Sophus A. Reinert - Faculty & Research - Harvard Business School
Photo of Sophus A. Reinert

Sophus A. Reinert

Marvin Bower Associate Professor

Business, Government and the International Economy

Sophus Reinert is an associate professor of business administration in the Business, Government, and the International Economy Unit, where he teaches a course on Globalization and Emerging Markets (GEM) in the MBA elective curriculum. Before joining HBS, he was a research fellow and an affiliated lecturer in history at Gonville & Caius College at the University of Cambridge (UK).

Professor Reinert studies the history of capitalism and political economy since the Renaissance, focusing particularly on the historical role played by governments in both economic development and decline. He is the author of Translating Empire: Emulation and the Origins of Political Economy, published by Harvard University Press in 2011 and winner of the 2012 Spengler Prize, the 2012 EAEPE-Myrdal Prize, as well as the 2012 George L. Mosse Prize of the American Historical Association. He edited and wrote the introduction to A “Short Treatise” on the Wealth and Poverty of Nations (1613), by Antonio Serra (London and New Delhi: Anthem); and he is the series editor of Economic Ideas that Built Europe, also with Anthem.

Professor Reinert earned his Ph.D. in history at the University for Cambridge, together with an M.Phil. in political thought and intellectual history. As an undergraduate, he studied history at Cornell University. He has been a Carl Schurz Fellow at the Krupp Chair in Public Finance and Fiscal Sociology at the University of Erfurt, Germany, and a fellow of the Einaudi Foundation in Turin, Italy.

  1. New Perspectives on the History of Political Economy

    Robert Fredona and Sophus A. Reinert

    This volume offers a snapshot of the resurgent historiography of political economy in the wake of the ongoing global financial crisis and suggests fruitful new agendas for research on the political-economic nexus as it has developed in the Western world since the end of the Middle Ages. New Perspectives on the History of Political Economy brings together a select group of young and established scholars from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds―history, economics, law, and political science―in an effort to begin a re-conceptualization of the origins and history of political economy through a variety of still largely distinct but complementary historical approaches―legal and intellectual, literary and philosophical, political and economic―and from a variety of related perspectives, including debt and state finance, tariffs and tax policy, the encouragement and discouragement of trade, merchant communities and companies, smuggling and illicit trades, mercantile and colonial systems, economic cultures, and the history of economic doctrines more narrowly construed. The first decade of the twenty-first century, bookended by 9/11 and a global financial crisis, witnessed the clamorous and urgent return of both “the political” and “the economic” to historiographical debates. It is becoming more important than ever to rethink the historical role of politics (and, indeed, of government) in business, economic production, distribution, and exchange. The artefacts of pre-modern and modern political economy, from the fourteenth through the twentieth centuries, remain monuments of perennial importance for understanding how human beings grappled with and overcame material hardship, organized their political and economic communities, won great wealth and lost it, conquered and were conquered. The present volume, assembling some of the brightest lights in the field, eloquently testifies to the rich and powerful lessons to be had from such a historical understanding of political economy and of power in an economic age.

    Keywords: Economics; Government and Politics; History;


    Fredona, Robert and Sophus A. Reinert, eds. New Perspectives on the History of Political Economy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming.  View Details
  2. Antonio Serra and the Economics of Good Government

    Rosario Patalano and Sophus A. Reinert

    Little is known of Antonio Serra except that he wrote his extraordinary 1613 Short Treatise on the Causes That Make Kingdoms Abound in Gold and Silver even in the Absence of Mines in a Neapolitan jail and that he died there soon afterwards. However, the influence of this work represents a watershed not only in the discipline of economics but also in the history of social science and intellectual history more generally.

    In this book, some of the world's leading economists and experts on Serra explore the enduring appeal of his Short Treatise. The authors analyse the work in its historical, economic, cultural, and intellectual contexts, exploring the finer details of his theories regarding economic development and international financial interactions, as well as his indebtedness to earlier Renaissance traditions.

    The book also uncovers new material relating to Serra's life and provides in-depth interpretation of his key insights, influences, and political economy. This book highlights the parallels between issues discussed by Serra and modern political and scholarly consciousness and illustrates the importance and influences of historical debate in modern economic thinking.

    Keywords: History; Books; Government and Politics; Economics;


    Patalano, Rosario and Sophus A. Reinert, eds. Antonio Serra and the Economics of Good Government. Palgrave Studies in the History of Finance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.  View Details
  3. The Political Economy of Empire in the Early Modern World

    Sophus A. Reinert and Pernille Røge

    This volume recasts our understanding of the practical and theoretical foundations and dynamic experiences of early modern imperialism. The imperial encounter with political economy was neither uniform across political, economic, cultural, and religious constellations nor static across time. The contributions collected in this volume address, with undeniable pertinence for the struggles of later periods, the moral and military ambiguity of profits and power, as well as the often-jealous interactions between different solutions to the problem of empire. The book presents a powerful mosaic of imperial theories and practices contributing to the creation of the modern world and to the most pressing concerns of our time.

