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The Formation of Capitalism in European History Essay example

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The Formation of Capitalism in European History


"Pure capitalism is characterized by private ownership of resources and by reliance on markets, in which buyers and sellers come together and determine what quantities of goods and resources are sold and at what price. Here no central authority oversees production and consumption. Rather, economic decisions are coordinated by the actions of large numbers of consumers and producers, each operating in his or her own self-interest. Because property is privately owned, it can be used in whatever manner its owner chooses (Ragan and Thomas, p. 46)."

Europe had its capitalistic beginnings in the mid-seventeenth century. However, medieval Europe is characterized by the antithesis of this kind of economy. Who caused the pendulum to swing? Historians, with their tendency to generalize, often lose in the aggregate, or barely touch upon the root reformers of this era. The Northern Italians laid the foundations for the dissolution of the feudal order and the transformation of Europe into a capitalist region.

Life in medieval Europe can be characterized by sameness. That is, relative to the life expectancy of a human being, little changed from year to year. Granted, there were periods of war and civil unrest, but the society as a whole remained unchanged. If a person was born into a poor family, then he or she would remain poor with virtually no exceptions. Society was regimented from top to bottom with predetermined social status, and no room for the ambitious.

Even an individual's social contacts were largely limited to their local area. The vast majority of medieval society was engaged in agricultural endeavors. These endeavors were carried out on communal farms owned by a nobl...


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...he Northern Italian commercial influence took hold, the old order was destined to fail. Considering the plight of the serfs, it is of no wonder why mercantilism grew in appeal. The capitalistic enterprise offered never encounter opportunities for the ambitious. This gave rise to growing, innovative and prosperous Europe.


Cited Works

Birdzell, L. E., Jr. & Rosenberg, Nathan. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. Basic Books. New York: 1986.

Crow, John A. Italy: A Journey Through Time. Harper & Row. New York: 1965,

Hilton, Rodney. The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism. Humanities Press. London: 1976.

Pirenne, Henri. A History of Europe. University Books. New Hyde Park, New York: 1955.

Ragan, James F., Jr. & Thomas, Lloyd B., Jr. Principles of Macroeconomics. The Dryden Press. Fort Worth, TX: 1992.


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