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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Posthumous Questions for Karl Polanyi: Price Inflation in Pre-Colonial Dahomey
Author:Law, Robin R.ISNI
Periodical:The Journal of African History
Geographic term:Benin
Subjects:economic history
Dahomey polity
History and Exploration
Economics and Trade
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/183139
Abstract:This article analyses the determination of prices in the precolonial kingdom of Dahomey (Benin), principally with relation to the domestic economy, on the basis of contemporary documentation. The study of Dahomey by Karl Polanyi (1966) posited pervasive State control of both overseas trade and the domestic economy, including prices, which Polanyi argued were set according to traditional notions of equity or equivalence rather than responding to supply and demand. These hypothesized stable prices were held to be reflected in the long-term stability of the exchange value of the local currency of cowry shells, at least prior to the 'Great Inflation' caused by excessive European imports of these shells in the second half of the 19th century. The paper shows that, although Polanyi was correct in asserting that prices were subject to State regulation, they were nevertheless liable to short-term fluctuations which reflected market conditions, and overall suffered a massive increase during the 17th and early 18th centuries, comparable in scale to the 19th-century 'Great Inflation'. Notes, ref., sum.