarris, Peter
Reviewer(s):Gregory, Timothy E.

Published by EH.NET (June 2009)

Peter Sarris, Economy and Society in the Age of Justinian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xi + 258 pp. $88 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-521-86543-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Timothy E. Gregory. Department of History, Ohio State University.

A detailed monograph on the economy and society of a part of the Byzantine Empire might not encourage a large and enthusiastic readership. Well, this book should do so, both because the history of the Byzantine empire deserves to be better known and because this carefully crafted book has much food for thought in the context of the contemporary economic situation. Sarris?s work is based on deep research in the voluminous papyrus archives of early Byzantine Egypt (fifth to seventh centuries A.D.) and the introductory material is rather rough going for the reader not familiar with this sort of detail. The core of the book is a social and administrative analysis of the workings of the estates of the wealthy and powerful Apion family, whose land holdings centered on Oxyrynchus in Middle Egypt but had expanded to include properties in Constantinople and Sicily. Sarris uses the surviving, frequently fragmentary papyrus documents to paint a picture of how these estates were divided between lands that were operated for the direct benefit of the family and those that were rented out to poor farmers who were essentially chained to the plots they farmed. The author provides considerable detail about how the estates were administered and by whom, arguing that individuals of a ?middle? economic and social status were the primary administrators, who effectively demanded productivity and loyalty from those under their jurisdiction. The landowners themselves had mainly risen from relatively lowly origins but by the fourth century A.D. they had become enormously wealthy and they frequently obtained high imperial positions, and these allowed them to use the power of the state, as well as their own wealth, to pursue their interests and maintain control over the vast populace living and working on their lands. All this seems rather dry, but since the evidence Sarris uses is individual documents (accounting lists, contracts, letters, petitions, and orders) the book provides fascinating details not only about administrative structures but also about the kinds of people who lived on the estates and significant detail about their individual lives. Sarris concludes that the Apion family grew more and more powerful as time went on and as their holdings increased their control over large numbers of people became nearly absolute.

All of this is extremely interesting, but Sarris claims much more. In fact, he argues that the situation in Oxyrynchus existed in lesser or greater degree in all of rural Egypt, and that it reflected the basic economic and social conditions throughout the whole of the eastern Mediterranean in this same period. In a useful but not well-integrated chapter Sarris provides a long discussion of the historiography on the nature of Egyptian rural economy in this period, varying from the view of Hardy and Bell, who emphasized the negative (proto-feudal) character of the landowning aristocracy, to Rouillard and Johnson and West, who argued for an efflorescence of the peasants in the same period. Sarris himself clearly follows the views of R?mondon and Gascou, who argued that the state encouraged the transfer of many public institutions to the great landowners. Particularly significant is Sarris?s observation that the growing power of the extraordinarily wealthy was one of the most characteristic phenomena of the age and that it determined most of the major events of the succeeding centuries. Thus, in his view, much of Justinian?s reign is understandable only as a serious attempt to put a halt to this development and to reassert direct state control over many areas of life. This involved ferocity in tax collection and direct supervision of the aristocrats, as well as a policy of deliberate reduction in the ratio between the copper coins and gold, something which would have given the poor and working class a real economic benefit. All these policies, however, led to bitter hatred on the part of the aristocrats, discernable in Prokopios and elsewhere. In addition, Justinian encountered serious economic problems, beginning with the appearance of plague in 541 and the resulting drastic decrease in population and a severe shortfall in state income. Beginning in the reign of Justin II (565-78) the situation turned once more, and among other things the drastic reversal of the internal exchange rate indicates the triumph of the aristocrats and the economic devastation of the poor. This, in turn, had negative impact on the soldiers and the ordinary citizens, who had to depend on the copper coinage, and their dissatisfaction may have contributed significantly to the social unrest at the very end of the sixth century and the military collapses against the Persians and the Arabs in the seventh centuries.

Sarris?s arguments are fascinating and they demand serious consideration. His detailed discussion of documents from the Apion archive is convincing in terms of its reconstruction of the system used in the administration of the properties of the family, and this may be the most important contribution of the book. His broader conclusions are somewhat less easy to accept, especially his attempt to see the emergence of aristocratic dominance as an empire-wide phenomenon. In addition, the organization of the book is a little rough, and the individual chapters lack coherence and development. But this is an important work deserving to be read by all who have an interest in the pre-modern economy and the relationship between economic and political developments.

