Category Archives: Economic, Business and Financial History

Iberoamérica en la 75a. Reunión Anual de la Economic History Association

Un reportaje sobre la presencia iberoamericana en la 75a. Reunión Anual de la Economic History Association para el Boletín de la Asociación Mexicana de Historia Económica (Nashville, 11-13 de septiembre de 2015).


My first time at an annual meeting of the Economic History Association

I am happy to inform you my paper presentation in the 2015 Economic History Association annual meeting at Nashville went great. The paper used the same database I first showed in the 2014 Business History Conference annual meeting at Frankfurt, which became my master’s essay. I was truly nervous before presenting as I wasn’t aware it is exceptional for students who are not in the job market to have their papers included in the Economic History Association program. I felt the expectations were really high. I worked on the PowerPoint with David Weiman (Barnard College/Columbia University), my advisor, for three weeks. The one issue I had was to rearticulate the master’s essay as an economic history paper, with a question that “sold” the work to an audience where economists were the majority. That’s why I decided to go with the plurality of currencies question as developed by Akinobu Kuroda.
Alexander Field (Santa Clara University) chaired the panel, aptly called Off Wall Street: Finance and Banking in the 19th Century US. First went Christopher Cotter (Vanderbilt University) an economics doctoral student who is in the job market and talked about railroads and the panic of 1873. Discussion ensued, after which I had 16 minutes to present. I managed to stay calm, in spite of some hesitation and a lot of fear, and got the entire presentation covered. Then, Matthew Jaremski (Colgate University) discussed my paper. His comments went on the direction that I anticipated. He pointed out the value of the database itself and the directions where I could take it. He also said that the concluding remarks were great (but [econometrically] untested) ideas. Questions and comments were really good, no one asked anything to devalue the merit of the work. Ted Fertik, a grad student of Yale pointed out precisely the direction where this project is going to be sold to historians (the political economy of money in antebellum America). Richard Sylla, Naomi Lamoreaux, and Larry Neal (former advisor of Alan Dye) were present, as well as some members of the Columbia University Economic History Seminar, such as Eric Hilt, Simone Wegge, and Mary Tone Rodgers. After my paper was done came John C. Bluedorn (International Monetary Fund) who presented about the regional effects of the panic of 1884 in Pennsylvania.
Curiously enough, when I was walking to see the books being exhibited, several doctoral students, both in economics and history got to talk to me and say they had really liked my presentation and had learned stuff they didn’t know anything about. The economics doctoral students were particularly impressed with the dataset, and the history doctoral students liked the implications in terms of what it means for monetary powers to be fragmented and what money can say about the integration of the South to the world.
Thereafter, I managed to talk to Dick Sylla and Naomi Lamoreaux who said they would be available for discussing my prospectus in late October. I shared room with Sebastián Fleitas (University of Arizona) who introduced me to many people, including Price Fishback (University of Arizona) and Ken Snowden (University of North Carolina at Greensboro). I also hang out with Natacha Postel-Vinay (London School of Economics, now Warwick University), Eric Gómez-i-Aznar (University of Barcelona), Brian D. Varian (London School of Economics) and briefly met Casey Lurtz (The University of Chicago, now Harvard University). I met on my own three scholars I admire the most, Phil Hoffman (Caltech), Gavin Wright (Stanford University, and former advisor of David Weiman) and Robert Margo (Boston University). I also finally met Jari Eloranta. All and all, going to Nashville has been reinvigorating for my career and I feel lucky to have had such a nice time at the EHA.

Some resources on the history of commodities (with a Latin American bias)

  • Jonathan Curry-Machado (ed.). Global Histories, Imperial Commodities, Local Interactions.
  • Curry-Machado is the coordinator of a very interesting British project, Commodity Histories.
  • Commodities in World History, 1450-1950, a website from UC Santa Cruz put together under the supervision of Edmund Burke III.
  • Commodities and Anticommodities Project.
  • Global Commodities / Trade, Exploration and Cultural Exchange, and
  • For the twentieth century economic history of Latin American commodities, see José Antonio Ocampo and María Angela Parra. Returning to an Eternal Debate: The Terms of Trade for Commodities in the Twentieth Century.
  • For a cultural approach, see Arjun Appadurai. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective.
  • And the best for the last. From Latin American economic history in the long-run, with a great introduction framing the theoretical issues at hand: Steven Topik, Carlos Marichal, Zephyr Frank. From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500-2000. Best book in the market on the issue from a regional perspective.

