Trilhos do Desenvolvimento: as ferrovias no crescimento da economia brasileira, 1854-1913 (Ed. Livros de Safra, 2018)

Order Against Progress (Stanford University Press, 2003), is now available in Portuguese as Trilhos do Desenvolvimento (Ed. Livros de Safra). [Ebook at and at}. Investments in railroads in the second half of the nineteenth century were the single most important factor in Brazil's transition from relative economic stagnation to growth around 1900. Railroads provided large savings on transport costs, releasing scarce resources for other sectors of the economy. The government's policy of contingent subsidy mobilized capital to build railroad lines, attracting investment within Brazil and from abroad. While this provided investors with a relatively secure return, the government's regulation of rates capped the profits of foreign companies, and captured most of the economic surplus from lower-cost transport for Brazil.

The Brazilian edition is made possible by the initiative and generous support of Guilherme Quintella. It offers findings from quantitative economic history that bear directly on discussions of the future of infrastructure policy and sorely-needed investments in Brazil.

The book launching event at Insper in São Paulo included panel discussions linking economic history and current policy, with welcomes by Insper founder Cláudio Haddad and Insper president Marcos Lisboa. Discussants included Samuel Pessôa, Sérgio Lazzarini, Paul Procee (World Bank), Júlio Marcelo de Oliveira (Ministério Público), Fernando Camargo (Tribunal de Contas da União), and Fábio Coelho Barbosa (Finance Ministry):  "Desafios e entraves para o desenvolvimento do transporte brasileiro.”

Elio Gaspari note on Trilhos do Desenvolvimento in Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo (September 2018); Marcelo Toledo review of Trilhos do Desenvolvimento (October 2018) and blog post (August 2018), in Folha de S.Paulo; Samuel Pessôa, "Trilhos do Desenvolvimento: nosso subdesenvolvimento tem sido construído por nós mesmos, não por gringos," in Folha de S.Paulo (August 2018); interview with João Soares in Deutsch Welle (Brasil), “Brasil hoje não tem posição no mercado que tinha no século 19,” (September 2018); interview with Gustavo Altman for JOTA (November, 2018).

Presentation on Trilhos do Desenvolvimento at Tribunal de Contas da União (TCU) (Brasília) [with participation by Júlio Marcelo de Oliveira, prosecutor from the Ministério Público; Carlos Pio, Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos da Presidência da República; and Fernando Camargo, head of the TCU's Initiative on Efficiency and Productivity].

Brazil Bond 1824.jpg copy.jpg

5º Workshop de História Econômica/5th Brazilian Economic History Workshop

16 e 17 de agosto de 2018

Nos últimos quatro anos o Workshop de História Econômica” organizado por Renato Perim Colistete na FEA-USP tem reunido pesquisadores(as) e alunos(as) de pós-graduação que realizam trabalhos acadêmicos baseados em análise econômica e histórica, com uso intensivo de fontes primárias, tanto quantitativas quanto qualitativas.

Com o intuito de envolver mais interessados nessa iniciativa, estamos lançando esta chamada de trabalhos para o 5º Workshop a ser realizado em 2018. Desta vez o evento ocorrerá no Insper, em São Paulo, nos dias 16 e 17 de agosto de 2018. O comitê organizador é composto por Renato Perim Colistete (FEA-USP), William Summerhill (UCLA), e Leonardo Weller (EESP-FGV).

O Workshop é destinado a trabalhos que resultem de pesquisa nova, de boa qualidade, com contribuições relevantes, uso de métodos quantitativos e qualitativos apropriados para os temas abordados e com ênfase em fontes de arquivos resultantes de pesquisa original.



Inglorious Revolution: Political Institutions, Sovereign Debt, and Financial Underdevelopment in Imperial Brazil

Yale university press, 2015

Government debt crises are a fact of political and economic life. By the middle of the 19th century most Latin American states had become what modern scholars have labeled "serial defaulters."

Inglorious Revolution shows that Imperial Brazil (1822-1889) was a key exception.  The political institutions of constitutional monarchy provided an effective penalty for default in Brazil, much as they had done with Britain’s Glorious Revolution more than a century before. This credibly committed the government to repay its debts. Beginning in the 1820s bankers in London structured Brazil's loans in sterling, while Rio de Janeiro's merchants and slave traders made loans in local currency. Since parliament always budgeted funds to service the debt, Brazil's bondholders on both sides of the Atlantic always received their interest payments. The result was continuous access to capital markets. This achievement constituted nothing less than a revolution in public finance.

