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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Technology and the Development of Capitalism

Early capitalist economic practices appeared throughout Europe from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries during a period known as “mercantilism” or “merchant capitalism.” Mercantilism was a system under which nations traded for profit by exchanging manufactured goods for gold and silver bullion. Mercantilism relied on extensive state regulation of economic activity, the establishment of colonies for raw materials and labor, and manufacturing and trade geared toward a surplus of exports over imports. The mercantilist era helped give rise to capitalism through the creation of strong national states, uniform monetary and legal systems, and the accumulation of vast amounts of capital. Mercantilism was criticized, most famously, by Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations (1776) for supporting too strict controls over the economy, for maintaining protectionist tariffs, and for focusing on manufacturing and money supply rather than on consumption and trade. Mid-eighteenth-century economic theories and the rise of political liberalism, with its emphasis on individual liberty, helped to transform European economies from mercantilist to capitalist.

Perhaps even more important to the rise of capitalism than conceptual developments in political economy and trade liberalization was the development of a number of key technologies. Advances in mechanized agriculture, steam-powered machinery and semi-automatic factories fueled the European industrial ...

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