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An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in the Later Middle Ages

Author(s):Dyer, Christopher
Reviewer(s):Huffman, Joseph P.

Published by EH.NET (December 2006)

Christopher Dyer, An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in the Later Middle Ages. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. vi + 293 pp. $65 (hardback), ISBN: 0-19-822166-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Joseph P. Huffman, Department of History, Messiah College.

Medievalists for some time now have been about the business of questioning the traditional boundaries between the medieval and early modern periods. It all started with taking down the Renaissance a few pegs in Charles Homer Haskins’ The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (1927) and has been followed by such works as Lynn White’s Medieval Technology and Social Change (1962), Joseph R. Strayer’s On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State (1970), Pierre Chaplais’ English Diplomatic Practice (1982), Colin Morris’ The Discovery of the Individual, 1050-1200 (1987), and Giles Constable’s The Reformation of the Twelfth Century (1996), all of which argue persuasively that characteristics and trends we have deemed “modern” appeared much earlier than the post-1500 western world.

What these scholars have wrought in the areas of cultural, political, technological, and religious history, the eminent historian Christopher Dyer (University of Leicester) has accomplished in the area of English socio-economic history. Originally delivered as the Ford Lectures (University of Oxford, Hilary Term 2001), this book’s fundamental thesis is “that many of the tendencies of the end of the Middle Ages had their roots in a much earlier period … [and that] the advance of commercialization, as towns grew and markets multiplied in the thirteenth century, has led to doubts about whether the changes of the long fifteenth century were of much significance” (p. 3). He continues on to assert that “Just as the commercial growth of the thirteenth century prepared the way for the structural changes of the fifteenth, so developments before 1500 can be connected with the trends of the early modern period” (p. 3). Prosperous rural yeomen, wage laborers, innovative farming techniques, occupational specialization, and the rise of a consumer economy were not the turning points of the early modern period but rather quite typical of England before 1500.

Dyer is not fashioning a wholly new thesis here about English economic history, but rather offering a wonderfully detailed yet thoroughly readable account of the scholarship produced by a generation of Anglo-American socio-economic historians (himself perhaps foremost among them) in the past fifteen years or so: Richard H. Britnell, Bruce M.S. Campbell, Stephan R. Epstein, John Hatcher, Edward Miller, David Palliser, Derek Keene, Mavis Mate, Jim Masschaele, Mary Ann Kowaleski, Wendy Childs, and Jenny Kermode, for example. These scholars have produced ground-breaking evidence of a rapidly commercializing economy in thirteenth-century England — a trend overlooked in the past because it was hidden in the local and regional economies of towns rather than documented in multiple metropolitan areas as one finds on the continent. Based on this relatively recent scholarship, the picture of England’s socio-economic development looks much more matured before 1500 than previously believed and the crisis of the fourteenth century proved to be a period of economic innovation and advancement by the lower ranks of society even though the aristocracy experienced decline.

Chapter one, entitled, “A New Middle Ages,” articulates the thesis in more detail. Dyer emphasizes the active agency of the lower ranks of society in overcoming the challenges faced in the later Middle Ages, as they used the market to their advantage. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries no longer appear as a “false start” of a modern economy, but rather as the foundation that weathered the storms of the fourteenth century; continuities in urbanization, commercialization, and transportation infrastructure remained the norm well past 1500. Although the aristocracy lost economic ground and social control in the later Middle Ages, the more entrepreneurial among the social ranks beneath them proved resilient and even prospered as a result of the crisis period. Dyer concludes, “the ‘new middle ages’ contradicts the strongly held belief that decisions were made by the powerful elite, and that change was directed from above … many features of the period, from family structures to farming methods, bear a strong resemblance to those prevailing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (p. 40). It should also be obvious that traditional views of the “transition from feudalism to capitalism” are no longer viable, since the peasantry appears every bit as entrepreneurial and commercial-minded as the gentry and urban middle classes of the late fifteenth century.

The remainder of the book contains topical chapters of real interest to economic historians. Chapter two considers the shifting boundaries between private property and communal welfare. Dyer’s case studies reveal that conflicts driven by individual self-interest were not early modern phenomena; indeed, peasants (not just lords) pressed for ‘privatization’ of common fields, and their retirement, inheritance, and landholding practices reveal a desire for privacy and independence between generations. Yet while a high rate of migration and the transformation of the land market in the later Middle Ages recalibrated communal village life, evidence shows that parish life was vibrant with church ales, entertainment, fraternities, and a great deal of church building and repair. Thus while family bonds were weakened, civic bonds of sociability were actually strengthened in this period.

Chapter three considers the relationship between authority and freedom as magnates abandoned direct demesne farming and village management in the later Middle Ages in response to a declining capacity to extract wealth from a shrinking rural population. Economic dynamism and market-based entrepreneurialism existed among the gentry and peasantry, however, which collectively responded to the new economic conditions of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Before royal government filled the political space vacated by the magnates, the peasantry in particular enjoyed a period of unparalleled freedom of migration and economic innovation. High wages, low prices, low rents, and population decline as a result of the plagues enabled untold peasants to migrate, to be freed from serfdom and compulsory labor services, and to benefit from opportunities in land and agricultural markets. Because of such political and economic changes, Dyer argues that the peasantry developed “puritan” social attitudes and a sense of belonging to the political community as early as 1450.

Chapter four explores the results of recent research in the areas of late medieval consumption and investment. Much of this evidence has come from archaeological investigation of structures and artifacts, and it entirely refutes the traditional view that consumerism did not exist until the “consumer revolution” of the eighteenth century. As Dyer asserts, “There is no value in announcing yet another revolution, but we can recognize consumerism in the Middle Ages, and identify episodes and characteristics in the material culture of our period which have some similarity with those of the eighteenth century” (p. 128). Of course the contracted economy of the later Middle Ages (ca. 1375-1500) does not compare in size with that of the eighteenth century, but when viewed from the point of view of consumption rather than production, remarkably similar patterns emerge. After the Black Death, likely because of lowered prices and the concomitant increase in spending power, the pattern of consumption changed markedly. Per capita expenditure for foodstuffs and manufactured goods increased significantly: wheat bread replaced rye and barley, more meat was consumed (indeed, more fresh meat and fish), and more ale brewed (now from barley malt instead of oats). New building, metal products, and ceramic pottery (replacing wooden cups and bowls) are signs of changing manufacturing patterns. Even fashion became a significant aspect of consumption, with shops beginning to advertise in order to create demand: one need only think of the notorious poulaine shoe with its four-inch long toes and the close-fitting short garments of the era. Increased expenditures on consumer goods, however, did not in fact inhibit investment. Again, although lords invested less in the later Middle Ages, new groups (farmers, entrepreneurs, artisans) spent much more on infrastructure, textile mills, ironworks, and even facilities to brew hopped beer on a large scale.

Dyer extends the economics of consumption and investment further in chapter five, which considers the relationship between subsistence living and markets in this period traditionally understood as one of economic contraction. He concedes that the volume of economic activity obviously shrank during this period. Yet he persuasively argues that the “ingrained habits of marketing and the employment of credit and money continued” (p. 173). Though it was an era of economic contraction for some, it was also an age of opportunity and prosperity for many (like entrepreneurial farmers, artisans, and even wage-earners), who in time subverted the social hierarchy by dressing and eating above their traditional status. We are reminded of the Statute of Laborers, the sumptuary laws, and the Canterbury Tales in this context.

What attitudes toward work and leisure developed among the lower ranks of society during this period? In chapter six Dyer considers this question, and though he rejects the view that a “proletariat” class of wage earners emerged in the later Middle Ages he does assert that definite attitudes toward the value of work and leisure appeared, which had profound implications for the traditional ethic of charity. “Voluntary idleness” became unacceptable given a strong work ethic; therefore charity was increasingly reserved for the “deserving poor” with vagrancy and begging frowned upon as mere laziness. In a rather modern-looking development, familial care at retirement diminished given the smaller number of children and their mobility during this period and so the community was turned to for support. The net affect was one of pragmatism rather than charity, akin to our modern attitudes toward welfare. For their part, employers conceived of a “work ethic” because of the labor shortage (i.e. they needed to maximize their labor resources). But we also find this ethic among wage-earners who were seeking to better themselves through hard work. Dyer concludes, “‘Modern attitudes towards leisure and social security, which are so often thought to have developed under Protestant influence, were emerging in association with the work ethic” (p. 241).

Dyer does a masterful job of using new types of sources that shed light on the dynamic and vital aspects of late medieval economic history. Reliance on traditional sources of estate records from the aristocracy and church obviously renders a picture of slow economic decline and decay of social control. Yet inclusion of wills and archaeological sites of buildings provides additional dimensions that reveal continuity and even entrepreneurial adaptation to changing economic times among those below the aristocracy and upper clergy. Thereby Dyer has effectively defended the thesis that “the supposed turning point around 1500 has been given excessive importance, as many features of the early modern period can be observed well before 1500 and even before 1300” (p. 244).

The socio-economic patterns Dyer articulates so well in this monograph are by now well known to medievalists. The historiographical aspects have been anticipated by John Hatcher and Mark Bailey’s Modeling the Middle Ages: The History and Theory of England’s Economic Development (Oxford University Press, 2001). Indeed, one will find this understanding of late medieval economic trends throughout histories that include continental Europe; for example, Fran?ois Crouzet’s A History of the European Economy, 1000-2000 (University of Virginia Press, 2001) has already asserted, “The European economy of the late Middle Ages and the early modern period … was not fundamentally different from the one that had emerged in the thirteenth century.” Peter Spufford’s Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe (Thames & Hudson, 2002) has also declared, “The whole period from this commercial revolution [i.e. of the thirteenth century] to the industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries possessed an economic unity …” Though the bibliography of this volume is extremely thorough when it comes to English historiography, Dyer could have taken his volume beyond the Hatcher/Bailey historiography by connecting late medieval England’s economic history with that of the larger economic history of Europe (and of contemporary continental historiographies). The signal benefit of this book, though, is that we see English economic patterns in line with those on the continent, even though England only had one major metropolitan region.

But this is asking more than was intended for this fine book. Dyer was hoping to build bridges with Anglophone socio-economic historians of the early modern era rather than with medievalists, and we can only hope that they will take up this book and engage with him anew the subject of the “age of transition” toward a modern economy. If this book becomes mandatory reading for all scholars of English economic history, as it should well be, we can be sure that there will emerge a clearer and more unified view of English economic history from the thirteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

Joseph P. Huffman is academic dean of the School of the Humanities at Messiah College and Professor of European History. He has authored Family, Commerce and Religion in London and Cologne: Anglo-German Emigrants, c. 1000-1300 (Cambridge University Press, 1998) and The Social Politics of Medieval Diplomacy: Anglo-German Relations (1066-1307) (University of Michigan Press, 2000).

Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval

Korea Under Siege, 1876-1945: Capital Formation and Economic Transformation

Author(s):Chung, Young-Iob
Reviewer(s):Cha, Myung Soo

Published by EH.NET (October 2006)

Young-Iob Chung, Korea Under Siege, 1876-1945: Capital Formation and Economic Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. xv + 390 pp. $74 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-517830-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Myung Soo Cha, School of Economics and Finance, Yeungnam University.

Korea Under Siege, 1876-1945 claims that Japanese imperialism triggered an industrial revolution in Korea, highlighting capital accumulation as a key force driving the transition. Following a brief introduction, Young-Iob Chung, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Eastern Michigan University, begins by describing poverty persisting in traditional Korea (Chapter 2). Japan forced dynastic Korea to be open to international trade in 1876, allowing modern technologies to flow into the country, but living standards hardly improved before the beginning of Japanese rule in 1905 (Chapter 3). Modern economic growth in Korea required institutional reforms stimulating saving and education, which included legalization of property rights and modernization of pubic finance and the monetary system as implemented during the first decade of the colonial rule (Chapter 4). The next three chapters take a closer look at investment: Chapter 5 estimates sectoral investment; Chapter 6 explains measures taken to encourage investment and identifies sources of funds for different types of financial institutions; and Chapter 7 calculates how much of the investment was financed by domestic (or foreign) savings and by private (or public) savings. The capital accumulation resulted in per capita output rising 1.2% per year and primary sector output as a share of GDP contracted from around 90% to less than 50% during the colonial period (Chapter 8). Beneficiaries of the industrial revolution included Japanese landlords, entrepreneurs and skilled workers, while living standards enjoyed by Korean peasants and unskilled workers hardly improved (Chapter 9). Chapter 10 concludes by claiming that in terms of economic development the colonial rule was a “blessings in disguise” bestowed on Koreans by Japanese taxpayers.

The tale of Japanese colonialism rescuing Korea from a Malthusian trap sounds not only plausible (if not politically correct in Korea), but also familiar. What makes this volume unique is its focus on capital accumulation. Unfortunately, the author does not make any attempt to validate this important claim, confining himself to presenting aggregate input and output growth estimates. Had he used these numbers to do growth accounting, the outcome would have been quite misleading, because they are at best ballpark figures.

First, Chung conjectures that the Korean aggregate output grew 3% per year under Japanese rule, taking an average of two very different estimates: the growth rate of output from primary and secondary sectors as estimated by Suh (1978) and the aggregate output growth rate taken from an obscure conference paper. Chung apparently is unaware of Mizoguchi and Umemura (1988), the outcome of the first serious effort to estimate the national accounts of colonial Korea, which portrays the colony as growing considerably faster than Chung’s estimate – i.e., 4% per year. A more recent and refined calculation by researchers at the Naksungdae Institute of Economic Research (full details published in Korean as Kim (2006) and English summary included in Cha and Kim (2006)) produced a somewhat slower growth rate, 3.7% per year.

Second, Chung offers a population growth estimate – 1.8% from 1904-43 – calculated from the number of residents as published in the Statistical Yearbook of the Colonial Government. This is an overestimate, because the first census taken in 1925 revealed that the pre-1925 enumeration left out a considerable number of Koreans. Projecting backwards the downward trend in mortality found in census results, Ishi (1972) argued that population expanded significantly more slowly than Chung believes – 1.4% per year from 1906-44. This, in combination with the recent output growth estimates, implies per capita output growing twice as fast as Chung claims.

Finally, drawing on paid-in capital as published in firms’ financial statements and capital spending as recorded in public accounts, Chung estimates that investment from 1905-38 amounted to 6.4 billion yen. This figure is about twice as large as the sum of investment (estimated as a spending item in the national accounts of colonial Korea) from 1911-38. Young (1995: 651) observed similar inconsistency between investment in the South Korean national accounts and capital stock in the South Korean national wealth surveys, the latter being the sum of the value of asset ownership as declared by individual firms. Then he chose to use the investment figures in the national expenditure accounts, the reason being that they are at least constrained by the production accounts, while there is no way of checking the reliability of numbers offered by firms.

Chung’s assessment of the trends in colonial living standards sounds unduly pessimistic as a result of not paying enough attention to the mortality decline occurring under Japanese rule. Incomes earned by unskilled workers and tenant farmers did fail to rise as a matter of trend, which together with rising life expectancy implies improving living standards. The mortality decline also should have been highlighted in Chapter 4 as an important aspect of human capital accumulation, in addition to the spread of modern education. Chung presents falling per capita food availability as another piece of evidence proving that the benefits of economic growth failed to trickle down to a large majority of Koreans. The downward trend may well be a figment of the overestimated population growth, however. A recent estimate of pre-1925 population (based on demographic information from genealogies) suggests a growth rate even slower than Ishi (1972) – 1.3% per year – removing the negative time trend in per capita food availability (Cha (2006)).

Justly portraying the colonial government as bringing about modern economic growth in Korea through institutional modernization, Chung at the same time launches unjustified critiques of some of its policy measures. Most primary prices fell in the late 1920s and early 1930s all over the world, which makes it implausible to attribute falling rice prices in Korea to policy interventions to stimulate rice production. The external shock (known as the interwar agricultural depression) appeared to cause a number of irrigation associations to go bankrupt. While Chung explains the debacle in terms of the colonial government enforcing wasteful investment in irrigation, investigations using financial records of individual irrigation associations found no evidence to support the assertion (Chang, et al (1992)).


