Prometheus Born: The High Middle Ages and the Relationship between Law and Economic Conduct
66 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2013
Date Written: 1994
Political powerholders typically prefer to regulate economic conduct for their own political and economic ends. In the Western political tradition, however, a different conception of the relationship between law and economic conduct has long constrained that preference. Here, the regulation of economic conduct has been heavily influenced, at times even dominated, by the languages of religion, philosophy and ethics rather than being exclusively an issue of wealth and power.
This conception of the relationship between law and economic conduct has shaped the market in the West — its development as well as its current operation. It has borne values, perceptions and expectations that have molded the conduct of economic and political actors by defining the costs and benefits of entrepreneurial as well as of regulatory action. In particular, it has helped to create and maintain the relative autonomy of economic activity from state control that has fueled the West's economic dynamism during the last century and a half. The "Prometheus" of economic dynamism may have been "unbound" during this period, but I suggest that it was "born" much earlier when this unique relationship between law and economic conduct was sculpted.
The first part of the essay briefly describes the first commercial revolution and some of its consequences. I next evoke the institutional and intellectual dynamics that shaped responses to the market. The focus then turns to the responses of the church and the universities to market forces, and I here analyze in detail the development and impact of the norms which were developed to control the market. This is followed by discussion of the ways in which secular institutions responded to these forces. And, finally, I venture some suggestions about the factors that gave this unique framework its strength and durability.
Keywords: law and economics, economic conduct, economic regulation, market forces, competition law, international law, legal systems
JEL Classification: K19, K33, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation