Fifteen years after the Global Financial Crisis: Recessions and Business Cycles in the History of Economic Thought

Weaving Economics. The Early Modern Idea of a Limitless World and the Birth of Modern Economics.

Lingg Andreas, Witten/Herdecke University

The use of the terms cameralism and mercantilism is controversial. This is especially true when applied to the early modern period, the gray area in the history of ideas between medieval scholasticism and the economics of the Enlightenment. The problems are manifold. One of the most serious objections is that contemporary authors did not use these terms. They are anachronistic in nature, it is argued, and as such would have been used by economists of later eras less with descriptive than with instrumental intentions, as a means of ideological and parascientific debate. No less serious is the accusation that there was no independent economic theorizing or scholarly practice in this phase that would justify such titles or categories. These works would have been too eclectic, too undisciplined, too unsystematic, too unclearly demarcated from other fields of knowledge, too strongly rooted in traditions such as the medieval princely mirror, too weak in their will to penetrate the economic sphere and to explore its laws and regularities. In the early modern period, we are dealing with a phase in the history of economic thought that in many respects eludes modern scientific categories and ways of thinking. Ordered scholarly discourses, faculties, universities and clearly delineated genre boundaries - all of these existed only to a very limited extent in the field of economic debates. The use of concepts such as cameralism or mercantilism in this era therefore lead to gross simplifications that obscure rather than reveal their subject matter. It takes a different language and a different way of thinking to discern dogma-historical patterns here. Developing these is a worthwhile goal, since this epoch was, according to the thesis, a critical phase in the development of modern economics. This article argues that to understand the processes and the importance of this time, one must go to the level of individual arguments. It is necessary to draw the attention away from works and authors to the realm of particular statements and beliefs that circulated, as will be shown, first in the environment of a few trades and sectors - luxury crafts, long-distance trade, colonial politics, and precious metal mining - to eventually find a way, across all national borders, into scholarly economic writing. The discourse of economic theory subsequently underwent a major transformation in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. At that time, parts of it changed from a static household-theory, oriented towards control and parsimony, to a speculative advice literature, which was based on the idea of a (in principle) limitless world of economic possibility. In order to understand the economics of the following centuries it is vital to look at these early argumentative threads and to observe how they were repeatedly rewoven to finally form the fabric of modern economics.

Area: Eshet Conference

Keywords: Early Modern Age; Mercantislism; Cameralism; Early Capitalism; Colonialism; Mining; Long-Distance Trade; Luxury Crafts; Economic Growth

Please Login in order to download this file