Cha, Myung Soo. 2006. “Kyongje songjang, kujopyonhwa, soduk punbae,” in Nak Nyeon Kim. ed. Han’guk ui kyongje songjang 1910-1945. Seoul: Seoul National University Press.

Cha, Myung Soo and Nak Nyeon Kim. 2006. “Korea’s First Industrial Revolution,” Naksungdae Institute of Economic Research Working Paper no. 2006-3.

Chang, S. Matsumoto, T. Miyajima, H. and Rhee, Y. eds. 1992. Kundae choson suri chohap yon’gu Seoul: Ilchogak.

Ishi,Yoshikuni. 1972. Kankoku no jink? no bunseki. Tokyo: Keis? shob?.

Kim, Nak Nyeon. ed. 2006. Han’guk ui kyongje songjang 1910-1945. Seoul: Seoul National University Press.

Mizoguchi, Toshiyuki and Mataji Umemura. eds. 1988. Kyu nihon shokuminchi keizai t?kei. Tokyo: Toyo keizai shuppansha.

Suh, Sang-Chul. 1978. Growth and Structural Changes in the Korean Economy, 1910-1940. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Young, Alwyn. 1995. “The Tyranny of Numbers: Confronting the Statistical Realities of the East Asian Growth Experience.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 110 (3): 641-80.

Myung Soo Cha is Professor at School of Economics and Finance, Yeungnam University. He is currently working on the pre-colonial demographic history of Korea and the spread of modern education in colonial Korea.

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan

Author(s):Smith, Thomas C.
Reviewer(s):Saito, Osamu

Classic Reviews in Economic History

Thomas C. Smith, The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1959. xi + 250 pp.

Review Essay by Osamu Saito, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.

A Peasant Economy and the Growth of the Market

In the 1950s, when the late Professor Thomas Smith wrote this book, peasant farming was portrayed as a mode of production and livelihood incompatible with the market economy. Japan before Meiji was regarded as a typical example of such peasant economies. As Smith notes in the opening sentence of the book, this was to some extent true because “In the course of its long history, Japanese agriculture has in some respects changed remarkably little”: farming was a family enterprise, holdings tiny and fragmented, and cultivation methods simple — all features of a typical peasant society. Of course, there were some changes but they were never as dramatic as the agrarian changes the West experienced, so that for many scholars “it is tempting to dismiss as unimportant such changes as in fact have taken place.” Against this historiographical background, Smith argues in the book that the changes that actually took place in Japanese history, especially in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), were in fact of great importance. His argument is that “their central feature was a shift from cooperative to individual farming” and that “if one of its causes may be singled out as especially important, it must be the growth of the market” (pp. ix-x; emphasis added).

The book is about these changes and, based largely on a body of evidence uncovered by Japanese historians, traces their social and economic consequences. It begins with a model of the traditional village society in the seventeenth century, which is set out in Part I. At the core of village society, according to that model, was a large landholder’s domestic group. It was composed of three concentric circles with the inner one being the family of the holder, the main household. The second circle consisted of a group of relatives outside the direct line of descent, and the third circle of hereditary servants and similar subordinate persons who were related to the holder by neither blood nor marriage but were nonetheless registered as part of his family group. In every village such large holder households were not many; only a few took this form of “extended family.” Other villagers were all small holders whose family form was, according to Smith, in most cases “nuclear”; and they were in all likelihood households created by partitioning. Since the partition of family land, even when practiced, was never made on an equal footing, those “new” groups of branch-family households were bound to be small holders who had to rely on resources provided by the main household as well as the village itself. Thus the structure of the traditional village was both cooperative and hierarchical, with “clusters of interdependent interests that clung together with great force and were broken up only when competitive inducements of trade began, much later, to dissolve the internal ties” (p. 54).

Such “competitive inducements” came from market growth in the countryside, which, it is suggested, was concomitant with urban growth. Thus, Smith begins Part II with a survey of the extent of commercial farming (cultivation of cotton, indigo, mulberries, oilseeds, tobacco, and other cash crops) and farm family by-employment (spinning, reeling, weaving, straw plaiting, etc.), both of which are supposed to have spread in the rural provinces during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Then in the subsequent chapters Smith traces the consequent changes: how agricultural technology changed, how labor was transformed, how wealthy landlords emerged within the village society, and how the traditional ties between households dissolved. The underlying tendency in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was for some branch families and hereditary servants to become separate from the main household. They formed their own households. Their landholding was sometimes too small to feed themselves on the farm, but thanks to the expanding market economy, they were in all likelihood able to find either by-employment opportunities or wage jobs, or both, as former labor service was increasingly replaced by live-in servants on yearly contract, who were eventually substituted by workers employed by the day. Sometimes, especially in crisis years, they had to borrow money from large holders in the village with a parcel of land placed in pawn, which in many cases ended up with the loss of its holding right: they became tenants of the large holders. The latter half of the Tokugawa period saw their numbers increasing, but at the same time it is not unlikely that increased tenancy in turn allowed them to stay on the land. With these significant, if not revolutionary, tendencies established, Smith devotes the final chapter to relating them to the making of modern Japan, placing particular emphasis on what commercial farming and expanding labor markets taught peasants in relation to the forthcoming age of the factory.

The book’s major points, such as the supposition that the weight of non-agricultural income in the rural economy had become substantial by the early nineteenth century, have subsequently been confirmed by his own and other historians’ works (Smith 1969/88, Nishikawa 1987, Shimbo and Saito 2004). From an early twenty-first century vantage point, however, it is not surprising that the progress of research since then has made some of the other propositions no longer tenable. One such example is his description of a shift from “extended” to “nuclear” family. Each of the cooperative groups in seventeenth-century documents that he regarded as one large and complex family household was probably nothing but an estate organization accommodating several separate domestic groups together, most of which were family households in a much simpler form and possessed their own hearth and living space. As a unit of production, however, the structure of the seventeenth-century estate organization may have been not much different from what he described in the book: it was hierarchical and there were extra-economic ties between those households. On the other hand, the family form that he considered “nuclear” should now be taken to mean “stem family,” since by the term “nuclear” Smith meant a small family that had no lateral extension but tended to extend vertically. As far as the family system is concerned, therefore, there seems to have been little change throughout the Tokugawa period. What actually changed was the way in which farming was organized and its tasks carried out, which was not associated with a transformation in the system of family formation. Another point I have to make concerns the extent of urbanization and the role given to it as an engine of market growth. In the chapter on “The Growth of the Market,” Smith noted that “in the two centuries after 1600, urban population grew with astonishing speed” (p. 67). Probably it did as far as the seventeenth century is concerned, but we now know, from Smith’s own research work published later, that urban population did not grow in the one and a half centuries after 1700: Edo, Osaka and some of the castle towns even recorded a population decline. Market-led output growth — “Smithian growth” in recent terminology (named after Adam Smith) — that took place in the latter half of the Tokugawa period should now be considered “rural-centered” (Smith 1973/88; see also Shimbo and Saito 2004).

Such necessary revisions notwithstanding, The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan remains a landmark achievement in Tokugawa economic history. It is not just because the book is still very informative and makes lucid reading, but chiefly because what Smith delineated with respect to “what changed” and “what remained unchanged” is largely accurate. Given the intellectual milieu of the 1950s and the 60s, however, this publication may have been considered a book about “what changed” only — a work fitting very nicely in the framework of modernization theses such as the rise of individualism and the transition from status to contract, since the “growth of the market,” the guiding concept of the book, has long been regarded as an important component of the modernization process.

However, Smith makes several important points that do not necessarily fit with the modernization scenarios. First, he makes it clear that Tokugawa Japan’s path of agricultural progress was distinctly different from the Western one, suggesting that they would never converge on a single model. As he describes in the chapter on “Agricultural Technology,” farm output rose with the expansion of commercial farming, which was closely associated with the more intensive use of fertilizers, widening plant varieties, proliferation of farming tools, and the extension of irrigation. The irrigation work, i.e. construction of dikes, ponds, ditches, devices for lifting water into paddy fields and for other purposes, required a substantial amount of capital, much of which was provided by overlords and wealthy merchants. At the same time, however, the construction work itself required a substantial input of labor. And all the other improvements in farming methods were also labor intensive. Some individual innovations may have reduced labor requirements per unit of cultivated land, but the overall effect was to intensify the use of labor. All this made farming even more labor intensive and the unit of farming even smaller, the characteristics that remained unchanged throughout the period from Tokugawa to Meiji. To put it differently, “the character of agrarian change [in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan] … was determined as much by what did not change about farming as by what did” (p. 208; see also Ishikawa 1978, Francks 1983).

Secondly, while Smith examines in detail the rise of landlord-tenant relations and its accompanying phenomenon of increasing differentiation of landholdings within the agrarian society, and also the processes of hereditary subordinates evolving into servants for yearly wages and of service agreements becoming from long-term to short-term contracts, thus describing a long-run transition to wage labor, he never speaks of the emergence of a wage earning class of landless agricultural labors. This may be interpreted as suggesting that those tendencies, together with the above-mentioned move towards the intensification in farming and the spread of non-agricultural by-employments in the rural districts, resulted in keeping the peasantry from disintegrating itself (Saito 1986).

Thirdly, therefore, all this “kept the agricultural population a relatively homogeneous class of small peasant farmers despite the presence of landlords and obvious differences in wealth; [and] it preserved the organic unity of the village community despite the growth of a nonfarming population within it” (p. 107). In other words, the coming of commercial farming and the associated growth of labor markets in the Tokugawa period did not signal the end of a peasant economy. Rather, in the Japanese past peasant farming evolved towards more uniformity as the market grew.

Thus, this 1959 book suggested that the Tokugawa peasant household, as an integral unit of production and reproduction, had a modus operandi distinctly different from those found for other early modern agricultural populations, and also that it emerged in the process of interactions with the growth of the market. Smith addressed this research question later when he worked on demography and on the history of time discipline (Smith 1977, 1986/88). In the first, he demonstrated how the Tokugawa peasant families tried, with a dim idea of family planning, to adjust their size and composition to alternating life-cycle stages and also changing economic circumstances, and in the second, how they developed a stringent sense of time discipline within the household in order to cope with the increased intensity of labor in farming and by-employment activities and, hence, an increased need for planning over the whole farming year. This latter point implies that Meiji Japanese workers did not need to be taught time discipline in the factory, which strongly suggests that there was continuity from Tokugawa to Meiji. In the former demographic study, Smith made a strong argument that Tokugawa peasants adjusted their family size and composition by means of sex selective infanticide. This provoked a debate, but as I have commented elsewhere (Saito 1989), the gist of his entire argument was that the Tokugawa peasant family household tried hard to balance its numbers with farm size and to secure the right composition in the family workforce, for which purpose infanticide was only one of the options accessible to the family. There were some other means of demographic adjustments such as abortion and the timing of marriage-out of non-inheriting children, as well as economic ones such as sending children, both male and female, into service in the village and in cities and towns, or getting them to take up an industrial by-employment at home. Those economic opportunities increased with the growth of the market, and with changes that accelerated after the Meiji reforms. This consideration, therefore, points to another element of continuity from the early modern to the modern period, the theme already explicit in the writing of The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan.

Smith noted, retrospectively in the preface to a collection of essays he had published since the 1950s, that while writing on “how Japan became a modern society … with a generalized notion drawn from Western history of how much transformations occur,” he had “paid particular attention to factors that contributed to making modern Japanese society similar to but profoundly different from Western counterparts” (Smith 1988, p. 1; emphasis added). As such, therefore, his work collectively made a pioneering contribution to the on-going debates in global economic history.


Francks, P. (1983), Technology and Agricultural Development in Pre-war Japan, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ishikawa, S. (1978), Labour Absorption in Asian Agriculture: An Issues Paper, Bangkok: Asian Regional Programme for Employment Promotion of the International Labour Office; reprinted in S. Ishikawa (1981), Essays on Technology, Employment and Institutions in Economic Development, Tokyo: Kinokuniya, 1-149.

Nishikawa, S. (1987), “The Economy of Choshu on the Eve of Industrialization,” Economics Studies Quarterly 38 (December), 323-37.

Saito, O. (1986), “The Rural Economy: Commercial Agriculture, By-employment and Wage Work,” in M.B. Jansen and G. Rozman, eds., Japan in Transition: From Tokugawa to Meiji, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 400-420.

Saito, O. (1989), “Bringing the Covert Structure of the Past to Light: Review Article of T.C. Smith, Native Sources of Japanese Industrialization, 1750-1920,” Journal of Economic History 49 (December), 992-999.

Shimbo, H. and O. Saito (2004), “The Economy on the Eve of Industrialization,” in A. Hayami, O. Saito and R.P. Toby, eds., The Economic History of Japan, 1600-1990. I: Emergence of Economic Society in Japan, 1600-1859, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 337-68.

Smith, T.C. (1969), “Farm Family By-employments in Preindustrial Japan,” Journal of Economic History 29 (December), 687-715; reprinted in Smith (1988), 71-102.

Smith, T.C. (1973), “Pre-modern Economic Growth: Japan and the West,” Past and Present 60 (August), 127-160; reprinted in Smith (1988), 15-49.

Smith, T.C. (1977), Nakahara: Family Farming and Population in a Japanese Village, 1717-1830, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Smith, T.C. (1986), “Peasant Time and Factory Time in Japan,” Past and Present 111 (May), 165-197; reprinted in Smith (1988), 199-235.

Smith, T.C. (1988), Native Sources of Japanese Industrialization, 1750-1920, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):19th Century

The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study

Author(s):Borsch, Stuart J.
Reviewer(s):Munro, John

Published by EH.NET (March 2006)

Stuart J. Borsch, The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005. xii + 195 pp. $35 (cloth), ISBN: 0-292-70617-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by John Munro, Department of Economics, University of Toronto.

Certainly for my university students no topic in European economic history has proved to be more fascinating and engaging than that of the Black Death, especially with its late-medieval consequences. Its more general popularity is indicated by the recent spate of books on the Black Death, all of which are, of course, Eurocentric (cited below). This book, by Stuart Borsch, an Assistant Professor of History at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, will likely attract considerable interest by providing a comparative history of the demographic consequences in Mamluk Egypt, whose economic history certainly deserves to be far better known, and England, as the most obvious paradigm for such a comparison. On these grounds alone, his book should be a major contribution to the economic history literature; and despite the criticisms that follow, he has indeed supplied some valuable and most interesting new historical evidence.

Inspired by Robert Brenner’s observation (1976, 1982, 1985) that ‘different [economic and social] outcomes proceeded from similar demographic trends at different times and in different areas of Europe,’ Borsch seeks to demonstrate that the demographic consequences of the Black Death produced almost diametrically opposite results in these two countries (by ca. 1520). In England, the results, according to the author (p. 16), were that: ‘the scarcity of labor in England destroyed the remnants of the manorial system, which was replaced by [non-servile] tenant farming. Wages rose, rents and grain prices dropped, unemployment decreased, per capita incomes rose, and the economy fully recovered by the 1500.’ Except for the final observation, his conclusions are thus fully in accordance with the standard Ricardo model, which, oddly enough, is never mentioned in this book. He goes even further to contend that ‘England’s economy epitomized the most positive economic transformations that took place in Western Europe in the wake of the plagues. The impact of the plague was the antithesis of that in Egypt,’ where the economy suffered drastic and long-term contraction, rising grain prices, stable or rising rents, falling real wages and per capita incomes. Alas, I do not believe that his evidence and analyses justify these stark conclusions.

Organized in seven chapters, this study discusses the following topics: (1) the nature of the plague (bubonic), and methodological problems of demographic analyses; (2) mortality, irrigation, and landholders in Mamluk Egypt; (3) the impact of the plagues on the rural economy of Egypt; (4) the impact of the plagues on the rural economy of England; (5) the Dinar Jayshi money-of-account and agrarian output in Egypt, which is then compared to England’s contemporary agrarian outputs; (6) a re-evaluation of estimates of prices and wages in both countries; and then (7) a summary of his major conclusions (with a supplemental appendix on marginal productivity models).

Comparative history thus offers us the prospects of insights into the nature of basic historical problems that might well be ignored by a focus on one just one country or region. It has, however, the inherent disadvantage that it defies, so to speak, the law of comparative advantage: in that few historians can be masters of more than one field in order to provide the insights from specialization. Borsch, who devoted two years to archival research in Egypt, has acquired a wealth of knowledge whose results, for Mamluk Egypt, I cannot properly judge, while I must disagree with many of his conclusions about the economy of late medieval England, and thus with some of the essential comparisons that he had presented. He has, to be sure, compiled an impressive bibliography on late-medieval England, but with some curious lacuna (he is aware of my earlier but not later publications) — leaving me with a possibly unfair impression that he has cherry-picked his sources and evidence to sustain his often provocative theses.

Yet even with his own statistics, Borsch’s statement that England’s ‘economy [had] fully recovered by 1500’ cannot be taken seriously. First, in citing Mayhew (1995a), he indicates that England’s population had fallen from about 6.0 million ca. 1300 to about 2.25 million in the early 1520s. While the latter estimate is now generally accepted (see Cornwall 1970, Blanchard 1970, Campbell 1981), the former estimate of 6.0 million for 1300, which originated with several studies by Michael Postan (1950, 1959, 1966) — especially in his attack on the more modest estimates of Russell (1966) — is now in much dispute, even if it still does prevail as the majority opinion. Recent studies, devoted to the ‘Feeding the City [of London] Project’ (Campbell, Galloway, Keene and Murphy 1993, Nightingale 1996), have convinced me that the population of England ca. 1300 could not have exceeded 4.75 million, and was probably much closer to 4.0 million. Note that a modest compromise estimate of 4.5 million is still double the size of the English population in the early 1520s. If we were to entertain the higher if still conventional estimate of 6.0 million, can we seriously believe that England lost almost two-thirds of its population in the ensuing two centuries — a vastly greater demographic loss than that experienced by any other region of Europe? Can we believe that England, despite very extensive economic development in the ensuing centuries, was unable to regain that medieval level of population until the very eve of the Industrial Revolution era (with an estimated population of 6.15 million in 1756)? That 6.0 million figure is also used to estimate England’s GDP in 1300 — thus rendering this estimate highly suspect, as is the comparison with Egypt’s population, also supposedly about 6.0 million at the time of the Mamluk land survey of 1315. His admissions that ‘we do not have exact figures for Egypt’s population’ (p. 90), nor indeed any estimates for that population in the early sixteenth century, provide an even more serious problem, to be considered later.

If England’s population in the 1520s was only half (rather than just a third) of that sustained in 1300, how can anyone speak of economic recovery? The retort may be that per capita incomes had risen since the Black Death, a contention discussed below, when we must differentiate the issues of rising real incomes for those fully dependent on wages, a small minority, from the question of per capita income for society as a whole. To be sure, economists and historians continue to debate whether or not we should measure economic growth in aggregate or per capita terms. A more modern example is the debate about the comparative economic performance of France and the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century. From 1800 to 1910, the population of the UK rose almost four-fold, from 10.7 to 40.9 million (+282.2%), while France’s population rose only 45.1%, from 27.3 to 39.6 million. Defenders of the French contend that, from the 1850s, its per capita income rose at a faster rate (overall: 207% vs. 197%) — ignoring the fact that in 1910 the French per capita income was only 67.8% of the British (Crafts 1983). The more important question — for both the modern and medieval periods — is the view, held by many, that genuine economic growth is almost always accompanied by and manifested by population growth. As Ralph Davis (1973, p. 16) once reminded us, ‘the economy of modern Europe would never have come into existence on the basis of population decline.’

There are other data to refute the notion of England’s supposedly ‘complete’ economic recovery by ca. 1500, specifically concerning the woolen textile industry, whose rapid post-Plague rise Borsch cites as major evidence for English economic growth in the later Middle Ages. But he never bothers to explain why England underwent this transformation from being principally a raw material exporter (wool) to a manufacturing exporter (cloth). The answer, in fact, lies in the totally unintended, inadvertent consequences of English fiscal policies, in financing the Hundred Years War from its very outset (1337-1453): the exorbitant taxation of England’s most lucrative export and most important agricultural commodity, wool, with a ‘specific’ tax (customs and subsidy) that reached 50% of the value of wool exports by the 1390s; and the crown’s re-organization of the wool trade through a mercantile cartel (Merchants of the Calais Staple) that was designed to pass the tax incidence from domestic growers to foreign buyers — principally the woolen cloth industries of the Low Countries and Italy (for whom that tax-burdened wool accounted for over 70% of production costs). Cloth exports, on the other hand, could not be organized in such a cartelized fashion; and thus export taxes, commencing only in 1347 (and thereafter fixed until 1558), amounted to no more than 3% of cloth export values. Consequently it became economically far more advantageous to export wool in the form of manufactured cloth. Using the ratio of 4.333 broadcloths (24 yards by 1.75 yards) to one woolsack (364 lb = 165.23 kg), I have calculated that the total volume of wool exports (wool and cloth combined) fell from a mean of 154,614 sacks in 1301-10 to a mean of 142,894 sacks in 1351-60, and finally to a mean of just 93,764 sacks in 1491-1500 — a fall of 40% by volume.

One may retort that domestic wools converted into cloth exports were that much more valuable (even though wool accounted for more than 50% of the value of the cloth, even in England). Over this same period, the value of wool exports fell from a mean of ?222,051 sterling in 1301-10 to one of ?152,608 in 1351-60 to just ?43,284 in 1491-1500 — a fall of 72%, while the value of cloth exports (unrecorded before 1347) rose from a mean of ?11,160.7 in 1351-60 to ?152,179.7 in 1491-1500. That means that the combined value of exports fell from a mean of ?222,052 in 1301-10 to one of ?134,641 in 1401-10, but, while rising thereafter, had reached only a mean of ?195,464 in 1491-00 (a net decline, in nominal terms, of 12%). Since, however, Borsch prefers to measure values in terms of kilograms of pure silver, we must note that the combined value of these exports, over these two centuries, fell from 70,984.34 kg to 33,741.80 kg — a fall of 53%. In other words, to explain the difference between nominal and ‘real’ values, we must note that the pound sterling had experienced a devaluation (debasement) of 46.0% over these two centuries. Finally, in view of the obvious importance of this taxation for aggregate government revenues — the most important single source — we must note that the total value of the combined export customs on wool and cloth fell from a mean of ?65,820 in 1351-60 to one of just ?20,958 in 1491-1500 — a dramatic fall of 68%; and that is just in nominal money-of-account terms. So much for the evidence on economic growth in late-medieval England.

The author is, however, cognizant of the ongoing debate about the late-medieval economic contraction, which is often if misleadingly called the ‘great depression.’ He asks (p. 65) how anyone ‘could characterize the 1350-1500 period as a true economic depression,’ when such a phenomenon ‘entails more than a drop in total agrarian (or commercial) output because of a drop in population.’ In his rebuttal of this notion, he is evidently unaware of recent critical studies by Hatcher (1996), Nightingale (1997), and Bois (2000), all of which provide substantial evidence and analyses of regional ‘slumps’ or ‘depressions’ for the fifteenth century (if not the entire period, for all of Europe). He might have defended that proposition by citing Bannock’s Penguin Dictionary of Economics (1984, pp. 118, 373), which notes that ‘there is no official quantitative definition of a depression, as is the case with recession’ [‘a downturn in the business cycle characterised by two successive quarters of negative rates of growth in the real gross national product’]. Unfortunately Borsch then states that ‘a real economic depression includes across-the-board, not merely sectoral (i.e. grain price) deflation,’ revealing his ignorance of two prolonged periods of deflation in both England and the Low Countries: ca. 1375 – ca. 1425 (in England, a fall of 31% in the Consumer Price Index), and ca. 1440-1480 (in England, again a fall of 32% in the CPI). That ignorance is evidently explained by the complete absence of any reference to the well known and so widely used Phelps Brown and Hopkins [PBH] ‘Basket of Consumables’ Index and of their corresponding Real Wage Index (1956, 1957). Their subsequent publication (1981) of the price series for six commodity groups clearly reveals that the decline in prices during these two periods, if not exactly in tandem, was general, and certainly not confined to grains (analyzed with revised data in Munro 2005).

This leads me to my most serious criticism of the book: Borsch’s comparative analyses of real outputs (GDP) and real wages in the late-medieval English and Egyptian economies. As indicated earlier, his comparisons involve the use of prices, values, and outputs expressed in grams of pure silver. To be sure, there may be cases in comparative economic history when there is no alternative to their use — certainly we cannot compare levels in the nominal values of two entirely different moneys-of-account, all the more so when their changes within Egypt itself have not been fully explored and explained. The author is also aware of controversies concerning the use of silver values, but he does not take full account of two other major objections: (1) that in seeking to compensate for the effects of coinage debasements, the use of silver-gram values distort the changes by two false assumptions: (a) that the expansion of the money supply is directly proportional (though inversely so) to the percentage change in the silver contents of the coinage; and that (b) any ensuing rise in prices (inflation) is directly proportional to the increase in the money supply — i.e., implicitly adopting the fallacy of the crude quantity theory of money; and (2) that the purchasing power of silver remains constant over long periods of time, when in fact it often changed radically (in terms of gold:silver ratios, from: 12:1 in the 1270s to 16:1 in the 1320s, falling to 9:1 in the 1380s, then rising to 12:1 by the 1450s, and to 15 or 16:1 by the 1660s).

The author’s most interesting and certainly most original statistical calculations are for Egypt’s gross domestic product in two years, virtually two centuries apart: those for 1315 (from a cadastral survey undertaken by the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad) and for 1517 (estimates made by Ibn Iyas, just following the Ottoman conquest of Mamluk Egypt). These intricate calculations based on a wide variety of evidence, involving extrapolations from later documents (1597 and nineteenth century), occupy a central portion of the book, and rightly so. Borsch states that, in making these comparisons, his major contribution was in ascertaining the true value of the dinar jayshi unit of account, which he reckons to be equal to 13.333 dirhams nuqra (evidently containing 26.4 grams of fine silver); but I have to note that the connection between his source, a document dated 1169, and the 1317 cadastral survey seems tenuous. For this 1317 survey, he estimates that the total value of aggregate agrarian output was 1,009,568.5 kg of silver (or 108,350.1 kg of gold); and that of the entire GDP (if agrarian output accounted for 75%) was 1,346, 091.5 kg of silver (144,467.1 kg of gold). For the second economic survey, in 1517, he does not dare to provide estimates of the Egyptian GDP but only the values of total agrarian output: whose valued is calculated to be 489,514.1 kg of silver or 42,120.6 kg of gold. At least implicitly concerned about the problem of changes in the relative values (bimetallic ratios) and purchasing power of the two metals, he offers an alternative comparison in terms of a grain unit called the ardabb (= 165 liters): an output of 38,337,056 ardabbs (= 63,256,142 hectoliters) in 1315; and one of 15,993,603 ardabbs in 1517 — or so he tells us. Unfortunately, however, that latter calculation involves a very major blunder. For he first calculates the value of the aggregate agrarian output in the gold-based money of account, the dinar ashrafi (3.45g of fine gold), providing an estimate of 12,208,857.1 dinars. Then, estimating that the mean value of the three principal grains (wheat, barley, broad beans) was 1.31 dinars, he calculates the total output in ardabbs of these grains by multiplying the two figures. Of course, he should have divided 12,208,857.1 dinars ashrafi by 1.31 to get the proper estimate: 9,326,858.0 ardabbs (= 15,389,315.7 hectoliters of grain). Next, in this exercise, but using values only in terms of gold and ardabbs, he informs us that the overall decline in total agrarian output, from 1315 to 1517, was the following: 61% in terms of gold and 58% in terms of grain ardabbs (Tables 5.14-15, p. 83). The comforting closeness of these two percentages naturally convinces Borsch that his complicated methodology has been fully vindicated. Unhappily, the opposite is true when we realize how different the percentage changes in these three variables are: in terms of silver kilograms (which he ignores), a decline of 51.1%; in terms of gold, 61.1%; and in terms of actual ardabbs 76.7%.

To make matters even worse, he then compares these estimates of agrarian output in 1517 with those of the later Ottoman survey of 1596-97. The data from the latter are as follows: 17,299,090 ardabbs of grain (28,543, 498.5 hectoliters) — for an increase of 85.5% (not the 8% increase stated in his text, on p. 87); 294,085.0 kg of fine silver — for a decline of 39.9%; and 16,388.0 kg of fine gold — for a decline of 61.2%. Even accounting for the price changes and changes in bimetallic ratios that accompanied the massive increases in precious metals (from South Germany, the Americas, and Africa) during the inflationary Price Revolution era, we would have great difficulties in explaining why these statistics — for grain units and the two precious metals — differ so radically.

His major comparison is, of course, with GDP estimates for England, in two years: 1300 and 1526, specifically chosen because relevant data had been supplied in Mayhew’s aforementioned article (1995a). Mayhew had speculated — with no real evidence supplied — that England’s GDP in 1300 could be valued at ?4.66 million sterling; and as Mayhew himself admitted, his estimate is based ‘on the assumption that population stood at about 6 million in 1300, [and] perhaps 2.3 million in 1526,’ for which year he estimates a GDP value of ?5.0 million, when the Price Revolution was underway, to ‘allow for that price rise and permit a modest improvement in per capita living standards’ (Mayhew 1995a, pp. 248, 250). Thus if, in the light of the previous discussion on the demographic controversy, we were to reduce the GDP for 1300 by one third, i.e., for a revised population estimate of 4.0 million, would we also have to change the GDP estimate for 1526? Mayhew (followed by Borsch), however, provides a somewhat less speculative estimate of the GDP for 1470 – at ?3.437 million sterling (based on Mayhew 1995b and Dyer 1989) — with the further assumption that England’s population was then also 2.3 million. One may comment that these data provide too weak a foundation to make comparisons with the Egyptian data on GDP; but neither Borsch nor anyone else has alternative data to work with. Beggars cannot be choosers in medieval economic history, as my mentor (Robert Lopez) once told me.

In view of Borsch’s persistent insistence on using silver values, we might assume that he would compare the changes in the English GDP, between 1300 and 1526, in terms of precious metals. Instead, he accepts Mayhew’s estimate of the ‘deflated’ value of the GDP for 1526 — and, in terms of Mayhew’s use of the Fisher Identity (M x V = P x y, for which ‘y’ is real GDP), the price index (P) used is, of course, the Phelps Brown and Hopkins index (for which the mean of prices in the basket for 1451-75 = 100, as the base). Mayhew has not, however, used the price index for the specific years concerned but rather an arithmetic mean of the ten years ending in the specified year (i.e., 1291-1300, and 1517-26). In view of the often significant fluctuations in the annual price index — especially around 1300 — the value for the P-deflator can vary widely according to the years chosen for the mean. Indeed why not choose the five years before and after the years concerned to calculate the mean value for P? If that method had been chosen, the P value for 1300, for example, would have been 97.64 (or, 96.16 by my revised, corrected version of the PBH index), instead of Mayhew’s (and Borsch’s) value of 104.8. By the Mayhew method, the deflated value of the GDP for 1526 (when the P value is given as 135.1) is ?3.88 million — and that indicates a decline of 16.9% from the value of ?4.66 million in 1300.

Thus, according to Borsch, the English experience compares very favorably with the Egyptian economy, which had suffered such severe decline, over about the same period: a view based Borsch’s miscalculated estimate of 58% for grain outputs — or the alternative ones of 51.5%, for silver values; or 61.3%, for gold; or the true one of 75.7%, for grain volumes. Suppose that we now calculate the changes in the GDP values in terms of precious metals. This time we must do so in silver, because England had been monometallic in 1300, striking its first gold coins only in 1344 (if we ignore Henry III’s abortive gold penny of 1257). Borsch provides estimates of the 1300 GDP in those terms (Table 5.11, p. 80): 1,487,472 kg of silver (1,489,685.1 is the true figure) and 114,421 kg of gold based on an estimated contemporary bimetallic ratio of 13:1 (Spufford, 1986). He does not, however, do so for 1526, when we may calculate that the estimated ?5.0 million GDP was then equivalent to just 767,219.8 kg of silver (or 68,758.9 kg of gold). In terms of silver kg, that means an overall decline, from 1300 to 1526, of 48.5%; and that is in accordance with the estimated decline of 51.5% for the Egyptian GDP over this same period, when also measured in silver kg (a comparison not involving changes in purchasing power, except for regional differences in the bimetallic ratio). In other words, the much vaunted contrast in the two countries’ overall economic fortunes, i.e., in the declines of their aggregate outputs (agrarian only for Egypt), now disappears.

