Low Countries Histories - Economic

Barbour, Violet. Capitalism in Amsterdam in the Seventeenth CenturyAnn Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1950.

Based on a bricolage of sources, Barbour’s examination of the capitalist economy of seventeenth-century Amsterdam contended that Amsterdam’s capitalism rested upon the extension and intensification of trade and commerce rather than the experimentation and innovation that characterized the English and American capitalist economies.  “The energy, ambition and capital resources of the Netherlanders were not directed toward overseas settlement,” wrote Barbour, because they viewed colonization as unpredictable and colonial returns as uncollectable.  Instead, “Amsterdam merchants preferred an empire of trade, snug monopolies, and quick profits” (139).

Houtte, J. A. van. An Economic History of the Low Countries, 800–1800. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977.

Synthesizing old and new research, Van Houtte analyzes the economic and social development of the Low Countries between the High Middle Ages and the end of the early modern period.  He asserted that the Low Countries essential unity lay in their economic and social unity rather than a shared political past.  Consequently, the Low Countries has contributed in significant economic and social ways to the evolution of European civilization and, more specifically, the dawn of the modern global economy (vii, 316).

Israel, Jonathon I.  Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 1585–1740. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

In this work Israel set out to refute the Braudelian view of history, which argued that the basic movements in the early modern European economy can be best explained by the secular trend in population, production, and prices.  In the end, Israel concluded that the growth of overall Dutch ascendancy from the late sixteenth century onward was not a direct consequence of the Dutch command of the Baltic bulk trades, which was favored by the secular trend in population, production, and prices, nor was its decline determined by a reversal of that trend after 1650.  Rather, the keys to the primacy of the Dutch lay in the combination  of their preeminent position in the Baltic bulk trades and their domination of the “rich trades”—trading in high-value goods such as fine cloth, silks, and spices—whose impact was felt both in Europe and in large parts of the rest of the world.  In this, Israel concluded, their hegemony was unprecedented.

Mastboom, Joyce M. “Protoindustrialization and Agriculture in the Eastern Netherlands.” Social Science History 20, no. 2 (1996): 235–258.

In this analysis of the evolution of agriculture and protoindustrialization of the Achterhoek region in the province of Gelderland between 1650 and 1850, Mastboom argued that the history of agriculture explains why the Achterhoek region did not experience many   developments traditionally linked to protoindustrialization.  According to Mastboom, the protoindustrialization of the Achterhoek region was exceptional for a number of reasons.  First, the agricultural intensification that occurred between 1750 and 1815 increased the demand for agricultural labor.  Second, the birthrate leveled off while the number and size of farms increased during the period. Mastboom contends that this was due to the fact that although the advent of protoindustry may have decreased the importance of inheriting the farm, the Achterhoek region maintained an inheritance custom known as anerbenrecht in which only one child inherited the farm.  As a result, Achterhoek families remained small, young people continued to marry at an older age, and farms were not subdivided.  Third, there was no trend toward immiseration because there was no trend toward the subdivision of lands and because many small- peasants emigrated to the United States.  Fourth, land was not amassed into huge commercial farms because the soil was sandy and small- to medium-sized farms were viable.  As a result, farmers were not under pressure to sell or give up their holdings to potential consolidators. Fifth, the first steps toward protoindustrialization were taken by the state, not by manufacturers. For example, in 1833 the Nederlandse-Handel Maatschappij (NHM) or Dutch-Trading Company subsidized a weaving school in Twente where weavers were retrained on new looms that tripled their speed.  Thus, by 1836, all of the weavers in the Achterhoek had been retrained and were working in workshops in which 6-50 looms and as many weavers worked to fill the orders to the East Indies (243-48, 250-53).    

Vries, Jan de. The Dutch Rural Economy in the Golden Age, 1500–1700. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974.

According to De Vries, the increasing population, land reclamation, and colonization that occurred in the Northern Netherlands between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries resulted in the land being held by the urban bourgeoisie and the peasantry rather than the church or the nobility.  Then, between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, windmills were introduced, cereals were replaced by industrial crops, dependence on foreign grains increased, and the pursuit of non-agricultural activities intensified in the Northern Netherlands.  In other words, the inheritance of the physical, legal, and sociological characteristics of the late medieval period enabled the people of the Northern Netherlands to develop a unified rural economy despite its division into four distinct provinces.

———, and Ad van der Woude. The First Modern Economy: Success, Failure, and Perseverance of the Dutch Economy, 1500-1815. Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1997.

De Vries and Van der Woude contend that the Dutch economy was in fact the first modern economy; an argument that challenges the orthodox notion that the first modern economy was established in England during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Their argument rests on their conception of a modern economy.  De Vries and van der Woude maintain that a “‘modern economy need not be one with the outward attributes of a twentieth-century industrial economy; rather, it should incorporate the generic features that make those outward signs possible” (693).  According to De Vries and van der Woude, then, the central features of a modern economy are one in which the markets are reasonably free and pervasive; agricultural productivity is adequate enough to support a complex social and occupational structure that makes possible a far-reaching division of labor; the state is attentive to property rights, freedom of movement, and contract, and, at the same time, is not indifferent to the material conditions of life of most of its inhabitants in its policy making and enforcement; and, finally, a level of technology and organization exists that is capable of sustained development and of supporting material culture of sufficient variety to sustain market-orientated consumer behavior.  De Vries and van der Woude argue that the Dutch Republic is the first modern economy not simply because these features were characteristic of the Republic, but more importantly due to its permanence and leadership “in establishing the conditions for economic modernity over much of Europe” (693).


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