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Encyclopedia of Tariffs and Trade in U.S. History

Author(s):Northrup, Cynthia Clark
Turney, Elaine C. Prange
Reviewer(s):Meardon, Stephen

Published by EH.NET (January 2006)


Cynthia Clark Northrup and Elaine C. Prange Turney, editors, Encyclopedia of Tariffs and Trade in U.S. History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003. lvi + 1631 pp. (five volumes), $345 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-313-32789-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Stephen Meardon, Department of Economics, Williams College.

Each of the three volumes of this encyclopedia, edited by Cynthia Clark Northrup of the University of Texas at Arlington and Elaine C. Prange Turney of the University of Dallas, responds to a genuine need of researchers and students of the history of U.S. trade policy. The first volume is the encyclopedia proper: a compendium of over four hundred alphabetically-ordered entries ranging roughly from 200 to 1000 words, with a median of perhaps 300 words, and preceded by an eight-page introduction and a guide to selected topics. The several topics include commodities (under which heading twenty-one entries are classified, e.g. coal, rum, and tobacco), economic philosophy (one entry on “Economic Darwinism”), economists (seventeen entries including Bastiat, Hume, and Ra?l Prebisch), events (sixteen entries, e.g. industrial revolution and nullification), organizations (twenty-nine entries from the American Free Trade League to the Sierra Club), political parties and groups (ten entries including Democrats, Republicans, and Know-Nothings), politicians (212 entries from Alexander Hamilton to Al Gore), and tariffs (thirty-four entries including the Tariffs of 1789, 1790, 1792, and so on to Hawley-Smoot).

The second volume is a selection of momentous texts, reports, manifestos and speeches: an anthology of primary documents representing the ideas and politics that have animated U.S. trade controversies. The third volume reproduces in their entireties the thirty-one comprehensive tariff laws negotiated by Congress from 1789 to 1930, after which time revisions of the tariff were made by the executive branch.

These last two volumes are easier to evaluate, and ultimately to recommend, than the first. The content, strengths, and weaknesses of Vol. II, Debating the Issues: Selected Primary Documents, are most visible in contrast with F. W. Taussig’s old but still valuable Selected Readings in International Trade and Tariff Problems (1921). Both include excerpts from Book IV of Smith’s Wealth of Nations on the fallacies of the mercantile system and the benefits of trade; from Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures, an abiding source of inspiration to advocates of protection; and from Grover Cleveland’s 1887 State of the Union address, in which he staked his re-election the following year on tariff reform — and lost. But each includes many more readings unduplicated by the other.

Taussig’s purpose was to piece together a book that could stand on its own as a college text on international trade and tariff problems in America and Europe, so he included alongside the foregoing documents samples from (among others) Ricardo, J. S. Mill, J. E. Cairnes, and Taussig himself on international trade theory; Bastiat, Richard Sch?ller, Lujo Brentano, and Alfred Marshall on free trade versus protection; and Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and William McKinley on the protective controversy in the United States. Northrup and Turney intend their Volume II to be, unlike Taussig’s Selected Readings, a library reference book, not a course textbook, and their inquiry is best described as historical, not economic. Their geographic area of concern, too, is limited to the United States. So notwithstanding their inclusion of Smith they pass over the theorists and redouble their attention to American politicians. To Taussig’s Webster, Clay and McKinley they add speeches by Andrew Jackson, John Sherman, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and so on, up to the transcript of the 1993 debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot over the NAFTA.

Intellectual historians may be disappointed to see the crafters of legislation privileged to the exclusion of the crafters of their ideas. When Senator John Sherman of Ohio, speaking in advocacy of the tariff increase of 1865, explained that “although representing an interior state chiefly engaged in agriculture, yet I have always felt that the prosperity of one industry and section finally inured to the benefit of the whole nation and every part” (II., 235) and proposed therefore to discriminate in favor of home industry, he echoed Henry C. Carey. One would like to see the idea exposited also by Carey himself.

That alone does not stand as much of a criticism of the anthology: its boundaries had to be drawn somewhere, after all, and for the late nineteenth century at least one can refer to other sources, like William Barber’s (2005) excellent anthology, to fill in the theoretical gaps. On the other hand, the inclusion of the likes of Carey in addition to Sherman would have done more than consolidate the relevant material in one set of books. It would have raised the question: Why Sherman, after all? Carey’s protective doctrine was influential not only to Sherman: among Carey’s more ardent disciples were William D. (“Pig Iron”) Kelley and James G. Blaine, who were the principal standard bearers in Congress for the protective system before the ascendancy of McKinley. Their speeches are more reflective of the doctrine than is Sherman’s — as should be expected, for they were more loyal adherents to the doctrine than was Sherman, who was a relative moderate (Stanwood 1903, II, 181, 190). Some more intellectual context could have served as a check on the selection of political documents (and vice-versa). Nevertheless, given the limited scope of the volume, the well-chosen selections far outnumber the questionable ones.

Volume III, The Texts of the Tariffs, would appear at a glance to be immune to similar criticisms of omissions, at least through 1930. All of the comprehensive tariff acts prior to that year are included in it. As for the period since 1930, Northrup and Turney explain that tariff changes have been secured through bilateral and multilateral agreements negotiated by the executive and approved by Congress, rather than (as was done before) the other way round. The large number of such agreements prohibit their inclusion in the volume. Here, too, what is missing, one could argue, is the necessary, and even well-chosen, sacrifice that must be made given the space constraint.

The problem with the argument would be that even from 1789 to 1930 the executive branch negotiated numerous reciprocal trade agreements. From the immediate postbellum period to the 1890s, in particular, they were the subject of considerable controversy in U.S. tariff policy. Erstwhile Whigs and Republicans like Henry C. Carey and his prot?g?, Blaine, who deplored the Canadian reciprocity agreement of 1854, were the leading advocates of later agreements negotiated mainly (but not only) with Hawaii and the Latin American republics; Democrats by and large opposed them. Why? With no additional information, one might suppose either that Blaine and his ilk were not really as protectionist as heretofore suggested, or that they anticipated trade to be the handmaiden of U.S. investment abroad, investors the advance party for annexation by an emergent U.S. empire, and imperial growth to be worth the loss of protectionist doctrinal purity.

With some additional information — just one or two examples of the many reciprocity agreements ratified during the period, including preferably one that Blaine negotiated as Harrison’s Secretary of State and that Cleveland abrogated — one would begin to see why either one of the last two stories is incomplete. Republicans and Democrats alike understood reciprocity to serve the interests of protection, and their understanding was well founded. This important facet of nineteenth-century American tariff controversies, in which may be found the origins of the Republican turn towards trade expansion, is clouded from view by a collection of legislative acts comprising exclusively those modifying “the” tariff. And yet, having such a collection at hand, while potentially hazardous to the student of U.S. trade policy, is helpful to the researcher.

Back to Volume I, The Encyclopedia. The more than four hundred entries were written by seventy-four contributors, most of them faculty members in history departments, a few of them graduate students in history, and a few others undergraduates or independent scholars. Many of the entries concern organizations, individuals, events or things of which I knew little before picking up the encyclopedia. I profited from reading them but cannot evaluate their accuracy. Others concern things I already knew either vaguely or firmly and found to be explained extraordinarily well. In this category the entries on John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Clay’s Compromise, the Force Act [of 1832], the Tariff of Abominations [of 1828], and Andrew Jackson written by Adrienne Caughfield, at the time of publication a Ph.D. student in history at Texas Christian University, stand out. Those by Cynthia Clark Northrup are notable for their generally high quality and also for their number: she appears to have done the heaviest lifting in Volume I, authoring by my count eighty entries.

But other entries by other authors are worryingly inaccurate or misleading. Regarding “American Farmers” the reader is told that “in 1913 the Underwood-Simmons Tariff became the first tariff since before the American Civil War to put many agricultural items of the free list while lowering others; unfortunately, this benefited the consumer, not the producer” (I, 12). The part before the semicolon is proved by Vol. III to be untrue; the part after it, depending on who is meant by “the producer,” is either obvious or false. Regarding Charles Francis Adams, the reader is told that after Adams’s supporters were outmaneuvered by those of Horace Greeley for the Liberal Republican nomination in 1872, “throughout the Gilded Age the tariff issue would only emerge as a diversionary tactic” (I, 3). At best this statement presumes “Gilded Age” to refer to a much shorter time period than is usually intended (and even then it is arguable). More accurately it is odd — and refuted by any number of people, events, and texts, e.g. the careers of authors like William Graham Sumner and politicians like Blaine, Harrison, and Cleveland, the tariff commission of 1882, the presidential election of 1888, and Joanne Reitano’s very good book (cited elsewhere in this encyclopedia) The Tariff Question in the Gilded Age: The Great Debate of 1888 (1994).

What stands out ultimately in these three volumes — the convenience of having at hand the many resources that are included in it, or the misapprehensions that could result from the exclusion of notable others? The excellent encyclopedia entries by scholars like Caughfield and the overall accomplishment of Northrup, or the smaller number of misleading entries? My reservations have not prevented me from thumbing often through the encyclopedia — particularly but not exclusively Volume III — while doing my own writing. So I will recommend it to other researchers of the history of U.S. trade policy, too. The high price will cause most to obtain it only through their institutions’ libraries.


William J. Barber, editor, 2005. The Development of the National Economy: The United States from the Civil War through the 1890s. London: Pickering and Chatto.

Joanne Reitano, 1994. The Tariff Question in the Gilded Age: The Great Debate of 1888. Pennsylvania State University Press.

Edward Stanwood, 1903. American Tariff Controversies in the Nineteenth Century (two volumes). New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co.

Frank W. Taussig, editor, 1921. Selected Readings in International Trade and Tariff Problems. Boston: Ginn and Company

Stephen Meardon is author of “Richard Cobden’s American Quandary: Negotiating Peace, Free Trade, and Anti-Slavery” (in Anthony Howe and Simon Morgan, eds., Rethinking Nineteenth Century Liberalism: Richard Cobden Bicentenary Essays, Ashgate, forthcoming) and “How TRIPs Got Legs: Copyright, Trade Policy, and the Role of Government in Nineteenth-Century American Economic Thought,” History of Political Economy (supplement, 2005).

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Limits of Protectionism: Building Coalitions for Free Trade

Author(s):Lusztig, Michael
Reviewer(s):O'Brien, Anthony Patrick

Published by EH.NET (December 2004)

Michael Lusztig, The Limits of Protectionism: Building Coalitions for Free Trade. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. xvi + 272 pp. $27.95 (paper), ISBN: 0-8229-5843-0.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Anthony Patrick O’Brien, Department of Economics, Lehigh University.

George Akerlof once remarked that the problem with macroeconomics is that in half the models unemployment is impossible, and in the other half full employment is impossible. A problem with models of rent seeking applied to international trade is that it’s unclear how free trade ever survives. The firms that benefit from protection benefit a lot. Everybody else is hurt a little. This isn’t quite true, of course. The steel tariffs the Bush Administration imposed a couple of years ago hurt steel users, particularly smaller ones, quite a bit. Still, the rent-seekers have more to gain, and so should be more successful at bribing legislators. The result ought to be much more protectionist legislation than we actually see in the United States and other industrial countries.

Michael Lusztig, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, believes he has discovered the resolution of this paradox. In Lustzig’s view legislators are corrupt, their votes for sale to the highest bidder, and so tend to favor protection. On the other hand, heads of government — presidents and prime ministers — favor liberalizing trade because they are either beneficent social planners or because they reap the political benefits of the more efficient economies that result from free trade. The relative lack of protectionism, then, reflects the ability of presidents to outmaneuver Congressmen. Presidents manage this by converting to free trade a sufficient number of firms that might otherwise have lobbied for protection. The notion that presidents and prime ministers are altruistic social planners will draw a horse laugh from most economists. (Note, again, Bush’s steel tariffs.) The thing is, though, most of the time it may well be true. At any rate it seems more plausible than Lustzig’s alternative argument that either the harm from protection or the benefits from free trade are likely to be visible to voters soon enough to have much impact during the average election cycle. One of the book’s weaknesses is that Lusztig spends little time establishing why there is typically a divergence between the interests of presidents and the interests of Congressmen on the question of liberalizing trade.

Lusztig divides rent-seeking firms into those that have no hope of surviving without protection — his “mythical and extreme example” is olive farmers in Finland — and those firms that prefer protection, but that might succeed at competing internationally, if forced to. Lusztig compares the second group to the “idle adolescent who prefers a parental allowance to getting the metaphorical haircut and job.” The existence of this second group means that reducing protection may actually increase political support for free trade by convincing some firms to shift resources away from rent seeking and toward competing internationally.

Most of Lusztig’s book is devoted to seven case studies that he believes demonstrate the shortcomings of the conventional rent-seeking model. In these studies, governments reduced protection for one of three reasons: there was an economic crisis, the IMF or World Bank ordered the reduction, or the government’s objectives changed, as when, for instance, protection was reduced as part of a general program of reform. Lusztig’s case studies are based on secondary sources, including a smattering of articles by economic historians. They contain few statistics and no formal statistical analysis. The seven case studies include: the repeal of the Corn Laws in Great Britain in 1846, the growth of support for free trade in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s, the movements to free trade in Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, and Chile in the 1980s, and the failures of movements to free trade in Brazil and Australia. Lusztig does a good job demonstrating that in each country and time period there existed a sizeable group of “flexible rent seekers” who could be converted to free trade, once the process of dismantling protection seemed irreversible. The successful liberalization programs were those that pulled off this conversion without generating too strong a political backlash.

Lustzig divides the outcomes of his case studies into “successes,” where trade was liberalized and the liberalizing president or prime minister survived politically, “failures,” where liberalization either failed or succeeded but the liberalizing president or prime minister was driven from office; and “mixed,” where only minor liberalization occurred. Lustzig argues that the success of liberalization depends on presidents and prime ministers knowing whether to eliminate protectionism all at once (the “Big Bang” strategy) or piecemeal (the “Iteration” strategy). His case studies discuss at length why one or the other strategy was preferable in particular circumstances. Lustzig hopes his analysis will provide guidance to presidents and prime ministers contemplating launching programs of liberalization. I have to say, though, that his advice on when to blow protection up and when to ease it out the door seems pretty vague and ad hoc to me. In any case, in practice trade liberalization is generally only one component of the political strategy of the typical president or prime minister. So, the pace of liberalization is often dictated by broader political considerations.

The book is a quick read, is well written and is jargon free. But the lack of economic analysis limits the book’s appeal to economists. The only sporadic attempts to engage the economic history literature also limit the book’s appeal to economic historians. The book does seem well suited to undergraduate students of international relations or international political economy.

Anthony Patrick O’Brien is professor of economics at Lehigh University. His principles of economics text, co-written with Glenn Hubbard, will be published in 2005 by Prentice-Hall.

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Heqanakht Papyri

Author(s):Allen, James P.
Reviewer(s):Silver, Morris

Published by EH.NET (November 2004)

James P. Allen, The Heqanakht Papyri. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, distributed by Yale University Press, 2002. xvii + 297 pp. + 57 Plates + CD. $50 (cloth), ISBN: 0-300-10318-2.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Morris Silver, Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics, City College of the City University of New York

I. Introduction The economic historian Karl Polanyi argued that markets became important only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of the present era. Instead of market-determined prices, the ruler (as representative of the gods) declared simple quantitative equivalencies to allow grain, oil, wine, and wool to be substituted for each other. A few main staples were received and given out at the palace gate (Polanyi 1981: 61, 134). Polanyi continues to enjoy major support. His influence becomes obvious in discussions of the economic mentality of ancient man, of the use of money/coinage and, especially, in the assertion that antiquity lacked markets for land and labor power.

When subjected to challenge, the validity of one or another of Polanyi’s positions is often shifted to times and places for which data are typically scarce and ambiguous, above all to Pharaonic Egypt. The latter is allegedly the epitome of a redistributional society. According to the Egyptologist Jacob J. Janssen (1982: 253) this means that “the surplus of peasant households was collected by the authorities, state and temple, in order to be redistributed among particular sections of society: officials, priests, the army, necropolis workmen, and so on.” However, Janssen (1975: 131, 185) maintains that the evidence is so scanty that “for the present, a study of the redistributional system in all its aspects seems the only possibility.”

The great value of the Heqanakht papyri is that they open a window to the kind of world with which economic historians are familiar. Private property, “economic man,” money and coinage and markets for land and labor-power become visible, however dimly. For these glimpses, economic historians are greatly indebted to Egyptologist James P. Allen and his predecessors for their monumental efforts. After a brief review of the background of the Heqanakht papyri attention is turned to the main economic features of the papyri as revealed in Allen’s translations (in Part I “The Texts”) and his Chapter 8 “Economics” (in Part II “Commentary”). These features are placed in the context of prevailing perspectives and additional relevant evidence is cited when necessary. Technical matters primarily of interest to Egyptologists are not discussed in this review.[1]

II. Background of the Heqanakht Papyri The Heqanakht papyri, part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are currently on display in its Egyptian galleries. They consist of five complete letters, four complete accounts, and four or five fragments. The papyri were discovered on the Museum’s Theban expedition of 1921-22 in the tomb of one Meseh. Each of the complete documents was found folded; two were tied with string and sealed with a lump of clay impressed with the same stamp. The papyri are dated to the early Middle Kingdom — i.e. to about 2000 B.C.

Allen improved on the previous readings of the text by means of examinations under various lighting conditions, with the aid of a microscope and by the application of computer technology.

