Current Scholarship
When Kuznets Went to Rome: Roman Economic Well-Being and the Reframing of Roman History

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Author: Kim Bowes

This essay offers a critique of, and a set of alternative approaches to, the study of Roman economic well-being. It examines the calculations, methods, and assumptions used to estimate both gross domestic product and inequality, and how they fit into attempts at long-term cliometrics from Maddison to Piketty. The essay further asks what role the Roman world is asked to play in the two-thousand-year economic arcs laid out in these narratives, and what kind of Roman history this new cliometric work produces. I argue that these studies have been tacitly used to reanimate long-discarded macro and meta-historical teleologies of rise, decline, and “natural” inequality, now narrated through economics. The essay concludes by offering some different approaches grounded in household-level data.

Bowes, Kim. “When Kuznets Went to Rome: Roman Economic Well-Being and the Reframing of Roman History.” Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics 2, no. 1 (2021): 7-40. doi:10.1353/cap.2021.0000.