Given Imperial Brazil's enviable record of government borrowing, one would expect it to undergo a broad-based revolution in private finance.  This study shows it did not. Restrictive and arbitrary controls over incorporation, and regulatory barriers to entry by banks, created financial underdevelopment. The same political institutions that fostered credible public finance stymied innovation in private capital markets. In terms of their consequences for financial development, Imperial Brazil's political institutions produced an inglorious revolution.


Inglorious Revolution highlighted by Elio Gaspari in the Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo (February 2016); Inglorious Revolution reviewed by Teresa Cribelli for Hispanic American Historical Review (May, 2018); by Leonardo Monasterio for Pesquisa e Planejamento Econômico (December, 2017); by José Augusto Ribas Miranda ["Da Rua Direita à Lombard Street"] in Revista de História (2017), with synopsis at "Por que o Brasil não teve uma Wall Street?" (2018); by Kirsten Schultz in American Historical Review (October 2016); Zephyr Frank in Business History Review (December, 2016); by Anne Hanley at (June, 2016); by Gail Triner in Journal of Economic History (December 2016); by Melissa Teixeira at H-LatAm (May 2017); by Rafael Ioris in History: Reviews of New Books (December, 2016); by Ulisses Ruiz-de-Gamboa ["Como era solvente meu Império"] in Diário do Comércio (March 2016); by Asher Levine in Americas Quarterly  ["What a 19th Century Default Says About Brazil's Crisis Today"] (Winter 2016); Inglorious Revolution recommended reading at Casa das Garças (under "Leituras," then "Livros") (February 2016); profiled by the research foundation of the state of São Paulo (FAPESP), ["Quem não deve não tem crédito"]


"William Summerhill...é um bruxo da pesquisa econômica"...--Elio Gaspari, historian and journalist

"Using a vast array of archival evidence Summerhill convincingly shows that political commitment to a secure public debt was neither necessary nor sufficient to insure financial development in nineteenth century Brazil. A must-read for economic and financial historians and for anyone interested in the politics of financial development."--Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, California Institute of Technology

"A critical weakness of much scholarship on long-run economic development is that it makes generalizations from a few salient histories, usually of European countries. In Britain change in political institutions allowing the government to borrow apparently led to a financial revolution. But this brilliant book shows that exactly analogous political changes in Brazil did not have the same consequences. A Trojan horse in the conventional wisdom."--James A. Robinson, University of Chicago

"Inglorious Revolution addresses a frontier question in political economy: new states need sources of finance, but how can a new state make a credible commitment to its creditors that it will repay its debts? Inglorious Revolution shows that Brazil solved this commitment  problem by creating a constitutional monarchy in which parliament held the reins of power and was composed of a tight knit class of merchants and planters who were the state's creditors. Credibility came at a cost however, because this merchant-planter elite made sure that almost nothing happened in Brazil without their say-so, and they almost never said yes. Nineteenth century Brazil therefore had stable public finances, and avoided the endless coups and civil wars that plagued new states in Latin America and Africa, but it remained economically backward."--Stephen Haber, Stanford University

"This volume is one of the most original studies of 19th century Brazilian public finance published in any language.  It not only provides a wealth of original research material but has raised fundamental issues about why Imperial Brazil’s extraordinary record of international credit in the 19th century did not lead to a major financial and capital development.  Does this unusual case of a credit worthy state which still did not grow provide a useful counterbalance to the theories of economic growth. Summerhill makes a good argument for this thesis and thus the book will prove to be of much broader interest to the field of economic history and economic development."--Herbert S. Klein, Columbia University & Stanford University

"Inglorious Revolution is a welcome contribution to Brazilian economic history. This polished, original book will become the main reference for the study of imperial Brazil for historians and economic historians in the years to come.”Aldo Musacchio, Harvard Business School and Brandeis International Business School

Selected Publications


Inglorious Revolution: Political Institutions, Sovereign Debt, and Financial Underdevelopment in Imperial Brazil (Yale University Press, 2015)

Order Against Progress: Government, Foreign Investment, and Railroads in Brazil, 1854-1913 (Stanford University Press, 2003) [available on Amazon or from the Press]. Brazilian edition Trilhos do Desenvolvimento: as ferrovias no crescimento da economia brasileira, 1854-1913 (Ed. Livros de Safra, 2018)


