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In the second half of the eighteenth century Southern Italy took part in the general development of trade, thus recovering the position it had acquired in the European economy in the late Middle Ages, as an exporter of agricultural produce in exchange for manufactured goods. The evidence is unequivocal, and tends substantially to repeat a picture which was already well defined during the sixteenth–century growth in European trade. Nevertheless, the changes are highly relevant.
First of all, the political and intellectual élites have a new perception of the economy of southern Italy in an international context. Economic analysis, which was starting to be practised and taught as an academic subject, was a compound of discourses still uncertain of their own object and with varying levels of sophistication. However, it had acquired a new and unmistakable flavour. The autonomy of the Kingdom, and the establishment of the Supremo Magistrato del Commercio in 1739, spur the development of an ‘audit of power’ similar to that performed by the cameralists (applied economists in the imperial service) during the period of Austrian domination from 1707–34. But in the eighteenth century this traditional mercantilist analyses no longer monopolised the field of economics. As in other European countries, it was being supplemented by, and connected with, attempts to gauge the level of ‘public happiness’ by seeking information even in the ‘inner Tartary’ – the vast, unexplored domain of the provinces and the countryside.
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