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The Chinese Market Economy, 1000-1500

Author(s):Liu, William Guanglin
Reviewer(s):Pomeranz, Kenneth

Published by EH.Net (June 2017)

William Guanglin Liu, The Chinese Market Economy, 1000-1500. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2015.  xviii + 374 pp., $30 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-4384-5568-6.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Kenneth Pomeranz, Department of Economics, University of Chicago.

William Guanglin Liu has written a valuable book on a big, important, topic: the general trajectory of the Chinese economy from roughly 1000-1650.  (The title says 1500, but the argument goes beyond that date.) The research is excellent, and the author comes up with some original and inventive ways to use his data.  At times, however, it frames its arguments in overly stark forms, and makes claims that go beyond what it can prove.  But despite these concerns, this is a book well worth reading, which will stimulate very useful debate on fundamental questions of Chinese economic history.

As a first approximation, Liu’s theses are hard to argue with.  The author shows that China experienced very impressive growth during the Song dynasty (ca. 960-1279), a period in which there was also a striking expansion of the role of markets in Chinese society.  He also show that the policies of Zhu Yuanzhang (r. 1368-1398), founder of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) dealt a major blow to China’s economy by trying to resurrect an idealized world of largely autarkic and demonetized villages.  It took a long time for China to recover from this: in contrast to many scholars who think that by 1500 China had returned to a market economy generating at least a Song level of prosperity, Liu argues that this did not happen until at least 1600, and quite likely not even then.  Moving beyond China, Liu then suggests that this historical case shows the centrality of market institutions for stimulating economic growth, beginning at a very low level of development.

The first three of these points — the marketization and relative prosperity of Song times, and the damaging effects of early Ming policies — are broadly accepted.  The first controversy concerns matters of degree: how prosperous? How marketized?  How big and lasting a blow did the early Ming inflict?  A second set of controversies centers on causation, and thus on the role of other factors.  For instance, Liu says very little about the many technological innovations during the Song — including the invention of gunpowder, the magnetic compass, paper money, and the importation (from Southeast Asia) of early-ripening rice — except to note that some of the most important innovations did not diffuse rapidly.  Some others would assign those innovations (and some that began in the Tang, such as printing) a good deal of credit for the growth that occurred in the Song, and continued into the Yuan (1279-1368) in some parts of the empire. While we will never have the data necessary to arrive at a precise allocation of growth to different factors, there is still room for further productive discussion about relative weights. Likewise, it is possible to show that the Mongol conquests of the mid-thirteenth century had a devastating impact in some places (especially North China and Sichuan), and very little elsewhere (the Middle and Lower Yangzi Valley, and in the far south); the relative weight of those different regional stories is still unsettled, and matters greatly in whether Liu is justified in placing an overwhelming emphasis on early Ming anti-market policies in explaining an apparent stagnation or decline in living standards between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries.

One of the book’s contributions is to concentrate in one place the arguments for transformational change concentrated in the Song period, and followed by a later reversal: a once popular view (e.g. Elvin 1973) that has lately given way to a tale of more gradual progress across several centuries (Smith and Von Glahn 2003).  Making the best of flawed data, Liu estimates population growth of 0.92% per year between 980 and 1109, a remarkable rate for a pre-modern society.  And drawing on a large body of secondary scholarship, he points to considerable evidence for changes in agriculture — capital deepening, especially in the form of massive investments in irrigation, and increasing use of oxen – which should, logically, have raised agricultural yields significantly, allowing a population that had more than tripled to eat as well or better than its forebears.

Unfortunately, however, we lack much good data on actual yields in the Song.  Liu notes that Dwight Perkins’ well-known estimates are (like most others for this period) inferences from agricultural rents, and that much of the land in question was land used to support schools; he further argues that school land was often rented out at below-market rates, depressing these inferred yields, and that the land which families donated to schools was often their least fertile property, anyway.  Meanwhile several of Perkins’ later data points come from agricultural handbooks, and probably represent optimal results.  Thus Liu argues, the impression of slow but steady growth across centuries that emerges from Perkins’ highly influential work may well be a statistical illusion. He prefers the older idea of a Song boom followed by little progress in subsequent dynasties.   Building on work by Zhou Shengchan, Liu tries to work backwards from data on population and average food consumption to estimate thirteenth century yields in the Lower Yangzi region; the results vary considerably among prefectures, but are generally near the high end of our range of estimates for any period before the arrival of modern farm inputs.  They would therefore leave little room for continued growth in the Yuan, Ming, or even Qing.

If verified, this would be a very important finding, but I have my doubts.  In part, my doubts come from personal experience, as adopting a similar methodology for estimating eighteenth century output of various crops led to extremely high estimates.[1]  There are also technical problems with some of this data (particularly in Table 7.8), though probably not big enough to change the results dramatically.[2]   The most we can say with strong confidence, I think, is that some Song farmers achieved yields near the pre-modern maximum, and more and more of their neighbors caught up over time — though whether this happened over decades or centuries remains very uncertain.

For most non-food items, we simply lack the data to generate serious estimates of per capita consumption in Song times; and while anecdotal evidence of rising consumption exists, Liu prefers not to rely on it.  Instead, he relies on an estimate of real wages for unskilled workers to show that living standards in the Song were as high as they ever got in China prior to the twentieth century.  Because we have not found for China any very long series of wages for privately-hired workers in a relatively standardized occupation in a particular place — like the long runs of wages for construction workers on European cathedrals and colleges, for instance — Liu constructs a long-run series of military wages, for which data are comparatively rich; and because we lack data for enough commodities to construct a long-run price index, he uses grain prices as the denominator for his series.  The resulting series peaks at its very beginning (in 1004) and fluctuates wildly while declining overall for the next roughly 170 years. It is then relatively stable until another steep drop in the early Ming, and recovers slightly in the late Ming before declining again in the early Qing (Figure E-1).

Liu has done us a considerable service by piecing this data series together, but as a proxy for the living standards of ordinary people it must be taken with a very large grain of salt.  Governments did not engage soldiers through a true labor market, nor did the institutional setting of military recruitment or the conditions of being a soldier (aside from the wage) remain constant over time.  Moreover, even if we had a reliable private sector wage series, it would not necessarily follow that this was a reliable basis for estimating popular living standards, much less per capita GDP, as Liu argues (p. 133).  Wage earners were never more than 15 percent of the labor force in late imperial China, and most farmers either owned their own land or had a relatively secure tenancy (especially in Qing times).  Consequently, they earned far more than unskilled laborers did — perhaps three times as much on average, according to preliminary estimates I have made for the eighteenth century (and for the early twentieth, where the data are better). (Among other things, this is confirmed by the fact that tenants and smallholders could support families, while unskilled laborers could rarely afford to marry. And for GDP per capita, we would also have to average in the earnings of well-to-do families.  Last but not least, if the ratio between wages and average farm earnings changed over time — as it might well have, given a gradual strengthening of tenant usufruct rights over the course of the late empire — even a much better wage series might not tell us what we want to know about general living standards.

But if Liu does not prove his most ambitious claims, he does succeed in proving many of his smaller empirical claims.  In particular, the evidence for relative prosperity in the Song and a sharp decline in the early Ming seems too much to explain away, even if one can raise doubts about each individual measurement.  The money supply contracted very sharply in early Ming times, followed by the introduction of government notes (for state payments) that soon became almost worthless; customs receipts (and presumably long-distance trade declined; and the wage decline between ca. 1050 and ca. 1400 is too big to be explained entirely by data problems.  A separate estimate, later in the book, suggests that per capita income in North China might have fallen by as much as half between 1121 (on the eve of the Song loss of the North) and 1420, though output per capita seems to have remained stable in the Yangzi Delta.  Liu also makes a strong case that Song people were freer than their early Ming counterparts, and perhaps even less unequal economically (though Song writing shows so much worry about inequality that one is tempted to believe there was fire behind so much smoke).

This brings us to the problem of explaining these differences.  Liu provides a straightforward answer: Song reliance on the market worked while the early suppression of it backfired.  Moreover, this represents a timeless truth, most recently vindicated by the sharp contrast between the Maoist and post-Maoist periods.  Here. I think, Liu lets his argument outrun his evidence, focusing too exclusively on one broad-brush contrast.

It would be hard to deny that the increased influence of market principles in the Song stimulated growth: above all, probably, the agricultural growth of the south, which required significant investment (especially for water management) that would surely have been more modest had earlier dynasties’ restrictions of private landowning remained in force; and given the surpluses that southern agriculture soon generate, and the relatively easy transportation that its rivers offered, impressive commercial and urban growth soon followed.  Since the coastline south of the Yangzi also has far more good sites for ports than the coastline north of the Yangzi, the southward shift of China’s economic center of gravity was also propitious for foreign trade, which boomed under both the Song and the (Mongol) Yuan.

Even in the south, however, the state provided essential infrastructure (though its role declined over time), and often played a very active role in foreign trade. In the north, meanwhile, both the enormous system of canals built by the Song government and the huge concentration of demand in the capital region were crucial, both for consumer markets and the growth of a precocious iron industry stimulated by unprecedented levels of military spending.   A variety of inventions also must have contributed something to the robust growth of the Song period.

Nor, I think, would many people deny that the early Ming attempt to return to local autarky had serious and lasting negative consequences. But we should bear in mind that the North, where Liu’s decline in estimated output between 1121 and 1420 was concentrated, suffered a number of  major shocks in this period, all of which bypassed or fell much more lightly on the south (except for Sichuan). These included conquests by three sets of northern invaders (including, most devastatingly, the Mongols); the prolonged turmoil that toppled the Mongols and brought the Ming to power; a civil war between supporters of two Ming heirs; and repeated, enormous, Yellow River floods, including two that dramatically shifted the river’s course (out of six such incidents in the last 4,000 years) and made it impossible to rebuild the Song-era canal system.   Ming policies certainly did great damage, too, but the relative size of these setbacks needs more detailed analysis before we can accept Liu’s almost exclusive emphasis on the Ming founder’s anti-market policies.

I would also caution against lumping all the parts of Ming anti-commercialism under the heading “command economy,” and comparing it to an ideal type of “market economy,” as Liu often does (e.g. pp. 1, 4-12, 134-136, 197, 199).  No pre-modern state could maintain the vigorous intervention needed to run a true command economy for long.  The Ming may have been more effective than most, but their massive redistribution of property and forced migration was over by about 1425, with land and labor again being exchanged in private markets;[3] the system of artisan conscription unraveled during the fifteenth century; foreign trade outside the official tribute system gradually returned; and so on.  This did not mark the end of Ming anti-commercialism as an attitude, or of its effects: among other problems, the dynasty never tried to provide the money supply that the private economy needed, saddling its subjects with costs that lingered for centuries.[4]   But even if this failure was originally part of an aggressive state’s attempt at command economy, it soon evolved into something else: the failure of a relatively weak state to undertake even those interventions that could have benefited both itself and the private economy.  The succeeding Qing dynasty (1644-1912) certainly had no dream of a command economy, and often (though not always) sought to encourage markets;  and the state’s share of GDP may have slipped as low as 2 percent, compared to at least 10 percent and perhaps as much as 20 percent at the peak of Song military-fiscalism.[5]  Yet the Qing provided the most stable bronze currency — the money used for most everyday transactions — China had ever known, while uncoined silver provided a reasonably adequate currency for big transactions; and it mobilized impressive resources for various physiocratic projects, from water control to grain price stabilization to promotion of best practices in agriculture and handicrafts. (That it spent much less, proportionately, on its military than the Song or Ming had facilitated this combination of low extraction and significant services.[6])  And for about a century and a half, they presided over impressive demographic and economic growth, Interestingly,  three prominent economic historians — Loren Brandt, Debin Ma, and Thomas Rawski, none of them remotely anti-market — have argued that the principal reason why Qing economic development was not even better was that the government was too minimalist: that a small government spread across a vast area was unable to prevent all sorts of local actors — from bandits to local elites employing private enforcers to rogue government clerks — from interfering with local markets and property rights.[7]  Such interference was clearly a problem in the late Ming as well, though it is not precisely measurable in either period.  It does, however, remind us that a simple contrast between “market economy” and “command economy” does not give us enough tools to understand the different relationships between state and market in imperial China, or anywhere else.

Nonetheless, the book does an impressive job of demonstrating how much dynamism the marketizing economy of the Song generated, and how much of those gains had been lost by the mid-Ming, at least in certain regions.  The author’s efforts to quantify trends that many others have been content to describe qualitatively are impressive; this is a book where the appendices are often as thought-provoking as the text.  The results are not as revolutionary or dispositive as the book sometimes suggests, but they will stimulate productive debates for years to come.


1. Lacking data on the acreage devoted to non-grain crops in certain areas, I decided to estimate how much land must have been devoted to non-grain crops, relying on generally accepted numbers for population, grain consumption, and imports, and then multiply the acreage left over by conservative estimates of yields for the non-grain crops.  The results came out so high that I cut them in every way I could think of — including, in one case, arbitrarily reducing the estimate of non-grain acreage by half. The results I came up with were still at the high end of the existing range of estimates, or in some cases significantly beyond it.  I am not ready to toss out those estimates completely, and would be happy to see this approach vindicated; but I am inclined to be cautious here, especially since Liu has not made the same efforts to depress his results as I did.

2. The conversions from Zhou’s numbers, which mostly use Yuan dynasty measurements, is complicated. Trying to reproduce his results for one prefecture after an email exchange with me, Prof. Liu got a figure about 1 percent lower.

3. A rare set of household-level records, for instance, shows a family with modest landholdings in Huizhou engaged in no less than 18 land purchases or sales between 1391 (not long after the Ming came to power) and 1432.  See Von Glahn 2016: 291-293.

4. Von Glahn 1996 and Kuroda 2000 suggest that this was finally addressed with moderate success in the Qing.

5. Perkins 1967: 492; Wang 1973: 133 for the Qing; Golas 1988: 93-94 comes up with 24 percent for the Song, but admits that this seems unlikely.  Hartwell 1988: 79-80 suggests a bit over 10 percent.

6. On military spending compare Hartmann 2013: 29 with Zhou 2000: 36-38.

7. Brandt Ma and Rawski 2014: 60, 76, and 79.


Brandt, Loren, Debin Ma and Thomas Rawski. 2014.  “From Divergence to Convergence: Reevaluating the History behind China’s Long Economic Boom,” Journal of Economic Literature 52(1):45-123.

Elvin, Mark. 1973.  The Pattern of the Chinese Past.  Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Goals, Peter, 1988. “The Sung Economy: How Big?”  Bulletin of Sung-Yuan Studies 20: 89-94.

Hartmann, Charles. 2013.  “Sung Government and Politics,” in John Chafee and Dennis Twitchett, eds., The Cambridge History of China, Volume V Part 2: Sung China, 960-1279 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press):19-133.

Hartwell, Robert. 1988. The Imperial Treasuries: Finance and Power in Song China,” Bulletin of Sung-Yuan Studies 20: 18-89

Kuroda Akinobu. 2000. “Another Monetary Economy: The Case of Traditional China,” in A.J. H. Latham and Heita Kawakatsu, eds, Asia-Pacific Dynamism, 1500-2000 (London: Routledge): 187-198.

Perkins, Dwight. 1967. “Government as an Obstacle to Industrialization: The Case of Nineteenth-Century China,” Journal of Economic History 27 (4): 478–92

Perkins, Dwight. 1969. Agricultural Development in China, 1368-1968.  Chicago: Aldine Publishing.

Smith, Paul, and Richard Von Glahn, eds., 2003. The Song-Yuan-Ming Transition in Chinese History.  Cambridge:  Harvard Asia Center.

Von Glahn, Richard. 1996.  Fountain of Fortune: Money and Monetary Policy in China, 1000-1700.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

Von Glahn, Richard. 2016.  The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wang Yeh-chien. 1973. Land Taxation in Imperial China, 1750-1911.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Zhou Yumin. 2000.  Wan Qing caizheng yu shehui bianqian (Late Qing Fiscal Administration and Social Change).   Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe.

Kenneth Pomeranz is University Professor of History at the University of Chicago.  His best known book is The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, 2000).  His most recent publication is “The Data We Have vs. the Data We Want: A Comment on the State of the Divergence Debate,” Pt. I and Pt II New Economics Papers (June 8, 2017) Forthcoming publications include “Water, Energy, and Politics: Chinese Industrial Revolutions in Global Environmental Perspective,” in Gareth Austin, ed., Economic Development and Environmental History in the Anthropocene (forthcoming, 2017: Bloomsbury Academic).

Copyright (c) 2017 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (June 2017). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):Medieval
16th Century
17th Century

The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century

Author(s):von Glahn, Richard
Reviewer(s):Deng, Kent G.

Published by EH.Net (June 2016)

Richard von Glahn, The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. xiv + 461 pp. $40 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-107-03056-5.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Kent G. Deng, Department of Economic History, London School of Economics.