"A Agricultura Paulista em 1905," (with Francisco Vidal Luna and Herbert S. Klein), Estudos Econômicos, vol. 44, no. 1 (2014)

"Fiscal Bargains, Political Institutions, and Economic Performance," Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 88, no. 2 (2008): 219-33

Big Social Savings in a Small Laggard Economy: Railroad-led Growth in Brazil, Journal of Economic History, vol. 65, no. 1 (Mar., 2005), 72-102

"State bank transformation in Brazil – choices and consequences," (with Thorsten Beck and Juan Crivelli), Journal of Banking and Finance, vol. 29, nos. 8-9 (2005), 2223-2257

"Market Intervention in a Backward Economy: Railway Subsidy in Brazil, 1854-1913." Economic History Review, Vol. 53, no. 3 (1998): 542-568


"Sovereign Commitment and Financial Underdevelopment in nineteenth-century Brazil," in Thorsten Beck and Ross Levine, eds., Handbook of Finance and Development (Edward Elgar, 2018)

"The New Economic History of Latin America: Evolution and Recent Contributions" (with John H. Coatsworth), in Jose Moya, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Latin American History (Oxford University Press, 2010)

"Credible Commitment and Sovereign Default Risk: Two Bond Markets and Imperial Brazil," in Stephen H. Haber, Douglass C. North, and Barry R. Weingast, eds., Political Institutions and Financial Development (Stanford University Press, 2008)

"The Development of Infrastructure," in Victor Bulmer-Thomas, John H. Coatsworth, and Roberto Cortés Conde, eds., The Cambridge Economic History of Latin America, Vol. II, The Long Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

“Order, Disorder, and Economic Change: Latin America vs. North America,” (with Douglass C. North and Barry R. Weingast), in Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Hilton Root, eds., Governing for Prosperity (Yale University Press, 2000) [published in Spanish as "Orden, Desorden y Cambio Económico: Latinoamérica vs. Norte América," in Revista Instituciones y Desarrollo, no. 12-13 (2002)]

"Railroads in Imperial Brazil," in John H. Coatsworth and Alan M. Taylor, eds., Latin America and the World Economy in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Explorations in Quantitative Economic History (Harvard University Press, 1998)

"Transport Improvements and Economic Growth in Brazil and Mexico," in Stephen H. Haber, ed. How Latin America Fell Behind: Essays on the Economic Histories of Brazil and Mexico, 1800-1914 (Stanford University Press, 1997) [published in Spanish as Cómo se rezagó la América Latina: ensayos sobre las historias económicas de Brasil y México. 1800-1914 (Fundo de Cultura Económica, 1999)]




Research on railroads: Elio Gaspari on Brazil's 19th-century railroads as public-private partnerships (PPP's), Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo (2004); Samuel Pessôa, "Trilhos do Desenvolvimento: Nosso subdesenvolvimento tem sido construído por nós mesmos, não por gringos," in Folha de S.Paulo (2018); interview with João Soares in Deutsch Welle (Brasil), “Brasil hoje não tem posição no mercado que tinha no século 19,” (2018); Marcelo Toledo on Trilhos do Desenvolvimento in Folha de S.Paulo (2018); research on impact of 19th-century railroads (Order Against Progress/Trilhos do Desenvolvimento) noted in interview of Guilherme Quintella in Brazil Journal (2018) ["País que perde o trem briga pelo diesel"]; research highlighted on the Blog do IBRE of the Instituto Brasileiro de Economia of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (2017 ["Papel histórico das ferrovias no Brasil"]); mention in Folha de S.Paulo of research on railroad subsidy and regulation; quoted on the question of government subsidies to failing railways as bailouts, Folha de S.Paulo,

Research on sovereign debt: Inglorious Revolution highlighted by Elio Gaspari in the Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo (2016); José Augusto Ribas Miranda, "Por que o Brasil não teve uma Wall Street?" (2018); Ulisses Ruiz-de-Gamboa ["Como era solvente meu Império"] in Diário do Comércio (March 2016); Asher Levine, "What a 19th Century Default Says About Brazil's Crisis Today," in Americas Quarterly; Jorge Felix in Valor Econômico"Lições da história econômica;" Fabio de Castro, "Quem não deve não tem crédito"

