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Eight Hundred Years of Political and Economic Change

Relative to the other habited places on our planet, Hawai‘i has a very short history. The Hawaiian archipelago was the last major land area on the planet to be settled, with Polynesians making the long voyage just under a millennium ago. Our understanding of the social, political, and economic changes that have unfolded since has been limited until recently by how little we knew about the first five centuries of settlement.

Building on new archaeological and historical research, Sumner La Croix assembles here the economic history of Hawai‘i from the first Polynesian settlements in 1200 through US colonization, the formation of statehood, and to the present day. He shows how the political and economic institutions that emerged and evolved in Hawai‘i during its three centuries of global isolation allowed an economically and culturally rich society to emerge, flourish, and ultimately survive annexation and colonization by the United States. The story of a small, open economy struggling to adapt its institutions to changes in the global economy, Hawai‘i offers broadly instructive conclusions about economic evolution and development, political institutions, and native Hawaiian rights.

376 pages | 18 halftones, 14 line drawings, 14 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Markets and Governments in Economic History

Economics and Business: Economics--Development, Growth, Planning, Economics--History, Economics--Urban and Regional

History: American History


"Sumner La Croix writes a carefully crafted and well‐documented economic history of one of the most famous—but perhaps, to the general reader, least familiar—US states." 

Justin R. Bucciferro | Economic History Review

"Economic and political development is a longitudinal process. Sumner La Croix gives us 800 years of the development of Hawaii from its settlement by immigrants from the Society Islands in the mid-thirteenth century to the present. . . .The book is too rich in the details of institutional change. Indeed, it is the best case study that I have read on long run development."

Lee Alston |

Hawai’i gives a clear and succinct exemplar of the true cost of colonialism for indigenous people and the aftermath that makes it relevant far beyond Hawaii’s shores."

Glyn Ford | Asian Review of Books

"Although not intended as a comprehensive history, Hawai‘i: Eight Hundred Years of Political and Economic Change is remarkable in its chronological scope. Incorporating the latest research in various fields, it is especially useful for those with an interest in the connections between economic and political developments in Hawaiian history." 

Douglas Askman | Pacific Historical Review

"La Croix's analysis of [20th-century political and economic] changes from the perspective of an economic historian offers a new understanding of these fundamental changes to Hawaii’s economy and political landscape." 

Randall Akee | Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"A very satisfying, well supported study on long-run political and economic development providing deep insights into the broader process of institutional change. I cannot recommend this book highly enough."

Edwyna Harris | Australian Economic History Review

"Provides nuanced and persuasive evidence on the importance of political stability and instability for human welfare and the forces that structure institutions in any society; how the interaction of technology and institutions affects economic, political, and social development; and how unique, rich, and variegated every human society actually is."

John Wallis | Journal of Economic History

“How do political and economic institutions evolve? How does the past shape the present?  Sumner La Croix answers those questions in an illuminating study of Hawaiʻi that links the original settlement by humans, endemic warfare among newly formed states, the arrival of Western colonizers, and finally statehood and problems today.”

Philip T. Hoffman, author of Why Did Europe Conquer the World?

“Hawaiʻi may have been the last major archipelago on earth to be settled by humans, but its short history is enormously rich. La Croix makes an invaluable contribution to the social science history of Hawaiʻi by laying out clearly and persuasively how political and economic forces interacted throughout all of Hawaiian history, with particular emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is an important book that will find a key place in the history of Hawaiʻi and the political economy of colonization and statehood.”

John Joseph Wallis, coauthor of Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History

“A superb analysis of the economic and political history of Hawaiʻi from its inception over eight hundred years to the present. Using a unified framework of political orders, La Croix moves seamlessly through the various political transitions of local chiefs to Unified Kingdom, U.S. colony, and statehood, with their related economic implications. He documents how the structures put in place eight hundred years ago resonate in the present century. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in economic and political history and those interested in contemporary public policy.”

Ann M. Carlos, coauthor of Commerce by a Frozen Sea: Native Americans and the European Fur Trade

"La Croix’s primary focus is how political and economic institutions co-evolved over the centuries and demonstrate continuity. This book will appeal to economists."

The Journal of Pacific History

"The book aptly exposes how political and economic forces interacted throughout Hawai'i’s history... certainly worth adding to anyone's library on Hawai'i."

Journal of New Zealand & Pacific Studies

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 The Short History of Humans in Hawaiʻi
Chapter 2 Voyaging and Settlement
Chapter 3 The Rise of Competing Hawaiian States
Chapter 4 Guns, Germs, and Sandalwood
Chapter 5 Globalization and the Emergence of a Mature Natural State
Chapter 6 Treaties, Powerful Elites, and the Overthrow
Chapter 7 Colonial Political Economy: Hawaiʻi as a U.S. Territory
Chapter 8 Homes for Hawaiians
Chapter 9 Statehood and the Transition to an Open-Access Order
Chapter 10 The Rise and Fall of Residential Leasehold Tenure in Hawaiʻi
Chapter 11 Land Reform and Housing Prices
Chapter 12 The Long Reach of History

Appendix: A Model of Political Orders

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