The Price Revolution and Primitive Accumulation

  • Edward J. Nell


Immanuel Wallerstein’s The Modern World-System is a massive and magnificent work of historical scholarship and deserves the highest praise for combining breadth of vision with attention to scholarly detail. Yet like all attempts to synthesize many different kinds of studies, carried out from many different points of view, it runs into the problem that the underlying theoretical ideas may not always be consistent with each other. I shall concentrate on one such problem which emerges largely in the second chapter. This is the question of the initial emergence of capital, the first concentrations of control over the means of production, held in money form, which Marx called ‘primitive accumulation.’ Wallerstein surveys the debate over the ‘price revolution,’ which provided one explanation of the emergence of capital, and he goes over the demographic evidence, which provides a different explanation for the same series of price and wage movements. His own view is clearly that what really matters is the emerging world division of labor, including the patterns of labor control, which result from specialization in supplying the world market, but in arguing for this, he overlooks important developments in the re-organization of the guilds, and he appears to accept some arguments, both from the monetarists and from the demographers, that no serious scholar should countenance.


Real Wage Marginal Productivity Demand Curve Wage Level Supply Curve 
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  1. Harcourt, G.C. (1972) Controversies in the Theory of Capital (London: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Hill, C. (1967) Reformation to Industrial Revolution (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson).Google Scholar
  3. Nell, E.J. (1967) ‘Economic Relationships in the Decline of Feudalism,’ History and Theory, 6.Google Scholar
  4. Wallerstein, I. (1974) The Modern World System (New York: Academic Press).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Edward J. Nell 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward J. Nell
    • 1
  1. 1.New School for Social ResearchNew YorkUSA

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