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A 'Short Treatise' on the Wealth and Poverty of Nations (1613)

A 'Short Treatise' on the Wealth and Poverty of Nations (1613)

Antonio Serra | Sophus A. Reinert


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Although no less an authority than Joseph A. Schumpeter proclaimed that Antonio Serra was the world’s first economist, he remains something of a dark horse of economic historiography. ‘A ‘Short Treatise’ on the Wealth and Poverty of Nations’ presents, for the first time, an English translation of Serra’s ‘Breve Trattato’ (1613), one of the most famous tracts in the history of political economy. The treatise is accompanied by Sophus A. Reinert’s illuminating introduction which explores its historical context, reception, and relevance for current concerns.

Antonio Serra (f.1613) was a Neapolitan lawyer and political economist.

Sophus A. Reinert is Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School. From 2008–2011 he was Research Fellow in History at Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge, UK.

Although no less an authority than Joseph A. Schumpeter proclaimed that Antonio Serra was the world’s first economist, he remains something of a dark horse of economic historiography. Nearly nothing is known about Serra except that he wrote and died in jail, and his ‘Short Treatise’ is so rare that only nine original copies are known to have survived the ravages of time. What, then, can a book written nearly four centuries ago tell us about the problems we now face? Serra’s key insight, studying the economies of Venice and Naples, was that wealth was not the result of climate or providence but of policies to develop economic activities subject to increasing returns to scale and a large division of labour. Through a very systematic taxonomy of economic life, Serra then went on from this insight to theorize the causes of the wealth of nations and the measures through which a weak, dependent economy could achieve worldly melioration.

At a time when leading economists return to biological explanations for the failure of their theories, the ‘Short Treatise’ can remind us that there are elements of history which numbers and graphs cannot convey or encompass, and that there are less despondent lessons to be learned from our past. Serra’s remarkable tract is introduced by a lengthy and illuminating study of his historical context and legacy for the theoretical and cultural history of economics.

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Front Matter i
Half Title i
Title iii
Copyright iv
Contents v
Acknowledgements vii
Introduction 1
A Man, his Book, and the Renaissance 9
Commerce and the Common Good 17
The Classical Context 26
The Civil Context 31
Medicean Economics 38
Good and Bad Government in Serra’s Naples 46
Antonio Serra’s Breve trattato 56
Historiography and Relevance 71
The Breve trattato’s Model of Economic Development 86
Critical Bibliography 87
Editions of the Breve trattato 87
Extracts from the Breve trattato 88
Works on Serra and his Breve trattato 89
A Note on the Text 95
Main Matter - A SHORT TREATISE by Antonio Serra 97
Preface 109
CHAPTER I On the causes which make kingdoms abound in gold and silver 117
CHAPTER II On accidental causes and the proper accidents 119
CHAPTER III On the common accidents 119
CHAPTER IV On the common accident of an enterprising population 123
CHAPTER V On the common accident of extensive trade 125
CHAPTER VI On the common accident of effective government 127
CHAPTER VII That there are no other causes than these 133
CHAPTER VIII A comparison of Naples with Venice and Genoa with respect to the accidents mentioned above 133
CHAPTER IX The conditions of the cities of Naples and Venice with respect to the effect mentioned above 135
CHAPTER X How it is that Venice, despite the conditions just described, abounds in gold and silver 139
CHAPTER XI How it is that, despite the prevailing conditions in Naples, that city is poor in gold and silver 145
CHAPTER XII The comparison between Naples and the other cities of Italy 155
Séquiti conclusione vera, che il cambio basso faccia abbondare,e l’alto impoverire. Capitolo II 168
di sopra. Capitolo III 170
CHAPTER III Whether the experience described earlier is true 171
consequenze che deduce dalla altezzae bassezza del cambio, con le cause che nonfanno essere denari in Regno. Capitolo V 182
cambio alto dia guadagno a chi vuol portare denari in Regno per cambioe non incontanti e per tal rispetto non vengano contanti. Capitolo IV 176
farsi per l’abbondanza di denari in Regno.Capitolo VI 184
CHAPTER VI On the measure that De Santis recommends in order to createan abundance of money in the Kingdom 185
produrre la provisione predetta, sianoveri. Capitolo VII 186
CHAPTER VII Whether the effects which De Santis claims are producedby a lowering of the exchange rate are real 187
Conte d’Olivares sopra il bassare del cambio.Capitolo VIII 188
CHAPTER VIII On the decree passed by the Count of Olivares to lower the exchange rate 189
predetta di bassare il cambio possea essere impeditada altri Prencipi d’Italia. Capitolo IX 190
CHAPTER IX Whether the decree passed to lower the exchange rate could have beenprevented by the other princes of Italy 191
Forastieri in Regno con l’industrie e ritrattodi mercantie siano causa della penuriadella moneta. Capitolo X 194
CHAPTER X Whether the income that foreigners have from their investments in theKingdom and the earnings they derive from their businesses andtrade are a cause of the shortage of money 195
la detta pragmatica. Capitolo XI 198
CHAPTER XI Whether the decree was unjust 199
seguitare da detta pragmatica, se siano veri.Capitolo XII 200
CHAPTER XII Whether the other effects which he alleges follow from the decree are true 201
CHAPTER I On the remedies that have been adopted and proposed for making the Kingdom abound in money 209
CHAPTER II On the remedy of prohibiting the exportation of money 209
CHAPTER III On the remedy of allowing foreign money to circulate and raising its value 215
CHAPTER IV On the proposed remedies of either raising the value of local money or reducing its weight and debasing the alloy 221
CHAPTER V On the correct ratio of gold to silver in ancient and modern times 233
CHAPTER VI On remedies for the shortage of money in general 235
CHAPTER VII On the difficulty of the remedies 237
CHAPTER VIII Whether, despite these difficulties, it is possible to remedy the shortage of money and create an abundance 239
CHAPTER IX How the remedies can be made easier 243
End Matter 251
Analytical Index 251