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Tag Archives: Economic History

Money and Virtue in the Ancient World

It is never a bad idea to remind students of economics that, long before Smith’s Wealth of Nations gave birth to modern economics, complex and vivid discussion of economics were already happening. They have been happening, I am certain, for as long as humans have trucked, bartered, and exchanged. Two excellent reminders of the length and complexity of the human interest in economic matters are the summary of Stoic ethics by Aurius Didymus, from the first century BCE,...

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To the Victor Goes the History

There is something about the history of war, conquest, and statecraft that captures the imagination. Histories of the great deeds of great men fill history textbooks and serve as inspiration for monuments, national parks, documentaries, movies, and plays. For those who think history matters, this lopsided emphasis can be problematic in a number of ways. The history of war, conquest, and statecraft tends to be written by the victor. Consequently, the stories of those...

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Loury and McWhorter on the 1619 Project

I rarely watch a whole 1-hour plus podcast but there have been 2 exceptions lately. One is the 84-minute bloggingheads conversation between Brown University professor Glenn Loury and Columbia University professor John McWhorter. It’s on the New York Times‘s famous (infamous?) 1619 project from this summer. If you want to know pretty much all the ins and outs of the project, criticisms and defenses, go to Phil Magness, “The 1619 Project Debate: A Bibliography,” AIER,...

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The Crankiest Woman in England: Elizabeth Freke and her Money

Elizabeth Freke is widely acknowledged to have been the crankiest woman in England in the 17th century. The editor of her diary, Raymond Anselment, justly describes her life as one of “medicine, money, and misery.” I think economists would find her fascinating. Freke’s misery begins when she marries a dissolute cousin without her father’s knowledge or support. She would be the first to agree with that assessment, heading up her journal with a note indicating that it...

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MORE Econlib Holiday Reading

In case the recommendations from Munger and Boudreaux weren’t enough, and as promised, here are some more: Alberto Mingardi Reading recommendations are always though, particularly for the Christmas season. Perhaps one should just stick with Argentinian writer Ernesto Sabato’s advice to those who asked him: read what gives you joy. I would dare to recommend three books that make for a good holiday reading. One is James Grant’s biography, Bagehot: the Life and Times of...

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The Meaning of Generations of Winter

Vassily Aksyonov was a Soviet dissident writer and GMU professor.  His most famous work was probably Generations of Winter, a sprawling historical novel about three generations of a Soviet family.   GMU history professor Steven Barnes, a great admirer of the book, doesn’t just assign the book in his class on modern Russian and Soviet history; an original essay on the book is the course’s most important assignment.  While I rarely quote undergraduate work, Tristan...

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Freedom of movement and the police state to be

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith deplores how restraining competition hinders workmen in their efforts to employ “the strength and dexterity” of their hands, that is: the very resources they could use to improve their lot. Steve Davies has a splendid article on the AIER website in which he reminds us that restrictions to people’s freedom of movement were ubiquitous in history, they were by and large part of the welfare system of the day, and they aimed at...

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Compared to what?

This graph caught my eye: Notice that prior to 1980, the number of affluent people was growing rapidly, but the number of poor people was also increasing. After 1980, the number of affluent people rose even more rapidly, while poverty began declining.  I was in grad school in 1980, and I don’t recall very many people expecting such a dramatic turnaround in the number of poor people.  Many experts were predicting a global catastrophe, due to rapid population growth in...

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Synchronous politics?

In his obituary for the late Norman Stone, Niall Ferguson noted that “Europe Transformed 1878-1919 was a masterpiece of synthesis and has proved an invaluable guide to our own times. Ever wondered why tariffs have made a comeback, or why Italian politics is so hard to predict? It’s all there, and the fun Norman had with the Italian word trasformismo has come in handy time and again.” I have tried to build on this insight in a piece for the City Journal. Norman Stone’s...

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The Rise of Private Property in America, Part 2

Read all of Part 1 here. The development of the idea that the individual has natural rights coincided with the rise of the natural law philosophy. As the scientific method was being employed to discover all sorts of new principles that ordered nature, the idea spread that there is a fundamental nature to all things. Moreover, it was argued that the laws of nature were implanted by God and cannot be altered by human action. Based on this idea, writers looked for the...

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