Timothy E. Gregory (, is Professor of Byzantine History at Ohio State University and Director of the OSU Excavations at Isthmia, in Greece.

Subject(s):Servitude and Slavery
Geographic Area(s):Middle East
Time Period(s):Medieval

Migration and Inequality in Germany, 1870-1913

Author(s):Grant, Oliver
Reviewer(s):Wegge, Simone A.

Published by EH.NET (April 2009)

Oliver Grant, Migration and Inequality in Germany, 1870-1913. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. vii + 406 pp. $199.50 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-927656-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Simone A. Wegge, Department of Economics, College of Staten Island ? City University of New York.

In this impressive work, Grant explores the economic transition that Germany underwent during its period of industrialization. The Kehrite School, inspired by a doctoral thesis Eckart Kehr published in 1930, has argued that prior to 1914 Germany did not make necessary and important social changes that would have modernized German democratic society and made government more accountable and accessible to non-elites, the vast majority of the German population.

Here, Grant presents an alternative view, namely that Germany was not that different or special in the challenges it faced in moving from an agricultural economy to a more industrial one. The country faced many of the typical problems that a developing country goes through when industrializing, including a surplus of labor, shifting demographics, a migrant population, and changing land tenure systems. Throughout the book, the author applies the Lewis model of labor surplus from development economics and finds again and again that it is very suitable for describing the evolution of the German economy and specifically how internal migration can fit in a stage-of-growth story.

While Grant?s main objective is to counter the Kehrite view and convince the reader that Germany faced ?normal? problems over which its politicians had little control, the largest part of the book, eight of the ten chapters, is not about political history but instead about how agriculture, industry, income inequality, and demographics changed over the course of four decades or so. Only the first and last chapters deal specifically with the sociopolitical economy of Germany. As such, the first and last chapters seem somewhat divorced from the middle eight chapters.

Grant?s work provides an explanation as to how the migration decisions of many Germans were related to the economic transformations taking place in the German economy. As the German economy expanded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many workers had to make adjustments in leaving declining businesses and occupations and taking up better-paid ones in other parts of Germany or the world. By 1895 German emigration had decreased substantially from its heyday, and more Germans could find employment somewhere at home.

At the outset of Migration and Inequality, Grant suggests that Germany be considered among the group of late-stage developers like Russia, Italy and Spain, all of which adopted British technology. However, by 1890 Germany had a GDP per capita that was substantially larger than that of all three of these countries (Crafts, 1984, 440, Table 1). Using a Chernery-Syrquin framework, Crafts considers Germany to have industrialized later than Britain and Belgium but around the same time as France and well ahead of Italy, Russia and Spain (Crafts, 1984, 448-9). A bit more consideration of such findings would have been helpful.

In Chapter 3 Grant presents some of his main results on internal migration as it was affected by an economy on the path to industrialization. Here he provides a picture of who moved in and who moved out, and how the long-distance migration flows were related differentially to agriculture, industry and especially railroad building. He uses a number of sources, most of which are aggregated statistics previously published, but his key results in this chapter are based mostly on one city, Berlin. I would have preferred that he had examined more cities. He could at least have framed the results in light of other recent works on internal German migration such as Hochstadt (1999) on D?sseldorf and Jackson (1997) on the Ruhr Valley, a hotbed of industrial activity at this time. Both works are listed in the bibliography, but more effort towards placing his findings in the context of these works would have made this an even more valuable study.

Grant?s work also places a large emphasis on internal migration and less so on Germans who left for overseas destinations. Migration is analyzed at a macro and not at the micro level. This approach misses insights on selection patterns that could be gained from looking at how migrants differed from non-migrants. Of course, migration history is an enormous subject, and no single book on migration history can be all things to all scholars.

