The Codification of a Market in Products
As in the commercially advanced Italian cities, so in Britain the rise of trade in the products of wage labor coincided with the first reflections on labor as a source of wealth. Clement Armstrong, writing in 1535, concluded in the language of his day that "artificialites"—that is, products manufactured by artisans—provided the mainstay of Britain's foreign-exchange earnings. "Suerly the common weale of England muste rise out of the workes of the common people," he said; " . . . the workes of artificialite encressith plenty of money." Although human industry had emerged as a focus of attention for Armstrong, it did not appear to him as something conveyable as a com-
modity or as an ingredient that determined the relative prices of goods. When the revolution initiated in 1640 swept away restrictions on internal trade, labor time emerged as a national resource with a metric and as the standard of the value of transmittable goods.
Britain drifted into the waters of a formally free market by default. In the course of the revolution, the executive government lost its arbitrary powers over local authorities. The dismantling of the prerogative courts made economic regulation a matter for Parliament. But Parliament, in contrast to the Privy Council, proved too unwieldy a body to pass significant bills of regulation for the country as a whole. The tortuous history of legislation after the Restoration shows that corporate regulation ended not because of a growing allegiance to laissez-faire but as a result of the deadlock between diverse commercial interests.
Britain's unintended transition to a formally free commercial regime was fundamentally different from the more abrupt entry experienced on the Continent. There the passage to a new order could be debated in some measure and decreed. In France the revolutionary legislation of 1791, which abolished provincial and urban guild restrictions on trade, may not have transformed business mentality overnight; nonetheless, these laws marked
a dramatic break in the comprehension of commercial intercourse. In Prussia the bold edicts of 1810 serve as a signpost for the shift to a formal market society. The experience of discontinuity on the Continent versus a prolonged transition in Britain also points to a conjunctural difference in the institutional settings under which tradespeople came to envision the conveyance of labor as a commodity.