This book carries on a great scholarly tradition in three dimensions: a macro-level outlook (taking a huge land mass as a single unit), a long-term vision (using one millennium as a basic unit), and a critical synthesis (examining the fields of history from a commanding height) — something that is best suited for study of remarkably long-lasting civilizations and economies like China and yet has become less available (or, to put it bluntly, less popular) among economic historians in the recent decades. One should be considered fortunate to be able to master one such a dimension. To have all three in one is a heroic undertaking. Not only that, the great care that has been taken in selecting and evaluating a wide spectrum of historical factors/facts and views in the on-going scholarly debate and then in weaving them together in a consistent and coherent fashion makes for a masterpiece of scholarship. In this new book, Richard von Glahn of the University of California, Los Angeles, has achieved just that.

The book’s main achievement is three-fold. First, the author gives qualitative data a deserved fair share rather than treating them as inferior evidence. In doing so, a good balance is maintained between quantifiable and non-quantifiable evidence in Chinese history. This is vital for an evenhanded understanding of the China over the very long term. The author’s emphasis on the nature, function, evolution and impact of the imperial state is deeply rooted in such an approach.

Second, the book is based on  “real data” from China’s written records instead of “pseudo-data” made of often dodgy estimates or, even worse, meaningless guesstimates. Here, the author’s unmitigated integrity, as well as his elevated proficiency in handling historical records written in the classical Chinese language, becomes most noticeable. With it, the author demonstrates what a good historical study requires: nonnegotiable training in history plus encyclopedic knowledge. The message from the author is that the heavy lifting in studying and understanding the basics in Chinese history cannot be and should not be skipped.

Third, despite the potentially dull nature of the subject area (i.e. an economic history of the long run) and the dense text and historical data (110 maps, figures and tables), the book is surprisingly an easy read compared to its counterparts. In addition, each chapter is self-contained which makes it highly suited for a layperson or a student.

Structurally, this book has ten substantial chapters, organized with a new periodization according to China’s economic performance rather than the old-fashioned pattern of regime changes from unification to fragmentation to re-unification and then to re-fragmentation (commonly known as fenjiu bi he, hejiu bi fen). What really mattered was China’s economic performance, with a great deal of flexibility in society. After a comprehensive review of the literature in the introduction (covering scholarship in English, Chinese and Japanese languages), the book moves to technology (chapter 1), empire-building (chapters 2-3), maturity in institutions (chapters 4-6), maturity in the economy (chapters 7-8), and ends with crises and challenges from the outside world (chapter 9).

Although the author decides not to offer final conclusions or remarks, the main argument put forward is that despite numerous changes in the state and society, economic life adapted and continued. People’s choices were highly rational — in the short run at least. In explaining China’s comparative “slowing down,” the usual clichés of “Oriental despotism,” “Confucian conservativism,” “dynastic cycle,” “rice economy,” and “high-level equilibrium trap” are not resorted to by the author. Even “Chinese-ness” is not considered anything mysteriously inferior (pace Max Weber). Rather, the author provides us with a new insight: China’s growth trajectories in the long run were either state-led or state-dependent. The market, and with it the general population, played but a limited role. In the Marxian jargon, therefor the “superstructure” determined the “economic base” in China.

For the interest of global or trans-national historians, von Glahn convincingly demonstrates that most elements that have been seen as unique in pre-modern Western Europe or Japan were present in pre-modern China, including technology, feudalism, the fiscal-military state, mercantilism, markets and capitalism. The only difference was that they appeared earlier in China. Such observation resonates the more radical views of Joseph Needham (Science and Civilization in China, Cambridge 1954-2015) and John Hobson (Eastern Origins of Western Civilization, Cambridge, 2004).

This is the kind of book that will almost certainly enjoy a long shelf life, like some of the most recognizable titles on China’s long-term history — such as Joseph Needham’s The Grand Titration (London, 1969), Mark Elvin’s The Pattern of the Chinese Past (Stanford, 1973), and Kang Chao’s Man and Land in Chinese History (Stanford, 1986). I strongly recommend this book to students of Chinese history, East Asian history and world/global history.

Recent publications by Kent G. Deng ( include Mapping China’s Growth and Development in the Long Run, 221 BC to 2020 (London: World Scientific Press and Imperial College Press, 2015) and (with Patrick O’Brien) “Establishing Statistical Foundations of a Chronology for the Great Divergence: A Survey and Critique of the Primary Sources for the Construction of Relative Wage Levels for Ming-Qing China,” Economic History Review.

Copyright (c) 2016 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (June 2016). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):Ancient
16th Century
17th Century
18th Century
19th Century

American Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501-1650

Author(s):Hamilton, Earl J.
Reviewer(s):Munro, John

Classic Reviews in Economic History

Earl J. Hamilton, American Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501-1650. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934. xii + 428 pp.

Review Essay by John Munro, Department of Economics, University of Toronto.

Hamilton and the Price Revolution: A Revindication of His Tarnished Reputation and of a Modified Quantity Theory

Hamilton and the Quantity Theory Explanation of Inflation

As Duke University’s website for the “Earl J. Hamilton Papers on the Economic History of Spain, 1351-1830” so aptly states: Hamilton “helped to pioneer the field of quantitative economic history during a career that spanned 50 years.”[1]   Certainly his most important publication in this field is the 1934 monograph that is the subject of this “classic review.”  It provided the first set of concrete, reliable annual data on both the imports of gold and silver bullion from Spain’s American colonies — principally from what is now Bolivia (Vice Royalty of Peru) and Mexico (New Spain) — from 1503 to 1660 (when bullion registration and thus the accounts cease); and on prices (including wages) in Spain (Old and New Castile, Andalusia, Valencia), for the 150 year period from 1501 to 1650.[2]  His object was to validate the Quantity Theory of Money: in seeking to demonstrate that the influx of American silver was chiefly, if not entirely, responsible for the inflation of much of the Price Revolution era, from ca.  1520 to ca. 1650: but, principally only for the specific period of ca. 1540 to ca. 1600.  Many economic historians (myself included, regrettably) have misunderstood Hamilton on this point, concerning both the origins and conclusion of the Price Revolution.  Of course the Quantity Theory of Money, even in its more refined modern guise, is no longer a fashionable tool in economic history; and thus only a minority of us today espouse a basically monetary explanation for the European Price Revolution (ca. 1515/20-1650) — though no such explanation can be purely monetary.[3]

If inflations had been frequent in European economic history, from the twelfth century to the present, the Price Revolution was unique in the persistence and duration of inflation over a period of at least 130 years.[4]  Furthermore, if commodity money — i.e., gold and especially silver specie — was not the sole monetary factor that explains the Price Revolution that commodity money certainly played a relatively much greater role than it did in the subsequent inflations (of much shorter duration) from the mid-eighteenth century to the present.  The role of specie, and specifically Spanish-American silver, in “causing” the Price Revolution was a commonplace in Classical Economics and Hamilton cites Adam Smith’s statement in _The Wealth of Nations_ (p. 191) that “the discovery of abundant mines of America seems to have been the sole cause of this diminution in the value of silver in proportion to that of corn [grain].”[5]

 The Comparative Roles of Spanish-American Silver and Coinage Debasements: The Bodin Thesis

According to Hamilton (p. 283) — and indeed to most authorities to this very day — the very first scholar to make this quantity-theory link between the influx of American “treasure” and the Price Revolution was the renowned French philosopher Jean Bodin, in his 1568 response to a 1566 treatise by the royal councilor Jean Cherruyt de Malestroit on the explanations for the then quite evident rise in French prices over the previous several decades.  Malestroit had contended that coinage debasements were the chief culprit — as indeed they most certainly had been in the periodic inflations of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.[6] Bodin responded by dismissing those arguments and by contending that the growing influx of silver from the Spanish Americas was the primary cause of that inflation.[7]

Hamilton (in chapter 13) was therefore astounded to find, after voluminous and meticulous research in many Spanish treatises, letters, and other relevant documents, that no Spanish writer of the sixteenth century had voiced similar opinions, all evidently ignorant of Bodin’s views.  Hamilton, however, had neglected to find (as Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson did, much later) one such Spanish treatise, produced in 1556 — i.e., twelve years before Bodin — in which Azpilcueta Navarra, a cleric of the Salamanca School, noted that:  “even in Spain, in times when money was scarcer, saleable goods and labor were given for very much less than after the discovery of the Indies, which flooded the country with gold and silver.”[8]

Hamilton also erred, if forgivably so, in two other respects.  First, in utilizing what were then, and in many cases still are, imperfect price indexes for many countries — France, England, Germany, Italy (but not for the Low Countries) — Hamilton (1934, pp. 205-10) concluded that the rise in the general level of prices during the Price Revolution was the greatest in Spain.  In fact, more recent research, based on the Phelps Brown and Hopkins (1956) Composite Price Index for England and the Van der Wee (1975) Composite Price Index (hereafter: CPI) for Brabant, in the southern Low Countries,  reveals the opposite to be true.  If we adopt a common base of 1501-10 = 100, in comparing the behavior of the price levels in Spain, England, and Brabant, for the period 1511-1650, we find that the Hamilton’s CPI for Spain rose from a quinquennial mean of 98.98 in 1511-15 to one of 343.36 in 1646-50 (for silver-based prices only: a 3.47 fold rise); in southern England, the CPI rose from a quinquennial mean of 103.08 in 1511-15 to one of 697.54 (a 6.77 fold rise); and in Brabant, the CPI rose from a quinquennial mean of 114.80 in 1511-15 to one of 845.07 (a 7.36 fold rise).[9] Both the Phelps Brown and Hopkins and the Van der Wee price indexes are, it must be noted, weighted, with roughly the same weights (80 percent foodstuffs in the former and 74 percent in the latter).  Hamilton, while fully admitting that “only index numbers weighted according to the expenditures of the average family accurately measure changes in the cost of living,” was forced to use a simple unweighted arithmetic mean (or equally weighted for all commodities), for he was unable to find any household expenditure budgets or any other reliable guides to produce such a weighted index.[10]

Undoubtedly, however, the principal if not the only explanation for the differences between the three sets of price indexes — to explain why the Spanish rose the least and the Brabantine the most — is the one offered by Malestroit: namely, coinage debasements.  Spain, unlike almost all other European countries of this era, underwent no debasements of the gold and silver coinages (none from 1497 to 1686),[11] but in 1599 the new Spanish king Philip III (1598-1621) did introduce a purely copper “vellon” coinage, a topic that requires a separate and very necessary analysis.  The England of Henry VIII (1509-1547) is famous — or infamous — for his “Great Debasement.”  He had begun modestly in 1526, by debasing Edward IV’s silver coinage by 11.11% (reducing its weight and silver contents from 0.719 to 0.639 grams of fine silver); but in 1542, he debased the silver by another 23.14% (to 0.491 grams of fine silver).  When the Great Debasement had reached its nadir under his successor (Northumberland, regent for Edward VI), in June 1553, the fine silver contents of the penny had been reduced (in both weight and fineness) to just 0.108 grams of fine silver: an overall reduction in the silver content of 83.1% from the 1526 coinage.  In November 1560, Elizabeth restored the silver coinage to traditional sterling fineness (92.5% fine silver) and much of the weight: so that the penny now contained 0.480 grams of fine silver (i.e., 75.1% of the silver in the 1526 coinage).  The English silver coinage remained untouched until July 1601, when its weight and fine silver contents were reduced by a modest 3.23%.  Thereafter the English silver coinage remained untouched until 1817 (when the silver contents were reduced by another 6.06%).  Thus for the entire period of the Price Revolution, from ca. 1520 to 1650, the English silver coinage lost 35.5% of its silver contents.[12] In the southern Low Countries (including Brabant), the silver coinage was debased — in both fineness and weight — a total of twelve times from 1521 to 1644: from 0.33 grams to 0.17 grams of fine silver in the penny, for an overall loss of 48.5%.[13]

 A New Form of Debasement: The New “Fractional” Copper or _Vellon_ Coinages in Spain and Elsewhere

In terms of the general theme of coinage debasement, a very major difference between Spain and these other two countries, from 1599, was the issue of a purely copper coinage called _vellon_, to which Hamilton devotes two major chapters.[14]  Virtually all countries in late medieval and early modern Europe issued a series of petty or low-denomination “fractional” coins — in various fractions of the penny, chiefly to enable the populace to buy such low-priced commodities as bread and beer (or wine).  But in all later-medieval countries the issues of the petty, fractional coinage almost always accounted for a very small proportion of total mint outputs (well under 5% of the aggregate value in Flanders).[15] They were commonly known as _monnaie noire_ (_zwart geld_ in Flemish): i.e., black money, because they contained so much copper, a base metal.  Indeed all coins– both silver and gold — always required at least some copper content as a hardening agent, so that the coins did not suffer too much erosion or breakage in circulation.

The term “debasement” is in fact derived from the fact that the most common mechanism for reducing the silver contents of a coin had been to replace it with more and more copper, a great temptation for so many princes who often derived substantial seigniorage revenues from the increased mint outputs that debasements induced (in both reminting current coin and in attracting bullion from abroad).  In this respect, England was an exception — apart from the era of the Great Debasement (1542-1553) — for its government virtually always maintained sterling silver fineness (92.5% silver, 7.5% copper), and reduced the silver contents for all denominations equally, by reducing the size and weight of the coin.  In continental Europe, the extent of the debasement, whether by fineness or by weight, or by both together, did vary by the denomination (to compensate for the greater labor costs in minting the greater number of lower-valued coins); but the petty “black money” coins — also known (in French) as _billon_, linguistically related to _vellon_, always contained some silver, and always suffered the same or roughly similar proportional reduction of silver as other denominations during debasements until 1543.  In that year, the government of the Habsburg Netherlands was the first to break that link: in issuing Europe’s first all-copper coin.  France followed suit with an all copper _denier_ (1 d tournois) in 1577; but England did not do so until 1672.[16]

Hamilton gives the erroneous impression that Spain (i.e., Castile) was the first to do so, in issuing an all copper _vellon_ coin in 1599.  Previously, Spanish kings (at least from 1471) had issued a largely copper fractional coinage called _blancas_ , with a nominal money-of-account value of 0.5 maravedí, but with a very small amount of silver — to convince the public that it was indeed precious-metal “money.”  The _blanca_ issued in 1471 had a silver fineness of 10 grains or 3.47% (weighing 1.107g).[17] In 1497, that fineness was reduced to 7 grains (2.43% fine); in 1552, to 5.5 grains (1.909% fine); in 1566, to 4 grains (1.39% fine).  In 1597, Philip II (1556-1598) had agreed to the issue of a maravedí coin itself, with, however, only 1 grain of silver (0.34% fine), weighing 1.576g.; but whether any were issued is not clear.[18]

Hamilton commends Philip II on his resolute stance on the issue _vellon_ coinages: for, in “believing that it could be maintained at parity only by limitation of its quantity to that required for change and petty transactions, he was exceedingly careful to restrict the supply.”[19] That is a very prescient comment, in almost exactly stating the principle of maintaining a sound system of fractional or petty coinage that Carlo Cipolla (1956) later enunciated,[20] in turn inspiring the recent monograph on this subject by Sargent and Velde (2002).[21] But neither of them gave Hamilton (1934) any credit for this fundamentally important observation, one whose great importance Hamilton deduced from the subsequent, seventeenth-century history of copper coinages in Spain.

Thus, as indicated earlier, in the year following the accession of the aforementioned Philip III, 1599, the government issued Spain’s first purely copper coin (minted at 140 per copper _marc_ of 230.047 g), and from 1602 at 280 per marc: i.e., reducing the weight by half from 1.643 g to 0.8216 g).[22] Certainly some of the ensuing inflation in seventeenth-century Spain, with a widening gap between nominal and silver-based prices, ranging from 4.0 percent in 1620 to 104.2 percent in 1650, has to be explained by such issues of a purely copper coinage.  Indeed, in Hamilton’s very pronounced view, the principal cause of inflation in the first half of the seventeenth century lay in such _vellon_ issues — more of a culprit than the continuing influx of Spanish American silver.[23]

If, however, we use Hamilton’s own CPI based on the actual nominal prices produced with the circulation of the _vellon_ copper coinage, from 1599-1600, we find that this index rose only 4.61 fold from the quinquennial mean of 1511-15 (98.98) to the mean of 1646-50 (457.07) — again well less than the overall rise of the English and Brabant composite price indexes.  Nevertheless, the differences between the silver-based and vellon-based price indexes in Spain for the first half of the seventeenth century are significant.  For the former (silver), the CPI rose from a mean of 320.98 in 1596-1600 to one of 343.36 in 1646-50, an overall rise of just 6.97%.  For the latter (vellon-based) index, the CPI rose to 457.09 in 1646-50, for a very substantial overall rise of 41.41%.  What certainly did now differentiate Spain from the other two, and indeed almost all other European countries in this period, is that in all the latter countries the purely copper petty coinage formed such a very much smaller, indeed minuscule, proportion of the total coined money supply.[24]

 The Evidence on Spanish-American Silver Mining and Silver Imports into Seville to 1600

What this discussion of the _vellon_ coinage makes crystal clear is that Hamilton did not attribute all of the inflation of the Price Revolution era to the “abundant mines of the Americas.”  Nevertheless many economic historians, after carefully examining Hamilton’s data on prices and imports of Spanish American bullion, noted — as Hamilton himself clearly demonstrated — that the Price Revolution had begun as early as the quinquennium 1516-20, long before, decades before, any significant amounts of Spanish American silver had reached Seville.  Virtually none was imported in the 1520s; and an annual mean of only 5,090.8 kg in 1531-35.[25]   The really substantial imports took place only after by far the two most important silver mines were brought into production: those of Potosi in “Peru” (modern-day Bolivia) in 1545, and Zacatecas, in Mexico, the following year, 1546.  From that quinquennium of 1546-50, mean annual silver imports into Seville rose from 18,698.8 kg to 273,704.5 kg in the quinquennium of 1591-95, marking the peak of the silver imports.  Between these two quinquennia, the total mined silver outputs of Potosi and Zacatecas (unknown to Hamilton) rose from an annual mean of 64,848.9 kg to one of 219,457.4 kg (indicating that silver was coming from other sources than just these two mines).[26] Even then, their production began to boom only with the application of the mercury amalgamation process (which Hamilton barely mentioned — only on p. 16), greatly aided by abundant local supplies of mercury — at Zacatecas, from about 1554-57, and at Potosi, from 1572.[27]

 The Alternative Explanation for the Price Revolution: Population Growth

If all this evidence does indeed prove that the influx of Spanish silver was certainly not the initial cause of the European Price Revolution, surely the data should indicate that the subsequent influx of that silver, especially from the 1550s, very likely did play a significant role in fueling an ongoing inflation. But so many of the anti-monetarist historians leapt to an alternative — and in my view — false conclusion that population growth was the initial and the prime-mover in “causing” the Price Revolution.[28] My objections to this demographic-oriented thesis are two-fold.

