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A History of Usury and Debt
The practice of charging interest on loans has been controversial since it was first mentioned in early recorded history. Lending is a powerful economic tool, vital to the development of society but it can also lead to disaster if left unregulated. Prohibitions against excessive interest, or usury, have been found in almost all societies since antiquity. Whether loans were made in kind or in cash, creditors often were accused of beggar-thy-neighbor exploitation when their lending terms put borrowers at risk of ruin. While the concept of usury reflects transcendent notions of fairness, its definition has varied over time and place: Roman law distinguished between simple and compound interest, the medieval church banned interest altogether, and even Adam Smith favored a ceiling on interest. But in spite of these limits, the advantages and temptations of lending prompted financial innovations from margin investing and adjustable-rate mortgages to credit cards and microlending.
In Beggar Thy Neighbor, financial historian Charles R. Geisst tracks the changing perceptions of usury and debt from the time of Cicero to the most recent financial crises. This comprehensive economic history looks at humanity's attempts to curb the abuse of debt while reaping the benefits of credit. Beggar Thy Neighbor examines the major debt revolutions of the past, demonstrating that extensive leverage and debt were behind most financial market crashes from the Renaissance to the present day. Geisst argues that usury prohibitions, as part of the natural law tradition in Western and Islamic societies, continue to play a key role in banking regulation despite modern advances in finance. From the Roman Empire to the recent Dodd-Frank financial reforms, usury ceilings still occupy a central place in notions of free markets and economic justice.
Behavioral economics questions the basic underpinnings of economic theory, showing that people often do not act consistently in their own self-interest when making economic decisions. While these findings have important theoretical implications, they also provide a new lens for examining public policies, such as taxation, public spending, and the provision of adequate pensions. How can people be encouraged to save adequately for retirement when evidence shows that they tend to spend their money as soon as they can? Would closer monitoring of income tax returns lead to more honest taxpayers or a more distrustful, uncooperative citizenry? Behavioral Public Finance, edited by Edward McCaffery and Joel Slemrod, applies the principles of behavioral economics to government's role in constructing economic and social policies of these kinds and suggests that programs crafted with rational participants in mind may require redesign. Behavioral Public Finance looks at several facets of economic life and asks how behavioral research can increase public welfare. Deborah A. Small, George Loewenstein, and Jeff Strnad note that public support for a tax often depends not only on who bears its burdens, but also on how the tax is framed. For example, people tend to prefer corporate taxes over sales taxes, even though the cost of both is eventually extracted from the consumer. James J. Choi, David Laibson, Brigitte C. Madrian, and Andrew Metrick assess the impact of several different features of 401(k) plans on employee savings behavior. They find that when employees are automatically enrolled in a retirement savings plan, they overwhelmingly accept the status quo and continue participating, while employees without automatic enrollment typically take over a year to join the saving plan. Behavioral Public Finance also looks at taxpayer compliance. While the classic economic model suggests that the low rate of IRS audits means far fewer people should voluntarily pay their taxes than actually do, John Cullis, Philip Jones, and Alan Lewis present new research showing that many people do not underreport their incomes even when the probability of getting caught is a mere one percent. Human beings are not always rational, utility-maximizing economic agents. Behavioral economics has shown how human behavior departs from the assumptions made by generations of economists. Now, Behavioral Public Finance brings the insights of behavioral economics to analysis of policies that affect us all.
Most theories of elections assume that voters and political actors are fully rational. While these formulations produce many insights, they also generate anomalies--most famously, about turnout. The rise of behavioral economics has posed new challenges to the premise of rationality. This groundbreaking book provides a behavioral theory of elections based on the notion that all actors--politicians as well as voters--are only boundedly rational. The theory posits learning via trial and error: actions that surpass an actor's aspiration level are more likely to be used in the future, while those that fall short are less likely to be tried later.
Based on this idea of adaptation, the authors construct formal models of party competition, turnout, and voters' choices of candidates. These models predict substantial turnout levels, voters sorting into parties, and winning parties adopting centrist platforms. In multiparty elections, voters are able to coordinate vote choices on majority-preferred candidates, while all candidates garner significant vote shares. Overall, the behavioral theory and its models produce macroimplications consistent with the data on elections, and they use plausible microassumptions about the cognitive capacities of politicians and voters. A computational model accompanies the book and can be used as a tool for further research.
