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Published February 1999 | public
Journal Article

Information and Economic History: How the Credit Market in Old Regime Paris Forces Us to Rethink the Transition to Capitalism


BENEATH THE VAST HISTORY OF BUSINESS PRACTICES-and underneath the historical scholarship on financial transactions in particular-there lurks a beguiling story, a story that goes something like this: Before the Industrial Revolution-and in developing countries, before modern economic growth-financial dealings were usually personal, with most loans supporting non-productive activities. Investment in this pre-modern world was minimal, as, obviously, was economic growth. In Europe, the impasse lasted until the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the continent passed through a drastic economic transition that transformed finance. The transition created an impersonal and capitalist credit market, which fed productive investment in industry and made growth a reality.

Additional Information

© 1999 Oxford University Press. The authors wish to thank audiences at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton University and at meetings of the Social Science History Association and the Society for French Historical Studies for their comments and suggestions. The research for this article could not have been carried out without funds and assistance from a variety of sources: in France, the Archives Nationales and the lnstitut National de la Recherche Agronomique; in the United States, the California Institute of Technology, UCLA through the dean of Social Sciences and the Academic Senate, the RBSL Bergman Foundation, the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation, Marcia Howard through the Adopt a Scholar Program, the National Endowment for the Humanities (grant number RZ-20044-97), the Young Investigator Program of the National Science Foundation (grant number SBR 9258498), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (with support from NSF grant number SES 9022192).

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