III Economics 1. “Economic Man” According to Polanyi, “economic solipsism” is an outstanding feature of the market mentality. This is the view that commercial activity is “natural” to men and that markets would thus come into being unless prohibited by the government or other external forces (Polanyi 1981: 14-15). Polanyi’s main thrust anticipates classical scholars such as Moses Finley (1973, 1985) and Paul Millett (1991: especially 165-71), who maintain that, unlike modern economic man, ancient man was motivated primarily by considerations of status and communal solidarity. The postulate of wealth-maximizing used by contemporary economists is said to be utterly inappropriate to the “irrational,” that is, nonutilitarian, ancients.

It is not easy to find historical evidence casting direct light on motives, whether of status or profit. However, as Allen (142) points out, the Heqanakht letters deal almost entirely with economic matters and therefore “they offer unparalleled insights into the economic life of a moderately well-to-do Egyptian family at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.” Despite obscurities in meaning, it is clear that Heqanakht does not possess the antimarket mentality alleged by Polanyi and Finley. He calculates and makes plans concerning the amount and types of land (watered vs. unwatered) to put under cultivation; crop rotations (flax vs. barley vs. emmer); how to pay for rented land; how much to pay out in salaries; and he keeps and consults accounts of his enterprise. It is abundantly obvious that Heqanakht was very much concerned (obsessed?) with running his enterprise in a manner that would make a profit and augment his wealth. There is little or no reason to believe, moreover, that his objective in this endeavor was to increase his own or his family’s consumption of goods and services (cf. Baer 1963: 16-17)

Heqanakht, like the merchants (sheweteyew) of Papyrus Lansing (dating to the second half of the second millennium) who busied themselves in “supplying him who has not,” possessed the “marketing mind,” said by Polanyi (1981: 5) to be “peculiar to conditions of life under the type of economy the nineteenth century created in all industrial societies.” Let us also mention the warnings of Ankhsheshonqi (Papyrus British Museum 10508) that “the shewetey will charge for the water one drinks in his house” (16.5) and that “he disregards friendship to get his share” (28.4) (Allam 1998: 152).[2]

2. Private Landed Property The Egyptologist Menu (2001: 424) states that “The soil of Egypt is the exclusive property of the king.” This assertion is, however, the product of a “model,” not of evidence. Indeed, Menu (2001: 425) mentions fields termed nemehew “privately owned.” Further, when, in the fourteenth century BC, Akhenaten constructed the city of Amarna, the ruler did not claim (in his “Earlier Proclamation”) that the land, like the rest in Egypt, was his “exclusive property.” Instead, Akhenaten justified his claim by noting simply that the territory was not the property of a deity or ruler and “not the property of any people to do business of theirs with it.” In short, the land was unused and Akhenaten had found it “widowed”/”abandoned” (Murnane and van Siclen 1993: 37-8).

The evidence provided by Heqanakht is not voluminous but it is to the point. Not only does Heqanakht refer three times to “my land,” (149) but the entire tenor of his communications reveals his unquestioned power over the land he cultivates. The only reference to the state is that Heqanakht budgets some grain for the payment of taxes which were assessed on his livestock.[3]

3. Grain Market Heqanakht’s letters attest to grain sales. Heqanakht (1.4-5) anticipates using cash proceeds from the sale of emmer for renting land. If this amount is not sufficient, he instructs his family, to use proceeds from the sale of cloth (1.6).

The papyri also signal the making of grain loans in Heqanakht’s mention of “what is to be collected from the things (debts) which are in Perhaa” (1.vo. 17) and tjabet “grain loan” in Fragment A.4). The tjabet was probably a loan of grain by Heqanakht rather than a loan of grain to him. Allen (163 with n. 125) suggests that a tjabet-loan does not bear interest. The evidence for this interpretation is not entirely conclusive. In any event, the Heqanakht letters mention neither interest nor charity. However, the entire spirit of the letters makes it seem unlikely that he would give loans of grain as a charitable act. As Baer (1963: 17) notes: “And however much one would like to suppose that Heqanakht used some of his resources to succour the poor and starving among his neighbors, charity is not likely to have been a significant element in the personality of a man who was capable of putting his family on short rations for profit.”

Van De Mieroop (2002: 60-2) maintains that “Egyptian material prior to the ninth century is limited, but the available evidence suggests that the concept of lending with the expectation of an increased future return did not exist. People gave one another credit in an atmosphere of reciprocity and mutual aid.” This may be an idyllic vision. However, it is not what the “available evidence suggests.” First, there is a reference to at en mes “interest-grain” in Gurob Fragment L that dates to the second half of the second millennium. Second, Papyrus Turin 1881, also of the second half of the second millennium, contains, Jasnow (2003: 339) reports, “a loan of grain made at the very high interest of some 100 percent yearly”(cf. Baer 1962: 45, n. 115).

4. Markets for Labor-Power and Land Polanyi believes that the French Physiocrats conceived the idea of the economy concurrently with the emergence of the market as a supply-demand-price mechanism. The innovation of markets for goods was eventually followed by the revolutionary innovation of price-making markets for labor and land (Polanyi 1981: 6-7).

a. Land Market Baer (1962: 25-26) notes that “private individuals could own farm land at all periods of ancient Egyptian history,” and the “acquisition of fields for private purposes is … mentioned, from the earliest periods.” In the mid-third millennium, the mother of the entrepreneur/official Metjen conveyed her estate by means of an amat-per “house document.” Metjen himself purchased arable land that was (k)her “under:” numerous persons termed neseweteyew “king’s people” or, better, “citizens, subjects” (see Eyre 1999: 41). Somewhat later in the third millennium, we encounter such testimonies as “I ‘sealed’ a field of 23 arouras,” and “I bought twenty head of people and the ‘sealing’ of a large field” (Fischer 1961: 49). The “sealing” refers, of course, to a deed. Baer (1962) explains that a term nemehew-na-land means “privately owned.”(cf. Menu 2001: 425).

There are no land sales in the Heqanakht papyri but rental contracts are clearly attested. In Letter 2, Heqanankt pays (in advance) a fixed rent to lease (kedeb) fields (154-58). Heqanakht also leases land to others (159) More generally, there is evidence of an active rental market for fields. There are inquiries and negotiations concerning the availability of plots and several qualities of land are available. Thus, Heqanakht instructs his family: “Don’t farm the land everyone else farms. You should ask from Hau Jr. If you don’t find (any) from him, you will have to go before Herunefer. He is the one who can put you on watered land of Khepshyt” (1. 7-9).

b. Labor Market Heqanakht specifies the (barley) wage (akew) to be paid to hired workers and household members in return for work — “only as long as they are working” (Letter 2.29-30) The evidence (Account 7) indicates that he also paid salary plus commission to the woman Sitnesbsekhtu for producing linen from his flax (173-75). Indeed, the evidence of in-kind payments to Egyptian craftsmen is ample for the second half of the third and second millennia. During the earlier period, these payments were often called asew, and there are references to asewew-people, who may be wageworkers or possibly craftsmen.

In Letter P? Heqanakht instructs his steward to “collect the copper of those two female slaves” (21). This probably refers to income from the rental of the slaves. The salaries paid by Heqanakht vary from one worker to another and it is not easy to identify the influence of differences in productivity. However, the highest wage is paid to Nakht who undertakes a skilled and responsible mission — Nakht must travel from Sidder Grove to Perhaa and there consult with various individuals about leasing land. Heqanakht has special land in mind — Nakht must not lease “the land everyone else farms.” Nahkt must handle the arrangements for paying the rent (1. 3-9, 14-17).

5. Evidence for Money/Coinage Although they are presently in the minority, some Egyptologists (e.g., Cerny 1954: 910-12) are inclined to believe that Egypt knew a silver coin in the second half of the second millennium. This belief is founded on the expression of prices in terms of the shat/shaty/shenat/seniu, an ideographically written word conventionally translated as “piece.”

There are texts in which the shaty displays a physical nature. The Heqanakht letters show us barter and cash transactions. Thus, in Letter 1 (4-5) we read: “If, however, they will have collected the shat in exchange for that emmer that is (owed me) in Perhaa, they should use it as well” (cf. Letter 2.vo 3). Allen (155) translates shat as “value” but he finds it “evident” that it “may have involved an actual exchange of commodities for some standard medium of ‘value’…. The nature of this medium is not specified, but a text of the early New Kingdom suggests it may have been metal.” In my view it is perfectly clear from the context that the shat took a material form: the emmer has been sold for shat which will be used to pay rent. I find it difficult to follow Bleiberg (2002: 269), an Egyptologist, when he says, “Egyptians living prior to the first millennium did not have a clear idea of the concept of abstract value.”

Allen’s excellent discussion of the economics of the Papyri concludes with a detailed analysis of Heqanaktht’s grain budgets. This section will repay the efforts of economic historians interested in the specifics of an agricultural enterprise in the early second millennium BC.


James P. Allen is Curator, Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Vice-President of the International Association of Egyptologists. Dr. Allen, a graduate of the University of Chicago, served as epigrapher while on the University’s expedition to Luxor, Egypt. Since 1986 he has held a research appointment at Yale University, and has taught graduate seminars there and at the University of Pennsylvania. Allen’s specialties include ancient Egyptian language, texts and religion. He has written extensively about these subjects, and on the history of the Middle Kingdom and Amarna Period. Allen is the author of Genesis in Egypt, The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts, and Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs.

1. The latter include “Epigraphy and Paleography,” “Language,” “People,” “Places,” and “Chronology.”

2. The main manuscript of this Demotic text dates from late in Ptolemaic times. However, based on linguistic analysis the original date should be placed in late Saitic times.

3. Heqanakht’s letters and accounts make no mention of a tax on the grain grown in his fields. Allen (161) suggests that this was “either because the taxes had already been paid when the documents were written or because they had yet to be expended, like the grain needed for seed. The rate of taxation in the Middle Kingdom is unknown, but it may have been about ten percent of the harvest, as was true for crops grown on normal land in later times.”


Allam, Schafik (1998). “Affaires et Op?rations Commerciales.” In Nicholas Grimal and Bernadette Menu (eds.), Le commerce en ?gypte ancien, Cairo: Institut Fran?ais d?Arch?ologie Orientale, 133-56.

Baer, Klaus (1962). “The Low Price of Land in Ancient Egypt.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 1, 25-45.

Baer, Klaus (1963). “An Eleventh Dynasty Farmer’s Letters to His Family.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 83, 1-19.

Cerny, Jareslav (1954). “Prices and Wages in Egypt in the Ramesside Period.” Journal of World History, 1, 903-21.

Eyre, Christopher J. (1999). “The Village Economy in Pharaonic Egypt.” In Alan K. Bowman and Eugene Rogan (eds.). Agriculture in Egypt: From Pharaonic to Modern Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-32.

Finley, Moses (1973, second edition 1985, updated edition 1999). The Ancient Economy. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fischer, Henry George (1961). “The Nubian Mercenaries of Gebelein during the First Intermediate Period.” Kush, 9, 44-80.

Janssen, Jacob J. (1975). “Prolegomena to the Study of Egypt’s Economic History during the New Kingdom.” Studien zur Alt?gyptischen Kultur, 3, 127-85.

Janssen, Jacob J. (1982). “Gift-Giving in Ancient Egypt as an Economic Feature.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 68, 253-58.

Jasnow, Richard. (2003). “Egypt: New Kingdom”. In Raymond Westbrook (ed.). A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, Vol. I. Leiden: Brill, 289-359.

Menu, Bernadette (2001). “Economy: Overview”. In Donald B. Redford (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Vol. I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 422-26.

Millett, Paul. (1991). Lending and Borrowing in Ancient Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Murnane, William J. and Charles C. van Siclen III (1993). The Boundary Stelae of Akhenaten. London: Kegan Paul.

Polanyi, Karl (1981). The Livelihood of Man. Harry W. Pearson (ed.). New York: Academic Press.

Van De Mieroop, Marc (2002). “A History of Near Eastern Debt?” In Michael Hudson and Marc Van De Mieroop (eds.), Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East. Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press.59-94.

Morris Silver is Professor Emeritus of Economics in the City College of the City University of New York. His most recent publications about ancient economies are Taking Ancient Mythology Economically (Leiden: Brill, 1992) and Economic Structures of Antiquity (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995). “Modern Ancients” is in press in Rollinger and Ulf (eds.), Commerce and Monetary Systems in the Ancient World, Fifth Annual Melammu Conference 2002. Professor Silver maintains a website on “Ancient Economies” at

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

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

The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece

Author(s):Schaps, David M.
Reviewer(s):Silver, Morris

Published by EH.NET (April 2004)

David M. Schaps, The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. xvii + 293 pp. $75 (cloth), ISBN: 0-472-11333-X.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Morris Silver, Department of Economics (Emeritus), City College of the City University of New York.

Briefly stated, David Schaps’ central argument runs as follows:

Coinage = Money (in the Greek experience the two are equated) was invented in Greece or Asia Minor (Lydia) in the later seventh or earlier sixth century. The Greeks eagerly copied/adapted this innovation and it spread rapidly in their cities during the sixth century. The result was a profound transformation in Greek economy and society. Before the Greek adoption of coinage, the ancient Mediterranean world knew only primitive money, not money as we know it. Primitive money was incapable of generating the revolution that Greece experienced.

I begin with a number of quotations capturing the argument and then, in the main part of the review, move on to consider the details.

This book will tell the story… of the development of money both in the Near East and in Greece up to the invention of coinage and its widespread adoption by the Greek cities, the only communities that adopted it wholeheartedly at its first appearance. (17)

Something new happened with the invention of coinage, and it produced a new idea that persists to our day. (5)

I have tried throughout only to sketch the ways in which Greek thought and behavior were changed by the introduction of money. (vii)

From the Greeks onward, we find a new way of speaking and ofthinking. Now a person might state the entirety of a household’s possessions in terms of money, as no member of a premonetary society would ever do. (16)

One of the central propositions of this book is that when we speak historically, the invention of coinage was the invention of money: that is, the concept that we understand as “money” did not exist before the seventh century B.C.E., when coins were first minted. There surely had been many items before that we may recognize correctly, as money, there were even places…where a single item performed all the functions associated with money. Never before, however, had these items been conceptualized as money, for money to the Greeks, as to us, was the measure of all things, something different in nature from all the valuables that might represent it. (15; emphasis in original)

All ancient Near Eastern societies had a conventional standard of value, usually precious metals or a specified grain. The standard of payment was always “primitive money,” never coin, and it did not always perform all the functions that coin was later to perform…. If Greece was the cradle of coinage and Lydia its birthplace, the societies of the Near East were its ancestors. (34)

Schaps links the unprecedented Greek adoption of coinage with Greek backwardness. The Greeks… who had only very primitive forms of currency, thought of coins as they had never thought of those items in which they had once traded, evaluated and paid. An ideal that had grown up in the East at a time when Greece had no need for it suddenly dawned on the Greeks when coins appeared. It was a time when the Greeks were in a period of economic and intellectual expansion for which their relatively primitive economic concepts did not provide an adequate basis…. Precisely because of their economic backwardness, they had no sufficient preexisting conceptual structure to compete with or subordinate the idea of money. (16-17)

Why did the ancient Near East (ANE) not move from a very evident monetization to “money, as we know it”? Technology would not have raised a barrier to the transformation. Why were coins so exciting to the Greeks and so uninteresting to their neighbors? The answer is that they filled a need peculiar to Greek society…. It was Greece that was searching for new forms of government and administration to manage the new complexity of the poleis and new ways of organization to maintain its people, and coins made that administration and that organization simpler and more manageable than spits and cauldrons [primitive money] could have done. (108)

This is interesting, but not entirely convincing. An alternative line of explanation is that coinage (guaranteed money) is not nearly as important economically as Schaps supposes. The alleged special interest of the Greeks in coinage may then reflect an ideological dimension peculiar to the Greeks. Schaps mentions “the particular Greek appreciation of the universality of money” (196). There is also a real question, explored below, whether Greece was really so backward monetarily as Schaps suggests.

Schaps’ presentation is quite clear and, obviously, there is rich material here. The view that coinage was invented by the Lydians is one that is generally accepted by scholars. I do have some problems with the equation of money with coinage and the meaning of “primitive money.” There is also something of a problem with respect to whom, according to Schaps, invented coinage: On the one hand, the Lydians invented coins and then the Greeks eagerly used them. On the other hand, the time when the Greeks eagerly used coins is the time of invention. These are relatively minor issues and I put them aside. On to the details!

I. Did the Ancient Near East Know Coinage?

A. Indirect Evidence

1. Schaps states that a “discussion of the factors that go into price determination does not form part of this book, for their importance arises in a money economy, and the point at which the Greeks achieved a money economy is the point at which this study ends” (30). I am not sure exactly what this means. Schaps is perhaps suggesting that the forces of supply and demand determine prices only in an economy with money, which he equates with coinage. This is, of course, completely false. Later Schaps adds “The Babylonian economy was still not, as it would become in the Hellenistic period, dominated by a market where prices changed each day; but it was not immune to the law of supply and demand” (49). This is a heroic understatement! Although we do not have daily price data, there is ample evidence of price changes and of the operation of supply and demand. Indeed, the Old Babylonian period (earlier second millennium BCE) has been characterized by Hallo (1958: 98) as one in which “there was a price on everything from the skin of a gored ox to the privilege of a temple office.”

2. Silver was indeed used as a means of payment in the ANE. However, rather than spreading through the population, it remained in the hands of merchants. “It never became, as coins eventually would, synonymous with wealth itself. It could not have done so, if only because too few people owned it. For this reason, the Babylonians never thought of silver as we think of money” (51).

The surviving documents do not demonstrate that Mesopotamians thought of money in the same way the Greeks did. Caution is justified about the reason for this presumed difference. There is evidence for the dispersal of precious metals in the population. As early as the middle of the third millennium in Ebla (in Syria) silver was used to purchase ordinary goods including clothing and grain as well as wine and semi-precious stones (Archi 1993: 52). Mesopotamian texts of the middle of the second half of the third millennium already show us street vendors, and, according to Foster (1977: 35-36, nn. 47, 48), the use of silver to pay rents and purchase dates, oil, barley, animals, slaves, and real estate; in addition, “silver was widely used in personal loans and was often in possession of private citizens and officials.”

3. Schaps asserts “The silver of the Near East had never been coined; it was weighed at each transaction, and the scale was an essential accessory to every sale” (49). This statement may reflect general belief, but it goes beyond the evidence. It is not true that ANE texts invariably mention weighing and/or scales. Indeed, to my knowledge, the mention of scales is infrequent. Nevertheless, Schaps is on strong ground in stressing the centrality of weighing in transactions recorded in the Bible.[1]

B. Direct Evidence

Schaps maintains that “an examination of the various primitive items that have at one time or another been claimed to be coins fails to reveal any clear example, and it may be useful to clear the air of the various hypotheses, which by their very number can create the false impression that coinage was common in the eastern Mediterranean Basin long before the Lydians and the Greeks” (222-23). Elsewhere he maintains that “the verisimilitude of the preceding suggestion is not much above zero” (235). Schaps may well be correct in rejecting this hypothesis. However, his treatment of the evidence leaves something to be desired.

1. The evidence is reasonably clear that the ANE went a good part of the way toward coinage by circulating ingots of guaranteed quality. Assyrian loan contracts of the eighth to seventh centuries use various formulas to advance “silver of (the goddess) Ishtar (of the city) Arbela (or Nineveh or Bit Kidmuri).” Lipinski (1979) argued brilliantly against interpreting this phrase to mean “temple capital.” Expressions of this kind, he suggested, refer to the quality of the metal, and their inclusion in contracts makes no sense unless the metal is impressed with a stamp of guarantee. The practice of guaranteeing metal quality, it may be added, probably goes back to the second millennium. The expression “silver of the gods” is found in texts from Mari in Syria and Amarna in Egypt. For example, in a letter concerning the disposition of an inheritance the king of Mari refers to the deceased person’s “silver of the gods” (Malamat 1998: p. 185; cf. CAD s.v. ilu 1.e).

In discussing the ingots from the temple of Arbela Schaps concludes: There was nothing particularly important about this development as far as Assyria was concerned. The temple’s ingots, even if stamped, were no more than good quality silver…. It will have been the business of a merchant to recognize them and to know good silver from bad, but there was nothing revolutionary about them. They may have come in convenient sizes…, but they were hardly standardized, and it is hard to imagine that a merchant would have failed to put them on the scale before accepting them. (92)

A guarantee of metal quality surely reduced the transaction cost of using money and it is therefore puzzling that Schaps considers this a development little or no importance. Moreover, he goes beyond the evidence in saying that the ingots were not standardized in weight. The texts do not say that the ingots were weighed.

2. Schaps writes of the Egyptian shaty “piece”: “It is regularly used as an item of account, not a medium of trade: that is, not ‘pieces’ but other items changed hands, bartered for each other and evaluated in terms of ‘pieces'” (224-25). In fact, there is evidence for the circulation of shaty‘s in texts of the Ramesside era (second half of the second millennium). In the Eighteenth Dynasty, a text (Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1453A) records the delivery of silver shaty‘s to a woman at the meryet “quay, marketplace” (Condon 1984: 63-65). In Papyrus Boulaq 11 merchants pay for quantities of meat and wine with shaty‘s (Castle 1992: 253, 257; Peet 1934). The texts do not say that the shaty‘s were weighed or tested for quality.

3. Schaps discusses the Egyptian Hekanakht letters of about 2000 BCE, but he does not refer to the following significant detail. Copper coins may be indicated when Hekanakht sends to his agent “24 copper debens” for renting land. James (1984: 245) explains that “the letter says quite clearly ’24 copper debens,’ not ’24 debens of copper,’ which ought to signify 24 pieces of copper each weighing, one deben.”

4. Schaps does not mention texts from the Assyrian trading station in Anatolia (earlier second millennium BCE) in which we sometimes find prices being expressed in terms of copper ingots, patallu and sad?lu. Thus, one Dakuku “owes 12 copper sad?lus as the price of donkey.” Dercksen (1996. 60, n. 179) notes that “quantity is expressed by simply giving the number of ingots instead of their weight [which] points to a more or less customary weight and size for this type” (emphasis added). I would add that use of the number of ingots also points to a standard quality.

5. Schaps defines “coin” as follows: “[A] coin is an object, usually but not necessarily of metal, which circulates as a medium of trade, and whose value is guaranteed by the stamp of the issuing authority” (223). He adds: “We may thus ignore without further discussions such items as spits, rings, and sealed bags of silver, which although they served many of the purposes that coins later served were not by themselves coins at all. They belong to the history of ‘primitive money’… (223).

Schaps’ dismissal of sealed bags of silver is most puzzling and instead of ignoring these, he offers a brief discussion of their significance. He concludes that “When silver was to be reused, a certain amount was given to the assayer in advance. Whatever the assayer did not use was sealed with a royal seal, obviating the need for weighing and assaying it again. The ‘sealed silver,’ then, is ordinary silver sealed in a sack, not a coin” (223-24).

In my view, sealed bags provide evidence for widespread use of “coinage” in the ANE. The background is as follows. Cuneiform sources of the first half of the second millennium refer to sealed bags of silver (e.g. kaspum kankum). We hear of “(silver) in lumps-sealed in a bag” (CAD s.v. kankua) and “x silver which is placed in its sealed bag” (CAD s.v. kan?ku 2). There is also mention of silver “marked” (udd?) with its weight (CAD s.v. id? 4.a). Copper might also be packed into purses called (c)hurshianu (CAD s.v.; Dercksen 1996: 66)

The sealed bags might be transferred: “I needed (and asked you for in writing) ten shekels of silver under seal.” x silver which PN gave to PN2 , and which is marked with the name of the merchant. (CAD s.v. s(umu 1.e); “you have sent me silver which is not fit for business transactions… send me silver, (in) a sealed bag” (CAD s.v. kaniktu 2). Oppenheim (1969) makes brief mention of cuneiform sources of the first half of the second millennium that refer to sealed bags of silver deposited with persons who used the silver in various transactions. Most directly, the practice of transacting with sealed bags of silver is reflected in the call, in eighteenth-century contracts from Mesopotamia (the city of Larsa), for merchants to pay for palace-owned goods with “sealed silver” (Stol 1982: 150-51). The transactional use of sacks is ignored by S.[2]

Some years ago, in reflecting on these references, it occurred to me that in eleventh-century-CE Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa, in Talmudic times (400-500 CE) and earlier in Carthage and in Rome (the tesserae nummulariae), various coins and (probably) metal fragments were kept in purses labeled on the outside with the contents and sealed by governments or private merchants. In addition to keeping the coins “fresh” — that is, preserving their full weight — Udovitch (1979: 267), who studied the usage in medieval Islam, explains: “these packaged and labeled purses made settlement of accounts much more convenient… by obviating the need to weigh, array, and evaluate coins for every individual transaction. Significantly, most payments and transfers of funds were executed by the actual physical transfer of the purses.” We may assume that these purses circulated among the wealthier classes.

Schaps responds as follows: “[Morris] Silver (126-27) obfuscates this point, going so far as to say that (medieval Islamic!) sealed purses ‘in short… were large denomination coins.’ This is surely to broaden the definition of a coin far beyond reason” (224, n. 9). Schaps obtained this quote from my 1985 edition. In 1995 I wrote: “In short, the sealed purses functioned as large-denomination ‘coins'” (161). The reason for the change in formulation is that numismatic specialists and antiquarians insisted that coins had to be made of metal. I was hammered on this, to an economist, unimportant detail. Schaps? properly broadened definition of “coin” makes my original formulation perfectly appropriate. Under his definition a “nickel,” as he says, can be wooden and “a dollar bill would also count as a ‘coin’ (223, n. 3). The important point is that there is evidence to suggest that the kaspum kankum functioned as/were coins!

6. Schaps does not mention evidence provided by Joann’s (1989). Hammurabi (1792-1750) paid/rewarded Mari’s soldiers with (mysterious) shamsh?tum “sun discs,” gold rings, silver of 5 or 10 shekels, and with small pieces of silver impressed with a seal. Joann?s bases himself on ARMT 25, 815 and a letter (A-486+) to Zimri-Lim, the king of Mari. The key word here is kaniktum from kan?kum “to mark a seal” (see CAD s.vv.). In the absence of (additional?) evidence for the use of kaniktum to make payments, Joann?s suggests that these sealed metal objects may have been “medals.” Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps they were coins. Indeed, as far as I am aware, the evidence for coinage is more ample than the evidence for “medals”! The text is silent about whether and how Mari’s soldiers spent the small pieces of sealed silver.

7. Several bread-shaped ingots of the eighth century inscribed with the name of a king preceded by the Aramaic letter lamed have actually been found in the palace of Zinjirli, a north Syrian state located on the only good crossing of the Amanus mountains from east to west. The meaning of the possessive l is debated. One possibility is that it means “belonging to” in the sense of personal possession. Balmuth (1971: 3), however, suggests that it means “on behalf of” or “in the name of” (its meaning on coins of later times) and, therefore, that the inscription represents a royal guarantee of the metal. Any such guarantee might refer only to the quality of the metal or to both quality and weight. Schaps responds as follows: “But there is no indication that this disk… was ever meant to be currency at all, and coins did not become current in this area until centuries later” (91, n.52). Thus, Schaps comes close to saying that the ingot could not be a coin because they had not been invented yet! Schaps believes that the disks were designed for storage of wealth, not for making payments. Perhaps he has guessed right. The fact is, however, that there is simply no evidence beyond the inscribed ingots themselves.

As I will show next, Schaps requires much more from the Near Eastern coinage evidence than from the Greek.

II. Greek Coinage Evidence

1. There is clear evidence of a double standard in Schaps’ consideration of the Lydian evidence (93-6). The “Lydian” coins excavated in the Artemision at Ephesus are mostly dated to the seventh and earlier sixth centuries BCE. However, the dating remains controversial. Two of the pieces were dumps not coins. The significance of their inscriptions is still being debated. All but two of the ninety-three pieces conformed to the Milesian weight standard. There is no evidence that merchants would not have had to weigh them. There is no direct evidence that the coins circulated. The coins are made of the wrong metal, electrum instead of silver, gold, or copper. (Variation in the ratio of gold to silver, would seem to call for quality testing.) In short, despite numerous opportunities for raising objections, Schaps does not hesitate to call the finds in the Artemision, the “earliest datable coins” (93; emphasis added).

Schaps explains further: “The motivation behind the ‘cutting’… of such coins must have been quite different from the motivation of the temple of Arbela in casting its ingots. Ingots of a pound or so are a convenient way in which to store silver, and they were probably made for that purpose. Small and minutely subdivided weights of electrum [as in the Ephesus hoard], however, were undoubtedly made for payment not storage” (100). Possibly. However, there is evidence for the circulation of the Arbela ingots. A contract in which neither the temple nor its commercial agent is a party shows the silver being loaned out. The document originates some 50 miles from Arbela. On the other hand, no direct evidence is presented that the Ephesus coins circulated.

Contrast Schaps’ evaluation of the Artemision coins with his view of the Cappadocian lead disks, which may date to the mid-second millennium (225-26). The “ornamentation” on (one side) of the disks is similar but not identical. The disks “vary irregularly in weight.” They are made of the “wrong metal.” There is no evidence of “circulation from place to place.” Scholars have expressed doubts that “such small bits of lead could have had much monetary value” (225). “Nothing suggests that they are coins except their size and shape and the fact that they are made of metal…” (225). It would seem that ANE candidates for designation as early coins are always too large or too small or whatever.

2. Schaps does not demonstrate that the Greece took its inspiration from Lydian coins. Schaps explains: “The Greek coins were silver, not electrum…. The change to silver indicates that coins, even if they had begun as a solution to the problem of the variability of electrum, had come to be appreciated as what they now were: a countable unit of value” (104; emphasis added). Clearly, this terminology simply assumes an imitation and modification of Lydian coinage practices.

3. There are hints that the Greeks had long been familiar with “primitive money” or even coinage. Greek traditions and legends place coinage much earlier than the sixth century. Thus, Plutarch (Theseus 25.3) wrote in the first century CE that Theseus, the legendary unifier and king of Attica, issued coins. In the second century CE, the scholar Pollux (9.83), claimed that coinage was invented by the even more shadowy Athenian figure Erichthonius, an early king. We find reports in ancient literary sources that Pheidon, king of Argos, introduced a silver coinage possibly as early as the eighth century (see S 101-4).

Hacksilber “cut-silver” hoards have not been found inside Greece. However, an eighth century hoard was excavated in Eretria in Euboea. (The Taranto 1911 hoard is dated to c. 600.) Balmuth (1975: 296) suggests that “although many of these have been called silversmith’s hoards, the practicability of exchange by weight suggests that Hacksilber could simultaneously be both material for a jeweler and material for exchange.” Schaps does not “believe there was ever an internal bullion economy in Greece” (195).[3] However, Kim (2001) has presented evidence that money of weighed silver bullion was employed in the Greek world well before the introduction of coinage. There are references to the use of silver to pay fines in Solon’s time.

More importantly, Schaps provides evidence consistent with bullion usage. In the eighth century, at Gortyn in Crete, the leb?s “cauldron” was used to make payments. Schaps explains that “it is hard to escape the impression that cauldrons, as inconvenient as they may seem to be, were functioning as a means of payment… in which fines could be assessed and deposits demanded” (83, cf. 195). Actually, it is preposterous that physical cauldrons were used as means of payment. More reasonably, “cauldrons” might be the name for an ingot, perhaps stamped with the image of a cauldron. Mysterious monetary units are, after all, commonplace in the historical documents. Thus, a text from the ANE (Isin) records the purchase of an orchard for copper “hoes” ((c)haputu) inscribed with the name of the goddess Ninisina. Payments are also made in “sickles” and “axes” (CAD niggallu 1.b).

III. Alleged Revolutionary Effect of Coinage/Money

Schaps’ central proposition is not documented in a credible manner. In this endeavor, he receives only limited mileage from his strained identification of coinage with money. Sometimes he claims for money/coin the effects of Greek economic growth. In other instances, he admits that no revolution occurred. The quotations cited below illustrate his difficulties.

1. “The conceptual revolution that identified coins with wealth turned money into an item of which one could never have too much, or, indeed, enough” (175). What then of the Assyrian merchants of the early second millennium BCE whose wives scolded them “You love only money, and you hate your own life!” (Larsen 1982: 42)? More to the point, what of Solon (Fragment 13.43-45. 47-48, 71-73 West):

One hastens after one thing, another after something else; one man, desiring to bring home profit, wanders over the fishy sea in ships … another, whose concern is the curved plow, cleaves the thickly wooded land and slaves away for a year… but no limit of wealth [ploutou d’ouden terma] is clearly laid down for men; for those of us who now have the greatest livelihood [pleiston…bion] have twice the eagerness [diplasion specdousi]; who can satisfy [koreseien] all? (Balot 2001: 90)Presumably, this view originates in the late archaic period — i.e. before the Greeks adopted coinage. In any event, Solon does not link human acquisitiveness with coinage or money.

2. “To the extent, then, that Homeric society had distinguished prestige goods from nonprestige goods, money subverted the distinction: money could buy anything and could be gotten in exchange for anything. It follows that even a peasant or a shopkeeper could amass enough money to buy the most prestigious goods; and it followed from this that the possession of those goods, which is now open to everybody, no longer distinguished the best from the worst” (117).

3. “The history of the late archaic age in Greece is the story of the crumbling of oligarchies. This development was already underway before coinage had been invented…. Nevertheless, it is more than probable that money and the market had their share in continuing the process and in changing the entire concept of oligarchy” (120).

4. An (alleged) trend from socially embedded transactions to impersonal economics should not be attributed to the adoption of coinage. There is no doubt that economic transactions tended, as Greek society developed from the archaic age to the classical and the Hellenistic, to be more a matter of immediate mutual economic benefit and less a form of discharging social obligations. The invention of coinage certainly facilitated this change, which may, however, have been propelled more by simple population growth than by any technological or cultural development. (33)

5. “The agora grew up in the Kerameikos, the potters quarter, and excavations have found evidence of potters’ waste as far back as 1000 B.C.E., but there are not other signs of commercial or industrial activity before the growth of the agora itself [in the sixth century]” (113). “We cannot… prove that there was no retail trade before coins were invented; but what we have seen suggests that if there was any, there was not much” (115). The latter suggestion, however, does not depend so much on “what we have seen” as on what we have not, namely the archaic agora! “The place in which Athenians had previously congregated was hardly remembered by the Athenians and has not been securely identified to this day” (113).

