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Political Economies of Change in Preindustrial Europe

‘Commerce and manufactures gradually introduced order and good government,’ wrote Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations, ‘and with them, the liberty and security of individuals.’ However, Philipp Rössner shows how, when looked at in the face of history, it has usually been the other way around.

This book follows the development of capitalism from the Middle Ages through the industrial revolution to modern day, casting new light on the areas where pre-modern political economies of growth and development made a difference. It shows how order and governance provided the foundation for prosperity, growth and the wealth of nations.

Written for scholars and students of economic history, this is a pioneering new study that debunks the neoliberal origin myth of how capitalism came into the world.

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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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capitalism as well as – perhaps most crucially – the idea that the forces of Mother Nature could be harnessed through clever management of markets, money and manufacturing landscapes. Needless to say – through paradigms of potentially infinite expansion – cameralism also contributed to the dark forces of economic modernity: inequality, environmental damage and the Anthropocene (notwithstanding that cameralists also developed concepts of sustainability). 40 The history of economic governance can principally be studied through various approaches; common ones include

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