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Economics and Technology in Europe Essay

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Updated: Nov 2nd, 2020


The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe were marked by a rapid expansion of agricultural productivity that necessitated a growth in the production of manufactured goods. Technological advances facilitated a demographic explosion that led to changes in the patterns of urbanization. Economic prosperity created by the Industrial Revolution allowed European banking industries to evolve, which resulted in the emergence of new financial instruments (Wiesner-Hanks 484-486). The aim of this paper is to discuss economic and technologic developments that took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe and their implications for the continent.

Main Themes

The European economy started gradually evolving at the beginning of the seventeenth century when the introduction of new crops and agricultural techniques substantially increased labor output (Wiesner-Hanks 456). More efficient food production allowed selling surplus products in local and regional markets, which propelled the development of urban infrastructures and improved shipbuilding. The transformation of agricultural practices was followed by a steady population growth.

Over a span of one century, the European population increased by twenty percent (Wiesner-Hanks 463). It happened due to the ever-growing life expectancy and eradication of pests, which substantially diminished death rates from infectious diseases. Unfortunately, the additional agricultural output was not commensurable with the dramatic demographic upsurge; therefore, it brought about food shortages and uprisings. Nutritional deficiency was ameliorated by the introduction of potatoes that improved the European caloric intake.

The emergence of proto-industries, which was followed by the Industrial revolution, allowed to increase consumption that stimulated the economic growth in Europe (Wiesner-Hanks 475). The economic development was made possible by new technological advancements that improved the productivity of manual labor. Capitalist entrepreneurs were more than willing to appropriate surplus labor; therefore, small-and large-scale enterprises were equipped with machinery. Labor wages in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in Europe were extremely low.

It is a subject of debate what has triggered rapid technological and economic development of Europe in the period under discussion. A prominent Scottish thinker Adam Smith provides invaluable insights into the causes of economic transformation of the continent. In his magnum opus The Wealth of Nations, Smith argues that the improvement of the productive capacities of Europeans was a function of the division of labor (45). The thinker also places a great emphasis on economic exchange, which is the main feature of “a commercial society” (Smith 94).


The consequences of the advances in agricultural techniques in the seventeenth-century Europe were as important as they were far-reaching. There is no denying that without the elimination of inefficiencies in the agricultural industry the emergence of mass-manufacturing would not have been possible. It has to do with the fact that the transformation of food production had freed up the workforce that was later employed in factories. Thus, it can be argued that the Industrial Revolution took root in the agricultural advances.

Unfortunately, the period under discussion was not associated with societal benefits that could have been expected from the increase in the efficiency of labor. Workers that had been plowing fields were transferred to industrial areas where they toiled in mines and factories for minuscule wages. Children were also employed by manufacturers. It can be argued that the steep decrease in the quality of life, which coincided with the unprecedented growth of labor productivity, was caused by the growing population.

That is, the European workforce was inevitably subjected to the law of supply and demand that was as ruthless in the seventeenth century as it is today. In other words, the growing number of able workers drove down their wages. However, the increase in the available workforce does not explain why Europeans were forced to work extremely long hours. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the unethical working practices were a function of unrestrained capitalism.

Despite its drawbacks, the age of economic and technological development brought about numerous advantages that are foregrounded by the current financial standing of the continent. The most obvious advantage of the societal transformations was a high level of consumption. Mass-manufacturing had reduced prices of many goods, which allowed people to own items that were beyond their economic reach in the previous centuries. The material surpluses had pushed forward the evolution of the banking sector, which made Europe the economic powerhouse of the world.

When discussing the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, one would be remiss in not pointing to the intellectual transformations that shattered existing philosophical paradigms. Namely, it is worth mentioning that scientifically and politically tumultuous times resulted in the emergence of new worldviews that facilitated technical progress. It can be said that the changes, which reached virtually every sphere of human endeavor, were brought into action by the introduction of the free market. Unfortunately, the legal structure of Europe was not ready for the new scale of economic relationships; therefore, capitalism with all its drawbacks and benefits was given free rein to remake the social body of the continent in accordance with its demands.


The paper has discussed economic and technological transformations that took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. It has been argued that the rapid industrial development of the continent was triggered by the increased agricultural outputs. In addition, economic and technological improvements stemmed from uninhibited capitalism that brought positive and negative changes in lifestyles of Europeans.

Works Cited

Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations: Books I-III. Edited by Andrew Skinner, Penguin Classics, 1982.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. Early Modern Europe: 1450-1789. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Economics and Technology in Europe." November 2, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/economics-and-technology-in-europe/.


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