The Invisible Hand? The Emergence and Decline of Market Economies throughout History

A public lecture by Bas van Bavel, Department of History and Art History - Economic and Social History, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.

In this talk, Bas van Bavel argues that factor markets are not modern, but existed at various times in the past. They are not always rising, but after some time they stagnate and decline again. They create dynamism in the exchange of land, labour and capital, but in the longer run produce social polarization and a decline of average welfare. This, in its turn, creates institutional sclerosis, and finally makes these markets stagnate or decline again. This process is analyzed for the three major, pre-industrial examples of successful market economies in western Eurasia: Iraq in the early Middle Ages, Italy in the high Middle Ages and the Low Countries in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period.

Bas van Bavel is Professor of Transitions of Economy and Society at Utrecht University. He acts as the academic director of the Utrecht University interdisciplinary priority area "Institutions for Open Societies." His research activities focus on reconstructing, analyzing, and explaining economic development and social change, emphasizing long-term transitions and regional diversity, and using comparative analysis - both over time and across regions - as the main tool. More specifically, he aims to find out why some societal arrangements are successful and others not, and what drives the formation of these arrangements.

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Duration: 43:14

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