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Economists, Economics and Indigenous Peoples

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (EST)

Hosted By: History of Economics Society
  • Chair: Dominic Parker, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Indigenous Nations and the Development of the United States Economy: Land, Resources, and Dispossession

Ann Carlos
,
University of Colorado-Boulder
Donna Feir
,
University of Victoria and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
Angela Redish
,
University of British Columbia

Abstract

Abundant land and strong property rights are conventionally viewed as key factors underpinning US economic development success. This view relies on the “Pristine Myth” of an empty undeveloped land. But the abundant land of North America was already made productive and was the recognized territory of sovereign Indigenous Nations. We demonstrate that the development of strong property rights for European/American settlers was mirrored by the attenuation and increasing disregard of Indigenous property rights and that the dearth of discussion of the dispossession of Indigenous nations results in a misunderstanding of some of the core themes of US economic history.

Francis Amasa Walker and Indigenous Peoples

Ross B. Emmett
,
Arizona State University

Abstract

Walker’s contributions to the emerging economics profession in the latter half of the 19th century have been framed for us well by Tim Leonard (History of Political Economy, annual supplement, 2015). As the American Economic Association’s first president, Walker set out to show that a non-ideological economics could provide guidance to the regulatory state in order for its investigations and interventions to be of social use, while simultaneously fulfilling the aspirations of economists for social recognition that did not depend upon an ideological foundation. Early in his government service, Walker served as the Director of the Census, and soon thereafter as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. These experiences shaped his early writings on The Indian Question (1874), as well as his later work on political economy, written as a professor at Yale and Amherst, and then as the founding director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The paper evaluates Walker’s work on Indigenous peoples as a part of his overall project, as well as in terms of the illiberal reform agenda to which it contributed.

Economists and American Indian Private Property

Ronald L. Trosper
,
University of Arizona

Abstract

Did American Indians have private property? According to Adam Smith and other first economists, they did not. According to some contemporary economists, they did. In all these cases, the theorists had political agendas that affected their analysis. The early economists followed John Locke’s thought that settlers could justify their taking of Indigenous lands because the settlers would create more wealth from the land. For Locke, Indians did not have private property and the settlers did. Recent economists argue that Indians did create wealth from the land because they recognized private property. Demsetz argued that the arrival of a market in beaver induced Indians to create private property to overcome open access problems, purportedly demonstrating natural evolution of private property. More recent economists have several other political agendas. Some want to present evidence that private property is good for the environment, which is how Indians and other Indigenous peoples have protected their lands. Others want to convince Indians to establish private business. Since Indians pre- and post-contact did not then and do not now chose to have systems of individual private property in land, economists’ failure fully to examine the actual land tenure systems of American Indians in comparison to properly defined individual private property explains the divergent positions.

The Economist and Indigenous Economics: Challenging Realities?

Miriam Jorgensen
,
University of Arizona
Dara Kelley
,
Simon Fraser University
Randall K.Q. Akee
,
University of California-Los Angeles
Valentina P. Dimitrova-Grajzl
,
Virginia Military Institute
Jonathan Taylor
,
University of Arizona

Abstract

Applied economists long have been avid readers of The Economist magazine. More so than any other popular business and economic publication, The Economist both engages theories and findings emerging from the academy and attempts coverage of economic issues affecting people, communities, and nations worldwide. Given these commitments, it is unsurprising that discussion of the economic situations of Indigenous Peoples and theories about Indigenous Peoples have found their way into the pages of The Economist. But to what end? This paper analyzes the ways the magazine represents and discusses Indigenous peoples, posits the effects of such characterizations, and proposes future alternatives.
JEL Classifications
  • B0 - General
  • N0 - General