What my credit can do in (medieval) Venice

January 2, 2013

Mueller, Reinhold C. (1987) I banchi locali a Venezia nel Tardo Medioevo. Studi Storici, 28/1: 145-55.


There is a lot to be admired in Austrian economists, their resilience, their attachment to simple elegant ideas and their sound understanding of the long-term factors that give the economy its cyclical nature. But one must admit that their Ludite-like hatred for finance is to the very least puzzling. They claim to trust nothing but gold and they would like to see the activity of banks restricted to little more than a locker service. Their trust in free market and in the adaptive nature of human ingenuity ends at the door of their local branch of HSBC. Read the rest of this entry »

Finance and gambling in early modern Europe or why Arrow-Debreu can be fun

December 25, 2010

Hedge fund managers playing poker and investment gurus using their skills in casinos are part of the contemporary mythology surrounding the world of finance. This makes it surprising that when Merton listed the functions performed by financial markets and institutions he did not include a very important one: entertainment. Had he considered early modern Europe, the striking resemblance between a casino and a stock exchange would certainly not have eluded him.

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Opper S. (1993): the incredible story of the fleeing Dutchmen

December 13, 2010

Oppers, Stefan E. (1993) The Interest Rate Effect of Dutch Money in Eighteen-Century Britain. The Journal of Economic History, 53/1: 25-43.

Dutch citizens invested heavily in Britain over the 18th century. Even though the English themselves regarded this phenomenon as a necessary evil, it greatly help the Crown to levy the necessary capital for its expenses over the century (p.28). In the 1740s Dutch financiers in London had become critical for the funding of the government’s deficit. To a large extent it can even be said that the Seven Years War was won thanks to foreign money.

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Hoffman, P., Postel-Vinay, G. and Rosenthal, J.-L. …and notaries never became bankers

December 9, 2010

Hoffman, Philip T., Gilles Postel-Vinay and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal (2001) Notaries, Banking and the Expansion of Credit in Old-Regime Paris, chapter 7 in Priceless Markets. The Political Economy of Credit in Paris, 1660-1870. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London; p.136-176.

Some of the ideas developed in this chapter have been presented elsewhere, so this summary concentrates on the what’s new.

Evidence indicates that in the second quarter of the 18th century, some Parisian notaries were venturing away from the role of brokers between creditors and debtors they had acquired since the mid 1600s. In effect some of them were filling the position left empty by the absence of deposit banks (p.138). They were accepting interest-bearing deposits redeemable on demand and investing the money in different longer term assets such as bills of exchange, government debt and loans to individuals.

Moral hazards
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Béguin K. (2005) Finance in times of uncertainty

January 16, 2010

Béguin, Katia (2005) La circulation des rentes constituées dans la France du XVIIe siècle. Une approche de l’incertitude économique. Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales, 60/5 : 1229-1244.

Vodpod videos no longer available. Molière “L’Avare” Read the rest of this entry »

Kindleberger C. (1991) An early manic episod

December 25, 2009

Kindleberger, Charles P. (1991) The economic Crisis of 1619 and 1623. The Journal of Economic History, 51/1 : 149-175.


The early European 17th century has commonly been described as the troublesome transition from a medieval to a modern economy (p.149). The multi-layered crisis of 1619-23 is a perfect embodiment of the woes of the time. However, the author’s “interest in that crisis does not concern its potential role as a catalyst of modern economies, but rather its function in the mechanism for the spread of a primarily financial crisis from one part of Europe to another” (p.150). Read the rest of this entry »

DuPlessis R. & Howell M. (1982) Killing capitalism in its craddle (twice)

November 21, 2009

DuPlessis, Robert S. and Martha C. Howell (1982) Reconsidering the Early Modern Urban Economy : The Case of Leiden and Lille. Past and Present, 94/, 49-84.

In Marx’s view, capitalism had arisen in the late Middle Ages out of a production system dominated by lords and guilds. In this framework, urban economies can be regarded as the craddle of capitalism (p.44), the places where capital and labour were separated through the use of putting-out, or the hiring of a migrant or female workforce (p.45). However some cities, such as Leiden and Lille where artisans remained proprietors of their means of production, still managed to integrated the very competitive European textile market (p.46). Read the rest of this entry »

Murphy A. (2009) The smartest boys in the alley, early derivatives on the London stock market

October 24, 2009

Murphy, Anne L. (2009) Trading options before Black-Scholes: a study of the market in late seventeenth-century London. Economic History Review, 62/1: 8-30.

