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A Comparison of Socioeconomic and Institutional Methods of Explaining the Rise of Capitalist Democracy in England (Moore vs. North & Weingast) (Part 2)

July 18th, 2010

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However, Moore argues, because of the economic implications of enclosures and apparently self-serving practices of the Crown, commercial interests developed in opposition to the Crown. Moore further argues that “the wealthier townsmen turned against royal monopolies…as barriers to their own interests”(Moore, 13). As such, Moore asserts that the unilateral and regulatory nature of the Crown came to represent the final frontier before free market capitalism to an increasingly cohesive commercial class. This opposition came to the forefront of politics as Parliament came to represent the interests of the commercial class. In sum, Moore argues that economic motives drove Parliament to go against the Crown and was able to see its interests come to fruition due to the gradual disappearance of the peasantry and a lack of effective military, bureaucratic, and administrative bodies. Moreover, as Parliament began passing its reforms measures to ensure a free market, the Crown was now subject to a primitive form of impeachment, namely, beheading. On this point the two arguments agree completely. Moore argues that “the Star Chamber…[was] the general symbol of arbitrary royal power”(Moore, 17). Moreover, Moore argues that beside the Star Chamber, there was no major institutional reform because “a flexible institution which constituted both an arena into which new social elements could be drawn as their demands arose and an institutional mechanism for settling peacefully conflicts of interest among these groups”(Moore, 21) already existed. North and Weingast, however, assert that the evolution of English Parliament, monarchy, and court system comprised a near revolution.

The same changes in political institutions are described in both arguments, but North and Weingast treat these changes as much more significant to the development of free market democracy. Identifying that the “execution of public laws and expenditures was not subject to a public budgetary process,” (North and Weingast, 809) North and Weingast why they believe institutional change was sought after. Moreover, the fiscal irresponsibility of the Crown led to a coalition of the commercial class “seeking to preserve personal liberties, rights, and wealth”(North and Weingast). Thus the major impetus to reform was a budgetary one, but the nature of the reforms led to a system of government based upon checks and balances. North and Weingast identify several parliamentary measures taken to reform the budgetary process but in turn created a stable balance between Parliament and the Crown: the passage of the Statute of Monopolies and Triennial Acts, the abolishment of the Star Chamber, the reduction of legal legitimacy of royal prerogatives, and the modifications to land tenure laws. As a result of these changes in infrastructure, North and Weingast argue, the Crown’s ability to practice arbitrary was stripped. An important form of royal arbitrary power, they argue, was the disenfranchisement of political opposition in the form of gerrymandering, calling for detainment of political opponents and excessive bail thereof, and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Without such practices, one would face little to no threat of disenfranchisement and thus would be able to exercise political freedom. Thus North and Weingast argue that economically driven reforms to the budgetary process allowed for a balance of government and legitimacy of exercising political freedom. The two arguments overlap in explaining how parliament came to represent commercial interests. Moore, however, explains how the dissolution of the peasant class and rise of the commercial class established a strong, cohesive coalition that politically opposed the monarchy without going into detail as to how the commercial class went about accomplishing its goals. North and Weingast, on the other hand, focus on how the commercial class reformed English political institutions to establish separation of powers, a system of checks and balances, and a relatively laissez-faire government. In sum, Moore explains how socioeconomic trends translated into political trends as North and Weingast explain how political trends translated into legal and institutional trends.

Both arguments attempt to explain how capitalism and democracy emerged in England, and why they arose simultaneously. They both explain why the commercial class succeeded in bringing about a burgeoning capitalist economy, though they do so using distinct variables: Moore looks at socioeconomic trends, specifically the fall of the peasantry and the profitability of agriculture in England to explain the economic victory of capitalist forces, while only briefly examining institutional variables, the changing composition of Parliament, and the abolition of the Star Chamber to supplement his argument.

North and Weingast almost strictly use institutional variables in their assertion, namely the reform of the budgetary process to ensure the regularization of public finance which eventually trickled down into the public economy. Further, both arguments set out to explain how the commercial class arrived at the door of government and allowed for a democracy. Both make points backing up the assertion that commercial interests came to oppose the monarchy, though for different reasons. Moore depicts the opposition to an antidemocratic more as an apolitical opposition that gradually percolated Parliament and thus became political. North and Weingast lack any significant social commentary on this matter, instead relying on how Parliament’s desire to reform the budgetary process developed a balanced and democratic government to prove their point. In explaining both the rise of capitalism and that of democracy, Moore focuses on the cause and the phenomenon using socioeconomic variables whereas North and Weingast focus on the phenomenon and its effects by examining the evolution of English political institutions.

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