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Studies in Land and Credit in Ancient Athens, 500-200 B.C. by Moses I.

Finley
Review by: Livio Stecchini
Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 61, No. 3 (Jun., 1953), pp. 266-268
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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266

BOOK REVIEWS

tion, Chipman's book will be of the greatest


value.
JAMES TOBIN

Yale University

The Tax System of Hawaii. By ROBERT M.


KAMINS. Honolulu: University of Hawaii
Press, 1952. Pp. xii+194. $2.50.
This competent and timely monograph describes and analyzes a tax system which is likely
to be unfamiliar to American students, even to
those specializing in state finances. The Hawaiian system differs from the representative state
tax system in several important respects. First,
fiscal authority in the territory is almost completely centralized; the territorial legislature
possesses the exclusive taxing power. Second,
the legislature is not hampered in the exercise of
this fiscal authority by constitutional requirements and limitations similar to those that seem
to restrict unduly many state legislative bodies.
Third, the territory relies more heavily on a
general excise (gross income) tax which is imposed at several different levels of economic
activity (production, wholesaling, and retailing). As a corollary to this, less use is made of
specific excise taxes. Fourth, it is strange but
true that the general excise tax discriminates
against island-produced goods in favor of mainland goods. Island-produced goods are taxed at
the production level, while imported goods are
taxed only at the wholesale and retail level.
Fifth, the flat 2 per cent tax on wages, salaries,
and dividends, imposed without exemptions or
deductions, is without parallel among state tax
systems. The recommendations for tax reform
include reductions in the general excise and the
corporate income tax, the reduction or elimination of the 2 per cent compensations tax, more
reliance on the property tax, and a reform in the
personal income tax.
Relatively complete information concerning
the tax structure of a territory which may soon
become a new state is provided here in concise,
readable form. The book's deficiencies are largely those of analysis and scope. The most significant analytical weakness is the treatment of
the incidence of the general excise tax. The
author concludes that the tax is largely passed
on to consumers in higher product prices. In
reaching this conclusion, he uses a model in
which a tax is imposed uniformly on all goods
and services in a purely competitive economy.

Under such conditions, as H. G. Brown originally demonstrated and as Earl Rolph has recently shown, the tax must be shifted backward
to the owners of the productive factors. A
major share of the burden of the general excise
tax, as it is actually imposed in Hawaii, may
well be borne by consumers. If this is true, however, it is precisely because the tax is not general
in the sense of the analytical model.
Structurally, the book suffers from the same
limitation of scope that is imposed on any study
of a tax system in isolation from the public
expenditure system. The system must, in such
circumstances, be evaluated by such criteria as
"ability-to-pay," "regressiveness," or "progressiveness." The last two of these criteria are
objectively meaningful and are thus useful for
classification purposes, but all three are practically worthless in estimating the social desirability of either a single tax or a whole tax
system. The 2 per cent compensation tax offers
a good example of this point. Although the
author is able to condemn this tax as inequitable
because it discriminates against wage- and
salary-earners in comparison with independentincome receivers, he is prevented from demonstrating the full onerousness of the tax because
of his neglect of benefit or expenditure considerations. This tax was imposed by the territory primarily to burden federally employed
wage-earners working on defense establishments, a large portion of whom were, and are,
temporary island residents, maintaining mainland homes. They received during World War
II relatively few benefits from territorial expenditures. In addition, they took almost no
part in the tax-making process. It is little
wonder that they have been "recalcitrant" in
paying such a tax.
J. M. BUCHANAN
Florida State University
Tallahassee, Florida

Studies in Land and Credit in Ancient Athens,


500-200 B.C. By MOSES I. FINLEY. New
Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1952.
Pp. xii+332. $3.50.
Some 150 inscribed stones indicating that a
piece of land or a house was used in some form
as security for indebtedness have been found in
Athens. These stones were called horoi, the
name usually given to boundary stones. How is
the information provided by the inscriptions on