    Keywords: political economy; early modern imperialism; Economy; Government and Politics;


    Reinert, Sophus A. and Pernille Røge, eds. The Political Economy of Empire in the Early Modern World. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.  View Details
  4. Translating Empire: Emulation and the Origins of Political Economy

    Sophus A. Reinert

    Historians have traditionally used the discourses of free trade and laissez-faire to explain the development of political economy during the Enlightenment. But from Sophus Reinert's perspective, eighteenth-century political economy can be understood only in the context of the often brutal imperial rivalries then unfolding in Europe and its former colonies and the positive consequences of active economic policy. The idea of economic emulation was the prism through which philosophers, ministers, reformers, and even merchants thought about economics, as well as industrial policy and reform, in the early modern period. With the rise of the British Empire, European powers and others sought to selectively emulate the British model.

    In mapping the general history of economic translations between 1500 and 1849, and particularly tracing the successive translations of the Bristol merchant John Cary's seminal 1695 Essay on the State of England, Reinert makes a compelling case for the way that England's aggressively nationalist policies, especially extensive tariffs and other intrusive market interventions, were adopted in France, Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia before providing the blueprint for independence in the New World. Relatively forgotten today, Cary's work served as the basis for an international move toward using political economy as the prime tool of policymaking and industrial expansion.

    Reinert's work challenges previous narratives about the origins of political economy and invites the current generation of economists to reexamine the foundations, and future, of their discipline.

    Keywords: Business History; Government and Politics;


    Reinert, Sophus A. Translating Empire: Emulation and the Origins of Political Economy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011. (Received the 2012 Joseph J. Spengler Prize for the best book in the history of economics.)  View Details
Journal Articles
  1. The Economy of Fear: H.P. Lovecraft on Eugenics, Economics and the Great Depression

    Sophus A. Reinert

    The early twentieth-century weird writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft is today best remembered for his genre defining style of academic noir pulp fiction. Yet in focusing on certain tropes of his work, such as the many memorable monsters he created to populate his stories, from the infinite effervescence named Yog-Sothoth to the dreaded cephalopod Cthulhu, scholars have overlooked a deeper terror structuring practically all of his writings, the chillingly resonant fear that, amidst the chaos of globalization, miscegenation, and economic decline, 'Anglo-Saxon' civilization would surrender to lesser races. Fundamental to this fear was his understanding of atavism—of evolutionary throwbacks, survivals and regressions—in modern industrial society, and his extraordinary stories were only one expression of a contemporary culture involving eugenicists, political economists, and prominent authors of the Gothic and 'weird' traditions between the 1890s and the 1930s. Lovecraft himself in effect penned a number of economic manuscripts on the crisis of the Great Depression, and this article contextualizes his ideas in relation to his wider writings as well as to contemporary traditions of economics and eugenics, drawing a new picture of one of the greatest horror writers of all time.

    Keywords: H.P. Lovecraft; Society; Economics;


    Reinert, Sophus A. "The Economy of Fear: H.P. Lovecraft on Eugenics, Economics and the Great Depression." Horror Studies 6, no. 2 (October 2015): 255–282.  View Details
Book Chapters
  1. Patriotism, Cosmopolitanism, and Political Economy in the Accademia dei Pugni in Austrian Lombardy, 1760–1780

    Sophus A. Reinert and Jani Marjanen


    Reinert, Sophus A., and Jani Marjanen. "Patriotism, Cosmopolitanism, and Political Economy in the Accademia dei Pugni in Austrian Lombardy, 1760–1780." Chap. 6 in The Rise of Economic Societies in the Eighteenth Century: Patriotic Refom in Europe and North America, edited by Koen Stapelbroek and Jani Marjanen, 130–156. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.  View Details
  2. Rivalry: Greatness in Early Modern Political Economy

    Sophus A. Reinert

    Keywords: political economy; mercantilism; early modern Britain; Economic Systems; Government and Politics; Great Britain;


    Reinert, Sophus A. "Rivalry: Greatness in Early Modern Political Economy." In Mercantilism Reimagined: Political Economy in Early Modern Britain and Its Empire, edited by Philip J. Stern and Carl Wennerlind, 348–370. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.  View Details
  3. The Sultan's Republic: Jealousy of Trade and Oriental Despotism in Paolo Mattia Doria

    Sophus A. Reinert

    Keywords: History; Trade; Government and Politics;


    Reinert, Sophus A. "The Sultan's Republic: Jealousy of Trade and Oriental Despotism in Paolo Mattia Doria." In Enlightened Reform in Southern Europe and its Atlantic Colonies, edited by Gabriel Paquette, 253–269. Ashgate Publishing, 2009.  View Details
Working Papers
  1. Merchants and the Origins of Capitalism

    Sophus A. Reinert and Robert Fredona

    N.S.B. Gras, the father of Business History in the United States, argued that the era of mercantile capitalism was defined by the figure of the “sedentary merchant,” who managed his business from home, using correspondence and intermediaries, in contrast to the earlier “traveling merchant,” who accompanied his own goods to trade fairs. Taking this concept as its point of departure, this essay focuses on the predominantly Italian merchants who controlled the long-distance East-West trade of the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Until the opening of the Atlantic trade, the Mediterranean was Europe’s most important commercial zone, its trade enriched European civilization, and its merchants developed the most important premodern mercantile innovations, from maritime insurance contracts and partnership agreements to the bill of exchange and double-entry bookkeeping. Emerging from literate and numerate cultures, these merchants left behind an abundance of records that allow us to understand how their companies, especially the largest of them, were organized and managed. These techniques can also be put in the context of premodern attitudes toward commerce and the era’s commercial-political relations. The Commercial Revolution anticipated the Industrial Revolution by over half a millennium and laid the groundwork for today’s world of global business.

