The readings open with a classic article: Solow (1985). In this article Solow lays down his version of the law about what economic history should be--and what its relationship to economics proper should be. Robert Solow's article is a plea to economic historians to teach economists that social contexts and institutional patterns matter: that "economic history can offer the economist a sense of the variety and flexibility of social arrangements and thus, in particular, a shot at understanding a little better the interaction of economic behavior and other social institutions." That is Robert Solow's wish. And the bulk of the readings for this first week try to satisfy this wish. We look at the ancient (and, a little bit, the medieval) economy, trying to figure out how social contexts and institutional patterns matter, and what the interaction of economic behavior and other social institutions actually is.
The next two papers on the list are by the great qualitative ancient economic historian Moses Finley (driven from America to Britain--to our loss--by the McCarthy movement in the early 1950s). Finley (1970) is a series of reflections on the "economics" (or, rather, the non-economics) of Aristotle. He tries to get inside the mind of this Stagiran landowner-intellectual and determine what part "economic" reasoning and "economic" motives played in it. Finley (1965) expands and draws out the argument: what did the social structure of Classical Greek and Hellenistic civilization apply for the links between scientific inquiry, engineering progress, and economic growth?
The papers by Finley are followed by a critique of his entire line of thought by Peter Temin. Temin (2001) argues that the ancient economy was in all essential respects a market economy. In some ways this simply deepens puzzles: if the ancient economy was "like ours," then where are the features we expect to see in an economy--from total factor productivity growth and innovation to large-scale business organizations and the social dominance of the economically successful? Ending this section of this week's readings are two very short notes by me--brief reflections on Finley on Aristotle, and on what the meaning of saying that the economy is "embedded" in society rather than "autonomous" might mean.
After the papers on the ancient economy, we skip ahead to the medieval Mediterranean and to Greif's (1989) study of the Maghribi traders. I like to think of this paper as "commerce without law and order." How do you have commerce without law and order? How much commerce are you likely to have?
And the last paper on the reading list for the first week--which we may well not get to at all, depending on how the discussion goes--is Michael Kremer's (1993) wonderful attempt to map out the entire large-scale structure of human economic history. As Robert Lucas once said when commenting on it, "When I entered this business I never thought I would be discussing a paper in which one of the key events was the domestication of the dog."