Borsch is, however, on a much stronger ground in comparing prices, wages, and living standards — at least the real incomes for those totally dependent on money wages (a very small minority in both countries) — over these two centuries. Indeed, his major and much valued contribution lies in providing Egyptian wheat prices for the periods 1300-1346 and 1440-1487 (Tables 6.1-2, pp. 93-95), and of wages (for custodians, doorkeepers, water-carriers, and readers, though for very few years: Tables 6.10-12, pp. 106-07). They are provided in terms of both moneys-of-account (dirhams and dinars) and in grams of silver and gold. If much of the data come from already published sources — Ashtor’s publications (1949, 1969) being particularly important — a considerable amount comes from primary Arabic sources, and indeed from his own archival research. Certainly most readers will be quite unfamiliar with these data. The English prices — grain prices only — and wages of building craftsmen come primarily from Farmer (1991; but Farmer’s publications of 1957, 1983, and 1988 are surprisingly not cited), a problematic source. For unfortunately Farmer provides annual means based on manorial data from a variety of regions; and his wage data also suffer from a ‘compositional fallacy’ (as do the data in Beveridge 1936, 1955) in that wages for craftsmen of different skills are averaged, producing spurious fluctuations — readily observable in Farmer’s tables — that are based on changes in the composition and location of the workforce. He should have adopted the wage data for building craftsmen that Phelps Brown and Hopkins (1955) had produced: principally for one region — small towns in southeastern England — using the prevailing standard wage for senior master craftsmen and their laborers (at Oxford, an unchanging daily wage of 6d, for masters, and 4d for journeymen, from 1363 to 1536). But, as noted earlier, he seems to be unaware of their publications and thus of their price, wage, and real-wage indexes, for the period 1264-1954.

While the PBH data therefore are urban, Farmer’s data are not just rural, but manorial (providing other inherent problems); and undoubtedly we now need a proper survey of both sets of wages, with comparisons for London from the 1360s. There is, it must be noted, a very compelling reason why our analysis of real-wage changes is based on the experiences of European building craftsmen. For they are one of the very few groups that have left us with fairly continuous evidence of money wages paid for time-work — by the day or week; for most wage earners in medieval and early modern Europe were paid by piece-work, a far more difficult measure, even when some continuous evidence exists.

Borsch’s long term view, and comparisons of prices and wages in the two countries, when based on ‘snapshots’ of the early fourteenth and the late fifteenth centuries, is basically correct: grain prices in England had fallen, while those in Egypt had risen; and conversely, real wages in England had risen, while those for Egypt had fallen. He may also be correct in his assumption that agricultural land rents had also finally fallen in England (though many individual landlords were clearly better off), while remaining stable in Egypt.

His methods of calculation, however, leave much to be desired, especially for England, for which better alternative methods are available. Thus, in comparing the mean wages for English carpenters for the two periods 1300-1347 and 1440-90, he shows an 80% rise in nominal terms — from 3.068d to 5.516d; but, when those wages are measured in grams of silver, they show a decline of 3% (from 1021.64 g to 994.95g). Surely that should reveal the folly of measuring price and wages changes in silver grams; for indisputably their real wages had indeed risen.

To be fair, Borsch does, of course, fully realize that the proper measure of real wages is the purchasing power of the money wage in terms of the artisan’s standard consumer goods. But he makes his calculations only in terms of liters of wheat, for both Egypt and England, for the two periods 1300-50 and 1440-90. For English building craftsmen, his Table 6.15 (p.108) shows an overall rise of 102%, but a fall of 80% for the above-named Egyptian wage-earners. As one may well observe, ‘man lives not by bread alone.’ The great advantage of the Phelps Brown and Hopkins ‘basket of consumables’ composite price index is its weighting, based on consumption patterns in late-medieval household accounts: in which grains (wheat, rye, barley, peas) account for 20%; meat and fish, for 25%; dairy products, for 12.5%; drink, for 22.5%; textiles, for 12.5%; and fuel, for 7.5%. Van der Wee (1966, 1975) has found that these weights correspond to his evidence for household consumption in early-modern Brabant and has thus modeled his price index on this model, as have I for Flanders (Munro 2003, 2005). These price indexes for the Low Countries also permit us to compute the money-of-account value of the total basket of goods, year by year, and thus the number of baskets that master building craftsmen and their laborers could purchase with a year’s money wage income (based on 210 days of employment, for reasons given in our publications — while Borsch chooses a work-year of 250 days).

Phelps Brown and Hopkins, however, presented their data only in disembodied index numbers (1451-75 = 100); and they calculated the real wage index by the standard, almost universal formula: Real Wage Index = Nominal Wage Index/ Composite Price Index (RWI = NWI/CPI). Having acquired access to the complete set of working papers (Archives, British Library of Political and Economic Science), and the detailed calculations used in the construction of the Phelps Brown and Hopkins price index, I computed the value of each component in their basket (22 commodities) and thus the total value of the basket, in silver pence sterling, for every year from 1264 to 1700. Those calculations thus allowed me to compute the real wage in the same fashion: i.e., the number of such baskets that masters and journeymen could purchase each year (with 210 days of money-wage income).

When examined on an annual and on a quinquennial (five-year) basis, these real-wage data reveal a number of surprises — which do not support the standard Ricardo-based view, nor, therefore, Borsch’s view, on what happened to prices and wages in England following the Black Death. First, comparing mean prices for the 25-year periods before the Black Death (1323-1347) and after (1348-1372), we find that they rose, not fell. The mean value of the bread-grain component of the PBH basket rose by 26.25% (from a mean of 22.298d sterling to one of 28.152d); but most of this rise was inflation, for the value of the total PBH basket rose by 25.59%: from a mean of 114.386d (CPI: 101.41) to one of 143.657d (CPI: 127.35). Thus some portion of the grain-price rise was ‘real’: and its share of the PBH basket rose slightly from 19.49% to 19.60%. The even more striking behavior of prices took place in the next quarter century, from 1373 to 1397: when grain prices, in nominal terms, plummeted by 29.70%, from a mean of 28.152d to one of 21.706d. Again, some of change was due to monetary factors; for there was general deflation: a 29.4% fall from the peak CPI of 134.95 in 1376 to the trough of 95.25 in 1395. But since, in our two 25-year comparison periods (1348-1372 and 1373-1397), the mean value of the PBH basket fell only 17.23% — from a mean value of 143.657d (CPI: 127.35) to one of 122.540d (CPI: 108.63), the much steeper fall in grain prices had a considerable ‘real’ component. Thus the grain component of the total consumer basket fell from 19.60% to 17.71%, over this same 50-year period. Similar declines in real prices can be shown for other agrarian commodities, especially for wool.

The behavior of these prices, both nominal and ‘real’ (or deflated), may help us to understand better the seemingly perplexing behavior of real wages. Certainly nominal wages did rise after the Black Death, but the rise of those for building craftsmen was relatively greater in urban than in rural (manorial) areas; and for both, the nominal wage increases failed to keep pace with inflation, until the mid-1370s. For such master building craftsmen, in Oxford, Cambridge, and other small towns of southeastern England, mean annual real wage incomes, when measured in PBH ‘baskets of consumables’ fell from a peak of 7.482 baskets in 1336-40 (RWI = 66.9, when 1451-75 = 100) to a low of 5.200 baskets in 1351-55 (RWI = 46.55) : i.e., real wages for such building craftsmen were falling both before and after the Black Death; and despite some subsequent recovery, real wages were still below the earlier peak as late as 1371-75: with a mean of just 7.310 baskets (RWI = 65.44). Thereafter real wages, in these terms, did rise sharply to reach a late-medieval peak of 12.066 baskets in 1441-45 (RWI = 108.02) — a 132.0% rise over the post-Plague nadir; in 1496-1500, the annual mean was still quite high, at 11.336 baskets).

The rise, over this same period, in the real wages of their journeymen laborers was even more striking: a rise of 209.38%: from the nadir of 2.600 baskets in 1351-55 to the peak of 8.044 baskets in 1441?-45. For indeed, in these small English towns, the average journeymen’s daily wage rose from just one half to two-thirds of the master’s wage over this period (4d vs. 6d daily for most of the fifteenth century) — a change not observed in Flanders where the journeymen’s money wage remained at one half of the master’s (Munro 2005). Borsch, in noting the peculiar rise of an English thatcher’s helper (journeymen) is evidently unaware of this more general, if peculiarly English, phenomenon.

Not all laborers, however, enjoyed such a change into prosperity. Thus on the Bishop of Winchester’s Taunton manor, senior hired day laborers, while enjoying a tripling in their nominal wage, from 1.0d in 1348 to 3.0d in 1354, subsequently saw that rate fall back to 1.0d per day in 1364, where it generally remained until this wage series ends in 1415. Their real wage thus fell sharply with the continuing inflation, until the mid 1370s, and while experiencing some recovery with the ensuing deflation, their real wage in the early fifteenth century (to 1415) was only about 35-40% of that then enjoyed by the small-town journeymen laborers in the construction trades (see Munro 2003).

Borsch’s explanation for the rise in real wages for English building craftsmen, though based on just a comparison of two ‘snapshots’ for the early fourteenth and the later fifteenth centuries, is a standard one that will command almost universal support: namely, a steep rise in labor productivity, as the obvious and seemingly inevitable consequence of radical depopulation and the consequent alteration of the land: labor ratio — if we assume that England was still overpopulated on the eve of the Black Death. As Keynes (1936, p. 5) has reminded us, a basic postulate of Classical Economics is that ‘the wage is equal to the marginal product of labor’ — though it is more accurate to define that equality as the marginal revenue product of labor. One problem thus arises: if the marginal productivity of agricultural labor rose but the marginal revenue product declined, with falling grain prices, would the result for wage determination be a wash?

There is yet another problem: for several recent studies — by Farmer (1996), Raftis (1996), and Stone (1997, 2001, 2003) — indicate that the marginal productivity of labor in the arable economy fell, while the marginal of labor in pastoral farming (especially for sheep) rose significantly. In recent publications (Munro 1983, 2003, 2005), in seeking to explain the behavior of prices and wages described above, I have called into question the marginal-productivity of labor theory to explain changes in real-wages. For, to argue, in micro-economics, that a rational profit-seeking employer will hire labor to the point that its marginal revenue product equals the prevailing wage is different from a more macro-economic explanation for wages that prevail across an entire economic sector.

My observation, in those two recent studies, was that the rise in real wages for building craftsmen in both late-medieval England and the southern Low Countries was a phenomenon that is generally — if not fully — explained by a combination of institutional wage-stickiness and a deflation induced chiefly by monetary factors: i.e., that nominal wages (in silver coin), having risen, though not in tandem the post-Plague inflation, then remained rigid while the cost of living fell. Phelps Brown and Hopkins (1956) also observed that, calling it the ‘ratchet effect,’ while correctly noting that in England nominal money wages, having fallen by 25% during the later 1330s and early 1340s (but less so than did prices), never again fell, over the ensuing six centuries, until the post-WWI depression, in 1921. There is no space to discuss this complex issue further in this review, other than to note that often rapid oscillations in real wage measures and indices — almost always accompanying oscillations in the price level — cannot logically be explained by any such sudden shifts in the marginal productivity of labor. Yet, in making regional comparisons of changes in real wages over long periods of time we may have to call upon a broader concept of productivity: namely, changes in total factor productivity (land, labor, capital), particularly in so far as those changes may explain changes in real commodity prices, especially those involved in a wage-earner’s cost of living index.

Finally, I must also make another major observation in comparing the behavior of real wages for building craftsmen in late medieval England and the very much more limited group of Egyptian tradesmen: namely the fact that, at least from the later fourteenth century (but not after the Plague), agricultural prices and thus the cost of living fell in England while such prices and costs rose in Egypt. Of course, we would like to know why; but Borsch does not provide such a full explanation (other than one based on falling productivity in agriculture, with perhaps limited foreign trade) — and probably no one else can adequately explain why the real cost of foodstuffs did experience such a significant rise in fifteenth-century Mamluk Egypt.

The relative behavior of agricultural prices and wages (and interest rates, if we had the evidence) has one more point of relevance for this review. Borsch attributes the decay of English manorialism and serfdom, from the later fourteenth century, in much the same way as does Brenner (1976, 1982): as a victory of communal open-field peasants who, when feudal landlords became economically and politically weaker, especially in losing support from the monarchy, were finally able to exercise a greater degree of market power in bidding down rents and bidding up wages. But a more complete explanation should involve economic rationality on the part of such landlords, who in now experiencing adverse changes in both falling agricultural prices (both grains and wool) and in rising costs gave up their former reliance on Gutsherrschaft: i.e., a manorial regime with a significant income component from market-oriented domain production of these commodities. Some historians (Holmes 1957, pp. 85-120; Britnell 1990) contend that during the post-Plague era of high agricultural prices, gentry and feudal landlords may have increased their share of the national income (though evidence on rents and profits is very thin). Thus, from the later 1370s to the 1440s, we find an increasing manorial shift to Grundsherrschaft: i.e., a manorial regime far more based on peasant rental incomes. In carving up their already shrunken domains into peasant leaseholds, thereby also dispensing with whatever labor services and other servile obligations that had remained, English landlords probably did improve the position of some peasants — especially those with enough capital to work their extra lands. At the same time, of course, many such landlords benefited in the sense that these leasehold provided a more stable rental incomes, when agricultural prices and profits were falling; and thus with deflation, their real values rose. At the same time, however, as Campbell (2005) has recently demonstrated, Borsch, along with many other historians, has exaggerated the extent and burden of servile obligations imposed on the English peasantry before the Black Death.

Where does the Black Death itself enter this book and the review? Borsch has really very little new to say about the Plague itself, whose actual and direct consequences in Egypt still remain unknown. Furthermore, the timing of his publication is unfortunate in that three major and very important books on the Black Death have just recently appeared: those by Cohn (2003), Benedictow (2004), and Kelly (2005). Cohn has contended, with a massive amount of evidence, that the Black Death, the so-called Second Pandemic (1347-1720), was vastly different from the bubonic plague that was experienced in Asia during the so-called Third Pandemic (1894-c.1947): that the medieval Black Death spread with far, far greater rapidity, and was so much more virulent and lethal, killing a far higher proportion of the afflicted populations in Asia and Europe. If the mortality from the Black Death (initial onslaught) was perhaps 40% or more, the twentieth century mortality was no more than 5% in afflicted regions. Therefore, Cohn concludes that it could not have been bubonic plague, i.e., Yersinia pestis, the bacillus now spread by rodent fleas, according to the now standard view, and one uncritically repeated by Benedictow (2004). But Cohn does not compare it with the First Pandemic, the so-called Justinian Plague (sixth to ninth centuries), so well described as ‘bubonic’ (????”?????????) plague by Procopius, historian of Emperor Justinian (r. 527-65) and his Constantinople Prefect (see the Dewing edition 1961); nor can Cohn even suggest what this disease really was.

Borsch, if evidently unaware of Cohn’s book, nevertheless is cognizant of the problems posed by comparisons of the Second and Third Pandemics. He credibly suggests that the Second Pandemic was a manifestation of a possibly mutant, certainly peculiar and extremely virulent form of Yersinia pestis, as does, most recently, Kelly (2005). Yet neither can adequately explain how the Black Death literally ‘spread like wildfire,’ especially given Cohn’s cogent arguments as to why such a medieval transmission by rat fleas (if they could not survive without their rat hosts) was virtually impossible; but Borsch, citing Biraben (1975-76), does suggest that the human flea (Pulex irritans) may have been the prime medieval (if not modern) vector.

