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.

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 »

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.

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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 »

Fontaine L. (2008) When relief is worth more than a treasure

October 8, 2009

Fontaine, Laurence (2008) “Entre banque et assistance: la création des monts-de-piété”, chapter 6 in L’Economie morale. Pauvreté, crédit et confiance dans l’Europe préindustrielle. Paris : Gallimard, p.164-189.

Picture 2fontaine02FileMonte di pietà dei pilli, before 1880

The first Monti di Pietà (or mounts) were created in 15th-century Italy by Recollet monks to shield the less-fortunate from the scourge of usury. It was not so much intended to pool the poor out of misery as to provide the struggling middle dwellers with a last safety net before falling into poverty (p.164). In the peninsula, the capital hoarded in the safes of the mounts was often diverted from its original aim to be loaned to the rich. It prevented the Italian mounts from becoming really successful. However their model spread over Europe. Read the rest of this entry »

Alonso García D. (2008) For the monarchy: entrepreneurs on call

October 6, 2009

Alonso García, David (2008) “Finances royales et monde financier dans la creation de la monarchie espagnole (xvie siècle)” in Les finances royales dans la monarchie espagnole (xvie-xixe siècles), ed Anne Dubet. Rennes: Presses Unioversitaires de Rennes, 175-186.

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Early modern governments’ reliance on private finance has usually been interpreted as a sign of weakness. This is an anachronism; the use of private finance is the result of a strategy from the sovereigns (p.175). In Spain, the crown sees the involvement of the merchants in the tax-collection process as a way to enrich the kingdom (p.176). Read the rest of this entry »

McCant A. (1997) Moral capitalism: investments to feed orphans

October 2, 2009

McCants, Anne E.C. (1997) “The Rise and Decline of an Institutional Endowment, in Civic Charity in a Golden Age. Orphan Care in Early Modern Amsterdam, Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 151-191.

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Numerous elements point to the fact that Dutch charities were well-endowed in the early modern period (p.151). Nonetheless charities were expensive to run and part of the funds came from the beneficiaries themselves. For instance at the Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage, or Bugerweeshuis,

“the orphaned children of poor, but nonetheless, citizen, parents could not be denied entry on the basis of an inadequate inheritance to defray the cost of their support. But the orphaned children of prosperous citizens could also not expect to be cared for entirely at public expenses.”

Nonetheless the bulk of the institution’s resources came from its invested endowment (p.153). Read the rest of this entry »