Chapter 4 expands on this work by describing what important variables influenced internal migration. Agricultural areas lost more than urban areas, as a significant amount of the internal migration consisted of classic rural-urban moves. Further, people were more likely to leave places with lots of large farms, a close proximity to cities and high rates of productivity growth in agriculture. Grant tackles demographic issues in Chapter 5. All sorts of demographic variables differed by region, with the upshot that after 1870, population growth was higher in the east than in the south: although both regions experienced sizable emigration flows the east still lost more people than the south, partly due to a much higher percentage of women who never married in the south.

With a heavy emphasis on eastern Germany, Chapters 6 and 7 discuss the popular view of nineteenth-century social scientists that there was something backward about the prevalence of large estates and a property-less agricultural labor force in the east when peasants in the rest of Germany tended to own their own holdings. Grant argues that higher wages in the urban centers convinced many young people in the east to abandon their parents? way of life, which prompted estate owners to seek seasonal laborers from Poland. Wages were low in the east partly because landowners had a substitute labor force.

Grant finds other evidence that migration in the decades after 1870 represented a release of surplus labor from conditions of underemployment, as the Lewis model predicts. Regions of high productivity growth in the agricultural sector were correlated with higher migration rates: as farmers became more productive they needed fewer workers. At the same time though, the product mix changed, towards more labor?intensive activities like root crops (sugar beets) and livestock. With suspected widespread underemployment across Germany many in agricultural areas could still be employed, and in the east a cheap seasonal labor force was available for such crops.

Grant also argues that in the 1870s and 1880s migration was more likely to take place from communities with high population densities, which validates the prediction of the Lewis Model he presents in Chapter 1. This result should be considered with some caution, as it is based on a regression with basically just one right-hand-side variable, population density. What else could be driving migration rates?

In Chapter 8, Grant finally discusses the process of industrialization in more detail, focusing on capital markets and Germany?s changing terms of trade as related to exports. ?Inequality,? part of what is promised by the book?s title, is finally tackled in Chapter 9, where Grant calculates Gini coefficients from Prussian tax statistics. Inequality was never that high in Germany but ironically it was higher in the urban sector than in the rural sector. Grant finds evidence for a Kuznets Curve and argues that his findings fit within the perspectives of Kuznets, Lewis and Weber.

Grant covers a lot of ground in his book. There are dozens and dozens of different tables and regression estimates spread throughout this work. Like a good detective he has dusted off many existing studies and sources of data from government and journal publications, many published more than a century ago and many of which have undergone little sophisticated treatment. By using modern statistical and regression analysis he sheds new light on these previously published sources. In fact there are so many tables and maps, I wish he had devoted a few pages to listing them in an organized fashion. He also goes out of his way to make this work user-friendly by placing most of the econometric results in the appendices and explaining their economic and social significance in the main body of each chapter. This feature makes the book very accessible to a variety of social and economic historians.

While he refers to long-standing debates stemming from the scholarship of Max Weber, Eckart Kehr and Kuznets, there could be more reference to the debates that economic historians are currently engaged in. As I mentioned above, comparison with Crafts? work would have been desirable. Using the insights of recent studies on internal migration within Germany would also have been helpful. Further, while Grant spends time comparing land ownership institutions between Britain and Germany, it would have been intriguing to know more about his thoughts on Britain?s own experience with a surplus of labor. Contrasting his findings with those of Baines (1985) would have been interesting, and perhaps this may provide Grant with an idea for further work.

In spite of these quibbles, Grant lays down piece by piece the argument that between 1870 and 1913, Germany was going through economic adjustment problems, and that these should be considered as a normal part of most industrialization processes, both historical and contemporary. This is the thesis of the book. Importantly, he argues that the Kehrite School, which viewed Germany as deeply flawed, has overlooked relevant economic realities and focused too much on internal political problems. Without trade, for instance, Germany could not have industrialized, as self-sufficiency would have entailed a higher agricultural labor force and allowed fewer for the factories. Here Germany needed food imports, which it supported with a moderate level of protection. Even the Kaiser acknowledged this.

