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Merchants and councilors:

intellectual divergences in early 17th century British economic thought

Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak


Professor do Cedeplar/UFMG

Palavras-chave Resumo Abstrac


pensamento econmico Durante o incio da dcada de 1620, a Inglater- During the early 1620s, England went through a
pr-clssico, mercantilismo, ra enfrentou um perodo de intensas dificulda- period of intense economic disorders which sparked
sculo XVII, Inglaterra Stuart, des econmicas que despertou o interesse de the interest of many in economic reasoning. The
Thomas Mun. muitos pela reflexo acerca dos fenmenos em decade witnessed the emergence of the most relevant
curso. A dcada testemunhou o surgimento das
Classificao JEL B11, B31, pieces of economic literature of the early Stuart
mais relevantes obras econmicas do incio do
N23. era, but the debate was not restricted to the abstract
perodo Stuart; porm, o debate no esteve res-
trito s confrontaes abstratas dos autores es- confrontation of economic writers. The fundamental
pecializados. A questo fundamental em dispu- issue at stake in the controversies between Malynes,
ta nas controvrsias entre Malynes, Misselden Misselden, and Mun the integration of money
e Mun como integrar a moeda e o comrcio and international trade in a coherent explanation
internacional em uma explicao coerente dos of economic phenomena was also the subject
fenmenos econmicos foi tambm objeto of much care in the public sphere at large. The
de muita ateno na esfera pblica, em senti- parliamentary session of 1621, in particular, put
do amplo. A Sesso Parlamentar de 1621, em in evidence not only the fundamental relevance of
particular, colocou em evidncia no apenas a the matter for understanding Englands economic
Key-words
relevncia fundamental do tema para a com-
pre-classical economics, maladies, but also the great difficulties involved
preenso dos problemas econmicos da In-
mercantilism; 17th century, in its investigation. By bringing all these elements
glaterra, mas tambm a enorme complexidade
Stuart England,Thomas Mun. envolvida em sua investigao. Ao reunir todos together, this paper seeks to articulate a more dense
esses elementos, o artigo busca articular um re- and meaningful portrait of the prevailing state of
JEL Classification B11, B31, economic ideas in early 17th century England.
trato mais denso a respeito do estado corrente
N23.
das ideias econmicas na Inglaterra do incio
do sculo XVII.

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460 Merchants and councilors

1_ Introduction the 17th century. Next, the pamphlet


The works produced by Gerard de controversies are examined in their
Malynes, Edward Misselden, and major thrust, and then contrasted with
Thomas Mun during the 1620s are the economic debates which took place
generally regarded as the most relevant during the parliament of 1621 which
pieces of economic reasoning to have are found to anticipate the main lines
appeared in early 17th century England. of economic reasoning subsequently
The fundamental impact exerted by developed. Finally, some observations
the trade crisis of the early 1620s over are offered touching the relationships
the composition of such works has between pamphleteers and court circles
already been duly recognized long in the process of disseminating ideas.
ago, but so far little has been done to
establish more clearly how the ideas
brought forth by these authors were 2_ Mercantilism and
related to the economic debates which its historiography
populated the public sphere in England Economic ideas in early Stuart England
between 1621 and 1624. This paper is an are certainly not the most popular of
attempt to uncover some of the aspects subjects, but they belong, nevertheless,
in which the pamphlet literature was to a rich historiographic tradition.
linked to the investigative efforts carried Scholars interested in the history of
out under the guidance of political economic thought have been concerned
institutions, showing that the conflicting with it for a long time actually, since
perspectives espoused by Malynes, Adam Smiths time, when economics,
Misselden, and Mun, although certainly or political economy, had its first claim
developed at more length by them, were at intellectual maturity. At the very same
also present in the reflections of English time when a new intellectual discipline
society at large. Firstly, the literature on was born, assessments were being made
the subject inspired by mercantilism about its ancestry, about those who
scholarship is briefly reviewed, had contributed to the development
as are the economic and socio- of ideas related to the processes of
political conditions which prevailed creating, distributing, and consuming
in England during the first decades of wealth. Smith himself had some words

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 461

to say about those 17th and 18th century of self-interested parties, especially
pamphleteers who had developed a merchants who tried to disguise their
few doctrines related to foreign trade own favored policies with a garb of
and international monetary flows concern with the commonwealth2.
the mercantile system, as he termed In the decades to come, although
it, following Mirabeau1. Sadly, those efforts were being made (especially by
were not very complimentary words. McCulloch3) to recover and publicize
To Smith, the mercantile system was the original pamphlets and treatises,
little more than a common sense, Smiths harsh judgment prevailed as
largely unstated collection of maxims the standard attitude to early modern
and rules of thumb, based upon faulty economic ideas among the Classical
assumptions and fallacious reasoning. school adherents.
Moreover, Smith believed that these A different approach to the
ideas had been infused in public subject would only come up during the
consciousness through the efforts late 19th century, when members of the
German historical school of economics
introduced a new historiographic
The Marquis de Mirabeau
1
one of Ricardos most devoted
category merkantilismus and with
(1749-1791), a member of the disciples compiled a vast
physiocratic school, is normally annotated catalogue of writings it a whole new interpretation of pre-
credited as the first to use the on economic topics, including Smithian economic doctrines. Whereas
term systme mercantile in print, several of the most important Smith had denounced a conspiracy
in his Philosophie Rurale (1763). tracts which had appeared in
England during the 17th and
of trade to implement policies which
2
In Book IV of The Wealth
of Nations (1937[1776]), Smith early 18th centuries. were on the whole damaging to national
discusses at length the systems 4
Schmollers most famous wealth, a new generation of scholars led
of political economy which appraisal of mercantilism can by Gustav Schmoller in Germany and,
had preceded him. The system be found in The Mercantile System to a lesser extent, William Cunningham
of commerce, or mercantile and Its Historical Significance (1989
system, received the bulk of [1884]). As for Cunningham, his
in England recovered the theme, and
his attention. thoughts on the what they saw there was a legitimate
3
In his The Literature of subject are spread strategy to promote economic growth
Political Economy (1991[1845]), throughout his along nationalistic lines4. Still, as Charles
John Ramsay McCulloch The Growth of British
Industry and Commerce
Wilson has noted more than half a
(1789-1864) a member of the
Political Economy Club and (1903 [1882]). century ago, Smiths and Schmollers

