Skip to main content

The costs and benefits of mercantilist warfare

  • Patrick Karl O'Brien (a1)

This article offers an architectural blueprint for the study of economic connections between warfare in the early modern period and the long-term growth of Europe's competing national economies. It surveys and critically investigates the concepts derived mainly from economic theory and the statistical evidence accessible in primary and secondary sources for the investigation of this meta-problem for students of economic theory.

Corresponding author
P. K. O'Brien, Emeritus Professor of Economic History, University of London; and Department of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Sciences, Houghton Street, Aldwych, London wc2a 2ae, UK; email:
Hide All
Aerts, E. and Crouzet, F. (eds.) (1990). Economic Effects of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Leuven: Leuven University Press.
Backhaus, J. (2012). Navies and State Formation: The Schumpeter Hypothesis Revisited and Reflected. Berlin: LIT Verlag.
Bell, D. (2007). The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare. London: Bloomsbury.
Besley, T. and Persson, T. (2011). Pillars of Prosperity: The Political Economics of Development Clusters. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bonney, R. (ed.) (1995). Economic Systems and State Finance. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Bonney, R. (ed.) (1999). The Rise of the Fiscal State in Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Boot, M. (2006). War Made New: Technology, Warfare and the Course of History. New York: Gotham Books
Boskin, M., Flemming, J. and Gorini, S. (eds.) (1987). Private Savings and Public Debt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Broadberry, S. (1988). The impact of world wars on the long run performance of the British economy. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 4, pp. 2537.
Broadberry, S. and Harrison, M. (eds.) (2005). The Economics of War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Broadberry, S., Campbell, B. M. S., Klein, A., Overton, M. and Van Leeuwen, B. (2015). British Economic Growth 1270–1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cardoso, J. L. and Lains, P. (2009). Paying for the Liberal State: The Rise of Public Finance in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University.
Caselli, F. (ed.) (2008). Government Debts and Financial Markets in Europe. London: Pickering and Chatto.
Clodfelter, M. (2002). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Guide to Casualty and Other Figures. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Contamine, P. (ed.) (2000). War and Competition between States. Oxford: Clarendon Press
Cookson, J. (1987). The British Armed Nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dincecco, M. (2011). Political Transformations and Public Finances in Europe 1650–1913. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dincecco, M. and Onorato, M. (2016). Military conflict and the rise of urban Europe. Journal of Economic Growth, 21, pp. 259–82.
Edelstein, M. (1990). What price cold war? Military spending and private investment in the United States 1946–79. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 14, pp. 221–49.
Emmer, P. C., PÉtrÉ-Grenouilleau, O. and Roitman, J. (eds.) (2006). A Deus ex Machina Revisited: Atlantic Colonial Trade and European Economic Development. Leiden: Brill.
Epstein, L. (2000). Freedom and Growth: The Rise of States and Markets in Western Europe. London: Routledge.
Findlay, R., Henriksson, G. H., Lindgren, H. and Lundahl, M. (eds.) (2006). Eli Heckscher, International Trade and Economic History, part iv, Mercantilism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Findlay, R. and O'rourke, K. (2007). Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the World Economy in the Second Millennium. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Friedman, B. (1984). The effects of large government deficits on interest rates and equity returns. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 1, pp. 5874.
Gatt, A. (2006). War in Human Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gauci, P. (2011). Regulating the British Economy 1660–1850. Farnham: Ashgate.
Gennaioli, N. and Prado, M. (2012). Warfare, fiscal capacity, and performance. Journal of Economic Growth, 167, pp. 171203.
Gennaioli, N. and Voth, H.-J. (2015). State capacity and military conflict. Review of Economic Studies, 82, pp. 1409–48.
Goldin, C. and Lewis, F. (1975). The economic cost of the American Civil War. Journal of Economic History, 35, pp. 6677.
Goldstein, J. (1988). Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Ha-Joon, C. (2007). Institutional Change and Economic Development. Helsinki: United Nations University Press.
Hale, J. (1985). War and Society in Renaissance Europe 1450–1620. Baltimore: Baltimore University Press.
Hampson, N. (1988). The Perfidy of Albion. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Harrison, M. (2014). Capitalism at war. In Neal, L. and Williamson, J. (eds.), The Cambridge History of Capitalism, vol. ii. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hiu, V. (2005). War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hodgson, G. (2001). How Economics Forgot History. London: Routledge.