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BOOK REVIEWS
the stones to be integrated with other sources of
information, particularly court orations, in
order to determine which type of legal relation
was involved? The problem is important, since
without its solution it is impossible to make
much progress in the study of land tenure in
Attica. In turn, a knowledge of the system of
land tenure contributes to a better understanding of the constitutional developments in
Athenian democracy. This explains why two
extensive treatises on this apparently highly
specialized topic have appeared almost simultaneously. One is the book under review and the
other is the work by John V. A. Fine, Horoi:
Studies in Mortgage, Real Security, and Land
Tenure in Ancient Athens (Hesperia, Suppl. 9
[1951]). The works overlap in two respects: both
contain a complete listing of the inscriptions and
an attempt to define the contracts to which they
refer. But in spite of this the two works complement each other. Fine's work is more thorough
from a strictly epigraphical point of view and
somehow more detailed in the discussion of the
evidence afforded by Attic orators. Finley's
scope is wider, and his bibliography is richer.
Whereas Fine follows the fashion established by
archeologists and epigraphists who write only
for the benefit of their fellow-specialists, Finley
makes a laudable effort to present the material
and the problem in a way comprehensible to a
less limited audience. His talent for historical
writing is helpful in presenting a clear and wellproportioned picture. He is informed in matters
of law but falls short in the legal analysis of the
relations between the parties. Essential to this
analysis is the distinction between property and
possession which is one of the most subtle issues
of ancient law. Fine proved wiser by prefacing
his work with the statement: "My lack of
formal legal training may have caused me to
make certain statements which, in the eyes of
legal experts, will seem unprofessional and possibly even naive."
The legal issue has been brilliantly discussed
by Ugo E. Paoli, who, however, proved to be too
much of a lawyer's lawyer and multiplied distinctions unnecessarily. One should have examined which of the many legal alternatives
presented by Paoli is actually supported by the
empirical data. Fine has done useful work by
proving that some of Paoli's constructions are
not in agreement with the evidence, but he has
unjustifiably rejected all of them. Finley dismisses Paoli's work even more curtly as "intricate legal constructs" (p. 201, n. 28). Paoli's

267

essential point is that the obligations to which


the inscriptions refer were protected by actions
in personam and not by actions in rem. Nothing

has been said to disprove this contention.


Finley proclaims: "Roughly stated, the rule is
that personal possessions are pawned, realty
hypothecated in a transaction involving no
transfer of possession" (p. 55). This rule sterns
from a legal order that did not exist earlier than
post-classical Roman law. He grants that "there
was no word in the Greek language meaning
real property" (p. 54); but he disregards the
fact that the opposition between real and personal rights was developed by medieval Roman
law, whereas the important distinction in ancient Greek law was between actiones in rem and
actiones in personal. In this respect Finley is

definitely guilty of modernizing, whereas, when


it comes to sociological analysis, his virtue is
just that of having recognized "the profoundly
un-modern character of the city-state economy"
(p. 81).
The final section, in which Finley uses the
inscriptions for a survey of the socioeconomic
aspects of property in Athens, enriches our
knowledge of Athenian social structure. His
demonstration that most of the credit transactions usually involved "men of property acting
in non-economic capacities" (p. 87) is a welcome relief from the tendency of some to interpret Athenian social history in terms of poor
debtors and oppressed farmers versus the
powers of wealth. His sociological insight is
indisputable, whether or not one agrees with all
his specific conclusions. His acquaintance with
legal writings certainly is of help in this field,
since (as exemplified by Max Weber's early
works) by starting from legal institutions sociological analysis can be something more than
impressionistic interpretation.
Incidentally, it is worth noting that the
most significant contribution of Fine's book is
to be found in the last section, a section not
necessarily related to the problem of horoi, in
which he argues that in Athens land became
alienable only after the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. If this contention is accepted by
scholars, it will mark a turning point in the
studies of Athenian history.
It is to be hoped that, on the basis of the
wealth of epigraphic, literary, and historical
material collected and interpreted by Finley
and Fine, somebody else will study the legal
background of the horos inscriptions with a
greater technical knowledge of the peculiarities