For Mamluk Egypt itself, apart from some fascinating anecdotal commentaries, Borsch is unable — given the paucity of evidence — to analyze the actual economic and social consequences of the Black Death. He does, however, offer a cogent and interesting thesis. Emphasizing that agricultural prosperity in Egypt had depended on a costly and complex irrigation system, based on networks of dikes, sluice-gates, and canals fed by the Blue and White Nile river systems — with very large amounts of fixed capital and land stocks, Borsch contends that depopulation from the Black Death ultimately led to severe and destructive shortages of labor — and to severe reductions in the marginal productivity of labor (i.e., proceeding in a backward direction on the ascending slope of the marginal product curve). Consequently, over ensuing decades, the required dredging, repairs, and general maintenance of this irrigation system could not be maintained, with disastrous results for Mamluk Egypt’s agricultural production.

That plight has to be understood in the context of Mamluk social structures and landholding; for the Mamluks, a military aristocracy who were, by origin, imported Asian slaves, were totally unlike that of medieval England: a non-hereditary fluid social caste, with very insecure ties to their landed estates, with rapid property turnovers, dependent on rendering service and maintaining military-political alliances; a military aristocracy that chiefly lived in towns, apart from their estates, rarely speaking the Arabic language of their peasant tenants, and caring little about their welfare. Furthermore, as indicated earlier, Borsch believes that so many of these peasants were victims of steadily declining productivity and outputs, and thus of falling real incomes, while forced by the state-supported Mamluk military aristocracy to pay even higher rents; and thus they were unable to contribute to the maintenance of the irrigation system (which also had some classic ‘free rider’ problems). To cite Borsch’s summary (p. 52): ‘By the mid fifteenth century, Egypt’s agrarian system had been badly damaged. The irrigation system was functioning poorly in many areas and lay in ruins in others. Badly damaged systems were overrun by Bedouin tribes: large sections of Upper Egypt [by far the more fertile region] and the eastern and western sections of the delta lay in Bedouin hands.’ The documentation of the drastic fall in outputs, from 1315 to 1517, has been discussed above. As also noted earlier, however, the greatest difficulty that Borsch and other historians of Mamluk Egypt have faced is the lack of any reliable demographic statistics. While one may assume, from the experience of the Black Death elsewhere, a possibly drastic fall in population, are we to believe that the combination of labor scarcity and the structure of Mamluk landholding provide the only explanation? What roles, for examples, may Mamluk fiscal policies, the nature and changes in taxation, public and private investment in agriculture, etc., have played during the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries? Perhaps those questions cannot be answered, though they should be posed to suggest a possible framework of alternative models.

As one of my colleagues, an economic historian of Mamluk Egypt, and one who has read this book as well, has commented to me: Borsch ‘tries to break out of the mold and offer a new insight. The Mamluk period is the only one which offers any hope of computation, but as you can see, it is difficult to carve out any solid evidence.’ The author does deserve, despite the criticisms in this review, to be commended for the very considerable and arduous research devoted to this study, handicapped of course, in comparison to historians of medieval England, with such paucity of reliable evidence. If this form of comparative economic history did not prove to be the author’s strong suit, nevertheless his dedicated scholarship and contributions in particular to Mamluk economic history (which others may judge better than I) are to be commended.

List of References:

Eliyahu Ashtor, ‘Prix et salaires ? l’?poque mamlouke: une ?tude sur l’?tat ?conomique de l’Egypte et de la Syrie ? la fin du Moyen Age,’ Revue des ?tudes islamiques, 17 (1949), 49-94.

Eliyahu Ashtor, Histoire des prix et des salaires dans l’Orient m?dievale (Paris: SEVPEN, 1969).

G. Bannock, R. E. Baxter, and R. Rees, The Penguin Dictionary of Economics, third edition (London: Penguin Books, 1984).

Ole J. Benedictow, The Black Death, 1346-1353: The Complete History (New York: Boydell Press, 2004).

William Beveridge, ‘Wages in the Winchester Manors,’ Economic History Review, 1st ser., 7 (1936-37), 22-43.

William Beveridge, ‘Westminster Wages in the Manorial Era,’ Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 8 (1955-56), 18-35.

J.N. Biraben, Les hommes et la peste en France et dans les pays europ?ens et m?diterran?es, 2 volumes (Paris and The Hague, 1975-76).

Ian Blanchard, ‘Population Change, Enclosure, and the Early Tudor Economy,’ Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 23:3 (December 1970), 427-45.

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Robert Brenner, ‘Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe,’ Past and Present, no. 70 (February 1976), pp. 30-74,

Robert Brenner, ‘Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe: The Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism,’ Past and Present, no. 97 (Nov. l982), 16-113, which is a very lengthy reply to all of his critics. Both are reprinted in T. H. Aston and C. H. E. Philpin, eds. The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 10-63 and 213-27.

Richard H. Britnell, ‘Feudal Reaction after the Black Death in the Palatinate of Durham,’ Past and Present, no. 128 (August 1990), pp. 28-47.

Bruce M. S. Campbell, ‘The Population of Early Tudor England: A Re-evaluation of the 1522 Muster Returns and the 1524 and 1525 Lay Subsidies,’ Journal of Historical Geography, 7 (1981), 145-54.

Bruce M.S. Campbell, ‘Matching Supply to Demand: Crop Production and Disposal by English Demesnes in the Century of the Black Death,’ Journal of Economic History, 57: 4 (December 1997), 827-58.

Bruce M.S. Campbell, ‘The Agrarian Problem in the Early Fourteenth Century,’ Past and Present, no. 188 (August 2005), pp. 3-70.

Bruce M.S. Campbell, James A. Galloway, Derek Keene, and Margaret Murphy, A Medieval Capital and Its Grain Supply: Agrarian Production and Distribution in the London Region c. 1300, Institute of British Geographers, Historical Geography Research Series no. 30 (London, 1993).

Samuel Cohn, Jr., The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe (London: Arnold, 2002; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Julian Cornwall, ‘English Population in the Early Sixteenth Century,’ Economic History Review, 2nd ser. 23:1 (April 1970), 32-44.

Nicholas Crafts, ‘Gross National Product in Europe, 1870-1910: Some New Estimates,’ Explorations in Economic History, 20 (October 1983), 387-401.

Ralph Davis, The Rise of the Atlantic Economies (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1973).

H.B. Dewing, ed., Procopius: History of the Wars, Books I and II, in Greek and English translation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), pp. 450-73.

Christopher Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1989).

David L. Farmer, ‘Some Grain Price Movements in Thirteenth-Century England,’ Economic History Review, 2nd ser. 10 (1957), 207-20.

David L. Farmer, ‘Crop Yields, Prices and Wages in Medieval England,’ Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, new series, 6 (1983), 115-55.

David L. Farmer, ‘Prices and Wages,’ in H. E. Hallam, ed., The Agrarian History of England and Wales, Vol. II: 1042-1350 (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 715-817.

David L. Farmer, ‘Prices and Wages, 1350-1500,’ in Edward Miller, ed., The Agrarian History of England and Wales, Vol. III: 1348-1500 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 431-525.

David L. Farmer, ‘The Famuli in the Later Middle Ages,’ in Richard Britnell and John Hatcher, eds., Progress and Problems in Medieval England: Essays in Honour of Edward Miller (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 207-36

H. E. Hallam, ‘Population Movements in England, 1086-1350,’ and ‘Rural England and Wales, 1042 ?1350,’ in H. E. Hallam, ed., The Agrarian History of England and Wales, II: 1042-1350 (Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 508-93, and 966-1008.

John Hatcher, “The Great Slump of the Mid-Fifteenth Century,” in Richard Britnell and John Hatcher, eds., Progress and Problems in Medieval England (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 237-72.

G.A. Holmes, The Estates of the Higher Nobility in Fourteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1957).

John Kelly, The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time (New York: Harper Collins, 2005).

John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (London, 1936)

Nicholas J. Mayhew, ‘Modelling Medieval Monetisation,’ in Bruce M.S. Campbell and Richard Britnell, eds., A Commercialising Economy: England, 1086-1300 (Manchester, 1995), pp. 55-77.

Nicholas J. Mayhew, ‘Population, Money Supply, and the Velocity of Circulation in England, 1300-1700,’ Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 48:2 (May 1995), 238-57.

John Munro, ‘Bullion Flows and Monetary Contraction in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries,’ in John F. Richards, ed., Precious Metals in the Later Medieval and Early Modern Worlds (Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 1983), pp. 97-158. Reprinted in the following:

John Munro, Bullion Flows and Monetary Policies in England and the Low Countries, 1350 – 1500, Variorum Collected Studies series CS 355 (Aldershot, Hampshire; and Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 1992)

John Munro, ‘Wage Stickiness, Monetary Changes, and Real Incomes in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries, 1300-1500: Did Money Matter?’ Research in Economic History, 21 (2003), 185-297.

John Munro, ‘Builders’ Wages in Southern England and the Southern Low Countries, 1346 -1500: A Comparative Study of Trends in and Levels of Real Incomes,’ in Simonetta Caviococchi, ed., L’Edilizia prima della rivoluzione industriale, secc. XIII-XVIII, Atti delle “Settimana di Studi” e altri convegni, no. 36, Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica “Francesco Datini” (Florence, 2005), pp. 1013-76.

Pamela Nightingale, ‘The Growth of London in the Medieval English Economy,’ in Richard Britnell and John Hatcher, eds., Progress and Problems in Medieval England (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 89-106.

Pamela Nightingale, ‘England and the European Depression of the Mid-Fifteenth Century,’ Journal of European Economic History, 26: 3 (Winter 1997), 631-56.

Pamela Nightingale, ‘Some New Evidence of Crises and Trends of Mortality in Late Medieval England,’ Past and Present, no. 187 (May 2005), pp. 33-68.

E. H. Phelps Brown, and Sheila V. Hopkins, ‘Seven Centuries of Building Wages,’ Economica, 22:87 (August 1955), 195-206: reprinted in E.M. Carus-Wilson, ed., Essays in Economic History, 3 vols. (London, 1954-62), II, 168-78, 179-96, and in E.H. Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins, A Perspective of Wages and Prices (London, 1981), pp. 1-12.

E. H. Phelps Brown, and Sheila V. Hopkins, ‘Seven Centuries of the Prices of Consumables, Compared with Builders’ Wage Rates,’ Economica, 23:92 (November 1956), 296-314: reprinted in E.M. Carus-Wilson, ed., Essays in Economic History, 3 vols. (London, 1954-62), II, 168-78, 179-96, and in E.H. Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins, A Perspective of Wages and Prices (London, 1981), pp. 13-59 (with commodity price indexes not in the original publication).

Michael Postan, ‘Some Economic Evidence of Declining Population in the Later Middle Ages,’ Economic History Review, 2nd ser. 2 (1950), 130-67; reprinted in his Essays on Medieval Agriculture and General Problems of the Medieval Economy (Cambridge, 1973), pp.186-213 (the latter, with the revised title of ‘Some Agrarian Evidence of Declining Population in the Later Middle Ages.’)

Michael Postan and J.Z. Titow, ‘Heriots and Prices on Winchester Manors,’ Economic History Review, 2nd ser. 11 (1959); reprinted in Michael Postan, Essays on Medieval Agriculture (Cambridge, 1973), pp. 150-85.

Michael Postan, ‘Medieval Agrarian Society: England,’ in Cambridge Economic History, Vol. I: The Agrarian Life of the Middle Ages, ed. M. M. Postan (2nd rev. edn. 1966), 560-70.

Ambrose Raftis, ‘Peasants and the Collapse of the Manorial Economy on Some Ramsey Abbey Estates,’ in Richard Britnell and John Hatcher, eds., Progress and Problems in Medieval England: Essays in Honour of Edward Miller (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 191-206.

J.C. Russell, ‘The Pre-Plague Population of England,’ Journal of British Studies, 5 (1966), 1-21.

Peter Spufford, Handbook of Medieval Exchange (London: Royal Historical Society, 1986).

David Stone, ‘The Productivity of Hired and Customary Labour: Evidence from Wisbech Barton in the Fourteenth Century,’ Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 50:4 (November 1997), 640-56.

David Stone, ‘Medieval Farm Management and Technological Mentalities: Hinderclay Before the Black Death,’ Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 54:4 (November 2001), 612-38.

David Stone, ‘The Productivity and Management of Sheep in Late Medieval England,’ Agricultural History Review, 51: I (2003), 1-22.

Herman Van der Wee, ‘Voeding en dieet in het Ancien R?gime,’ Spiegel Historiael, 1 (1966), 94-101, republished in translation as ‘Nutrition and Diet in the Ancien R?gime’ in Herman Van der Wee, The Low Countries in the Early Modern World , trans. by Lizabeth Fackelman (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press and Variorum, 1993), pp. 279-87.

Herman Van der Wee, ‘Prijzen en lonen als ontwikkelingsvariabelen: Een vergelijkend onderzoek tussen Engeland en de Zuidelijke Nederlanden, 1400-1700,’ in Album aangeboden aan Charles Verlinden ter gelegenheid van zijn dertig jaar professoraat (Wetteren: Universum, 1975), pp. 413-47; reissued in English translation (without the tables) as ‘Prices and Wages as Development Variables: A Comparison between England and the Southern Netherlands, 1400-1700,’ Acta Historiae Neerlandicae, 10 (1978), 58-78; republished in Herman Van der Wee, The Low Countries in the Early Modern World, trans. by Lizabeth Fackelman (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press and Variorum, 1993), pp. 223-41. Only the original Dutch-language version contains the statistical tables.

John Munro is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Toronto (where he still teaches). He is currently an elected member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts; and of the Comitato Scientifico, Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica ‘Francesco Datini da Prato,’ for which he has helped organize the May 2006 conference on ‘Europe’s Economic Relations with the Islamic World, 13th and 18th Centuries.’ He was the medieval area editor for The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, edited by Joel Mokyr (New York: Oxford University Press), 2003. Among his recent publications are: ‘Wage Stickiness, Monetary Changes, and Real Incomes in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries, 1300-1500: Did Money Matter?’ Research in Economic History (2003); ‘The Medieval Origins of the Financial Revolution: Usury, Rentes, and Negotiability,’ International History Review (2003); and ‘Spanish Merino Wools and the Nouvelles Draperies: an Industrial Transformation in the Late-Medieval Low Countries,’ Economic History Review (2005).

Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Middle East
Time Period(s):Medieval

Separatism and Integration: A Study in Analytical History

Author(s):Roehner, Bertrand M.
Reviewer(s):Spolaore, Enrico

Published by EH.NET (January 2006)

Bertrand M. Roehner (with the collaboration of Leonard J. Rahilly), Separatism and Integration: A Study in Analytical History. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002. xi + 351 pp. $75 (cloth), ISBN: 0-7425-1734-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Enrico Spolaore, Department of Economics, Tufts University.

This book is a cornucopia of useful information about separatist movements. Bertrand Roehner focuses his intriguing analysis on separatist struggles by “homeland minorities,” which he defines as “minorities whose social and cultural life is associated with a specific territory.” He pointedly refuses to provide a general theory of separatism. He writes that he is not interested in explaining the causes of separatist movements (the “why” question). His aim is rather to identify empirical regularities which are common to separatist struggles (the “how” question) by analyzing separatist episodes as “clusters of events.” In this respect the book is a specific application of the methodological approach to history and social analysis that Roehner has vigorously argued for in his nice book Pattern and Repertoire in History, written with Tony Syme, and reviewed for EH.NET by John Nye. This monograph on separatism shares the methodological assumptions of that broader work, including a belief that social scientists should describe “forms of actions” rather than focus on “motivations.” Specifically, the author argues that separatist struggles tend to follow similar patterns, and that past separatist struggles in a region are the best predictors of more recent separatist disturbances in that same region, even when explicit motivations have changed. For instance the author, building on work by J.R.G. Jenkins, stresses the elements of continuity in the separatist movement of the Bernese Jura (Switzerland) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He also notices the similarity of Flemish separatist actions in the past two centuries, even though the specific issues under dispute and the economic conditions of the different groups within Belgium have been changing.

