Knapp, Georg Friedrich

views updated

Knapp, Georg Friedrich



Georg Friedrich Knapp (1842–1926), economic historian and theorist, was born in Giessen and studied in Munich, Berlin, and Gottingen. Early in his career, as head of the statistical office of the city of Leipzig, he revealed a considerable mastery of statistics by publishing the first systematic theory of mortality measurement (1868). From 1867 to 1874 he taught at the University of Leipzig, and during this period he published other works in which he applied mathematical methods to demo-graphic problems (1871; 1874).

When Knapp accepted a new academic appointment at the University of Strassburg, where he was to remain until 1919, he also shifted his scholarly interests. He turned to agricultural history and produced his classic study of the emancipation of the peasants and the rise of a class of rural workers (1887). Although focusing primarily on Prussia, the study was a comparative one: Knapp compared the agricultural economic systems of the long-settled parts of Prussia and of western Germany, the estate economy (Gutsherrschaft) and landlord-ship (Grundherrschaft), respectively. Under land-lordship, the seignioral owner possessed his own demesne, exercising the right of dominium directum over peasant holdings, claimed certain labors from the peasants, and enjoyed political and juridical authority over the villagers. In the estate economy, the noble owner operated his estate as a unit of production and tended to absorb the landholdings of the peasants, reducing them to a servile labor force working on the estate. Knapp found that landlordship was the prevailing system in most of western Germany, while the estate economy was predominant in the old provinces of Prussia. More-over, the farther one moved east, the larger were the landed estates of the nobility and the worse the condition of the peasants and cottagers.

The dwindling of peasant holdings was accompanied by a decline in the size of the peasant population and so became a problem for the Prussian monarchy, whose military policies required a steady supply of peasant-born soldiers. Legislation was used to halt the increase in the size of noble estates and to stabilize the number of peasant farms. However, royal protection was contingent on serfdom, and, as Knapp showed, the nobility emancipated the peasants in order to absorb peasant holdings.

Peasants were eligible for emancipation—that is, for obtaining unencumbered property rights over their holdings—if they (a) owned a team of oxen or horses; (b) had their landholdings listed on the tax roll; and (c) had inherited usufruct rights over several generations. In return for freedom, the peasants had to compensate the nobility for its lost rights. Although this compensation could take the form of cash, in most cases the peasants paid by giving up from one-third to one-half of their land holdings. Peasants who lacked the qualifications for emancipation were separated from their lands in other ways: owners either refused to continue leases or raised the rentals and other obligations to such an extent that peasants defaulted in their payments and forfeited their land. In the event, they were little worse off than the “emancipated” peasants, and both groups of peasants came to constitute, Knapp concluded, the first real working class. The chief consequence of emancipation was to enhance the power of the Junker class that was to dominate the political life of Prussia for a century.

Another important discovery that emerged from Knapp’s studies in economic history was that of the patriarchic organization of work on the estates. Rather than working as straight wage earners, impoverished peasants became cottagers who were paid primarily in kind and were thereby chained to the landed estate. Knapp’s analysis of such economic systems as the estate economy had an im-pact on Max Weber, who developed further Knapp’s theory that landed estates are a special form of capitalist enterprise with a patriarchic organization of work. Knapp’s ground-breaking work in economic history became a model for many later studies.

Late in his career, Knapp’s interests shifted again, this time to monetary theory. At the age of 63 he published his most controversial book, The State Theory of Money (1905). He singled out the function of money as a medium of exchange and thus saw its value as created by the state and accepted by the members of a nation-state. Issue by the state and acceptance by governmental fiscal agents gave money “validity” and general acceptance at face value. Knapp’s critics have pointed out that popular respect for money depends not only on its creation by the state but also on its quantity and its consequent purchasing power; Knapp should not, therefore, have omitted the discussion of the role of the state in regulating the supply of money. Although it was a deliberate omission, it unfortunately prevented him from dealing with the criteria for determining the necessary money supply or from examining the ways in which the state could influence the public acceptance of domestic money.

Although Knapp’s monetary theories became known internationally, his contribution was rejected by most professional economic theorists in Germany. Wieser accepted the Nennwertbefehl (the authority of the state to establish legal tender) only in the case of the hypothetical isolated state; neoliberals condemned Knapp as a monetary interventionist; only Max Weber incorporated the chartal (nominalistic) theory of money into his social economics. Outside of Germany, however, some of the followers of Keynes and of Pigou have developed an increasing intellectual sympathy for Knapp’s ideas, since his “institutional” approach is a necessary precondition for their monetary theories and policies.

Arthur Schweitzer

[See alsoLand Tenure; Manorial Economy.]


1868 Über die Ermittlung der Sterblichkeit aus den. Aufzeichnungen der Bevolkerungs-statistik. Leipzig: Hinrichs.

1871 Die neueren Ansichten uber Moralstatistik. Jena: Mauke.

1874 Theorie des Bevolkerungs-wechsels: Abhandlungen zur angewandten Mathematik. Brunswick (Germany): Vieweg.

(1887) 1927 Die Bauernbefreiung und der Ursprung der Landarbeiter in den älteren Teilen Preussens. 2 vols. 2d ed. Munich: Duncker & Humblot. → Volumes 2 and 3 of the Ausgewählte Werke.

(1891) 1909 Die Landarbeiter in Knechtschaft und Freiheit. 2d ed., enl. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.

1897 Grundherrschaft und Rittergut. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.

(1905) 1924 The State Theory of Money. 4th ed., enl. London: Macmillan. → First published as Staatliche Theorie des Geldes.

1925 Einführung in einige Hauptgebiete der National-okonomie. Munich: Duncker & Humblot. → Volume 1 of the Ausgewdhlte Werke.

1958 Knapp, Georg F.; and Bendixen, FriedrichZur staatlichen Theorie des Geldes; Ein Briefwechsel: 1905–1920. Veröffentlichungen der List Gesellschaft, Vol. 10. Basel: Kyklos.

Ausgewählte Werke. 3 vols. Munich: Duncker & Humblot, 1925–1927.


Döring, Herbert (1921) 1922 Die Geldtheorien seit Knapp. 2d ed., enl. Greifswald (Germany): Bamberg.

Gutmann, Franz 1932 Georg F. Knapp. Volume 8, page 578 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.

Schröder, Erich 1928 Wert, Preis und Geld bei Knapp und Elster. Rostock (Germany): Winterberg.

Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1926 Georg F. Knapp 1842–1926. Economic Journal (London) 36:512–514.