Picture 10

The ledger of the financial broker Charles Blunt contains the details of some 1,500 transactions realized between 1692 and 1695, about a third of which regard the then novel trade in equity options (p.9). The technique had arisen in the 1620s in the commodity market and was proving very useful in the decade following the Glorious Revolution, when some 100 joint-stock companies were floated in London  (p.10). During the boom of the early 1690s, it is likely that “several thousand derivatives were transacted each year”.

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Seurot F. (2002) Something rotten in the state of medieval banking

October 20, 2009

Seurot, François (2002) “Les crises bancaires en Italie au Moyen Age: un essai d’applicationn de la théorie de Minsky-Kindleberberger”, paper presented at the XIX Journée d’économie monétaire et bancaire, 21p.


This paper is available online (pdf).

Following a long tradition, Minsky and Kindleberger [1996] have based their analysis of financial crises in the early modern and modern periods on their vision of credit as intrinsically unstable and thus naturally prone to crashes. Their model is based on five steps:

  1. An exogenous shock modifies the incentive system the economy is based upon.
  2. These new incentive channel credit toward a given sector and produces a localized economic boom.
  3. Euphoria leads to the overestimation of the ROI and to overtrading.
  4. Fundamentals are reconsidered and credit dries up.
  5. Torschlusspanik, or bank rush (p.1). Read the rest of this entry »

A’Hearn B. (2005) The not-so-mighty finance

October 16, 2009

A’Hearn, Brian (2005) Finance-led divergence in the regions of Italy. Financial History Review, 12/1: 7-41.


After the unification, the Italian South did not catch up with the North, on the contrary they engaged on a divergent path as the per capita income gap increased from 15-25% to 55% in the first 50 years (p.7). This continuing disparity may be explained by the sore state of the southern banks which could have been unable to support and finance local development (finance-led growth argument; p.9). However, initial evidence seems not to support this hypothesis, as the share of the Mezzogiorno in the banking activity of the country was in line with the relative economic weight of the region (p.10). Read the rest of this entry »

Bochove C. van (2008) Outsourcing financial modernisation

October 11, 2009

Bochove, Christiaan van (2008) “Integration of Denmark-Norway in the Dutch capital market”, chapter 4 in The Economic Consequences of the Dutch. Economic integration around the North Sea, 1500-1800, Amsterdam: Aksant, 90-125.

Picture 8Picture 7Picture 9

The early modern markets for goods and labour were highly integrated. As the country’s Golden Age came to an end, by 1700, Dutch capital was increasingly finding investment opportunities abroad, chiefly in Great Britain but also in the Danish Kingdom (p.90). It had not always been the case. For instance around 1600, trade with Norway was conducted with cash rather than bills of exchange, a sure sign of poor integration. The concentration of trade in the hands of a local business elite (rather than scattered between small producers) made this modernization possible. By the mid century Norwegian merchants started drawing credit from Amsterdam (p.93). Read the rest of this entry »

Dorestad. A Medieval Metropolis

October 10, 2009

Picture 5I’m just back from Leiden where Jaco Zuijderduijn took us (a group of recently-arrived PhD students) to visit the exhibition devoted to the archaeological findings from the medieval emporium of Dorestad held at the National Museum of Antiquities. The curator, Annemarieke Willemsen, was kind enough to introduce us to several of the pieces.

I must confess, the city was unknown to me. However it seems to have been an important port dedicated to the transit of goods from and to Scandinavia and the Rhine area. Like most of the commercial hubs of the time (i.e. the 8th and 9th centuries), it evolved into a significant consumption center of its own while at the same time not hosting any significant production (be it agricultural or industrial) with the exception of the minting of coins.

Picture 6The city may have counted some 3,000 inhabitants and was dominated/protected by the lords of the neighbouring countryside. Numerous goods were traded in Dorestad: wood, wine, amber, Frankish blades, potteries, millstones, hunting dogs, slaves, etc. The city was finally destroyed by the viking raids in the 840s and by the collapse of the Carolingian empire at the same period which suddenly made impossible the type of long-distance trade the city was based upon.

Dorestad seems to have been the most important trading center of NW Europe at the time and was particularly remarkable by the 150m jetties the inhabitants had to build as the rivers tended to shift westward leaving un-navigable muddy terrains in its wake. Noticeably, the city was also constructed without any distinctive defensive feature indicating that it was highly reliant on peaceful conditions.

The exhibition was truly nice and there is a host of beautiful pieces but I must say I was a bit skeptical about the whole Dorestad being the key emporium in NW Europe theory. Indeed, all the artifacts presented come either from Germany or Scandinavia, but any important city at the time should have been flowed with goods from England, Russia, the Muslim World (in particular Spain), Italy and of course Northern France/Belgium where the emperor spent most of his time. I really do not see how such an important trading center could have arose just by connecting two rather small and peripherical markets (Germany and Scandinavia). But then again I am no specialist.