Grant thus comes to reject the Kehrite School view that Germany suffered from internal socioeconomic flaws and could not make adequate political progress. Instead, he states on page 354 that ?the path to democracy was getting easier, not more difficult.? He goes further to conclude that ?The events of 1914 represented a derailment …? He thus provides his own particular views on the Sonderweg debate in German history, which attempts to trace the political-economic origins of the Nazi catastrophe. Luckily for him, his book ends in 1913. If we are to accept Grant?s view and reject the Kerite perspective that German sociopolitical evolution was misguided, we need a roadmap that takes us through World War I and further ? food for thought for future research.

For those interested in a case study of long-term economic development and transition, Grant provides a very interesting example in the form of Germany in the late nineteenth century. Germany industrialized inordinately quickly and came to dominate Europe not only economically but obviously politically in the twentieth century. Economic historians need to understand this particular case and compare it to others. Grant succeeds admirably in showing that it is relevant that we characterize historical processes accurately, both to understand the past and to examine carefully how socioeconomic evolution affects later periods. Lastly, Grant has provided a work that reminds economists and others of what insights they can gain on economic growth and political history by examining economic history.


Baines, Dudley. Migration in a Mature Economy: Emigration and Internal Migration in England and Wales, 1861-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Crafts, N. F. R. 1984. ?Patterns of Development in Nineteenth Century Europe.? Oxford Economic Papers 36 (3): 438-58.

Hochstadt, Steve. Mobility and Modernity: Migration in Germany, 1820-1989. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Kehr, Eckart. Battleship Building and Party Politics in Germany 1894-1901: A Cross-Section of the Political, Social, and Ideological Preconditions of German Imperialism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Kehr, Eckart (ed. by Gordon A. Craig). Economic Interest, Militarism, and Foreign Policy: Essays on German History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

Jackson, James H. Jr. Migration and Urbanization in the Ruhr Valley, 1821-1914. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1997.

Simone A. Wegge is an associate professor of economics at the College of Staten Island and at the Graduate Center, both of the City University of New York. Her research focuses on European and German economic history, especially emigration. Her most recent paper is titled ?Network Strategies of Nineteenth-Century Hesse-Cassel Emigrants.? History of the Family 13 (3): 296-314.

Subject(s):Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

The Byzantine Economy

Author(s):Laiou, Angeliki E.
Morrisson, Cécile M
Reviewer(s):Gregory, Timothy E.

Published by EH.NET (October 2008)

Angeliki E. Laiou and C?cile Morrisson, The Byzantine Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xii + 270 pp. $33 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-521-61502-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Timothy E. Gregory, Department of History, Ohio State University.

As the authors point out, until recently the economy of the Byzantine Empire has not been the subject of many detailed studies. The reasons for this are many, including the continued bias against Byzantium even in historical circles and the perception that the economy of the empire was dominated by the heavy hand of an autocratic state and that its study has little to teach us. This small and quite readable book is likely to change all such scholarly assumptions. It is based squarely on the massive and detailed three-volume The Economic History of Byzantium from the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century, edited by Laiou and published in 2002, and its articles, many of which present completely new analyses of crucial facets of the Byzantine economy and revise many conclusions found in standard textbooks. The present book, of course, is much smaller in scale, but it makes up for that by a more concise focus and a treatment that is accessible to readers, from beginning students to scholars interested in the economy of the medieval West or the Islamic East.

The Byzantine Economy differs from most extant studies of Byzantium by insisting that modern economic theories and studies are relevant for Byzantium and by frequently making seamless use of archaeological and archival sources, as well as the more commonly utilized literary and numismatic material. The literary sources, they reasonably insist, are highly biased by the focus of their authors on the central government, a bias that had led most scholars to the conclusion that the state was the dominant element in the Byzantine economy, which emperors and administrators affected without any real economic interest or knowledge. Laiou and Morrisson do not, of course, deny the importance of government action, especially the successive fiscal institutions and policies over the thousand-year history of the empire. Rather, they argue throughout that, on the one hand, Byzantine statesmen frequently made decisions based on economic considerations, and, on the other, that political and non-economic factors (frequently from outside the empire itself) not uncommonly played crucial roles in the development of the Byzantine economy.

