Monday, November 23, 2009
The Great Depression of the Fourteenth Century
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death, 1562
An article by Murray Rothbard, excerpted from An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 1, Economic Thought Before Adam Smith
in The Ludwig von Mises Institute Blog
The successful battle to establish the fact of the great decline has done little, however, to establish the cause or causes of this debacle. Focus on the devastation caused by outbreaks of the Black Death in the mid-14th century is partially correct, but superficial, for these outbreaks were themselves partly caused by an economic breakdown and fall in living standards which began earlier in the century. The causes of the great depression of western Europe can be summed up in one stark phrase: the newly imposed domination of the State. During the medieval synthesis of the High Middle Ages there was a balance between the power of Church and State, with the Church slightly more powerful. In the 14th century that balance was broken, and the nation-state came to hold sway, breaking the power of the Church, taxing, regulating, controlling and wreaking devastation through virtually continuous war for over a century (the Hundred Years' War, from 1337 to 1453).