"The Origins of Capitalism" by Ellen Meiksins Wood

Essay by wespacUniversity, Bachelor'sA, November 2004

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In the development of the modern world, the institution known as capitalism has virtually exploded and has reached, in some aspect, almost every nook and cranny of the globe. Although capitalism is a very powerful force in this modern world, its origins are not well known or documented, and therefore a debate amongst historians to understand how this unique economic system came to be has emerged.

Ellen Meiksins Wood is of the opinion that capitalism was originally developed in Britain, specifically England, and that it is unique to this region and this region alone. In her book, The Origin of Capitalism, Wood discusses the factors that caused England to bring about the social changes required in order to allow capitalism to become the standard for trade and economics in that country. However, it is prudent to understand the world around England during this time in order to understand why capitalism developed in England in the first place.

During the time in history when feudalism was dying out, there were several countries that would be considered to be advanced or ahead of their time, at least when compared to England. Florence, for example, was the heart of the Renaissance, and it was a bustling city that was a hub for all types of pre-capitalistic trade and innovation. According to Wood, "Florence at that time far surpassed England, yet that northern backwater was then on the verge of its capitalistic development, while the opulent Italian city-state 'failed' to take that route."

Another highly developed nation that co existed with pre capitalist England was the Dutch Republic. The cultural achievements and its commercial wealth of the Dutch far exceeded that of England at the time, and the country pioneered some of the most sophisticated practices used today, including banking, stock trading and...