1/10/2020

Five Great and Recent Books on Economic History

"The dirty work is what Sheilagh Ogilvie commits herself to delivering in The European Guilds: An Economic Analysis. Ogilvie, an economic historian at Cambridge University, has long been invested in the debate on the effects and consequences of guilds. Unsatisfied with the deadlock that had emerged between the revisionists and those who steered closer to the classical view, Ogilvie assembled a rich database of quantitative and qualitative information about guilds across Europe. Everything from membership and operational structures to fees and political behavior. All this for 22 countries over 8 centuries. 

While there are still some questions to answer, Ogilvie settles many questions permanently. First, while it is hard to know whether or not guilds did serve an efficiency rationale when they first appeared, they rapidly became rent-seeking entities. Guilds invested considerable resources in lobbying to obtain (and preserve) favours from political elites. Such lobbying efforts are generally indicative of important transfers towards the politically connected group. This element alone suggests a high plausibility that guilds were causing more harm than good. Second, the data she amassed allowed her to measure the “strength” of guilds."