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Market, civic virtues, and civic bargaining in the medieval and early modern age: some evidence from sixteenth century Italy

  • Luca Clerici


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    In the last decades, historians have shown that the modern market is rooted in the institutional system created in European towns since the middle ages. This approach leads us beyond the usual opposition between market and society or between public and private market. Indeed, in the medieval and early modern age, the market was part of a wider institutional design of civil life, which had a basic conceptual frame of reference in the notion of the common good, a feature typical of such organicistic and hierarchical societies. This paper explores the process of market construction in the medieval and early modern age. I firstly analysed the role of the market in these societies and then focused on the case of foodstuff provision: a key element of the non-written, ancient pact between rulers and people, based on the assurance of subsistence. As a basis for the study, I employed sixteenth century documents regarding Vicenza, a medium-sized town in the Republic of Venice. These show very clearly that, in general, market and price regulation was not the result of arbitrary interventions by public authorities; on the contrary, it was the result of a process of negotiation, which I call civic bargaining. This process involved—to various degrees—public authorities, landowners, merchants and guilds, and the town’s people, the pursuit of the common good being, in practice, a matter of balancing various needs and interests. Present-day economic and social public policies are, in many aspects, an inheritance of the institutional system created in the medieval and early modern age: knowledge of these origins is useful in the present debate regarding economic versus social development, as discussed at the end of the paper. Copyright Springer-Verlag 2012

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    Article provided by Springer in its journal International Review of Economics.

    Volume (Year): 59 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 4 (December)
    Pages: 459-475

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    Handle: RePEc:spr:inrvec:v:59:y:2012:i:4:p:459-475
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