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Bureaucrats, Planters, and Workers
The Making of the Tobacco Monopoly in Bourbon Mexico
By Susan Deans-Smith
University of Texas Press, 1992

Honorable Mention, Bolton Memorial Prize, Conference on Latin American History

A government monopoly provides an excellent case study of state-society relationships. This is especially true of the tobacco monopoly in colonial Mexico, whose revenues in the later half of the eighteenth century were second only to the silver tithe as the most valuable source of government income. This comprehensive study of the tobacco monopoly illuminates many of the most important themes of eighteenth-century Mexican social and economic history, from issues of economic growth and the supply of agricultural credit to rural relations, labor markets, urban protest and urban workers, class formation, work discipline, and late colonial political culture.

Drawing on exhaustive research of previously unused archival sources, Susan Deans-Smith examines a wide range of new questions. Who were the bureaucrats who managed this colonial state enterprise and what policies did they adopt to develop it? How profitable were the tobacco manufactories, and how rational was their organization? What impact did the reorganization of the tobacco trade have upon those people it affected most—the tobacco planters and tobacco workers?

This research uncovers much that was not previously known about the Bourbon government's management of the tobacco monopoly and the problems and limitations it faced. Deans-Smith finds that there was as much continuity as change after the monopoly's establishment, and that the popular response was characterized by accommodation, as well as defiance and resistance. She argues that the problems experienced by the monopoly at the beginning of the nineteenth century did not originate from any simmering, entrenched opposition. Rather, an emphasis upon political stability and short-term profits prevented any innovative reforms that might have improved the monopoly's long-term performance and productivity.

With detailed quantitative data and rare material on the urban working poor of colonial Mexico, Bureaucrats, Planters, and Workers will be important reading for all students of social, economic, and labor history, especially of Mexico and Latin America.


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Salt and State
An Annotated Translation of the Songshi Salt Monopoly Treatise
Cecilia Lee-fang Chien
University of Michigan Press, 2004
Salt and State is an annotated translation of a treatise on salt from Song China. From its inception in the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.), the salt monopoly was a key component in the Chinese government's financial toolkit. Salt, with its highly localized and large-scale production, was an ideal target for bureaucratic management.
In the Song dynasty (960–1279), fiscal pressures on the government had intensified with increased centralization and bureaucratization. A bloated administration and an enormous standing army maintained against incursions by aggressive steppe neighbors placed tremendous strain on Song finances. Developing the salt monopoly seemed a logical and indeed urgent strategy, but each actor in this plan—the emperor, local officials, monopoly administrators, producers, merchants, and consumers—had his own interests to protect and advance. Thus attempts to maximize the effectiveness of the monopoly meant frequent policy swings and led to levels of corruption that would ultimately undo the Song.
Unlike other contemporary sources, the Songshi treatise organizes its subject into an intelligible and detailed narrative, elucidating special terminology, the bureaucracy and its processes, and debates relating to Chinese finance and politics, as well as the salt industry itself. Professor Chien's extensive annotation relies on parallel histories that corroborate and supplement the Songshi account, together providing a comprehensive study of this important institution in China's premodern political economy.

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Salt and the Colombian State
Local Society and Regional Monopoly in Boyaca, 1821-1900
Joshua M. Rosenthal
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012

In republican Colombia, salt became an important source of revenue not just to individuals, but to the state, which levied taxes on it and in some cases controlled and profited from its production. The salt trade consistently accounted for roughly ten percent of government income.

In the town of la Salina de Chita, in Boyacá province, thermal springs offered vast amounts of salt, and its procurement and distribution was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance. Focusing his study on la Salina, Joshua M. Rosenthal presents a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the early Colombian state, its institutions, and their interactions with local citizens during this formative period. Although historians have cited the state’s weakness, and in many cases, its absence in local affairs, Rosenthal counters these assumptions by documenting the primary role the state held in administering contracts, inspections, land rights, labor, and trade in la Salina, and contends that this was not an isolated incident. He also uncovers the frequent interaction between the state and local residents, who used the state’s liberal rhetoric to gain personal economic advantage.

Seen through the lens of the administration of la Salina’s salt works, Rosenthal provides a firsthand account of the role of local institutions and fiscal management in the larger process of state building. His study offers new perspectives on the complex network of republican Colombia’s political culture, and its involvement in provincial life across the nation.


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