Real or Physical Explanations

  • R. B. Outhwaite
Part of the Studies in Economic History book series


‘REAL’ explanations, which placed less emphasis on changes in the monetary sphere than they did on other, physical factors operating on prices, have never been entirely absent from discussions of secular changes in the price level. They were present, as has been shown, in contemporary discussion of inflation in. Tudor England, but later such explanations became more characteristic of discussions about inflation in periods other than the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Even when the quantity theory was most fashionable there were heretics who were prepared to argue that changes in price levels were only remotely linked, if at all, with changes in the availability of monetary supplies. Irving Fisher felt it necessary, for example, to castigate David A. Wells, author of Recent Economic Changes (1890), who. had argued that the long deflation of the later nineteenth century could be explained almost entirely by shifts in the supply and demand schedules of important commodities, and by falling costs, the most important of which was the dramatic drop in freight rates.l To the quantity theorists this was anathema, for they explained it almost entirely in terms of an increasing demand for precious metals, which was a function of increasing monetary requirements, running ahead of the supply of precious metals.


Price Level Precious Metal Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Price Rise 
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  1. 2.
    See W. W. Rostow, The British Economy of the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1948), pp. 145–60, for a résumé of the debate;Google Scholar
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    The best summary of our ignorance, and of the problems of the period generally, is F. J. Fisher’s masterly inaugural lecture, ‘The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: The Dark Ages in English Economic History?’, Economica, XXIV (1957), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    There are hopes, however, that some of these questions may eventually be answered through the efforts of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, founded in 1964. The most interesting of its contributions to date is E. A. Wrigley’s ‘Family Limitation in Pre-Industrial England’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, XIX (1966), 82–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    W.G. Hoskins, ‘Harvest Fluctuations and English Economic History, 1480–1619’, Agricultural History Review, 12 (1964), 28–46, and ‘Harvest Fluctuations and English Economic History, 1620–1759’, ibid., 16 (1968), 15–31.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Economic History Society 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. B. Outhwaite
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LeicesterUK

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