Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

A review essay on The European Guilds

Abstract

Ogilvie’s The European Guilds is a major contribution to economic history and institutional economics. This review essay surveys the main contributions of Guilds, locating it in a long-standing debate over whether craft guilds contributed positively or negatively to economic development in medieval and early modern Europe. The wealth of evidence Ogilvie amasses suggests that craft guilds should be thought of as organizations that primarily benefited their members at the expense of non-members, and used regulations to extract rents and exclude outsiders.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    See, for instance, McCloskey et al. (2014).

  2. 2.

    See the discussion in de Roover (1958, p. 418-420).

  3. 3.

    This is Ogilvie (2011).

  4. 4.

    There was also a response to Epstein by Edwards and Ogilvie (2008).

  5. 5.

    For example, Sven Beckert in Empire of Cotton makes a passing reference to crafts guilds as aiding workers in “maintaining some of the rhythms of the farm” and hence implicitly protecting worker autonomy. This view is not original to Polanyi but can be traced to scholars in the Historical School such as Sombart and to the modernist/primitivist debates between German language scholars of ancient Greece and Roman (see Peukert, 2012).

  6. 6.

    See for example (Xue 2016; Bateman 2019).

  7. 7.

    See, for instance, the discussion in Alesina and Giuliano (2015).

  8. 8.

    See also Richardson and McBride (2009).

  9. 9.

    Indeed, as implied by the logic of the transitional gains trap, they may have survived even if they did not generate net benefits for members (Tullock 1975).

  10. 10.

    For instance, Clark (2007, p.212) proposes that “institutions destructive of output will be reformed.” One recent restatement of this argument is that the institutions are efficient given constraints (see Leeson 2019). The logic of maximizing behavior implies gains from trade will be exhausted. But this argument gains purchase by subsuming any thing that prevents these gains from being realized into the constraints including transaction costs, culture, and ideology. Thus when the constraints change, then so do the (efficient) institutions. This framework, though not without its uses (i.e. in helping to understand the emergence of particular institutions), does not provide much insight for economists interested in exploring the consequences of real world institutions.

References

  1. Alesina, A., & Giuliano, P. (2015). Culture and institutions. Journal of Economic Literature, 53(4), 898–944.

  2. Ashley, W.J. (1888). An introduction to English economic history and theory the Middle Ages Vol. 1. Waterloo Place: London.

  3. Ashley, W.J. (1893). An Introduction to English Economic History and Theory: The end of the Middle Ages Vol. 2. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

  4. Bateman, V.N. (2019). The Sex Factor. London: Polity.

  5. Clark, G. (2007). Farewell to Alms. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

  6. Dale, G. (2010). Social Democracy, Embeddedness and decommodification: on the conceptual innovations and intellectual affiliations of Karl Polanyi. New Political Economy, 15(3), 369–393.

  7. de Roover, R. (1958). The concept of the just price: Theory and economic policy. The Journal of Economic History, 18(4), 418–434.

  8. Edwards, J., & Ogilvie, S. (2008). Contract Enforcement, Institutions and Social Capital: The Maghribi Traders Reappraised, CESifo Working Paper Series, CESifo GmbH.

  9. Epstein, S. R. (1998). Craft Guilds, Apprenticeship, and Technological Change in Preindustrial Europe. The Journal of Economic History, 58(3), 684–713.

  10. Epstein, S. R. (2008). Craft guilds in the pre-modern economy: a discussion. The Economic History Review, 61(1), 155–174.

  11. Epstein, S. R., & Prak, M. (Eds.). (2008). Guilds, Innovation and the European Economy 1400–1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  12. Greif, A., Milgrom, P., Weingast, B.R. (1994). Coordination, Commitment, and Enforcement: The case of the merchant guild. Journal of Political Economy, 102 (4), 745–76.

  13. Hickson, C.R., & Thompson, E.A. (1991). A new theory of guilds and European economic development. Explorations in Economic History, 28(2), 127–168.

