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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote Economic reforms in the Americas


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER XXXVII

ECONOMIC REFORMS, 1700-1808

[Sidenote: Bases of the economic reforms of the era.]

[Sidenote: Economic reforms in the Americas.]

If a review of the political and ecclesiastical institutions of this period displays the enlightened despotism on its despotic side, a study of the economic reforms effected, or tried, reveals the benevolent or enlightened attitude of the autocratic state endeavoring to improve the lot of the people. In addition to the philanthropic aspect of these attempts, they were influenced, also: by the general current of eighteenth century thought, giving attention to economic problems; by the very evident necessity for reforms in Spain, which country had found itself in a condition of utter misery at the close of the preceding era, with the result that a multitude of pamphlets had been written to explain the decline and suggest remedies; and by the desire to attain other ends, such as that of defence against the aggressions of England, which had to be based in the final analysis on the economic recovery of Spain. Not only in Spain but also in the Americas, and almost more strikingly, this was an age of economic reform, based primarily on Spain's need of the colonial markets as a factor in her own regeneration. Nevertheless, this was the period when the old monopoly utterly fell,

in part because of the entry of foreigners into the colonies or their establishment in Spanish ports to take over the goods coming from the Americas, and in part as a result of a deliberate policy, throwing open the commerce of the new world, if not directly to all nations, at least indirectly through the intervention of the many Spanish cities which came to enjoy the privilege of the overseas trade. The American situation cannot be dealt with here, but it must be held in mind as one of the vital elements in Spain's economic progress.

[Sidenote: The reformers and their achievements.]

[Sidenote: Statistics of population.]

The most genuine representative of the century's political economists in Spain was Campomanes. Although a follower of the French physiocratic school, which maintained that agriculture was the principal sustain of a nation's wealth, he did not fail to recognize the importance of manufacturing, and endeavored to foster that industry through the dissemination of works of an educative character, the enactment of protective laws, and the founding of model establishments. Of equal rank with Campomanes, though not as effective in achieving reforms, was Jovellanos, while there was hardly a minister of prominence in the entire period who did not attain to some distinction as an economist. The general effect of the reforms was beneficial, making itself felt in all branches of the production, exchange, and consumption of goods, as well as in an increase in population. Thus the 5,700,000 inhabitants of Spain at the beginning of the era had nearly doubled by 1787, when the total was 10,409,879 (or 10,286,150 by another estimate), and had still further increased to 10,541,221 in 1797. The following table of occupations for these two years is interesting both as showing the economic distribution of the population and as indicating the direction of the reforms.


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