In the first place, the now available evidence on demographic recovery and growth in England and the southern Low Countries (Brabant) does not at all correspond to the statistical evidence on inflation during the early phase of the Price Revolution — in the early sixteenth century. For England the best estimate of population in the early 1520s, when the Price Revolution was already underway, is 2.25 or 2.30 million, about half of the most conservative estimate for England’s population in 1300: about 4.5 million — an estimate still rejected by the majority of medieval economic historians, who prefer the more traditional estimate of 6.0 million.[29] If England in the early 1520s was obviously still very unpopulated, compared to its late-medieval peak, and if its population had just begun to recover, how could any such renewed growth, from such a very low level, have so immediately sparked inflation: how could it have caused a rise in the CPI (Phelps Brown and Hopkins) from a quinquennial mean of 96.70 (1451-75 = 100) in 1496-1500 to one of 146.05 in 1521-25?

We find a similar demographic situation in Brabant.  From the 1437 census to the 1496 census, the number of registered households fell from 92,738 to just 75,343: a fall of 18.76 percent.[30] If we further assume that a fall in population also involved a decline in the average family or household size, the demographic decline would have been much greater than these data indicate.  According to Herman Van der Wee (1963), Brabant, like England, did not commence its demographic recovery until the early sixteenth century; and his estimated average annual rate of population growth from 1496 to 1526 was 0.96%.[31]  For this same period, Van der Wee’s CPI for Brabant shows a rise from 115.35 in 1496-1500 (again 1451-75 = 100) to one of 179.94 in 1521-25.  How can any such renewed population growth explain that inflation?

In the second place, the arguments and analyses supplied involve faulty economics: an erroneous transfer of micro-economic analysis to macro-economics.  One can well argue, for early-modern western Europe, that the effect of sustained population growth for the agrarian sector, with necessary additions of “marginal lands” that were generally inferior in fertility and more distant from markets, and without a widespread diffusion of technological changes to offset diminishing returns in this sector, inevitably led to sharply rising marginal costs.  That in turn resulted in price increases for grains and other agricultural commodities (including timber) that were greater than those for non-agrarian and especially industrial commodities, certainly in both England and the southern Low Countries during the course of the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth century.[32]  But that basically micro-economic model concerning individual, relative commodity prices is, however, very different from a macro-economic model contending that population growth by itself led to an overall increase in the level of prices — i.e., in the CPI.

We should remember that, almost 35 years ago, Donald McCloskey (1972), in a review of Ramsey (1971), responded to these demographic-oriented explanations of the Price Revolution by contending that, if both monetary variables (M and V) were held constant, then population growth (if translated into an increased T or y, in MV = Py) should have led to a fall in P, in the CPI.  Nevertheless, there is some validity to the argument that population growth and changes in the demographic structures may have influenced the role of another monetary factor in the Price Revolution: namely changes in the income velocity of money, to be discussed as a separate topic later in this review.

 Hamilton’s Explanations for the Origins of the Price Revolution before the Influx of Spanish Treasure: The Roles of Gold, South German Silver Mining, and Changes in Credit

How then did Hamilton — and how do we — explain the origins of the Spanish and indeed European-wide Price Revolution,  in the early sixteenth century, i.e., for the period well before any significant influxes of American silver, and also before there was any significant population growth (at least in England and the Low Countries).  Was Hamilton that ignorant of the implications of his own data?  Certainly not.  On p. 299, in his chapter XIII entitled “Why Prices Rose,” he stated that: “the gold imports from the Antilles significantly influenced Andalusian and New Castilian prices even in the first two decades of the sixteenth century,” without, however, elaborating that point any further.[33]  More important are his observations on p. 301, where he explicitly moderates his emphasis on the role of Spanish-American treasure imports, in stating that:  “Only at the beginning of  the sixteenth century, when, as has been shown, colonial demand, credit expansion, and the increased output of German silver made themselves felt, and at the end of the century, when a devastating epidemic, and an over issue of vellon coinage took place, did other factors play important roles in the price upheaval [i.e., the Price Revolution].”  Indeed, in his own view, the paramount role of the influxes of Spanish-American bullion apply to only, at most, 65 years of the 130 years of the Price Revolution era, i.e., to just half the era — from ca. 1535 to 1600, though the evidence for that role seems to be more clear for just the half-century 1550-1600.

It is most regrettable that Hamilton himself failed to elaborate the role of any these factors, principally monetary, in producing inflation in early-sixteenth century Spain.  Had he done so, surely he would have been spared the subsequent and really unfair criticism that he was offering a simplistic monocausal explanation of the Price Revolution, and one in the form of a very crude Quantity Theory of Money.  The most important of “initial causes” that Hamilton lists was surely the question of “German silver,” or more specifically, the South-German and Central European silver-copper mining boom from about the 1460s to the 1540s.  Where he derived his information is not clear, but from other footnotes it was presumably from the publications of two much earlier German economic historians, Adolf Soetbeer and Georg Wiebe.  The latter was, in fact, the first to write a major monograph on the Price Revolution (_Geschichte der Preisrevolution des XVI.  und XVII.  Jahrhunderts_), and he seems to have coined (so to speak) the term.[34]  The former, though a pioneer in trying to quantity both European and world supplies of precious metals, providing a significant influence on Wiebe,  produced seriously defective data on German mining outputs in the later fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, greatly underestimating total outputs, as  John Nef demonstrated in a seminal article published in 1941, subsequently elaborated in Nef (1952).[35] In Nef’s view, this South German mining boom may have quintupled Europe’s supply of silver by the 1530s, and thus before any major influx of Spanish-American silver.[36]

Since then a number of economic historians, me included, have published their research on this South German-Central European silver-copper mining boom.[37] These mountainous regions contained immensely rich ores bearing these two metals, which, however were largely inaccessible for two reasons: first, there was no known method of separating the two metals in smelting the argentiferous-cupric ores; and second, the ever-present danger of flooding in the regions containing these ore bodies made mined extraction very difficult and costly.  In my view, the very serious deflation that Europe experienced during the second of the so-called “bullion famines,” from the 1440s to the 1460s, provided the profit incentive for the necessary technological changes to resolve these two problems.  Consider that since virtually all of Europe’s money-of-account pricing system was based on, tied to, the silver coinage, deflation (low prices) _ipso facto_ meant a corresponding rise in the real value of silver, gram per gram (just as inflation means a fall in the real value of silver, per gram).  The solutions lay in innovations in both mechanical engineering and chemical engineering.  The first was the development of water-powered or horse-powered piston vacuum pumps (along with slanted drainage adits in the mountain sides) to resolve the water-flooding problem.  The second was the so-called _Saigerhütten_ process by which lead was added to the ore-bodies in smelting (also using hydraulic machinery and the new blast furnaces) — during the smelting process the lead combined with the silver to precipitate the copper, and the silver-lead amalgam was then resmelted to remove the lead.

Both processes were certainly in operation by the 1460s; and by my very conservative estimates, certainly incomplete, the combined outputs of mines in Saxony, Thuringia, Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Tyrol rose from a quinquennial mean of 12,973.4 kg in 1471-75 (when adequate output data can first be utilized) to a peak production in 1536-40 (thus later than Nef’s estimates), with a quinquennial mean output of 55,703.8 kg — a  4.29-fold increase overall (i.e.. 329.36% increase) — close enough to Nef’s five-fold estimate, given the likely lacunae in the data.[38]  Consider that this output, for the late 1530s, was not exceeded by Spanish-American silver influxes until a quarter of a century later, in 1561-65, when, thanks to the recently applied mercury amalgamation process, a quinquennial mean import of 83,373.92 kg reached Seville (compared to a mean import of just 27,145.03 in 1556-60).[39]

But where did all this Central European silver go?  Historically, from the mid-fourteenth century, most of the German silver-mining outputs had been sent to Venice, whose merchants re-exported most of that silver to the Levant, in exchange for Syrian cotton and Asian spices and other luxury goods.  Two separate factors helped to reverse the direction of that flow, down the Rhine, to Antwerp and the Brabant Fairs.  The first was Burgundian monetary policy: debasements in 1466-67, which, besides attracting silver in itself, reversed a half-century long pro-gold mint policy to a pro-silver policy, offering a relative value for silver (in gold and in goods) higher than anywhere else in Europe.[40] Thus the combined Flemish and Brabantine mint outputs, measured in kilograms of fine silver rose from nil (0) in 1461-65 to 9,341.50 kg in 1476-80 — though much of that was recycled silver coin and bullion in quite severe debasements.  But in 1496-1500, after the debasements had ceased, the mean annual output in that quinquennium was 4,872.96 kg; and in 1536-40, at the peak of the mining boom (and, again, before any substantial Spanish-American imports) the mean output was 5,364.99 kg.[41]

The second factor in altering the silver flows was increasingly severe disruptions in Venice’s Levant trade with the now major Ottoman conquests in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, from the 1460s (and especially from the mid-1480s) culminating (if not ending) with the Turkish conquest of the Mamluk Levant (i.e., Egypt, Palestine, Syria) itself in 1517 (along with conquests in Arabia and the western Indian Ocean). While we have no data on silver flows, we do have data for the joint-product of the Central European mining boom — copper, a very important export as well to the Levant.  In 1491-95, 32.13% of the Central European mined copper outputs went to Venice, but only 5.22% went to Antwerp; by 1511-15, the situation was almost totally reversed: only 3.64% of the mined copper went to Venice, while 58.36% was sent to Antwerp.  May we conjecture that there was a related shift in the flows of silver?  By the 1530s, the copper flows to Venice, which now had more peaceful relations with the Turks, had risen to 11.07%, but 53.88% of the copper was still being sent to the Antwerp Fairs.[42]  Of course, by this time the Portuguese, having made Antwerp the European staple for their recently acquired Indian Ocean spice trade (1501), were shipping significant (if unmeasurable) quantities of both copper and silver to the East Indies.  Then in 1549, the Portuguese moved their staple to Seville, to gain access to the now growing imports of Spanish-American silver.

 The Early Sixteenth-century “Financial Revolutions”: In Private and Public Credit

The other monetary factor that Hamilton mentioned — but never discussed — to help explain the rise of prices in early sixteenth-century Spain was the role of credit.  Indeed, as Herman Van der Wee (1963, 1967, 1977, 2000) and others have now demonstrated, the Spanish Habsburg Netherlands experienced a veritable financial revolution involving both negotiability and organized markets for public debt instruments.  As for the first, the lack of legal and institutional mechanisms to make medieval credit instruments fully negotiable had hindered their ability to counteract frequent deflationary forces; and at best, such credit instruments (such as the bill of exchange) could act only to increase — or decrease — the income velocity of money.[43] The first of two major institutional barriers was the refusal of courts to recognize the legal rights of the “bearer” to collect the full proceeds of a commercial bill on its stipulated redemption date: i.e., the financial and legally enforceable rights of those who had purchased or otherwise licitly acquired a commercial bill from the designated payee before that redemption date.  Indeed, most medieval courts were reluctant to recognize the validity of any “holograph” bill: those that not been officially notarized and registered with civic authorities.  The second barrier was the Church’s usury doctrine: for, any sale and transfer  of a credit instrument to a third party before the stipulated redemption date would obviously have had to be at some rate of discount — and that would have revealed an implicit interest payment in the transaction. Thus this financial revolution, in the realm of private credit, in the Low Countries involved the role of urban law courts (law-merchant courts), beginning with Antwerp in 1507, then most of other Netherlander towns, in guaranteeing such rights of third parties to whom these bills were sold or transferred.  Finally, in the years 1539-1543, the Estates General of the Habsburg Netherlands firmly established, with national legislation, all of the legal requirements for full-fledged negotiability (as opposed to mere transferability) of all credit instruments: to protect the rights of third parties in transferable bills, so that bills obligatory and bills of exchange could circulate from hand to hand, amongst merchants, in commercial and financial transactions.  One of the important acts of the Estates-General, in 1543 — possibly reflecting the growing influence of Calvinism — boldly rejected the long-held usury doctrine by legalizing the payment of interest, up to a maximum of 12% (so that anything above that was now “usury”).[44]  England’s Protestant Parliament, under Henry VIII, followed suit two years later, in 1545, though with a legal maximum interest of 10%.[45] That provision thereby permitted the openly public discounting of commercial credit instruments, though this financial innovation was slow to spread, until accompanied, by the end of the sixteenth century, with the much more common device of written endorsements.[46]

The other major component of the early-sixteenth century “financial revolution” lay in public finance, principally in the Spanish Habsburg Netherlands, France, much of Imperial Germany, and Spain itself — in the now growing shift from interest-bearing government loans to the sale of annuities, generally known as _rentes_ or _renten_ or (in Spain) _juros_, especially after several fifteenth-century papal bulls had firmly established, once and for all, that they were not loans (a _mutuum_, in both Roman and canon law), and thus not subject to the usury ban.[47] Those who bought such _rentes_ or annuities from local, territorial, or national governments purchased an annual stream of income, either for a lifetime, or in perpetuity; and the purchaser could reclaim his capital only by finding some third party to purchase from him the _rente_ and the attached annuity income.  That, therefore, also required both the full legal and institutional establishment of negotiability, with now organized financial markets.

In 1531, Antwerp, now indisputably the commercial and financial capital of at least northern Europe, provided such an institution with the establishment of its financial exchange, commonly known as the _beurse_ (the “purse” — copied by Amsterdam in 1608, and London in 1695, in its Stock Exchange).  Thanks to the role of the South German merchant-bankers — the Fuggers, Welsers, Höchstetters, Herwarts, Imhofs, and Tuchers — the Antwerp _beurse_ played a major role in the international marketing of such government securities, during the rest of the sixteenth century, in particular the Spanish _juros_, whose issue expanded from 3.586 million ducats (_escudos_ of 375 maravedís) in 1516 to 80.040 million ducats in 1598, at the death of Philip II — a 22.4-fold increase.  Most these perpetual and fully negotiable _juros_ were held abroad.[48] According to Herman Van der Wee (1977), this sixteenth-century “age of the Fuggers and [then] of the Genoese [merchant-bankers, who replaced the Germans] was one of spectacular growth in public finances.”[49] Finally, it is important to note the relationship between changes in money stocks and issues of credit.  For, as Frank Spooner (1972) observed (and documented in his study of European money and prices in the sixteenth century), even anticipated arrivals of Spanish treasure fleets would induce these South German and Genoese merchant-bankers to expand credit issues by some multiples of the perceived bullion values.[50]

 The Debate about Changes in the Income Velocity of Money (or Cambridge “k”)

The combined effect of this “revolution” in both private and public finance was to increase both the effective supply of money — in so far as these negotiable credit instruments circulated widely,  as though they were paper money — and also, and even more so, the income velocity of money.  This latter concept brings up two very important issues, one involving Hamilton’s book itself, in particular his interpretation of the causes of the Price Revolution.  Most postwar (World War II) economic historians, myself included (up to now, in writing this review), have unfairly regarded Hamilton’s thesis as a very crude, simplistic version of the Quantity Theory of Money.  That was based on a careless reading (mea culpa!) of pp. 301-03 in his Chapter XIII on “Why Prices Rose,” wherein he stated, first, in explaining the purpose his Chart 20,[51] that:

The extremely close correlation between the increase in the volume of [Spanish-American] treasure imports and the advance of commodity prices throughout the sixteenth century, particularly from 1535 on, demonstrates beyond question that the “abundant mines of America” [i.e., Adam Smith’s description] were the principal cause of the Price Revolution in Spain.

