The Economic History Review

Mercantilist inequality: wealth and poverty in Stockholm, 1650–1750

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Authors: Erik Bengtsson, Mats Olsson, Patrick Svensson
Published online: May 18, 2021DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13081

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This article describes and analyses social structure, poverty, wealth, and economic inequality in Stockholm from 1650 to 1750. We begin by establishing the social structure, using census data and other sources. To study wealth and poverty, the main sources are a complete record of the wealth tax of 1715, comprising 17,782 taxpayers, and a total of 1,125 probate inventories sampled from the years 1650, 1700, and 1750. These provide detailed and sometimes surprising insights into the living standards of both the poor and the rich. Stockholm in this period was a starkly unequal city, with the top decile of wealth holders owning about 90 per cent of total wealth. We relate this inequality to mercantilist policies. The city was run as an oligarchy and the oligarchical political institutions engendered policies that were rigged for inequality. The case of Stockholm thus shows the need for the historical inequality literature to consider class and power relations to understand the determinants of inequality.