Hoffman, P. (2016). Why Did Europe Conquer the World? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Holsti, K. (1991). Peace and War: Armed Conflicts and the International Order 1648–1989. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hoppit, J. (2011). The nation, the state and the first industrial revolution. Journal of British Studies, 50, pp. 307–31.
Karaman, K. and Pamuk, Ş. (2013). Different paths to the modern state in Europe: the interaction between warfare, economic structure and political regime. American Political Science Review, 107, pp. 603–26.
Kuznets, S. (1954). Post War Economic Growth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Landers, J. (2003). The Field and Forge: Population, Production and Power in the Pre-Industrial West. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lewis, A. (1953). Economic Survey 1919–1939. London: Allen and Unwin.
Liberman, P. (1998). Does Conquest Pay? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Magnuson, L. (2009). Nation, State and the Industrial Revolution. London: Routledge.
Modelski, G. (1987). Long Cycles in World Politics. London: Macmillan.
Mokyr, J. (1989). Has the Industrial Revolution been crowded out? Some reflexions on Crafts and Williamson. Explorations in Economic History, 24, pp. 293319.
Neal, L. (1990). The Rise of Financial Capitalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Neal, L. (ed.) (2015). The Cambridge History of Capitalism, vol. 1: The Rise of Capitalism from Ancient Origins to 1848. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
North, D. and Weingast, B. (1989). Constitutions and commitment: evolution of institutions governing public choice in seventeenth century England. Journal of Economic History, 49, pp. 803–32.
O'brien, P. (1988). The political economy of British taxation. Economic History Review, 41, pp. 132.
O'brien, P. (2005). Fiscal and financial conditions for the rise of British naval hegemony 1485–1815. London School of Economics Working Paper no. 91.
O'brien, P. (2008). Historical conditions for the evolution of a successful fiscal state: Great Britain and its European rivals from the Treaty of Munster to the Treaty of Vienna. In Cavaciochi, S. (ed.), Fiscal Systems in the European Economy from the 13th to the 18th Centuries. Florence: Firenze University Press.
O'brien, P. (2011a). The contributions of warfare with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France to the consolidation and progress of the British Industrial Revolution. London School of Economics Working Paper no. 150.
O'brien, P. (2011b). The nature and historical evolution of an exceptional fiscal state and its possible significance for the precocious commercialization and industrialization of the British economy from Cromwell to Nelson. Economic History Review, 64, pp. 408–46.
O'brien, P. and Quinault, R. (eds.) (1993). The Industrial Revolution and British Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Overy, R. (1997). Why the Allies Won. New York: Norton.
Reinert, S. (2011). Translating Empire: Emulation and the Origins of Political Economy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ruttan, V. (2006). Is War Necessary for Economic Growth? Military Procurement and Technological Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sandler, T. and Hartley, K. (1995). The Economics of Defence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sandler, T. and Hartley, K. (eds.) (2007). A Handbook of Defense Economics. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Schumpeter, J. (1939). Business Cycles. New York: McGraw Hill.
Silberner, E. (1946). The Problem of War in Nineteenth Century Economic Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Thompson, W. (2000). The Emergence of Global Political Economy. London: Routledge.
Tilly, C. (1990). Coercion, Capital and European States, AD 990–1990. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Tin-Bor Hui, V. (2005). War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Torres SÁnchez, R. (ed.) (2007). War, State and Development: Fiscal Military States in the Eighteenth Century. Pamplona: University of Navarra Press.
Ventura, J. and Voth, H.-J. (2015). Debt into growth, how sovereign debt accelerated the first industrial revolution. University of Zurich, Department of Economics, Working Paper no. 194.
Voigtlander, N. and Voth, H.-J. (2012). The three horsemen of riches, plague, war and urbanization in early modern Europe. Review of Economic Studies, 2, pp. 138.
Voigtlander, N. and Voth, H.-J. (2013). Gifts of Mars: warfare and Europe's early rise to riches. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27, pp. 165–86.
Vries, P. (2013). Escaping Poverty: The Origins of Modern Economic Growth, part 2, sections 25 and 26. Vienna: Vienna University Press.
Vries, P. (2015). State, Economy and the Great Divergence: Great Britain and China 1680s-1850s. London: Bloomsbury.
Winch, D. and O'brien, P. (eds.) (2002). The Political Economy of British Historical Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Yun-Casalilla, B. and O'brien, P. (2013). The Rise of Fiscal States: A Global History, 1500–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zurcher, E.-J. (ed.) (2013). Fighting for a Living. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Financial History Review
  • ISSN: 0968-5650
  • EISSN: 1474-0052
  • URL: /core/journals/financial-history-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


JEL classification


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed