Braudel, Fernand. The Wheels of Commerce; Civilization and Capitalism 15-18th Century. Vol 2. trans. Sian Reynolds. New York: Harper & Row, 1982.
In this second volume Braudel focused on the systems that supported capitalism. Braudel 's analogy was of exchange as a river flowing between consumption (vol 1) and production (vol 3). This image of a narrow and turbulent divider suited his purpose of focusing on circulation in volume 2. He argued that the capitalists and capitalism rose before there were "means of production" to control, and not being linked to production, rested rather in the exchange of bills, the field of credit and banking, and long distance trade -- essentially speculation upon the lack of complete information from one place to the next. He began with the instruments of exchange themselves, turns next to the markets and the economies, centered on what capitalism is, and how it operates "away from home and "at home," and concluded by describing the pluralism of society and how capitalism took its place in classes, religions and cultures.
The simplest and most transparent means of exchange was the weekly market. Towns then organized markets, oriented the city around the halles that housed the larger markets, and encouraged markets to become daily events. Large markets were a sign, just as cathedrals were, of the economic health of a region. "Wherever the market is absent, or insignificant, wherever money is so rare that it has a virtually explosive value, one is certain to be observing the lowest plane of human existence, where each man must himself produce almost all he needs." (59) Pedlars extended local markets, and flocked to places where there was a breakdown in the system (as they still do).
Monthly or yearly gatherings become fairs organized by large cities. In these markets lie the roots of capitalism -- the opportunity to meet and clear up trade imbalances and the opportunity to hire labor along with goods. Fairs were eliminated when the exchange of goods and bills of exchange became sufficiently regular, with sufficient warehouses to superceded the need for a physical gathering, and flourished where stockpiling occurred and other systems of trade broke down. Also important to this picture were the Exchanges -- meeting places for bankers and brokers, maritime insurance and currency dealers -- to be found in every big city. These exchanges were organized independently of the fairs. "It is clear then that in the eighteenth century, the instruments of big business were becoming more numerous and diversified. Fairs and Exchanges however still remained at the heart of merchant life." (81)
For a merchant risking his money on trade, the most important part of the transaction was to see that the return journey was profitable. "If in certain circumstances a trade circuit could not be closed at all, it was clearly doomed to disappear." (142) Financial circuits were dependent on sound and widely accepted bills of exchange. Braudel also mentions some identifiable nationalities that traveled, were a minority in the various countries where they settled, stayed in touch with each other because of common cultural bonds, and formed merchant networks: among these he lists Italian, Jewish, and Armenian firms and families.
Where then did modern capitalism start? Braudel argued that capitalism has always existed where trade networks exist. "Above the markets, the shops, and the travelling pedlars, rose a mighty superstructure of exchange in the hands of extremely skilled operators. This is the level at which one finds the major workings of the large scale economy, and necessarily of the capitalism which could not have existed without it. " (81) But where there key industries, or key organizational schemes? Taking the second question first, Braudel followed the model of Hubert Bougin who offered four categories: the largest category, the family workshop with a master and one or two apprentices, the scattered manufactories which all worked on one product and were linked by the product and the merchant entrepreneur who organized the work (e.g. getting the wool from spinner to weaver and dyer), the concentrated manufactories who brought all the processes together under one roof (breweries, tanneries, glassworks), and finally factories which were "equipped with machinery using the additional energy sources of running water and steam." (301) "Outside Europe, the first two categories predominated" (302), but Braudel remarked that despite their rich craft tradition, the development of complex tools in China and India was hindered by the sheer numbers of people -- no labor saving devices were required. When poverty and rising populations forced the migration of these small home artisans to the cities, a seasonal and regular labor force was created. City- organized guilds were an organizational force, especially as they fostered the division of labor, as was the putting out system (Verlagssystem) in the countryside; the merchant then became the mediator between organizational schemes in town and country. If these were some of the organizational schemes, what were the key industries? Textiles appear to be one key industry, first wool, then silk and finally calicoes. And mining was the other -- both of these dominated and organized by merchants and supported by technology "it was a turning point for both technical and working conditions." (322) As mines deepened, the money required to establish and run them increased, so the wealthy alone could afford to pursue organizing mines. Manufacturing was minor but important for technical progress. "The growing part played by capital -- both fixed and circulating -- is beyond doubt. The initial investment was sometimes great." (338) However, in general Braudel argued that choices made by capitalists during this time tended to minimize industry 342 because capitalists tended to take their profits out of industry and invest elsewhere where higher gains were to be had. Braudel suggested that industry in a region rose and fell (346) because there was not enough demand or capital in the lower classes to support more than one industry, and he noted that investment in transportation offers another view of the modernity of a region.
The model that Braudel generates is as follows: there was a three-fold grouping: commodities or articles consumed on the spot, marketed over short distances, and finally it was big business -- a "capitalist game" -- when it was gathered and transported over long distances. (456)
Once again he argues that the proportional size of an economic activity is not tatamount to its importance. Although bankindg and trading were a relatively small proportion of the economy in England (8 million pounds of 600 million) it nevertheless represented the business model of the future and the dawn of colonialism, two significant (trends) (453).
Braudel concluded with a view of capitalism on home ground and the groupings within society.
The real impetus for capitalism, he asserted, was not the division of labor in manufacturing, but the division of labor in capital and trade markets, and that rested on the "spontaneous expansion of the economy, at the grass roots." (382)
Who put up the money? Small and large investors were a part, but large investors were the most significant.
Credit and banking?
At the heart of Braudel's work is another question: why should there be so few wealthy people in any society, at any time? Gurvitch's society of societies (5 societies)