Category Archives: Economic 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).



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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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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“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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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.

On Associational Self-Government and Regulatory Capture

The direct antecedent of the National Recovery Administration can be found in the expanding role of the government during the tenure of Herbert Hoover as commerce secretary under presidents Harding and Coolidge. Hawley (1974) explores Hoover’s role in the creation of a corporatist state prior to the New Deal years. The Hooverian philosophy contained a vision of business and government cooperating to modernize, rationalize and manage the American economy.  Hoover believed in a community of interests between capital and labor, and promoted cooperative associations as means to private sector self-government and ultimately the material and moral advancement of the US.
As secretary of commerce, Hoover engaged in an ambitious program of administrative re-engineering, whereby he sought to subsume varied aspects of economic life. Hoover attempted to transform the Department of Commerce into an agency propelling and managing economic development, relying on private “networks of cooperating committees and allied associations” (Hawley 1974, 129). For this aim, Hoover enlisted business, academia and the media, and enrolled technocrats and topical experts, in what the author calls “adhocracies” (Hawley 1974, 131). Hoover found resistance to his project and fought institutional inertia: Hawley’s evidence suggests there were several groups of interest within and outside the government which opposed thoroughly the Hooverian ideal of an associative state.
Hoover’s reaction was to decrease the pace and scale of reform. The secretary’s stance yielded a set of regulating committees and overseeing boards with representatives from the government and the private sector, in what the author calls “quasi public organs” (Hawley 1974, 125). Hoover secured government intervention in new areas such as aviation and radio by arguing about their “public nature”, and intervened decisively in areas such as construction planning, housing and children’s welfare (Hawley 1974, 127). Hawley’s article thus raises questions on administrative history and the relationship between policymakers of distinct public agencies with their peers (such as the Federal Reserve Board, Treasury and State Departments) and with the private sector.
The approval of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) in 1933 gave momentum to “the associational idea of self-government” first essayed in the Hoover administration (Hawley 1995, 62). NIRA was an ambiguously written law that granted “unprecedented peacetime powers” to President Roosevelt for counteracting the effects of the economic downturn (Hawley 1995, 20). NIRA was an “enabling act, an economic charter” (Hawley 1995, 33), that placed the executive branch as an ultimate arbiter of industrial relationships. Also called the Wagner act, NIRA was a law that appealed to different ideologies and conflicting constituencies, such as “business planners […], trade unions, social workers, […policymakers,] spenders and pump-primers (Hawley 1995, 25).
Hawley’s account on the making of NIRA is an interesting instance of legislation under critical circumstances. Initially, politicians, businessmen and labor representatives stood behind the bill; opposition came from small business leaders and antitrust advocates. Hawley offers an interesting framework to approach the ideological contradictions of NIRA: the act echoed competing and conflictive visions of the American societ, as “business commonwealth […], cooperative, collectivist democracy [… and], atomistic economy” (Hawley 1995: 35-36). Big businesses sought to codify oligopolistic practices. Technocrats tried to apply modern management techniques from the private sector to public problems. The American intelligentsia divided itself between those who saw an almost natural progression towards market concentration and those who urged the government to enforce competition and restore economic flexibility.
The case of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) led by Hugh Johnson offers a cautionary tale of a regulatory agency captured by interest groups. NIRA presented a dilemma for economic policymakers: how could price policies be enacted without incurring in plain oligopolistic power? Code-making was in its core a “bargaining process” (Hawley 1995: 56), and industry representatives aimed to set minimum prices, open-price systems, terms of sales and controls of production, often with the complacency of NRA authorities. Soon, however, the collusion of big private interests affected small businesses and undermined public support for NIRA. The complexity of industrial chains often ended in overlapping and chaotic regulation. The NRA entered in conflicts with other public agencies, and industrial price fixing schemes derived in the rise of consumers as a constituency in American politics. Roosevelt could not remain deaf to these claims, and henceforth his administration had to move away from the Hooverian vision of “industrial self-government and the association idea” (Hawley 1995: 90).