Die Distributionsrevolution des 15. Jahrhunderts


  • Stuart Jenks




The Distribution Revolution of the Fifteenth Century
The consumption revolution of the long eighteenth Century (c. 1650-1850) was inconceivable without a prior distribution revolution in Northwest Europe, in the course of which markets were linked in a stable hierarchy reaching from the international fairs of Antwerp and Frankfurt down to humble packmen tramping from village to village. The exotic products of the consumption revolution did not have to surmount any significant distribution problems, because the networks had been functioning since the fifteenth Century. The proof of this hypothesis is divided into two parts, one empirical and the other theoretical. The foundation of some 2000 weekly markets in England between 1200 and 1350 resulted from the interaction of peasants’ cash requirements and improved transportation by horse: There was much money to be made by establishing markets, but peasants could choose between them. This set in train a brutal winnowing of markets which was intensified in the late middle ages by the effects of the plague, the enclosure movement and price-wage developments. In the end, the surviving markets had organized themselves into a hierarchy based on London, which was, by 1500, indisputably the center of foreign trade and the distribution of imports in England. This section concludes by showing that the hierarchization of markets was also characteristic of the Hanseatic area during the same period. The theoretical part of the paper demonstrates that the hierarchization of markets changed the framework for economic actors in a way no person or group could alter. Late medieval industrial mass production, succeeded by early modern proto-industrialization, required efficient labor markets and distribution networks. Placing the price signals generated by urban markets at the center of the argument solves a number of troubling problems of proto-industrialization: the geographical concentration of proto-industries, the outsourcing of simple tasks (and the retention of more sophisticated processes) and thesubsequent urbanization of rural industrial clusters. It also allows us to go beyond Diamond and Krugman and construct a real-world model of the rise of market hierarchization, as traders exploited scale economies derived from the difference between urban Wholesale and rural retail prices, and - by concentrating their trade on the most liquid provincial markets (thus maximizing thick market externalties) - locked these satellite markets into the hierarchy. An examination o f the policies o f the London Grocers and Mercers proves that this did, indeed, take place in the course of the fifteenth Century. Therefore, the distribution revolution was a true revolution, one which changed forever the framework for economic actors in a way 110 person or group could alter (,economic Constitution‘).