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462 Merchants and councilors

standpoints do not differ as markedly context met with as much praise for its
as it would seem at first sight. Actually, breadth and scholarship as it did with
their accounts of thought and policy biting criticism to its methodological
are fairly similar, the main difference eclecticism, historiographic
being that, to use Wilsons words, one idiosyncrasies, and inner hesitations
applauds where the other condemns and contradictions.
(Wilson, 1969a, p. 68). Still, despite its own
The debate over mercantilism achievements and faults, Heckschers
continued along these lines for the work revived scholarly interest in early
next few decades, roughly as a contest modern economic doctrines, and also
between liberal and nationalistic brought mercantilism to the attention
interpretations of history, until the of every historically-minded economist
subject was given a new breath of life as an integral part of the past of his/
in the 1930s not coincidentally, at a her own discipline. Any textbook
time when nationalistic policies held a on the history of economic thought
renewed appeal. The decade saw the from then on required an introductory
theme debated by several noteworthy chapter discussing mercantilism,
scholars5, and also witnessed the and thus some very standardized,
incorporation of mercantilist studies common sense notions entered the
into the domain of a new specialized fields consciousness. Unfortunately,
field of enquiry, the history of economic these notions were often grossly
thought, which developed swiftly due misrepresentative. Reducing two
to the consolidation of economics as centuries of European history into
an institutionalized academic discipline. twenty textbook pages had the noxious
Of all contributions which appeared side effect of blurring any kind of subtle
at that time, Heckschers (1935 [1931]) distinctions, or any kind of distinctions
was certainly the one that attracted the for that matter, leaving no room for
most attention and stirred the greatest diverging ideas or detailed contextual 5
Among them were Jacob
controversy. His all-encompassing approaches. For the average late 20th Viner (1930), John Maynard
Keynes (1970 [1936]), E. A.
attempt to come up with a definitive century economist, mercantilism meant J. Johnson (1937), Max Beer
portrait of mercantilist doctrines radical nationalism, protectionism, (1938) and Eli Heckscher
and policies within their institutional and government interference, all of it (1935 [1931]).

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 463

resulting from an incomprehensible corpus. And while some more careful


fixation with precious metals and a interpreters have restricted their
favorable balance of trade, which could generalizing urge to shorter samples
only be explained as plain ignorance. dealing only with England throughout
But apart from these common the whole of the 17th century, for
sense ideas, serious research on the instance there remains a lingering
topic was still carried on, frequently uneasiness, a sense that this is far too
in direct response to Heckschers and long a period for any idea to hold a
Viners seminal works from the 1930s6. complete and undisputed sway over the
Debates have often centered on the minds of a whole nation.
general historiographic validity of the My aim is to try and mitigate
concept of mercantilism, while at this uneasiness, by leaving aside for a
the same time attempting to bring minute the sweeping ideologies and
more historical depth to the analysis. grand historical transitions and focusing
More recent scholarship has tried instead on the actual ideas held by
6
Relevant contributions to appropriate methodological ideas actual people in a specific historical
were brought forth by Donald
Coleman (1969b; 1980), Bob
originating in other social sciences context: the severe economic crisis
Coats (1973; 1992a; 1992b), the most relevant approaches being which assaulted England during the last
Raymond de Roover (1951; Joyce Applebys mercantilism-as-liberal- years of James Is reign (1603-1625).
1955; 1974a; 1974b), Barry ideology (1978), Lars Magnussons
Supple (1954; 1957; 1964),
Herbert Heaton (1937), and
mercantilism-as-economic-language
Charles Wilson (1949; 1951; (1994), and Andrea Finkelsteins 3_ England in the 1620s
1969a; 1969b), among others. mercantilism-as-organicist-political- The idea is obviously not new.
7
The volume Revisions in philosophy (2000). Yet, for all the Hundreds of pages have been written
Mercantilism (1969a), edited by richness and insightfulness achieved
Coleman, is a compilation of
about the difficulties surrounding the
articles which deal, to a greater after decades of research, one of the idea of mercantilism, with Donald
or lesser extent, with the remarkable features of specialized Coleman being, for a long time, the
inadequacy of mercantilism enquiry is that it still insists on treating most vocal advocate of a complete
as a historiographic category. every single economic idea that has
Colemans own views on the
eradication of the concept7. Yet, for
matter are expressed in the been expressed in Europe after Thomas all the methodological diatribes, little
Introduction and on his paper Aquinas and before Franois Quesnay seems to have been done to turn such
there reprinted (1969b). as a unified, consistent doctrinal abstract ideas into proper historical

