The Spanish American treasury accounts are unrivaled as a source for the economic history of colonial Hispanic America. Their recent publication by John TePaske and Herbert Klein has led to an explosion of new research and discussion. Many historians of the early modern period will be at risk if they ignore the debate and the possibilities inherent in the data.
Slicher van Bath offers a useful quantitative and organizational overview. He imposes an order on the individual entries of TePaske and Klein to extract major trends, tendencies, and correlations. Covering the period 1541-1820, with individual years aggregated in twenty-year periods, the blocks make up a span long enough for the writing of macrohistory. Statistically organized in sixty-eight tables and clearly presented in thirty-four graphs, the results are most suggestive, pinpointing the macro patterns not immediately evident in the TePaske and Klein data.
Slicher van Bath argues that strong correlations between the treasury accounts of some areas marked the appearance of regional economies. Mining and tribute revenues constituted most of the government’s income in the sixteenth century, but their downturn in the seventeenth revealed the emergence of a more diversified economy and a diminution in government resources in Peru but not in Mexico. He finds it difficult to decide in what proportion inflation, increased taxation, and bureaucratic efficiencies were responsible for the dizzying rise in government revenues in the late colonial period.
What meaning should be extracted from the TePaske and Klein data will long be debated. Whatever one’s assumptions, Slicher van Bath’s patterns deserve study by colonial historians.