    Keywords: Economic Systems; History; Business History;


    Reinert, Sophus A., and Robert Fredona. "Merchants and the Origins of Capitalism." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 18-021, September 2017. (Forthcoming in Routledge Companion to the Makers of Global Business. Edited by Teresa da Silva Lopes, Christina Lubinski, Heidi Tworek (2018).)  View Details
  2. Mapping the Economic Grand Tour: Travel and International Emulation in Enlightenment Europe

    Sophus A. Reinert

    As the itinerant wizard (technically one of the Maiar, if not the Istari) Gandalf wrote to the then domestically-inclined hobbit Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Indeed, as the recent brouhaha over the “wanderlust gene” DRD4-7R testifies to, travel is a constant of human experience, inflected in myriad ways by history, literature, and life, from the Homeric epics and the Jungian archetype of “the wanderer” to and Ibiza stag parties. People have traveled to learn, to conquer, to evangelize, in search of architectural inspiration and for reasons of health, not to mention because other places were “there,” in Edmund Hillary’s famous formulation, but within this spacious swath of human history my interest lies with a particular kind of purposeful travel that I would define as “economic,” by which I do not mean frugal or “low cost,” but pursued to improve the management of the material world—theoretically or practically, individually or collectively; more the Jesuit François Xavier d’Entrecolles discovering the secrets of Chinese porcelain in 1712 than, say, Ryanair.

    Keywords: Behavior; Globalization;


    Reinert, Sophus A. "Mapping the Economic Grand Tour: Travel and International Emulation in Enlightenment Europe." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 17-005, July 2016.  View Details
Cases and Teaching Materials
  1. Climate Change in 2017: Implications for Business

    Rebecca M. Henderson, Sophus A. Reinert, Polina Dekhtyar and Amram Migdal

    This note provides general information about climate change and its implications for business. Included is an overview of climate change science and a number of its impacts, including rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and extreme weather, pressure on water and food, political and security risks, human health risks, and impact on wildlife and ecosystems. Next, responses to climate change are outlined, including improvements in energy efficiency, moving away from fossil fuels, changes in land use and agriculture practices, and geoengineering. The note concludes with the debate over how much should be spent to mitigate and adapt to climate change, who should pay, and the implications for the private sector.

    Keywords: climate change; Environmental Accounting; Agribusiness; Economic Growth; Energy Conservation; Energy Generation; Renewable Energy; Energy Sources; Non-Renewable Energy; Globalized Markets and Industries; National Security; Government Legislation; Operations; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Problems and Challenges; Risk and Uncertainty; Natural Disasters; Natural Environment; Environmental Sustainability; Pollution and Pollutants; Science-Based Business; Weather and Climate Change; Society; Technology;


    Henderson, Rebecca M., Sophus A. Reinert, Polina Dekhtyar, and Amram Migdal. "Climate Change in 2017: Implications for Business." Harvard Business School Background Note 317-032, October 2016. (Revised July 2017.) (Click here for a complimentary copy on the Business & Environment Initiative’s site.)  View Details
  2. Bhutan: Governing for Happiness

    Sophus A. Reinert, Thomas Humphrey and Benjamin Safran

    Unique among the world’s countries, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan had abandoned the traditional policy goal of increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in favor of pursuing Gross National Happiness (GNH). Famously, Bhutan ranked highly on lists of the happiest countries in spite of a tumultuous history, low life expectancy, a dismal literacy rate, a small and undiversified economy, and low GDP per capita. Everyone, it seemed, from tourists and Hollywood screenwriters to leading development economists, looked to Bhutan for enlightenment and perspective on crises both personal and global. GNH had become the country’s brand and suggested a possible future for capitalism. Was Bhutan on to something? Was there really a tradeoff between growth and happiness, and, if so, was it acceptable? In early 2014, Bhutan’s newly minted Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay was faced with these questions as he deliberated on whether to approve a massive new Bhutanese-Indian hydropower collaboration that experts argued would provide energy, foreign exchange, and invaluable jobs, but which also risked undermining the country’s brand as well as its happiness.

    Keywords: Bhutan;


    Reinert, Sophus A., Thomas Humphrey, and Benjamin Safran. "Bhutan: Governing for Happiness." Harvard Business School Case 715-024, December 2014. (Revised March 2015.)  View Details