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464 Merchants and councilors

examinations. One of the most recent in favor of new, progressive ideas


contributions to the field (Finkelstein, which recognized the independence
2000), for all its careful and detailed of some economic mechanisms from
analysis, still treats all economic the discretionary interference of
pamphlets printed in the 17th century statesmen, as well as the pervasiveness
as part of some unified and coherent of economic motives. Despite the
tradition, paying much more attention scent of Whig history8, the fact remains
to their common features than to what that economic issues were a hot
tells them apart. enough topic during the late years of
In the scarce instances when James reign to catch the attention of
attention was given to the particular contemporary scholars working in the
historical context in which economic field. So what is it about the 1620s
ideas came to light, the 1620s always that made it such a fertile moment for
emerged as some sort of watershed in economic enquiry?
the mercantilist era a moment of To answer this question, one
critical ideological density, when not must consider briefly the economic
only a significant amount of literature conditions of the time. The political
was produced, but also some of the and constitutional struggles that
most relevant economic issues of the permeated the early Stuart period (1603-
time were debated at length. From 1649) frequently obfuscate economic
the standpoint of economic history difficulties, but these were nonetheless 8
Joyce Appleby, in particular,
has been highly criticized for
and policy, the period was extensively present and exerted their impact. James
working back from a late 18th
dealt with in Supple (1964), which I inherited a kingdom exhausted by century liberal framework and
remains the standard interpretation of a protracted period of demanding trying to find its antecedents
macroeconomic events in the period. foreign conflicts, where frequent fiscal scattered throughout the
previous century. Her
Regarding economic ideas, both exactions led to growing popular
attempt to rationalize 17th
Appleby (1978) and Magnusson (1994) discontent. Moreover, the last years century economic ideas as a
have assigned a very prominent role of Elizabeths reign (1558-1603) were progressive effort to come
to the 1620s in their works, portraying characterized by chronic sluggishness in to grips with a developing
market economy has been
the decade as a moment of transition foreign trade, leading to a rather bleak
classified by Donald Winch as
in England, when traditional, quasi- economic landscape. Nevertheless, Whig history of liberalism in
medieval notions were being left behind Stuart accession and peace with Spain modern guise (1985, p. 288).

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 465

brought about a general improvement decline, white broadcloths were still the
in trade conditions. James first main export item for England, and such
decade as king of England was one a disruption in its trade was bound to
9
Further assessments of of undoubted prosperity. White have strong economic implications for
economic conditions during
the late 16th and early 17th
broadcloth exports grew constantly, the country as a whole. Moreover, after
centuries can be found in reaching their highest ever level in 1614. the project was finally repealed, and
Wilson (1965; 1969c; 1976), Prices were on the rise, and so were everything was expected to go back to
Supple (1964), Coleman rents. But beneath the glowing surface normality, a new series of disturbances
(1977), Fisher (1950), Hinton
(1959), and Unwin (1966). of economic life, profound changes hit Englands cloth trade badly.
10
The so-called Cockayne were taking place within Englands Those were related to the beginning
project was a failed attempt main industry. The early 17th century of hostilities in Central Europe, and
to transform the structure witnessed a dual movement within the severe monetary disturbances
of Englands international British woolen cloth industry: the decay that ensued11. Not having time to
cloth trade by forbidding the
exportation of unfinished of the traditional, luxurious white and fully recover from one major setback,
woolen cloth, and thus undressed woolen cloth the jewel Englands cloth trade found itself once
stimulating the development of the kingdom and the rise of again plunged into depression.
of dying and dressing the lighter and coarser mixed fabrics Thus, by the dawn of the 1620s,
industries within the realm.
Backed by powerful interest collectively known as new draperies. Englands economic prospects did
groups and court factions, This process was already in course not look nearly as bright as they had
the project was held in high during the first decade of the century, a decade or so before. Economic
esteem by James I himself, and
and was still to go on for much longer9. grievances had been piling up since
was put into practice between
1614 and 1617, with disastrous However, an unhappy attempt at at least 1615, and the new trade
results. The episodes most government interference the infamous crisis was already unfolding in all its
detailed account is still that of Cockayne project10 brought about a unprecedented harshness. Parliament
Astrid Friis (1927), although
precipitous decline in the traditional had not convened since 1614, when in
some of her arguments have
been questioned and updated sector. White broadcloth exports 1621 an indebted king was finally forced
by Supple (1964). peaked in 1614, never to reach the same to call a meeting in order to deal with
Although Supple (1964)
11
level again. From 1615 to 1618, when religious conflicts on the continent. All
offers the most authoritative the project was being put into practice, the economic distresses accumulated
account of the early 1620s
this whole branch of cloth manufacture during those seven years were bound to
crisis, Gould (1954) and
Kindleberger (1991) are also faced constant and severe distress. appear in Westminster, and so they did.
of great interest. Although going through a secular The 1621 parliament brought a whole

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466 Merchants and councilors

array of economic issues into public frequently called forth by the crown to
scrutiny, and forced different groups give his opinion on economic matters
to reflect about them and voice their in particular those related to monetary
opinions. One of the results was a burst mechanisms, about which he liked to
of activity in economic pamphleteering. style himself as a specialist.
Edward Misselden was, in all
probability, a much younger merchant
4_ The pamphlet literature than Malynes, although his early
The most significant economic tracts biography is rather obscure15. He was
conceived during the first half of the a Merchant Adventurer16 during the
17th century were directly related to 1610s, and as such was deeply involved
the early 1620s economic disturbances in the events surrounding the Cockayne
and their public investigation in the project. Initially a harsh opponent of
parliament of 1621. The clearest the new company, he later joined its
example of this is undoubtedly the ranks, only to be accused of trying to
public controversy which took place sabotage it from the inside. During
between Gerard de Malynes and Saint George for England,
12
more scarce than Malynes. The
Edward Misselden during the early years Allegorically Described (1601b). most enlightening sources are
of the decade. Malynes was already, by 13
Those interested in Malynes Johnson (1937), Magnusson
then, an experienced pamphleteer and career can find fragmentary (1994), Finkelstein (2000)
and the Oxford DNB entry
businessman, having published his first biographical accounts in
(Grassby, 2004).
tract in 160112, and engaged in a series Muchmore (1969), Johnson
(1937), Roover (1974b), 16
The Merchant Adventurers
of projects, both public and private, Magnusson (1994), and were a powerful and traditional
which at times brought him wealth, Finkelstein (2000), as well as the English merchant company,
at others infamy13. By the end of the entry in the Oxford Dictionary who held the sole rights for
of National Biography trading with the Low Countries
1610s, he was in the Fleet Prison due to
(Gauci, 2004a). and the western parts of
his involvement in a disastrous project Germany. During the late 16th
The Fleet was the standard
14
for the coinage of copper tokens14. and early 17th centuries, this
prison for debtors and
Moral standards aside, Malynes was the most important branch
bankrupts in Early
of the Englands foreign trade,
close contact with the projecting and Modern England.
concentrating virtually all of the
business worlds certainly gave him 15
Misseldens biographical unfinished cloth exports to
much practical knowledge, and he was information is significantly the Continent.

