Historian at SMU working at the intersection of US politics and economics. Academic writing and research centers on the nineteenth century.
How a massive agricultural reform movement led by northern farmers before the Civil War challenged the slaveocracy, transformed the national economy, and rebuilt the American state. Paperback in 2023.
"a remarkable piece of scholarship . . . a thoroughly enjoyable read" -- James Oakes
"rich with insight for both economists and historians" -- Caitlin Rosenthal
"the leading history of the antebellum American state for many years to come"
-- Gautham Rao
fig. 2: the book
++ Winner of the Agricultural History Society's Theodore Saloutos Award for the best book on agricultural history in the United States
++ Winner of the Civil War Research Center's Wiley-Silver Prize for best first book relating to the U.S Civil War.
++ Long-ish review and interpretation in the Boston Review. Here's my interview on the authors' Reviving Growth Keynesianism podcast, pitched to an academic audience.
++ A post I wrote for Broadstreet sketching key findings.
fig. 3: complimentary tweet
〉Recent & Current Work
+ (w/Sofia Valeonti) Central Monetary Services without Centralization in Stephen Colwell’s The Ways and Means of Payment
In The Ways and Means of Payment, a magisterial survey of money and credit published in 1859, the industrialist and Republican operative Stephen Colwell called for a government-printed paper money calibrated by tax revenues and combined to a national clearinghouse. This was a second-best solution in the absence of a central or national bank, famously killed off by Jacksonian Democrats in the 1830s and replaced with the so-called "independent treasury" system in the 1840s. Colwell thought that specie payments were useless and actually harmful to economic development. The US needed a monetary system that facilitated rather than throttled commercial transactions. His prescription aimed to create exactly this by ingeniously turning the Independent Treasury’s enacting legislation against itself. He thus achieved, in theory, a notable feat tailor-made for the American political context: central monetary services without centralization. This work has been presented at the "Making Democratic Money 2.0" conference (Cambridge, MA / June 2023) and "The American Developmental State: The Origins of American Capitalism in Comparative Perspective" (Paris / May 2023).
+ (w/Sofia Valeonti) The Money War: Democracy, Taxes, and Inflation in the U.S. Civil War
>> Out May 2023 in the Cambridge Journal of Economics here
>> Unpaywalled working paper version on JustMoney.org here
During the Civil War, the Union and the Confederacy each issued huge amounts of paper money that were not backed by gold. Instead they were backed by taxes, or rather the Union’s were and the Confederacy’s weren’t. Consequently, Union greenbacks worked effectively while Confederate graybacks suffered hyperinflation. This project treats the Civil War as a kind of natural experiment to show how democracy, taxes, and modern money work (or don’t) together. It illustrates the intimate relationship between democratic politics and competent government.
+ When Hay Was King: Energy History and Economic Nationalism in the Nineteenth-Century United States
>> Out May 2023 in the American Historical Review here
>> Presentation about this research at Cornell in 2019
Hay was roughly as valuable as cotton in the nineteenth century, which is surprising because slave-grown cotton is so closely associated with industrialization. The explanation has to do with horses’ central role in the contemporary energy regime and the importance of national as opposed to international trade. The main takeaway is that focusing too keenly on global commodity flows can distract from equally important internal economic developments. In this case, the massive domestic hay crop signals key areas of northern economic strength that became especially manifest as Union armies conquered Confederate territory.
+ The Great Government Giveaway: The Land Grant Era in the History of American Capitalism
The federal government owned a whole lot of land that it took from Indians in the nineteenth century. At first it tried to sell the land but then it started giving it away in creative ways, thanks to the integration of land and financial markets. This project shows that the fruits of settler colonialism were deeper and broader than settlement alone. What I call “the land grant era” shaped the development of the federal government, the private financial system, and the overall shape of American capitalism. This research was supported by a year-long residential fellowship at the Library of Congress's Kluge Center. I report some preliminary findings here.
+ Toward a History of the Associative-Developmental State in Nineteenth-Century America
This paper proposes describing the American state in the nineteenth century as an associative-developmental state—a bland but, I hope, edifying conjunction of two existing state-type concepts: the associative and the developmental. It uses the lens of the "developmental state" literature to characterize the distinctive interface of state and civic economic development associations in the period, using as a case study the American Institute of the City of New York, an important organization that has left behind a massive yet virtually unexamined manuscript archive. I have presented aspects of this work at the Policy History Conference (Tempe, AZ 2022) and a meeting of the Dallas Area Society of Historians (Nov 2022).
++ public writing
2023/OPINION/ "A Land for All. An idea for a confederal system for Israel and Palestine is impossible to enact today. But it’s a vision that must be worked toward."
The American Prospect / link
2022/COMMENT/ "The Contradictions of Effective Altruism: The meltdown of FTX and its fraudster boss, Sam Bankman-Fried, reveals the potential for reckless risk-taking at the heart of an influential philanthropic movement."
The American Prospect / link
2022/INTERVENTION/ "Meat without Animals: Stem cell agriculture could revolutionize the world food system. The U.S. government needs to invest in it now to reap the economic benefits."
Noema (w/Alex Smith) / link
2022/WHITE PAPER/ "American National Competitiveness and the Future of Meat: Why the United States Needs to Build Up a Domestic Alternative Proteins Industry."
The Good Food Institute and the Breakthrough Institute (w/Alex Smith) / link
2022/ESSAY/ "How Twitter Explains the Civil War (and Vice Versa): Political Violence and Communications Revolution"
Strong Paw of Reason blog / link
2021/PERSPECTIVE/ "How Slavery Haunts Today’s Big Debates About Federal Spending"
Slate / link
2018/REPLY/ “America Cannot Bear to Bring Back Indentured Servitude"
The Atlantic online (w/Dael Norwood) / link
2013/CURIO/ "American Panopticon: How a Small Town Foreshadowed the Surveillance State"
The Appendix blog / link
++ academic writing
2023/ARTICLE/ "When Hay Was King: Energy History and Economic Nationalism in the Nineteenth-Century United States," American Historical Review / link
2020/MONOGRAPH/ Grassroots Leviathan: Agricultural Reform and the Rural North in the Slaveholding Republic, Johns Hopkins University Press
2018/INTRO/ “Taking Stock of the State in Nineteenth-Century America” (w/Gautham Rao), Journal of the Early Republic / link
2016/ARTICLE/ “Summoning the State: Northern Farmers and the Transformation of American Politics in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Journal of American History / link
2016/ARTICLE/ “Scientific Agriculture and the Agricultural State: Farmers, Capitalism, and Government in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era / link
2015/ARTICLE/ “Henry Carey’s Rural Roots: ‘Scientific Agriculture’ and Economic Development in the Antebellum North,” Journal of the History of Economic Thought link
BA: University of Maryland, College Park
++ Hoosier-Clio Award for best honors history thesis
PhD: University of California, Berkeley
++ James H. Kettner Prize for best history doctoral dissertation
Fellowships: Cornell Society for the Humanities, Yale Center for the Study of Representative Institutions, Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, Program in Early American Economy and Society at the Library Company of Philadelphia
Current position: Glenn M. Linden Associate Professor of the U.S. Civil War Era at Southern Methodist University
〉More About Me
I was born in Tel Aviv, grew up there and in the DC area, and lived a couple of years in Hiroshima and Tokyo, all of which gives me an insider and an outsider view of American history. My research usually starts with some basic fact that seems boring but important. I then try to work out the implications of taking that thing seriously.