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268

BOOK REVIEWS

of ancient legal practices. The fact that Pringsheim's The Greek Law of Sale was not published until 1950 may be the reason why Finley
did not arrive at an appreciation of the vital
importance of its findings.
Livio STECCHINI
Princeton, New Jersey

Plautus and Terence, Fraenkel's and much


other research not considered), and Magie (a
small supplement to his splendid work on Asia
Minor).
Of great importance finally, are, articles by
Professors Broughton (an instructive treatise
about temple estates in Hellenistic and Roman
Asia Minor), the late Charlesworth of Cambridge (Rome's India trade, reconsidered in the
light of the revolutionary excavations at Arikamedu in South India), Day (a sound monograph
on Euboea's economic condition under Roman
rule), Downey (a definitive essay on Antioch
under Julianus Apostata), Grant (novel and
convincing views on Augustus' currency policy), Mattingly (a revolutionary reinterpretation of Roman currency conditions from A.D.
270 to A.D. 296), L. R. Taylor brilliant ideas
about Caesar's agrarian legislation and municipal policy), and Welles (a noteworthy demographic study on the population of Roman
Dura).
This volume is like a Scandinavian breakfast.
The reader has to be advised to select for his
files what looks digestible.

Studies in Roman Economic and Social History


in Honor of Allan ChesterJohnson. Edited by
P. R. COLEMAN-NORTON. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951. Pp. xiv+374.
$5.00.
This is a somewhat unbalanced selection of
research articles to honor a distinguished American scholar. The contributions of Professors
Alfoeldi (a convincing study of the beginnings
of the christogram), Piganiol (Roman calendar
matters), Raubitschek (a neat interpretation of
the evidence about Athenian games in honor of
Sulla but an argumentum e silentio preventing
finality), Syme (a convincing interpretation of a
Tacitus passage), and Youtie (a brilliant emendation of a papyrus photograph which, howF. M. HEICHELHEIM
ever, is in some disagreement with the original)
Toronto
University
of
will interest only few readers of this Journal
but are of high value.
Four articles should have been rejected by
the editor. Professor Coster is all too incomplete
The Cambridge Economic History of Europe,
and unsystematic in surveying the economic
Vol. II: Trade and Industry in the Middle
position of the Cyrenaica in classical times. The
Ages. Edited by M. POSTAN and E. E. RICH.
late I. G. Milne of Oxford interprets a Festus
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
passage on coins without considering anybody
1952. Pp. xvi+604. $9.00.
else's opinions, even despising T. Mommsen.
In the second volume of The CambridgeEcoProfessor Prentice reconstructs a family table of
Christ against the ancient Jewish custom of nomic History of Europe Professors Postan and
naming children after deceased relatives only. Rich carry forward with distinction the epochal
Professor West's denial that there were un- work planned by the late John Clapham and
usually high prices under Diocletian can easily Eileen Power. A reconsideration of the original
be exploded with the help of Professor John- plan resulted in "lightening the second volume
son's and his own collections of Roman infla- and confining it to the narrow field of industry
tionary prices which have to be divided by the and trade." A third volume, dealing with craft
amounts of currency inflation at different dates guilds, urban finance, and economic policy and
-evidence again collected by Johnson and theory, will complete the triad on the Middle
Ages.
West!
Michael Postan and Robert Lopez, writing
There follow useful nugae by Professors
Bellinger (a supplement to his brilliant article on respectively on northern and southern Europe,
Syrian coinage), Boak (new texts about two furnish a "general survey of medieval trade and
minor offices in late Roman Egypt), Charanis industry as a whole" in two chapters which
(Byzantine feudalism in the thirteenth cen- amount to slightly more than half of the text.
tury), Coleman-Norton (confronting Paul on Three shorter chapters precede this massive
slavery with Roman, but not talmudic, legal core. "Trade and Industry in Barbarian Euevidence), Duckworth (social problems in rope," by Gordon Childe, summarizes archeo-

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions