Mark Koyama on the Economics of Jewish Expulsions
Date: July 21st, 2013

Welcome new visitors.  Please visit and “like” our Facebook Fan Page for weekly updates on future episodes.

In July of 1290, King Edward I issued an edict giving all Jews in England three months to leave the nation.  While scholars previously have viewed this incident as another indication of Christian anti-semitism, those explanations cannot adequately explain why Jews were encouraged to settle in England and, at times, prohibitted from leaving the territory.  Prof. Mark Koyama, an assistant professor of economics at George Mason University and senior scholar at the Mercatus Center, provides an alternative theory based upon the value of Jewish moneylenders to the feudal economy and how changes in the structure of the economy and royal tax collection led Jews to become a less valuable component of the economy over the 13th century.

We begin our discussion outlining the political economy of feudalism and the challenge that a king faces in collecting revenue in an environment where money is not very common.  Mark then discusses how the feudal economy began changing in the 12th and 13th century as the wool trade began to grown in importance and how the economy became more monetarized.  With the advent of a commercial and monetary economy, lending became a more valuable institution as a means of helping smooth out variations in an individual’s income over time.  Mark details the importance of interest on loans in an economy and the different types of borrowing that occured in medieval England, which brings us to the point of discussing the comparative advantage Jews had in financial and commercial transactions.

Given the higher levels of literarcy and numeracy enjoyed by Jews in Europe (compared to Christians), and given the restrictions on lending placed on Christians via the Church’s usury laws, Jews occupied an important niche in the medieval economy in that they could provide the bookkeeping skills necessary to facilitate lending and other commercial transactions.  With an expanding economy in the 11th and 12th century, the benefits of Jewish skills became obvious to the English crown and in 1190, Richard I (the Lionheart) established the Exchequer of the Jewry, giving Jews quasi-monopoly power over lending as a means of better keeping track of lending and being able to tax it more effectively.  Prof. Koyama discusses the fascinating manner in which this institution operated, with records kept in a large chest with four locks, wherein the keys were held by two separate Christians and two separate Jews.  This provided a safe storage place for lending records, whereupon the king could amble into a town, count up the financial transactions, and levy a tax (tallage) on those transactions.

While the Exchequer of the Jewry provided a very reliable source of income for the crown, the arbitrary nature of the tallage and changes in the medieval economy meant that the relative benefits of the Jewish moneylending institution decreased over the following century.  The minor nobility became irritated with the random nature of tallage rates, which often led to defaults and their land being purchased on the cheap by the royal court.  Their dissatisfaction with these events were directed at the Jews who demanded an end to the Exchequer of the Jewry.  As the king found ways to impose excise taxes on the wool trade later in the 13th century, the value of the Exchequer dropped below the political costs that the system imposed.  By 1275, lending via the Exchequer was ceased.  However, as King Edward I still thirsted for revenue, he toyed with the idea of reinstating the Exchequer, which proved to be unpopular with the nobles in parliament.  To placate the restlest barons and knights, and in response to various “baron revolts,” the Ed decided the only credible commitment he could provide to the nobility that he wouldn’t backtrack on promises was to completely remove the Jews from his island nation.

We learn that the Jews who were kicked out of England fled to France, whereupon they were shortly expelled from that territory as well.  This provides us with the opportunity to discuss the more general political economic reasons why Jews were kicked out of so many locations in Europe at various points in time during the 14th through 17th centuries.  Mark covers another study he conducted linking economic shocks to an increased probability Jews would be forced to leave a given locale.  We finish by discussing the relevance of these historical events for the status of religious minorities in our contemporary world.  Recorded: July 17, 2013.


Prof. Mark Koyama’s bio at George Mason University and his personal website.

“The Political Economy of Expulsion: The Regulation of Jewish Moneylending in Medieval England,” by Mark Koyama.

“From Persecuting to the Protective State? Jewish Expulsions and Weather Shocks from 1100 – 1800.” by Warren Anderson, Noel Johnson, and Mark Koyama.  Full paper can be found here.


Timur Kuran on Islamic Law and Economic Development.

Jared Rubin on Christian and Islamic Economic History.

Timur Kuran on Islamic Economics.

Carmel Chiswich on the Economics of American Judaism.

2 Responses to “Mark Koyama on the Economics of Jewish Expulsions”

  1. […] Mark Koyama on the Economics of Jewish Expulsions. […]

Leave a Reply

Listen or Download This Episode
Search The Podcast
To search the podcast, type a term and click the Search button.

Connect With Us