Managing the Wealth of Nations
Political Economies of Change in Preindustrial Europe

2: Governing the Future: Capitalism’s Early Modern Temporalities and the Origins of Growth

This chapter looks at a neglected conceptual history of capitalism’s temporalities. Knowing about the future has been one of the key ingredients of economic modernity. In modern capitalism the future is unknown but principally open, plannable and manageable. At least, that is the illusion, the conviction that humans equipped with instruments of reason, rationality and science may make reasonable forecasts about their future. Notions of an economic future had existed since the Middle Ages. The commercial revolutions in business, banking and commerce that had paved the material foundations of the Italian Renaissance cannot be imagined without some sort of future vision. But these were limited to specific actors and types of activities. Post-1600 models were different. They extended the realm of actors and number of individual open futures, desacralizing the human future from the general biblical context, within which most future visions before 1600 had firmly rested.

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