Guido Alfani

Economic Inequality in Preindustrial Europe: An Overview

  • Abstract

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Keywords: Economic Inequality; Concentration of Wealth; Early Modern Age; Middle Ages; Black Death; Preindustrial Europe.

This article offers an overview of recent research on preindustrial inequality, from the late Middle Ages to the end of the early modern period. Based on data covering a range of Italian pre-unification states as well as the Low Countries, the article shows that inequality grew continuously in the period considered, with exception for the decades following the fourteenth-century Black Death. The article argues that inequality growth in early modern times is closely associated to the rise of the fiscal-military state. Germany seems to have experienced partially different inequality dynamics, as according to a still provisional reconstruction inequality there declined during the seventeenth century. This might have been the consequence of the devastating Thirty Years' War. The article argues that these new findings for preindustrial times allow reaching a different overall understanding of distributive dynamics in the long run of human history.

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