Economics Ideas and Institutions in Historical Perspective: Cairú and Hamilton on Trade and Finance
This paper deals with the role of economic ideas in institutional development. Conventional wisdom in Brazilian historiography suggests that, in part, the relative backwarderness of Brazil with respect to the United States was the result of the economic liberalism of its elites, represented by José da Silva Lisboa, the Viscount of Cairú. The paper argues that Cairú’s defense of an open economy, integrated to the world economy, in which agricultural production would prevail over the industrial interests, should be seen as a discourse for landowners and the mercantile class connected to the slave trade. It is also argued that, in contrast to Alexander Hamilton, Cairú and the Brazilian elites had a naive view of public finance that is central to understand the backwarderness of Brazilian financial markets. Political conservatism and a negative view of finance are seen as more relevant than liberalism in explaining the relative backwarderness of Brazil.
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