“The Economic World of the Bohemian Serf,” Sheilagh Ogilvie, 2001

A fantastic piece of economic history. There is a widespread belief (among historians and economists) that peasants in the pre-capitalist period cannot be evaluated by modern economic concepts, because these peasants had no knowledge of profit, interest, rent, etc., did not trust markets, and did not understand money. Using data from a particularly backward manor in Bavaria in the 17th century, Ogilvie shows that these peasants apparently were much more involved in markets than previously believed, that they were often able to assess land, to carry out activities for profit, to use concepts like discount rate, etc. Ogilvie argues that the primary constraint on market activity was not the peasants, but the lords (and the greater state), who regularly and deliberately attempted to stymie economic action by peasants.

An understanding of the economics of peasants strikes me as a vastly understudied area in economics, given that such societies make up nearly the whole world in the 18th century, much of the developing world at the turn of the 20th century, and sparse areas today. In particular, the relation between socialization of market norms and industrial development, and the process by which such norms become socialized, seems a critical component of understanding economic development.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3091759.pdf (JSTOR – a non-gated version does not appear to be available)

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