Monday, March 30, 2009

Mercantilism vs. hazard

Sorry it's been so long... doing some pro bono work, as it were, for the local school.

Now according to most economic histories, early modern England is supposed to be deeply mercantilist, believing that wealth and money are synomous, and interested in hoarding specie [the word itself incorporates the mercantilist view of money] via a positive balance of trade.  I've rarely seen this belief expressed in early modern English texts, though, and a nice article by Mark Notzloff helps explain why. He argues that by the end of the 16th century, mercantilism had become associated in English minds with Spanish policies, and the English colonists weren't finding gold anyway, so they were more likely to laud domestic production and circulation. I disagree with his ultimate claims about the Merchant of Venice (his literary text), but I like the broad historical claim. It reinforces the protocapitalist nature of risk. At this point I don't think there is any historical resolution to the contradictory economic aspects of risk: a) legitimizing because divine and b) the logical end of an idolatrous economic trend.   Tomorrow I'm going to declare a temporary end to the purely economic stuff and turn to games of chance (not literally - a pox upon the new Firekeepers casino down the road!).

Notzloff, Mark. “The Lead Casket: Capital, Mercantilism, and the Merchant of Venice.” Money and the Age of Shakespeare: Essays in New Economic Criticism. Ed. Linda Woodbridge. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 159-172. 

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