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The Cambridge History of Capitalism
  • Volume 1: The Rise of Capitalism: From Ancient Origins to 1848
  • Edited by Larry Neal, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign , Jeffrey G. Williamson, Harvard University, Massachusetts

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    The Cambridge History of Capitalism
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The first volume of The Cambridge History of Capitalism provides a comprehensive account of the evolution of capitalism from its earliest beginnings. Starting with its distant origins in ancient Babylon, successive chapters trace progression up to the 'Promised Land' of capitalism in America. Adopting a wide geographical coverage and comparative perspective, the international team of authors discuss the contributions of Greek, Roman, and Asian civilizations to the development of capitalism, as well as the Chinese, Indian and Arab empires. They determine what features of modern capitalism were present at each time and place, and why the various precursors of capitalism did not survive. Looking at the eventual success of medieval Europe and the examples of city-states in northern Italy and the Low Countries, the authors address how British mercantilism led to European imitations and American successes, and ultimately, how capitalism became global.


'In many respects the history of capitalism is the history most relevant to our times. It's a huge story and is well told in this very important book.'

Lawrence H. Summers - Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University

'The two editors of The Cambridge History of Capitalism have done an excellent job in assembling an all-star group of scholars in presenting first-rate essays dealing with the development and accomplishments of capitalism and the important impacts of national and international markets for labor, capital, and goods throughout the world. These studies range in time from ancient Babylonia to today. All essays are superbly researched and highly informative in detailing the contributions of markets and of capitalism to global political and economic development.'

Stanley Engerman - University of Rochester

'This is a book we have been waiting for: an authoritative analysis of the rise and development of global capitalism, inspired by the great classical economists and written by a team of excellent experts in the field. A fine update of our knowledge about one of the big questions in the social sciences.'

Jan Luiten van Zanden - Universiteit Utrecht

'… an inestimable contribution.'

Source: Oxford Today

Review of the set:'The editors deserve praise for assembling such a diverse and distinguished group of authors while maintaining coherence and cross-referencing across chapters … the two volumes make a strong case that economic history as currently practiced is essential for an understanding of capitalism and its history.'