In the end, Schaps offers a more balanced appraisal. The various participants “were all making a profit, and they were doing it in a way that would have been a good deal more difficult before the invention of coinage” (115). “Money, we may reiterate, did not create trade, but it marked the beginning of a new age of commerce in Greece” (122). “An expansion of retail trade was the first visible concomitant of coins. At this distance, we cannot tell which is cause and which is effect, but we can say at least that the marketplace and coinage grew up together” (196).

6. “Without money, the great temples, the dramatic festivals of Athens, its navy, and its democracy would have taken a very different form, if they had come to exist at all” (197). This is simply a reach.

7. “Merkelbach’s observation that a bordello was hardly conceivable before the invention of money is a plausible one, though the ‘money’ involved need not have been coins: the weighed silver of the Levant would also have been sufficient” (160). “Merkelbach’s observation” is “plausible” only because he does not identify money with coinage. How did Greeks pay for sexual services before the (alleged) “invention” of coinage/money in the sixth century? Schaps does not tell us.

8. “The ancient Greeks, even when money had become the universal medium of exchange, still considered the exchange of labor for money to be the exceptional case” (162). No revolution in the labor market.

9. “In sum, it appears that money never truly transformed Greek agriculture” (172).

Schaps, however, underestimates the market orientation of Greek agriculture in the later archaic period. Citing Hesiod (Works and Days 618-94), he (89, cf. 119) suggests that “Peasants might try to change an agricultural surplus into a more lasting form of wealth by sailing abroad during the seasons when the farm could be left alone.” What exactly was the “more lasting form of wealth” in these days (allegedly) before money/coin? With respect to Schaps? “agricultural surplus,” Redfield 2003: 168) points out that Hesiod advises “peasants” to “leave the greater part, and load as cargo the lesser” (Works and Days 690). Hesiod it seems can actually imagine farming entirely for export, although he is against it.” Moreover, Hesiod’s comment that “wealth means life to poor mortals” indicates an appreciation of production for the market.

IV. Peripheral Contributions

Apart from his central argument, Schaps makes a number of rather interesting and useful observations. Some examples follow.

“When the [Mycenaean] palaces had been burned and their far-flung bureaucracy dispersed, there will have been more need for exchange. The Homeric heroes did indeed have to weigh the value of a slave against the value of a tripod; if this seems to us a step toward the concept of money, it is not for that reason a sign of an expanding economy” (71). Thus, as I would see this, the Homeric era can be viewed and an “Intermediate Period” of a type familiar in Egyptian economic history.

Speaking of the marketplace in Athens, Schaps notes: These merchandises were not mixed: not only was there no one ‘general store’ that sold them all, but there was not even a single place where one could ‘do the shopping.’ Each merchandise had its own part of the agora, and a person would speak of being ‘among the fish’ or ‘among the banks.’ (167)

Or even, citing Aristophanes, “among the tragedies” (S 167, n. 19)!

Schaps (123) cites Aristophanes’ joke that a politician could win public support by lowering the price of sardines.

Schaps takes up private enterprise in the coinage business: It might, in theory, have happened that coining would have become a form of business, in which private individuals turned silver into coins that would have been accepted by the reputation of the coiner…. It did not happen in Greece. Once coinage was generally adopted in Greek cities, the coining of money was normally a state monopoly. (179)

By contrast, I would suggest, some of the inscriptions on the coins from the Artemision coins seem to be personal names, which leaves open the possibility that the issuers were private individuals.

Large business loans were made at Athens. “It is true, however, that large loans at Athens were, as far we can tell, never designed to be paid off in drips and drabs out of one’s regular income” (245).

There are also some rather unfortunate observations. “Behind the [Greek] prejudice [against merchants] though hardly ever explicitly expressed, lies a real paradox, namely, the syllogism that: (a) a trade should be fair; (b) if a trade is fair, both sides should remain with the same value; whence it follows that (c) if a person can increase his capital by trade, he is cheating someone” (177). It should be needless to say that there is no “real paradox.” An uncoerced exchange benefits both parties. Unless each contractor views his postexchange position to be superior to his preexchange position, exchange will not take place. Contrary to the Marxist perspective, exchange is productive. Specifically, trade rearranges an existing stock of goods in a way that enables each participant to become better off as measured relative to his own values at the time of deciding to trade. The creative nature of trade is little appreciated by scholars untrained in basic economic principles. Schaps (177, n. 7) compounds the problem by minimizing the contribution of the middleman in “making a market.” Later, he redeems himself by crediting the obolostat?s “obol weigher” for smoothing the function of the marketplace by “redistributing — for a fee — the coins that circulated in the market so that any seller could count on finding enough coins to start a day’s business” (186).

Concluding Remark

Not surprisingly, Schaps fails to demonstrate his thesis that coin=money revolutionized Greek economy and society. In my judgment, it is not nearly enough to cite the obvious advantages of coins in retail trade and to note that a Greek household might now express the entirety of its possessions in terms of money. With respect to the invention of coinage, the communis opinio has long been that it first appeared in the Greek world, not in the Near East. Schaps, to his credit, does explore the evidence for coinage in the Near East. However, he omits or misrepresents much and treats the remainder in an unbalanced manner. He has a tendency to make definitive statements not supported by evidence. Outside his central argument, he has many worthwhile things to say. The latter insights are sufficient to justify a favorable evaluation of the book.


1. In Genesis 23.16, Abraham “weighed” for Ephron’s field the sum of 400 shekels of silver kesep ‘?ber lass?cher. The latter phrase is usually translated “current money of the merchant,” but the literal meaning is “silver passing for the merchant.” The expression makes us focus on the kind of silver that would be employed in commerce. Hurowitz (1986: 290, n.3), taking note of the Old Assyrian usage kaspum asshumi PN (personal name) equlam ittiq — “silver will travel overland to the name of PN” — concludes that the silver “must have been of a standard, recognized quality.” There is no mention in Genesis of a test of the quality of the metal. Hence, it seems reasonable that a merchant’s stamp or seal guaranteed the silver. Schaps (91, n. 50) rejects this interpretation. He (228, n. 37) is correct in insisting that the silver was weighed

2. Despite the dangers, some biblical evidence should be noted. In 2 Kings 12.10-12 we read that in the ninth century under King Jehoash: a box with a hole bored in it was set up in the temple for the collection of silver [presumably silver pieces] for a repairs fund; at a certain point the Temple officers removed the silver from the box and “tied it up”/”bagged it” [warrasuru]; then the silver was counted [wayyimnu]; and then the “measured”/”regulated” [metukkan] silver was given to contractors who delivered it to various workers at the Temple who used it to purchase timber and stone. The text does not say that the sacks were opened in order to make payments. Thus, expressing all due caution, the most direct understanding is that the sacks circulated outside the Temple.

3. There is some reason to believe that terms originally meaning “weigh” came to have the meaning “pay” (compare S 228, n. 37) The Greek material provides a possible example of this kind of development in meaning. A law of Solon states: “Silver is to be stasimon at however much the lender may choose” (Kroll 2001: 78; Schaps 2001: 97). The orator Lysias (later fifth-earlier fourth century BCE) explains “This stasimon, my good man, is not a matter of placing in a balance but of exacting interest at whatever rate one may choose” (10.18). Schaps (2001: 98) concedes that stasis may refer to weighing but he opposes Kroll’s interpretation of Lysias as referring to an obsolete procedure, the weighing of silver on a scale: “The claim hinges on the presumption that stasimon ‘properly’ should mean ‘weighable’; but there are no parallels for such a meaning.” What then does stastimon mean in Solon’s law? According to Schaps (2001: 98) the word means “nothing more than ‘is to be paid’.”

In fact, there are no other examples of the use of stasimos in the meanings “weighing” (Kroll) or “paying” (Schaps). What is clear is that “There is an absolute connection between the adjective stasimos and the noun stasis, both derived from the verb hist?mi ‘to stand up, to cause to stand up” (David Tandy personal correspondence dated March 2, 2004; LSJ s.v. hist?mi). The verb hist?mi is well attested in the meaning “to weigh.”

In classical Athens, long after the introduction of coins, we find the term obolostate? “weigh obols” in the meaning “making small loans” (LSJ s.v.). There is evidence here of an evolution from “weighing” to “paying.”


CAD: Gelb et al., The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute (University of Chicago)

LSJ: Lidell, Scott, Jones, Greek-English Lexicon References


Archi, Alfonso. (1993), “Trade and Administrative Practice: The Case of Ebla.” Altorientalische Forschungen, 20, 43-58.

Balmuth, Miriam S. (1971). “Remarks on the Appearance of the Earliest Coins.” In David G. Mitten et al. (eds.), Studies Presented to George M.A. Hanfmann. Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, 1-7.

Balmuth, Miriam S. (1975). “The Critical Moment: The Transition from Currency to Coinage in the Eastern Mediterranean.” World Archaeology, 6, 293-98.

Balmuth, Miriam S. (ed.) (2001). Hacksilber to Coinage: New Insights into the Monetary History of the Near East and Greece. New York: American Numismatic Society.

Balot, Ryan K. (2001). Greed and Injustice in Classical Athens. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Castle, Edward W. (1992). “Shipping and Trade in Ramesside Egypt.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 35,239-77.

Condon, Virginia. (1984). “Two Account Papyri of the Late Eighteenth Dynasty (Brooklyn 35.1453A and B).” Revue d’?gyptologie, 35, 57-82.

Dercksen, Jan Gerrit. (1996). The Old Assyrian Copper Trade in Anatolia. Leiden: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul.

Foster, Benjamin R. (1977). “Commercial Activity in Sargonic Mesopotamia.” Iraq, 39, 31-44.

Gelb, I.J. et al. (eds.) (1956-). The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Locust Valley, N.Y.: Augustin.

Hallo, William W. (1958). “Contributions to Neo-Sumerian.” Hebrew Union College Annual, 29, 69-107.

Hurowitz (Avigdor), Victor. (1986). “Another Fiscal Practice in the Ancient Near East: 2 Kings 12:5-17 and a Letter to Esarhaddon (LAS 277).” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 45, 289-94.

James, T.G.H. (1984). Pharaoh’s People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Joann?s, F. (1989). “108) M?dailles d’argent d’Hammurabi?” Nouvelles Assyriologiques Br?ves et Utilitaires, (no. 4 D?cembre), 80-1.

Kim, Henry S. (2001). “Archaic Coinage as Evidence for the Use of Money.” In Andrew Meadows and Kirsty Shipton (eds.), Money and Its Uses in the Ancient Greek World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 7-21.

Kroll, John H. (2001). “Observations on Monetary Instruments in Pre-Coinage Greece.” In Balmuth (ed.), Hacksilber to Coinage, 77-91.

Larsen, Mogens Trolle (1982). “Caravans and Trade in Ancient Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.” Bulletin of the Society of Mesopotamian Studies, 4, 33-45.

Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott. (1968). A Greek-English Lexicon. Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie, rev. ed. London: Oxford University Press.

Lipinski, Edward. (1979). “Les temples neo-assyriens et les origines du monnayage.” In Edward Lipinski (ed.), State and Temple Economy in Ancient Mesopotamia, II. Leiden: Brill, 565-88.

Malamat, A. (1998). Man and the Bible. Leiden: Brill.

Oppenheim, A. Leo. (1969). “Review of R. Bogaert.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 12, 198-99.

Peet, Thomas Eric. (1934). “Unit of Value s(‘ty in Papyrus Bulaq 11.” In M?langes Maspero, Vol. 1, Fasc 1. Cairo: Institut Fran?aise d?Archa?ologie Orientale du Caire, 185-99.

Refield, James M. (2003). The Locrian Maidens: Love and Death in Greek Italy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Schaps, David M. (2001). “The Conceptual Prehistory of Money and Its Impact on the Greek Economy.” In Balmuth (ed.), Hacksilber to Coinage, 93-103.

Silver, Morris. (1985), Economic Structures of the Ancient Near East. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books.

Silver, Morris. (1995). Economic Structures of Antiquity. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Stol, M. (1982). “State and Private Business in the Land of Larsa.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 34, 127-230.

Udovitch, Abraham L. (1979). “Bankers without Banks: Commerce, Banking, and Society in the Islamic World in the Middle Ages.” Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, The Dawn of Modern Banking. New Haven. Conn.: Yale University Press, 255-74.

Morris Silver is Professor Emeritus of Economics in the City College of the City University of New York. His most recent publications about ancient economies are Taking Ancient Mythology Economically (Leiden: Brill, 1992) and Economic Structures of Antiquity (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995). “Modern Ancients” is forthcoming in Rollinger and Ulf (eds.), Commerce and Monetary Systems in the Ancient World , Fifth Annual Melammu Conference 2002. Professor Silver maintains a website on “Ancient Economies” at

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):Middle East
Time Period(s):Ancient

Adam Smith and the Classics: The Classical Heritage in Adam Smith’s Thought

Author(s):Vivenza, Gloria
Reviewer(s):Montes, Leonidas

Published by EH.NET (March 2004)

Gloria Vivenza, Adam Smith and the Classics: The Classical Heritage in Adam Smith’s Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. x + 240 pp. $85 (hardback), ISBN: 0-19-829666-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Leonidas Montes, School of Business, Universidad Adolfo Ib??ez, Santiago, Chile.

Henry Mackenzie, author, amongst others, of the once famous novel The Man of Feeling (1771), and many essays in the periodicals The Mirror and The Lounger, reportedly began his account of Adam Smith’s last day as follows: “Mr. Smith was an exception. He had twice Dr. Johnson’s learning — who knew one language well, the Latin — though he had none of his affectation of it” (Clayden, 1887, p. 166-67). One reason underlying this judgment reflects Smith’s proficiency both in Latin and Greek. At that time only knowledge of Latin was common, and the classics were widely read and discussed. A reading of Smith’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres reveals a great command of both classical languages. A quick look at Smith’s Library (Bonar, 1966) shows an important collection of the classics. His works are permeated by a deep knowledge of the classics. Adam Smith would read, and foster his students in reading the classics either in Greek or Latin. His letters to Lord Shelburne about his son’s education are a great example; Smith would personally help him out two and three hours a day in “Greek, Latin and Philosophy” (Corr., p. 29), and especially noteworthy is the list of books he orders for Lord Shelburne’s son (Corr., p. 58).

During the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith’s interest in the classics was not an aberration. Cicero, for example, was widely read, and David Hume recalled in his My Own Life (1777) that during his youth “Cicero and Virgil were the authors which I was secretly devouring.” Though Smith was no exception on this setting, he was exceptionally well versed on the classics.

If Smith’s command of the classics has long been acknowledged, the extent and implications of this fact have not been an active source for research. Gloria Vivenza’s Adam Smith and the Classics: The Classical Heritage in Adam Smith’s Thought (2001, reprinted in 2003), not only fills this gap, but also delves into this fascinating subject confirming that the classics’ influence on Adam Smith is more significant than has been generally granted.

Twenty years ago, Gloria Vivenza published Adam Smith e la cultura clasica, a book that was only known to a few scholars, and accessible to those few proficient in Italian. Fortunately, in 2001, Oxford University Press published, with few variations, an English translation, to which the author added a postscript that mainly confirms her previous findings. During the 1980s not much was written on Smith and the classics (however, one notable exception, Waszek (1984), should be mentioned), and except for the Stoics’ influence, much of this rich field of research remained practically unexplored for English readers. During the 1990s a renewed interest in Smith and the classics emerged (e.g., Berns (1994), Brown (1994, especially chapter 4), Calkins and Werhane (1998) and Heise (1991, 1995)), especially through two very influential books, Charles Griswold’s Adam Smith and the Virtues of the Enlightenment (1999) and to a lesser extent Samuel Fleischacker’s A Third Concept of Liberty: Judgment and Freedom in Kant and Adam Smith (1999). Vivenza’s English translation of her book with her new postscript is a timely and much needed contribution to uncover and foster the importance of the classics’ influence.

A brief introduction justifies the importance of the subject matter, and sets out the structure and methodology of the book. After it, five chapters, some conclusions and a postscript follow. The first chapter, “The Natural Philosophy in Smith’s Essays,” analyses the classical influences on Smith’s famous essay “The Principles Which Lead and Direct Philosophical Enquiries; Illustrated by the History of Astronomy” (hereafter HA, in Essays on Philosophical Subjects (hereafter EPS), pp. 31-105), and on the following two essays “History on the Ancient Physics” (hereafter HAP, in EPS pp. 109-127) and “History of the Ancient Logics and Metaphysics” (hereafter HALM, in EPS pp. 118-129). Vivenza interprets Smith’s attitude towards science (and philosophy) as much influenced by Aristotle. But if Aristotle would search for truth as the ultimate end, “Smith sees it as no more than a temporarily satisfactory solution to the problems thrown up by the real world in its various manifestations” (p. 18). How Smith saw the reality of scientific endeavors is a subject that has attracted much attention. Its psychological underpinnings with “wonder, surprise and admiration” as the process to find the “connecting principles,” involve a view of the progress of scientific knowledge that, in certain ways, could anticipate Popper and Kuhn. Vivenza analyses this important feature finding some interesting connections with the classics, concluding that to “read this essay (HA) is to become conscious of the high degree of awareness that Smith had of ancient astronomy” (p. 26). Vivenza’s observation of Smith’s emphasis on economic well-being previous to philosophical enquiries, which permeates all three essays, is very interesting. Then, after briefly analyzing HAP and HALM, this chapter closes with the view that Smith’s position is hypothetical and relativistic, and that he “‘historicised’ the various manifestations of Greek thought” (p. 37).