We should note, first, that the “close correlation” is only a visual image from the graph, for he never computed any mathematical correlations (few did in that prewar era).  Second, Ingrid Hammarström was perfectly correct in noting that Hamilton’s correlation between the _annual_ values of treasure imports (gold and silver in pesos of 450 marevedis) and the composite price index is not in accordance with the quantity theory, which seeks to establish a relationship between aggregates: i.e., the total accumulated stock of money (M) and the price level (P).[52]  But that would have been an impossible task for Hamilton.  For, if he had added up the annual increments from bullion exports in order to arrive at some estimate of accumulated bullion stocks, he would have had to deduct from that estimate the annual outflows of bullion, for which there are absolutely no data.  Furthermore, estimates of net (remaining) bullion stocks are not the same as estimates of the coined money stock; and the coined money stock does not represent the total supply of money.[53]

Third, concerning Hamilton’s views on the Quantity Theory itself, his important monetary qualifications concerning the early sixteenth century and first half of the seventeenth century have already been noted.  We should now note his further and very important qualification (p. 301), as follows: “The reader should bear in mind that a graphic verification of that crude form of the quantity theory of money which takes no account of the velocity of circulation is not the purpose of Chart 20.”  He did not, however, discuss this issue any further; and it is notable that his bibliography does not list Irving Fisher’s classic 1911 monograph, which had thoroughly analyzed his own concepts of the Transactions Velocity of Money.[54]

Most economics students are familiar with Fisher’s Equation of Exchange, to explain the Quantity Theory of Money in a much better fashion than nineteenth-century Classical Economists had done: namely, MV = PT.   If many continue to debate the definition of M, as high-powered money, and of P — i.e., on how to construct a valid weighted CPI — the most troublesome aspect is the completely amorphous and unmeasurable “T” — as the aggregate volume of total transactions in the economy in a given year.  Many have replaced T with Q: the total volume of goods and services produced each year.  But the best substitute for T is “y” (lower case Y: a version attributed to Milton Friedman) — i.e., a deflated measure of Keynesian Y, as the Net National Product = Net National Income (by definition).[55]

The variable “V” thus becomes the income velocity of money (rather than Fisher’s Transactions Velocity) — of the unit of money in the creation of the net national income in the course of a year.   It is obviously derived mathematically by this equation: V = Py/M (and Py of course equals the current nominal value of NNI).  Almost entirely eschewed by students (my students, at least), but much preferred by most economists, is the Cambridge Cash Balances equation: whose modernized form would similarly be M = kPy, in which Cambridge “k” represents that share of the value of Net National Income that the public chooses to hold in real cash balances, i.e., in high-powered money (a straight tautology, as is the Fisher Equation).  We should be reminded that both V and k are mathematically linked reciprocals in that: V = 1/k and thus k = 1/V.  Keynesian economists would logically (and I think, rightly) contend that _ceteris paribus_ an increase in the supply of money should lead to a reduction in V and thus to an increase in Cambridge “k.”  If V represents the extent to which society collectively seeks to economize on the use of money, the necessity to do so would diminish if the money supply rises (indeed, to create an “excess”).  But this result and concept is all the more clear in the Cambridge Cash Balances approach.  For the opportunity cost of “k” — of holding cash balances — is to forgo the potential income from its alternative use, i.e., by investing those funds.  If we assume that the Liquidity Preference Schedule is (in the short run) fixed — in terms of the transactions, precautionary, and speculative motives for holding money — then a rightward shift of the Money Supply schedule along the fixed or stationary LP schedule should have led to a fall in the real rate of interest, and thus in the opportunity cost of holding cash balances.  And if that were so, then “k” should rise (exactly reflecting the fall in V).

 What makes this theory so interesting for the interpretation of the causes of at least  the subsequent inflations of the Price Revolution — say from the 1550s or 1560s — is that several very prominent economic historians have argued that  an equally or even more powerful force for inflation was a continuing rise in V, the income velocity of money (i.e., and thus to a fall in “k”): in particular, Harry Miskimin (1975), Jack Goldstone (1984, 1991a, 1991b), and Peter Lindert (1985).  Furthermore, all three have related this role of “V” to structural changes in the economy brought about by population growth.  Their theories are too complex to be discussed here, but the most intriguing, in summary, is Goldstone’s thesis.  He contended, in referring to sixteenth-century England, that its population growth was accompanied by a highly disproportionate growth in urbanization, a rapid and extensive development of commercialized agriculture, urban markets, and an explosive growth in the use of credit instruments.  In such a situation, with a rapid growth “in occupationally specialized linked networks, the potential velocity of circulation of coins grows as the square of the size of the network.”  Lindert’s somewhat simpler view is that demographic growth was also accompanied by a two-fold set of changes: (1) changes in relative prices — in the aforementioned steep rise in agricultural prices, rising not only above industrial prices, but above nominal wages, thus creating severe household budget constraints; and (2) in pyramidal age structures, and thus with changes in dependency ratios (between adult producers and dependent children) that necessitated both dishoarding and a rapid reduction in Cambridge “k” ( = rise in V).

Those arguments and the apparent contradiction with traditional Keynesian theory on the relationships between M and V (or Cambridge “k”) intrigued and inspired Nicholas Mayhew (1995), a renowned British medieval and early-modern monetary historian, to investigate these propositions over a much longer period of time: from 1300 to 1700.[56]  He found that in all periods of monetary expansion during these four centuries, the Keynesian interpretation of changes in V or “k” held true, with one singular anomalous exception: the sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Price Revolution.  That anomaly may (or may not) be explained by the various arguments set forth by Miskimin, Goldstone, and Lindert.

The Debates about the Spanish and European Distributions of Spanish American “Treasure” and the Monetary Approach to the Balance of Payments Theorem

We may now return to Hamilton’s own considerations about the complex relationships between the influx of Spanish-American silver and its distribution in terms of various factors influencing (at least implicitly) the “V” and “y” variables, in turn influencing changes in P (the CPI).  He contends first (pp. 301-02) that “the increase in the world stock of precious metals during the sixteenth century was probably more than twice — possibly as much as four times — as great as the advance of prices” in Spain.  He speculates, first, that some proportion of this influx was hoarded or converted, not just by the Church, in ecclesiastical artifacts, but also by the Spanish nobility (thus leading to a rise in “k”), while a significantly increasing proportion was exported in trade with Asia, though mentioning only the role of the English East India Company (from 1600), surprisingly ignoring the even more prominent contemporary role of the Dutch, and the much earlier role of the Portuguese (from 1501, though the latter used  principally South German silver).  We now estimate that of the total value of European purchases made in Asia in late-medieval and early modern eras, about 65-70 percent were paid for in bullion and thus only 25-30 percent from the sale of European merchandise in Asia.[57]  Finally, Hamilton also fairly speculated that “the enhanced production and exchange of goods which accompanied the growth of population, the substitution of monetary payments for produce rents [in kind] … and the shift from wages wholly or partially in kind to monetary remunerations for services, and the decrease of barter tended to counteract the rapid augmentation of gold and silver money:”  i.e., a combination of interacting factors that affected both Cambridge “k” and Friedman’s “y.”  Clearly Hamilton was no simplistic proponent of a crude Quantity Theory of Money.

From my own studies of monetary and price history over the past four decades, I offer these observations, in terms of the modernized version of Fisher’s Equation of Exchange, for the history of European prices from ca. 1100 to 1914.   An increase in M virtually always resulted in some degree of inflation, but one that was usually offset by some reduction in V (increase in “ k”) and by some increase in y, especially if and when lower interest rates promoted increased investment.[58]  Thus the inflationary consequences of increasing the money supply are historically indeterminate, though usually the price rise was, for these reasons, less than proportional to the increase in the monetary stock, except when excessively severe debasements created a veritable “flight from coinage,” when coined money was exchanged for durable goods (i.e., another instance in which an increase in M was accompanied by an increase in V).[59]

One of the major issues related to this debate about the Price Revolution is the extent to which the Spanish-American silver that flowed into Spain soon flowed out to other parts of Europe (i.e., apart from the aggregate European bullion exports to Asia and Russia).  There is little mystery in explaining how that outflow took place.  Spain, under both Charles V (I of Spain) and Philip II, ruled a vast, far-flung empire: including not only the American colonies and the Philippines, but also the entire Low Countries, and major parts of Germany and Italy, and then Portugal and its colonies from 1580 to 1640.  Maintaining and defending such a vast empire inevitably led to war, almost continuous war, with Spain’s neighbors, especially France.  Then, in 1568, most of  the Low Countries (Habsburg Netherlands) revolted against Spanish rule, a revolt that (despite a truce from 1609 to 1621) merged into the Thirty Years War (1618-48), finally resolved by the Treaty of Westphalia.  As Hamilton himself suggests (but without offering any corroborative evidence — nor can I), vast quantities of silver (and gold) thus undoubtedly flowed from Spain into the various military theaters, in payment for wages, munitions, supplies, and diplomacy, while the German and then Genoese bankers presumably received considerable quantities of bullion (or goods so purchased) in repayment of loans.[60]  Other factors that Hamilton suggested were: adverse trade balances, or simply expanding imports, especially from Italy and the Low Countries (with an increased marginal propensity to import); and operations of divergent bimetallic mint ratios.  What role piracy and smuggling actually played in this international diffusion of precious metals cannot be ascertained.[61]

But Outhwaite (1969, 1982), in analyzing the monetary factors that might explain the Price Revolution in Tudor and early Stuart England, asserted (again with no evidence) that: “Spanish silver … appears to have played little or no part before 1630 and a very limited one thereafter.”[62]  That statement, however, is simply untrue.  For, as Challis (1975) has demonstrated, four of the five extant “Melting Books,” tabulating the sources of bullion for London’s Tower Mint, between 1561 and 1599, indicate that Spanish silver accounted for proportions of total bullion coined that ranged from a low of 75.0% (1561-62) to a high of 86.3% (1584-85).  The “melting books” also indicate that almost all of the remaining foreign silver bullion brought to the Tower Mint came from the Spanish Habsburg Low Counties (the southern Netherlands, which the Spanish had quickly reconquered).[63]  Furthermore, if we ignore the mint outputs during the Great Debasement (1542-1553) and during the Elizabethan Recoinage (1561-63), we find that the quantity of silver bullion coined in the English mints rose from a quinquennial mean of 1,089.012 kg in 1511-15 (at the onset of the Price Revolution) to a peak of 18,653.36 kg in 1591-95, after almost four decades of stable money: a 17.13 fold increase.  Over this same period, the proportion of the total value of the aggregate mint outputs accounted for by silver rose from 12.32% to 90.35% — and (apart from the Great Debasement era) without any significant change in the official bimetallic ratio.[64]

Those economists who favor the Monetary Approach to the Balance of Payments Theorem in explaining inflation as an international phenomenon would contend that we do not have to explain any specific bullion flows between individual countries, and certainly not in terms of a Hume-Turgot price-specie flow mechanism.[65]  In essence, this theorem states that world bullion stocks (up to 1914, with a wholesale shift to fiat money) determine the overall world price level; and that individual countries, through international arbitrage and  the “law of one price,” undergo the necessary adjustments in establishing a commensurate domestic price level and the requisite money supply (in part determined by changes in private and public credit) — not just through international trade in goods and services, but especially in capital flows (exchanging assets for money) at existing exchange rates, without specifically related bullion flows.

Nevertheless, in the specific case of sixteenth century England, we are naturally led to ask:  where did all this silver come from; and why did England shift from a gold-based to a silver-based economy during this century?   More specifically, if Nicholas Mayhew (1995) is reasonably close in his estimates of England’s Y = Gross National Income (Table I, p. 244), from 1300 to 1700, as measured in the silver-based sterling money-of-account, that it rose from about  £3.5 million pounds sterling in 1470 (with a population of 2.3 million) to £40.88 million pound sterling in 1670 (a population of 5.0 million) — an 11.68-fold increase — then we again may ask this fundamental question.   Where did all these extra pounds sterling come from in maintaining that latter level of national income?   Did they come from an increase in the stock of silver coinages, and/or from a vast increase in the income velocity of money?  Indeed that monetary shift from gold to silver may have had some influence on the presumed increase in the income velocity of money since the lower-valued silver coins had a far greater turnover in circulation than did the very high-valued gold coins.[66]

 Statistical Measurements of the Impact of Increased Silver Supplies: Bimetallic Ratios and Inflation

There are two other statistical measures to indicate the economic impact within Europe itself of the  influx of South German and then Spanish American silver during the Price Revolution era, i.e., until the 1650s.  The first is the bimetallic ratio.  In England, despite the previously cited evidence on its relative stability in the sixteenth-century, by 1660, the official mint ratio had risen to 14.485:1 (from the low of 10.333:1 in 1464).[67]  In Spain, the official bimetallic ratio had risen from 10.11:1 in 1497 to 15.45:1 in 1650; and in Amsterdam, the gold:silver mint ratio had risen from 11.21 in 1600 to 13.93:1 in 1640 to 14.56:1 in 1650.[68]  These ratios indicate that silver had become relatively that much cheaper than gold from the early sixteenth to mid-seventeenth century; and also that, despite very significant European exports of silver to the Levant and to South Asia and Indonesia in the seventeenth century, Europe still remained awash with silver.[69]  At the same time, it is also a valid conjecture that the greatest impact of the influx of Spanish American silver (and gold) in this era was to permit a very great expansion in European trade with Asia, indeed inaugurating a new era of globalization.

The second important indicator of the change in the relative value of silver is the rise in the price level:  i.e., of inflation itself.  As noted earlier, the English CPI experienced a 6.77-fold from 1511-15 to 1646-50, at the very peak of the Price Revolution; and the Brabant CPI experienced a 7.36-fold rise over the very same period (expressed in annual means per quinquennium).[70] Since these price indexes are expressed in terms of silver-based moneys-of-account, that necessarily meant that silver, gram per gram, had become that much cheaper in relation to tradable goods (as represented in the CPI) — though, as noted earlier, the variations in the rates of change in these CPI are partly explained by differences in their respective coinage debasements.

A Comparison of the Data on Spanish-American Mining Outputs and Bullion Imports (into Seville)

Finally, how accurate are Hamilton’s data on the Spanish-American bullion imports?   We can best gauge that accuracy by comparing the aggregate amount of fine silver bullion entering Seville with the now known data on the Spanish-American silver-mining outputs, for the years for which we have data for both of these variables: from 1551 to 1660.[71]  One will recall that the Potosi mines were opened only in 1545; and those of Zacatecas in 1546; and recall, furthermore, that production at both began to boom only with the subsequent application of the mercury amalgamation process (not fully applied until the 1570s).  The comparative results are surprisingly close.  In that 110-year period permitting this comparison, total imports of fine silver, according to Hamilton, amounted to 16,886,815.3 kg; and the combined outputs from the Potosi and Zacatecas mines was very close to that figure: 17,057,938.2 kg.[72]  It is also worth noting that the outputs from the Spanish-American mines and the silver imports both peak in the same quinquennium: 1591-95, when the annual mean mined silver output was 219,457.4 kg and the annual mean silver import was 272,704.5 kg.  By 1626-30, the mean annual mined output had fallen 18.7% to 178,490.0 kg and the mean annual import had fallen even further, by 24.7%, to 206,045.26 kg (both sets of data indicate that the silver imports for these years were not based just on these two mines).  Thereafter, the fall in imports is much more precipitous: declining by 86.4%, to an annual mean import of just 27,965.33 kg in the final quinquennium of recorded import data, in 1656-60.  The combined mined output of the Potosi and Zacatecas mines also fell during this very same period, but not by as much: declining by 27.1%, with a mean output of 130,084.23 kg in 1656-60: i.e., a mean output that was 4.65 times more than the mean silver imports into Seville in that quinquennium.

