Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

Anders Berch – between late mercantilism and cameralism

Shishkina Tatiana, Saint-Petersburg State University

When the first Economics chair in Sweden was founded in 1741 at Uppsala University, Anders Berch became its first ever professor of Economics. In modern literature, e.g. in works of Tribe, Magnusson and Liedman, Berch’s legacy is usually perceived as Swedish branch of cameralism. However, we argue that though Berch ideas had some similarities with classic cameralist position of Dithmar, his main works as well as his views on economic development of Sweden may be considered as a part of general late mercantilist discourse. Berch’s dissertation “On Promoting the Felicity of the Country through the Economy” was written in classical mercantilist tone, focused on the importance of net export surplus, fostering manufacturing and placed population grow in the core of the wealth of any nation. To ensure that population grows, one must study it first, and in 1746 Berch published “On studying the Wealth of Nations by Political Arithmetics” (title influenced by Petty, with whose works he was familiar). Political Arithmetics was, in fact, demographic statistics, and in this work Berch tried to estimate the population of Sweden by using tax data. Unfortunately, later studies showed that his estimation was overestimated by almost a million, however, it inspired a creation of national agency that collected, stored, and analyzed data on population, making Sweden a country with the longest consistent demographic data set in Europe. Berch’s innovative demographic research lay in line with works of Thomas Mun, and his economic position aligned with late mercantilist studies by Colbert with a few unique details influenced by specifics of Swedish economic and political life in XVIII century. First, political situation during “Age of Liberty” suggested lesser role of monarchy and stronger role of political parties, with the Hat as a quite classic mercantilist party lead by successful merchants. From this perspective the context in which Berch wrote his works differs a bit from cameralism. Relatively greater economic freedoms in Sweden also lead to interesting debates about natural rights that took form of the discussion of Oeconomia Divina, lead by even more progressive than Berch economists Carleson and Kryger. Strong agricultural focus of Swedish economy also impacted Berch’s mercantilism in which economic prosperity of the country relied both on development of manufacturing and modernization of rural economy. This even led to famous debates between Berch and Carl Linnaeus who considered economy, so closely related with agriculture and, hence, botany, his area of expertise. In later works, including first Swedish textbook on Economics, Berch almost fully embodied the traditional late mercantilist discourse. And though he definitely may be considered a cameralist, by placing his research in a broader context of late mercantilism one may gain a new perspective on his role in Swedish economic life in XVIII century, as well as on his views on economic science.

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Keywords: mercantilism; cameralism; Anders Berch