Book: Against the Profit Motive

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Against the Profit Motive: The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780-1940

Nicholas Parrillo, associate professor of law

(Yale University Press)

Today, a public official’s lawful income consists of a salary. But until a century ago, the law frequently authorized officials to make money on a profit‑seeking basis. Prosecutors won a fee for each defendant convicted. Tax collectors received a cut of each evasion uncovered. Naval officers took a reward for each ship sunk. Numerous other officials were similarly paid in this manner, notes Nicholas Parrillo in his new book.

“Against the Profit Motive” is the first book to document American government’s “for‑profit” past, to discover how profit‑seeking defined officials’ relationship to the citizenry, and to explain how lawmakers — by banishing the profit motive in favor of the salary — transformed that relationship forever.

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