The decline in the Spanish-American mining outputs of silver can be largely attributed to the expected rate of diminishing returns in a natural-resource industry without further technological changes.  The differences between the two sets of data, on output and imports, were actually suggested by Hamilton himself (even though he lacked any knowledge of the Spanish-American production figures for this era): a higher proportion of the silver was being retained in the Spanish Americas for colonial economic development, and also for export (from Acapulco, in Mexico) across the Pacific to the Philippines and China, principally for the silk trades.  Indeed, as TePaske (1983) subsequently demonstrated, the share of pubic revenues of the Viceroyalty of Peru retained for domestic development rose from 40.8% in 1591-1600 to a peak of 98.9% in 1681-90.  We have no comparable statistics for the much less wealthy Mexico (in New Spain); but TePaske also supplies data on its silver exports to the Philippines. Those exports rose from an annual mean of 1,191.2 kg in 1591-1600 (4.8% of Mexican total silver outputs) to a peak of 9,388.2 kg in 1631-40 (29.6% of the total silver outputs).  Though declining somewhat thereafter, such exports then recovered to 4,990.0 kg in 1681-90 (29.0% of the total silver outputs).[73]

 The Morineau Challenge to Hamilton’s Data: Speculations on Post-1660 Bullion Imports and Deflation

Hamilton’s research on Spanish-American bullion imports into Seville ceased with the year, 1660, because that latter date marked “the termination of compulsory registration of treasure” at Seville.[74] Subsequently, the French economic historian Michel Morineau (1968, 1985) sought to remedy the post-1660 lacuna of bullion import data by extrapolating statistics from Dutch gazettes and newspapers.  In doing so, contended that Spanish-American bullion imports strongly revived after the 1660s, a view that most historians have uncritically accepted.[75]  But his two publications on this issue present a number of serious problems.  First, there is the problem of comparing Spanish apples (actual data on bullion imports) with Dutch oranges (newspaper reports, many being speculations).  Second, the statistics in the two publications differ strongly from each other.  Third, except for one difficult-to-decipher semi-logarithmic graph, they do not provide specific data that allow us to distinguish clearly between gold and silver imports, either by weight or value.[76]  Fourth, the statistics on bullion imports are vastly larger in kilograms of metal than those recorded for Spanish American mining outputs, and also differ radically in the trends recorded for the Spanish-American mining output data.[77]

Nevertheless, these Spanish American mining output data do indicate some considerable recovery in production in the later seventeenth century.  Thus,  while the output of the Potosi mines continued to fall in the later seventeenth century (to a mean of 56,884.9 kg in 1696-1700, and to one of just 30,990.86 kg in 1711-15), those at Zacatecas recovered from the low of 26,373.4 kg in 1656-60 to more than double, reaching an unprecedented peak of 64,139.87 kg in 1676-80.  Then, shortly after, a new and very important Mexican silver mine was developed at Sombrerete, producing an annual mean output of 30,492.83 kg in 1681-85.  Thus the aggregate (known) Spanish-American mining output rose from a low 101,533.96 kg in 1661-65 (mean annual output) to a high of 143,212.93 kg in 1686-90: a 1.41-fold increase.[78]

Whatever are the actual figures for the imports of Spanish-American silver between the 1660s and the 1690s, we are in fact better informed about the export of precious metals, primarily silver, by the two East India Companies: in those four decades, the two companies exported a total of 1,3345,342.0 kg of fine silver to Asia.[79]  An indication of some relative West European scarcity of coined silver money, from the 1660s to the 1690s, can be found in the Consumer Price Indexes for both England and Brabant.  In England, the quinquennial mean CPI (1451-75=100) fell from the Price Revolution peak of 734.39 in 1646-50 to a low of 547.58 in 1686-90: a fairly dramatic fall of 25.43%.  By that time, however, the London Goldsmiths’ development of deposit and transfer banking, with fully negotiable promissory notes and rudimentary paper bank notes, was providing a financial remedy for any such monetary scarcity — as did the subsequent vast imports of gold from Brazil.[80] Similarly, in Brabant, the quinquennial mean CPI (1451-75=100) fell from the aforementioned peak of 1015.138 in 1646-50 to a low of 652.217 — an even greater fall of 35.8% — similarly in 1686-90.  In Spain (New Castile), the deflation commenced somewhat later, according to Hamilton (1947), who, for this period, used a CPI whose base is 1671-80=100.  From a quinquennial mean peak of 103.5 in 1676-80 (perhaps reflecting the ongoing vellon inflation), the CPI fell to a low 59.0 in 1686-90 (an even more drastic fall of 43.0%): i.e., the very same period for deflationary nadir experienced in both England and Brabant.

These data are presented in Hamilton’s third major monograph (1947), which appeared thirteen years later, shortly after World War II, covering the period 1651-1800: in Table 5, p. 119.  In between these two, Hamilton (1936), published his second monograph: covering the period 1351-1500 (but excluding Castile)  One might thus be encouraged to believe that, thanks to Hamilton, we should possess a continuous “Spanish” price index from 1351-1800.  Alas, that is not the case, for Hamilton kept shifting his price-index base for each half century over this period, without providing any overlapping price indexes or even similar sets of prices (in the maravedís money-of-account) to permit (without exhaustive labor) the compilation of such a continuous price index.[81]  That, perhaps, is my most serious criticism of Hamilton’s scholarship in these three volumes (though not of his journal articles), even if he has provided an enormous wealth of price data for a large number of commodities over these four and one-half centuries (and also voluminous wage data).[82]

 Supplementary Criticisms of Hamilton’s Data on Gold and Silver Imports

One of the criticisms leveled against Morineau’s monetary data — that they do not allow us to distinguish between the influxes of gold and silver — can also be made, in part, against Hamilton’s 1934 monograph. The actual registrations of Spanish American bullion imports into Seville, from 1503 to 1660, were by the aggregate value of both gold and silver, in money-of-account pesos that were worth 450 marevedis, each of which represented 42.29 grams pure silver (for the entire period concerned, in which, as noted earlier, no silver debasements took place).  Those amounts, for both public and private bullion imports, are recorded in Table 1 (p. 34), in quinquennial means.  His Table 2 (p. 40) provides his estimates — or speculations — of the percentage distribution of gold and silver imports, by decade, but by weight alone: indicating that from the 1530s to the 1550s, about 86% was in silver, and thereafter, to 1660, from 97% to 99% of the total was consistently always in silver.[83]  His table 3 (p. 42) provides his estimate of total decennial imports of silver and gold in grams.  What is lacking, however, is the distribution by value, in money-of-account terms, whether in maravedís, pesos, or ducats (worth 375 maravedís).  Since these money-of-account values remained unchanged from 1497 to 1598, and with only a few changes in gold thereafter (to 1686), Hamilton should have calculated these values as well, utilizing as well his Table 4 gold:silver bimetallic ratios (p. 71).  Perhaps this is a task that I should undertake — but not now, for this review.  A more challenging task to be explored is to analyze the impact of gold inflows, especially of Brazilian gold from the 1690s, on prices that are expressed almost everywhere in Europe in terms of a silver-based money of account (e.g., the pound sterling).  Obviously one important consequence of increased gold inflows was the liberation of silver to be employed elsewhere in the economy: i.e., effectively to increase the supply of silver for the economy.

At the same time, we should realize that the typical dichotomy of the role of the two metals, so often given in economic history literature — that gold was the medium of international trade while silver was the medium of domestic trade — is historically false, especially when we view Europe’s commercial relations with the Baltic, Russia, the Levant, and most of Asia.[84]


EH.Net’s Classic Reviews Selection Committee was certainly justified in selecting Hamilton’s _American Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501-1650_ as one of the “classics” of economic history produced in the twentieth century; and Duke University’s website (see note 1) was also fully justified in declaring that Hamilton was one of the pioneers of quantitative economy history.  In his preface, Hamilton noted (p. xii) that he and his wife spent 30,750 hours in collecting and processing this vast amount of quantitative data on Spanish bullion imports and prices and wages, “entirely from manuscript material,” with another 12,500 hours of labor rendered by hired research assistants — all of this work, about three million computations, done without electronic calculators, let alone computers.  Who today would even contemplate undertaking such an enormous task without powerful modern computers and a bevy or research assistants?  For this task, this truly pioneering task, Hamilton deserves full praise.

How much praise does he deserve for the goals that he pursued?  In his introduction he expressed his hope that all these data “may afford a partial verification of the quantity theory and also throw new light upon the related question of the connection between prices and the supply of precious metals;” but he also stated (pp. 4-5) that “the last lesson concerning the quantity theory has not been drawn from this phenomenon; nor is the final word likely to be spoken before greater knowledge of the history of banking and the contemporary influence of credit on prices becomes available.”

As I have sought to demonstrate in this review, necessarily with very detailed evidence, Hamilton did achieve this more modestly defined goal, certainly as well as any pioneering economic historian could have been expected to achieve in the 1930s.  Of course, a contemporary economic historian, utilizing the vast amount of research conducted on these questions in the past seventy years, and using much more sophisticated techniques of economic analysis and econometrics would have produced a very different book — but possibly one lacking Hamilton’s own insights.  Given the current disfavor into which even the more refined, modern version of the Quantity Theory has fallen, the major goal of this review has been to demonstrate at least a qualified validity of this approach to understanding inflations and deflations, and the Price Revolution in particular.  Thus the complementary goal has been to rescue Hamilton’s reputation, given in particular his frequent use of infelicitous phrases, such as the statement that “American gold and silver precipitated the Price Revolution,” which Hamilton himself demonstrated was clearly not the truth.  Finally, given the enormous importance of the Price Revolution — a truly unique historical experience — in shaping the economy and society of early-modern Europe, and in establishing a more truly global economy, I have also sought to supply data unavailable to Hamilton in demonstrating how and why the behavior of prices during the Price Revolution era was related to the complex combination of changes in the money supplies (including credit), changes in the income velocity of money, and changes in national incomes; and also to explain why (as Hamilton did not) inflation in the Price Revolution era was an international (or at least a European-wide) phenomenon.

 A Biographical Note on Hamilton:[85]

Earl Jefferson Hamilton (1899-1989), born in Houlka, Mississippi, received his B.S. (Honors) from Mississippi State University in 1920; his M.A., from the University of Texas in 1924; and his Ph.D., from Harvard University in 1929.  He was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Duke University from 1927 to 1929, and then Professor of Economics there until 1944, when he became Professor of Economics at Northwestern (to 1947), and finally Professor Economics at the University of Chicago, until retiring in 1967.  He was also the editor of the _Journal of Political Economy_ from 1948 to 1954; and he served as President of the Economic History Association in 1951-52.




  1. URL: See also the University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center, Guide to the Earl J. Hamilton Papers:

And also on EH.Net:

  1. The prices for individual commodities for each year, from 1501 to 1650, are given in Hamilton (1934), Appendices III-V, pp. 319-58; wages, in Appendix VII, pp. 393-402.


  1. For my publications on the Price Revolution, see Munro (1991, 1994a, 1998, 2003a, 2003b, 2004, and 2007 forthcoming). The non-monetary variable is “y,” in the modernized version of the Fisher Identity: MV. = Py; and in the Cambridge Cash Balances equation: M = kPy. It is also the deflated or “real” Keynesian Y = NNI = NNP.


  1. See my online review online review:, 24 February 1999, of Fischer (1996).


  1. Smith (1776/1937), pp. 191-92. Hamilton might have better cited Smith’s passage on p. 34: “The discovery of the mines of American diminished the value of gold and silver in Europe” (i.e. as expressed in silver-based money-of-account prices); and also other similar passage on pp. 198, 236, 241, and 415-16.


  1. See Spufford (1988), chapter 13, “The Scourge of Debasement,” pp. 289-318; Munro (1973); and the various studies in Munro (1992).


  1. Both published in Le Branchu (1934) and Moore (1946).


  1. Grice-Hutchinson (1952), Appendix III, p. 95.


  1. For Spain: Hamilton (1934), Appendix VIII, p. 403; for Brabant, Van der Wee (1975), pp. 413-47; for southern England: Phelps Brown and Hopkins (1956, 1981). Using the Phelps Brown worksheets, now housed in the Archives of the British Library for Political and Economic Sciences (LSE), I have corrected many of their statistical data.


  1. By constructing various hypothetical “trial” budgets, Hamilton (1934, pp. 273-79) hypothesized that his unweighted index numbers may have underestimated rises in the cost of living by perhaps as much as ten percent in the later sixteenth century, but by perhaps only two percent in the first half of the seventeenth century. See also Hamilton (1947), pp. 113-14, where he more explicitly states: “The contemporaneous account books have failed to yield an inductive basis for weighting the index numbers of commodity prices, and it seemed unlikely that any system of arbitrary weights would give me more accurate results than simple indices. A detailed comparison of unweighted and crudely-weighted index numbers for New Castile in 1651-1700 tended to confirm this hypothesis.”


  1. From 1497 to 1686, the Spanish crown consistently minted (with one exceptional, minor deviation in 1642-43) two silver coins at 93.06 percent fineness: the _Real_, with 3.195g pure silver (67 cut from an alloyed marc of 230.0465 g., with a silver fineness of 11 _dineros_ and 4 grains = 93.056%) and a nominal money-of-account value of 34 maravedís (375 to the ducat money of account; 350 to the peso money of account). In fact, it differed from the earlier _Real_ , struck from 1471, only in its money-account-value, having been raised from 31 to 34 maravedís. Also struck from 1497 was the heavy-weight Real known as the “piece of eight” (real de a ocho), with just over eight times as much fine silver, 25.997 g, and a value of 272 maravedís. In 1686, it was subjected to a very minor weight reduction that reduced its fine silver content to 25.919 g.  The American dollar can trace its descent from this Spanish coin.  Hamilton (1934), chapter III, pp. 46-72; Hamilton (1947), chapter II, pp. 9-35; Ulloa (1975); Motomura (1994, 1997); Munro (2004a), Vol. 4, pp. 174-84.


  1. See Challis (1971, 1978, 1989, 1992a, 1992b); Gould (1970).


  1. Van der Wee (1963), Vol. I, pp. 126-29.


  1. Hamilton (1934): Chapter IV: “Vellon Inflation in Castile, 1598-1650,” pp. 73-103; and Chapter X: “Prices under Vellon Inflation, 1601-1650,” pp. 211-21.


  1. Munro (1988), pp. 387-423: especially for the debasement formula. In medieval and early-modern Flanders the silver penny _groot_ was divided into 24 _mijten_ or _mites_, almost entirely copper in composition.


  1. Spooner (1972), Appendix A, p. 332; Challis (1992a), pp. 365-78; Challis (1992b), p. 689.


  1. The silver fineness was based on theoretical purity of 12 _dineros_, with 24 grains each, and thus a total of 288 grains. The weight was defined as the number cut from an alloyed marc of 230.0465 grams. See n. 11 above.


  1. Hamilton (1934), pp. 49-64.


  1. Hamilton (1934), p. 74.


  1. Cipolla (1956). He states (p. 27): “Every elementary textbook of economics gives the standard formula for maintaining a sound system of fractional money: [1] to issue on government account small coins having a commodity value lower than their monetary value; [2] to limit the quantity of these small coins in circulation; [3] to provide convertibility with unit money. … Simple as this formula may seem, it took centuries to work out.  In England, it was not applied until 1816, and in the United States it was not accepted before 1853.” Cipolla (p. 29) cites a seventeenth-century Italian treatise, by Geminiano Montanari (a mathematics professor at Padua), who had stated that: “it is not necessary for a prince to strike petty coins having a metallic content equal to their face value, provided [that] he does not strike more of them than is sufficient for the use of his people, sooner striking too few than striking too many.”


  1. Sargent and Velde (2002). The title of their book is adapted from the title of chapter 3 in Carlo Cipolla’s book (cited in the previous note): “The Big Problems of the Petty Coins,” pp. 27-37. Sargent and Velde do cite my article on “Deflation and the Petty Coinage Problem” (in n. 15 above), in which I supplied statistical evidence from the Flemish mint accounts, from 1334 to 1484 that the Flemish counts and the Burgundian dukes who succeeded them were always careful to restrict the supply of the petty, copper-based coinages, which rarely accounted for more than 2% of mint outputs by value, during this entire era.


  1. Hamilton (1934), p. 75. A marc of copper was worth 34 maravedís.


  1. On the _vellon_ based inflation in seventeenth-century Spain, see Sargent and Velde (2002), chapter 14, pp. 230-53; Motomura (1994), pp. 104-27; Motomura (1997), pp. 331-67; Spooner (1972), pp. 41-53 (and for western Europe in general).


  1. See n. 15 above.


  1. See Munro (2003a): Table 1.2, pp. 4-5: extrapolated from data in Hamilton (1934), Table 1, p. 34, Table 2, p. 40, Table 3, p. 42; and Hamilton (1929a), pp. 436-72.


  1. These mining output data do not come from Hamilton, but rather from these following sources: Bakewell (1975), pp. 68-103; Bakewell (1984), pp. 105-51; Garner (1987), pp. 405-30; and Cross (1983), pp. 397-422. The only Spanish-American mining data available to Hamilton was Haring (1915), pp. 433-79, which he cited, but did not use.


  1. Spooner (1972), p. 36.


  1. See in particular Outhwaite (1982), especially pp. 39-57; and also the introduction and many of the essays in Ramsay (1971), in particular Hammarström (1957) and Brenner (1961). See also the rather hostile review of this collection by McCloskey (1972), pp. 1332-35. Brenner makes the fundamental error in not treating the Fisher Identity in aggregate terms, and thus talking about a relative (i.e., per capita) diminution in Q (= T, or “y”) that presumably resulted from population growth.  Many of the authors engage in another error, one scorned by Anna Jacobson Schwartz (1974), who, in a review of Spooner (1972), p.  253, comments that: “the author subscribes to a familiar fallacy, namely that a monetary explanation to be valid requires that all prices move in unison.”  On this very common error, see Munro (2003c); and n. 58 below.


  1. For those favoring the lower bound estimate for 1300 (4.0 to 4.5 million), see Campbell, Galloway, Keene and Murphy (1993); Campbell (2005); Nightingale (1996); Nightingale (1997); Nightingale (2005); Russell (1966); and Harvey (1966). For those favoring the upper-bound estimate (6.0 to 7.0 million), see Postan (1950); Hatcher (1977); Hallam (1988); Mayhew (1995); and Dyer (1989). For population estimates in the early sixteenth century, see Cornwall (1970); and Campbell (1981).


30.Cuvelier (1912), vol. I, 432-33, 446-47, 462-77, 484-87; and also pp. cxxxv, clxxvii-viii, and ccxxiii-xviii.


