3: The Myth of the Myopic State: Governing Economy and the Politics of Economic Change, 1250s–1850s

This chapter contrasts policies with ideas offered for managing the wealth of nations. It revisits capitalism’s rise through a fresh look at the contribution made by medieval and early modern states. What states were and what they did obviously changed over time. But the available menu of strategies governing capitalism was more comprehensive than acknowledged in the modern literature, particularly for the medieval and early modern period. And states grew better at it over time. Measures promoting welfare and happiness included: an ample supply of good coin; sound monetary regulation; ordinances regulating trade and exchange on urban markets; stabilizing food supply; a fair layout of market stalls; clean air; safety on roads; and good sermons in Church. The ultimate goal was a good-spirited common weal. Invariably this included the promotion of manufacturing, creativity and originality in crafting, designing and shaping things – all tools that significantly contributed to the making of our modern ‘culture of growth’.

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