David Mitch Source: EH.Net

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  • 10 - Thevia italianato capitalism
    pp 267-313
  • View abstract
    This is the introductory chapter of the book which determines what features of modern capitalism were present at each time and place, and why the various precursors of capitalism did not survive setbacks and then subsequently continue the growth of both population and per capita incomes from their earlier levels. The scholarly literature refers variously to agrarian capitalism, industrial capitalism, financial capitalism, monopoly capitalism, state capitalism, crony capitalism, and even creative capitalism. Each variant of capitalism has specific emphasis on private property rights; contracts enforceable by third parties; markets with responsive prices; and supportive governments. Beyond the basic elements of economic activity that are physically observable, the history of capitalism must also pay attention to the organizations such as guilds, corporations, governments, and legal systems that operate within and enforce the "rules of the game". A thoroughgoing market system is also necessarily embedded within broader political, cultural, and social systems.
  • 11 - The Low Countries
    pp 314-356
  • View abstract
    Beginning in the nineteenth century, excavations in Iraq, Syria, and Iran have brought to light the remains of the civilizations that flourished in the ancient Near East in the third to first millennia BCE. Text are available in three ancient Near Eastern languages: Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian. Ancient Mesopotamian societies were complex peasant societies: strongly stratified, state-building societies characterized by a comparatively high degree of urbanization. The environmental conditions determined to a large extent the economic activities. A two-sector paradigm of the Mesopotamian economy has been developed predominantly on the basis of evidence from the third millennium BCE. The model's most sustained challenges come from the documentation for long-distance (and domestic) trade that proves the existence of market-based and profit-oriented commerce supported by complex social and legal institutions, and from evidence dating to the first millennium BCE that shows a period of economic growth driven, inter alia, by increasing monetization and the market orientation of economic exchange.
  • 12 - The formation of states and transitions to modern economies:
    pp 357-402
  • View abstract
    This chapter explores whether capitalism existed in ancient Greek between circa 800 BCE and the Common Era. Reintegrating the economies of the past, those of Babylon or those of classical antiquity, into the debate on capitalism presents a series of advantages. It is sufficient to justify the place of ancient Greece in a world history of capitalism, both for the comparative evidence it provides for later and more elaborate economic developments. Although figures or evaluation will be constantly an object of debate, the reality of growth is beyond doubt, and this totally changes the picture of a stagnant society of the old paradigm. Archaeological evidence points not only to population growth but also to growth of per capita production and consumption. By massively increasing the aggregate input of labor, slavery was one of the basic factors of accelerated economic growth in the classical and Hellenistic world.
  • 13 - Capitalism and dependency in Latin America
    pp 403-430
  • View abstract
    For the last few decades, the modern orthodoxy on the Roman economy has been a simple one: the vast majority of the population lived at or near subsistence, and that changed little over the lifetime of Roman civilization. Many parts of the Roman world witnessed dramatic population growth during the last few centuries BCE. Crucial performance indicators show dramatic aggregate and per capita increases in production and consumption from the third century BCE, or sometimes a bit later, until the Roman economy reached a spectacular peak during the first century BCE and the first century CE. Roman law is certainly part of the story of Roman economic success. Roman emperors of the first and second centuries CE repeatedly insisted on the importance of good government. The limits of the growth included long-distance trade which was interrupted in many regions, and so was manufacture of traded goods. Similarly, the sea trade to India that suffered an economic crisis was virtually abandoned.
  • 14 - The emergence of African capitalism
    pp 431-454
  • View abstract
    This chapter provides first a central Asian perspective on the trans-Asian trade. It then focuses on the silk trade, although comparisons are provided with the more regional trades, from which comparisons are drawn to evaluate the economic importance of these various trades. The concept of ortaq is extremely important to link the tributary and commercial aspects of the Silk Road. More often than not, in the long run, China had to buy peace from its northern nomadic neighbors by paying heavy tributes to them, generally in silk rolls. Additionally, the payment for the maintenance of Chinese armies in Central Asia was made by transferring rolls of silk. The sending of silk to the West by the Chinese army or the Chinese diplomacy at a cost paid by the state could only destroy the trading networks between inner China and central Asia. Conversely, it created opportunities for traders operating further west, from Chinese-controlled central Asia to the Middle and Near East.
  • 15 - Native Americans and exchange:
    pp 455-490
  • View abstract
    This chapter assesses the Chinese economic history before the late nineteenth-century development of capitalist firms and markets transforming China's economy. It makes a distinction between economic growth as a general category and industrialization as a more specific species of economic growth. The social organization of agricultural production was based on family farming across varied ecological conditions. Improved technologies of tilling, sowing, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting spread across the empire after the third century. To understand the institutions that promoted a flourishing commercial economy across and beyond the vast spaces of China's agrarian empire, the chapter looks more closely at how production and exchange were organized. It is difficult to create metrics for early modern era legal practices that are judged by economic effects, but the growth of the porcelain, tea, and silk trades to Europe and colonial America suggest that the Chinese institutional nexus for foreign trade did not stifle exchange in a consequential fashion.
  • 16 - British and European industrialization
    pp 491-532
  • View abstract
    Any general account of capitalism in India needs to be mindful of two characteristics of the region. First, Indians have been doing business with the outside world for millennia. Second, there was an extraordinary degree of regional diversity within the Indian subcontinent. Capitalism tends to enter comparative economic history in three different ways: as a mode of production in orthodox Marxism; as international trade in the world systems analysis; and as institutions in current discourses on international development. A quick glance at the map of the Indian subcontinent shows that its topography would have presented any long-distance trader living before the age of steam with a great advantage and a great disadvantage at the same time. In the 1990s, contributions on new institutional economic history emphasized the importance of social norms, and suggested that the formation of a bureaucratic state and social norms could lead to different, sometimes alternative, frameworks of regulation and in turn of capitalism.
  • 17 - America:
    pp 533-573
  • View abstract
    The Middle East region had one of the most vibrant economies in the world from the eighth until the end of the eleventh centuries. This chapter first examines the evolution of institutions in the region in three different areas, land regime, private finance, and public borrowing, to show there were many changes over the millennium from the rise of Islam until the modern era. While these were often in response to the changing circumstances, they also reflected the social structure and prevailing power balances in these societies. The chapter then argues that how towns and urban areas related to the state, how urban areas are included in state policies, and how they influenced the shaping of institutions are the keys to understanding long-term institutional and economic change in the region. The political configuration and the related institutions persisted into the modern era.
  • 18 - The political economy of rising capitalism
    pp 574-599
  • View abstract
    Medieval Europe was literally built on the ruins left by the disintegrated Roman empire. But during that long period of recovery up to the early modern period Europe was transformed from an economic backwater into the most advanced region in the world. The medieval economy witnessed first the rise and then the decline of unfreedom, which is essentially the denial of the right of free contracting in markets. Serfdom was clearly associated with a concentration of ownership of land in the hands of the lay and ecclesiastical elites. The labor market had been growing continuously since the revival of the European economy and by the fourteenth century it was considerable. Money markets became increasingly well integrated over time. The medieval period was a period of slow productivity growth, but there is no evidence that productivity growth in the guild-run urban sector was slower than in the agrarian sector.
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