The book is arranged chronologically and it begins with a helpful consideration of the ?natural and human? resources available to the empire. Treatment of late antiquity (sixth-early eighth centuries) avoids what would otherwise be a necessarily long discussion of the situation in the third-fifth centuries, and analysis essentially begins in the period of Justinian. There is little new here and it is clear that the authors regard the period as a continuation of the ancient economy that forms merely an introduction to the economy of the seventh century and beyond. The Byzantine economy per se came into existence as a result of devastating depopulation in the aftermath of the plague of 542 and significant climate change. The labor shortage led to political and economic fragmentation, and a complete reorganization of the economic underpinning of the state. The loss of areas that had provided much of the raw materials of the empire caused severe contraction of manufacturing and a diminution of the money supply. Nonetheless, the meager sources suggest that, even in this period, trade continued and the economy was much more fully developed than has previously been thought. The latter part of the eighth century witnessed significant changes in the military power of the state and the beginning of a slow growth of the Byzantine economy and its gradual monetarization as well as the revival of urban life. Constantinople was the main economic center, and it was an industrial and trading power whose merchants engaged in long distance trade throughout the Mediterranean, Europe, and the Near East. Key in this revival was the state, its fiscal policies, and a complex economic ideology based on ideas of justice in interchange and possession of property.

By the eleventh century Byzantium reached its economic height and by the twelfth century Byzantine cities had developed some of the characteristics that could be seen in the contemporary West. At the same time, and for some of the same reasons, the Byzantine aristocracy had come to challenge the exclusive right to political and economic power that had been maintained by the state (i.e., by the emperor and the imperial bureaucracy). The authors discuss this struggle, that has long interested historians, but in the end they conclude that the victory of the aristocracy did not inevitably cause economic problems for the state or for the peasants. In addition, western (mainly Italian) merchants came to control greater and greater portions of long-distance trade, in part because of tax concessions given them by the Byzantine state and because of their increasing access to naval power. Throughout the twelfth century the Byzantine economy flourished and medium- and large-scale production (both agricultural and industrial) served local, regional, and ?international? markets. The cities, as well as the countryside and marginal lands, played important roles in this economy, contradicting the old theory that middle Byzantine cities were ?parasitic? in nature. The authors conclude that Byzantine merchants played a decreasing role in this trade. In the view of the authors, however, this was not an irreversible situation, but one that was affected negatively by the growth of western military power in the form of the Crusades and, ultimately, the conquest of Constantinople in 1204.

After that date and even after the recovery of Constantinople in 1261 the economy remained fragmented and the loss of areas with important resources, such as mines in Asia Minor and the Balkans, had important negative results. Nonetheless, the authors maintain that the Byzantine economy remained ?articulated? and population growth continued until the middle of the fourteenth century, when the combination of the Black Plague and the loss of most remaining territory to the Ottomans essentially put an end to anything resembling a unified Byzantine economy.

In a concluding chapter the authors make general observations about the Byzantine economy and discuss the value of comparing it specifically with the economy of the medieval West. They conclude that contemporary research shows the Byzantine economy, in virtually all periods, to have been sophisticated and flexible, able to respond to challenges and to change in the face of historical conditions. In most periods the state, in the person of the emperor and a large and well-trained bureaucracy, was the most important factor in the economy, but it was by no means the only one, and political, ideological, and fiscal considerations, as well as forces outside the empire, played significant roles. They note that recent research, in both East and West, has pointed to the importance of the linkage between production and distribution and has seen greater similarities than differences in the two economies. Finally, they strongly suggest that it is not reasonable to ?blame? Byzantium because it did not develop western-style capitalism, something that did not come about in the West until the eighteenth century. They conclude that Byzantium had a ?flexible and dynamic economy, which was successful in terms of growth but also provided some important needs of the people … that is, all the factors which today are recognized as constituting true economic development? (p. 247)

This book is a convenient, reasonably well written and carefully documented handbook that should be on the shelves of anyone interested in Byzantium or the medieval economy.

Timothy Gregory is Professor of History and Anthropology and Director of the Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia; he is author of books such as Isthmia, Volume V, The Hexamilion and the Fortress (Princeton 1993) and A History of Byzantium (Oxford 2006). He has pioneered in the teaching of online courses in Classical Archaeology and Byzantine History.

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