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'Merely for Money'? Business Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic: Or, Reasons for the Success of the First British Empire

Date(s)
Tuesday 10th December 2013 (18:00-20:00)
Description
Thomas_Rowlandson_-_A_Merchant's_Office_-_Google_Art_Project
Presented by Dr Sheryllynne Haggerty, this seminar is being hosted jointly by the Centre for Economic and Business History and the Eighteenth-Century Seminar.

Abstract

In 1780 Richard Sheridan noted that merchants worked ‘merely for money’. However, rather than being a criticism, this was recognition of the important commercial role that merchants played in the British empire at this time. Of course, merchants desired and often made profits, but they were strictly bound by commonly-understood socio-cultural norms which formed a private-order institution of a robust business culture. Merchants were able to take risks and build trust, but concerns about reputation and fulfilling obligations constrained economic opportunism. Also important was the mercantile community as a whole and its relationship with the state. This was an important element in the British business culture of this period, although this relationship came under stress towards the turn of the nineteenth century. This paper argues that the business culture of the British-Atlantic mercantile community not only facilitated the conduct of day-to-day business, but also helped it to cope with short-term crises and long-term changes. This facilitated the success of the British-Atlantic economy even within the context of changing geo-politics and an under-institutionalised environment. Indeed, 'not' working ‘merely for money’ was a successful business model.

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