Book Presentation: The Economic Development of Latin America Since Independence (New York, January 31st, 2013)

Photography by Manuel A. Bautista Gonzalez.

It has been well over a year of the presentation of “The Economic Development of Latin America Since Independence,” held at Columbia University in the City of New York, with the participation of José Antonio Ocampo (co-author, SIPA/Columbia), Alan Dye (Barnard College) and John H. Coatsworth (Columbia University), moderated by Pablo Piccato in Columbia University in the City of New York, on January 31, 2013.

I am biased to believe the contents of the book presentation are still relevant. I post this transcript to pay a debt to my Uruguayan friend and colleague Sebastián Fleitas (University of Arizona), who aided Luis Bértola and José Antonio Ocampo as a research assistant for this book. The transcript would certainly benefit from (even) more editing. But as it happens most frequently in grad school, I lack the time to do that. Without further ado, here’s the baby whose birth took 15 months (!).

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A panel proposal that never was

The Virtues and Vices of Making Money in America

The functioning of a capitalist economy necessitates means of payment and vehicles for credit with which business can be conducted and expanded. The seasonality of agriculture, industrial production, and the nature itself of trade require money and credit to lubricate market exchange.

When talking about money in a historical perspective, instances of virtue follow very closely moments of vice. In the American case, for example, when the thirteen colonies became independent virtue was to be delivered in the promise of sovereign money issued directly in the continent. Nevertheless, the monetary experiments handled by the states in the period of Confederation led to a rather vicious situation, similar to countries enacting beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies. Virtue came again with institutional reforms adopted under the guidance of Alexander Hamilton and the rise of the First Bank of the United States, but soon concerned actors voiced the potential vice carried by the monopoly of issue. After the War of 1812-1815 the Second Bank of the United States emerged to guide the financial development of an industrializing nation, but this came with the cost of limiting the availability of money and credit for the ever-emerging peripheral regions of the country.

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Piece in The Economist about the economic history of the Great Depression

“Perhaps economic historians can make a better contribution by ensuring the past is not abused in debates about modern-day crises. For instance, putting all the blame on Wall Street for the Great Depression—or on bankers in the current crisis—does not stand up to historical scrutiny. The responsibility may more properly lie in a complex combination of factors, like how global financial systems are structured. But this still needs be interpreted from modern day evidence rather than in over-simplistic “lessons” from the past. As the Irish economic historian Cormac Ó Gráda once wrote, “shattering dangerous myths about the past is the historian’s social responsibility”. Such sentiments should apply to the Great Depression as much as they do any other episode in history.”

Estimados colegas,

Por este medio les hacemos llegar una copia digital de un artículo publicado en el blog "Free Exchange" de la revista The Economist sobre la historia económica de la Gran Depresión.

Saludos cordiales,

Manuel Bautista,

Vocal de la mesa directiva de la AMHE, 2013-2016


C., R. (2013), ‘Economic history. What can we learn from the Great Depression?’, Free Exchange (2013; London: The Economist). Accessed November 16 2013. <>


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Martin Wolf on what we should teach students on banking, credit and money

Standard undergraduate textbooks express the following views on credit, money and banking: banks borrow money from savers, which they then lend out; banks lend to businesses to fund investment and working capital, for productive purposes; and the liabilities of banks are “money” for which one can define a stable demand function, with income and the rate of interest as independent variables.This picture is almost entirely misleading. First, banking institutions create credit and so both purchasing power and money. Second, credit does not mainly finance investment, but now has a bigger role in financing the purchase of existing assets. Third, the credit and debt are more important than “money”, because they determine the fragility of the economy and so its vulnerability to crises.The oversimplified view is not just a feature of elementary textbooks. Even advanced macroeconomic textbooks are largely silent on the way banks create credit and money. Even Michael Woodford’s “Interest and Prices”, a defining statement of new Kenyesian macroeconomics, ignores the structure and role of the financial system.

via Martin Wolf: Banking, credit and money | INET CORE Project.