In chapter 2, “The Classical Heritage in Adam Smith’s Ethics,” Vivenza explores the classical influences on Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS). She emphasizes the importance of the historian, Polybius, and his possible influence on Smith’s concept of sympathy. Though the link between Polybius and Smith on sympathy is very interesting, the word sumpatheia and, more strictly related to Smith’s meaning of sympathy, the Greek word empatheia, has a long pedigree before Polybius that the author could have explored. More noteworthy are the connection between Smith’s impartial spectator and Aristotle’s phronimos (p. 48), a brief analysis of Smith’s concept of justice and its Aristotelian background, a suggestive conclusion (in my view correct) that Smith’s prudence is both “partly Stoic and partly Epicurean” (p. 57), and an illuminating discussion of Smith’s account of benevolence. Moreover, Vivenza underlines some important differences between the Stoics and Smith. According to the former, men live in accordance with nature and human beings are valued as part of the whole. On the contrary, Smith develops a model of individual behavior. Stoic philosophy seeks to curb, and even eradicate passions; Smith’s ethics relies on passions. He would even laugh at the Stoics’ defense of suicide, criticizing their concept of apatheia. Vivenza’s reader can learn how the classics’ influence on Smith’s thought, mainly Plato, Aristotle, the Peripatetics, the Epicureans, the Stoics and Cicero, are intertwined, many times forming the basis of his own original thought. The latter underpins Vivenza’s book. Certainly the Stoics’ influence on Smith is widely accepted, and perhaps over-emphasized; anyone interested in discovering some important differences and the complexities of this issue should read this chapter 2.

However, there are two points on which I disagree with Vivenza. The first is that she completely confines Smith’s self-command to the Stoics. For her, Smith’s virtue of self-command has “undeniably Stoic characteristics” (p. 57). In my opinion self-command for Smith is much more complex than simple self-control. Smith chose the phrase “self-command” carefully, otherwise he would have simply referred to self-control. Self-command is the most important virtue in Smith’s system; it relies on the Socratic virtue of enkrateia, which literally corresponds to self-command. Furthermore, it has a sense of direction that makes it peculiarly rich in its philosophical and historical context, and one can find in Smith’s self-command conspicuous vestiges of civic humanism (see chapter 3, in Montes, 2004). Second, I agree with Vivenza that Aristotle’s influence on Smith is very important, and I welcome her attempt to uncover this rather neglected connection. However, she goes too far by linking Smith’s propriety to Aristotle’s mean. Propriety has been traditionally linked to decorum, but my interpretation is that this concept can also be read as related to officium, the closest Latin word for the Greek word kathekon, which can be understood as “appropriate action” (on this interpretation see Montes, 2004, pp. 122-28).

Chapter 3, “The Lectures on Jurisprudence and Roman Law,” analyzes the classical influences on Smith’s jurisprudence. The influence of Grotius, and his ablest disciple Pufendorf, is well known to Smith scholars, but Vivenza persuasively contributes to this debate. Chapter 4, “The Division of Labour and the Theory of Value,” investigates the debate around the classical background of the division of labor, and the theory of value. Both chapters do not only summarize the debate, finding possible connections, but they add many important details that reflect the author’s own original position. Chapter 5, “Adam Smith and Ancient Literature,” finishes Vivenza’s research with a reassessment of the classics’ influence on Smith’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. A brief conclusion reminding us of the complexities inherent to the subject matter and the aim of this book follow.

A final postscript was added to the English edition. In it, Vivenza reconfirms her previous findings, principally taking into account Waszek’s “Two Concepts of Morality: A Distinction of Adam Smith’s Ethics and Its Stoic Origins” (1984). The latter is a very suggestive article that states Smith’s reliance on two levels of morality: one for the wise few, and one for the common man. But I am afraid, as I already mentioned, that I do not share Vivenza’s thesis that Smith’s propriety relates to Aristotle’s medietas, nor does Waszek (1984, p. 596). The author also mentions other recent works, most notably Young (1997) and Griswold (1999), and tackles the important theme of oikeiosis, which was absent in her previous Italian edition. In this subject Vivienne Brown (1999, pp. 95-97) discussed the concept of oikeiosis and its relationship with self-love in the Stoic context. The conundrum of Smith and the Stoics remains open, but at the same time Vivenza has opened another spring by uncovering possible connections of Smith and Aristotle, a subject that will certainly foster further debate (for example see Ryan Hanley’s Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 2002).

Vivenza’s book is much more than a simple exposition of different connections between the classics and Smith. It suggests, by also taking into account the Scottish Enlightenment context, important philosophical implications for our understanding of Adam Smith, and it uncovers links that will trigger academic interest in this subject. Through this book, Smith’s understanding of the classics allows us to better understand his own thought.


Berns, L. (1994) “Aristotle and Adam Smith on Justice: Cooperation between Ancients and Moderns,” Review of Metaphysics, vol. 48, no. 1, pp. 71-90.

Bonar, J. A. (1966) Catalogue of the Library of Adam Smith, New York: Augustus M. Kelley.

Brown, V. (1994) Adam Smith’s Discourse: Canonicity, Commerce and Conscience, London: Routledge.

Calkins, M. J. and Werhane, P.H. (1998) “Adam Smith, Aristotle, and the Virtues of Commerce,” Journal of Value Inquiry, vol. 32, pp. 43-60.

Clayden, P. W. (1887) The Early Life of Samuel Rogers, London: Smith, Elder, & Co.

Fleischacker, S. (1999) A Third Concept of Liberty: Judgment and Freedom in Kant and Adam Smith, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Griswold, C. L. (1999) Adam Smith and the Virtues of Enlightenment, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hanley, R. (2002) Magnanimity and Modernity: Self-love in the Scottish Enlightenment, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago.

Heise, P. A. (1991) “Stoicism in Adam Smith’s Model of Human Behavior: The Philosophical Foundation of Self-Betterment and the Invisible Hand,” ?konomie und Gesellschaft, vol. 9, pp. 64-78.

Heise, P. A. (1995) “Stoicism in the EPS: The Foundation of Adam Smith’s Moral Philosophy,” in The Classical Tradition in Economic Thought: Perspectives on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 11, edited by I.H. Rima, Aldershot: Edward Elgar.

Montes, L. (2004) Adam Smith in Context: A Critical Reassessment of Some Central Components of His Thought, London: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Waszek, N. (1984) “Two Concepts of Morality: A Distinction of Adam Smith’s Ethics and Its Stoic Origins,” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 45, no. 4.

Young, J. T. (1997) Economics as a Moral Science: The Political Economy of Adam Smith, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Ancient

Redefining Efficiency: Pollution Concerns, Regulatory Mechanisms, and Technological Change in the U.S. Petroleum Industry

Author(s):Gorman, Hugh S.
Reviewer(s):Castaneda, Christopher J.

Published by EH.NET (August 2003)

Hugh S. Gorman, Redefining Efficiency: Pollution Concerns, Regulatory Mechanisms, and Technological Change in the U.S. Petroleum Industry. Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 2001. xv + 451 pp. $39.95 (paperback), ISBN: 1-884836-75-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Christopher J. Castaneda, Department of History, California State University, Sacramento.

For many Americans, the terms “oil” and “pollution” go hand-in-hand, and the culprits are the big oil companies. While the United States depends upon oil for more than one-third of its total energy requirements, this fossil fuel attracts perhaps more public attention, and ire, as a source of pollution than as an indispensable fuel.

The way in which American business and government has dealt with oil as both a fungible commodity and as the source of air, water and land pollution is the focus of Hugh S. Gorman’s book, Redefining Efficiency. This is a very well written book that looks carefully at the concept of efficiency. Early in the twentieth century, oil firms sought to more efficiently produce, transport and refine oil and through enhanced efficiency expected to reduce oil waste and, therefore, pollution. Thus, Gorman examines “the ‘gospel of efficiency’ as a pollution control ethic” (p. 3). Significant improvements in efficiency, however, had not reduced pollution sufficiently by the late 1950s. Increasing pollution levels evoked a public response beginning in the 1960s that led ultimately to government regulatory policy aimed at controlling oil pollution.

Gorman’s book is divided into three sections. The first section examines the oil industry from its beginnings in the U.S. through the early 1920s. Chapter One sets the book’s tone by discussing numerous cases of early responses to oil waste, particularly in waterways, that created problems for ships, bathers and hunters. Discharge of oil into rivers, streams and the coastal areas was the most troublesome pollution problem during these years and continued to be a serious problem throughout the twentieth century. Generally during this earlier era, new petroleum production, refining and transportation technologies became more efficient and therefore contributed to reduced waste and pollution. Industry sought to stave off regulation by pointing to its own success in reducing unwanted effluents without government intervention.

Part II focuses on the years between 1925 and 1955 when industry’s efforts to improve overall efficiency became somewhat disconnected with efforts to reduce pollution. This was essentially a transition period between the hey-day of the petroleum industry and the era of overt government regulation.

The final section of Gorman’s book, then, traces the events leading to the imposition of government controls designed to protect the environment from an industrial sector that had lost its ability to fully associate technological efficiency with pollution reduction. Essentially, the government mandated that the oil industry reintegrate environmental sensitivity into its continuing efforts to achieve the most efficient operations.

Gorman shows how the Oil Pollution Act of 1924 set the tone for federal policy toward pollution into at least the 1950s. This Act, the result of a congressional investigation of oil pollution, prohibited the discharge of oil from ships within three miles of shore. While the Act itself was not particularly far reaching, it did represent an early and substantial effort to investigate the cause and effects of pollution. The U.S. Bureau of Mines and the American Petroleum Institute (API), representing the government’s interest in controlling mineral waste and the oil industry’s collective desire to avoid regulation, respectively, helped to shape this Act that ultimately prompted tankers to flush their tanks of oil residue at least fifty miles from shore instead of requiring long-term technological solutions to open water oil pollution. The API succeeded here in promoting the oil industry’s preference for self-regulation.

Petroleum industry waste came in many other forms. Oil drillers often unintentionally produced salt water that ruined nearby farmland and contaminated fresh water aquifers; oil dripped from leaking pipelines; toxic vapors emanated from storage tanks; and refineries emitted smoke into the air and dumped acidic sludge into nearby pits or streams. Improvements in drilling methods and technology, pipeline construction and materials, and refining procedures helped to eliminate some of these pollutants. Thus, early efforts to improve technological efficiency also helped reduce pollution. Industrial efficiency, in the early twentieth century, seemed to offer the answers.

In the early 1960s, however, the public’s rising expectations for maintaining and improving air and water quality did not seem to be shared by industry. New legislation, such as the Water Quality Act of 1965 and Air Quality Act of 1967, was a response to, and a sign of, increasing pollution. And the concept of pollution control through efficiency took another blow when highly public and large-scale accidents seemed to suggest that industry was not capable of policing itself. In 1967, the Torrey Canyon oil tanker spilled 36 million gallons of crude off the coast of southern England; the high concentrations of detergent used in the cleanup proved to be toxic to sea life as well. More accidents followed. Then, in 1969, an oil well blowout off the coast of Santa Barbara, California provided further evidence to the growing ranks of environmentalists that government needed to act in order to prevent further environmental degradation. The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 actually ranked thirty-second in the amount of oil spilled in major tanker accidents, yet that accident attracted a tremendous amount of attention in the United States for its effect on the Alaskan ecosystem.

Gorman argues that by the 1990s, the new environmental regulatory regime has redefined industrial efficiency as a process that explicitly includes meeting environmental objectives. The new regulatory ethic does not simply target industrial polluters; it also regulates how people use their physical environment. Gorman describes the new regulatory regime as a system that balances a wide variety of technological, economic, political and social interests with the goal of maintaining a forward-looking and broad-based environmental polity.

This book is effective in several ways. For one, the author provides a very readable and descriptive account of the technological features of the early twentieth century oil industry, from exploration and production to oil transportation (both by pipeline and tanker), and refining. In addition, Gorman effectively explains the background of issues such as the use of tetraethyl lead in gasoline and contamination of fresh water aquifers. In some respects, the book seems to be strongest in tracing the technological and regulatory issues related to ocean-going oil tankers and oil waste in the oceans and rivers, but it is comprehensive and not narrowly focused. This is a work about pollution that ends on a hopeful note, at least in terms of the mandate of the environmental regulatory regime that shares the responsibility for maintaining the shared environment.

Chris Castaneda’s publications include, Invisible Fuel: Manufactured and Natural Gas in America, 1800-2000 (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1999).

Subject(s):Transport and Distribution, Energy, and Other Services
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Deutschlands Krise und Konjunktur, 1924-1934: Binnenkonjuktur, Auslandsverschuldung und Reparationsproblem zwischen Dawes-Plan und Transfersperre

Author(s):Ritschl, Albrecht
Reviewer(s):Voth, Hans-Joachim

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

Albrecht Ritschl, Deutschlands Krise und Konjunktur, 1924-1934:

Binnenkonjuktur, Auslandsverschuldung und Reparationsproblem zwischen

Dawes-Plan und Transfersperre. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2002. 297 pp.

$79.80 (cloth), ISBN: 3-05-003650-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Hans-Joachim Voth. Department of Economics, Universitat

Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.

Wrong tales last longer, or so it seems. An op-ed piece for the Wall Street

Journal on January 29, 2003 recounted the old Kindleberger/Landes story

about how the withdrawal of funds in the runup to the 1929 crash in the US led

to a downturn in Germany. Never mind that the timing is all wrong, or that

domestic reasons as well as changes in US monetary policy possibly played a

more important role — it’s a good story, and connected with one of the most

dramatic episodes in twentieth-century economic history. Of twenty-six European

democracies in 1920, thirteen had become dictatorships by 1938. Nowhere were

the consequences more catastrophic than in the case of Germany — and nowhere

did economic breakdown loom larger as a contributing factor in the demise of

democracy. A mere five years after the end of hyperinflation, the country’s

economy began to turn down once more. With the possible exception of the US, no

other nation experienced a more severe depression. Unemployment skyrocketed to

six million and industrial production fell by half; by 1932, communists and

Nazis together held a majority of seats in parliament. Ever since, debate has

raged about the inevitability or otherwise of the final outcome — Hitler’s

rise to power. Was economic misery crucial? Did the prosperity of the roaring

twenties demonstrate that Germany’s economy was in perfectly good shape? Or was

Weimar already living on borrowed time? Once the downturn began, could it have

been mitigated? Questions such as these are not just for the economic

historians, who have debated them for decades [Borchardt 1991, Kershaw 1990].

In Germany, where politicians can score an easy goal by claiming that the other

side is “emulating Br?ning” (the German chancellor during the early 1930s whose

austerity policy allegedly aggravated the slump), they are also deeply

political. Albrecht Ritschl’s Deutschlands Krise und Konjunktur attempts

to rethink many of these vexed and contentious issues. The book is primarily

addressed to a German audience, but its argument and the new data it contains

will be of interest to other scholars working on the Great Depression. It is

also an example of a peculiar art form, which needs some explaining before we

can turn to the book’s contents.

In the Anglo-Saxon world, the Ph.D. separates amateurs from professional

scholars. Uniquely, Germany has two doctorates for young and aspiring

researchers — the first is often not much of an academic affair at all, and

mainly serves to reinforce social distinctions (the delight of being called

“Herr Doktor!”, grovelling treatment from realtors, etc.). The second

dissertation, the Habilitation, on the other hand, is often only

completed in one’s late 30s or early 40s, after half a decade or so of

indentured servitude. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in length —

the second dissertation has to be an ?ber-dissertation, often exceeding 500

pages. As a result, creativity is stifled, manuscripts are basically

unreadable, and the transition to independent scholarship comes much too late

for most scholars; no other institution has contributed more to the decline of

German academia as the Habilitation.

In contrast to the mostly mindless outpourings generated by this peculiarity of

the German system, Albrecht Ritschl’s book is a contribution to scholarship. It

is actually two books between a single set of covers — one that tries to

rectify numerous problems with the national accounts for interwar Germany, and

the other an economic analysis of the slump’s causes and the policy

alternatives that could have been pursued. Aficionados of German economic

history will be grateful for having the final set of estimates for GDP and

especially for government borrowing in published form. For much too long, these

calculations were similar to an iceberg in the cold waters of German economic

history, with only a small percentage visible above the waterline, and the main

volume of work removed from the public’s eye, being only available as

unpublished working papers or in manuscript form. Ritschl has not just reworked

published figures, but made use of the extensive range of semi-official sources

published in Germany at the time. He also collected substantial amounts of

archival material, which reveal the full extent of Nazi (and pre-Nazi)

government borrowing. While some scholars may quibble with some of the

assumptions, most of the revisions are likely to supplant or augment earlier

estimates. As a result, we can now say with greater certainty than before that

during the brief halcyon days of the Weimar Republic, growth was possibly

slower than previously thought, and that deficit spending during the Nazi

recovery was nowhere near as rampant as popular mythology claims. While not as

wide-ranging as other revisions of national accounts nor as important in its

implications, this is a thorough and useful addition to the literature.

The second book contained in this volume sets itself an altogether more

ambitious aim — to provide a new explanation for the severity of the Great

Depression in Germany, and to bury alternative interpretations that have been

offered in the past. The “big idea” is that a change in the seniority of debt,

agreed as part of the renegotiation of Germany’s reparations debts, shut off

access to foreign funds when they were needed most — after 1929, when the

country had entered into a severe recession and was about to plunge even

further. Deemed the main culprit for the outbreak of World War I in the

Versailles treaty, Germany was saddled with paying reparations of an

unspecified value. Until 1932, the volume of claims and the form of payment was

being negotiated — mostly at the conference table, sometimes at gunpoint (such

as in 1923, when the French and Belgian armies invaded the Ruhr because a

shipment of telegraph poles was overdue). After the hyperinflation, in 1924,

the Dawes Plan gave Germany access to a big loan, some relief from reparations

payment, as well as “transfer protection” — money to satisfy the allies could

only be sent abroad when the conversion of marks into foreign currency did not

undermine the currency’s stability. Implicitly, this enabled the Germans to try

and “crowd out” reparations by other borrowing — since the ability to repay

foreign debt is not unlimited, and since transfer protection effectively made

reparations payments junior debt. The idea that Weimar’s borrowing/spending

spree (resulting in gleaming new spas, public swimming pools, rapid

electrification of the railways, generous public housing programmes etc.) is

partly to blame for the brutal downturn after 1929 is not particularly novel.

Also, numerous others have highlighted the importance of transfer protection

under the Dawes Plan. What makes this variation of the tale interesting is the

claim that a radical change under the Young Plan drastically undermined the

ability to borrow abroad — with reparations the senior debt, who would want to

lend? Ritschl presents a theoretical model that demonstrates exactly how the

change in seniority might have made a difference. This is a laudable exercise,

but it is somewhat uninspiring — the model adds little or nothing to the

simple verbal argument, generates no surprising implications or new ways of

testing the basic hypothesis.

The book’s main shortcomings are its unwillingness to confront the data and an

inability to show any evidence that would substantiate its key arguments. This

applies both to the borrowing binge and the debt hangover after 1929. There is

some archival evidence that suggests that Germany was keen to pile the

non-reparation debt high in order to leave the allies dry, such as an

incriminating internal document from the Foreign Office in Berlin. In effect,

the Germans deliberately tried to ensure that there were “American Reparations

to Germany” (as Stephen Schuker called them (see Schuker 1988)) — Germany

borrowed more from US investors than it ever paid in reparations, and then

defaulted on its debts. Yet those crafty Krauts clearly did not all get

together to crowd out the reparations — there were also drastic steps to

curtail foreign borrowing, not least by one of the chief conspirators in

Ritschl’s tale, the President of the Reichsbank, Hjalmar Schacht. Any borrowing

should have been good borrowing in his book if Ritschl’s main thesis is

correct. Instead, he repeatedly railed against the evils of foreign borrowing

in any shape, size or form, effectively seized control over access to foreign

funds, and succeeded in bringing inflows to a standstill for an extended

period. What is also missing is some assessment of the level of foreign

borrowing that should have been expected and that would have been “normal” in

an economy recovering from a major shock — for example, by comparing the

volume of debt issuance with Third World countries stabilizing after

hyperinflations since 1945 [for an instructive list of cases, see Fischer,

Sahay and V?gh 2002].

If the story of a deliberate crowding out of reparations appears questionable,

the central hypothesis has even less to recommend it. The well of international

credit ran dry for pretty much every borrower around the world after 1929 —

which is the origin of the Kindleberger story. Without compelling empirical

evidence to show that Germany suffered more than everyone else, it is hard to

see how the highly idiosyncratic explanation for its troubles could be

plausible at all. There are a number of obvious variables one could and should

have checked before basing so many claims on so little — did the spreads of

German bonds widen dramatically over those of other borrowers in the London and

New York markets? Was it even harder for Germany to get access to credit than

for everyone else? To this reviewer’s dismay, the book makes no attempt to

address these questions, despite the easy availability of data and the wealth

of information in the forms of charts and tables that the author assembles.

Also, inconvenient facts are largely ignored or belittled. In fact, Germany did

borrow — the famous Lee Higginson loan of 1930 — even after the change in

debt seniority rules. Ritschl notes that the conditions were not generous,

perhaps even humiliating. Yet he fails to resolve the conundrum: how could the

country obtain a loan at all if the prospect of repayment was nil? More

importantly, as recent work by Temin and Ferguson shows, political decisions —

and not the letter of the Young Plan — stood between Germany and further fresh

loans in 1931. Had the Reich not decided to build a pocket battleship and to

pursue a misguided tariff union with Austria (violating the spirit of the

Versailles treaty, and probably its letter), France would most likely have

extended fresh credit [Temin and Ferguson 2003]. Also, the author’s own data

show clearly that commercial paper issuance abroad revived in 1930, after a

brief downturn in late 1929, and that it only dried up for good towards the end

of the year (p. 120). If the seniority clause was as important as the author

claims, then it evidently took contemporaries at least eighteen months to

figure this out; and by the time they allegedly did, there were plenty of other

reasons not to lend. An externally imposed credit crunch may be the right

explanation for at least some of the German Slump’s severity; yet Ritschl’s

seniority-clause story cannot be squared with the available evidence.

True to the cliometric tradition, the book presents some counterfactuals of

German GDP during the 1920s and 1930s. Had the Reich paid up and transferred

the reparations instead of borrowing right, left and center, it could have

avoided most of the downturn, or so Ritschl argues. Between 1928 and 1931,

there would have been healthy growth, while the 1920s would have been more

subdued. Except for a small dip in 1932, the slump could have been avoided

almost entirely: Germany’s depression would have looked more like that of

France than the US experience. The underlying cause is that actual policy was

pro-cyclical twice — during the expansion and during the downturn. In

traditional accounts, the villain in the piece is Heinrich Br?ning, a dour and

ascetic Catholic whose austerity measures were designed to aggravate the slump

in a bid to show that Germany could not pay reparations. Ritschl substitutes

his story of externally imposed fiscal discipline due to credit constraints,

and turns Br?ning’s gratuitous hairshirt exercise into the just punishment for

the Republic’s debt-financed consumption mania during the 1920s. The story is

problematic on several counts. First of all, the counterfactuals are predicated

on using the Keynesian import multiplier. This is despite the fact that a good

part of the book is actually devoted to showing that Keynesian interpretations

do not apply to interwar Germany, that the fiscal multipliers are unstable,

etc. This reviewer was troubled to see the author return so happily to the same

analytical toolkit at the earliest convenience, having spent so much time

dismantling it just a few pages before. Also, it seems altogether unlikely that

Germany could have emulated the relatively good French performance, as Ritschl

argues. This was largely due to a unique set of circumstances that sheltered

the latter from the contractionary impulse that was being transmitted via the

gold standard [Eichengreen 1992, Eichengreen 2002]. Finally, how likely is it

that Germany could have borrowed much more in 1931 or 1932 if it had been more

restrained in the late 1920s, given the worldwide turmoil on financial markets

and the severe crisis in the US?

Given the unfortunate lack of compelling data analysis and the lack of cohesion

overall, it is to be feared that many of the interesting and challenging ideas

in this work may not find their way into peer-refereed journals. Yet it would

be useful if at least the data revisions could be presented and published in

English so that they may serve as a basis for future substantive work on the

many fascinating questions that Weimar’s economic history continues to raise.


Borchardt, Knut, Perspectives on Modern German Economic History and

Policy (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Eichengreen, Barry, Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great

Depression, 1919-1939 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Eichengreen, Barry, “Still Fettered after All These Years,” Macintosh Lecture,

delivered at Queen’s University, 2002.

Fischer, Stanley, Ratna Sahay and Carlos V?gh, “Modern Hyper- and High

Inflations,” Journal of Economic Literature, XL (2002), 837-80.

Kershaw, Ian (editor), Weimar: Why Did German Democracy Fail? (New York:

St. Martin’s Press, 1990).

Schuker, Stephen, “American “Reparations” to Germany,” Studies in

International Finance, 61 (1988).

Temin, Peter and Thomas Ferguson, “Made in Germany: The German Currency Crisis

of July 1931,” Research in Economic History, forthcoming (2003).

Hans-Joachim Voth is Associate Professor of Economics at Universitat Pompeu

Fabra, Barcelona, a Research Fellow in the International Macro Program at the

CEPR, London, and a Research Fellow at the Centre for History and Economics,

King’s College, Cambridge. His latest publications include “With a Bang, not a

Whimper: Pricking Germany’s Stockmarket Bubble in 1927 and the Slide into

Depression” (Journal of Economic History, 2003), “Factor Prices and

Productivity Growth during the British Industrial Revolution” (with Pol Antr?s,

Explorations in Economic History, 2003, forthcoming) and “The Longest

Years — New Estimates of Labor Input in Britain, 1760-1830″ (Journal of

Economic History, 2001).

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

Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment

Author(s):Rothschild, Emma
Reviewer(s):Hueckel, Glenn

Published by EH.NET (September 2002)

Emma Rothschild, Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the

Enlightenment. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2001.

ix + 353 pp. $50 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-674-00489-2; $18.95 (paper), ISBN:


Reviewed for EH.NET by Glenn Hueckel, Department of Economics, Pomona College.

This is a book that will itself provoke in its readers a number of

“sentiments,” chief of which will be, no doubt, what Smith would have

described as a “sense of wonder” at the breathtaking range of the author’s

learning. Her exposition carries us beyond the works of the two authors in the

staring roles, beyond even those of the two chief supporting actors (Hume for

Smith; Turgot for Condorcet), to commentaries on Greek tragedies, studies of

medieval British labor markets, comments on a modern French philosophical

critique of “bourgeois society,” and much more. Indeed, since few

English-speaking readers will be able to measure up to Rothschild’s linguistic

skills, her commentary on a vast French literature, supplemented with

occasional German sources, cannot fail to prompt new lines of thought. The

argument is lavishly documented; her endnotes alone could provide the diligent

scholar with a rich syllabus for a long and highly instructive course of


The text, however, is a rather different matter. That initial reaction of

“wonder” will be, I fear, quickly tempered by a growing sense of aggravation

and disappointment as readers contemplate the interpretative structure the

author constructs from her sources, particularly as that structure concerns

Smith. Frequently, the reading advanced seems to be conditioned by the needs

of Rothschild’s argument rather than by the content of her sources. This is,

without question, a difficult book. The exposition is highly allusive,

carried along by hundreds of fragmentary quotations that are more tantalizing

than instructive. Not infrequently one longs for a series of simple

declarative sentences where one can get one’s bearings. Nevertheless,

“enlightenment” eventually arrives in the last chapter, where the author

finally makes explicit her organizing structure.

That structure is best described as comprising three layers of varying degrees

of complexity. At the simplest, most descriptive level, the author seeks to

“cast light” on her notion of eighteenth-century enlightenment. For this

purpose, the object of our attention is to be understood as “a universal, or

potentially universal disposition; … not a characteristic only of

philosophers,” but “a particular disposition of everyone.” This is a

disposition to “a discursive, disputatious, theorizing way of life” which

infuses all areas of existence, particularly the political and commercial

spheres (which, as the author is at pains to point out, are themselves

interrelated) (pp. 16, 31, 39, 49). It is at this level that the argument is

most instructive. The ideas of her authorities fit easily into this scheme,

and the arrangement reveals a number of fascinating insights that will enrich

our understanding of those authorities.

It will be evident from the book’s title that our attention is to be directed

at those enlightenment authors who were roughly a generation younger than

Quesnay and his physiocratic contemporaries. This is an important distinction

since that earlier generation has been criticized for the authoritarian stance

of their political views, a sort of “compulsory enlightenment” in which the

state was to shape the spirit of its people in the philosophers’ image of the

“laws of nature.” Indeed, our authors — Condorcet and Turgot; Smith and Hume

— were among those critics. The failure to maintain this important

distinction in the post-Revolutionary world led, we are told, to the false

portrayal of Smith and Condorcet as expressing that same “cold, rational, and

reflective calculation” associated with the previous generation of

Enlightenment writers in contrast to that “warmth” of sentiment said to

characterize post-Napoleonic thought (pp. 25-28; 34-39).

The author’s first objective is to rescue the reputations of Condorcet and

Smith from this frigid characterization. The task is accomplished for

Condorcet in chapters 6 and 7, the latter of which is slightly revised from

its earlier version appearing in the Historical Journal, 39.3

(September 1996): 677-701. These demonstrate quite satisfactorily that his

“principles … are strikingly different from the cold, unfeeling, all-summing

‘mechanical philosophy’ which is supposed to be characteristic of the French

enlightenment” (p. 212). His world not only permitted diversity of opinion but

encouraged it. Indeed that diversity is to be seen as “of central importance”

to the analysis of voting procedures that led to his famous conclusion that

aggregation of individual choices by majority vote will, under certain

circumstances, produce intransitive outcomes. Condorcet’s solution to the

problem was to envision constitutional procedures to manage that “political

dissonance” by encouraging “deliberation, delay, and the prospect of

reversibility.” His citizens would “vote interminably” on “everything from

property rights in ponds to the future constitution of representative

government” (pp. 188-89; 198-99; 204-05; 219-20).

In Smith’s case, the rescue occurs in chapter 2, which, like chapters 3 and 7,

is very slightly revised from an earlier publication (in the Economic

History Review, 1992, 45.2: 74-96). Here the problem is to explain how

Smith’s expansive views on “natural liberty” could come, within a decade of

his death, to be compressed in the minds of his countrymen to no more than a

narrow call for commercial freedom. Here the argument introduces us to the

oppressive social atmosphere in Britain of the 1790s, when widespread fear

that the terrors of the Revolution might be exported across the Channel made

very unpopular any discussion of reform, or even expressions of anything less

than wholehearted support for the war with France. We are reminded that

Stewart, Smith’s first biographer, read his “Account” of Smith’s life to the

Royal Society of Edinburgh at just the time when several of his countrymen

were on trial in the same city for sedition, for which they were eventually

convicted and transported. Some even appealed in their defense to the views

expressed in The Wealth of Nations, which, no doubt, made Smith’s less

reckless readers very nervous. Indeed, Stewart himself fell afoul of the

contemporary sensibilities a year later and was constrained to repudiate what

seems to modern eyes a very mild quotation from Condorcet included in an

earlier work. No wonder Stewart was at pains in his “Account” to distinguish

commercial freedom alone as conducive to national wealth, assuring his hearers

that the freedom of widespread political participation is not, in all cases,

necessary to the “happiness of mankind” (Smith, 1980, p. 310). It is, of

course, obvious that the reception and interpretation of an author’s work will

be influenced by the political and social environment of the time. Rothschild

has here given us a fascinating picture of how that environment influenced the

reception of Smith’s work in the 1790s. A similar story is told in chapter 4,

which contrasts Smith’s criticism of apprenticeship with the arguments

advanced in the debates leading to the 1814 repeal of the apprenticeship

clauses of the Elizabethan statute of artificers. Here too we see in detail

how the participants in those debates carefully chose from among Smith’s

broader arguments to support their own narrower purposes. These and the

intervening chapter 3 may well be the best in the book.

That intervening chapter (appearing in a shorter version in the Economic

Journal, 1992, 102.414: 1197-1210), completes the effort to rescue

Condorcet and Smith from that “cold” and “unfeeling” version of the

Enlightenment. Here we are concerned with the teachings of our authorities

regarding the grain trade because, we are told, “The political economy of food

has been an emblem, at least since the 1760s, of the heartlessness of the

liberal system” (p. 72; the like point is made with particular reference to

Smith on p. 61). Rothschild, however, is at pains to convince her readers that

Condorcet, Turgot, and Smith all “argued that free trade in corn is the best

means to avoid famine” (pp. 73-74). This will come as no surprise to

economists; but her brief survey of the arguments contained in Turgot’s

“Lettres” and Condorcet’s R?flexions on the grain trade (which, apart

from some brief excerpts from Turgot translated by Groenewegen, are not

available in English) will be of considerable help to scholars interested in

understanding how societies (and economic theory) respond to subsistence


It should by now be evident that Rothschild’s effort to describe the positions

advanced by her second-generation Enlightenment authors and to trace out how

the perception of those positions changed in the decades immediately following

the Revolutionary period does indeed cast new and revealing light on the

position of those authors in the pre-Revolutionary intellectual firmament.

About midway through the book, however, the argument shifts away from this

descriptive stance and turns ever greater attention to an evaluation of that

“liberal economic thought” associated with those authors. By the end of the

fifth chapter we are confronted with what Rothschild insists are the two

“shortcoming[s] of the liberal economic order.” The first is its alleged

failure to acknowledge “that individuals seek, on occasion, to pursue their

own (economic) interests by political means.” The second is the “inconstancy”

of that “liberal order.” The institutions comprising the world described by

Condorcet and Smith, being “the outcome of innumerable, unruly judgments, …

may or may not be good.” In this respect that structure “is very unlike a

divine providence … in which individuals should have confidence.” Or, as

the point is expressed in the last chapter, this “more insidious shortcoming

of the liberal orders … is that they do not contain within themselves the

sources of their own improved orderliness.” If, in their intellectual systems,

our authors deny the existence of a “divine providence” looking after things,

then they can have no certainty that those “innumerable, unruly judgments”

will lead to “improved orderliness” (pp. 157-58; 219-20). This uncertainty

provides the third facet of Rothschild’s organizational structure. As she puts

it on the penultimate page of her text, she “has been concerned in this book

with an economic thought in which uncertainty is the overwhelming condition of

commercial society.”

It must be admitted that this theme of “uncertainty” appears frequently in

various brief obiter dicta throughout the book, but the precise nature

of the “uncertainty” that is supposed to be at issue is not made explicit

until the last chapter. There it takes several forms, ranging from the trivial

to the profound. At its most mundane level, it is no more than normal market

risk: “The world of eighteenth-century commerce was insecure, or risky, in the

sense that it was full of new investments and new economic relationships” (pp.