My Life in Texas Commerce
Serving as CEO of Texas Commerce Bancshares in the 1980s, during the collapse of the Texas banking industry, Ben Love had an inside view of the debacle. His story, told here in detail for the first time, provides an insightful perspective on the Texas banking industry’s evolution after World War II, its decline, and its subsequent recovery. It also offers a glimpse into of the kind of character that creates men of power. Love grew up with his family during the Great Depression. Their farm outside Paris, Texas, taught him hard lessons about opportunity and financial security lessons that would serve him well in the future. After America’s entry into war in 1941, Love flew 8th Air Force B-17 combat missions over Europe, and then settled in Houston with his business degree in the late 1940s. His entrance into the world of banking began as a member of the board of directors for River Oaks Bank & Trust. Houston was rapidly growing into a metropolis, and he accepted an offer to leave River Oaks to join Texas Commerce Bank in 1967. As president of Texas Commerce Bank (TCB) in 1969 and CEO in 197289, Love cultivated change from single banks to holding companies, garnering a national reputation for his banking organization. In 1984, Texas Commerce was the twenty-first-largest bank in the country. Under his competent management, TCB was the only Big Five Texas bank to survive the economic downturn. One reason for its continued success lies with Loves successful merger in 1987 with the Chemical Bank of New York, now J. P. Morgan Chase. Not only does Ben F. Love’s memoir reveal an inside look at the evolution of banking in Texas, but it will serve as an instructional guide to future business leaders and managers.
A Microeconomic Study
Marseille and the Early Modern Mediterranean
Between Crown and Commerce examines the relationship between French royal statecraft, mercantilism, and civic republicanism in the context of the globalizing economy of the early modern Mediterranean world. This is the story of how the French Crown and local institutions accommodated one another as they sought to forge acceptable political and commercial relationships with one another for the common goal of economic prosperity. Junko Thérèse Takeda tells this tale through the particular experience of Marseille, a port the monarchy saw as key to commercial expansion in the Mediterranean. At first, Marseille’s commercial and political elites were strongly opposed to the Crown’s encroaching influence. Rather than dismiss their concerns, the monarchy cleverly co-opted their civic traditions, practices, and institutions to convince the city’s elite of their important role in Levantine commerce. Chief among such traditions were local ideas of citizenship and civic virtue. As the city’s stature throughout the Mediterranean grew, however, so too did the dangers of commercial expansion as exemplified by the arrival of the bubonic plague. Marseille’s citizens reevaluated citizenship and merchant virtue during the epidemic, while the French monarchy's use of the crisis as an opportunity to further extend its power reanimated republican vocabulary. Between Crown and Commerce deftly combines a political and intellectual history of state-building, mercantilism, and republicanism with a cultural history of medical crisis. In doing so, the book highlights the conjoined history of broad transnational processes and local political change.
The English East India Company, 1600-1757
The English East India Company was one of the most powerful and enduring organizations in history. Between Monopoly and Free Trade locates the source of that success in the innovative policy by which the Company’s Court of Directors granted employees the right to pursue their own commercial interests while in the firm’s employ. Exploring trade network dynamics, decision-making processes, and ports and organizational context, Emily Erikson demonstrates why the English East India Company was a dominant force in the expansion of trade between Europe and Asia, and she sheds light on the related problems of why England experienced rapid economic development and how the relationship between Europe and Asia shifted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Though the Company held a monopoly on English overseas trade to Asia, the Court of Directors extended the right to trade in Asia to their employees, creating an unusual situation in which employees worked both for themselves and for the Company as overseas merchants. Building on the organizational infrastructure of the Company and the sophisticated commercial institutions of the markets of the East, employees constructed a cohesive internal network of peer communications that directed English trading ships during their voyages. This network integrated Company operations, encouraged innovation, and increased the Company’s flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness to local circumstance.
Between Monopoly and Free Trade highlights the dynamic potential of social networks in the early modern era.
