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Economics Ideas and Institutions in Historical Perspective: Cairú and Hamilton on Trade and Finance


  • Matias Vernengo


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Matias Vernengo, 2005. "Economics Ideas and Institutions in Historical Perspective: Cairú and Hamilton on Trade and Finance," Working Paper Series, Department of Economics, University of Utah 2005_08, University of Utah, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:uta:papers:2005_08

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bordo, Michael D. & Vegh, Carlos A., 2002. "What if Alexander Hamilton had been Argentinean? A comparison of the early monetary experiences of Argentina and the United States," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 459-494, April.
    2. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James Robinson, 2004. "Institutions as the Fundamental Cause of Long-Run Growth," NBER Working Papers 10481, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Ingham, Geoffrey, 2004. "The nature of money," economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, vol. 5(2), pages 18-28.
    4. Douglas A. Irwin, 2003. "The Aftermath of Hamilton's "Report on Manufactures"," NBER Working Papers 9943, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Jesus Felipe & Matias Vernengo, 2002. "Demystifying the Principles of Comparative Advantage : Implications for Developing Countries," International Journal of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 32(4), pages 49-75.
    6. Geoffrey Ingham, 2004. "Money," Chapters,in: The Elgar Companion To Economics and Philosophy, chapter 23 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    7. L. R. Wray, 1990. "Money and Credit in Capitalist Economies," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 474.
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    More about this item


    Cairú; Hamilton; brazil;

    JEL classification:

    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • N16 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • N26 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - Latin America; Caribbean

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