Christianitys effect on labour markets and other economic transactions

Most early modern Europeans were peasants, and historians have long imagined that they produced nearly all that they needed for themselves. They were by and large self-sufficient, this historical tradition maintains, and they did not participate in markets. Theirs was a moral economy, isolated from market forces.

Recent research suggests, however, that this historical tradition is wrong, at least for much of western Europe. By the eighteenth century, if not long before, many peasants in western Europe sold what they produced, rented land, and worked for wages or hired help in local labour markets. There were also markets - and labour markets in particular - in cities and towns, markets for skilled artisans, unskilled lawyers, and also professionals, such as lawyers or even clergymen, who were deeply interested in what their benefice or living happened to pay.

Christianity, one might assume, must have influenced these economic transactions, and especially labour markets. After all, Christianity drew members of the educated elite into the clergy and thus diverted them from occupations that a modern secular observer (and perhaps some of the most radical eighteenth-century reformers too) might consider more 'productive'. It also admonished the faithful to observe the Sabbath, and at least in some churches, not to work on holy days. But what real impact did its teachings and its employment of clergy ultimately have on labour markets?

One can quickly set aside the idea that the clergy were somehow an immense drag on the economy. To begin with, their numbers were simply too small to have had much of an effect on the economy, no matter how productive one might imagine that they would have been had they been working at other tasks. In southern Italy, for instance, the regular and secular clergy amounted

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