Freedom and Growth: Markets and States in Pre-Modern Europe by Steven R. Epstein

By Steven R. Epstein

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For about a century, between 1330 and 1434, Florence seemed to offer a historically pregnant alternative to the territorial principality, as it extended the model of the republican city-state to a region measuring more than 12,000 square kilometres. 43 This was arguably a difficulty that city-states faced everywhere in their territories, although Florence faced it on an unusually large scale. 44 How can this political failure be explained? Why did Florence’s subjects systematically resist its rule, forcing it to find political stability under the Medici?

Yet interest rates in urban republics outside Italy – including Geneva, many of the smaller city-states in Switzerland, southern Germany and Alsace – were not significantly lower than the average paid by monarchs. Nor did the Dutch Netherlands fare any better, despite the sophisticated financial system established along do not precisely reflect interest rate levels, they had to be set at a level that lenders deemed reasonable and they demonstrate a clear long-term trend. The suggestion that states could arbitrarily set interest rates is implausible, for reasons discussed below; although both pre-modern monarchies and republics frequently raised ‘forced’ loans among their wealthy elites, the lack of elite opposition to such loans even though they had ample scope to resist implies that real interest rates were not considered extortionate.

For the Tudor and early Stuart period, see Schofield 1988; Hoyle 1998; Harriss 1963; Hurstfield 1955; Aylmer 1957a and 1957b. 22 By the 1630s the Stuarts’ reputation had so deteriorated that they could no longer raise funds on international financial markets (North and Weingast 1989: 820 note 36). 26 Freedom and growth ‘national’ taxes approved by consultative bodies in case of war. Additional revenue came from the feudal prerogative, which included forced loans, concessions of monopolies, distraint, and forced requisitions to supply armies.

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