The Early Modern European Economy: A book review
In “The Early Modern European Economy”, Peter Musgrave attempts to express and formulate an underlying pattern from modern studies of the early modern period. The underlying focus of the book is the transformation of the feudal system in the early modern period to the economy of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Musgrave attempts to conjoin new works on the topic of the early modern European economy by analyzing the key structures and arguments in recent material. In doing this, Musgrave attempts to deviate from historical viewpoints by defining Europe and the early modern age, identifying turning points in economic development, and distinguishing this period from previous ones. “The Early Modern European Economy” reexamines our understanding of how the economy is shaped, and delves into new interpretations that suggest social and cultural aspects determine economic activity. This review takes the perspective of what the book gives is useful in understanding the development of the economic system in the early modern period. However, it lacks a clear foundation in explaining the exact cause of how the transformation started feudalism to capitalism. Each chapter will be looked at in turn.
Development and Change
Although modern economic principles provide useful tools for the historian, the focus must be on the theoretical structure if we truly wish to understand the past. Musgrave states that we need to look past traditional perspectives that modern economic principles can be applied in this period. The reasons for using a theoretical approach lie in the fact that economics are very closely related to the social sciences. A key figure in the foundations of economic development, Musgrave cites, belongs to Karl Marx. Separate from Marxism in the Soviet Union, he refers to Marx’s impact in stating the importance of the process of production. Factors such as what is produced, how it is produced, financed, and how organization and employment of labor give foundation to the roots of economic development (Musgrave 1999, 15). Marx states the polarization of wealth between classes brought upon economic, political and social tensions that produced change and growth. In understanding economic development in Europe as a whole, organization of production plays a more crucial role than following the paradigm of the industrialized superpowers of Britain and Northern Netherlands.
Stratagems and Spoils
Instead of solely looking at development in the macroeconomic perspective, focus is shifted on individual choices. Musgrave highlights the importance that individuals and communities were not constrained by economic forces, rather they had choices between different courses of action that were determined by factors such as possible outcome, individual (or groups) aims and intentions, and the perception of the situation. The traditional opinion that majority of the population endured poverty and had no economic opportunity is no longer a widely accepted view (Musgrave 1999, 36). Contrary to traditional views that Europeans stayed in only one village, Musgrave states that such issues as migration actually improved the state of the economy instead of hindering it, as it allowed for more prosperous choices to Europeans if they were restricted or otherwise not able to maximize prosperity and security. Choices were in a large part, strategic and involved the minimization of risk. Climate, political structure, medical knowledge, and profit maximization are all factors that influenced decision making for Europeans, and these certainly helped shape and develop the economy.
The Rise of a Consumer Society
Thus far, issues of demand and consumption have largely been ignored in favor of production. Musgrave explains that this concentration on production is mainly due to the belief of a stagnant economy driven by poverty and subsistence; one that did not allow for questions...
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