  1. Van der Wee (1963), Vol. I: Appendix 49/1, p. 546. In comparison, the average annual rate of population decline from 1480 to 1496 was -0.81%.


  1. There is yet another explanation why agrarian prices rose more than did most industrial prices: a household budget constraint, when agricultural prices and the CPI rose more than did money wages, as was almost always the case in the sixteenth century. Thus the share of disposable income spent on foodstuffs (and fuels) would have necessarily reduced the share of such income to be spent on other commodities, and thus the relative demand for most other industrial products. At the same time, most labor-intensive industries, with elastic supply schedules, could have readily hired more labor to expand output without experiencing significant rises in marginal costs, when wages were rising so much less than most commodity prices.  See my online 2006 Working Paper: “Real Wages and the ‘Malthusian Problem’ in Antwerp and South-Eastern England, 1400-1700: A Regional Comparison of Levels and Trends in Real Wages for Building Craftsmen.”


  1. Mean annual imports of fine gold rose from 517.24 kg in 1503-05 to 865.93 kg in 1526-30. See n. 25 above, and also Hamilton (1934), p. 45, on the role of gold. For somewhat different figures, but in decennial means, see TePaske (1998).  His estimates of decennial mean New World gold outputs (per year) are 1,209.8 kg in 1501-10 and 1,071.1 kg in 1511-20.  Hamilton, however, made no mention of the much more important Portuguese imports of West African gold: about 17 metric tons, from Sao Jorge da Mina, from about 1460 to 1520 (when other sources of gold, in Africa and Brazil, became more important.  See Wilks (1993).


  1. Adolf Soetbeer (1879); and Wiebe (1995), especially pp. 253-321. See the tables on German silver production from 1493 to 1700, on pp. 265 and 267, based on Soetbeer.


  1. Nef (1941, 1952).


  1. Nef (1941) estimates that aggregate European silver mining outputs in the peak decade 1526-1535 (in his view) ranged between 84,200 kg to 91,200 kg per year.


  1. See my own publications in n. 3, above; and also Munro (2007b). See also Hatcher (1996) and Nightingale (1997).


  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.3, p. 8; and Munro (2007b). By far the most important of the new mines was Joachimsthal in Bohemia (from 1516), which reached its peak production in 1531-35, with a quinquennial mean production of 16,554.81 kg of fine silver.


  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.2, pp. 4-5, based in part on Hamilton (1934).


  1. The ratio was altered from 11.98:1 to 10.83:1 (June 1466), while in England, it was altered in the opposite direction, to become pro-gold: from 10.33:1 to 11.16:1. See Munro (1973), pp. 155-80, 198-211, Tables C-K; and Munro (1983), Table 10, pp. 150-52; Van der Wee (1963), Vol. I, pp. 126-28, Table XV; Vol. II, pp. 80-101.


  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.4, pp. 12-13.


  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.7, p. 26, based on Van der Wee (1963), Vol. I, Appendix 44, pp. 522-23.


  1. See Munro (1979, 1992); Spufford (1988), pp. 240-66.


  1. See Van der Wee (1967, 1977, 2000); Munro (1979, 1991b, 2000, 2003d).


  1. See Statutes 37 Henrici VIII, c. 9 of 1545, permitting interest up to 10%; repealed by 5-6 Edwardi VI, c. 20 in 1552, which was in turn repealed in 1571 by 13 Elizabeth I, c. 8, which thus restored 37 Hen. VIII, c. 9, in _Statutes of the Realm_, vol. III, p. 996; and IV.i, pp. 155 and 542, respectively.


  1. See Van der Wee (1967, 1977, 2000), and other sources cited in notes 43 and 44.


  1. See Munro (2003d); Tracy (1985, 1994, 2003).


  1. Van der Wee (1977), pp. 373-76, Table 28. See also Usher (1943), Table 7, p. 169, using older data, which shows a rise in the Spanish funded debt from 4.320 million ducats in 1515 to one of 76.540 million ducats in 1598; and also Spooner (1972), pp. 56-57: “Wherever data [on public borrowing] are available they show that the expansion was certainly spectacular”: in Rome, France, the Low Countries, Germany. In Antwerp, Charles V’s loans rose from about £1.0 million groot Flemish in the 1520s to about £7.0 million in 1557 (on the eve of the Spanish royal bankruptcy). In Genoa, the issue of civic bonds rose from 193,185 _luoghi_ in 1509 to about 500,000 _luoghi_ in 1560 (p.  66).


  1. Van der Wee (1977), pp. 375-76; and see the other sources cited in n. 44 above.


  1. Spooner (1972), pp. 4, 54-55, stating that: “The structure of credit was, in effect, supported by progressive increases in the stocks of precious metals.” Very similar observations have been made in Nightingale (1990), Mueller (1984), Spufford (1988), p. 347: commenting that “when money [coined specie] is freely available, credit is also; when money is scarce, so is credit.”


  1. The title of Hamilton’s Chart 20 (p. 301) is “Total Quinquennial Treasure Imports and Composite Index Numbers of Commodity Prices.”


  1. Hammarström (1957). Her other criticisms of Hamilton’s scholarship strike me as being unfounded and thus unfair.


  1. Many, many years ago, one of my graduate students did run regressions involving both annual values of treasure imports and estimates of residual Spanish stocks of bullion, and achieved better results (high R-squared and better t-statistics) with the latter regressions.


  1. See I. Fisher (1911). The only reference in Hamilton (1934, p. 5, n.6) or in his other publications, to this famous economist is I. Fisher (1927), on index numbers.


  1. For various reasons, too complex to discuss here, I prefer to use the Gross National Product – as many economic historians, in fact do, in the absence of reliable figures for Net National Product.


  1. Mayhew (1995), p. 240, states that: “My own investigation of velocity in the medieval period up to 1300 also suggests that in periods of growth in terms of money, prices, and economic activity, velocity may be expected to fall rather than rise. … It will be argued here [in this article] that velocity does not rise with increasing urbanization and monetization. Indeed, the increasing use of money usually seems to require an enlarged money supply which will actually permit a reduction in velocity rather than an increase.” His intriguing and exceptionally important article makes some very heroic assumptions about the levels of NNI and of M (the money supply) over this long period, not all of which will earn general consent.


  1. See n. 79 below, and also Munro (2007b).


  1. See Gould (1964): who contended that inflation itself promoted capital investment during the Price Revolution era by cheapening the cost of previously borrowed capital: i.e., the relative cost of annual interest payments and repayment of the principal. Gould, however, was one of the critics of the Hamilton thesis; and also one of those who promoted the fallacy that the validity of a monetary interpretation would require that all prices move in unison (p. 251). See Schwartz (1974) in n. 28 above.


  1. The period of England’s “Great Debasement,” 1542 – 1553, was however, surprisingly, not one such example — nor can any be cited in English monetary history (in contrast to medieval French monetary history). As noted earlier, during the “Great Debasement,” the English penny lost 83.1% of it silver content. The formula for relating a debasement to the potential rise in prices (or the rise in the money-of-account price of silver) is: [ (1 / (1 – x) ] – 1, in which x represents the percentage reduction of fine silver in the penny coin and in the linked money-of-account (sterling). By this formula, prices should have risen by 491.72%; but they did not.  The Phelps Brown and Hopkins (1956) CPI rose from a quinquennial mean of 152.33 in 1536-40 to one of 315.85 in 1556-60: an increase of only 107.34%. See also Gould (1970) and Challis (1971, 1978, 1989, 1992a, 1992b).


  1. For shipments of Spanish silver to pay Charles V’s bankers in Antwerp and Genoa, see Spooner (1972), pp. 22-24.


  1. See Hamilton, pp. 44-45: but the analysis and evidence is very thin. On p. 19, he states more explicitly that “In view of the popular misconceptions concerning the amounts of treasure taken by the English, French, and Dutch, one who works with the records is impressed by the paucity rather than the plethora of the specie that fell prey to foreign powers.” See also Hamilton (1929a), pp. 436-72.


  1. Outhwaite (1982), pp. 31, 36. He is referring to the Anglo-Spanish trade treaty of 1630.


  1. Challis (1975). One other account, for June to December 1567 is incomplete, and does not provide the amount of bullion coined, though indicating that Spanish silver may have accounted for only 7.4% of such bullion. Surprisingly, this seminal article is not mentioned in Outhwaite’s second edition of 1982, referring only to Challis (1978).  See also Challis (1984).


  1. The bimetallic ratio in 1526-42 was 11.16:1, as it had been from 1465; in 1600, the bimetallic ratio was 11.10:1. For the mint data, see Challis (1978, 1989, 1992a, 1992b).


  1. See Flynn (1978), D. Fisher (1989), Frenkel and Johnson (1976), McCloskey and Zecher (1976), and Floyd (1985).


  1. In the sixteenth century, apart from the Great Debasement period (1542-1553), gold coins varied in official value from the sovereign worth 20s or £1 (=240d) to the half crown, worth 2s 6 (=30d). The silver coins varied from the farthing (0.25d) to the groat (4d). On this very point about varying circulation velocities on the coinages, see Spooner (1972), p. 74.


  1. My own calculations of the official bimetallic mint ratios indicate a rise from 12.109 in 1604 to 13.363 in 1612 to 13.348 in 1623 to 14.485 in 1660 to 15.210 in 1718 (remaining at this level until 1815). Based on data supplied in Challis (1992b), pp. 673-98.


  1. Hamilton (1934), Table 4, p. 71.


  1. The Dutch East India Company’s exports of fine silver rose from an annual mean 6,959.7 kg in 1600-09 to a mean of 11,563.7 kg in 1660-69. Gaastra (1983), pp. 447-76, especially Appendix 5, p. 475. Spooner (1972), pp. 76-77 and Chart 11, has estimated that Venetian silver exports to the Levant in 1610-14 amounted to 6% of the total Spanish-American silver bullion imports into Seville during those years.


  1. See note 9 above for the statistics (for a base of 1501-10), and the sources used to compute the three sets of CPI. If we use the Phelps Brown and Hopkins base (1451-75=100), instead of the earlier base for 1501-10 (to include Spanish prices), we find that the English weighted CPI rose from an annual mean of 108.52 in 1511-15 to one of 734.19, at the peak of the Price Revolution, in 1646-50: an overall rise of 6.77 fold. Similarly, in Brabant, the Van der Wee CPI rose from an annual mean of 137.904 in 1511-15 to one of 1015.14 in 1646-50, also the peak of the Price Revolution in Brabant: an overall rise of 7.36 fold.


  1. See note 74, below, for the termination date.


  1. See Munro (2003a), Table 1.2, pp. 4-5: and the sources cited in notes 24 and 25 above. In the period 1521 to 1550, total silver imports into Seville amounted to just 263,915.8 kg. During the period from 1551 to 1660, a total of 122,902.24 kg of gold was also imported.


  1. TePaske (1983), Tables 2-5, pp. 442-45.


  1. Hamilton (1934), p. 11, note 1. Most economic historians have wrongly assumed that Hamilton was forced to end his research on bullion imports with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 — an argument obviously refuted his earlier articles of 1928, 1929a, in which bullion import data cease in 1660.


  1. Morineau (1968), p. 196; Morineau (1985), especially Table 83, p. 578; Figure 38, p. 579; Table 84, pp. 580-83; Figure 39, p. 585.


  1. Morineau (1985): except for the semi-logarithmic graph, Figure 39, on silver imports and exports, which is very difficult to decipher; and it certainly does not allow to attribute actual values to the small-scale bar chart lines. His Figure 37, p. 563, with imports in millions of pesos, also has estimations for the period 1630-56, not indicated as such in the other tables and graphs.


77.The title of his 1986 monograph, _Incroyables gazettes et fabuleux métaux_ seems, in retrospect, to be ironic.  In Morineau (1968), the data presented on p. 196, evidently for the total value of bullion imports in each quinquennium, even when divided by 5, to produce annual means, exceed the data on mined outputs from a minimum of 12.12-fold  to a maximum of 41.07-fold.  In Morineau (1984), Table 83, p. 578, presents decennial means of bullion imports, expressed as equivalent amounts of silver, that, for the period from 1660 to 1700, range from being 3.653 times to 18.684 times greater than the recorded aggregate mined outputs of Spanish-American silver.  (See also his bar-graph, Figure 37, on p. 563, displaying in five-year periods — totals or annual means? — the values of “treasure” imports, expressed in millions of piastres or pesos: those of 272 maravedís or 450 maravedís?)  Hamilton (1929a, 1934) indicated that, in the seventeenth century, up to the cessation of recorded data, in 1660, almost all the imports were in the form of silver.  The great boom in Brazilian gold exports did not really begin until 1700.  See TePaske (1998), pp. 21-32.


  1. See the sources in notes 25 and 26 above. The Sombrerete mining outputs, however, began to fall sharply from the 1680s, reaching a low (quinquennial mean) of 3,957.14 kg in 1716-20. Subsequently, by the mid eighteenth century, Mexico experienced another and very major silver-mining boom: See Brading (1970), Garner (1987).


  1. Gaastra (1983), Appendix 5, p. 475; Chaudhuri (1968), pp. 497-98. We have no data on the Dutch Company’s exports of merchandise, but we do for the English East India Company. Between 1660 and 1700, it exported a total of 645,486.0 kg of silver (worth £5,795.793.65) and 21,552.0 kg of gold (worth £2,788.035.34), and a total value of £2,593.114.00 in merchandise.   Thus gold and silver “treasure” accounted for 76.80% of total exports to Asia, and merchandise for 23.20%.  Of the total value of bullion exports, silver accounted for 67.52% and gold for 32.48% of the total value.  (For the long period of 1660-1720, silver accounted from 81.35% and gold for 18.65% of the total values of bullion exports).  In the English East India Company’s early history, however, from 1601 to 1624, it exported a total of £753,336 in precious metals (‘treasure’) and £351,236 in merchandise, for an aggregate export value of £1,104,572, so that precious metals then accounted for a somewhat lower percentage of the total value: 68.20%.  Chaudhuri 1963), p. 24.


  1. See TePaske (1998), tables, pp. 21-32.


  1. Fortunately, for the book under review (Hamilton 1934), he did provide an Appendix (number VIII, pp. 403-04) for “The Composite Index Numbers of Silver Prices, 1501-1650.”


  1. My most serious criticism — and one voiced by many other economic historians — is the one concerning his concept of “profit-inflation,” in Hamilton (1929b). His thesis was warmly endorsed by John Maynard Keynes (1930), the following year, Vol. II, pp. 152–63, especially pp. 154-55: “But it is the teaching of this Treatise that the wealth of nations is enriched, not during Income Inflations but during Profit Inflations — at times, that is to say, when prices are running away from costs.” Keynes in fact really coined this term (so to speak).  Subsequently Hamilton published two more articles on this theme — in 1942, and 1952.  The latter was his Presidential Address to the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association.  Since this concept does not appear in the book under review, it would be unfair to criticize this thesis, here, even if space did permit it.  But I have posted on my web site an unpublished Working Paper, entitled “Prices, Wages, and Prospects for ‘Profit Inflation’ in England, Brabant, and Spain, 1501-1670:  A Comparative Analysis”:  It should be noted, however, that Hamilton (1934) did devote his chapter XII, pp. 262-82, to “Wages: Money and Real” and his Appendix VII (pp.  393-402) is devoted to “Money Wages.”  But space limitations have prevented me from discussing this aspect of his monograph.


  1. He warns the reader (p. 40) “that these are estimates based on partial information, into which the determination of arbitrary assumptions of correlations have entered, not exact compilations of complete data.”


  1. See notes 79 and 80 above.


  1. See note 1.




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Munro (1991b),  John, “The International Law Merchant and the Evolution of Negotiable Credit in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries,” in Dino Puncuh, _Banchi pubblici, banchi privati e monti di pietà nell’Europa preindustriale: amministrazione, tecniche operative e ruoli economici_,   Atti della Società Ligure di Storia Patria, Nouva Serie, Vol. XXXI (Genoa: Società Ligure di Storia Patria, 1991), 49-80; reprinted in John Munro, _Textiles, Towns, and Trade: Essays in the Economic History of Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries_ (Ashgate and Brookfield, NY:  1994).

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Munro (1994), John, “Patterns of Trade, Money, and Credit,” in James Tracy, Thomas Brady Jr., and Heiko Oberman, eds., _Handbook of European History: The Later Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, 1400-1600_, 2 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994-95):  Vol. I: _Structures and Assertions_, (1994), 147-95.

Munro (1998), John, “Precious Metals and the Origins of the Price Revolution Reconsidered: The Conjuncture  of Monetary and Real Forces in the European Inflation of the Early to Mid-Sixteenth Century,” in  Clara Eugenia Núñez, ed., _Monetary History in Global Perspective, 1500-1808_, Proceedings of the Twelfth International Economic History Congress at Madrid, August 1998 (Seville, 1998), 35-50.

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Munro (2003c), John, “Wage Stickiness, Monetary Changes, and Real Incomes in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries, 1300 – 1500:  Did Money Matter?” _Research in Economic History_, 21 (2003), 185-297.

Munro (2003d), John, “The Medieval Origins of the Financial Revolution: Usury, Rentes, and Negotiability,” _The International History Review_, 25:3 (September 2003), 505-62.