239-40). Yes, replies the reader, and the same could be said for any other

century. To some degree, the uncertainty that is supposed to be at the heart

of “liberal economic thought” arises from capricious changes in the rules of

the game: “The new world of commerce was insecure, too, because it was subject

to frequent and often sudden changes in laws, regulations, and the

jurisprudence of property” (p. 240). But the key role in the argument is

played by those sources of uncertainty that correspond to Rothschild’s two

“shortcomings” of the “liberal order.” That enlightened disposition to “a

discursive, uneasy, self-conscious way of life” that produced the “political

dissonance” that so occupied Condorcet spills over into commercial life as

well: “The eighteenth-century system of commerce … was subject to continuing

flux not only in events, and in rules, but also in the dispositions of the

individuals … of whom the system is composed.” This “flux in the condition

of men is the essential circumstance of modern commerce, in Smith’s, Turgot’s,

and Condorcet’s description” (p. 241). The individuals who populate the world

envisioned by these authors are said to “have opinions about their own

interests, about the interests of the society, and about the policies which

are likely to promote those interests,” and they recognize that they can

promote their private interests through efforts to influence those policies:

“They are buying and selling, buying and selling; in the end, they are buying

and selling rules, and customs, and their own dispositions.” Apparently this

flaw in the “liberal economic system” is to be understood as a fundamental

internal contradiction and is, consequently, the source of “the system’s own

insecurity”: “The system of economic freedom is founded on the equality of all

individuals, and it is at the same time subversive of equality,” that

subversion arising from “the endless circle in which individuals become rich,

and use their money to buy power, to buy other individuals, and to influence

the ways in which other individuals think” (pp. 239; 245; 251-52). Here,

obviously, we have come to Rothschild’s first “shortcoming.” The connection to

the second is obvious: without the presumption of a benevolent, divine

creator, there can be no certainty that those shifting “dispositions of the

individuals” in the system will lead to a socially desirable outcome. But,

Rothschild insists, the system to which Smith, Hume, Condorcet, and Turgot all

subscribed “is not the sort of order which is directed, like the ‘movements of

nature,’ by an ‘all-wise Being,’ or by a single, unified theory” (p. 230).

Here then is the evaluative framework that Rothschild would have us adopt. It

portrays the social systems envisioned by Condorcet and Smith as infused by

uncertainty in various forms, all arising from the “continuing flux” in the

“dispositions” of a “discursive, disputatious” populace, that perpetual social

“dissonance” operating with no hope of a divine, guiding hand and,

consequently, plagued by the “shortcoming” that its agents might pursue their

private interest through anti-social means. But what of the supporting

argument? Can such a reading be shown to be consistent with the texts under

review? With respect to Condorcet, Rothschild’s evidence is extensive and

largely persuasive. Smith, however, simply will not permit himself to be

forced into this template for it attributes to his work positions that, in

several cases, are directly opposed to those which he actually advanced. At

nearly every point, the argument rests on selective omissions and

misrepresentations of the Smith texts. Consider, as illustration, just those

bearing on Rothschild’s two “shortcomings of the liberal order.”

If, as alleged by that first “shortcoming,” we fail to acknowledge that those

intelligent, “discursive,” “self-conscious,” agents in our enlightened world

will recognize the incentives to pursue their private interests through the

political system, then our only hope for future social improvement is to take

refuge in the hope that those agents will grow in social awareness and form

their own interests to those of society. As Rothschild puts it, the

Enlightenment’s “late eighteenth-century exponents” looked forward to “a

universe of small proprietors, most of whom are sufficiently foresighted to

understand that their own lasting self-interest, which coincides with the

interest of the society, consists in competing by economic means … and not

through political influence” (p. 158). Now, this seems a fair portrayal of

Condorcet’s position, at least as it was near the end of his life. Quoting

from her translation of one of his last texts, Rothschild observes that

Condorcet put his faith in reform. With “better laws, … ‘the interest in

acquiring things by illegitimate means will present itself less often, to a

smaller number of individuals, and in less diverse and less seductive forms'”

(p. 166). Here, no doubt, is the source of Rothschild’s claim of

“uncertainty.” There is nothing in this rendition of Condorcet’s vision to

inspire confidence in future improvement. It is, as Rothschild puts it, no

more than “a probabilistic judgment,” an “expression of confidence in the

disposition of individuals to discuss and to live by principles of morality;

to be mild and moderate, and to feel an increase of humanity, from the very

habit of conversing together” (p. 232). “The only source of certainty in such

a society,” we are told, “is to be found … in domestic virtues and domestic

conversations. … Condorcet … is prepared to defend the softness or

sweetness of modern life; to look forward to the ‘easy virtues’ of a world in

which improvements in education and laws would have made ‘the courage of

virtue almost useless.'” But, and here we see evidence of that second

“shortcoming,” Condorcet “also recognizes the frightening insecurity of such a

world, in which there is no foundation of political order, either in reverence

for divine right, or in fear, or in political virtue” (p. 235). Now, to make

her case, Rothschild must demonstrate the existence of Smithian parallels to

this rather bland, but insecure, Condorcevian society. Hence we are told that

Smith “was confident that there would be very little opportunity for violence

in a free, civilized, commercial society, and little advantage to be derived

from fraud” (p. 244). We are to take it that Condorcet’s “mild and moderate”

agents populate Smith’s world too. At any rate, we read that “Smith’s

political philosophy … is a description of a world without violent conflicts

over political principles, without revolutions, and without certainty” (p.

232). Presumably to echo Condorcet’s praise of the “softness or sweetness of

modern life,” we are assured that, for Smith, the “political virtues are the

virtues of humanity, and they are even, in some circumstances, the virtues of

women”; and we are offered a brief quotation in support: “‘Humanity is the

virtue of a woman,’ Smith wrote in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, and

it … requires ‘no self-denial, no self-command, no great exertion of the

sense of propriety'” (p. 234).

By now, those familiar with Smith’s thought will be writhing in agony. Anyone

who is aware of Smith’s praise for the virtue of self-command (that from which

“all the other virtues seem to derive their principal luster”) will be

suspicious of any suggestion that it can be excluded from the “political

virtues.” The suspicion is confirmed when we take the trouble to check the

citation. Rothschild fails to warn us that the fragment concerning “humanity”

as “the virtue of a woman,” appears as the other half of a contrast with the

character of “generosity.” The meaning of the passage changes dramatically

when we return the fragment to its context: “Generosity is different from

humanity. … Humanity is the virtue of a woman, generosity of a man.” While

it is true that “[t]he most humane actions require no self-denial, no

self-command, no great exertion of the sense of propriety, … it is otherwise

with generosity.” This “masculine” virtue requires the “sacrifice [of] some

great and important interest of our own to an equal interest of a friend or of

a superior.” It is, in other words, the opposite of “humanity” in that it

does require “self-denial.” Now, perhaps Rothschild’s selective omission of

the other half of Smith’s rhetorical contrast could be excused if the omitted

concept was, in Smith’s system, excluded from the “political virtues,” but no

such defense is possible here. In the very next sentence, Smith takes his

illustrations from the fields of political and military conflict: “The man who

gives up his pretensions to an office that was the great object of his

ambition because he imagines that the services of another are better entitled

to it; the man who exposes his life to defend that of his friend, which he

judges to be of more importance; neither of them act from humanity;” rather,

they both exhibit the “self-denial” of “generosity” (Smith 1976b, p. 190-91).

Apparently Smith’s vision does include “conflicts over political principles”

and even battlefield sacrifice. His system contemplates revolution too, but

here that “divine order” supposedly missing from that system interposes

impediments to such violent disruption. As we will see shortly, Rothschild’s

peculiar refusal to acknowledge the role of a divine creator in Smith’s system

is the most puzzling aspect of her argument. The benevolent care of that deity

pervades his Theory of Moral Sentiments. “[T]o raise and support …

the great, the immense fabric of human society,” Smith wrote there, “seems in

this world, if I may say so, to have been the peculiar and darling care of

Nature.” To preserve that social fabric, “Nature” implants in us a disposition

to acquiesce in our rulers even when reason would have it otherwise: “That

kings are the servants of the people, to be obeyed, resisted, deposed, or

punished, as the public conveniency may require, is the doctrine of reason and

philosophy; but it is not the doctrine of Nature.” On the contrary, “Nature

would teach us to submit to them for their own sake.” This disposition to

submit to unjust rulers can apply even in the case “of the most brutal and

savage barbarians, of an Attila, a Gengis, or a Tamerlane.” This is not a

particularly noble characteristic. It arises from our disposition to admire

success and to despise failure even when those outcomes are the product of

chance or force. Nevertheless, even this “great disorder in our moral

sentiments” serves to preserve human society, particularly in the worst of

times. Consequently, “we may on this, as well as on many other occasions,

admire the wisdom of God even in the weakness and folly of man.” It may be a

“foolish admiration,” but by this tendency to admire those who, whether by

chance, by force, or by merit, succeed in achieving positions of political

leadership, the populace “are taught to acquiesce with less reluctance under

that government which an irresistible force imposes upon them, and from which

no reluctance could deliver them.” Where in passages such as these are we to

find any hint of Rothschild’s reading of Smith as envisioning “a world

without violent conflicts over political principles, without revolutions”? At

best, Smith’s world is one in which, by virtue of “the wisdom of God,” only

“the most furious passions, fear, hatred, and resentment … excited [to] the

highest degree” can rouse “the bulk of the people … to oppose [their

leaders] with violence” (Smith 1976b, pp. 53, 86, 252-53).

Nor does Smith’s vision of social order rest on a na?ve “confidence in the

disposition of individuals to live by principles of morality.” The agents who

populate Smith’s world exhibit all the faults we have come to know in fallible

humans. It is true that Smith’s ethics — his “theory of moral sentiments” —

rest on a presumed human capacity and desire to, through our imaginations,

“enter into” the situation of our fellows and to experience to a muted degree

their emotions. But it is also true that Smith was ready to acknowledge that

“self-deceit” — that “fatal weakness of mankind” — that too often prevents

us from checking and condemning behavior in ourselves that we would condemn in

others. Yet the “fabric of human society” requires that we all meet certain

accepted standards of decorum. Once again “Nature … has not left this

weakness … altogether without a remedy; nor has she abandoned us entirely to

the delusions of self-love.” Through our normal social interactions, we form

“certain general rules concerning what is fit and proper either to be done or

to be avoided.” These “general rules of conduct” become “fixed in our mind” by

training and “habitual reflection.” Although “ultimately founded upon

experience of what … our moral faculties … approve, or disapprove of,”

their application does not require that all agents exhibit a finely-tuned

capacity for sympathy in all circumstances. A good thing too since “[t]he

coarse clay of which the bulk of mankind are formed, cannot be wrought up to

such perfection.” It is these general rules or duties that are the proximate

foundation of social order: “upon the tolerable observance of these duties

depends the very existence of human society, which would crumble into nothing

if mankind were not generally impressed with a reverence for those important

rules of conduct.” Finally, lest there be any remaining doubts as to the role

of a benevolent deity in Smith’s system, we are told in the next sentence,

“This reverence is still further enhanced by an opinion which is first

impressed by nature, and afterwards confirmed by reasoning and philosophy,

that those important rules of morality are the commands and laws of the

Deity,” a position which is elaborated on the subsequent pages (Smith, 1976b,

pp. 158-63).

We find in chapter 5 Rothschild’s defense of her claim that Smith’s system

exhibits those two “shortcomings” that she perceives in “liberal economic

thought.” The chapter advances the remarkable position that Smith’s “image of

the invisible hand is best interpreted as a mildly ironic joke” (p. 116; a

very brief summary of the argument appeared earlier in the American

Economic Review, 1994, 84.2: 319-22). This must be the case because “if it

were taken seriously,” the concept expressed by that metaphor “would have been

in conflict with several of Smith’s most profound convictions” (p. 136). What

is at issue here is not simply the metaphor itself but the concept which it is

taken to convey, that concept being, for Rothschild, that the individual

pursuit of private interest can produce an orderly aggregate outcome which

can, under some identifiable circumstances, be socially desirable (p. 121). It

is Smith’s expression of this concept that we are to take as intended as “an

ironic joke … on himself … [and] on his immense posterity as well” (p.


Among those of “Smith’s most profound convictions” with which this concept is

supposed to conflict is his well-known principle that merchants often pursue

their interest through political influence. By Rothschild’s argument, we may

take it that the notion of a spontaneous order conveyed by the invisible hand

metaphor was “un-Smithian and unimportant to his theory” because “Smith’s

criticisms of government and of established institutions are essential to his

economic thought; it is most unlikely that he would simply forget them in a

grand theory of the social good” (p. 128). But this bespeaks a remarkably

narrow reading. Smith did not “forget” his “criticisms” of public and private

institutions in his “grand theory”; they were part of his theory. Rosenberg

(1960) pointed out long ago that those “criticisms” were in fact original and

perceptive investigations of the incentive structures embedded in those

institutions, and the point has only been elaborated since. Rothschild is

quite right (p. 244) that Smith suggested in his jurisprudence lectures that

commercial relationships could improve the character of the participants, at

least with respect to their “probity and punctuality.” But as Rosenberg again

has elsewhere (1990) reminded us, Smith did not stop there. In his vision,

commercial society served to improve not only the character of the people but

also the legal structures that guide their actions and establish their

security of property right. The same philosopher who took account in his

ethics of the “coarse clay of which the bulk of mankind are formed” could not

fail to recognize in his investigation of market behavior that “such, it

seems, is the natural insolence of man, that he almost always disdains to use

the good instrument, except when he cannot or dare not use the bad one”

(Smith, 1976a, p. 799). He was quite aware that the individual pursuit of

private interest must be channeled by properly constructed incentive

structures (which include, of course, not only legal restraints but

competitive markets as well) to prevent recourse to the “bad instrument.” Only

when operating within such structures can we speak of an “invisible hand”

directing individual actions to a socially desirable outcome.

Yet Rothschild insists that there is “something oddly ingenuous in Smith’s

sudden invocation of the timid, virtuous merchant, led by the invisible hand

to pursue only harmonious interests” (p. 128). In violation of her own

injunction to understand the invisible hand reference in its broad, conceptual

sense, she here limits attention to “the invisible hand passage” in The

Wealth of Nations, where the merchant “does not, for example, seek to

collect together with other merchants to obtain special privileges for home

production.” No, not in this passage; but Smith was, no doubt, writing under

the reasonable presumption that his readers can be expected to recall the

countless other passages that warn of such collusion and propose incentive

structures designed to impede it.

Adding further to her portrayal of Smith as playing a sly joke on posterity

with his invisible hand metaphor, Rothschild would have us find it

“interesting … that in a chapter mainly concerned with British restrictions

on imports, Smith’s ingenuous merchant is described as a resident of

Amsterdam, trading in corn from K?nigsberg and fruit from Lisbon; he is a

cosmopolitan figure, far less tempted than any English merchant to pursue his

own advantage through political influence” (p. 128; the point recurs on p.

144). Now, any reader who takes the trouble to review the reference in its

context will find this to be a particularly egregious mischaracterization.

While it is not commonly mentioned, the particular social benefit supposed to

be achieved by the Wealth of Nations appearance of the invisible hand

is a preference for home over foreign investment, a principle that will seem

peculiar to modern readers accustomed to decisionmaking at the margin.

Nevertheless, the principle arises from Smith’s eighteenth-century view of

capital as “setting to work productive labor.” Capital employed domestically

“in purchasing in one part of the country in order to sell in another …

generally replaces by every such operation two distinct capitals.” But in

foreign trade, where one of the transactions occurs abroad, “the capital

employed … will give but one-half the encouragement to the industry or

productive labour of the country.” Hence, that famous invisible hand, which

Rothschild would have us believe is slyly applied by Smith to an Amsterdam

merchant “far less tempted” to pursue his interest through influence in the

British political arena, applies in fact to the domestic merchant who, in

“preferring the support of domestick to that of foreign industry, … intends

only his own security,” and is “in this, as in many other cases, led by an

invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention,” that end

being, in this case, the support of more domestic labor than would have been

accomplished had he traded abroad. That Amsterdam merchant trading between

Prussia and Portugal enters Smith’s story only as illustration of the lower

risk associated with domestic trade by providing the contrast of the greater

“unease” felt by the merchant engaged in foreign trade, where he is “separated

so far from his capital” (Smith, 1976a, pp. 368; 454-56).

This alleged “ingenuous” character of Smith’s invisible hand expression recurs

throughout the rest of the argument and is central to Rothschild’s case for

her first “shortcoming.” Upon its introduction, that “first conflict or

shortcoming of economic thought” is described as having to do with “the

transformation of money into political power” and is illustrated by the claim

that “[i]n Smith’s description of the invisible hand in the Wealth of

Nations, the circumstance that individuals pursue their economic

objectives by political means is largely ignored” (p. 154). It also provides a

spurious point of contrast between Smith and Condorcet, who is described as

“admirably explicit in addressing one shortcoming of liberal economic orders,

to do with the transformation of money into political power, and of political

power into the power to influence markets” (p. 166). All this is no more than

a figment of Rothschild’s misreading of Smith.

The foundation of Rothschild’s second “shortcoming” of “liberal economic

thought” is also to be found in chapter five. There is no denying the

“conception of providential order” long associated with Smith’s invisible hand

metaphor. That association provides Rothschild with one more reason to dismiss

that metaphor as “un-Smithian” — namely the conviction that Smith would have

found “very serious problems” in such a “theology of the invisible hand” (p.