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 467

the early 1620s, he was still a member into the most iconic mouthpiece of
of the restored old company, and it mercantilism17. Well, history and Adam
was with a view to clear his company Smith, who singled Mun as the author
of blame for the trade crisis that in whose ideas represented the mercantile
1622 he published his first pamphlet, creed. Yet, for all the attention he
Free Trade, or, The Meanes to Make Trade received, Muns part in the 1620s
Flourish. This was the piece of literature debates was overlooked for quite a long
which triggered the debate between time. Although his first pamphlet, A
Malynes and him. Malynes replied with Discourse of Trade, from England unto the
The Maintenance of Free Trade, published East Indies, was published in 1621 with
the same year, in which he explicitly the clear intention of defending the
contested Misseldens interpretation of East India Company against accusations
the economic depression in England. made in parliament of draining English
Misselden struck back with incredible bullion stocks, the work through
ferocity the following year, in his The which he became known to posterity
Circle of Commerce, or the Ballance of Trade Englands Treasure by Foraign Trade was
a pamphlet which is often credited as only published posthumously, in 1664.
the first appearance in print of the term But if the precise moment in which the
balance of trade. His virulent assault tract was composed remains unknown,
on Malynes prompted an immediate any careful reading of its contents, if
and final reply by the latter, entitled informed by some knowledge of the
The Center of the Circle of Commerce in issues at stake during the early 1620s,
reference to the analogy proposed by clearly suggests what specialized
17
Fortunately we know much Misselden between Giotos circle and a research has satisfactorily established:
more about Mun than about nations foreign trade. the tract was the product of Muns
Malynes and Misselden. Quite
Apart from Malynes and reflection upon the economic troubles
satisfactory accounts can be
found, once again, in Johnson Misselden, one other figure also looms and debates of those years. He took an
(1937), Magnusson (1994), and large within the universe of early active part in the public investigations,
Finkelstein (2000), but also Stuart economic reasoning. This last and all that must have had a lasting
in Appleby (1978), Roover
figure is also the one of greatest fame: impact on his thinking.
(1957), Supple (1954), and in
the Oxford DNB entry Thomas Mun, the Levant and East One of the most remarkable
(Gauci, 2004b). India merchant whom history turned features of the 1620s pamphlet

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468 Merchants and councilors

controversies is the highly abstract level regard to the period of concern here:
at which the debate is conducted. The early 17th century pamphleteers were
tone is in general quite pragmatic, the indeed obsessed with money. But this
authors constantly keeping an eye on obsession was not due to any sort
the objective measures that could be of cognitive blindness, but rather to
employed in order to improve general much more straightforward reasons:
economic conditions. However, there first, they believed that money had
are some fundamental principles at an all-important role to play within
stake, and these are framed in such a the sphere of economic activities, and
way as to make it impossible to reach a that an adequate supply was therefore
resolution regarding which standpoint required to ensure the nations well-
is the correct one. In other words, they being; secondly, these authors displayed
work as fundamental axioms which can a remarkable aversion to the domestic
be neither proved nor disproved by consumption of goods, and therefore
empirical evidence, but upon which the money (that is, precious metals) was
whole reasoning rests. This will become regarded as a preferable form of wealth
clearer later on. due to its durability a form of wealth
Seventeenth century economic which could not be consumed19.
writers have been blamed repeatedly This latter point, fascinating as it
for their excessive concern with is, will not be explored here at length,
precious metals. Smith was the simply because it was not one of the 18
In the first chapter of book
first to accuse them of indulging in controversial issues at stake. Rather, it IV of The Wealth of Nations,
Midas fallacy18 confusing wealth was an assumption shared by all those entitled Of the Principle of
with money; Heckscher, albeit more involved in the debates, which implicitly the Commercial or
Mercantile System.
sympathetic, still described it as a or explicitly treated consumption as the
19
These themes were
monetary fetish, resulting from the destruction of wealth. Mun expresses
developed at length elsewhere,
swift spreading of monetary relations the idea clearly when he says that to lose and therefore will only be
throughout European society, and and to consume doth produce one and the same dealt with in a somehow
the confusion arising thereof in the reckoning (1664, p. 85), but it is also cursory manner here. Readers
interested in a more detailed
minds of those who had to deal with present elsewhere, under several guises.
exposition of these and other
such deep changes. At a certain level, The word consumption itself often related points are referred to
these indictments are accurate with assumes a negative connotation, being Suprinyak (2009).

