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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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Historical Perspectives: 1200–2000

This ambitious collection follows the evolution of capitalism from its origins in 13th-century European towns to its 16th-century expansion into Asia, Africa and South America and on to the global capitalism of modern day.

Written by distinguished historians and social scientists, the chapters examine capitalism and its critics and the level of variation and convergence in its operation across locations. The authors illuminate the aspects of capitalism that have encouraged, but also limited, social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

Covering times, places and topics that have often been overlooked in the existing literature, this important contribution to the field of economic history charts the most comprehensive chronology of capitalism to date.

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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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