Commercial Crisis and Change in England: 1600-1642

By B. E. Supple | Go to book overview

9. ECONOMIC THOUGHT

There seems to be no need for yet another study of the technical writings of the early seventeenth century designed to place them in the context of an intellectual history of economic thought. Most modern attempts to do this are to a considerable extent misleading since, using the concept of a 'theory of international trade' in order to examine a body of writing to which it does not apply, they ignore the sort of short-term problems with which contemporaries were exclusively concerned. As a consequence, many modern commentaries involve interpretations, and even contortions, of contemporary opinion which are likely to be unjustified. The purpose here, even though explanation of a theory will not be confused with justification, will be to relate the views of the leading pamphleteers of the period much more closely to their environment,1 and to attempt an appraisal of these views in the light of the frequently forgotten fact that they were the products, not of deductive reasoning, but of the impact on men's minds of economic problems which urgently demanded analysis and remedy. From the point of view of the present work it will be necessary to do this for only a few strains in contemporary economic thought.

Thus, in part the story is one of a heightened appreciation of England's changing economic position in an increasingly competitive world. As alternative sources of woollen textiles prospered in Europe and as the European economy began to forge new links with America, Asia and Africa, the market pressures towards diversification in England's international economic and commercial relationships were reflected in and augmented by a changing mode of thought on the role of the native textile industry and the types of trades in which Englishmen should indulge. This development came more towards the end of the period. Prior to the 1630's pamphleteers (although both tendencies were to some extent intermixed in their writings) concentrated largely on short-term problems posed by crises which principally involved the monetary system and the textile industry. And the bulk of their writings was therefore devoted to the interrelationships of currency and commerce. It is, for instance, almost impossible fully to understand the ideas of Misselden, Malynes and Mun apart from the depression of the early 1620's and its

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1
Some aspects of this question have already been ably dealt with in J. D. Gould, "The Trade Crisis of the Early 1620's and English Economic Thought", Journal of Economic History, XV ( 1955), 121-33.

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