“If they couldn’t guarantee the property rights of the land they gave away, how could they possibly sell it?”: Land Privatization and Property Rights in the Nineteenth Century Neo-Europes

And an earlier piece on property rights in Buenos Aires and New South Wales…

The NEP-HIS Blog

The Political Economy of Land Privatization in Argentina and Australia, 1810-1850: A Puzzle

Alan Dye (, Barnard College, Columbia University

Sumner La Croix (, University of Hawai’i-Mānoa


Abstract: This paper compares public land privatization in New South Wales and the Province of Buenos Aires,in the early nineteenth century. Both claimed frontier lands as public lands for raising revenue. New South Wales failed to enforce its claim. Property rights originated as de facto squatters’ claims, which government subsequently accommodated and enforced as de jure property rights. In Buenos Aires, by contrast, original transfers of public lands were specified de jure by government. The paper develops a model that explains these differences as a consequence of violence and the relative cost of enforcement of government claims to public land.

Review by Manuel Bautista Gonzalez

The U.S. economy has racked up an enviable record of two centuries…

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“A fluid, ever-evolving, and organic process of improvement, misstep and improvement”: The Long Road to Monetary Union in the USA

A piece on the monetary unification in the United States.

The NEP-HIS Blog

Politics on the Road to the U. S. Monetary Union

Peter L. Rousseau (, Vanderbilt University


Abstract: Is political unity a necessary condition for a successful monetary union? The early United States seems a leading example of this principle. But the view is misleadingly simple. I review the historical record and uncover signs that the United States did not achieve a stable monetary union, at least if measured by a uniform currency and adequate safeguards against systemic risk, until well after the Civil War and probably not until the founding of the Federal Reserve. Political change and shifting policy positions end up as key factors in shaping the monetary union that did ultimately emerge.

Review by Manuel Bautista Gonzalez

In this piece published in NEP-HIS 2013-04-13, Peter Rousseau argues for the need to complicate the widely-held, simplistic view that political union is a necessary condition for…

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The Public and the Private in Critical Approaches to the New Deal

Portraits of an era are necessarily synthetic, but Shlaes very selective use of circumstantial evidence makes the reader think of a very biased reading of the intertwined relationship between the public and the private during the New Deal, where market-based mechanisms are a priori the most optimal form of organizing social life and supply-side economic policies are most conducive for economic growth, both in the short and the long-run.

Does Shlaes have a problem with the incorporation of large constituencies politically ignored, or with the form this incorporation adopted in the American case? The economics of public choice, a rather diluted paradigm that appears in Shlaes’s work, helps the author argue that Roosevelt was deliberately targeting certain constituencies through tailored legislation; however, this does not explain why the turn to the state was happening simultaneously in several nations during the Depression years.
Shlaes’s explanation of the Great Depression as a problem of “lack of faith in the marketplace” caused by an expanding public sector is a rather troublesome account of the worldwide economic downturn of the interwar years (Shlaes 2008, 7). I was particularly surprised to see the lack of consistency in her arguments on the economic history of the period, beginning with the problem of not distinguishing adequately between the crash of 1929, the banking crises and the economic depression of the early 1930s (Shlaes 2008, 5). Another instance occurs when against all economic logic she asserts that “deflation had hurt borrowers”, when in fact a deflationary period increases the real indebtedness of debtors, i. e., the deflated value of debt (Shlaes 2008, 158).

The author seems to be very uncomfortable with a world where the dollar was not the international unit of reserve and most accepted means of payment, a rather recent development that was further strengthened by Roosevelt’s efforts to create a new international monetary system. Shlaes’s characterization of microeconomic remedies against macroeconomic problems is unfair to the available knowledge of historical actors and the development of economics as a science at the time. Historians of economic thought would argue that no economist or policymaker had a “macroeconomic” framework with which to operate until at least the apparition of Keynes’s General Theory.

Radosh and Rothbard’s preface to A New History of Leviathan is a most interesting example of the kind of critiques that can be argued when extreme views of the political spectrum coalesce. Both authors agreed to edit the book with the purpose of determining whether liberalism was pro-business or anti-business, and to challenge “the preeminent  liberal ideology of mainstream corporate America and its academic and intellectual servants” (Radosh and Rothbard 1972, ix). Radosh’s piece places adequately the importance of business interests and the problem of regulatory capture under the Roosevelt administration (Radosh 1972, 151). If anything, the merit of the readings for this week lays in helping us problematize the changing relationship between public and private actors in the Great Depression era.