Volume 2.1 Winter 2021
This essay offers a critique of, and a set of alternative approaches to, the study of Roman economic well-being. It examines the calculations, methods, and assumptions used to estimate both gross domestic product and inequality, and how they fit into attempts at long-term cliometrics from Maddison to Piketty. The essay further asks what role the Roman world is asked to play in the two-thousand-year economic arcs laid out in these narratives, and what kind of Roman history this new cliometric work produces. I argue that these studies have been tacitly used to reanimate long-discarded macro and meta-historical teleologies of rise, decline, and “natural” inequality, now narrated through economics. The essay concludes by offering some different approaches grounded in household-level data.
This article examines the fortunes of American government in light of the work of James M. Buchanan, the Virginia school political economist whose thinking on constitutional revolution played a formative, if largely unrecognized, role in shaping the tax revolt. By looking backwards, to an earlier wave of constitutional tax and spending limits enacted in the American South during the Redemption era, and forwards, to the increasingly regressive nature of local government revenue generation in the wake of the tax revolt, this article shows that Virginia school neoliberalism is less an argument against taxation than an argument in favor of regressive forms of taxation that are rarely acknowledged as such—user fees, fines, and flat-rate levies. The city of Ferguson, Missouri, which has become infamous for its exorbitant use of municipal ordinance violations and court fees to fund local services, is examined as a real-world experiment in Virginia school public finance.
Religious doctrine and practice have been among the principal conduits for neoliberal ideas, policies, and subjectivities, and attention to them reveals the self-conscious dependence of free markets on intimate forms of unfreedom. Intellectual historians have recovered the shifting and overlapping neoliberal schools of Geneva and Freiburg, Virginia and Chicago, Vienna and Cologne. This article makes a case for adding a similarly heterogenous but nonetheless identifiable “Navarra School” to the roster of neoliberal networks. The neologism derives from the flagship university in Spain where members of the elite Catholic lay movement Opus Dei disseminated economic policy, business training, and religious practice.
This paper revisits the relationship between capitalism and colonialism by examining the case of British India under East India Company rule (1757-1858). The Marxist-nationalist historiography claims that colonialism generated a steady drain of wealth and that this drain was responsible for Indian famines, poverty, inequality, and economic retardation. I use the East India Company budgets to measure the extent of the wealth that was drained through three direct channels: oppressive land taxes, unproductive expenditures on the imperial army and civil administration, and the unrequited export of commodities from India to Britain. I conclude that available figures lend empirical support to the Marxist interpretation. There was a drain of wealth and its effects on the underdevelopment of former European colonies deserve further research.
The three decades between 1989 and 2019, when the National Salvation regime of Islamists and the military ruled Sudan, are now frequently remembered by international and Sudanese policymakers, politicians, intellectuals, and business elites as “lost decades” or “decades of solitude” marked by poor policymaking, corruption, and international isolation. These standard accounts, as well as much of the scholarly literature, assume that ideas played very little role in the development of Sudan’s political economy. Instead, most observers of Sudan’s political economy assume its evolution between 1989 and 2019 was shaped by happenstance and competing interests that settled into brief moments of equilibrium. This dismissal of the role that ideas play in shaping the political economy of Sudan in particular, and that of African states in general, is not only a result of prejudice or historical myopia, but also the result of recent trends that privilege the analysis of material, class, or sectoral interests over ideas in scholarship on political economy. These explanations obscure the intellectual traditions that gave rise to the particular contours of the Sudanese economy between 1989 and 2019. This article argues that the idea of tamkeen, or economic consolidation, guided the economic policies put forth by the National Salvation regime between 1989 and 2019. To explicate tamkeen—its origins and its meaning—this article examines the writings of two Sudanese intellectuals: Fatima Babiker Mahmoud and Muhammad Abu al-Qasim Hajj Hamad. In publications from the 1980s, these two wrote extensively about the failures of the Sudanese developmental state in the 1960s. In their critique of this earlier Sudanese state, we discover the preconditions for the idea of tamkeen, which guided the political economy of Sudan during the so-called “decades of solitude.”
ESSAYS AND INTERTEXTS
Economic History and Nationalism
In “Economic Theory and Nationalism,” written in 1934, the economist Frank Knight identified two tendencies—one towards gross inequality and the other towards new techniques of influence—that appeared to be leading to fascism in liberal democracies. Knight’s predictions were wrong in the 1930s. But his comments suggest interesting questions about economic history in a period of renewed nationalism, “intolerable insecurity,” and, in Knight’s words, “contempt for truth.”
Crucial Episodes in the History of Faith and Finance
Proposing a dialogue between Herbert Lüthy’s La Banque Protestante en France (1959-1961) and Marieke de Goede’s Virtue, Fortune, and Faith (2005), this essay highlights some of the main points of convergence between the two works. Both authors understand the emergence and historical consolidation of financial capitalism as resulting from recurrent, historically grounded confrontations of contending financial practices, intertwined with questions of faith. Considering these two texts together helps historians to see a long arc of links between capitalism and systems of belief in both the past and present, primarily put forth in the Weber thesis.