The author identifies three kinds of separatist struggles: over land, over language/culture, and over political power. He then uses this taxonomy, in conjunction with the type of society, to classify different kinds of separatist revolts. When the dispute is over land, an aristocratic revolt may occur in a feudal society (say, Hungary in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), while a peasant revolt may rise in a rural society where peasants are freeholders (say, Ireland around the same period). A struggle over cultural domination would involve only urban, educated people before the spread of public education (for example, Bohemia in the nineteenth century), but the mass of the population after public education has spread (twentieth century Quebec). Finally, anticolonial struggle over political power may be confined to the nation’s elite (Egypt) or involve the mass of people (India), depending on the central government’s level of tax pressure. The author describes and analyzes a large number of separatist struggles in these different categories, although, as he writes, space limitations prevent him from providing an exhaustive “Handbook of separatist disturbances.”

Although he is reluctant to provide general theories, the author does suggest two sets of determinants of separatism: spatial and historical determinants. He constructs a “geographical index of interaction” to capture the degree of isolation of a region from the rest of the nation. The index is based on the extent to which the region and the rest of the nation share a border. For example, Scotland is more isolated from the rest of Great Britain than Andalusia is from Spain, since most of Scotland’s borders are not with the rest of the UK, but with the sea. Adjustments are made for common borders with other countries that share language/culture with the “homeland minority” (e.g., Alsace’s border with Germany reduces its “index of interaction” with France). The author finds that linguistic assimilation is higher and separatist disturbances lower in less isolated regions. But the lion’s share in explaining separatist disturbances in a region after 1945 is given by measures of disturbances in that same region in previous periods (the “historical index”).

I greatly enjoyed reading Roehner’s tour de force. The book is rich in historical information, methodological discussions, and analytical observations. However, I wonder whether this book may disappoint some historians and economists, perhaps for opposite reasons. Some historians may take issue with this bold attempt to put the same hat on very different historical events. By contrast, as an economist, I have no problem with heroic generalizations. On the contrary, I wish the author had been even bolder at identifying common variables and determinants. In fact, I feel that an explicit theoretical framework could have helped rather than hindered the analysis. As often is the case with attempts to “let the facts speak” without an explicit theoretical model, assumptions about behaviors and motivations are still there, only they are kept implicit and unstated. For example, one feels that the “geographical index of interactions” could be rationalized (and possibly improved) with a more explicit and rigorous microfoundation — perhaps linking it to the extensive literature on social interactions developed by economists and other social scientists. And the taxonomy and description of the different “types of revolts” seem pretty consistent with a politico-economic analysis of the incentives and constraints faced by different individuals and groups.

Which brings up a question of special interest to EH.NET readers: how important are economic variables and mechanisms in explaining separatism? Roehner’s discussion of this question is perhaps one of the least convincing parts of his book. He observes that income per capita is not systematically correlated to separatism across and within countries: Ireland was poorer than the rest of the UK when it struggled for independence, the Basque Countries and Catalonia are richer than the rest of Spain, support for separatism in the Bernese Jura is uncorrelated to income per capita, etc. He concludes that separatist movements do not “spring from economic motives,” and that economic conditions do not exert an influence on separatism. These conclusions seem unwarranted for at least two reasons.

First, the level of income per capita is not a sufficient statistic for “economic motivation.” Even if separatists were motivated exclusively by material considerations (say, increasing their future income through a secession), current income per capita would hardly capture this motivation. Instead one should look at the expected effects that a secession would have on their income per capita — that is, to the expected difference between income per capita in the region before and after a secession. For example, in the classic article on the political economy of breakups by Patrick Bolton and Gerard Roland (Quarterly Journal of Economics, November 1997), a majority of people in a region may prefer a secession for economic reasons if they expect a tax and redistribution policy closer to their preferences after the breakup. In that setting, a secession may be preferred by a majority of people in a richer region, but also in a poorer region. What matters to the supporters of separatism is expected changes in tax and redistribution policies, which depend on the differences between average income and median income before and after the secession.

Second, one may believe (with plenty of good reasons) that separatists’ main motives are not economic, and still find a strong influence of economic conditions on separatist movements. Again, one should look at marginal effects. People in a region may want to secede for purely cultural/linguistic reasons, even though that may reduce their income per capita. But the expected reduction in income per capita can be higher or lower depending on economic conditions. For instance, in a world of protectionism and high barriers to trade, a secession may turn a small region into a very poor, even non-viable autarkic economy, while in a world of high international openness and free trade the economic costs of secessions are much smaller. Hence, an increase in economic integration tends to strengthen separatism, although separatist preferences themselves may be motivated by purely non-economic considerations. For example, French-speaking people in Quebec may want to form their own country for purely cultural and linguistic reasons, but international economic integration with the United States (NAFTA) substantially reduces the costs of secession, and therefore makes separatism politically and economically viable within Canada. Consider an analogy with individual decisions: most artists choose their profession for non-monetary reasons (say, they love painting or composing music, even though they could make more money in other professions), but changes in the availability of scholarships and grants for artists are likely to make a difference to the supply of art (artists need to eat too).

The above examples illustrate a more general point: before ruling out “economic conditions” (or any other variables, for that matter) as explanatory variables, it is crucial to specify the mechanisms through which those variables may or may not influence separatist preferences and behaviors. Otherwise, one may rule out important variables based on implicit (and perhaps inexact) theoretical assumptions.

In spite of the above reservations and caveats, I think that economic historians and political economists can learn a great deal from Bertrand Roehner’s intriguing and stimulating book, which I recommend to all EH.NET readers.

Enrico Spolaore is the author of The Size of Nations (with Alberto Alesina), MIT Press, 2003.

Subject(s):Urban and Regional History
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933

Author(s):Wheatcroft, R. W. Davies and Stephen G.
Reviewer(s):Tauger, Mark B.

Published by EH.NET (November 2004)

R. W. Davies and Stephen G. Wheatcroft, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. xvii + 555 pp. $90 (cloth), ISBN: 0-333-31107-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Mark B. Tauger, Department of History, West Virginia University.

Popular media and most historians for decades have described the great famine that struck most of the USSR in the early 1930s as “man-made,” very often even a “genocide” that Stalin perpetrated intentionally against Ukrainians and sometimes other national groups to destroy them as nations. The most famous exposition of this view is the book Harvest of Sorrow, now almost two decades old, by the prolific (and problematic) historian Robert Conquest, but this perspective can be found in History Channel documentaries on Stalin, many textbooks of Soviet history, Western and even World Civilization, and many writings on Stalinism, on the history of famines, and on genocide.

This perspective, however, is wrong. The famine that took place was not limited to Ukraine or even to rural areas of the USSR, it was not fundamentally or exclusively man-made, and it was far from the intention of Stalin and others in the Soviet leadership to create such as disaster. A small but growing literature relying on new archival documents and a critical approach to other sources has shown the flaws in the “genocide” or “intentionalist” interpretation of the famine and has developed an alternative interpretation. The book under review, The Years of Hunger, by Robert Davies and Stephen Wheatcroft, is the latest and largest of these revisionist interpretations. It presents more evidence than any previous study documenting the intentions of Soviet leaders and the character of the agrarian and agricultural crises of these years.

This book is the fifth and latest in the series on Soviet history that Edward Carr began in the 1950s (and that ultimately ran to 17 volumes) and that Robert Davies (who collaborated with Carr in the later volumes of his series) continued in the 1980s. Like those studies, its format is chronological and narrative, but unlike most of the previous volumes this one relies very extensively on new archival and published archival sources. In the present volume, Davies and Wheatcroft pick up in the middle of the story that Davies began in volumes one and two (The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivization of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930 and The Soviet Collective Farm, 1929-1930), with chapters on the second campaigns of collectivization and dekulakization in 1930-1931. These campaigns were linked: the main means of collectivization was dekulakization, the removal from villages of allegedly “well-off” exploiting peasants and others who opposed too openly the program of collectivization, and officials considered dekulakization necessary to enable collective farms to work. These campaigns involved much less violence than the first such campaigns in early 1930, but also were more “successful”: more than 60 percent of peasant families were in collective farms by late summer 1931, a plateau not surpassed for three years.

The authors then narrate the cycle of agricultural policies and performance: sowing and harvest plans and actual work in 1931, the campaign to procure grain and other crops from the villages after the harvest, and the same cycles in 1932 and 1933. They describe how officials repeatedly projected unrealistically optimistic plans for plowing, crop sowing, and harvests, and how agricultural and peasant realities frustrated these plans to varying degrees, and how officials responded to these realities, in particular years. In 1931 the leadership projected the largest increase in sowings up to that time, and this plan was mostly fulfilled, but a severe drought in spring and summer reduced or destroyed much of the potential harvest, reflected in steadily declining estimates of the harvest on the part of government statistical personnel and increasing reports of starving villagers. Nonetheless, the regime projected high procurements and attempted to impose them, with the result that more regions of the country were left without food, causing millions of peasants, especially from Ukraine and Kazakhstan, to flee their homes seeking food and work. Similar conditions caused massive labor turnover in factories during this period, which Davies discusses in the preceding volume in the series (Crisis and Progress in the Soviet Economy). Meanwhile the government (exercising the foreign trade monopoly it had instituted in the early 1920s) exported some four million tons of grain to pay for massive imports of machinery, including tractors.

Agricultural planning and work in 1932 took place under much worse conditions than in 1931, with significant shortages and starvation in many regions. The authors narrate the high-level disputes and decision-making that led to emergency distributions of seed and food to shortage areas, the May laws of 1932 that legalized private trade (after three years of uncertain status), and in general a relaxation of policies. Farmers did not fulfill the sowing plans, however, and the harvest decreased even relative to that of 1931 by a complex mix of natural disasters and mismanagement. While official projections of the harvest dropped substantially, however, Soviet leaders refused to believe that another catastrophe like 1931 had occurred, and pressed forward with only a moderately reduced procurement plan. Implementing this plan, however, brought a tremendous struggle between regime and peasants, simultaneous with a disastrous decline in food supplies for the towns, and widespread theft and attempted theft at all stages of distribution. In response, Stalin wrote a law issued on 7 August that imposed death penalties or 10-year exile for theft of “socialist property.” The authors provide valuable detail about the alteration of harshness and moderation at different levels and in different periods in enforcement of this decree.

By the beginning of 1933, the procurement plan had not been fulfilled, and authorities at all levels received continuous reports documenting a massive famine, widespread deaths from starvation, and desperate demands from officials at all levels for food allotments from diminishing reserves. Peasants and workers around the country fled their homes seeking food and survival, and the authorities issued several additional laws attempting to prevent this movement, including the reestablishment of an internal passport system, harsh penalties for workers who left their jobs without authorization, and apprehension and return to their homes of peasants from the southern grain regions, most severely struck by famine. It was in this context of great economic crisis that the regime again undertook to plan and guide farm work. This time they lowered their targets, provided extensive albeit insufficient relief in food, seed, and forage, and dispatched more than 20,000 industrial workers, all Communist Party members, to eliminate opposition in the collective farms and mobilized them for the year’s work. The result, however, despite the horrible conditions, was a very successful harvest in 1933 that ended the famine in most regions.

The book then goes on to present capsule narratives of specific aspects of agricultural production and particular sectors. So production of crops besides grain, including potatoes, sugar beets, and fiber crops generally followed the same pattern as grain, and thus were directly or indirectly affected by the famine. Livestock breeding underwent a “disaster” because of losses from the process of collectivization, from crop failures that reduced forage, from mismanagement in the farms, from high procurements, and finally from the famine itself, as peasants slaughtered animals (ignoring laws prohibiting it) to survive. The worst region of the livestock crisis was Kazakhstan, where Soviet collectivization policies aimed initially to settle in villages the majority nomadic population (a policy similar to that employed in some colonial countries and in some developing countries since independence). In the face of a searing famine in the region and the flight (to China) or death of more than one-third of the population, the regime in 1933 relaxed its policies, but the effects of the famine were not overcome for years.

The authors also examine the two main socialist sectors. The state farms (sovkhozy), which were large, ideally mechanized specialized farms that held more than 10 percent of the sown area, had tremendous difficulties in these years after limited success in 1929-1930. In 1931-1932 these farms suffered catastrophic declines in production, from causes that included natural disaster, mismanagement, and shortages of equipment and supplies because of the overall Soviet economic crisis of the time. From 1933 on, the sovkhozy began a recovery, facilitated by the government’s transfer of land from these farms to land-short collectives. On the collective farms (kolkhozy) the authors examine in some detail labor organization and remuneration, which were difficult managerial problems to solve in these almost unprecedented institutions. The regime in these years moved from a network of varied farms following diverse policies to a system in which the main organizational structures and remuneration procedures were prescribed from central government agencies with the intent of insuring the proper mix of incentives and obligations.

The final chapter examines the 1931-1933 famine in comparison to the two most noted recent famines in Russian history, those of 1891 and 1918-1922. The authors describe how these earlier famines resulted from natural disaster and (in 1918-21) the difficulties the Bolshevik government had in moving food from villages to towns through requisitions. They then analyze the 1931-1933 crisis in three categories: the urban food crisis of 1928-1933; the famine in Kazakhstan; and the rural famine of 1932-1933. They discuss different estimates of mortality, questioning the highest estimates but acknowledging the uncertainties in the population data. They estimate that mortality from the famine was in the range of four to six million deaths.

This chapter concludes with their explanation of the causes of the famine. They argue on the basis of the available data on food production and mortality that this was a famine caused by shortage, or “food availability decline” [FAD], in which “entitlements” or distribution factors played a contributory role (p. 417, using the terms employed by Amartya Sen). They emphasize, however, that the crisis of which the famine was the culmination began with the economic disruption caused by the massive investments of the first five-year plan and the simultaneous food supply difficulties of 1927-1929, the so-called “grain crisis.” By means of the first five-year plan and collectivization, Soviet leaders intended clearly to increase food production, but two years of natural disasters and agricultural disruption lowered harvests drastically and forced the government to ration food in insufficient quantities to all but the limited groups whom the authorities considered absolutely necessary to supply.

The authors attribute the small harvests in the crisis years to four factors. The intense sowing plans that demanded increased areas under crops disrupted the crop rotations left from the 1920s and thereby brought soil exhaustion. Draft forces declined, despite the import, production, and provision to agriculture of increasing numbers of tractors, because lack of forage (from both procurements and crop failures) and collectivization (which facilitated the spread of epizootics) brought massive deaths of horses. This draft situation in turn, combined with disaffection of the peasants, brought a decline in cultivation quality. Finally, exceptionally bad weather caused serious declines in output independently of all the other factors.

They conclude the main text with a brief summary of their discussion of the Soviet government’s confused and ambivalent responses to the famine. The authorities overestimated harvests and tried to impose high procurement quotas, but they also reduced those quotas when difficulties developed, and returned procured grain to villages for food and seed; they decided in the face of crisis to feed the cities as well as possible, but they also made significant efforts to support agricultural recovery, though this failed for millions of people. In response to intentionalist arguments (citing Conquest), they conclude that Soviet leaders, even if their actions contributed to the famine crisis, found it unexpected and extremely undesirable. They connect the famine crisis in larger terms to the Russian past, to the earlier agrarian crises, but most of all to the decision to industrialize at “breakneck speed” (p. 441). The book concludes with an appendix on grain harvest data, and 49 tables on farm production, food distribution, population, and certain other topics.

With its extensive use and intensive examination of archival and published sources on high-level policy discussion and decisions in this crisis, including the formerly secret records of the Politburo (the special files or osobie papki) and the now published correspondence of Stalin with some of his top lieutenants like Kaganovich and Molotov, this study decisively refutes intentionalist explanations of the 1931-1933 famine. None of these sources contain any evidence indicating that Stalin or his officials intended or wanted to create a genocidal famine to suppress Ukrainian nationalism or any other such objective. The decisions that these officials made, such as the impositions and then reductions of procurement quotas, or the lowering of rations for certain sectors of the population, represented short term, desperate, and often mistaken responses to the developing emergencies of these years, and not components of an overarching destructive intent. Even the underlying fact of the overly rapid industrialization program and the disruptions it caused reflected not destructive but constructive aims, even if the implementation of these plans by ill-educated fanatics in various state agencies had disastrous consequences. This study, therefore, documents that great Soviet famine of 1931-1933 was a complex economic event first of all, rooted in environmental conditions as well as in Soviet policies.

Given this, however, and given the enormous amount of work that went into this study, like all of Davies’ previous work, nonetheless the authors make a number of important problematic assertions and leave certain crucial issues unresolved. I will focus on two of these.

