Ian Morris’s calculations about the ancient Greek economy

Addenda to the previous blogpost “Economic growth in ancient Greece“. I argue that certain estimates made by Ian Morris under-compute the implied growth rates in the “per capita income” of the ancient Greeks. With a proper computation Morris’s estimates simply become unbelievable. This post does a kind of reductio ad absurdum using Morris’s own assumptions. Continue reading

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Economic Growth in Ancient Greece

Was there “intensive growth” in Classical Greece and was there something special about its causes ? Was it due to “inclusive institutions” ? This post examines some claims of the “New Ancient History”. Continue reading

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Toponyms & Ethnonyms: a brief ramble

Rambling about toponyms and ethnonyms in various languages. Continue reading

Posted in Languages | 10 Comments

Greece from Postwar Orthodoxy to “Democratic Peronism”

The roots of the present Greek crisis lie in the political transformation of the country during the 1980s. (Disclaimer: Although this post is about Greek fiscal behaviour, I am not taking Germany’s side. Lenders to the profligate are just as culpable as the borrowers.) Continue reading

Posted in Financial Crises, Greece, Political Economy | 29 Comments

State Capacity & the Sino-Japanese Divergence

Why China did not industrialise before Western Europe may be a tantalising and irresistible subject, but frankly it’s a parlour game. What remains underexplored, however, is the more tractable issue of why Japan managed, but China failed, to initiate an early transition to modern growth and convergence with the West. A recent paper argues that the gap in state capacity between Qing China and Tokugawa Japan was responsible for the divergence. [Edit: Please note, this blogpost disputes that argument.] Continue reading

Posted in China, East Asia, Japan | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

Jo Guldi’s Curiouser & Curiouser Footnotes

In The History Manifesto, historians Jo Guldi, the Hans Rothfels Assistant Professor of History at Brown, and David Armitage, the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Harvard, repeatedly misunderstand or misrepresent the research they disparagingly cite in their references — especially the research of economists and economic historians. In fact, the footnotes (technically endnotes) in the book often bear no relation to the authors’ contentions and, in a few cases, state the exact opposite of what G & A claim their sources say. One begins to wonder, have they actually read any of the references they cite ? The critique touches on many issues along the way, including Victorian inequality, the environment & economics, etc.

This post is an adjunct to La longue purée, my general comment on their book. [Edit 13/04/15: I also have a follow-up, Errata dentata, examining the revisions in The History Manifesto.]

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Posted in History Manifesto, Industrial Revolution, Inequality | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

La longue purée

historymanifestoIn The History Manifesto, two historians, Jo Guldi of Brown and David Armitage of Harvard, urge their peers to turn away from microhistory and go back to doing Big History in the longue durée tradition of Fernand Braudel. The book also doubles as a rant against the public influence of the natural and social sciences, particularly economics, arguing that historians can do “causal analysis” better. But the contents of the book cast doubt on the authors’ understanding of complex social and scientific issues.  Continue reading

Posted in Environmental Economics, History, History Manifesto, Social Science | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Baptism by Blood Cotton

The underlying claim in Edward Baptist’s “oral economic history” of slavery, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, is that slave owners, through the scientific “calibration” of torture, intensified the work of slaves in order to increase labour productivity by 400% on southern cotton plantations between 1800 and 1860. I argue the intensification claim is poorly supported, exaggerated, and misleading. This is a follow-up to my previous blogpost, “Plant breeding, not working slaves harder, drove cotton efficiency gains in the antebellum US South“. Warning : I’ve tried to make this post as readable as possible, but it goes into considerable detail, so it is dense and dreadfully dull ! Continue reading

Posted in cotton, Edward Baptist, historians of capitalism, Slavery, The Half has never been told | Tagged , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Plant breeding, not working slaves harder, drove cotton productivity gains in the US South

Summary : New cultivars of cotton led to an unprecedented rise in the productivity of US southern cotton in the 60 years before the American Civil War. The Economist magazine may have said some stupid things about the subject in its review of Edward Baptist’s book on slavery, but it was fundamentally right to question the claim that antebellum efficiency gains were due to slaves being worked ever harder by their masters. (Note : I have a follow-up post, “Baptism by Blood Cotton“, which critiques in detail the central claims of Baptist’s book. There is also a brief note on slaves-as-wealth in Piketty & Slave-Wealth.) Continue reading

Posted in cotton, Edward Baptist, historians of capitalism, Slavery, The Half has never been told | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments