Moral Economies in Early Modern Land Markets: History and Theory

24 Pages Posted: 29 May 2016 Last revised: 23 Jun 2016

See all articles by Taisu Zhang

Taisu Zhang

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: May 27, 2016


This article considers the applicability of "moral economy" theories to early modern land markets. It asks whether moral norms -- specifically, moral condemnation of land selling -- substantially impeded land alienation in several major early modern economies: China, England, and Japan. Historians and anthropologists have long argued that they did, but a review of recent scholarship fails to unearth any robust evidence in favor of their assertions. The article then considers the theoretical underpinnings of the moral economy thesis, and argues that, at least in theory, early modern land markets are probably some of the least hospitable terrain for the thesis: The enormous socioeconomic importance of land in pre-industrial economies actually makes it much less likely that societies morally condemned land selling.

Keywords: Land Markets, Moral Economy, Law and Culture, Early Modern History

JEL Classification: K00, K11

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Taisu, Moral Economies in Early Modern Land Markets: History and Theory (May 27, 2016). Law and Contemporary Problems, Forthcoming, Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 544, Available at SSRN:

Taisu Zhang (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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