TIRTHANKAR ROY: Current Research

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London: Bloomsbury, 2018.

What are the problems addressed by the growing field of global economic history? What debates and methodologies does it engage with? Global Economic History, with contributions from 22 leading academics, explains why a global perspective matters to economic history. The ambitious scope of topics ranges from the ‘Great Divergence’ to the rise of global finance, to the New World and the global silver economy.

Read my blog

July 2018: Are economic historians wasting time on divergence?

June 2018: The South Asian Miracle: Why did it happen? Is it sustainable?

State capacity and the Economic History of Colonial India


It is well-known to historians of the British Empire than the construction of the British Indian state (1858-1947) and financial globalization centred in the City of London were interdependent processes. The essay makes a connected and less known point - that the interdependence enabled the modernization of the state, and also, paradoxically, the interpredence limited the sustainability of that modernization process.


My entry points are Chris Bayly's question, how European was the state in British India, and an emerging literature in global economic history on the fiscal capacity of the colonial states in Asia and Africa. I join the two, asking, was British India a modern state, modern meaning greater fiscal capacity? I show that it was. Its fiscal capacity was larger than that of the precolonial states, and based on different foundations, such as centralization of finance and securitization of public debt. Nevertheless, the effort to raise finance hit a barrier, which had owed to the separation of debt from revenue operations, and the location of public debt and monetary system in London. Did the barrier matter? By keeping markets open, the colonial state served private enterprise, but its failure to sustain growth in fiscal capacity compromised social welfare.


Forthcoming in the Australian Economic History Review.