First, the authors assert at the end of their chapter on the collective farms (p. 397) that because the kolkhozy transferred a large part of their produce to the state, these farms represented a throwback to serfdom, with the state as the serf owner. This point actually does not support the connection they make between the kolkhoz system and serfdom, in particular because they also document the fact, which has been clear from other sources as well, that ordinarily peasants received a significant share of their food supplies from the crops they grew on the collective farms’ fields, in addition to the crops they grew on their “private plots.” Under serfdom, the peasants received only the food they grew on their own lands; what they produced on the demesne lands went to the pomeshchiki (the Russian noble landlord), with the exception of famines when pomeshchiki by Russian law were expected to share some of the reserves with the peasants. One of the main points of this book (and of previous studies) is that the procurements took most or all of kolkhoz grain reserves in 1931 and 1932 because of the crop failures of those years, and did not represent the usual pattern: in all other years farms had substantial portions of their crops left over after procurements for their own use, as in 1933. It makes more sense economically and institutionally to interpret the high procurement quotas as combining elements of taxation and rent rather than exclusively as atavisms.

Furthermore, in the same section the authors show that the farms had significant incomes from their sales of crops and other products, even at the low state purchase prices as well as on the free market legalized in 1932, which they used to pay the peasant-members for their work, and to purchase new equipment and supplies, albeit in very limited amounts in 1931-1932. Under serfdom, peasants were not paid for their produce on demesne. Even given the situation in these crisis years, the kolkhozy were not recreated serf villages, but can be better understood as semi-autonomous production units highly subsidized by the government. The authors also document the significant movement of peasants from the farms by “otkhod,” labor migration, a process that was one of the objectives of collectivization and that the regime encouraged and relied on for industrial labor. The government did attempt to control this movement by means of the internal passport system, but that system was not imposed until 1933, in response to the famine crisis, and as earlier research has shown, the passport system restrained peasant movement, both temporary and permanent, from villages to towns very little.

Further, serfdom in early modern Russia was part of a whole complex of controls over the population that had the goal of limiting not only the geographical but also the economic and social mobility of almost the entire population, rural and urban, as for example in the elaborate regulations of the 1649 law code. The Soviet system of the 1930s, by contrast, was oriented toward social mobility, promoting and educating workers and peasants to responsible posts. For example, no Russian peasant ever came close to becoming a Russian emperor before 1917, but under the Soviet regime four men of peasant origin came to rule that country: Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev. Many other former peasants and workers moved up to high positions; while some tragically ended up victims of the great Communist witch hunts of the 1930s to the 1950s, most did not, and held positions that they would never have attained under the servile system. Even those who stayed in the farms in many cases attained technical knowledge and skills (despite the influence of Lysenko) and used it to bring about a significant increase in farm production in the 1950s to 1970s. To describe the kolkhoz as a revival of serfdom as Davies and Wheatcroft do here is a substantial distortion of historical fact.

Second, the book still does not satisfactorily explain why the famine took place when it did and especially why it ended. The authors’ chapters on agriculture and procurements in 1933, which was of course the crucial agricultural year because this was when the famine basically ended, are substantially shorter than those on 1931 and 1932 and have a certain “rushed” quality. Davies and Wheatcroft identify several objective factors to which they attribute the declines in food production in 1931-1933 that in great part caused the famine. Most of those factors that they identify for 1932, however, still prevailed or were even worse in 1933. The decline in livestock numbers and draft forces, for example, continued into 1933 and possibly 1934 (depending on how one calculates the value of a tractor); the disorder in crop rotation was not overcome even by the reduced sowing plans of 1933, or for some years thereafter. Most important, famine conditions were much worse. The authors cite a few sources claiming that peasants somehow knew in 1933 that they had to work hard (p. 238), but they also acknowledge in another context that at least some peasants worked hard in 1932 as well (p. 418). In any case, all evidence about peasants’ resistance is anecdotal and can be shown not to be representative of their views and actions generally (see my article “Soviet Peasants and Collectivization: Resistance and Adaptation”). Without any doubt, however, working conditions for peasants in 1933, because of the more severe famine conditions, were much worse in 1933 than in 1932.

Given these inconsistencies, there remains one factor in explaining the cause of the small harvest of 1932 that can account for the improved harvest in 1933, and that is the complex of environmental factors in 1932. As I documented in a recent publication, the USSR experienced an unusual environmental disaster in 1932: extremely wet and humid weather that gave rise to severe plant disease infestations, especially rust. Ukraine had double or triple the normal rainfall in 1932. Both the weather conditions and the rust spread from Eastern Europe, as plant pathologists at the time documented. Soviet plant pathologists in particular estimated that rust and other fungal diseases reduced the potential harvest in 1932 by almost nine million tons, which is the largest documented harvest loss from any single cause in Soviet history (Natural Disaster and Human Action, p. 19). One Soviet source did estimate higher rust losses in 1933 than 1932 for two provinces in the Central Blackearth Region, which is a small region of the country (approximately 5 percent of the total sown area). Davies and Wheatcroft cite this and imply that it applied to the rest of the country (p. 131-132 fn. 137), but that source does not document larger losses from rust in 1933 anywhere else. Further, the exceptional weather and agricultural conditions of 1932 did not generally recur in 1933. Consequently I would still argue, against Davies and Wheatcroft, that the weather and infestations of 1932 were the most important causes of the small harvest in 1932 and the larger one in 1933. I would also like to point out for the record here that the criticism they make (p. 444-445) of my harvest data is invalid and represents an unjustified statistical manipulation of what are in fact the only genuine harvest data for 1932 (see “The 1932 Harvest”).

And this leads to my main complaint about their work. It is true that this volume represents considerable work on their part. But it is also true that several other scholars, including the present reviewer, reached the same or similar conclusions that they reached, using some of the same sources and arguments that they did, years before them, and Davies and Wheatcroft were familiar with this earlier work. In my publications I also cited several other publications of other scholars and observers that reached or suggested similar conclusions. Yet they do not acknowledge anywhere in this book that their conclusions agree with those of earlier work. When they cite such earlier work, they almost always criticize it on some small point but never acknowledge that work’s contribution to the argument they are making. The fact that they reached conclusions similar to other sources does not absolve them of the responsibility of acknowledging their agreement with previous scholarship.

In making this complaint, however, I do not seek to minimize the enormous contribution that this study makes. The Years of Hunger represents a major step toward a more complete and unbiased understanding of this catastrophic event in Soviet and world history. While it adds conclusive evidence to refute intentionalist interpretations of the famine, however, it still leaves us with fundamental uncertainties about why the famine happened and why it ended when and in the way it did.


Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Oxford University Press 1986.

R. W. Davies, The Industrialization of Soviet Russia: v. 1: The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivization of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930, Harvard University Press 1980. v. 2: The Soviet Collective Farm, 1929-1930, Harvard University Press, 1980. v. 3: The Soviet Economy in Turmoil, 1929-1930, Macmillan 1989 (revised edition 1998). v. 4: Crisis and Progress in the Soviet Economy, Macmillan 1996.

Mark Tauger, “Soviet Peasants and Collectivization: Resistance and Adaptation,” Journal of Peasant Studies 31 no. 3-4, April-July 2004.

Mark Tauger, “Natural Disaster and Human Action in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933,” Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 1506, 2001.

Mark Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933,” Slavic Review 50 no. 1, Spring 1990.

Mark Tauger has published several articles and short monographs on the 1931-1933 famine and other famines in Soviet history, Soviet agriculture, and recently on Amartya Sen’s theories and the Bengal famine of 1943 (Journal of Peasant Studies 31 no. 1, October 2003)

Subject(s):Economic Planning and Policy
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Emergence of Economic Society in Japan, 1600-1859

Author(s):Hayami, Akira
Saito, Osamu
Toby, Ronald P.
Reviewer(s):Mosk, Carl

Published by EH.NET (October 2004)


Akira Hayami, Osamu Saito, and Ronald P. Toby, editors, Emergence of Economic Society in Japan, 1600-1859. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. xviii + 420 pp. $160 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-828905-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Carl Mosk, Department of Economics, University of Victoria.

Revolutionized by the techniques of historical demography and family reconstruction and the statistical approaches of cliometrics, the mainstream field of economic history in Japan has experienced a groundswell transformation. Gone are applications of Marxist stage theory. Today long-run quantitative analysis of economic and demographic activity in villages, towns and urban centers or analysis of government policy largely conceived in neo-classical categories command central stage. Concepts like industrious revolution, proto-industrialization, income elasticity of demand, Gresham’s law, Marshall’s k (propensity to hold money), and budgetary balance dominate the contemporary literature.

The present volume consisting of ten chapters culled from contributions to the series The Economic History of Japan originally published in Japanese by Iwanami Shoten in 1988-1990, exemplifies the new mainstream approach. In his introduction the noted demographic and economic historian Akira Hayami firmly characterizes the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) as the first period in Japanese history when a national economy was created, when market related behavior came to dominate life in the most remote regions of Japan. Describing long-run population growth estimates for the Tokugawa era (that suggest population totals in 1600 are considerably lower than was once believed), Matao Miyamoto develops a sophisticated flow of funds model of the national economy that links major regional markets to two central markets, one with Osaka as its hub, the other linked up through Edo, the capital of the shogunate that acted as a national authority with a confederation-style government in which warlords were given authority over fiefs with populations typically running into the tens of thousands. An important strand in the argument developed in the book is that economic incentives were strengthened under this system of confederation government. Masaru Iwahashi argues that the national land survey carried out just before Tokugawa rule, policies separating peasants from warriors, standardization of weights and measures, and a tax system that was not too burdensome to the peasantry (a view that flies in the face of the Marxist view that warlords exploited their villagers to the maximum degree possible) created incentives for economic growth.

One of the traditional pictures of Tokugawa Japan is that it was almost completely isolated from the rest of the world, save for a window onto the west at Dejima in Nagasaki harbor where Dutch traders were allowed to reside. While it has been recognized for some time that Japan continued to participate in tribute trade with China and Korea during the reign of the shogun, the extent of that trade has been underestimated, or at least that is the argument advanced by Kazui Tashiro who shows that Japanese agents continued to import raw silk and silk textiles in volume, paying for these products with silver.

Monetary and fiscal policy undertaken by various shogunate governments is a major theme in this volume. Surveying long-run macroeconomic dynamics, Matao Miyamoto studies the recoinage campaigns of various administrations, those operating within a relatively closed country environment, and those struggling with the forced opening of the country in the 1850s. Taking another tack, Yujiro Oguchi analyzes shogunate taxation and forced loan policies, linking them up to the monetary accounts of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Theories of peasant and craftspeople behavior rooted in the proto-industrial model motivate four chapters: one by Akira Hayami and Hiroshi Kito that focuses on population dynamics, analyzing them in terms of conflicting regional patterns (post-1720 population stagnation resulting from decline in population in the Northeast countered by modest growth in the Southwest); a second by Osamu Saito and Masayuki Tanimoto that focuses on changes in the rural economy in late Tokugawa; a chapter by Ronald Toby that draws inferences from a study of the records of an entrepreneurial family in central Japan about the growth of finance in the nineteenth century; and a summary overview of late Tokugawa policy and regional economic activity penned by Hiroshi Shimbo and Osamu Saito.

Finally, a valuable contribution by Shunsaku Nishikawa and Masatoshi Amano links up the regional and local to the national through an analysis of fief fiscal and monetary activities, and the growing interest of fiefs in promoting fief monopolies stretching into the burgeoning proto-industrial economy.

As the reader can (I hope) see, this book provides an excellent summary of recent research in Japanese economic history, covering all of the major bases that one would like to see covered. Conceived from a merging of Western concepts in economics and demography with long-standing Japanese historical scholarship attentive to the hustle and bustle of village life at one end, and the practices of elite fief and shogunate administrators at the other, this volume is an indispensable read for those who want to dive into the thriving field of Japanese economic history.

Note: Akira Hayami is Emeritus Professor, Keio University; Osamu Saito is Professor of Economic History, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University; and Ronald Toby is Professor of Asian History, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign.)

Carl Mosk is Professor of Economics at the University of Victoria and the author of a number of books on Japanese economic and demographic history. He is presently completing a book for Routledge titled Trade and Migration in the Modern World, and is working on the economics of the nation state.


Subject(s):Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):19th Century

Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution

Author(s):Allen, Robert C.
Reviewer(s):Davies, R. W.

Published by EH.NET (June 2004)

Robert C. Allen, Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. xviii + 302 pp. $45 (cloth), ISBN: 0-691-00696-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by R. W. Davies, Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham.

Robert Allen, Professor of Economic History at the University of Oxford, is well known for his Enclosure and the Yeoman (1992). While teaching Russian history, he became fascinated with the Soviet economy; learned Russian; and for the past ten years has been analyzing, and generalizing from, the Soviet experience. This original and stimulating book is primarily based on very careful use of Western research (it cites about 150 books and articles in English, and about 25 in Russian). It refreshingly places Soviet development in its long-term world context.

The author provides both a systematic description of the economy of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union in the first half of the twentieth century, and an exploration of feasible alternatives. In recent western and Russian publications historians have reassessed the Soviet past less favorably in the light of the unexpected collapse of the system,. This reassessment has been reinforced by the opening of the archives: the new data tend to illuminate the inhumane and inefficient aspects of the system, minimized or concealed in Soviet times. Allen’s conclusions are much more positive.

He describes the three main economic systems which prevailed between 1900 and World War II. First, tsarism. Allen acknowledges that agriculture and industry developed quite rapidly before 1914, but argues that this progress crucially depended on the favorable world prices for grain and on the “aggressive policy of import substitution” pursued by the state. According to Allen, if tsarist institutions had continued, the post-war slump in world agricultural prices would have meant that “in the absence of the communist revolution and the Five-year Plans — Russia’s fate would have been somewhere between India’s and Argentine’s” (p. 37).

Secondly, the New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s, in which state ownership of large-scale industry was linked with individual peasant agriculture through a free market. On Allen’s view, state industry “operated in the capitalist manner” until the late 1920s. “Businesses looked only to their own profits,” so that “socially profitable investment” was not undertaken, and workers were hired “only if they generated enough sales to cover their salaries,” so that the structural unemployment in the towns and the vast amount of underemployed labor in the countryside was not brought into industry (p. 50). If these arrangements had continued, industrialization and mass urbanization would not have been achieved.

Thirdly, the Stalinist system of the 1930s. Allen explains that rapid industrialization took place through the direction of resources into investment, primarily in producer goods. This was accompanied by the collectivization of agriculture, which was initially disastrous, but did perversely accelerate industrialization by driving people off the land. So far this account is relatively uncontroversial. But Allen goes on to claim, citing the well-known model of the Soviet economist Feldman, that this increased investment in producer goods enabled investment also to be carried out in consumer goods. This investment, together with the recovery of agriculture after 1933, enabled consumption per head to increase by as much as 30 percent between 1928 and 1937 (p. 142). He contrasts this finding with those in the classic studies by Abram Bergson and Janet Chapman, which concluded that both urban and rural consumption per capita declined in this period.

On the late tsarist period, I sympathize with Allen’s view that economic growth was unstable and temporary. But he should have considered the possibility — if only to reject it — that tsarism could have given way not to Bolshevism but to “liberal democracy,” “social democracy” or “peasant democracy.”

His view of NEP before the launching of collectivization is oversimplified. NEP always involved both a substantial element of state management of the level and distribution of investment, and considerable manipulation of the peasant market. The economic system which prevailed briefly before the grain crisis of 1927/28 offered a genuine alternative to both capitalism and Stalinism.

