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The Role of Governments in Economic Growth in Early Modern Times

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2010

Frederic C. Lane
Westminster, Massachusetts


A discussion fifty years ago of comparative economic history would have taken a broader view and would probably have been concerned very largely with exploring along the trails blazed by Max Weber and Marc Bloch. They were interested in many other aspects of economic history besides economic growth and I hope that similar broader interests will shortly show signs of reanimation. In spite of the present popularity of quantitative studies of changes in production, I hope some discussions at this meeting will examine comparative studies of forms of economic organization and the human qualities those structures reflected or generated. But my remarks here accord with the present preoccupation with that kind of economic history in which the all-important questions relate to the causes of economic growth. And I limit myself to one aspect only, the influence of governments.

Papers Presented at the Thirty-fourth Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association
Copyright © The Economic History Association 1975

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1 North, Douglass C. and Thomas, Robert Paul, The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1973)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Lane, Frederic C., “Economic Consequences of Organized Violence,” Journal of Economic History, XVIII (1958), 401410CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and in Venice and History (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1966), pp. 412428Google Scholar.

3 As in the framework formulated by Kuznets, Simon, Towards a Theory of Economic Growth (New York: Norton, 1968)Google Scholar, reprinted from National Policy for Economic Welfare at Home and Abroad, ed. Lekachman, Robert, Columbia Bicentennial Series (New York: Doubleday, 1955), pp. 1285Google Scholar.

4 A dear simple statement of the concept of surplus I have in mind and of its use in analyzing growth is in Furtado, Celso, Development and Underdevelopment (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1964), pp. 7881Google Scholar. Furtado also uses a concept of tribute (pp. 86–89) similar to that explained below, although he does not define tribute the same way.

5 Davis, Lance E. and North, Douglass C., Institutional Change and American Economic Growth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1971), p. 216CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On p. 213 it is defined in the sentence: “Not too surprisingly, effective redistribution requires that there exist some income that can be distributed without causing the death (economically or physically) of the previous recipient or without causing that recipient to withdraw the service that produced the income.”

6 The distinction between “distribution” and “redistribution” fades away once it is recognized that payment for the “service” referred to in the sentence quoted in footnote 5 is made only because of a property right created by a government. Governments can distribute income differently not only by a change in tax collections and disbursements but also by changes in property rights.

7 Engerman, Stanley, “Some Considerations Relating to Property Rights in Man,” The Journal of Economic History, XXXIII (1973), 46–7Google Scholar.

8 On the connection between rent and surplus in the thought of Adam Smith, especially in his theory of distribution, see Buchanan, D. H., “The Historical Approach to Rent and Price Theory,” Economica: Journal of Social Science, No. 26 (June 1929), 131Google Scholar. On the connections between “unfettered and unlimited property rights to the land” and the abolition of the rights to labor services connected with serfdom, see Kahan, Arcadius, “Notes on Serfdom, in Western and Eastern Europe,” The Journal of Economic History, XXXIII (1973)Google Scholar. The phrase quoted is in a note on p. 98.

9 Lane, “Economic Consequences,” in Venice and History, pp. 420–423.

10 Lane, F. C. et al. , “Meanings of Capitalism,” The Journal of Economic History, XXIX (1969), 79Google Scholar, especially the footnotes.

11 Lane, Venice and History, 415–420.

12 Kuznets, Simon, Economic Growth and Structure (New York: Norton, 1965), p. 263Google Scholar.

13 Vauban, Sebastian le Maréchal de, Projet d'une Dixme royale (1707), p. 4Google Scholar.

14 Gregory King, Natural and Political Observations upon the State and Condition of England, appended to Chalmers, George, An Estimate of the Comparative Strength of Great Britain (London, 1802), pp. 424–5Google Scholar, cited in Ashton, T. S., An Economic History of England in the 18th Century (London: Methuen, 1955), p. 23Google Scholar; Lane, Venice and History, p. 423.

15 Pike, Ruth, Aristocrats and Traders: Sevillian Society in the Sixteenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972)Google Scholar.

16 Nef, John U., Industry and Government in France and England, 1540–1640, vol. 25 of Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia, 1940)Google Scholar, reissued by Cornell University Press in 1964 and Russell and Russell, New York, 1968.

17 American Historical Review, XLVII (1941), 111Google Scholar.

18 Deane, Phyllis and Cole, W. A., British Economic Growth (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1964), p. 159Google Scholar; Marczewski, Jan, “Some Aspects of the Economic Growth of France, 1660–1958,” Economic Development and Cultural Change, IX (1961), 372, Table 2Google Scholar.

19 Probably much less. Kuznets, Simon, “Capital Formation in Modern Economic Growth,” in his Population, Capital and Growth (New York, 1973)Google Scholar.

20 Kendrick, J. W. in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. Sills, David L. (New York: Macmillan and Free Press, 1968), XI, 24Google Scholar.

21 Kuznets, Simon, “National Income: A New Version,” Review of Economics and Statistics, XXX (1948), 156–7Google Scholar.

22 Kuznets, Simon, Economic Growth of Nations: Total Output and Production Structure (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 78CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 Kuznets, Simon, National Product in Wartime (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1945), pp. 7, 12Google Scholar.

24 Kuznets, Economic Growth of Nations, p. 78.

25 King, Gregory, Two Tracts, ed. Barnett, George E. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1936), p. 50Google Scholar. King estimated a somewhat similarly defined surplus for Holland as 5000 pounds sterling; ibid. p. 52.