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 469

entangled with the ideas of disease, is absolutely no confusion between


decay, and putrefaction as in the money and wealth in the writings of the
consumption of the body politic. The period. Early Stuart authors knew very
constant exhortations to frugality can well the distinction between these two
also be seen as another manifestation concepts, and although they rarely came
of this deep-rooted suspicion towards up with precise definitions, it is clear
consumption, and as such it went on that money (or treasure) was only one
unchallenged during the 1620s. of several forms which wealth could
The former issue, on the assume20. The importance of money
contrary, was the focus of much lies elsewhere, on a function which,
attention. In fact, the economic it was believed, money could, and
disturbances of the period are should, perform: that of dynamizing
frequently described as a scarcity commercial activity.
of money crisis, especially during It is in this sense that the
the initial years of depression, when frequent analogies between the
its close connection with the cloth circulation of money and the circulation
trade was still not fully recognized. of blood must be interpreted. Money
The scarcity of money was obviously is the vital spirit of trade because
the most apparent manifestation of a wherever it goes through, things are
general economic crisis, but the fact animated in its wake. Merchants can
remains that economic pamphleteers afford to trade, husbandmen can sell
regarded the inadequate money supply their produce, prices and rents rise,
as the single most important issue to be and the sovereigns revenue increases.
addressed. As will be discussed shortly, But in order to reach such beneficial
the diagnoses they offered differed outcomes, it is not enough to possess
greatly; but their problem was basically a large stock of money locked up
the same. Economic debates in England in the princes coffers, for instance;
during the 1620s are essentially about money needs to be kept continually in
money, and as such they need to circulation, a point stressed by Mun.
20
Once again, this assertion is
more lengthily developed and
be understood. Despite their bitter dispute over other
substantiated in Suprinyak So, why was money important? matters, Malynes and Misselden are on
(2009, p. 587-591). First of all, we should note that there the same page as regards the proper role

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470 Merchants and councilors

of money in the commonwealth. In The markets were still a domain reserved


Center of the Circle of Commerce, Malynes for specialists. The average man on the
would ask: streets regarded it as an impenetrable
and highly suspicious world much
Or will any man think that Trade can be
in the same way as it still happens
driven conveniently without moneys and
exchanges? will not the want of it make nowadays. Neither were international
a dead Trade within the Realme when financial markets simpler in those days
this Vitall Spirit of Commerce faileth? than they are today even trained
surely it is questionles in every mans scholars normally have a hard time
understanding (Malynes, 1623, p. 7). trying to grasp all the nuances involved
in a simple 17th century
Whereas Misselden, in Free Trade,
exchange dealing.
had already declared:
Part of the problem is due to
For Money is the vitall spirit of trade, the use of a currency system based on
and if the Spirits faile, needes must the precious metals. As such, coins have
Body faint. And as the Body of Trade an intrinsic value determined strictly
seemeth to be Dead without the Life of by their metallic content. Domestically,
Money: so do also the Members of the however, the value of coins is
Commonwealth without their Meanes of
determined by the sovereign, frequently
Trade (Misselden, 1622, p. 28).
in disagreement with their fineness
The issues discussed so far and weight. Thus, in the exchange
seem to be the object of common market which is the market for bills
consent among early Stuart economic of exchange the rate of exchange
pamphleteers. It is time now to finally between two currencies is determined
approach the sources of controversy, by an estimate of their equivalence in
often translated into mutual hatred. terms of metallic content, but also by
The early 17th century was a period of fluctuations in the demand and supply
intense development in international of currencies in a given exchange mart
exchange markets, when the bill of at any moment. If several English
exchange was quickly turning into the merchants in Amsterdam suddenly
most prominent commercial instrument required rijksdaalder for their business,
within Europe. However, exchange the rate of exchange between the

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 471

sterling and the Dutch currency would was a morally reproachable attitude
rise, even though their point of metallic an usurpation of the royal prerogative.
equivalence was reached at a lower rate. Money is publica mensura, the general
To complicate matters even further, standard of value, and therefore
bills of exchange were payable after arbitrary fluctuations on its own
fixed time intervals, and therefore value are highly prejudicial to general
normally included interest and risk- economic stability. To Malynes, the
bearing prizes21. abuse of exchange was the root of
It was precisely in their analysis Englands commercial decadence.
of this exchange market that Misselden Malynes believed exchanges
and Malynes adopted inescapably between currencies should be based
divergent standpoints. Malynes exclusively on their metallic content.
perspective is certainly the most unusual Rates should be regulated in such
one for modern standards, but it is no a way as to commute equivalent
less sharp for that. In characteristic amounts of precious metals that
style, he argues that both monetary is, according to his famous concept
and commodity flows are ultimately of par pro pari. When that is not the
determined by fluctuations in the case, all other economic flows are
exchange market or to use his own suddenly subordinated to the rulings of
words, exchange is active, and commodities this primordial market, the exchange
and money are passive (1623, p. 84). This market. If a currency is undervalued
proposition was firmly anchored on his in the exchange market, there are
particular perception of the functioning arbitrage gains to be made through
of exchange markets. Malynes was a melting and exporting it as bullion;
biting critic of the free determination equally, the commodity market suffers
of exchange rates between currencies due to changes in relative international
21
More comprehensive and
detailed accounts of monetary in the international market. To him, prices, which adversely affect foreign
and financial systems in determining the value of money was trade. Moreover, if foreign currency
Early Modern Europe can be part of the sovereigns prerogative; thus, is overvalued, it is unprofitable
found in Kindleberger (1993),
allowing it to freely float according altogether to bring it in, be it as bullion
Einaudi (1953), Gould (1952),
Roover (1974a), Supple (1957), to market forces, manipulated by or currency, and thus commercial
and Unwin (1966). bankers, merchants, and speculators, revenues are turned into imports of

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472 Merchants and councilors

foreign commodities, as a means of issue. Misselden, although arguing


minimizing exchange losses further the contrary case, hesitates to put
contributing to the overbalancing of all his emphasis on the commodity
trade (1601a, p. 34). market. Despite all his concern with
What distinguishes Malynes the balance of trade, he believes
standpoint from those of Misselden that some monetary mechanisms
and Mun is the direction in which do have an important role to play
the causality runs according to his in economic processes. Misselden
interpretation of markets. To him, the (1622, p. 7-8) ridicules Malynes par pro
exchange market literally dominates pari project, but recognizes that the
those of money and commodities or undervaluation of English currency
as he put it, the right course of exchange meaning its closer correspondence
being abused, doth over-rule the course of to its own metallic content is a
commodities and monie (Malynes, 1601a, factor inducing money outflows.
p. 17). Profit opportunities on exchange But elsewhere he is concerned with
markets will always determine overall establishing his own ideas regarding the
economic flows, and commodities are relationships between markets. To him,
the variables used to cover monetary the exchange market shares the same
imbalances. The only way to avoid this characteristics of any other market,
is by neutralizing the exchange market, responding to the demand and supply
forcing all transactions to be carried of international currencies:
according to the par pro pari. After
[I]t is not the rate of Exchanges, but the
potential profits in exchange dealings
value of monies, here lowe, elsewhere high,
are thus eliminated, both the monetary which cause their Exportation: nor doe the
and commodity markets are free to Exchanges, but the plenty or scarcity cause
follow their own courses. their values (Misselden, 1622, p. 104).
This may sound like a
rationalization imposed on Malynes Likewise, the commodity market also
ramblings. The strongest evidence to followed its own rules:
the contrary is that the three authors [I]t is not the rate of Exchanges, whether
themselves showed great awareness it be higher or lower, that maketh the price
that this was, in fact, the crucial of comodities [sic] deare or cheape, as

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 473

Malynes would here inferre; but it is the nations. Commercial imbalances need
plenty or scarcity of Commodities, their use to be covered by monetary transfers,
or Non-use, that maketh them rise and fall which in their turn exert pressures
in prices (Misselden, 1623, p. 21). over exchange markets, thus affecting
Thus, Misselden understood exchange rates. His own description
clearly what was at stake and, of the process is as sharp as it
although half-heartedly, gave his own is illuminating:
version of events. Mun, of course, As plenty or scarcity of mony do make the
went much further; and in his direct price of the exchange high or low, so the
confrontation of Malynes ideas lies the over or under balance of our trade doth
key to understanding the fundamental effectually cause the plenty or scarcity of
intellectual divergence raised by this mony. [] the monies which are carried
from us within the balance of our trade
debate. Unlike Misselden, Mun was not
are not considerable, for they do return to
willing to make concessions. Chapters
us again: and we lose those monies only
XII to XIV of Englands Treasure are
which are made of the over-balance of our
dedicated to an explicit criticism of general trade, that is to say, That which we
Malynes ideas regarding exchange spend more in value in forraign wares, than
markets. As Misselden before him, Mun we utter of our own commodities. And
begins by stating that exchange markets the contrary of this is the only means by
are governed by the demand and supply which we get our treasure. In vain therefore
of currencies: hath Gerard Malines laboured so long,
and in so many printed books to make
[T]hat which causeth an under or
the world believe that the undervaluing of
overvaluing of moneys by Exchange, is the
our money in the exchange doth exhaust
plenty or scarcity thereof in those places
our treasure, which is a mere fallacy of
where the Exchanges are made
the cause, attributing that to a Secondary
(Mun, 1664, p. 95).
means, whose effects are wrought by another
But his analysis soon turns much Principal Efficient, and would also come
more acute and to the point. Far to pass although the said Secondary means
from determining commodity flows, were not at all (Mun, 1664, p. 96, 104).
exchange markets merely reflect the Mun turns Malynes reasoning on
movements of commodities between its head, and proudly tells everyone he

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474 Merchants and councilors

is doing so. If any doubts still remained, as Misseldens own hesitations seem to
he went as far as appropriating himself indirectly show. Probably few people
of Malynes own phraseology to would be willing to go so far as to
hammer his point home: assert that exchange markets are the
ultimate determinants of all economic
[T]he profit and loss upon the Exchange
phenomena. But the idea that there
is guided and ruled by the over or under
balance of the several Trades which are was something about money which
Predominant and Active, making the price could potentially disrupt both foreign
of Exchange high or low, which is therefore trade and domestic activities still held
Passive, the contrary whereof is so often much appeal. The debate had not
repeated by the said Malynes been won before it started. Instead, it
(Mun, 1664, p. 119). was carried on fiercely because it was
Here we have in a nutshell what concerned with issues which occupied
the 1620s dispute was all about. Which many minds at the time, and to which
is the primary force behind economic no easy solution could be offered. The
processes, money or commodities? controversy was not a futile quarrel
Was the economic crisis due to the over theoretical points, but part of a
malfunctioning of international larger effort to come to grips with the
monetary mechanisms, or to a chronic logic behind economic phenomena.
imbalance in foreign trade? Distinct
answers were being advanced at the
same time, and we can only guess at 5_ Economic debates in
how deeply each of them appealed to the political arena
public consciousness. We know that, Since merchants have received all
in the long run, Muns standpoint the attention so far, from now on
prevailed, which certainly helps to the presence of economic ideas
explain why Malynes came to be outside the scope of pamphlets will
regarded as such an oddity. But it seems be explored. Arguably, one of the
that during the 1620s his ideas were far gravest faults of mercantilism
from absurd and unconventional, or scholarship is its excessive reliance on
even outmoded. Quite on the contrary, specialized literature, and disregard of
they may have still carried much weight, economic ideas expressed in wider,

