Laying out argument and context for the book, the chapter argues that the history of modern capitalism and economic development commenced in the Renaissance. Contrary to many modern scholarly myths, capitalism was neither invented in the Anglosphere or the Netherlands, nor was capitalism a ‘second language’ to continental newcomers. There is an oft-acclaimed modern myth going back to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations that claims that commerce and trade established the foundations for modern good governance, but in fact it was the other way round. Governance and economic order provided the foundations for economic development, and since the Renaissance a rich political economy literature – often subsumed under labels such as ‘mercantilism’ or ‘cameralism’ – had emerged that provided the key political-economic foundations for positive economic development. Looking at the experiences of the early modern German-speaking lands – which were radically different from the British (and Dutch) way in neither tune nor practice – I aim to rehabilitate the contributions made by continental mercantilist-cameralist political economy laying the foundations of capitalism and modern economic growth in the longue durée.
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