Other: Keynote presentation at the meeting of the Brazilian Association of Post-Graduate Programs in Economics, [Anpec] {“Para que serve a história econômica? O atraso persistente do Brasil”] (December 2018); quoted in Paulo Trevisani's piece at Wall Street Journal on the loss of the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro to fire; interviewed on the Brazilian economy at IREE (July 2018); interviewed for Newsday, BBC World Service on federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro (February, 2018); talk on "Origins of Executive Constraints in Brazil" (@49:39) for the Tinker Conference on the Rule of Law in Latin America, at Stanford (December 2017) [mention in Vinicius Mota, "Luta contra corrupção no Brasil é árdua," in Folha de S.Paulo (January, 2018)]; talk on institutions, crony capitalism, and corruption at Centro Mackenzie de Liberdade Econômica covered in Folha de S.Paulo (October, 2017); interviewed for Newsday BBC World Service (July 2017) on the corruption conviction of former president Lula in Brazil; interviewed by Rafael Cariello on Renato Perim Colistete and his work on education in Brazil, in "Pátria Iletrada," revista piauí (January 2017) (complete text here); by Luís Artur Nogueira for "Os homens da economia," IstoÉ Dinheiro (January 2017); by Márcio Kroehn for "Os presidentes num País em ebulição," IstoÉ Dinheiro (January, 2017); by Andy Uhler for Marketplace (NPR) on Brazil's economic privatization proposals (September 2016); interviewed for Newsday BBC World Service (August 2016); interviewed on BBC International (August 2016); interviewed by Márcio Kroehn in IstoÉ Dinheiro ("O Brasil tem um estado enorme para um país emergente") (February 2016); interviewed by Rafael Cariello on Nathaniel Leff, in "Looking for Leff," revista piauí, (January 2016)(English/Portuguese); research mentions in the Folha de S.Paulo on education here; and on party politics in the late empire in O Estado de S.Paulo; quoted in the Wall Street Journal

Brazil notes

Summerhill, "Brazil's Meltdown," Yale Books Unbound, December 2015

On the gravity of the economic problem that Brazilians face, read Mansueto de Almeida Jr., Marcos de Barros Lisboa, and Samuel de Abreu Pessôa, O Ajuste Inevitável (2015), read this summary, and watch this interview with the authors (in Portuguese; brief summary in English here). On fiscal dominance and the highest interest rate in the world see Gustavo Franco, "Moeda e dominância fiscal" (2015). For the origins of current crisis, read the Insper working paper by Marcos Lisboa and Zeina Abdel Latif, Democracy and Growth in Brazil (2013) [Casa das Garças conference version here], and an interview on the role of businesses in creating the crisis ("Empresários também tem culpa"). For a visionary perspective on the difficult reforms that will be required: Marcos Lisboa and Samuel Pessôa, "As meias-entradas no caminho do ajuste econômico" in Folha de S.Paulo (2016). On what is necessary to overcome decades of productivity stagnation, read João Manoel Pinho de Mello’s “Productivity as the Key to Sustainable Growth in Brazil,” and Pedro Cavalcanti Ferreira and Renato Fragelli Cardoso, “Produtividade, eficiência, e atraso” in Valor (2018). For how Brazil works: Bruno Carazza's indispensable book, Dinheiro, Eleições e Poder (2018).


William Summerhill is Professor of History, and the Dr. E. Bradford Burns Chair in Latin American Studies at UCLA. He received his PhD in History from Stanford. Most of his research concerns Brazil's economic history, including the political economy of sovereign debt, banking and finance, railroads and the provision of infrastructure, and inequality.

He collaborates with Samuel de Abreu Pessôa and Edmilson Varejão (FGV) in a project on the economic impact of education and education policy in twentieth-century Brazil; with Renato Perim Colistete (FEA-USP) [no Bial] on workshop activities in Brazil; and with Leonardo Monasterio (IPEA) in a big-data, group project on long-run social mobility in Brazil. 

His scholarly research has been supported by the Fulbright-Hays program, the Social Science Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Science Foundation. He has consulted for the World Bank and the private sector, and was a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Since 2011 he co-edits the Revista de Historia Económica. He has been a visiting professor at Insper, the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, FEA-Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, Universidade Estadual Paulista-Araraquara, and Stanford University, and a visiting research scholar at the Escola de Pós-Graduação em Economia of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (EPGE-FGV),

Before (and occasionally after) taking up an academic career he served in the United States Army (my gen here).

Other links

c.v. at Currículo Lattes (CNPq, Brasil); papers at; faculty page at UCLA; Center for Economic History at UCLA