Commercial Policy and the State in Postindependence Peru
This study of Peru's transformation from a tottering colonial economy based on extraction of precious bullion to a massive exporter of bulk goods like guano shows how a struggle between protectionists and free traders shaped the state. "This is an elegant and sophisticated book that can be read on many levels, written by an author who never takes the facile road. [Its] significance is great--not just for Peruvian history but for theoretical questions relating to dependency and economic history in nineteenth-century Latin America... Gootenberg has added a major new element to the dependency debate, one that is more intellectually satisfying than the sterile old argument about good guys and bad guys."--Timothy E. Anna, The Hispanic American Historical Review "[One] of the best books in recent years on Peruvian history, and a valuable contribution to nineteenth-century commercial and financial studies."--Michael J. Gonzales, Journal of Economic History "Fascinating reading. Gootenberg has taken the why of Latin American underdevelopment a step forward by unraveling complexities of the actual historical-economic forces... [This book] is perhaps the most thorough examination of exactly how those internal class and productive forces contributed to Peru's under-development."--Choice
Originally published in 1991.
The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.
Career Paths for the Forgotten Half
In a society where everyone is supposed to go to college, the problems facing high school graduates who do not continue their education are often forgotten. Many cannot find jobs, and those who do are often stuck in low-wage, dead-end positions. Meanwhile employers complain that high school graduates lack the necessary skills for today's workplace. Beyond College for All focuses on this crisis in the American labor market. Around the world, author James E. Rosenbaum finds, employers view high school graduates as valuable workers. Why not here? Rosenbaum reports on new studies of the interaction between employers and high schools in the United States. He concludes that each fails to communicate its needs to the other, leading to a predictable array of problems for young people in the years after graduation. High schools caught up in the college-for-all myth, provide little job advice or preparation, leading students to make unrealistic plans and hampering both students who do not go to college and those who start college but do not finish. Employers say they care about academic skills, but then do not consider grades when deciding whom to hire. Faced with few incentives to achieve, many students lapse into precisely the kinds of habits employers deplore, doing as little as possible in high school and developing poor attitudes. Rosenbaum contrasts the situation in the United States with that of two other industrialized nations-Japan and Germany-which have formal systems for aiding young people who are looking for employment. Virtually all Japanese high school graduates obtain work, and in Germany, eighteen-year-olds routinely hold responsible jobs. While the American system lacks such formal linkages, Rosenbaum uncovers an encouraging hidden system that helps many high school graduates find work. He shows that some American teachers, particularly vocational teachers, create informal networks with employers to guide students into the labor market. Enterprising employers have figures out how to use these networks to meet their labor needs, while students themselves can take steps to increase their ability to land desirable jobs. Beyond College for All suggests new policies based on such practices. Rosenbaum presents a compelling case that the problems faced by American high school graduates and employers can be solved if young people, employers, and high schools build upon existing informal networks to create formal paths for students to enter the world of work.
Asset Price Swings, Risk, and the Role of the State
In the wake of the global financial crisis that began in 2007, faith in the rationality of markets has lost ground to a new faith in their irrationality. The problem, Roman Frydman and Michael Goldberg argue, is that both the rational and behavioral theories of the market rest on the same fatal assumption--that markets act mechanically and economic change is fully predictable. In Beyond Mechanical Markets, Frydman and Goldberg show how the failure to abandon this assumption hinders our understanding of how markets work, why price swings help allocate capital to worthy companies, and what role government can and can't play.
The financial crisis, Frydman and Goldberg argue, was made more likely, if not inevitable, by contemporary economic theory, yet its core tenets remain unchanged today. In response, the authors show how imperfect knowledge economics, an approach they pioneered, provides a better understanding of markets and the financial crisis. Frydman and Goldberg deliver a withering critique of the widely accepted view that the boom in equity prices that ended in 2007 was a bubble fueled by herd psychology. They argue, instead, that price swings are driven by individuals' ever-imperfect interpretations of the significance of economic fundamentals for future prices and risk. Because swings are at the heart of a dynamic economy, reforms should aim only to curb their excesses.
Showing why we are being dangerously led astray by thinking of markets as predictably rational or irrational, Beyond Mechanical Markets presents a powerful challenge to conventional economic wisdom that we can't afford to ignore.