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 475

less knowledgeable channels. For all existence of any such relationship; but
the growth in print culture, it is hard to maybe a closer investigation will reveal
believe that an economic pamphleteer early Stuart days to be some kind of
writing during the early Stuart years mythical lost era when economists and
could hope to reach an audience human beings could still live peacefully
much larger than his own merchant with each other.
community. If that was the case in As already mentioned earlier,
general, what to say of a work such as the parliament of 1621 was in a way
Englands Treasure by Foraign Trade, which a moment of catharsis for economic
was not even published until after the ideas. Although other subjects such as
Restoration? What sort of impact could the Palatinate crisis22, non-conformity
the work of Mun have over the minds policies, and patents of monopoly23
A diplomatic meltdown
22

prompted by the Spanish


of his contemporaries, if he did not gathered more attention, economic
invasion of the Palatinate, actively engage in debates carried on in issues undoubtedly occupied a
in 1620, as retaliation to other, more wide-reaching stages? prominent place in the proceedings.
Frederick V, Elector Palatine James himself touched on the
and James Is son-in-law, Of course, when thus extending
who had accepted the the analysis to cover wider transmission subject in his opening address
crown of Bohemia after the channels, it is much harder, if not to parliament, saying:
Defenestration of Prague. impossible, to determine how influential For the scarcitie of coine, it is strange that
23
Although having economic particular individuals and their ideas my Mint for silver hath not gone this nyne
roots, the controversy over
patents of monopoly was were. But that is not the only, nor or ten years. Yea, so long it hath stood out
entangled in larger political necessarily the most interesting, of use that I and my council cannot think
and factional agendas, question to be asked. Instead, what to see silver coined there againe in our time.
serving as a platform for the How this may be redressed it concerneth
one can hope to grasp is what kind of
gentry and other provincial you to consider now in Parliament and let
interests to engage in an open relationship, if any, existed between
your King have your best advice about it 24.
confrontation with court the reasoning of those specialists in
circles, which culminated in economic matters, and the way in Thus, James was not only
the impeachment of Lord
which the public at large regarded the concerned with monetary disturbances
Chancellor Sir Francis Bacon.
same phenomena. Our contemporary only natural given that the currency
24
Commons Debates, 1621,
v. 6, p. 371-372 (from now on experiences would certainly induce a undisputedly belonged to the royal
CD 1621). high degree of skepticism regarding the prerogative but also willing to ask

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476 Merchants and councilors

parliament for advice on how to deal emerged: several reasons were advanced
with them. King and parliament would as possible explanations for each of the
be involved with economic issues problems, but only very sporadically
throughout the whole session, although was any direct relationships between
the immediate practical results of such the two of them hypothesized27. As the
consultations were less than remarkable. economic grievances continued to be
The Commons asked their king to intensely debated, some rapprochement
dedicate special care to the redress was eventually achieved although an
of economic grievances during the incomplete and often awkward one28.
summer adjournment25, and the Privy Thus, in their attempts to
Council, already following Sir Lionel examine Englands economic maladies,
Cranfields lead, accordingly engaged the Commons came across the problem
in investigating and reforming the of the relationship between monetary
inconveniences raised in the house26. and trade processes. This is also, as
Economic topics were under the argued above, the single most important
spotlight during the whole year of 1621. topic in early Stuart economic literature.
What exactly, then, were the Commons These issues, which virtually defined
concerned with, economic wise, and economic reasoning during the
how were these concerns approached period, were brought to light in the
by different voices in the house? 1621 parliament, when attempts were
The depressed state of Englands being made to reconcile cloth trade
cloth trade, and the kings explicitly depression and scarcity of money as
stated concern with the scarcity of interconnected economic problems.
CD 1621, II: 417; III: 404;
25

money, somehow encapsulate the The desirability of a more IV: 398-399.


two main economic themes under plentiful money supply was normally 26
CD 1621, III: 415-416; Acts
discussion in the House of Commons assumed rather than explicitly argued, of the Privy Council of England,
during that session. However, and so the inquiry naturally turned V: 391-392, 393, 400;
VI: 40;71.
interestingly enough, these two lines of upon the appropriate measures to 27
CD 1621, II:29-30, 76-77,
enquiry were dealt with for quite some induce monetary inflows. Since the 137; IV: 19, 97-98, 104-105;
time as roughly distinct issues. Both connection between scarce money and V: 3-4, 261, 331, 439-440,
subjects were eventually brought to the the cloth trade crisis was not accepted 456-458, 524-525; VI: 16.
houses attention, and the same pattern by everyone, the debates witnessed a 28
CD 1621, III: 371.

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 477

slight polarization of opinions. On the on the adverse effects that international


one hand, there were those who argued monetary mechanisms could exert over
that strictly monetary phenomena England, independently of any trade
such as international imbalances in the processes whatsoever30. But, although
gold/silver ratio and the low rates paid it gathered important supporters, this
for silver in the English mint were proposition did not go unchallenged.
behind the liquidity crisis; on the other, Those concerned with the balance of
some of the members believed that the trade argued that, quite the contrary,
answer to Englands economic troubles the disrupted state of the cloth trade
was to be found on the decayed state was the true problem responsible for
of the balance of trade. As a general the economic troubles, including the
rule, these opposing lines of reasoning scarcity of money31. Among the latter
were not clearly and unequivocally group, the most prominent voice was
presented, being frequently mixed with undoubtedly that of Sir Lionel Cranfield
Both Roe and Digges had
29

been prominent figures in the other arguments of a different nature. (1575-1645)32.


