The Medieval Expansion of Long-Distance Trade: Adam Smith on the Town's Escape from the Violent and Low-Growth Feudal Equilibrium

30 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2016 Last revised: 21 Jun 2016

See all articles by Barry R. Weingast

Barry R. Weingast

Stanford University, Department of Political Science

Date Written: June 2, 2016

Abstract

Most people in medieval Europe lived at subsistence in a violent feudal world. Adam Smith explained both the long-term stability of the feudal system and how the towns escaped this violence trap through political exchange that fostered their ability to enter long-distance trade, significant division of labor, and economic growth and development. Violence is central to Smith's approach to development, which Smith scholars have systematically under-appreciated. In the face of episodic violence, individuals had little incentives to be industrious, to save, or to invest. Smith argued that the medieval towns escaped the violence trap through trade expansion. In Smith's view, development required three mutually reinforcing elements – liberty; commerce, including long-distance trade; and security from all forms of violence.

Keywords: Adam Smith, violence trap, long-distant trade, political development

JEL Classification: B25, B31, H11, K20,N43, N73, O19, P26

Suggested Citation

Weingast, Barry R., The Medieval Expansion of Long-Distance Trade: Adam Smith on the Town's Escape from the Violent and Low-Growth Feudal Equilibrium (June 2, 2016). Stanford Law and Economics Olin Working Paper No. 492. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2789131 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2789131

Barry R. Weingast (Contact Author)

Stanford University, Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States
650-723-0497 (Phone)
650-723-1808 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.stanford.edu/group/mcnollgast/cgi-bin/wordpress/

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
206
Abstract Views
1,180
rank
153,445
PlumX Metrics