Skip to main content

How Do Bad Institutions Survive? The Economics of European Guilds

Header image for article

How Do Bad Institutions Survive? The Economics of European Guilds

Public Lecture: Sheilagh Ogilvie, 28th February 2019

The Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) is delighted to announce a public lecture by Sheilagh Ogilvie a Professor of Economic History, University of Cambridge and a Fellow of the British Academy.

Abstract
Institutions – the social and political ‘rules of the game’ – are widely viewed as central to economic growth. But what kind of institution makes an economy work better, and what kind mainly favours particular groups? In many European economies, guilds ruled crafts and trades from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution. Did the benefits of guilds outweigh their costs? This lecture answers these questions using over 17,000 observations of guilds in 23 European economies from 1000 to 1880. Although guilds sometimes provided important services, their overall effect was harmful. Their main objective was to benefit their members, so they acted like cartels. They excluded competitors, kept prices high, capped workers’ wages, exploited consumers, and resisted innovation. Guilds persisted not because they served the whole economy but because they benefited two powerful groups—guild members and powerful elites. Understanding why this malignant collaboration was stronger in some historical societies than others can help shape policies for the present day.

Book cover

28th February 2019
Time: 18:00 - 19:00
Venue: S0.21, Social Science Building
The University of Warwick

Book a place

Professor Ogilvie explores the lives of ordinary people in the past and tries to explain how poor economies get richer and improve human well-being. She has written books about German proto-industry, women’s work, long-distance trade, and European guilds. Her articles and essays range widely across guilds, consumption, retailing, demography, serfdom, gender, micro-finance, moral regulation, and social capital. Her work on German and Czech economic history has been recognized by the Gyorgy Ranki Prize (1999), the Anton Gindeley Prize (2004), the René Kuczynski Prize (2004), and the Stanley Z. Pech Prize (2008). She is currently investigating the economics of serfdom and the role of human capital in European economic growth between 1600 and 1900.

Her latest book is The European Guilds: An Economic Analysis (2019).