129). However, her argument on this point, for all its lavish citations, is

nearly devoid of textual evidence from Smith himself, apart from the remark

that he frequently made known “his differences with Christian doctrines.”

This, of course, is no more than a red herring. That Smith had little patience

with the positions and practices of the established Christian denominations of

his time is obvious. But it is equally obvious that a deistic faith in a

benevolent creator does not rest on Christian doctrine. In support of her

claim, Rothschild can offer us little more than the statement of her “own view

… that … Smith’s and Hume’s religious opinions were indeed quite close,” a

view that no doubt explains why her case so frequently rests on appeals to

Hume rather than to Smith (e.g. pp. 120, 130, 134-35, 139). One could, of

course, argue (and Rothschild does, in passing) that Smith’s frequent

references to the “all-wise Author of Nature” (some of which we have already

noticed) were no more than a smokescreen intended to avoid the kind of

conflict with contemporary sensibilities that so dogged his friend. But the

frequency and apparent sincerity of those references are far greater than the

minimum necessary to satisfy the local keepers of the public morals. Certainly

Rothschild’s claim that Smith denied “the conception of providential order,”

or employed it as no more than “an ironic joke,” is directly opposed to recent

scholarship on the matter. One wishes that in all her footnotes, she had taken

notice of those studies that, with a good deal more relevant documentation,

manage to advance an opposing view (e.g. Evensky 1998; although it appeared

too late to help Rothschild, interested readers will want to consult Hill 2001

as well).

To be sure, Rothschild does acknowledge the common view that Smith professed

the existence of a benevolent creator and that his position on this matter

derived from the natural theology of Stoic philosophy. But she offers little

in rebuttal beyond the unsupported declaration that he “was influenced by

different Stoic doctrines”; that “[w]ithin the overall Stoic system, … it

was the idea of a providential order … to which Smith was most opposed” (p.

132) As to that, I will simply leave it to those interested to read for

themselves Smith’s own assessment of that “Stoical” system, where he assures

us that, even in our greatest extremity, when, in spite of our best efforts,

events “turn out the most unfortunate and disastrous, Nature has by no means

left us without consolation,” that consolation being drawn “from a firm

reliance upon, and reverential submission to, that benevolent wisdom which

directs all the events of human life, and which, we may be assured, would

never have suffered those misfortunes to happen had they not been

indispensably necessary for the good of the whole” (Smith 1976b, p. 292). Is

this an author who opposed the idea of a providential order?

In spite of its flaws, we can learn a great deal from Rothschild’s work here.

Her command of a vast and complex literature is awesome. She has been

scrupulous in identifying her authorities, and she has opened a number of new

and promising lines for further work. She has reminded us that the forces

unleashed by the French Revolution left their mark not only on the political

and social structures of the period but also on the intellectual structures

that conditioned the discourse of the nineteenth century and, at a remove, of

our own time. She has prompted us to look again at the intellectual

influences running in both directions across the Channel in the immediate

pre-Revolutionary period, and she has identified the sources to do so. No

doubt it is that great promise that heightens the disappointment we feel when

we encounter her efforts to turn those sources to purposes which they simply

will not support.


Evensky, Jerry. 1998. “Adam Smith’s Moral Philosophy: The Role of Religion and

Its Relationship to Philosophy and Ethics in the Evolution of Society.”

History of Political Economy 30.1: 17-42.

Hill, Lisa. 2001. “The Hidden Theology of Adam Smith.” European Journal of

the History of Economic Thought 8.1:1-29.

Rosenberg, Nathan. 1960. “Some Institutional Aspects of the Wealth of

Nations.” Journal of Political Economy 68.6: 557-70.

1990. “Adam Smith and the Stock of Moral Capital.” History of Political

Economy 22.1: 1-18.

Smith, Adam. 1976a. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of

Nations. Edited by R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner. Oxford: Oxford

University Press.

1976b. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Edited by D. D. Raphael and A.

L. Macfie. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

1980. Essays on Philosophical Subjects. Edited by W. P. D. Wightman and

J. C. Bryce. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(The author, Emma Rothschild, is a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge and

Director of the Center for History and Economics, King’s College.)

The reviewer, Glenn Hueckel, is the author of various articles on the history

of economic thought in the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.

Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):18th Century

Reconstruction in the Cane Field: From Slavery to Free Labor in Louisiana’s Sugar Parishes 1862-1880

Author(s):Rodrigue, John C.
Reviewer(s):Kenzer, Robert C.

Published by EH.NET (October 2001)

John C. Rodrigue, Reconstruction in the Cane Field: From Slavery to Free

Labor in Louisiana’s Sugar Parishes 1862-1880. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana

State University Press, 2001. xiii + 224 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN:

0-8071-2656-x; $19.95 (paper), ISBN: 0-8071-2728-0.

Reviewed for EH-NET by Robert C. Kenzer, Department of History, University of


John C. Rodrigue (Department of History, Louisiana State University) focuses

on an exceptional corner of the southern economy during the Civil War and the

decade and a half following the conflict’s conclusion. The sugar industry of

Louisiana was not only unique in national terms since sugar production was

confined largely just to that single state, but more significantly, according

to Rodrigue, because circumstances unique to sugar production created

conditions which would lead its postwar labor system to follow a different

road than the much larger cotton South. The most distinct circumstance was

that sugar production culminated in the highly labor intensive two month

rolling season when the crop was harvested, the cane crushed, the juice

boiled, and the granulation (“striking”) process was completed. During this

critical period the planter class relied heavily on the discipline of its

large labor force.

This book begins by laying the foundation for the wartime and postbellum

situation in Louisiana’s sugar parishes by tracing the major characteristics

of Louisiana’s sugar planter elite and slave labor force. On the eve of the

Civil War Louisiana’s sugar planter elite was composed of 525 owners of at

least 50 slaves who resided in a thirteen-parish area south of Baton Rouge.

This group controlled about two-thirds of the slaves as well as improved

acreage in this area and produced nearly four-fifths of the state’s sugar

crop. Rodrigue points out that this elite’s proximity to New Orleans gave it

a much more cosmopolitan outlook than the general southern planter elite, a

perspective which oriented it towards the Whig party. Further, since its level

of production ranked this elite far below foreign producers, Louisiana’s sugar

planters exerted far less control over the international market for sugar than

did American cotton farmers of “King Cotton.” The most outstanding fact

Rodrigue provides about the slaves who labored under this elite was that among

the productive age group between ages 15 and 59 there were 1.4 males for

every female. He suggests at this early point of the work that this

demographic imbalance would have important long-term implications as “the

preponderance of single, unattached young men would contribute to what

planters viewed as the unstable and transient character of their labor forces

under free labor” (pp. 30-31).

What makes the history of the emancipation of Louisiana’s sugar producing

slaves so interesting is that it took place early in the war with New Orleans’

capture by Union forces in April 1862. Rodrigue devotes an entire chapter to

the process by which a series of Union army commanders attempted to

restructure the system of labor in the sugar area. General Benjamin F. Butler

began this process by establishing guidelines in 1862 by which planters would

pay male laborers monthly cash wages as well as provide them with food,

housing, and medical care. The planter class reacted swiftly by following a

“scorched-earth strategy” to “throw the region into further chaos” and drive

“away the slaves” (p. 38). As a result, sugar production in 1862 stood at only

one-fourth its 1861 level. The next year planters met with General Nathaniel

P. Banks, Butler’s replacement, to obtain his aid in regaining “control over

their workers” (p. 39). While Banks was willing to work with planters whose

political support he needed, Rodrigue observes, they proved unwilling to

“accept anything besides slavery” (p. 40). Banks issued Order 12 that created

a system of share-wage arrangements in which freedmen would be paid monthly

wages. Rodrigue stresses, “Unlike their former masters, ex-slaves did not see

free labor and sugar production as mutually exclusive” (p. 41). Hence, while

they “rejected masterism,” the freedmen “repudiated neither sugar production

nor its plantation regimen” so long as “planters did not think of and treat

them as slaves” (p. 41). Despite these concessions to the freedmen, Banks, by

establishing “the rudiments of a free-labor market” (p. 45) also agreed to the

key provision planters requested — that they be allowed to withhold paying

workers half their wages in reserve until the end of the rolling season.

Hence, by the time the war ended, “Despite the bitterness between them,

planters and freedmen were symbiotically constructing a new order” as both

sides “moved in tandem, grudgingly and reluctantly, but inexorably forward”

(pp. 54-55).

Chapter 3 seeks to explain why the sugar region did not develop a system of

sharecropping and tenancy like the cotton South. Rodrigue argues that what

differentiated this region from the cotton South was that “certain factors

inherent in growing cane, converting its juice into sugar, and marketing the

crop all militated against sharecropping and tenancy” (p. 75). The

“coordination between the field and mill during the rolling season” and the

“collective process of cane, created obstacles difficult to surmount.”

Further, the significant variation in quality of cane as well as a variety of

complex marketing issues precluded dividing the crop. But for Rodrigue, the

ultimate factor which impeded a system of sharecropping from emerging was the

“ingrained conservatism” of the planter elite which led them to “[c]onsidering

sugar production an indivisible process, they regarded growing cane and

converting its juice into sugar as inseparable” (pp. 75-76). What made the

situation in sugar production so unusual for the South was that sugar planters

would be forced to pay the price for their decision as their laborers earned

nearly twice as much in annual gross earnings than southern black

sharecroppers and tenant farmers.

In 1867 the relationship between sugar planters and workers changed

dramatically when Congress mandated black suffrage. Rodrigue convincingly

explains that while suffrage was a critical issue throughout the South, there

were “consequences specific to the sugar region” where “black grassroots

political activity” would be more successful in a labor environment where

“freedmen who lived and worked together could unite in moments of crisis” (p.

78). Surely planters were sensitive to this fact as they “quickly pinpointed

the link between agricultural struggle and freedmen’s political power” (p.

81). The one shortcoming of this chapter, however, is that because so many

other scholars have written on the political situation in Louisiana during

this period, Rodrigue does not feel the need to provide a fuller narrative.

Instead, he devotes ten pages (pp. 84-94) to tracing how planters adjusted to

the new labor system. Perhaps it would have been more fruitful to describe how

the Republican Party at the state and local level addressed the labor issue

in meetings, speeches, and platforms. In other words, was it just that the

sugar region’s environment encouraged a vigorous political community or was

there a clear tie between the desires of black laborers and the party with

which they were aligned?

Chapter 5 traces the slow recovery of the sugar industry after the war.

Indeed, it would not be until 1894 that Louisiana sugar production reached its

1861 level. Between 1860 and 1875 the share of Louisiana-grown sugar consumed

in the United States declined from about one-fourth to just under one-tenth.

While per capita sugar consumption in the nation rose dramatically, the demand

was largely met by foreign producers as world wide production of beet and cane

sugar doubled between 1860 and 1880; concurrently Louisiana’s world wide

share of sugar production fell from 5.9 to 2.9%. Though their market share

declined considerably, Louisiana sugar planters continued to control most of

the assets in the southern part of their state. They maintained this control

despite experiencing a much higher turnover rate than Mississippi River cotton

planters. During the immediate postwar years a four parish sample indicates

that only about one-third of the 1880 sugar planters had held their planter

status before the war compared to more than half of Mississippi cotton farmers

(Table 7, p. 109). Rodrigue’s detailed analysis of the postwar planter elite

concludes that despite the fact that northerners “never dominated the

industry,” that by “infusing new ideas and capital . . . they were in the

vanguard of its modernization during the late nineteenth century” (p. 112)

“With an unstable labor situation and a changing world sugar market cutting at

their economic well-being,” Rodrigue finds, “forward-thinking planters

started looking to technology as their salvation” (p. 116). Sources of

productivity changes from 1877 to 1901 (Table 13, p. 117) show that “output

for field operations decreased while output for milling operations rose

significantly.” The most critical shift was the replacement of pan kettles

with vacuum pans in the “boiling” process (Tables 14 and 15, pp. 118-119).

Rodrigue concludes, “Technological improvements accorded planters an indirect

solution to the labor problem, but the labor problem did not, of and by

itself, inevitably cause the sugar industry’s modernization” (p. 118).

Chapters 6 and 7 analyze the sugar labor force’s development during the 1870s.

Rodrigue begins by emphasizing, “Planters and managers recognized that the

best way to secure reliable workers was to hire men with families” (p. 123).

While he makes a convincing case for this recognition, there is some

expectation that he will tie this observation back to Chapter 1 when he noted

the skewed adult male population among slaves. However, this link is never

drawn. Indeed, though the book features extensive statistical, economic and

political analysis in its twenty tables, it is much thinner on demography.

Nevertheless, the work skillfully uses the records of the “Uncle Sam”

Plantation in St. James Parish from 1865 to 1878 to find that on average 25.2

percent of the regular workers were new each year. Further, during the rolling

season there often was as much as a tripling in the number of workers on

plantations. While many of these additional workers were family members, a

large share were “young, single men with no familial” (p. 126) tie to the

existing labor force who were attracted by the high wages offered during this

critical part of the year. Indeed, Rodrigue identifies a significant share of

the work force in the sugar region as task laborers — “jobbers” — who

performed such essential short-term tasks as maintaining ditches and roads,

repairing levees, and chopping wood for cash wages. Other workers would hire

themselves on a daily or monthly basis before determining if they would want

to remain on a particular plantation. Some planters even allowed squatters on

their swampland or unimproved acreage so long as these workers agreed to drain

or improve these holdings. Despite this work force diversity, the one

universal aspect of the emerging labor force in the region Rodrigue identifies

was the planters’ failure, compared to the cotton South, to establish a

sharecropping system. The mobility of the workforce and the intense

competition of planters to attract and maintain workers through the rolling

season created a “vicious circle that planters could not break” (p. 133). All

attempts to attract additional black workers from Virginia, or Chinese, or

European immigrants failed. Indeed, conditions were so favorable for the sugar

workers that by the end of the 1870s they were able to gain weekly

compensation during the rolling season and they now only had one-third of

their wages withheld by the planter each month rather than half until the

rolling season ended. Further, because they received wages on a fairly

constant basis, sugar workers, unlike their counterparts in cotton, did not

have to buy commodities on credit under the crop lien system.

The book concludes by examining the impact of Redemption on black economic

opportunity. In doing so it questions the notion that the tariff and sugar

planters’ political leanings might explain why “the Republican Party and black

political rights endured in the sugar region” (p. 174) beyond the end of

Reconstruction. Rodrigue determines that “southern Louisiana’s distinct

political character was rooted in the process of sugar production as well as

in the resulting modes of labor organization.” That black sugar workers

“exercised political power when many in the cotton South no longer did so

underscores how black grassroots political mobilization and the labor

arrangements that sugar production engendered continued to reinforce each

other well after Reconstruction” (p. 74). By comparing the sugar region to the

cotton producing Natchez District of the state — both of which contained

black majorities — he finds that in the latter area the Democrat’s gained

firm control by the late 1870s using “systematic intimidation and fraud” where

in the sugar region the “persistence of black and Republican politics” was the

result of the “realities of sugar production” (p. 176). Sugar planters simply

refused to risk causing an exodus of their labor force by manipulating

elections that were held at the identical time of the year when they needed

every hand available for the rolling season. Further, “sugar plantations’

centralized routine enabled freedmen to sustain a unity that their

counterparts in the cotton South, dispersed as they were throughout the

countryside, could not match.” The working units and residential system of

sugar workers “allowed freedmen to mobilize collectively for self-defense and

to keep potential defectors in line. The cohesion that sugar workers achieved

through their labor afforded them a measure of control over their collective

destiny” (pp. 176-177).

Though it falls beyond the chronological scope of Rodrigue’s work, the

Epilogue examines the Thibodaux Massacre in late November 1887 to explain how

this event “brought to a head twenty-five years of conflict” between the sugar

planters and their workers. While previous labor strikes in 1874 and 1880 in

the sugar region had ended peacefully, the combination of the role of outside

agitation in the form of the Knights of Labor, the potential of ten thousand

strikers leaving their jobs and, most importantly, the scheduling of the

strike at the outset of the rolling season, caused planters to believe “they

had no choice” (p. 190) but to fight back even if breaking the strike

necessitated killing dozens of workers. “The massacre,” Rodrigue concludes,

represents “an epilogue to the story of emancipation and a prologue to the

saga of Jim Crow and the white lynch mob” (p. 191).

While the story of wartime and postbellum black sugar workers in Louisiana is

exceptional in the wider perspective of the economy of the South during this

era, Rodrigue’s work supports the notion that by studying exceptions we often

gain a fuller understanding of the factors that shape the rule. In this case

the internal dynamics of the mode of production and particularly the critical

period of the rolling season permitted sugar workers to hold a card in the

labor market that most southern blacks were never dealt. In conclusion, not

only does Rodrigue tell a fascinating story, but he also skillfully crafts its

presentation. For example, when observing the sugar region’s unique political

situation after Redemption, he contends, “The sugar region thus remained a

Republican oasis, but only within a Democratic desert” (p. 177).

Robert C. Kenzer is William Binford Vest Professor of History at the

University of Richmond. The author of Enterprising Southerners: Black

Economic Success in North Carolina, 1865-1915 (1997), he currently is

researching the life course of southern Civil War widows.

Subject(s):Servitude and Slavery
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century