This article considers the applicability of ‘moral economy’ theories to early modern land markets. It asks whether moral norms – specifically, moral condemnation of land selling – substantially impeded land alienation in several major early modern economies: China, England, and Japan. Historians and anthropologists have long argued that they did, but a review of recent scholarship fails to unearth any robust evidence in favor of their assertions. The article then considers the theoretical underpinnings of the moral economy thesis, and argues that, at least in theory, early modern land markets are probably some of the least hospitable terrain for the thesis: The enormous socioeconomic importance of land in pre-industrial economies actually makes it much less likely that societies morally condemned land selling.
Zhang, Taisu, Moral Economies in Early Modern Land Markets: History and Theory (May 27, 2016). Law and Contemporary Problems, forthcoming.