East India trade during the Both of them, however, could find their The concept of a balance of
1610s Digges as a member champions voices who were willing trade was widely used in parliament at
of the companys directing to emphasize the dominance of one or the time, and the idea that commercial
committee and one of its
public speakers, and Roe as the other of these mechanisms over the imbalances had to be compensated
one of the main agents behind economic process. with monetary flows was certainly not
the consolidation of Englands Among those who favored the new at the time. However, what is
diplomatic ties in that area.
monetary interpretation, the most interesting is that certain members
30
CD 1621, II: 138-9;
vocal were members involved to a especially Cranfield were absolutely
III: 45-46, 48-49;
IV: 149-150, 358; greater or lesser degree with the East convinced of the overbearing influence
V: 314, 491-492, 517, 526-527. India Company, as well as partisans of exerted by the balance of trade over
31
CD 1621, IV: 230, 394; other regulated companies such as the the international monetary system.
V: 492, 517; VI: 296. French Company and the Merchant Whenever any of the more monetary-
32
Cranfields life and career, Adventurers. Influential people like Sir oriented minds would try to argue their
both as a merchant and an
officer, have been documented
Thomas Roe and Sir Dudley Digges29 case, Cranfield would quickly seize the
in detail in Tawney (1958) and tried to shift the blame off their own word and stress the lessons taught by
Prestwich (1966). groups shoulders, and focused instead the customs books, stating that

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478 Merchants and councilors

Wee are to assure ourselves that the want 6_ Merchants and councillors
of money is because trade is sick, and as
Lionel Cranfields firm belief in the
longe as trade is sick, wee shalbee in want
of money33. primordial influence exerted by the
balance of trade over economic
More importantly, Cranfield processes raises some interesting issues.
was in a formidable position to do so. Could it be that, through his position
When the 1621 parliamentary session as an influential public figure, Cranfield
started, he was already recognized as contributed more to the dissemination
the crowns main economic advisor. of a favorable-balance-of-trade
During the summer adjournment, he doctrine during the early Stuart period
would finally be made Lord Treasurer, than economic pamphleteers such as
and thus become arguably the most Thomas Mun? To what extent could
powerful and influential court officer, the abstract leanings of an important
apart from Buckingham. Under these minister influence the course of public
circumstances, his opinions, in all policy? These are intriguing questions,
likelihood, carried substantial weight. to which no easy answer can be found.
No solid agreement was ever But Cranfields position at the time
reached in parliament regarding the suggests yet another possibility. As the
merits of each of these opposed merchant and financier who rose to
standpoints. But despite their failure to occupy an all-important public office,
reach a consensual interpretation of the Cranfield must have exerted a powerful
crisis, members of parliament in 1621 stimulus over those merchants who
brought to the forefront the difficulties thought they had something relevant
surrounding the integration of to say about economic matters. The
money and international trade mere prospect of being heard by a Lord
in a coherent explanation of Treasurer who was not only interested,
economic processes. In so doing, they but could actually understand what
provided economic writers with a they had to say, must have motivated
theme they would insistently pursue reflection and analytical effort in people
throughout the remainder who would normally follow political
of the decade. wrangles only at a distance. 33
CD 1621, VI: 296.

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 479

Mun and Cranfield had business beyond us, as you are distant from us.
connections dating back to the latters (1623, p. 5).

days in the City, and it seems reasonable Even Malynes tried to reach
to suppose that Mun would feel the balance-of-trade oriented treasurer,
much more comfortable approaching going so far as to ask permission
Cranfield than Dorset, Suffolk, or in a letter to dedicate his book Lex
Mandeville34. Moreover, this was a two- Mercatoria to him35. The book was
way avenue, for after parliament was printed in 1622 without this
over Mun was called to be a member dedication, for reasons that one can
of the Privy Council committee for only speculate about.
examining the decay of cloth trade,
and later of the standing commission
7_ Concluding remarks
for trade. Cranfield had been involved
a few years earlier in an attempt to Economic pamphleteers thus held a
actually compile Englands balance of close relationship with the political
trade, and that was duly remembered by society at large. The analysis developed
Misselden when he dedicated The Circle in this paper has shown how the
of Commerce to the Lord Treasurer: economic literature which came up
during the 1620s responded to the
When the eye of heaven, in the eye of the intellectual challenges raised during
king, had looked upon you, and picked you
the parliamentary debates in 1621. Far
out, and placed you in a higher orb; you
34
Thomas Sackville, 1st from being idle abstract speculators, or
were first seene in this circle, of the balance
Earl of Dorset (1536-1608), of trade. Other faire pieces you had, but
even mere pleaders for vested interests,
Thomas Howard, 1st Earl
this was your master piece, because all the economic writers such as Gerard de
of Suffolk (1561-1626), and Malynes and Thomas Mun showed
Henry Montagu, Viscount rest had reference unto this
Mandeville, later 1st Earl of (Misselden, 1623, p. 3). acute awareness about the most pressing
Manchester (1563-1642) had economic topics of their time, and the
Shortly thereafter, Misselden
all formerly occupied the blueprint offered by the public debates
office of Lord Treasurer earlier clearly expresses these mixed feelings of
which surrounded Englands economic
in James Is reign. flattery and fellowship when he says
troubles give us a glimpse of how
35
Centre for Kentish Studies:
Sackville Manuscripts, for as you were of us, and now you are vital these issues must have seemed to
U269/1/OE461. farre above us; so can you judge, as farre those involved. Moreover, the main

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480 Merchants and councilors

vehicles for the spreading of ideas


were not necessarily formal tracts and
pamphlets; debates and investigations
held in the public sphere did much
to further economic insight and
channel intellectual efforts into specific
directions. In this sense, there is much to
be learned about the ways in which early
17th century Englishmen understood
and represented economic phenomena
by studying the dynamics involved in
the 1620s debates of which the more
abstract formulations of economic
writers are only the closing chapter.

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Carlos Eduardo Suprinyak 481

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