Allen’s description of the 1930s has the considerable merit that it incorporates the growth of the industrial consumer goods sector and of investment in education and health as inherent features of the Stalin revolution. But his assessment of the standard of living raises many queries. To take one element in his assessment: farm income in kind. His key Table 7.3 (p. 142) is difficult to follow because the component elements in farm income in kind have been transposed from the last two columns into the second and third columns. Once this is corrected, it emerges that total farm food income in kind increased slightly between 1928 and 1937. This is dubious. Soviet estimates in the archives, based on peasant budgets, show that the amount of grain available for food to the agricultural population was substantially less even in the good harvest year 1937/38 than in 1928. In view of the decline in the weight and number of livestock, it seems implausible that the consumption of other foods compensated for the reduction in grain. On food consumption by the population as a whole, Wheatcroft concludes that calories consumed per capita per day declined from 2,800 in 1928 to 2,707 in 1940 (Slavic Review 58 (1999), p. 51) while Allen estimates that consumption increased from about 2,300 to about 2,900 calories (his Figure 7.1, p. 135). Wheatcroft also concludes that protein consumption, not discussed by Allen, declined from 101.4 to 95.9 grams a day in the same period. All this needs further investigation. But it is certain that, contrary to popular preconceptions, in the Stalinist period as a whole, between 1938 and the mid-1950s, consumption per head increased substantially in spite of the disastrous impact of the Second World War.

Allen compares the actual performance of the Soviet economy with alternative industrialization strategies using a simulation model. His most important alternative assumes that Soviet investment policy was enforced through a soft-budget constraint but was combined not with collectivization but with a continuation of the NEP arrangements of peasant sale of food on a free market. According to Allen, this would have been feasible because peasants would be willing to sell more food if agricultural prices increased, while simultaneously a large number of surplus rural citizens could have been transferred to the towns without a decline in agricultural production.

He estimates, using data for the years 1913 to1928, that a 10 percent increase in agricultural prices would lead to a 7 percent increase in marketing. But with an urban population at the end of the 1930s more than double that of 1928 agricultural marketings would have had to at least double to retain the existing urban food consumption per head. Even on Allen’s assumptions, this increase in marketings would have required an even larger increase in peasant real income. Was this increase feasible? And could the operation of the soft-budget constraint in the non-agricultural economy have been combined with the peasant market? It necessarily involved the extensive use of the physical allocation of resources. Could this have been combined with a peasant market without the use of compulsion to obtain the agricultural production required by the urban population and industry?

It is certainly true that the Soviet economy of the 1930s would have been more efficient, and accompanied by less suffering, if gross errors had been avoided. The economy was damaged, without compensating benefits, by the forced collectivization of livestock, the mass deportation of “kulaks,” the over-ambitious industrial plans of 1929-32, the repression of the “bourgeois specialists” in the earlier 1930s and the mass executions of 1937-38. A model of the economy without these flaws would yield better economic results with less human misery. But it would certainly have to include some form of state control of agricultural production.

Allen is on the whole an accurate scholar but he makes some minor errors. The “Ural-Siberian method” for obtaining peasant grain was introduced after the 1928 not the 1927 harvest (p. 98). Jasny’s estimates of the Gulag population were not based on the (non-existent) “1940 Five-Year Plan” but on the 1941 annual plan (p. 115). The figure of 10 million deaths from the 1932-33 famine (p. 78) is an exaggeration. Allen himself reduces it to 7.3 million on p. 115; and the true figure, horrendous enough, for all excess deaths in 1930-33 (including the earlier Kazakh famine) is probably 5.5 to 6 million. The author is rather cavalier in his presentation of the views of his fellow historians. I cannot refrain from pointing out that Wheatcroft and I did not present low grain prices as the only cause of the low level of agricultural marketings in the 1920s (his p. 79). And Bergson was more nuanced and more cautious in his conclusions about the standard of living in 1937 than Allen suggests.

R. W. Davies is Emeritus Professor of Soviet Economic Studies at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham, UK. He is the author of The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, the fifth volume of which (written jointly with Stephen G. Wheatcroft) is The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-33 (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2004).

Subject(s):Living Standards, Anthropometric History, Economic Anthropology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

Nation, State, and the Economy in History

Author(s):Teichova, Alice
Matis, Herbert
Reviewer(s):Baten, Joerg

Published by EH.NET (April 2004)


Alice Teichova and Herbert Matis, editors, Nation, State, and the Economy in History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xvi + 450 pp, $75 (hardback), ISBN: 0-521-79278-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Joerg Baten, Department of Economics, University of Tuebingen.

Nation, State and the Economy in History … when I first read the title of this volume, I expected a collection full of interesting maps and figures on topics such as the economic development of ethnic groups within states. Other research agendas under this title could have been the role of economic policy on growth, and economic determinants of state formation. These second and third points are addressed in most of the twenty-one chapters, but my hope for interesting maps and figures was soon disappointed. Any kind of quantitative information is in quite scarce supply in this volume, perhaps because it stems from a session of a history congress (the 2000 International Conference on Historical Sciences).

One of the notable exceptions to this rule is David Good’s study on the regions of the Habsburg monarchy. Based on his earlier studies, Good assesses how the nationalities and ethnic groups fared before the Soviet communists captured territories such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Balkan States that had been part of Austria-Hungary until 1918. Using his bold (and not undisputed) proxy estimates, Good confirms the hypothesis that the Habsburg government invested quite heavily in those regions, because they wanted to make their ethnic groups satisfied.

In contrast to Good’s view, Michael Palairet draws a dark picture of neighboring Serbia’s income development in the late nineteenth century. He assumes a strong decline (to support his argument that Serbia never fared well when it was on its own, while it did better in multinational states such as former Yugoslavia). It would be very interesting to apply Good’s estimate to this nearby country. This kind of contrast might stimulate fascinating insights into economic history in the future.

A very interesting and provocative study (and another exception to the statement above) is Kent Deng’s chapter on China in the nineteenth century. Deng argues that the economic policy reforms after the Opium Wars gave very positive stimuli to the Chinese economy, but those were not perceived appropriately because of the adverse distributional impact and the dominance of the military-political over the economic sphere. He emphasizes in particular the industrial and governmental achievements between the 1840s and early 1890s: less distortion from trade restrictions, the growth of the industrial and military sectors, exports and taxation. His analysis would be still more convincing if he had provided a detailed assessment of reliable welfare indicators and had set them into international context.

The “nation, state and the economy” bracket in Deng’s work is the influence of economic policy on the economy — not exactly a narrow topic. This is also visible in the contributions of the “Grand Old Men” included in this volume, such as Patrick O’Brien, Gavin Wright, and Francois Crouzet. In those chapters the book has many features of a textbook on the history of economic policy. They provide numerous interesting details, but no main hypothesis to which a reviewer can easily refer. This textbook character is even more in evidence in Gerd Hardach’s summary of the events in Germany, Carlos Marichal and Steven Topik’s chapter on Brazil and Mexico, Eugenia Nunez and Gabriel Tortella on Spain, and Vaclav Prucha’s description of the Czechoslovakian state. In the latter case, Prucha pays more attention to the interplay between the various nationalities. But again, economic outcome and welfare indicators of some sort are needed if one discusses the economic development of those groups, otherwise it remains impressionistic.

In a chapter on Japan, Hidemasa Morikawa is interested in the relation between economic policy and the development of Japanese firms. He finds, among other results, that especially the smaller firms did not benefit from the active role of the state as much as the large firms. The chapters on Latin American countries are inspired by the intellectual tradition of deep skepticism versus free trade and “capitalism.” Domingos Giroletti, for example, describes the infrastructure and the protectionist measures of the Brazilian state in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, he does not provide figures on core questions: Was trade really reduced? Or was there only a modest limit on rapid trade expansion? He then goes on to describe the trade collapse of the later interwar period, which he characterizes as a “success” for Brazil (p. 376). Statements like this should perhaps be counterchecked with references to the international economic history literature, and by scrutinizing the long-run effects.

The volume is impressive, because it has wide coverage of countries and regions of the world. The inclusion of countries about which we know little is a major advantage of this endeavor. Two essays focus on Africa: one gives a broad overview (Catherine Coques-Vidrovitch, sometimes perhaps stating the obvious too much), and a case study deals with Senegal in the 1960s (Ibrahima Thioub), highlighting the interesting interplay between groundnut promotion policies and corruption. Moving from Africa to South Asia, developments in India are described in a somewhat postmodern and culturalistic way (B.R. Tomlinson). The more interesting aspect here is the mentioning of the British “divide and impera” policy between Muslims, Hindus, and other groups and its impact on subsequent state formation.

Cultural and life-style aspects of economic policy are also important in the chapters on the Nordic countries, especially in Goran Nilsson’s biographic chapter. The other chapter on Scandinavia, by Francis Sejersted, concentrates more on the relationship between economic policy and social groups, and finds in this respect a common basis with the Australian study by Christopher Lloyd who is interested in laborist-protectionism, and with the Austrian study by Ernst Bruckmueller and Roman Sandgruber who use psychological theories to assess the very strong mentality of cooperativeness among social groups in this Alpine republic. Jumping from Austria to Israel, Jacob Metzer is interested in another social group, the agricultural workers and cooperative members in Israel, for which the state performed an economic policy of varying protection, given their labor market competition with Arab laborers. All these aspects, which I can only mention here in short, highlight the broad design of this volume, that addresses a great variety of issues.

Finally, Russia. Peter Gatrell and Boris Anan’ich argue that the role of nationalism was very limited both in Tsarist Russia and in the Soviet period until the 1970s (!). The Tsarist governments made their geopolicy mainly in dynastic interest, and only seldom played the national card. Ethnic conflicts such as Azeri workers attacking Armenian businessmen and Ukrainian peasants attacking Russian landlords were not very frequent in late Imperial Russia, so they argue. Even for the Soviet period, the authors stress the participation possibilities of the smaller nations, albeit without forgetting to mention the russification policies.

The volume as a whole is well-edited and the editors have done good work to make sure that all the chapters are easy to read and of high quality — even if, as mentioned, many of them are not structured by a leading question or an argument. This makes it difficult for the editors to summarize the main findings of the contributions in their introductory chapters. They often resort to citations of whole paragraphs from the individual contributions.

Some papers in an earlier volume on a very similar topic by the same editors (plus Jaroslav Patek) were criticized by Stanciu Haar in her review for their lack of theoretical guidance and concept. I think that this criticism cannot be fully rejected for the current volume as well. On the other hand, the individual chapters provide a rich source of details about economic policy of the various countries, and sometimes about ethnic minorities and state formation. Readers will hold this volume in high esteem for this richness in details, especially on countries that lack newer textbook descriptions.

Joerg Baten is Professor of Economic History at the University of Tuebingen and CESifo fellow. He is the author of a number of studies in anthropometric history, financial market research, and the economic history of firms.


Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium

Author(s):Hoerder, Dirk
Reviewer(s):Cohn, Raymond L.

Published by EH.NET (April 2004)

Dirk Hoerder, Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002. xxii + 779 pp. $100 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8223-2834-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Raymond L. Cohn, Department of Economics, Illinois State University.

Dirk Hoerder, Professor of History at the University of Bremen, is a well-known historian of migration, having written and edited a number of previous books on the subject. In this book, he treats us to an encyclopedic review of human migration during the second millennium. The book represents an impressive, almost unbelievable, accomplishment. Hoerder’s actual text runs 582 pages of small type and includes 71 maps. There are extensive endnotes, a list of map sources, a long bibliography divided mainly by time period, and a useful index. Furthermore, the book is user-friendly. When discussing the migration of a particular group, references are given to sections in other chapters where the same group is discussed during other time periods. Thus, a reader will find it easy to follow the story of a particular migratory group. Notwithstanding a few criticisms discussed later, I believe Hoerder’s book will become a classic and remain for years a valuable reference for anyone working on any aspect of the history of human migration since 1000 AD.

Besides the long time period considered, four additional features distinguish the book. First, Hoerder connects migration movements with world events, and world events with migration movements. In fact, much of the time, I felt I was reading a world history of the second millennium. Second, Hoerder discusses moves made by individuals within countries and regions as well as among them. Third, movements everywhere in the world are examined so, though European expansionism was an important cause of many movements, the book is not Eurocentric. Thus, for example, one can find discussions not only of migrations such as the Jewish Diaspora and the large nineteenth-century Atlantic immigration, but also of migrations within Africa and Latin America before sizable European contact and the more recent migration of many Asians to the Persian Gulf oil countries. Fourth, Hoerder devotes space to the migration of females when their experience differed from that of males. As near as I can tell, Hoerder accomplishes his objective to discuss every sizable human migration between 1000 and 2000 AD. The only minor exception I noted is that his discussion of the migration of African-Americans northward in the United States ends in the 1920s.

The book is divided into four chronological parts. Part 1 covers the time period from about 1000 AD to about 1500 AD. This part examines movements within Europe, including the Ottoman Empire, and European interaction with other continents. “The medieval and early modern periods, once said to be characterized by peasants bound to the soil, were in fact times of high mobility” (p. 59). Hoerder illustrates this statement by discussing the Jewish Diaspora, the Muslim movement into Spain, the crusades, early slavery, and the migrations of the Normans and the Wendish. People moved for marriage, because of droughts and religious persecution, and as farmers, soldiers, pilgrims, prostitutes, traders, and workers. This part ends with a discussion of Ottoman expansion into Europe, migrations by students and artists as the Renaissance flourished, and the European voyages of discovery during the fifteenth century.

Part 2 examines European expansion across the world up to about 1800. The first four chapters in this part are similar. Each one discusses migration in one area before the European voyages of discovery — Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the settler economies (mainly the United States but also South Africa and Australia) — and then discusses the effects of the European expansion. A fifth chapter looks more closely at forced labor migrations involving native peoples and Africans in the Americas, and a concluding chapter examines the consequences of the European expansion, including the formation of new races due to intermarriage between Europeans and native peoples.

Part 3 extends the story into the early twentieth century. The first four chapters discuss movements within Europe, Russian expansion to the East and South, and two important international migrations: European transatlantic migration to the Americas, including migration within the Americas; and the migration of Asian contract workers not only to South America, Africa, and other parts of Asia, but also to the United States, Canada, and Britain. The final chapter of this part considers population movements associated with imperialism. The chapter examines who moved out from Europe (including females) and again considers mixed race marriages, the children that resulted, and the relationships that developed among the different races in the areas affected by western imperialism.

Part 4 covers migrations from about 1920 to the end of the millennium. One chapter examines the forced labor systems that were used in Germany, Japan, and the USSR through World War II. In parts of this chapter and the next, Hoerder describes in fascinating detail the general “un-mixing” of peoples that occurred due to the World Wars, decolonization, and the rise of many more nation-states. Descendants of European settlers in Asia were forced back to Europe, Asians were forced out of many parts of Africa, etc. Important migrations between the 1920s and 1950s were of farmers onto and off of marginal lands, Jews to Palestine, and the development of the apartheid system in South Africa. A final major chapter considers migrations since World War II. Hoerder discusses the guest-worker migrations to Western Europe, the growth of Asian and Latin American migration to North America, and the move of Asians to the Persian Gulf and Australia. Migration trends within Latin America, Asia, and Africa are also discussed, along with the movement of people out of Eastern Europe after 1989. As I said above, Hoerder’s goal is to be encyclopedic.

Most economists reading this book will occasionally find the language disconcerting. Hoerder’s view of the world is one probably shared more by historians and some other social scientists than by most economists. Two quotes will suffice. In his introduction to Part 4 concerning migration since about 1920, Hoerder says: “The military-statist imperial reach of the northern hemisphere was replaced by domination strategies of transnational capital” (p. 443). Then, in discussing more recent migration, he says: “The postcolonial world may be interpreted in terms of ‘global apartheid,’ in which low-wage jobs and low standards of living are assigned to people outside North America, Europe, and Australasia” (p. 508). Though Hoerder is not unaware of economic theories involving the benefits of free trade and the importance of institutions and worker productivity (including education) to economic growth, he doesn’t let these arguments affect his world view. In any case, this type of language is not extensive and most chapters can be read without encountering such sentences.

Finally, a few words need to be said concerning the 71 maps. Virtually all of the maps are quite complex. They are also sometimes hard to interpret. In the first half of the book, many of the maps contain four shades of solid gray and I frequently had difficulty figuring out which shade was which on the map. The maps improve about halfway through the book, when crosshatches, lines, etc., begin to be used. Overall, the maps are fascinating and extremely valuable but only if one spends a good deal of time examining them. I wish that just a little more care had been taken in their construction.

Raymond L. Cohn is Professor of Economics at Illinois State University. He is the author of “Immigration to the United States” in the EH.Net encyclopedia and writes frequently on European immigration to the United States during the nineteenth century.

Subject(s):Historical Demography, including Migration
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative