Human and Social Degradation of Early Capitalism


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Human and Social Degradation of Early Capitalism

The mercantile system was hodgepodges of economic theories dominate throughout England and France in the three centuries leading up to early eighteenth century. This system marked the beginning of large scale government intervention into the economic life of the common people of the nation.

“Prior to mercantilism, the most important economic work done in Europe was by the medieval scholastic theorists. The goal of these thinkers was to find an economic system that was compatible with Christian doctrines of piety and justice.”

“Mercantilists viewed the economic system as a zero-sum game, in which any gain by one party required a loss by another. Thus, any system of policies that benefited one group would by definition harm the other…To a certain extent, mercantilist doctrine itself made a general theory of economics impossible.” Wiki quote

The mercantile system developed when the feudal system was slowly being transformed into centralized nation-states. The system was centered in England and France. Industries were organized around guilds that were regulated by states by numerous and non integrated directives. Often foreign artisans and craftsmen were imported. The mercantile policies were embraced by both the Tudor and Stuart periods.

The mercantile system was seen as essential to a nation’s success. It fostered intense violence during the 17th and 18th centuries; European power spread across the globe.

Eighteenth-century English society resisted, unconsciously, all attempt at making it an appendage of an integrated economic market system. To establish a market system, especially in England’s rural civilization, implied the wholesale destruction of the traditional fabric of society.

The market for labor was the last to be established to facilitate the new industrial system. “In the end the free labor market, in spite of the inhuman methods employed in creating it, proved financially beneficial to all concerned.”

In England strict laws restricted the mobility of labor; the laborer was securely bound to the parish. “The Act of Settlement of 1662, which laid down the rules of so-called parish serfdom, was loosened only in 1795.” This legal act was called the Speenhamland Law, otherwise called the “allowance system”, which introduced the “right to live”, “and until abolished in 1834, effectively prevented the establishment of a competitive labor market.”

Quotes from “The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time” by Karl Polanyi