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John Munro is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Toronto, where he has taught since 1968, and where, despite mandatory retirement, he continues to teach a full course load in European economic history, both medieval and modern (to 1914).  His publications, in medieval and early modern economic history, are in two fields: (1) money, prices, and wages; and (2) textiles (including labor history and thus wages), which have predominated in his recent years of published output.  In the first field, his recent publications include “Wage Stickiness, Monetary Changes, and Real Incomes in Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries, 1300-1500: Did Money Matter?” _Research in Economic History_, 21 (2003) and “The Medieval Origins of the Financial Revolution: Usury, Rentes, and Negotiability,” _The International History Review_, 25:3 (September 2003). Forthcoming is the entry on “The Price Revolution,” in Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence  E. Blume, eds., _The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics_, second edition.

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Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):Latin America, incl. Mexico and the Caribbean
Time Period(s):17th Century

Routledge Handbook of Global Economic History

Editor(s):Boldizzoni, Francesco
Hudson, Pat
Reviewer(s):Mitch, David

Published by EH.Net (September 2017)

Francesco Boldizzoni and Pat Hudson, editors, Routledge Handbook of Global Economic History. New York: Routledge, 2016. xv + 471 pp. $240 (cloth), ISBN: 978-1-138-83803-1.

Reviewed for EH.Net by David Mitch, Department of Economics, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Francesco Boldizzoni (University of Turin) and Pat Hudson (Professor Emeritus, Cardiff University) have compiled a fascinating collection of 24 historiographical surveys on the economic history of countries and regions from six out of seven continents of the world bookended by their introductory essay (“Global Economic History: Toward an Interpretive Turn”) and their concluding essay (“Culture, Power, and Contestation: Multiple Roads from the Past to the Present”). Antarctica is presumably excluded due both to the absence of indigenous economic historians and the paucity of scholarly literature on the region. (See however, Bjorn L. Basberg, “Perspectives on the Economic History of the Antarctic Region,” International Journal of Maritime History (December 2006): 285-304.) The focus of each of these essays is on the historiography or alternatively history of economic history including the institutional setting for the practice of economic history for the geographical area under consideration rather than a survey of economic history as such. For twenty of the essays, the geographical entity considered is the nation state. The other four essays include Huri Islamoglu’s survey of what she calls “Middle Eurasia,” Luis Bertola and Javier Rodriguez Weber’s survey of Latin America, Ayedoji Olukoju’s survey of West Africa and Patrick Manning’s survey of Africa as a whole

A central defining feature of the volume is that in selecting authors for these pieces, the editors are explicit about their preference for indigenous economic historians. Boldizzoni and Hudson offer the following definition of an indigenous economic historian (p. 9): “Whenever possible historians who were trained and/or had based their career within their indigenous culture were favoured.” They offer the following justification for this principle of selection: “A distinctive contribution of the chapters therefore comes from their privileged access to sources. This is an aspect overlooked by global historians who have got accustomed to interpretations based upon cherry-picked secondary materials and upon inadequate, partial and delayed translations. We are not suggesting that indigenous scholars are inevitably more qualified than others to interpret their native cultures although we do accept, other things equal, that they have the opportunity to be better informed and that indigenous and external perspectives are likely to differ.” By my rough and ready reckoning, only two of the contributors clearly do not meet the indigenous criteria, Patrick Manning, the author of the Africa survey mentioned already, and Prasannan Parthasarathi who completed his Ph.D. at Harvard and has been in the History Department at Boston College since 1998. At any rate, the overwhelming majority of the authors in the volume would seem to meet the indigenous criteria as just described.

An important consequence of this for the surveys is that less attention than might otherwise occur is accorded to work by foreign scholars on the relevant territorial unit and, it would appear as a consequence, by cliometricians. The extent of inclusion of foreign and/or cliometric scholarship actually varies considerably across these pieces. Some chapters give no mention whatever to work by cliometricians or foreign scholars while others do so quite extensively. Thus both Naomi Lamoreaux’s chapter on the U.S. and that of Inaki Iriarte-Goni on Spain do give extensive coverage to cliometric work.

At first blush, it struck me that many of the chapters were thus wildly imbalanced by their lack of coverage of recent cliometric contributions or of major works by non-indigenous non-cliometric historians. Having heard, this past April, Bishnu Gupta deliver what I considered a tour de force Tawney Lecture featuring recent cliometric contributions to the economic history of India at the annual Economic History Society conference and having recently read Richard von Glahn’s magisterial The Economic History of China as well as having a sense of the considerable impact of Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence, I found it quite jarring to read the chapters on India and China and to find minimal mention of cliometric or foreign scholarship in either — including no mention of the contributions of Gupta, Pomeranz, or von Glahn. The chapter by Parthasrathi on India does mention the scholarship of Eric Stokes and Indian expat Amartya Sen, and Li Bozhong’s chapter on China does cite John Fairbanks and Angus Maddison. I do not find it obvious that any advantage associated with better access to primary sources or superior language skills should so fully outweigh other advantages associated with historical, social science and quantitative training in leading global academic centers as to either fully exclude or at least minimize the contributions of such perspectives.

It was only after I read Li Bozhong’s chapter on China that the case for economic history as done by indigenous scholars became compelling to me, although Boldizzoni and Hudson in their introduction indeed refer to an “interpretive turn” in history in which the perspective of the participant becomes central. Li makes the case that there is a 2000-year tradition of a genre that has been termed Shi Huo studies or food and money/commerce studies (p. 293-94). While not organized in terms of more modern concepts of economic history, these treatises did provide records and descriptions of “economic activities, events, and institutions” (p. 295). While this literature established a long tradition of Chinese antecedents for economic history, Li acknowledges that economic history in China was not indigenous but was introduced from the modern West in the first half of the twentieth century. However, he argues that the field developed in China in response to the distinctively Chinese self doubts of the time and an indigenous Chinese desire “to understand what was wrong with traditional Chinese society and economy and their failure to make China a ‘modern nation’” (p. 296). Similar arguments arise for the emergence of economic history in the Soviet Union and in Latin America in the early twentieth century and in South Africa in the mid-twentieth century. Indeed some of the most poignant passages in the volume are those by Leonid Borodkin and Li relating how Soviet and Chinese economic historians lost their lives — not to mention their career positions — for advocating approaches to economic history that were viewed by those in authority as not adhering to an orthodox line. Kaoru Sugihara in his chapter on Japan similarly relates how scholarly participants in debates in 1930s were subject to arrest and torture by the Special Thought Police (p. 316). The influence of political economy concerns broadly defined is also emphasized in Bill Freund’s chapter on South Africa.

Rather than seeing economic history as a field involving standard practices that have simply diffused from more advanced to less advanced societies of the world, the alternative view is that even if influenced by what at the time seem more advanced societies, the particular mix of issues and approaches to addressing them by economic historians develop indigenously. Thus the case for economic history in a given geographic area being practiced by indigenous scholars seems to me more one of awareness and responsiveness to distinctively local issues rather than readier access to primary sources. And the issue is less whether indigenous is intellectually superior to foreign but that in developing an intellectual history of the field, greater awareness of indigenous influences and driving factors gives an important advantage over either foreigner or practitioner of universal cliometric methods in providing an account of indigenous developments. Furthermore, it is useful to have accounts of how economic history has emerged in indigenous circumstances over and above whatever contributions to the economic history of a given geographical area have been made by foreigners. It is precisely in providing a compilation of such accounts that the contribution of this volume lies.

And despite my initial reservations, I do find this a quite worthwhile and successful volume. The scholarship in each of the chapters is excellent and the editors are to be saluted for their efforts in recruiting such strong scholars from all corners of the globe. Those with serious interests in economic history will want to consult this volume and at a minimum request it for their library’s reference collection.

However, some further limitations of the volume do warrant comment. First, the nation state emphasis at points becomes awkward insofar as relevant geographic units for coverage do not fall into current nation state categories and this may explain some of the exceptions to it. Thus, it seems odd that the chapters on the Czech Republic by Antonie Dolezalova, Slovakia by Roman Holec, and Hungary by Gyorgy Kover make only minimal reference to the extensive literature on the economic history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and indeed no chapter is included on Austria. The compelling chapter on Middle Eurasia by Huri Islamoglu seems to acknowledge that much is lost by an exclusive focus either on nation states such as Turkey or Iran or empires such as the Ottoman. She alludes to the value of a civilizational perspective in doing economic history in mentioning the neglect of the work of Marshall Hodgson as a scholar of Islamicate civilization as a whole. And the Latin American and African chapters alternate between country foci and continent wide or regional foci presumably reflecting the larger vistas one can obtain from a more regional or continental perspective than just considering an individual nation state.

Second, an apparent follow-on consequence of the nation state focus is a focus on the modern period since roughly the onset of the British industrial revolution from the mid-eighteenth century. So no coverage is given the literature on pre-eighteenth century economic history. This makes sense if the emphasis is on indigenous present-centered issues. But one misses the issue of how awareness of ancient, medieval and early modern roots can inform more contemporary historical analysis.

Third, while overtly aiming at overcoming disciplinary boundaries, the emphasis is on the economic history tradition. Karl Marx figures prominently and to a lesser extent Max Weber. Many of the chapters refer to the work of Fernand Braudel and the Annales School as well as the work of Immanuel Wallerstein. However, associated traditions in other social sciences seeking to integrate the economic with more general dimensions, including political science and sociology, are given minimal attention. For example, the major intellectual tradition of historical sociology reflected in the work of such prominent scholars as Charles Tilly and Michael Mann is hardly integrated into the accounts at all. No consideration is given to larger social science influences through organizations such as the Social Science History Association in the U.S. or the European Social Science History Conference. However, informative coverage is provided in the Dutch chapter by Ulbe Bosma on the origins and influence of the International Institute of Social History, based in Amsterdam and a key sponsor of the ESSHC.

Returning to the greater sensitivity of indigenous scholars to local issues raises the question of the general versus the particular in economic history. As both social science and history, there is presumably a case to be made for the presence of both. One place where this tension arises but is not considered as fully as it could have been in this volume concerns the extent to which economic historians should take up issues which have significance for the present within which they are working. This is what Claudia Goldin has called “Exploring the Present through the Past.” (See Claudia Goldin, “Exploring the Present through the Past: Career and Family across the Last Century,” American Economic Review 87, no. 2 (1997): 396-399.)

And this is a factor has had an influence on cliometric work in U.S. economic history. Thus one factor contributing to the intensity of the debate over slavery among U.S. economic historians in the late 1960s and early 1970s was concerns about racial unrest in American cities at this time. Major strands of research have developed since on issues concerning black economic progress in the advent of the Civil Rights movement and Great Society programs and on the impact of urban renewal and housing policies in the U.S. Similarly, another major strand of research focusing on the role of gender in the economy can be seen as reflecting increasing contemporary concerns with this issue. Yet the concern can arise that this infuses a presentism and whigishness into economic history with a neglect of perspectives of historical actors or longer-term general issues.

Given their preference for indigenous scholarship and a desire to avoid privileging occidental, metropole approaches, Boldizzoni and Hudson appear to have hoisted themselves by their own petard with regard to the organization of chapters in the volume. The area coverage essays is grouped into four parts. It starts with a lead section on “Anglo-American Traditions,” which includes chapters on Britain, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Then it proceeds to “West European Roots and Responses” (which includes chapters on Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, and the Low Countries). Part III is a “Turning to the East,” which is actually the second world of former Soviet Bloc countries including not only the Russian Federation but also Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. Finally, Part IV ends with “The Wider World,” which consists of an undifferentiated set of ten chapters but proceeding from Asia to Latin America and ending with three chapters on African regions. No explanation is provided for this sequencing but what is conveyed — even if unintentionally through this grouping and ordering — is a sense of hierarchy and diffusion from more enlightened Anglo-American regions down to more backward eastern European and then Asian and Latin American regions with African regions at the very bottom. However, many of the indigenous issues regarding national identity in economic history come through especially forcefully in the African and Latin American cases as well as those in Asia. Given the indigenous theme of the volume, highlighting more fully these latter cases at the outset would seem to be warranted.

Finally, it should be noted that an important contribution of the volume’s chapters is to consider the infrastructure supporting research and teaching in economic history — including not just the academic location of faculty and research positions in economic history but also the presence of government statistical agencies in collecting the data that can be seen as foundational for economic history research. In their concluding assessment, Boldizzoni and Hudson do make useful observations on the mix of demand- and supply-side factors including the role of government and foundation support for economic history. While there is much more that could be done in generalizing these findings, the material assembled in these essays provide an important foundation for considering the role of infrastructure in supporting the development of economic history research.

I hope these comments convey some of the respects in which this volume is both stimulating and provocative. I have not attempted to convey the full richness of its various essays. While not systematically a handbook in the sense of comprehensively surveying a gamut of methodological issues, the variety of levels of analysis and approaches taken by contributors does provide a quite valuable overview of the approaches that can be taken to the history of economic history. Not many readers perhaps will end up reading the volume cover to cover. Nevertheless, the contrasting assessments even within given geographic areas make browsing through the volume intriguing. For example, Inaki Iriarte-Goni’s and Sandra Kuntz Ficker’s upbeat assessments for Spain and Mexico respectively regarding the vibrant blending of various historical methodologies for the economic historiography of their countries present striking contrasts with Boldizzoni’s depiction of a field in decline for the case of Italy or Luiz Felipe de Alencastro’s portrait of involuted tendencies in the case of Brazilian economic history. Even cliometrically inclined scholars could potentially benefit from reading about the perspectives of those who remain resistant to their methodologies.

David Mitch is Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of “Economic History in Departments of Economics: The Case of the University of Chicago 1892 to the Present,” Social Science History (2011) and “A Year of Transition: Faculty Recruiting at Chicago in 1946,” Journal of Political Economy  December (2016)

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Subject(s):Development of the Economic History Discipline: Historiography; Sources and Methods
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Money in the Medieval English Economy: 973-1489

Author(s):Bolton, Jim
Reviewer(s):Munro, John

Published by EH.Net (June 2013)

Jim Bolton, Money in the Medieval English Economy: 973-1489.? Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012.? xv + 317 pp.? $35 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-7190-5040-4.

Reviewed for EH.Net by John Munro, Department of Economics, University of Toronto.

Embracing a most impressive range of research, cogently organized, penetrating in its analysis of all aspects of the medieval English economy related to money, and elegant in its prose, Bolton?s Money in the Medieval English Economy: 973-1489 is one of the most important books published in English medieval economic history during the past two decades.? Indeed, I do not know of any other comparable and equally comprehensive study of English medieval monetary history. The book is cast into two unequal parts.? Part I (pp. 3-86) is theoretical, beginning with the Fisher Identity and the relationships between money, population, and prices in the medieval economy, followed by uniformly excellent chapters on the roles of money in a developing market economy: in terms of? bullion supplies, coinage, and credit instruments.? The longer Part II (pp.? 87-309), analyses the changes in coinage and other forms of money, and then in more detail the changing roles of money in the actual economy, sector by sector, over three distinct eras: 973-1158, 1158-1351, and 1351-1489.
This section thus begins with the monetary reforms of Edgar of Mercia, first to be crowned and remain king of England, in 973; and it ends with Henry VII?s issue of the first gold sovereign coin, representing the value of one pound sterling, in October 1489 (the shilling came later).? A far more logical end-point would have been the onset of Henry VIII?s Great Debasement in 1542-44, as in Martin Allen?s recent, magisterial Mints and Money in Medieval England (2012), to which Bolton acknowledges his great indebtedness. Manchester University Press?s severe space limitations evidently prevented Bolton from extending his study beyond 1489, and also from including his 25-page bibliography, now available only online (URL on p.? 310).
Beyond the general objectives just outlined, Bolton?s book has two other major goals.? The first is achieved with great success: to prove, in chapters 6 and 7, that England did not acquire a fully-developed money economy until the era from 1158 to 1351, i.e., up to the onset of the Black Death.? In his fully justifiable view, a money economy essentially meant a well-functioning market economy, one that required not only a considerable expansion in the circulating coinage but also rapid population growth and the concomitant development of towns and villages with urban and regional fairs, the establishment of effective forms of royal taxation, the development of the requisite commercial, financial and legal institutions, especially those needed for various forms of credit; and for the latter, the spread of both literacy and numeracy.? He demonstrates that, while population growth from 1086 (Domesday Book) to 1300 at least doubled and may have tripled (from 2.0/2.5 million to 5.0/6.0 million), the money supply expanded by 27 to 40 fold: from ?25,000/?37,500 to more than ?1.0 million ? most of that from the 1220s, though attributing the major increases in coinage to the Central European silver mining booms of ca. 1160 to ca. 1230.? He cites Mayhew?s estimates (2004) that per capita GDP rose from ?0.18 in 1086 to ?0.78 in 1300 (and to ?1.52 in 1470: Table 9.2, p. 295). Depending on sources,? methodology, and population estimates, he contends that per capita supplies of silver coin rose from 3.2d/6.0d in 1042-1066 to 65.5d/101.3d in 1310 (Table 2.2, pp. 25-27).? Thereafter, the introduction of gold coinages (from 1343-51) created significant problems for both our estimates of money supplies and the well-being of the English domestic economy, especially since the English government consistently and seriously overvalued gold to the severe detriment of silver coinage supplies (in effect, England exported silver to acquire gold), given that silver coin was the chief mechanism for transacting domestic trade, wages, and other such payments.
That problem, however, leads us to his second goal, for which he is much less successful: to refute the current ?monetarist? views that later fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England experienced severe monetary scarcities (whether seen in terms of stocks or flows), most especially in silver coin supplies.? A disclaimer is in order: I am evidently one of those so-called monetarists under attack.? The tenor of the book becomes most evident in his statement (p. 75) that: ?It [the money supply] was not the sole determining factor [of price levels] as monetarist historians argue.?? I do not know of anyone who now does so.? That negative viewpoint may be deduced from his lengthy discussion, in his opening chapter, of the well-known and much abused Fisher Identity: M.V = P.T.? Thus, if one accepts the view that changes in V (velocity) and T (volume of transactions) cancel each other out, one might deduce that the price level P ? usually measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) ? is directly and proportionately a function of changes in M.?? But, even if some historians still use this antiquated formula, few if any economists do so, preferring? the modernized version in the form M.V = P.y (the occasionally-used equation M.V = GNP is unacceptable as an analytical tool). In this version, y, representing real net national income (or output), thus replaces the completely unmeasurable T; and V thus becomes the income velocity of high-powered money (however defined). Most economists now prefer even more to use the Cambridge ?cash balances? approach, with a demand-for-money equation: M = k.P.y, in which M, P, and y remain the same, while k represents that proportion of national income that the public collectively chooses to hold in non-earning real cash balances, according to determinants of liquidity preference, so that k is often sensitive to changes in interest rates.? Mathematically k is the reciprocal of V.

