Against the Profit Motive, Book by Professor Nicholas R. Parrillo ’04, Wins Hurst Award

The Law and Society Association has given the J. Willard Hurst Award, for the year’s best work in English on socio-legal history, to Professor Nicholas R. Parrillo’ 04 for his book Against the Profit Motive: The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780–1940 (Yale University Press, 2013).

In Against the Profit Motive, Parrillo shows how American law once authorized government officers to make money from their jobs on a profit-seeking basis in a way that would surprise many observers today. Using previously untapped primary sources, the book analyzes prosecutors who were paid by the number of convictions they won, tax collectors who were paid a percentage of the evasions they uncovered, naval officers who were paid rewards for each ship they sank, and more. Parrillo explains how and why American legislators abolished all these profit-seeking arrangements and replaced them with the fixed salaries that we now take for granted in government service, transforming the nature of the officialdom and its relationship to the lay public.

The citation for the Hurst Award calls Against the Profit Motive “a thought-provoking, novel, and magisterial account” that “reconstructs an unfamiliar historical world and persuasively explains the emergence of key features of modern governance.” The citation continues: “Weaving together exhaustive archival research with sophisticated theoretical engagement, the book draws our attention to something familiar -- payment of government officials -- and makes the familiar seem surprising. . . . It explores how our revised understanding of this specialized but important topic sheds light on some of the largest issues in political and legal history, particularly the development of institutional legitimacy in American state-building. . . . With mastery over impressive swaths of secondary literature in history, political science, and law, Parrillo judiciously and effectively draws on other disciplines to bring insight to historical developments.”

Parrillo teaches administrative law, legislation, remedies, and American legal history, as well as seminars on public management and privatization. In addition, Parrillo is a co-author of the forthcoming seventh edition of the casebook Administrative Law: The American Public Law System: Cases and Materials (West, forthcoming 2014). A member of the New York bar, he holds a J.D. and Ph.D. from Yale and an A.B. from Harvard and served as a clerk to Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Visit the book’s webpage, where you can read the introductory chapter.

Watch a video of Parrillo discussing the book.