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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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.

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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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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 »

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 »