Richard Ebeling emails:
I have a new article on the Future of Freedom Foundation (FFF) website on, “Economic Ideas: The Institutions and Economics of the Middle Ages, Part 1.”
The Middle Ages – from the fall of the Roman Empire in A.D. 476 to around 1500 – covers a period of time that eventually saw the slow emergence of the ideas and institutions that would serve as the gateway to modern Western markets and commerce. But leading up to it was nearly a thousand years of regimentation, regulation and restrictions on freedom.
Nearly 90 percent of Europe’s population lived and worked on the land, living a subsistence life under the feudal order in which the “lord of the manor” ruled and regulated over the everyday affairs of the serfs who lived on the lands that his ancestors had conquered. It contained all the elements and ingredients of the self-sufficient planned and command economy, including its lack of personal and economic liberty.
Only in the towns and cities were there real aspects of commerce, trade, contract and property rights, all of which carried with in them the seeds for capitalist free enterprise and trade far into the future. But for the most part during most of these centuries, urban enterprises were controlled by the professional guilds that set wages and prices, determined hours of operations and places of trade, and restricted innovation and competition to preserve the existing networks of privilege and protection for the existing producers. Here were all the aspects of the hyper-interventionist economy, hamstringing those who might want to introduce improvements and market-oriented change.
But slowly cracks emerged through changing ideas and more competitive trading opportunities that helped bring about the lasting transformation to the freer market societies of the modern world.