Thursday, January 3, 2013

Peter Temin's "The Roman Market Economy"

Peter Temin is the Gray Professor Emeritus of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include The World Economy between the World Wars.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Roman Market Economy, and reported the following:
Opening The Roman Market Economy at page 99 brings you to the opening of the chapter on how trade was conducted. The book earlier makes the claim that there was an integrated wheat market throughout the Mediterranean under the Pax Romana. The discussion on page 99 talks about the need for some institutions to facilitate this trade and make it helpful for all. The Romans were very sophisticated in their economic dealings, and the trade around the Mediterranean facilitated regional specialization and increasing incomes, particularly in Roman Italy where most Roman land-owners resided during the late Republic and early Empire.

The wheat market was the most important commodity market, and it operated similarly to many international markets up to modern times. Roman land was owned, bought and sold in ways that are closer to modern analogies than Medieval arrangements. Roman banks were surprisingly like private banks of the eighteenth century. Roman slavery however was not at all like modern American slavery; it was closer to long-term employment than to hereditary modern slavery. Slaves were part of the Roman labor force; they worked and competed with free workers.

The analyses of individual markets imply that the economy of the Roman Empire was working well. I show in the book how sustained growth can take place in a Malthusian world. Delays in the Malthusian model imply that the dismal science is only constraining in the long run. The final step was to evaluate the GDP of the Roman Empire around 100 CE. Making a proper comparison, it is clear that Roman Italy in the second century was as prosperous as the Dutch Republic in its golden age of the seventeenth century.
Learn more about The Roman Market Economy at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue