Against the Profit Motive The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780-1940 Nicholas R. Parrillo

Yale Law Library Series in Legal History and Reference
Publication date:
22 Oct 2013
Yale University Press
584 pages: 235 x 156 x 37mm
3 b-w illus.
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In America today, a public official’s lawful income consists of a salary. But until a century ago, the law frequently provided for officials to make money on a profit-seeking basis. Prosecutors won a fee for each defendant convicted. Tax collectors received a percentage of each evasion uncovered. Naval officers took a reward for each ship sunk. Numerous other officers were likewise paid for “performance.” This book is the first to document the American government’s for-profit past, to discover how profit-seeking defined officialdom’s  relationship to the citizenry, and to explain how lawmakers—by ultimately banishing the profit motive in favor of the salary—transformed that relationship forever.

Nicholas R. Parrillo is associate professor of law at Yale University.

"Economists beware! In this path-breaking book, Nicholas Parrillo revolutionizes our understanding of compensation systems. With gripping historical evidence, he demonstrates the profoundly political and cultural construction of the USís salary system." - Viviana A. Zelizer, author of Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy (Princeton University Press, 2010)

"Against the Profit Motive is more than a prodigiously researched account of public employee compensation in the United States.  It offers a foundational perspective on one of the most challenging dilemmas Americans faced over three centuries:  empowering government officials to act independently on behalf of the public good while ensuring the legitimacy of those actions, even when they met with opposition." - Brian Balogh, author of A Government Out of Sight: The Mystery of National Authority in Nineteenth-Century America (Cambridge University Press)

"Nicholas Parrillo's Against the Profit Motive represents the best in a new generation of source-based, reality-based legal history. †Forgoing yet another discussion of the usual cases and well-worn theory and historiography, Parrillo takes us somewhere new. Through exemplary and tireless research in previously untapped primary sources, Parrillo takes us deep into the inner workings of early American governance and meticulously reconstructs a previously unknown historical world of public-private bounties, fees, rewards, prizes, gifts, profits, and moieties that made that all-important machinery seem to "go of itself." †Together with his Yale colleague Jerry Mashaw, Parrillo is doing nothing less than rewriting the history of the early American state."--William Novak, University of Michigan Law School

Winner of the 2014 Law and Society Association James Willard Hurst Book Prize.

Winner of the 2014 Annual Scholarship Award from the American Bar Association's Section on Administrative Law