  14. Johnson, N.D., & Koyama, M. (2017). States and economic growth: Capacity and constraints. Explorations in Economic History, 64, 1–20.

  15. Johnson, N.D., & Koyama, M. (2019). Persecution & Toleration: The long road to religious freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  16. Koyama, M. (2010a). Evading the ‘Taint of Usury’: The usury prohibition as a barrier to entry. Explorations in Economic History, 47(4), 420–442.

  17. Koyama, M. (2010b). The political economy of expulsion: The regulation of Jewish moneylending in medieval England. Constitutional Political Economy, 21(4), 374–406.

  18. Leeson, P.T. (2019). Logic is a harsh mistress: Welfare economics for economists. Journal of Insititutional Economics. Forthcoming.

  19. McCloskey, D, Lanteri, A., Vromen, J. (2014). Why economics is on the wrong track. In The Economics of Economists: Institutional Setting, Individual Incentives, and Future Prospects (pp. 211–242): Cambridge University Press.

  20. North, D.C., & Thomas, P. (1973). The Rise of the Western World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  21. North, D.C. (1990). Institutions, Institutional Change, Performance, Economic. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

  22. Ogilvie, S. (2004). How does social capital affect women? guilds and communities in early modern Germany. The American Historical Review, 109(2), 325–359.

  23. Ogilvie, S. (2007). ’Whatever Is, Is Right’? Economic institutions in Pre–Industrial Europe (Tawney Lecture 2006). Economic History Review, 60(4), 649–684.

  24. Ogilvie, S. (2011). Institutions and European Trade: Merchant Guilds, 1000–1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  25. Ogilvie, S., & Carus, A.W. (2014). Institutions and Economic Growth in Historical Perspective. In Handbook of Economic Growth, Vol. 2 of Handbook of Economic Growth, Elsevier, chapter 8 (pp. 403–513).

  26. Ogilvie, S. (2019). The European Guilds: An Economic Analysis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  27. Penty, A. (1906). The Restoration of the Gild System. London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co.

  28. Peukert, H, & Sombart, W. (2012) In Backhaus, JG (Ed.), Handbook of the History of Economic Thought, (pp. 527–564). New York: Springer.

  29. Polanyi, K. (1944). The Great Transformation: The political and economic origins of our time. Beacon paperbacks: Beacon Press.

  30. Prak, M, Lis, C, Lucassen, J, Soly, H. (2006). Craft Guilds in the Early Modern Low Countries: Work, power, and representation. UK: Aldershot.

  31. Richardson, G. (2001). A Tale of Two Theories: Monopolies and craft guilds in medieval England and modern imagination. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 23(02), 217–242.

  32. Richardson, G. (2005). Craft guilds and christianity in late-medieval England a rational choice analysis. Rationality and Society, 17, 139–189.

  33. Richardson, G. (2008). Brand Names Before the Industrial Revolution, Working paper 13930 national bureau of economic research.

  34. Richardson, G., & McBride, M. (2009). Religion, Longevity, and Cooperation: The case of the craft guild. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 71(2), 172–186.

  35. Smith, A. (1776). An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  36. Sombart, W. (1919). Der Moderne Kapitalismus Vol. 3. Duncker & Humblot: Munich.

  37. Tullock, G. (1975). The transitional gains trap. The Bell Journal of Economics, 6(2), 671–678.

  38. Xue, M.M. (2016). High-Value Work and the Rise of Women: The Cotton Revolution and Gender Equality in China, mimeo.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Mark Koyama.

Additional information

Accepted for Publication in the Review of Austrian Economics

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Koyama, M. A review essay on The European Guilds. Rev Austrian Econ 33, 277–287 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11138-019-00476-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Guilds
  • Institutions
  • Rent-Seeking

JEL Classification

  • N0
  • N43
  • D72
  • Y3