As may be deduced from either (revised) formula, an expansion in M may have been offset by some decline in V (with a lesser need to economize on coin use) and thus by some increase in k, and also by an increase in y:? especially if an increased M led to a decline in interest rates (with no changes in liquidity preference) and to a greater stimulus for investment and trade, so that P would have risen less than proportionately, if at all.? But the converse was not necessarily true, for the various forces contracting monetary stocks may also have constricted monetary flows: i.e., also reducing V and thereby increasing k.? These revised formulae clearly demonstrate that any analysis of changes in the price levels requires a detailed understanding of changes in both money stocks and money flows (especially liquidity preferences) but also changes in the real economy, as represented by y:? i.e., changes in population, technology, economic organizations, real capital investments, etc.? In my recent publications involving coinage debasements, I have sought to prove that in late-medieval and early-modern Europe, increases in M never resulted in proportional increases in the price level, even during Henry VIII?s Great Debasement (Munro 2011, 2012a, 2012b). None of this constitutes the supposed ?monetarism? that Bolton portrays, except to indicate that ?money matters? (a proposition that Bolton admittedly never denies).
Bolton?s specific goal, in the final two chapters, 8 and 9, is to prove that increases in the supply and use of various credit instruments fully offset the two supposed ?bullion famines?: those from ca. 1375 to ca. 1420 and from ca. 1440 to ca. 1480.? Indeed, his focus on the expanding role of credit allows him fully to accept the nature and extent of these two ?bullion famines? as portrayed by so-called ?monetarists,? in contrast to the published views of the current group of ?anti-monetarist? historians (such as Sussman 1990, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2003).? He thus accepts the three prevailing theses to explain that coinage scarcity: a severe decline in outputs of European silver and gold mines; the disruptions in the trans-Saharan African gold trade to the Mediterranean; and increased bullion outflows to the East, particularly for purchases of Asian spices and other luxury goods.? But this third thesis seems inconsistent with his view that late-medieval England always enjoyed a surplus in its balance of payments with the continent. I myself am far from convinced that any payments deficit with the East, so chronic from Roman times, became proportionately worse during the later-Middle Ages, especially because the specific evidence adduced in favor of this thesis (from Ashtor 1971, 1983) comes from the 1490s, when the Central European mining boom, having commenced in the 1460s (peaking in the 1530s) was supplying vast new quantities of silver to promote increased Venetian trade with the Levant (Munro 2003a).? The more significant of these factors, therefore, may have been the reduction in European inflows of African gold, from the 1370s: a trade that the Portuguese later sought to restore, from the 1440s, and with considerable success from the 1470s.
What Bolton neglects to consider as a major factor in these ?bullion famines? is changes in Cambridge k (and thus in V): i.e., an increased liquidity preference in the form of hoarding ? not by burying precious metals in the ground but by converting them into plate and jewelry, readily changeable back to coin, in times of war-induced taxation.? The one (other) historian who has given such emphasis to changes in liquidity preference and hoarding (?thesaurisation?), as a reaction to general economic pessimism and risk aversion in times of chronic plague, other forms of depopulation, economic contraction and periodic depressions, is Peter Spufford (1988); but Spufford still places greater emphasis on the roles of the European mining slump and bullion outflows to the East.

Bolton obviously does not wish to entertain the Spufford thesis ? which necessarily implies a decrease in the income velocity of money ? because he seeks to show that an increased use of credit fully offset the bullion famines by increasing either V or M or both.? In this debate, on the role of credit, his chief opponent is Pamela Nightingale (1990, 1997, 2004, 2010), and indeed the two have continued this debate is recent issues of the British Numismatic Journal (2011, 2013).? I continue to support Nightingale.? That might seem obvious for one accused of being a ?monetarist,? so that readers of this review must judge for themselves by a careful examination of their respective publications (and the others cited here).? In my view, Bolton fails to refute or contradict Nightingale?s two major propositions.? The first, and most important, is that the supply of credit remained essentially a function of the coined money supply, because most (if not all) credit transactions depended on the use of coin, and especially on the creditor?s confidence of being fully repaid in coin:? so that credit generally expanded with increases in the coined money supply and conversely contracted with any decline in the supply or circulation of coined money, often disproportionately.? On this important issue, Nightingale receives full support from many other monetary historians: Peter Spufford (1988), Nicholas Mayhew (1974, 1987, 1995, 2004), Reinhold Mueller (1984: for Italy), Frank Spooner (1972: for France), and most recently (if less strongly) Chris Briggs (for England: 2008, 2009).? Nightingale?s? second proposition, also endorsed by most of these historians, is that the wide variety of credit instruments used in late-medieval England were not yet negotiable, and thus, while affecting velocity (V), they did could not and did not add to the money supply (M) ? though the differences between the two may here be moot.? To be sure, many of these credit instruments were, and long had been, assignable ? transferable to third parties.? But as Eric Kerridge (1988) ? whom Bolton cites for other purposes ? long ago stressed: ?transferability is not negotiability,? a point that Michael Postan had also earlier made (1928, 1930), despite Bolton?s assertions to the contrary. The fully developed legal institutions required for secure negotiability of commercial bills, in protecting the full rights of assignees and bearers to claim and enforce payment on redemption, were first established in the Habsburg Netherlands by imperial legislation enacted in 1537 and 1541, as Herman Van der Wee has clearly demonstrated (1963, 1967, 1975, 2000),? Not until the early seventeenth century do we find comparable full-fledged English acceptance of negotiability and no national legislation until the Promissory Notes Act of 3 & 4 Anne c. 8 (1704).
Equally essential for full negotiability was the legal acceptance of discounting, a problem related to the issue of usury, given short shrift not only by Bolton but also by Nightingale and most other financial historians (except, notably, De Roover 1967, also in Kirschner 1974).? To be sure, we may fairly assume that many medieval creditors did disguise interest in a loan by increasing the amount stipulated for repayment; but disguising such implicit interest was far more difficult to achieve in discounting (selling a bill for less than face value before redemption).? As Van der Wee has also demonstrated for the Habsburg Netherlands, discounting, along with multiple transfers by endorsement, spread only after an imperial ordinance, issued in October 1540, explicitly permitted interest payments on commercial loans up to 12%.? He also demonstrated that nominal interest rates in the Netherlands dropped sharply in this era, by almost half: from 20.5% in 1511-15 to 11.0% in 1566-70; real rates dropped even further with the inflation of the Price Revolution.? Similarly, according Norman Jones (1989), an even sharper fall in English interest rates on commercial bills took place after Elizabeth I, in 1571, restored her father?s abortive statute (1545) permitting interest payments up to 10%: from about 30% in the 1560s to 10% by 1600, with further declines in the seventeenth century, to about 5% (see also Homer and Sylla 1997, pp. 89-143; Munro 2012c).? Bolton has also not taken account of the significantly increased restrictions on the use of credit in fifteenth century England, from both anti-usury and bullionist legislation, and also the prevailing social attitudes that remained deeply imbedded until the early Stuart era. As Lawrence Stone (1965) so aptly commented on Elizabethan England: ?Money will never become freely or cheaply available in a society which nourishes a strong moral prejudice against the taking of any interest at all. ? If usury on any terms, however reasonable, is thought to be a discreditable business, men will tend to shun it, and the few who practise it will demand a high return for being generally regarded as moral lepers.?
If we were to accept, instead, Bolton?s contentions that an increased use of credit fully offset the coined money scarcity evident in the two bullion famines, then we would then be hard pressed to explain the sharp deflation of these two periods.? Bolton evidently sees no need to do so, for his book, most surprisingly, contains no tables or graphs on the price level (CPI); he provides only one price graph, on relative prices for just wheat and oxen, from 1160 to 1350 (p. 183).? Demographic decline cannot itself explain the periods of deflation (apart from its possible impact on V).? For note that the Black Death (1348-49), quickly reducing population by about 40%, was followed by three decades of rampant inflation: when the Phelps Brown and Hopkins CPI (1451-75 = 100) rose from a quinquennial mean of 85.53 in 1341-45 to one of 136.40 in 1366-70, falling slightly to 127.35 in 1371-75.? Thereafter, the CPI fell to a low of 103.70 in 1421-25, for an overall decline of 23.94%, despite the 16.67% silver debasement of 1411-12.? Rising thereafter to a peak of 124.22 in 1436-40, the CPI fell by 25.40 % during the second ?bullion famine?: to a nadir of 92.667 in 1476-80, again despite the 20.0% silver debasement of 1464.? Recent alternative historical consumer prices indexes ? those by Robert Allen (2001) and Gregory Clark (2004, 2007), neither cited by Bolton ? show the same patterns of inflation and deflation demonstrated in the older Phelps Brown and Hopkins Composite Price index (1956, 1981: revised by Munro).
Bolton consequently does not take full account of the negative economic consequences of deflation.? If all relative prices had moved together in tandem, with proportional changes, then neither deflation nor inflation would matter. But price changes have never done so, especially factor prices in relation to commodity prices.? In general, deflation raises the burden of factor costs for borrowers and entrepreneurs, while inflation reduces that cost burden.? The most familiar such phenomenon is downward nominal-wage stickiness ? so widespread throughout Western Europe, unaffected by demographic factors, and persistent in England itself until 1920 (Smith 1776/1937; Phelps Brown and Hopkins 1955/1981; Munro 2003b).? But nominal interest rates and land rents were generally also sticky in this era, especially when defined by contracts, though for much shorter periods.? Thus all these real factor costs rose, at least in the short run, with the fall in the Consumer Price Index. If creditors were more reluctant to lend in times of monetary scarcity and depression, for fear of non-payment, debtors were also reluctant to borrow more in facing prospects of higher real costs in payments of both interest and the principal.? For both creditors and debtors that reluctance, in especially the mid fifteenth century, may have been due as much to the adverse circumstances of the commercial depressions that accompanied that bullion ?famine? and deflation (Hatcher 1996; Nightingale 1997; Bois 2000).
A final problem, and one that pervades much of the book, concerns the proper distinctions between bullion, coinage, and moneys-of-account, and the closely related problem of coin debasements.? Bolton ought to have followed the model set forth long ago by Sir Albert Feavearyear (1931/1963), whose absence from the bibliography is astonishing.? By this model, silver and gold coins, bearing the official stamp of the ruler, generally circulate by tale (official face value), commanding an agio or premium over bullion.? That agio represents the sum of the minting costs of brassage (for the mint-master) and seigniorage (a tax for the ruler), added to the mint?s bullion price; but also, for the public, it represents their savings on transaction costs in not having to weigh the coins and assay their proper fineness.? As Douglass North (1984, 1985) has demonstrated, transaction costs are always subject to considerable scale economies: thus they are a major burden in small-scale, low-valued silver transactions in retail trade and wage payments, but far less so in very large volume, high-valued transactions, especially those involving gold in wholesale and foreign trade and major debt transactions.? Bolton is very ambiguous on whether coins circulated by weight or by tale, ignoring the scale economies of transactions, but seemingly supporting the former view (despite his evidence presented on pp. 120-21).?
An increased tendency for coins to be accepted only by weight, in higher-valued transactions, arose when the quality of the circulating coinage inevitably deteriorated over the years and decades following a general recoinage: when its silver contents diminished through normal wear and tear, but especially when? the coinage became more and more corrupted by the nefarious practices of clipping, ?sweating? and counterfeiting ? none of which would? have been profitable had coins earlier circulated by weight. Such deterioration, the loss of public confidence, and growing refusals to accept coins by tale meant that all coins lost their former agio, with four consequences.? First, merchants, still accepting coins by tale, sought compensation for perceived silver losses by raising their prices; second, good, higher-weight coins were culled and hoarded or exported, often in exchange for foreign counterfeits (Gresham?s Law); and third, bullion ceased to flow to the mints, so that the king lost? his seigniorage revenues.? Fourth, the king consequently had no alternative but to debase his coinage to bring it in alignment with the current depreciated circulation, thereby restoring the agio and resuming the flow of bullion to the mints.? In Feavearyear?s view, this purely defensive reaction to coinage deterioration explains all English silver debasements before Henry VIII?s Great Debasement of 1542-52: in particular, the 10.00% silver reduction of 1351; the 16.66% reduction of 1411/12; the 20.00% reduction of 1464; and the 11.11% reduction of 1526 ? so that fine silver content of the penny fell from 1.332 g in 1279 to just 0.639 g in 1526.? Henry VIII?s Great Debasement was undertaken, however, for purely fiscal motives (as had long been the continental pattern): to augment seigniorage revenues. But the evidence on seigniorage rate changes indicates that such fiscal motives had also prevailed in Edward IV?s silver and gold debasements of 1464-65 (Munro 2011).
None of this analysis or any credible explanation for debasement can be readily found in Bolton, who even denies that English kings debased their coinages before the Great Debasement, on the overly literal grounds that the sterling silver fineness (92.5%) was always maintained (except for the 1336 issue of 10 dwt halfpence = 83.33% silver halfpence).? Almost all monetary historians define debasement instead as the reduction of the quantity of fine silver or gold in the money-of-account unit (pence, pound). That was achieved by a diminution in fineness (adding more base metal), and/or by a reduction in weight ? but also, for gold coins, by an increase in their official exchange rates.? Thus Edward IV?s initial debasement of gold in August 1464 was achieved by increasing the value of the traditional, physically-unchanged gold noble, from 6s 8d to 8s 4d.? In this respect, I also regret the absence, for a book on money in the medieval economy, of tables on English mint outputs (except for one graph on the Calais mint), in both pounds sterling and kilograms of fine metals, with related details on specific coinage issues in terms of weight, fineness, and mint charges ? though much of that information can be found in both Christopher Challis (1992) and Martin Allen (2011, 2012). ???
Other readers may, however, place much less emphasis on the issues raised in this review; and some, suspecting an unwarranted ?monetarist? bias in this review, may well support Bolton?s views, especially on the role of credit in the late-medieval economy.? Indeed, I must stress the significant contributions that Bolton has made in this field, especially those based on his ongoing research on the Borromei bankers (Milan), and the roles of other Italian merchant-banking firms in both English foreign and domestic trade, i.e. in London. As I indicated at the outset of the review, this book is one of the most important published in English economic history in the past two decades, and one in which the virtues well outweigh the defects.? I recommend that you buy it; if so, get the online bibliography now, before it disappears from the web.


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??? ???
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Munro, John (2012a), ?The Technology and Economics of Coinage Debasements in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: with Special Reference to the Low Countries and England,? in Money in the Pre-Industrial World: Bullion, Debasements and Coin Substitutes, ed. John Munro, Financial History Series no. 20. London: Pickering & Chatto Ltd., pp. 15-32, 185-89 (endnotes).

Munro, John (2012b), ?Coinage Debasements in Burgundian Flanders, 1384-1482: Monetary or Fiscal Policies?? in Comparative Perspectives on History and Historians: Essays in Memory of Bryce Lyon (1920-2007), ed. David Nicholas, James Murray, and Bernard Bacharach.? Medieval Institute Publications, University of Western Michigan: Kalamazoo, pp. 314-60.

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John Munro is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Toronto, specializing in the economic history of the late-medieval Low Countries and England, with a focus on money and textiles.? His recent publications in monetary history (2011 – 2012) are listed in the bibliography above; he has also recently published:? ?The Rise, Expansion, and Decline of the Italian Wool-Based Cloth Industries, 1100 -1730:? A Study in International Competition, Transaction Costs, and Comparative Advantage,? Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, 3rd series, 9 (2012), 45-207.

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Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval