The Economic Roots of the American 'Zigzag': Knives, Forks, and British Mercantilism

6 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2010

See all articles by Travis J. Lybbert

Travis J. Lybbert

University of California, Davis - Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics

Abstract

Relative prices that prevail at critical times can shape culture in precise ways. Building on the work of the renowned archeologist James Deetz, this essay argues that the difference between Europeans’ and Americans’ use of knives and forks at the dinner table is an artifact of British mercantilism, which inflated the price of tableware in the American colonies and preserved the table fork as a colonial luxury long after it was an ordinary utensil in England. Pressures of conformity at the table have locked in these manners, which persist as an enduring effect of the British Navigation Acts.

Suggested Citation

Lybbert, Travis J., The Economic Roots of the American 'Zigzag': Knives, Forks, and British Mercantilism. Economic Inquiry, Vol. 48, Issue 3, pp. 810-815, July 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1627405 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1465-7295.2009.00217.x

Travis J. Lybbert (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States

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